Category Archives: Rider – Sarah

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.

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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.


Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, cloud, sky, outdoor and nature

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

The Greatest Sportsmen on Earth

It’s not that I didn’t know it before, but this past weekend proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Endurance riders are the Greatest Sportsmen on Earth.

I say this not because of their athletic abilities or their commitment to their horse(though they are both great), but because of their commitment to the sport and their fellow riders.

The ride this past weekend offered several distances – there was something for everyone starting from those crossing the line on their first ride, up to those who are trying to be selected for national teams for the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

With Shore to Shore in mind, my initial plan was to try 2 days, 50 miles each day on Bentley.  Unfortunately, Bentley was not 100% sound.  We have been dealing with Arthritis in his fetlocks since the start of the season. I am still not sure whether the arthritis is already bothering him again (after an aggressive treatment in the spring) or he just tweaked something in the field, but he was only about 98% sound.  I know, it sounds like its good enough right?  Nope!  I am sure he would pass the vet check, but something is Not Quite Right and I am not willing to put his future at risk – this sport demands too much to go in without 100% confidence!

It has been very frustrating, I would really rather him have some big gash or something obvious – at least we know what we are dealing with and how to fix it.  NQR can drive a rider crazy.

So it was time to switch to plan B.  I had seen a few riders posting on Facebook groups that they were looking for riders for FEI horses.  As I am qualified, I approached one who I had heard nice things about through friends (and we had 500+ mutual friends on Facebook!) and we decided to go ahead and enter the 2*.  Woo hoo!  I won’t have to sit around camp feeling sorry for myself and fielding the “Why aren’t you riding?” questions!  I am always thankful that these sort of opportunities come around, it takes a special person to offer a horse to a stranger – even with results, references and reputation!

I won’t get into details here, but all was going kinda-sorta according to plan, when the day before the ride I got the bad news – the paperwork was filled out incorrectly and the horse would not be able to cross the border.

Crap! I was really looking forward to this!

Plan C time! Knowing how last minute it was, I decided to put out a call anyway, posting in a few groups seeing if there were any riderless horses out there.

In only a few short hours, my post had been tagged and shared a lot, as well as comments with condolences and well wishes.  Before I knew it, I had been offered several horses at several distances.

I nearly cried. I was so moved by these efforts.  I don’t think anyone even really knew HOW much it meant to me.  It has been a rough few weeks between Bentley and some personal problems, and to feel the community rally for me – well, I am really speechless!

I won’t delve into the ride much (hey, if I am potentially done for the season, I will need something to write about again later!), but I will say I became even more astonished at the trust and selflessness of our group.

Thank you so much for Emma Webb for loaning me Secret to ride Saturday in the 50 miler.  She also trusted me enough to take care of her mare alone overnight.  It wasn’t the easiest ride I have ever had – she gave me some of the mare ‘tude, but it wouldn’t be fun if it were easy right?

Thank you to the Llop family who brought Milo for me to ride on Sunday.  Unfortunately Milo had a bit of an accident in the trailer on the way up and despite being sound, we decided he was best to take the time to recover (on a related note, Splash also gashed herself up this weekend and did not start… she could have, but Ashley made the right call and saved her horse for another day).  What really made this special however, is that they (more specifically Anne Dewar)  offered me to take over the ride on her 100 mile horse.  I was overwhelmed at their generosity, sacrificing their own “fun” ride for me(I use quotes because I have never done a hundred, but I imagine its more fun after its done lol).  I declined – doing another 50 was definitely within my capabilities, but I felt I wouldn’t give my best ride in the 100.  This was partly due to my knee being a little crunchy, but also because I had all of 45 minutes of sleep on Friday night (sleeping with an OPH is stressful!).  Counting down the hours of sleep I could get before the 5am start (with potentially up to 24 hours of riding), I would be beyond exhausted and that’s not fair to the poor horse trying to carry me.

Also thanks to everyone else who approached me at the ride, asking if I had found rides, offering rides for next time, and genuinely happy to see me up in the saddle. Sometimes its great when everyone knows everyone else’s business!

I cannot think of any other sport where people epitomize “Sportsman” more.  I am so thankful that I have been accepted into this family.  The care that everyone has for each other is one of a kind.  We celebrate each other’s victories and mourn each other’s losses.  When things go South, we offer assistance and community.  It is because of this family I am able to keep the cheerful demeanor that people know me for.

“Why are you always so happy?” People ask me.

Endurance. ❤

 

New Stuff!

You may recall back in March and April we ran a survey to get your thoughts on bringing in new inventory and promotions.  Well, we took your advice to heart and have some new things to offer you!

First, you guys overwhelmingly requested more of our classic shirts – and I totally get why!  These things are great, they are fun colours, feel nice on the skin, and don’t get heavy, faded, warped like the the cotton ones do.  They are perfect for athletic endeavors such as riding, running, ride N tie, gym, yoga, cycling, or any activity that you do!  There was also significant sway towards our classic (text logo) so we invested our dollars and have lots of new shirts to bring to events or for you to order online.

Ashley in an Extreme Orange v-neck, size Small

 

Ashley in a Gold Vneck sized Medium

 

We have also brought in some long sleeve shirts… this time we took your verbal feedback (at events) and put both logos on the shirt – the roadsign one down the arm like we do with our baselayers!

Longsleeve shirt on Sarah in Medium, Raspberry. Also, I take modelling our product very seriously… ooh kitty, MUST DO LION KING POSE!

 

We get a lot of repeat customers, and we love you  guys so much!  We are thrilled that you love our gear as much as we do.  However, we do want to grow our base and our survey said that many people had never heard of us until we shared our survey across multiple networks.  We are so happy this survey brought in some new followers and we hope you now know where to find our stuff.  In case you are still having trouble, here is a link to our online store.

Of those who already knew about us and had not yet purchased a shirt expressed concern over the cost or cost of shipping.  While our basic Tees can’t go any lower (without compromising quality – which is something I won’t give up!), we have decided to bring in some lower cost hoodies as well.  They are a little lighter than the jackets we had previously, and they don’t have the zippers, but they come in fun colours and a better price point for our more cost sensitive customers.  As an added bonus, we will run a promotion to ship all orders of $25+ for free within Canada, and $5 to the United States.

Sarah in a medium, Lime Shock hoodie.

 

Lastly, we learned that our demographics are largely based in Ontario, but we also have a significant presence in the United States as well… that makes sense, we shared a lot through the AERC channels!  Most of our followers come from Facebook, but there are a growing number of people using Instagram – so expect to see us post more exclusive content on these networks!

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to complete our survey.  We did announce our winner on Facebook, and we hope the offers and products we are putting into place will serve you better!

Enjoy your ride!

-Sarah

A weekend for the record books!

I have been on a bit of a roll recently with ideas for “how to’s”  on this blog, but I need to take a brief break from that to brag about my horse a bit.  I have heard a lot of top riders and trainers say that often the best performance horses are the ones who are a bit of (or complete) a jerk.  Enter Bentley.

Two weeks in a row now we have gone up to New Lowell to ride at the Danko’s farms – first for a clinic/training ride and then for a competitive ride.

So back on the 14th, with no trailer and a mission to go to the clinic to meet some new and aspiring distance riders, I saddled up, planned a route and rode Bentley to the clinic.  Bentley flipped his jerk switch to the on position and despite riding on a trail many meters from the road, gave a giant spook and bolted for the highway as I soared off the side of him.  I certainly wasn’t about to let go and managed to kick his side while in air, and circle him away from traffic as I bumped and skidded on my bouncy parts behind him on the concrete.  The shenanigans continued and upon a second attempt, he got a roar and a smack in the neck which resulted in me having a sprained hand.  He was briefly aware that there was a rider on top of him after that.

Trail to my right, highway to the left… was just a “little” spook right?!

After we arrived at the ride site, he totally simmered down… I think seeing the trailers and the vets clued him in and he got into his “zone”.  He ended up being a perfect gentleman to mentor the green horse and rider we took out on paced loops.  I do wonder if he just does this to make me appear a liar.  Needless to say however, we opted to trailer home when our friend offered a ride.

This past weekend, Ashley picked us up and we drove in early Saturday morning.  On the agenda was a somewhat aggressive total distance of 75 miles.  A 25 mile set speed (gold level) and then a 50 mile endurance ride the following day.

Saturday was beautiful weather and we went out early as we expected to be the faster of most of the riders.  The monster was back and he spooked all the way out, galloped all the way back.  All cries of “Woah” were completely ignored.  I was pissed because I knew there were lots of new riders on the trail that day and I did not want to surprise any of them.  We missed the awards that night, but I learned that he won high vet score… I didn’t tell him this because I did not want to condone his behavior.  He can be pretty damn cocky sometimes too! Haha.

Too riled up to drink, I subjected him to selfies until he took some water. He is clearly not impressed.

Sunday called for cold pouring rain.  Yuck, we did that already this year at Aprilfest!  Mother nature, why do you hate endurance riders so much?!

There was also an out-vet check so Ashley and I split our crew kits and shared through the day.  We also woke up extra early based on the hourly forecast so we could pack up our tents before the rain started – a really fantastic plan!

The map of the trail noting the out vet check

Thankfully, Bentley was in the zone this day and we rode along pleasantly, eventually settling in with Earl and Libby for the close to the entirety of the ride. Not only was he pleasant to ride this day, he was taking the lead and being responsible for others too.  He was certainly trying his hardest.

He rocked it through the twisty turny knee bashing forests, the slick muddy paths, some deep puddles and could easily kick up the gear in the beautiful open fields and tree farms.  When he is good, he is GOOD!

Throughout the day too, he pretty much walked right into the vet checks at parameters.  His recoveries were fantastic.

The plan was not to lead the pack this day, but just get the distance done, so the speed and the recoveries were a bit of a surprise to me, but I thought, hey if its working, just go for it!  The three of us remained in the lead right through to the very end when we had to discuss how we wanted to finish.  Libby and I felt it was ok to tie, but Earl thought a race-off was in order.  Ok, twist my leg!

Bentley has never been in a legitimate race off before and Earl came through the fence first.  I yelled “go Bentley! Go Go Go GO!” and he kicked in with his big engine and then kicked in further.  We nearly caught Earl, just needed a few extra meters of trail.  A very exciting finish for both of us and the onlookers.  As we crossed the line we were laughing and smiling and Bentley looked so darn pleased to have had a fun run.  What a ride!

Our sprint to the finish

We decided to stand for the Best Condition award – something we don’t usually do but are trying to practice more of.  Fifteen minutes after our finish, we had to present for the Cardiac Recovery Index portion of the BC award.  Bentley had already dropped to 44bpm!  We finished the judging and went back to camp to wait for Ashley to finish.

Again, we got caught up in what was going on at our campsite (very wet packing this time) and didn’t hear anyone calling for awards.  We did hear some cheering at one point though, so we booted it over there just in time for everyone to be yelling “Run Sarah, you got an award!”

So I ran. I received high vet score again!  Then I was surprised to learn I had also earned Best Condition!  That’s something that rarely happens to me because I teeter on the edge of lightweight to midweight and the weight can have a major impact on BC scores.  I was so proud!

Before I left however, the vets Sarah, Art and Stan surrounded me and tried to explain through my thick rider-brained fog what the paper said exactly… Bentley had earned a perfect vet score!

At first I was like “oh that’s pretty cool”, thinking it was a bit like a set speed grade 1 – a wide range that is totally achievable with hard work and smart riding.

Then they told me, that this was the first time any of them have ever awarded a perfect score!  And they are certainly not new to this game!

Our best condition scoring sheet

I am so proud of my horse, but also myself.  I have a bit of impostor syndrome when I write here – its hard to give advice when you have that self doubt, in my 6th season, I am still relatively new to this world.  Attaining this rare achievement has certainly given me a confidence boost.

As I reflect, I think about how to be successful in this sport – and its to be a manager, not just a rider.  You need to take ownership of your successes and failures and constantly be learning about yourself and your horse.  You need to be smart and studious – learn from everyone and everywhere.  You need to reach out to others, particularly experts, for help.  You need to plan everything from feeding programs to recoveries and when things don’t go according to plan, you need to have backup plans.  A good rider is not just a jockey, they are everything to their horse – and their horse is everything to them.

I am so proud of my big guy, and I guess I forgive him for nearly killing me on the highway last week!  The good ones may be a little bit more difficult, but man… are they ever worth it!

 

 

The Importance of Routine

Like any utterly obsessed horse-person, I often find my mind tying to horses and my sport in the most unlikely situations.  Case in point, I was at the dentist not long ago, having my teeth scraped and poked.  Of course, a mental escape was necessary.  The way it went started with a bit of surprise – the lovely hygienist who was working on my teeth seemed not to follow the logical pattern – at least to me, which I thought would be left to right, top to bottom.  She worked away in one area and then switched to another, somewhere completely different.

How in the world can you ensure everything is done when the order seems, to the uneducated person, totally random?

Routine of course!  And who knows routine better than a horseperson?

I  immediately began writing this blog in my head, hey, I needed some sort of distraction right?

Your first distance ride is going to always be the hardest – everything is new – from packing, to vet checks, to camping, to navigating the trails, even just knowing how to register!  I can tell you now, it gets easier and this is thanks to routine.

Everyone’s routine is going to be a bit different, but building one the right way will help you get through the challenges above.  In fact, many of these routines you can start practicing at home before you even think about attempting your first ride.

A while back, I took a few archery lessons with intent I would someday do horseback archery.  Instead, I learned something even greater: the importance of writing down your routine.  How hard can it be to pick up a bow and shoot right?  Well, its not that hard.  The hard part is repeating your success so you can hit that bullseye every time, instead of shooting all around the target like you are caught in a hurricane.

They had us chronicle everything we did from picking up our bow, to approaching the line, loading your arrow, raising the bow, to where your eyes will focus, to how you draw back and make postural adjustments, to how you release, to how you put your bow down.  Think that is a lot to think about?  There are all sorts of micro steps in between too!  All of a sudden, shooting became very overwhelming, its not just picking up a bow and shooting is it?

So we pull out our notebooks and write each step down.  I think I started with about ten steps and eventually it became tailored to the point where I had twenty plus before I even raised my bow.  Committing it to paper will help you remember the routine.

Then, when you have a bad round, go back to your list.  Did you do everything?  Did you do it in the right order?  Is there something that needs to change in your routine? And when you have a great round, did you do your routine exactly?  If not, what do you need to add to your routine to ensure you succeed more often?

You see where I am going with all this right?

In particular, I like applying this theory to my vet checks.  Its the single most important routine during my race and I like to have it down pat.  In fact, it was the thing I was most proud of when I was riding in Race the Wild Coast and I am 100% confident in saying it helped me remain competitive throughout.

So how do you  build your routine?

  1. If you are new, start with someone else’s routine (I will give you my routine for a regular Endurance vet check in a little bit if you would like to use that).  Write it down or print it out.  If you have been doing this for a while, write down what you think you do.
  2. Try it!
  3. Review your notes, if someone else were riding your horse, using your equipment, and using your notes, would they have the same result as you?  Is everything working well as is?  Is there anything that needs to improve?
  4. Modify it.  Be as detailed as possible.  Write down EVERYTHING.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 indefinitely!

The important thing to note is we are all different.  We have different bodies and minds, different horses, equipment, setups, different goals.  While there are certain standards and proven methods, you need to tweak these to find what works best for you, and then just focus on you!

PS.  The above works not just for vet checks, but anything else you need to standardize.  Believe me, packing and prepping for the ride, setting up camp, all these things become much easier when you build your routine.  As a bonus, your horse will also thrive from knowing the routine and come to expect your next step.

So there you have it, they key to a great ride, shooting a bullseye, or even cleaning teeth.  Routine!


Sarah’s Vet Check Routine

  1. When finish line is in sight, dismount and walk in.
    1. Loosen girth while walking
    2. remove bit if applicable (attach bit to carabiner on my belt loop)
    3. Remove ride card from Ride Card Holder
    4. Call number to timer and hand them card
    5. Receive card from timer, check time
  2. Walk Bentley to water trough and offer drink
  3. Walk Bentley to crew area
  4. Begin crewing!
    1. Pull saddle and place on saddle race
    2. Offer Bentley beet pulp/grain/elyte mix (premade from previous hold or prior to start) and hay bag
    3. Check heartrate
    4. While horse eating, sponge with water side 1
    5. Sponge side 2
    6. Scrape side 1
    7. Scrape side 2
    8. Repeat 4.3-4.7 until heartrate meets parameters
    9. Add cooler/blanket if necessary
  5. Walk over to pulsing area
    1. Call out for pulse time & ensure it is written down and correct
    2. Wait in line for pulse if applicable, asking Bentley to put head down and be calm
    3. Ask Bentley to stand square and one step back to position front leg so heartrate is easy for pulse taker to access
  6. Walk to vetting line
    1. Wait in line if necessary, asking Bentley to put head down and be calm
    2. Approach available vet
    3. Tell vet any concerns and how ride is going
    4. Hold Bentley quiet as vet goes through their routine
  7. Trot out
    1. Ask Bentley to back up a step or two
    2. say “Aaaand trot!”, click twice and start jogging with loose lead
    3. Make it to the cones or when vet calls, stop, turn right 180 degrees, and repeat 2
  8. Finish vet check
  9. If I have crew, bring Bentley back to crew area and ask them to hold briefly while he eats from his mix again
    1. Go back to timers with card so I receive my out time
    2. Check time is correct and see how much longer I have
    3. Make note of next loop’s marker colours and total distance
    4. Put card back in Ride Card Holder attached to saddle
  10. If I don’t have crew, take Bentley with me to timers and do 9.1 and 9.2 THEN return to crew area and put him back in his food.
  11. Take care of me
    1. Refill water pack or bottles
    2. Eat food from cooler
    3. Pack snacks in backpack or saddle bag
    4. Use bathroom if necessary (Bentley may need to be pulled from food or ask another rider to watch)
  12. Assess equipment – do I or Bentley have any rubs or pain or is anything broken? Fix as needed
  13. Assess condition and do stretches for me and or Bentley as necessary
  14. Prepare Bentley’s food for next hold
    1. 1 Scoop beet pulp
    2. 1 scoop grain
    3. 4 scoops Mad Barn Electrolytes
    4. Chop up a few carrots or apples
    5. Add water and stir
    6. ensure hay bag is still full, top up if need be
  15. Fill water buckets for next hold
  16. Ten minutes to out time
    1. Grab fresh saddle pad from stack and place on back
    2. Put on saddle and do up girth loosely
    3. Walk Bentley over to water trough again to offer another drink
  17. Five minutes to out time
    1. Double check everything in crewing area is set for next hold
    2. Tighten girth
    3. Put bit back in (if necessary)
    4. mount from mounting block
  18. One minute to out time
    1. Approach timers
    2. Call out number and your out time, wait for confirmation
    3. Watch the clock, the get going!  Woo hoo!

 

 

Packing tips for your first competitive distance ride (of the season, or ever!)

In case you missed my post about creating a training plan, I will let you know, I am pretty anal when it comes to my preparation.  It should come as no surprise, that lists are one of my best friends.  In fact, I will occasionally make lists of lists that need to be made.  Of course, it is never enough either to just make one list and stick with it, nope, it needs to be refreshed and fine tuned every year, every ride, multiple times before the ride.

So as I prepare my lists for our first ride of the season (little under 2 weeks away at this point), I am going to share some tips for those of you who want to make your own lists, and my lists for those of you who don’t.

Making your to do list

You have 2 weeks before open season… what do you need to do?

  1. Memberships all paid up?  Do I have my membership cards or do I need to follow up or print them out?
  2. Insurance – have I bought this?  Do I have my policies and certificates printed out?
  3. Vet checks – is my Coggins certificate within limits?  Do I need update my vaccinations? Are there any nigging lamenesses or issues that you need to nip now before you get into competition?
  4. Ride flyer and entry form – printed, completed and paid?
  5. All of the above printed and filed thoughtfully in a binder, ready to present at registration?
  6. Will your horse need shoes, boots, trim?
  7. Is all your tack working comfortably for your and your horse?  Does anything need repair? Is it clean? Do you have enough clean saddle pads
  8. How are you getting to the ride?  If you have your own truck and trailer, has everything been certified?
  9. How are you going to contain your horse?  Is everything in good repair?
  10. Do you have all the horse food, electrolytes, water buckets, grooming tool etc that you need? Or is it time to hit up your local feed and tack shops (or tack swaps… come visit ESRR at Caledon this weekend!

 

Making your packing list

Things get pretty crazy when packing for a ride and we all fear forgetting something important.

  1. Pick categories for your list first.  I structure my categories either around the activity or by where it will be packed (and if you are really keen, why not do both?!!!).  What categories have I picked?  Camping stuff, riding stuff, horse stuff, overnight, ESRR, meals
  2. Sub-lists!  OMG, here is where we get into the lists of lists (within other lists of course, because packing list is on my to do list… oh my pulse is rising!)  This is where I start adding in the “where is it packed” question.  Take my “camping stuff” category – in my camping gear I have a cooler and a kitchen tote – both of which will contain other stuff.  Food, utensils etc.  I find if I break it down into these sub categories, I am less likely to forget something pesky.  Under horse stuff, I may have a saddle bag listed, but what do I want to pack in that saddle bag?
  3. Make a meal plan – this is a simple table with the meals as row headers and the days as column headers.  Fill in what you want to eat and bing bang boom, you can pull those guys out and put them in your coolers and kitchen totes.  Yessss.
  4. Have 2 of everything horsey.  I learned this from my friend Linda – things like brushes, stethoscopes etc you should have two (or even 3) of everything.  One lives at home and never gets to travel.  The other lives in your trailer, so you never have to worry about forgetting it.  If you want to go as far as a third (which of course, I have), put together a crewing tote – anything you need at the vet checks when you cant come back to your trailer – syringes, elytes, stethoscopes, clean saddle pads, brushes, feed tubs.
  5. Relating back to point #4 – get in the habit of putting everything back where it belongs.  If you always keep X Y and Z in your saddle bag, you can rest easy knowing it will be there when you need it.  If it breaks or is used up?  Replace immediately or put it on your to do list!
  6. Use technology – when you go do your test ride 2 weeks before, save some voice notes as you go through your pack and ride to remind you what you are missing.  Caveat – if you use something with terrible speech to text recognition, you may just want to go back to pen and paper – you may not remember that “find like your lights” means find electrolytes or that “find sad Spanish” is find saddle sponge”
  7. Colour code – I use colour codes to indicate where I can find said item when it comes time to pack.  If Ashley has it (in trailer) its in pink. If its in the barn, its green and beige (our barn is green and beige), if its black, its in my house, if its highlighted in gold, its in my car, if its red – well I have no clue where it is and better get searching!
  8. Check the weather forecast – this is likely going to change what you need to pack.  Adjust accordingly and perhaps even plan for all seasons.

Shopping list

This is perhaps the easiest part here.  I dont have to even make you a list of tips because guess what, you already have the tools to make your shopping list!  Just go back to your meal plans and packing list and pull from there.

 

Lastly, start packing everything you can now because things you forgot will always pop the more time goes by… give yourself a fighting chance!

 

Ok so maybe I once again pulled out a bit of a dry post, but hopefully this will help you get going for your first ride.  Are you ready yet?