Category Archives: Rider – 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?

Lee can put his foot in his mouth… while on a horse!

Could you imagine someone so flexible?  Well perhaps those fantastic trick riders we enjoyed Saturday night at Can-Am, but no, this is a little less literal.

“When are you going to do a Ride N Tie with me?” I asked about a week ago over a pint at our date-night pub.

“I would rather do a ride on my own, a bucket list item for me!”

Wait, what did he just say?!  Don’t question… just go with it!

Lee isn’t quite sure why he said this, but the foot was in and I was not about to let him spit it out.  Before the night was up I had offered him to do a charity fun ride instead, but the foot reached deeper and he insisted it had to be a competitive ride. 12 miles.  And for some reason it had to be hot?  I swear I inserted no roofies in his drink.  One thing I have learned though… if the green horse offers a nice canter… just let him canter!

The catch – he will give my sport an honest effort, but if he doesnt like it, I can never bug him to ride with me ever again.  Thats fair enough, but I added a few clauses here:

-he cant pretend not to love it just to “win” the contract

– if he LOVES it, he can’t steal my Bentley away from me, or if he does, I get a second horse (he didn’t agree to this, but we will see what goes down!).

Of course, I am not about to let him out in the forest alone with MY horse (to which he brought up that his name is also on the plate outside Bentley’s door) without some training.  Lessons and weekly practices were agreed to… is that foot out the other end yet?

The male ego is a fragile thing, so it was agreed that I would not become his coach and we booked his first lesson with Karen Briggs (my coach)… also to her surprise.  It’s going to be very difficult to butt out.

Yesterday he had his first lesson.  He manages to remember some things from the 8 times he has sat on something 4 legged with a heartbeat and Bentley actually made a great lesson horse – Lee smugly pointing out how much better behaved Bentley acted versus when I ride (for which Bentley just tells me “Hold on tight, we’re about to go FAST”).

Half an hour of walking with 2 or 3 laps of acceptable posting trot and an accidental canter stride and they were done.  Long way to go to get to 12 miles!

Will keep you posted on his progress, maybe I can even convince him to write a guest post here with all his gripes about being conned into this.

 

Have you created a training plan yet?

March is a tough time of year for getting out riding.  I don’t know about you, but by this time, I am no longer excited about the snow and the cold.  I find more excuses not to ride than i would have early in the winter, even though I know that now is the time to start ramping up my training.  Its just the cold…. I am so sick of it.  It has gone on long enough!  This year is particularly bad, because we had a brilliant warm snap in February, so going back to temps near -20C feel more like I am jumping into the arctic ocean than looking toward spring.

So what do I do instead? I make my plan for the year!  Its a great time to start because it will help me be accountable for the next few weeks while temps remain below 0, but it will also get me psyched up (or perhaps psyched out) because I get to see that the ride season is really not that far out and I have a clear path to get there.  Yay!

Unless you are a spreadsheet whiz/junkie like myself, you may feel a little overwhelmed, so today I will share with you what I use to plan my rides.

1. I start with my main goal and a ride calendar

Ashley and I have set our sights (or main goal in this case) on Shore to Shore in August.  I stick that baby into my spreadsheet and start working backward, using the OCTRA ride calendar.  If you aren’t from Ontario, use your local ride organization calendar.

My goal is to do more multi-day riding in preparation for Shore to Shore, as well as longer rides at a slower pace so we lose that “racey” pace we had last year.  So I go through the calendar and pick rides where I can ride 2+ days and try to maximize my distance.  Of course, I know this is a perfect world plan so I won’t be devastated if I have to drop distances or a ride altogether, but this is what I want to do.  More more more, slow slow slow.

What I will add here too, is your main goal may not be what mine is.  Maybe you want to do your first 50 or 100.  Start with the goal, the date you want to achieve it, and work back using logical stepping stones.

Here, you will also see that I have a calculated rest period.  A general rule I have derived from mentors, presentations and reading that I will use for myself is 1 day of rest for every 10 miles in competition.  I have added in 2 extra days to account for the stresses of travel and bing bang boom, I am able to calculate what day I will next be able to sit on the back of my dearest Bentley.  Double check… yup, its not after the next ride.  Whoopie!  Alternately, you could use the FEI rest guidelines.

2.  Work up to your first ride of the season

I have found once I get Bentley fit enough for the first ride, that I don’t have to do too much to keep him fit throughout the season.  In fact, rest becomes more important than work.  So I focus my training plan on what to do until that first ride so that we are ready to go.

Another rule of thumb I learned early on and tend to go by is that my total weekly miles should be approximately what I would like to do in one ride (so if my first ride will total 25 miles, I should be riding 25 miles a week on average – higher distance rides I tend to go a little lower and allow more wiggle room in the program to ensure adequate rest).  So again, I work back from the ride date and distance and try to make it work.  I try to build 5-10% each week in distance.

This is also where I can take a look to see if where I am now = where I should be based on my rate of building.  Looking at my plan here, I can go out this weekend and try to do 25 miles and say “ok yes, the plan should work” or “nope, hes too fat, maybe I should pick a shorter distance for my first ride”.  Then I adjust my plan forward and back until I come to a happy medium.  There is no late scrambling to catch up when it comes to fitness, I need to do this now!

You will also see I have colour coded everything.  I try to mix up long rides, interval training and ring work/lesson so I get our cross training in.

3. Budget

Ok, now here is something I wish I hadn’t done because nobody ever really wants to know the final number when you ask “how much is this going to cost me?”

I am not actually going to share my budget, because I know my significant other will read this and tell me “hell  no!” before I even dip the toe in, but to be fair, I like to pad my budget so I always have extra and can say “look how good I was!”.

The basics of your budget should include fixed and variable costs.  In fact, I would even say we have 2 different types of variable costs to consider when looking at our competition.  So here are some of the numbers to jot down.

Fixed Costs – these are things you have to pay whether you ride once, or go to every ride.  These would include your insurance, memberships, annual shots/teeth (though you could argue this is not so much a competition expense… like I said, I pad my budget).  This may also include things like hoof protection if you plan on using something like boots through the entire season or longer.

Variable costs (per ride/day) – These would be the things that the more rides you go to, the more you have to pay, but not necessarily dependent on how many miles you do during the ride.  In here, I would include total entry fee, people food, travel costs to and from the ride, chiropractic or massage work that you will have done before and/or after the ride (include for you and/or your horse depending on who needs it), hoof protection (if you use shoes and need to put on a new set before each ride) and probably extra food for your horse.

Some of these would be a cost per day like people food, I gave myself a budget of $30/day for my food, so if its a 3 day ride (+2 days travel), I will ensure to budget for each day. Others, like travel, will only happen once per ride no matter how many days you camp out.

Variable costs (per mile) – these are things that you will need more of the longer/more miles you ride, I might also call these consumables.  In here, I include electrolytes and other supplements (such as pro-bi and BCAA) and miscellaneous veterinary supplies that I would likely need on longer rides.

I would quantify them as a dollar per mile value based on dosing instructions (ie for electrolytes, I have previously used an estimate of $1 per mile).

This is also where I will consider wear and tear on my equipment.  I realize that I am going to ride holes through my pants, and probably break some straps here and there, so I add some padding in again with a dollar per mile value that I can set aside (if I am being good of course) and save for that rainy day that I need to replace a piece of equipment. If my equipment doesn’t break?  Oh well then… I see there are some awesome new products at the ESRR web store.. maybe I treat myself to something fun?

Lastly, I add everything up and get a total for the ride.  My fixed costs will be divided through the total amount of rides I do and the variable costs will be added.  Assuming I have done an individual line item for each ride, I can also go a step further and calculate either a dollar per day amount, or dollar per mile ridden amount.  That way, if I am running short on cash (highly likely after seeing he final number), I have a better idea which rides I should cut based on my goals – its all about value for me!


I know this may not have been the most exciting read… it takes a certain type of crazy to enjoy this dry, mathematical work, but well, I am that certain type of crazy!  The bottom line is that making the plan will help you visualize the path to your goal and determine if it is achievable with the time and resources you have at your disposal.  Then down the line, if things go awry, you can adjust and move forward rather than starting from scratch.

And hey, after looking at my budget… if you want to just give up on the math and have me to make a training plan and budget for you… well I think we could negotiate something in exchange for a donation to our Shore to Shore campaign! Lol!

Happy calculating, and happy riding all!

How to Prepare for an Ultra-Endurance Horse Race

One of my favourite things is when a stranger (or sometimes friend) pops me an email or PM on Facebook and says “I am thinking about applying to (or have been accepted to) the Mongol Derby or Race the Wild Coast.  Where do I even begin?”

I love sharing the spirit of adventure with like-minded, or at least equally crazy folks from near and far.  But an open ended question like this…. how do I even begin to tell you what an amazing experience it is, what you are about to get  yourself into, and even worse, what should you do?  I never like to give finite plans because everyone is different in the way they do things, everyone has different goals, everyone will have a different experience, and there is never just one right thing to do.  I can however give you my opinions to consider and help shape your plan to the best ride of your life!

race the wild coast

1. Start talking to people

If you aren’t one of the people who have already dropped a line in my inbox, why not?  I am happy to chat about my experiences as are a lot of other race veterans.  Chances are you have someone within your extended network that has done it.  Suss them out and start talking!  If all else fails, email the race organizers directly and find out more about the races.  They may even be able to point you in the direction of a veteran in your area.  Why do this now?  It will help decide which race to shoot for – which one suits you the best and hopefully land you a mentor for the rest of the process.

2. Just apply, say yes, and sort out the details later

Usually I would never recommend this to anyone.  I am a meticulous planner and this could land you in some deep dog doo, but when it comes to your dreams sometimes you have to take the leap.  Signing up and having the end goal will help you mentally get your shit in order.  It is going to make you accountable for everything you do in the next 6-12 months before the race start because everything will merit a question “does this get me closer to my goal?”  Its a huge undertaking, bigger than most people will ever take on – and that’s before the race even starts.  Being a little afraid of the enormity of this challenge is going to give you some serious perspective but you will get there.

Another benefit to getting one of the first horses... quality scratching time!

3.  Budget Budget Budget

These adventures don’t come cheap, in fact that’s probably the part that scares off 99% of riders considering these adventures and probably accounts for at least half of the conversations I have with starry eyed riders.  At the top end Mongol Derby will set you back about $30,000 CAD, with the more recently introduced races coming in much cheaper, but still in the range of a half decent car.  You need to find a plan to raise this kind of money for your entry fees, flights, equipment, local travel, accommodation and food, day trips, gifts for family and sponsors, training costs.  You need to think of everything ahead of time and get your dollar value.  Here is where having a mentor can help you.  What you need to do yourself is have a plan – whether its build your savings (or back to the KD diet), take out a loan, or trade your future wedding for it (yes, I know riders who negotiated this with their family!).  Unless you are a big name rider already with big name sponsors, expect to foot the bill yourself and maybe you will be lucky enough to get a few product sponsors to help with your gear.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

 

4.  Get fit – off the horse!

These are grueling races and you are going to need to be in the best shape of your life if you want to be successful.  Start with a personal trainer, I used Heather at Equifitt before the Mongol Derby and highly recommend her.  She gave me a plan and exercises to prepare me, and I have used these lessons ever since.  A few major tips that you might not have thought of?  Build up your shoulders so your backpack won’t kill you after one day of riding.  Stretch… a LOT –  before and after every ride and at the end of each day.  Lastly, hike or trail run… a LOT as well.  Depending on what race you pick and your luck, you may be spending a lot of time running or walking on your own 2 feet.  Be prepared!

Aprilfest sat IMG_9352

5. Get fit – on the horse

Something that makes me cringe is when I hear riders say “I am going to ride all the naughty ponies, the worse the better” when referring to their riding program for Mongol Derby.  Eek!  This is the worst idea ever!  Seriously, if you can’t yet sit a buck or rear or runaway, you have no business applying for these races.  Putting yourself on the worst horses is only going to put you in danger of hurting yourself before the start of the race – having invested that $30,000, do you really want to risk that?  Better idea, start volunteering at and riding in endurance rides.  Get on decent horses and get used to the feeling of riding all day.  Your muscle memory and mental strength will develop – this will be far more beneficial in the long run.  Added bonus, if you compete in endurance, you will have a better understanding of basic endurance rules and the required horsemanship that comes along with managing yourself and a horse over long distances.

Coates Creek 2016-341

 

6. Get your gear in order

Start this early.  Way earlier than you think you need to start it.  Lots of riders have shown up to the start camp having never tested critical components of their kit.  If you can sort this out early, you will have a lot of advantages.  First being peace of mind.  Second, you will never just look in your closet and pick out a perfect kit (and if you can… please call me, I want to know your secrets!) so you will have time to get it right.  You are going to go through several backpacks, pants, shoes and who knows what else trying to perfect your kit (but you will always bring stuff you don’t need and need stuff you forgot so relax just a little bit!) Use your mentor to get suggestions, then put everything to the test.  What works for them may not work for you.  Work through equipment issues early then start riding in full kit.  Know exactly which pocket you have put each item in, become a pro at rolling up your bed roll before riding every morning, know how to program and reprogram your bloody GPS.  Use the last few months of your training not testing out new shoes or messing with how to tie your equipment to yourself… but riding every ride as you would when the big day comes.

my ger mates working on their tack
my ger mates working on their tack

 

7. Connect with other riders

In our year of the Mongol Derby, winner Sam Jones made a facebook group well in advance for all of us to connect and plan day trips.  It was the best thing we could have done, because we could share our training stories, meet before the race, and just get really comfortable with everyone.  It took a lot of pressure off and most of us are still great friends (as evidenced in my post Mongol Derby adventures!) who see each other on a regular basis.

Strong like Ghengis (Chinggis)
Strong like Ghengis (Chinggis)

 

8.  Enjoy the ride

Accept early on that there are things you can perfect, and then there are things that you will never ever be prepared for.  The task ahead is daunting but no matter what happens, you are going to cherish the memory.  Allow yourself to be happy and excited, don’t fear the challenge, but embrace it!

 

Headed up the hill to where we would swap, looking back at the herd following us.
Headed up the hill to where we would swap, looking back at the herd following us.

 


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Horse Day at Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week

Thanks to a recommendation from her sponsor, Mad Barn, Sarah was invited to speak at Horse Day  during the 51st Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week on the topic of travel and horses.

horse day

Our drive up was not at all  bad, despite what the radio station was telling everyone.  The event suffered unusually low turnout for the event but those who attended were very engaged.

Sarah shared stories and her experiences from travelling to Mongolia for the Mongol Derby, herding horses in Iceland and recently competing in South Africa for Race the Wild Coast. Attendees were treated to some never before seen helmet cam footage which we will be sharing here and on our Facebook page in the coming weeks.

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Sarah’s talk received many compliments and there was never a quiet moment at the Eat Sleep Ride Repeat booth as people were excited to hear more about her adventures in Mongolia, Iceland and South Africa and what the next plans were.

The only suggestion we have to improve the event is that we would have loved to have more time to talk with visitors to our booth. The trade show and speaker area were in the same room so while it was great to be able to man the booth and listen to the presentations, many great conversations were cut short because the next speaker was about to begin.

It was great to see familiar faces and make new friends and especially nice to see so many people not only interested in the travel stories but wanting to know more about how to get into endurance and distance riding.

horse day

We would like to thank the organizers, staff, volunteers, and anyone else who made this event possible. The Eat Sleep Ride Repeat team would love to be back next year, hopefully with some more fantastic stories, this time from our adventure from Shore to Shore!

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The Upsides of Leading

Didn’t see this one coming after my last post, The Downsides of Leading, did you? 😉

If you are just coming to this blog for the first time, Welcome!  I know I have been doing a bit of a blitz for new followers and I really hope that you enjoy my writing and keep coming back.  To paraphrase, I have recently returned from South Africa where I competed and placed a remarkably close 3rd in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast, an adventure horse race of 350km of beautiful beaches, mountains, river swims, thorny forests, soggy clothes, chafed thighs, fantastic riders, and rugged horses.  I am writing about my adventure in a variety of topics until I feel like stopping!  So ask questions… you may just see a blog about it!


  1. You get to cheer on all the other riders

This was without a doubt the most fun aspect of leading.  We are a tight knit group and for a while we wondered if a leading pack would ever break away, because it was a bit of a vacation for this masochistic group of adventurers.  So at the end of each day when the other riders trickled in, it was not uncommon to see us cheering, and sometimes even pitching in to help them cool their horses.

The finish line compounded this tenfold, where on day 5, we scattered from the bar during breakfast, a handful of food in hand and climbed up, and descended the forested mountain in our flip flops to the beach where Malcolm would finish.  Oh but to get to the beach, we also had to row across a river in a dinghy.  Yup, we grabbed paddles and trucked it to make it in time.

When Malcolm’s head was spotted over the beach horizon, we went NUTS.  Then Malcolm dismounted his horse to give it a break, 20m from the finish line!  There was a collective gasp among us and Barry ran out to get him back on the horse to cross as a rider.  It was hilarious and the moment he crossed, he was swarmed.

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All us riders at the finish flags, I am in the middle in front!

 

2. You learn a lot from your fellow leaders

It became very apparent to me during this race, exactly why Sam won the Mongol Derby and Monde came close.  My main goal or strategy was to make sure I could keep up with them and while doing so, I picked up a lot that I can take home with me.

Sam rides fast, i mean really FAST!  But the amazing thing is she never over rides her horses.  She seems to have an innate ability to know exactly how hard to push her horses, and when to back off. She makes it seem effortless.  Matching her pace taught me what a competitive pace looks like, but I still have a long way to go before I have the same sense she has honed with her lifetime of experience.  She also commanded the horse stations – vetting in and being mounted before I could even figure out where to look for my next horse.  She is a master of efficiency.

Monde is a master of reading terrain to find the best route and has a lot of little tricks to save his horses for the long haul.  He is the very definition of riding smart and he certainly earned his win, taking impeccable care of his horses and of us too!  A true gentleman, he saved our sorry butts a few times.

3. You get more free time

Ok, I wanted to put this as a downside… but I simply forgot, so I am attempting to spin it as an optimist.  By leading, we were in early.  This gave us more time than the other riders to get things done in daylight – setting up our beds, preparing our supplies for the following day, pulling thorns from various body parts and treating wounds and chafe.  Then we laid about lazily sipping our Striped Horse brews and just enjoying life by the beach.

Why did I want to put this as a downside?  I could have definitely gone for another day of riding… or two… or just send me back the way I came, I’ll see you in another 4 days!  Chafe be damned.

striped-horse
Photo credit to Rockethorse Racing

4.  You excite the pants off the people tracking you at home

I have been there… following that little dot along the screen for a big race like the Mongol Derby, or this year’s Tevis Cup, its exciting!!!

Every so often when I was riding, I would think to myself, a bit astonished, OMG People are following us right now! And wondering if we had made allegiances, or if we if we were going to try to make a break for it.

Coming home, I saw how facebook lit up every time I took the lead, especially when I had the 33 minute lead on Asad (aka Ass-hat) and Sam and Monde closed in on me.

Its really cool to know how the excitement is being shared!

How cool was their tracker?!?!
How cool was their tracker?!?!

5. You learn that you  DO have it in you

After my non-completion in the Mongol Derby, I wasn’t sure if I could be successful in finishing Race the Wild Coast.  I didn’t go into the race with the mindset that I had something to prove (in fact I purposely tried to block that thought from myself), but it was an important element in my experience.  Finishing this race has been a huge confidence boost for me and I am forever grateful to Barry and Joe and all of the crew who worked tirelessly to put this together and gave me a chance despite my previous failure.

This race was DAMN hard, probably the toughest challenge I have ever faced, but if it weren’t so hard, it wouldn’t have been so satisfying.  To race to the finish with 2 of my best friends and top class riders, that was the cherry on top.

Photo credit to Rockethorse Racing


If you enjoy my writing, please consider supporting my adventures through one of the following links:

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Think you have what it takes?  Apply to ride in the 2017 race.

The Downsides of Leading

Throughout Race the Wild Coast, Sam, Monde and I led the group and we eventually dueled it out in a 500m sprint for the glory at the finish line.  While it was very exciting to call myself a “leader” or “winner”, this race was more about the adventure than a win.  If you are considering entering and expect to win, here are some of the things you will miss out on or quirks you can expect in your adventure.

1. Sleeping in

I think we seriously surprised the Rockethorse crew with how early we got in every day.  We rode FAST given the obstacles we faced.  This meant that we got in most days at 3pm-4pm instead of the 5-6ish they were expecting.  Originally the rules were stated that the time we rode in at would be the time we rode out at to keep you form being penalized at the end of the day – so if we arrived at the maximum end point at 3pm in the afternoon, we would technically go out at 3am.

Does that sound as awful to you as it did to me?  I am not an early riser and generally need an hour of stretching, complaining and coffee to do anything before sunrise.

Thankfully, they modified the rules as we went, adding holds on to all so that we wouldn’t leave any earlier than 5am.  This was more of a safety thing, as they didn’t want us swimming the rivers in the dark (rightfully so!).  So that was better… but Sam and I still set our alarms for 3:30 to get all our stuff ready in time… and she got the pleasure of hearing me whine, and huff and puff to put on damp tights in the dark.

 

2. Breakfast

Related to above.  We were up so early neither our stomachs wanted to eat, nor was there much to pick from… it would NOT be fair to ask the crew to get up at 2am to serve us!  Nope nope nope!  There were lots of lovely snacks – peanuts, biltong, fruit and granola bars.  So for 4 days us leaders subsisted on that.  Considerably better options than mutton soup and airag, but we did get a little tired of peanuts by day 4!

We also got to hear from the mid to back of the pack riders, who happened to arrive in a vet check just in time to get omelettes.  We were super jealous!  BTW the food is amazing on this trip, so I would recommending not being a leader, just for the culinary delights!

3. You found the problems first

I believe it was day 3 when we set out before dawn along a road and after about half an hour, we came to a padlocked gate with nowhere around.  Apparently we had also beat the park rangers.  Thankfully, I had brought along a phone and was able to call for help.  Joe (one of the organizers) came to our rescue a little while later and we were able to laugh about it, but poor Louise had just caught up to us and was held at the gate for fair timing.  I can only imagine her horse must have been P-Oed to be left behind.

Another time, the rangers were at the gate, but seemed a bit confused about us being there and wanted us to sign liability waivers (was supposed to be worked out in advance, but I think we still surprised them).  It was a pretty funny delay, filling out liability forms on horseback.  Not sure if the people behind us had this issue or if it was sorted by then.

Sometimes trees were down or the navigation needed some modification.  There were a few times we spent a lot of time searching for a new route, when the people behind us could follow our hoofprints.  The best was when a tree was down at less than chest height and Monde went off on foot to find a new route.  He found one in less than half an hour, and I swear… to get us through, he chopped down a tree with ANOTHER TREE!

3. You miss out on some great stories about gettin’ ‘er done

We have tonnes of good stories from the trip, and everyone’s were a little different, but listening to the other riders, it sounds like the best stories come from riders who got the short straw of horses, or perhaps had more bad luck come their way.  Ingenuity and humor lead to the best memories.

My favorite story was that of Malcolm, who was trailing significantly and whose horse just wanted to quit.  Clever as he is, he found a young boy who would run along with him and encourage the horse forward for a few Rand (currency) per kilometer – until he had to get home to be in bed because it was a school night.

4. You spend a lot of time staring at a purple line

Navigation in the race is along tracks, not waypoints, and it can be very trick to see where you need to go.  There are lots of cattle tracks and hidden entrances, so you need to ride with your GPS in your hand almost all the time.  Even riding as a team of 3, we all needed out GPSes out and would pipe up to the leader occasionally “NOOO RIGHHHT!” because it was very easy to get on a wrong track.

I would say this goes for everyone who rode, but as I mentioned above, those behind us would have tracks to follow, which I am sure would help take the eyes to the beautiful scenery a little more frequently.  In other words, I can’t wait for the documentary so I can see all the things I missed when staring at the purple line!

5.  You are constantly surprising people

At one point during the race, I complimented Barry (one of the Rockethorse Organizers), on how smoothly everything was running.  He had a good laugh at me!  Honestly, things seemed to run so smoothly from our perspective as riders, but it sounded like they had a bit of a time keeping up with us.

There were a few vet checks where we arrived before they had a chance to set up.  The crew were amazing about making it work and prioritizing, we barely knew they had been there not ten minutes before we arrived.  Good people can iron out kinks and make it look easy.

We also arrived at one camp where the tents were not yet set up (of course we volunteered to help, but the amazing crew insisted!), apparently the van and trailer had been sideswiped on the highway and pretty much totaled.  How is that for a kink?!  Again, it seemed like no big deal to us riders because of how quick and efficient the crew were.

Lastly, and this was a good laugh for us, the finish line.  Apparently, everyone was expecting us to come from much more inland than we did.  So to the surprise of everyone waiting at the line, we popped out close to the water!  There was a bit of a mad scramble to get the cameras and the drone within range to capture our finish, and they got us just in time, but I can only imagine the heart palpitations they must have had, thinking they weren’t going to capture the winner for the documentary!


So there you have it.  These are by no means complaints or regrets.  I am so proud of myself to have stuck it out in the lead and to have raced a good race.  I could not have been happier with the result.  However, now that that has checked off the bucket list, I would definitely return and do the same trail as one of the 10 day trips they offer so I can just go and enjoy.  If you are considering it, I would recommend you also do both… the scenery is worth a trip itself, but the thrill of racing and the self discovery when tackling the challenges set forth in a race environment are totally different and worth it too!  Its amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it!

Apply to be part of the race in 2017


Starting line.  Photo credit to Ian Haggerty
Starting line. Photo credit to Ian Haggerty

In October 2016, I raced in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast, a 350km self-guided adventure race along the eastern coast of South Africa.  These are my stories from my adventure.  If you enjoy my writing, please consider supporting my adventures through one of the following links:

Donate to Sarah’s Adventures

Pre-purchase the documentary

I can’t do this without you!