Category Archives: Education

You Might Be An Endurance Rider if…

*cover photo courtesy of Wendy Webb photography

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

article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

horse3

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

horse2

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

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

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

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

apron

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

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

The Basic Trail Guide for a First Time Distance Rider

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


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

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

How the trail is marked

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

Where did the ribbons go?

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

Other riders on Trail

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

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

Figuring out your distance

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

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


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

9 Really Good Reasons Why Endurance Riders Need To Embrace Dressage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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!

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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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

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.