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Calabogie Boogie

 

I’m always excited to see new distance rides pop up in Ontario. Not only does this mean new trail to ride, but it means the sport is growing.  Last year I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Madawaska Highland Pioneer Ride and Lopin Larose (unfortunately scheduling did not allow for me to attend either of these rides this year).  Now, new trail is enough to get me out to a new ride but ride manager Pauline went above and beyond to attract riders.

This ride location was about 6 hours from me but having driven to the Eastern Ontario rides before, having a traveling buddy, and the enticement of a chocolate fountain all made it worthwhile. Something else that made this ride fun was that both mine and Sarah’s significant others agreed to come.  The area surrounding Calabogie had enough to keep the two of them occupied while we rode; golfing for Lee and off-roading trails for Clayton.

Friday morning we picked up Sarah and Bentley on our way to ride site and Bentley was very happy to see his girlfriend, even though he had just seen her the weekend previously when we went up to visit for a ride in the Dufferin Forest.

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The plan was to ride 25 miles each day but due to Splash’s headshaking rearing its ugly head again, we opted to ride in the 10 mile training ride and help with the clinic and play it by ear for the second day.

The weather for the first day of riding was lovely and ride started out great. The trail for the 10 mile ride was a mix of field, bush, road, and a bit alongside a golf course. We were told at the pre-ride talk that there was going to be a pasture to ride through (with people manning the gates at the entrance and exit) that was home to cows and a donkey. I didn’t think too much of it since we’ve ridden through cow pasture before and Splash’s best buddy at our previous barn was a mini donkey.

When we got to the first gate into the pasture, said donkey was there and kept trying to rush the gate so we waited for someone to arrive to hold the donkey. Unfortunately donkey escaped the hold on its halter and proceeded to find us in the pasture and follow the horses, spooking some of them in the process.  I will use this as a reminder to riders to request or take a picture of the important phone numbers (ride manager, trail master, farrier) in case something happens out on trail. Thanks to quick action on part of the ride manager and trail master, the trail had been rerouted around the pasture.

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PC: Wendy Webb

We finished the first 5 mile loop by ourselves with Splash’s heart rate almost at resting (probably due to slow traveling speed and the break in the middle to donkey wrangle, even though it was a warm day and she was tossing her head quite frequently).  On the second loop (same as the first), we rode with a rider on her first distance ride. We received completion for the day.

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I had no idea what the background was behind me until I saw this picture! PC: Wendy Webb

Pauline did not disappoint with the awards thanks to so many generous sponsors, even volunteers received something.  Something fun that was added to the ride courtesy of Rick Fleming and Highlands Golf Course, the VIP use of a golf cart each day was awarded to two lucky people, for which I won on Saturday night for 24 hours.

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Day 2 was rainy and while I have no problem riding in the rain (see every other ride this season!), with the slippery conditions and the head tossing, it may not be the safest so we rider optioned and volunteered to vet scribe instead (as much as I wanted to see the other trails that boasted water to take the horses in and galloping across the gold course, but I guess that means I have to come back next year!)   It is often suggested that you volunteer before your first ride but I’m of the thinking that it’s good to volunteer periodically throughout your distance riding career, not only to give back to the sport, but to keep you in touch with everything the vets are looking at.

Again, the awards/dinner was well done. It seemed like everyone walked away with something.

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This is just the prizes for ONE DAY!

Dinner provided by the onsite food truck was delicious and of course, the infamous chocolate fountain was in attendance. The festivities were held in a beautiful done up barn with a stage, sound system, bar, and games. It was a nice place just to hang out to warm up and get out of the weather.

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PC: Wendy Webb

Thank you to everyone who made this ride happen and the Jastremski family for their hospitality in hosting us and letting us ride on your land. It was an absolute blast and well worth the drive.  This ride is already on the list for next year.

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PC: Wendy Webb
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5 Ways Distance Riding is the Best Horse Sport for your Money

It’s no secret that the number of participants in the horse industry has been dwindling.  Recently in Ontario, it was announced that the Cornerstone Dressage shows held at Caledon Equestrian Park are no longer going to be running due to low entries and increasing costs.  The Ontario Horse Trials Association had a sad number of entries in all divisions at their championship show this year.  Local saddle clubs are disappearing because of the lack of attendees.

There has also been commentary recently (especially with the issues surrounding Equestrian Canada), about costs to enter shows. Horseback riding is an expensive sport, unfortunately, but we need to support our local shows and associations or else they are going to disappear.   If you are looking for a cost-friendly discipline to do with your horse, look to distance riding!  I have shown at schooling shows for almost every discipline, and nothing gets you a better bang for your buck than distance riding.

 

  1. Free entry! Yes you heard that right. This year OCTRA ran a “first ride free” promotion (with some restrictions). http://www.octra.on.ca/docs/OCTRAPROMOTIONS-FirstTimeFreeRide.pdf  What other riding association gives its lower level riders a free entry fee?????

 

  1. Cheap entry fees in general. Let me break down some numbers for you.  Assuming that you don’t qualify for the free entry, here is what a normal distance ride will cost you.  Entry fees roughly run between $40-150 depending on what distance you enter. What is included in that fee?  Aside from your riding time (could be anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours), you get a minimum of two to three times where a vet checks over your horse, your camping (you provide the horse containment. Sometimes there may be a nominal fee on top of your entry to cover camping but rarely does that happen), usually a meal of some sort (I’ve had everything from potluck, to chili, to chicken parm to stir fry), a certificate of completion, a ribbon or other prize for completing (yes, just for completing you get something! I’ve received t-shirts, camping chairs, beer, candy, stickers), water provided for your horse, and getting to ride on some awesome territory that no one else may have access to!

 

  1. Low cost paperwork requirements. To attend any OCTRA ride, the bare minimum that you need to ride is proof of insurance (it doesn’t have to be OEF, as long as you have $1,000,000 coverage), a negative EIA/coggins test, and an OCTRA membership ($45) or pay the day membership of $20.

 

  1. You can use the equipment you already have! No need to go out and buy all new clothing or tack. If it fits you and your horse and is in good repair, you can use it! The minimum requirements are a helmet, appropriate footwear, a saddle and some sort of bridle (be it traditional, bitless, or a halter). A stethoscope, stop watch with seconds (or your phone), a sponge and a bucket are all you need to crew your horse at the vet   Yes, there is technology and fancy equipment out there but you don’t have to make the investment when you are just starting out. Find out if you and your horse enjoy the sport first.

 

  1. You can grow with the sport. The thing I love most about distance riding is that there are many options to be involved depending on your goals. Want to ride for team Canada at the World Equestrian Games? You can do that. Want to spend time with your family? You can do that (either compete with them in ride n tie or have them crew for you!) Want to stay at the lower levels and just enjoy time on your horse? Do that. Want to compete for year-end awards? Do that. Want to use this sport as cross-training for your other disciplines? Do that. Unable to ride but want to learn more and help out? You can do that too (and our volunteers get awards as well!)  The possibilities are endless.

 

There are only a few rides left in the Ontario ride season but now is the perfect time to put this on your radar for next year.  Visit the OCTRA website  or join the OCTRA Facebook page  and find a mentor in your area to answer your questions, and help you plan and prepare for your first ride.  You’ll wonder why you didn’t try this sooner!

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In Response

To the Newbies and Potential Newbies!  Please don’t be deterred!  Come out and ride!  If you followed the discussion on North America Endurance Green Beans, the conversation took a constructive vein for the most part (yay!)  And if you followed the one on AERC…well…that’s life.  Change is hard and scary.  Don’t let the few keep you from this amazing sport.

Not every ride will suit every rider.  The terrain and the associated challenges are totally different.  A 50 mile ride in sand on flat ground in Florida is always going to different than mountains and desert. The diversity of this sport is part of what makes it so unique and amazing.

On the Duck Rides

  • I have no horse welfare concerns. These rides are in beautiful places.  There is a lot of work that goes into them and it is a foundation stone of American Endurance Riding. And there is a lot right.    I love that GPS tracks are available (now that’s a lot of work!).   Heck, if I’m not banned, I’d still attend these rides.  If I need my hand held, at least now I know who NOT to ask.
  • I don’t think any of that makes them exempt from the rules if a sanction is to be granted.

2.1.4 Each equine will receive a substantive physical examination of metabolic and mechanical parameters before the ride,at control points within the ride and after the ride. All AERC sanctioned rides must use an AERC approved rider card for the control judge(s) to record the results of their examinations

Why didn’t I (or don’t I) file a formal complaint?  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the rides.  I am totally on board with, as one person put it, ‘ navigation/survival’.  I think the problem lies with the AERC and the attitude.  I also didn’t have any confidence a closed door conversation would be effective based on

  • Did I vet in?  No.  Did I get mentors?  Yes.  Did we all go attempt to vet it on Friday?  Yes.  Was anyone around?  No.  Is this typical.  No.  And I’m not saying there wasn’t a check, just that no one was around when we went to try (a few times).  Was I concerned for my horses welfare because of this?  No.  These rides clearly state you need to be self sufficient and responsible for your own horses welfare.  I had no doubts my horse was fine.  And no doubt the 12 checkpoints on the official (but required) vet card don’t take the place of experience and a good vet can certainly tell at a glance if there’s something truly wrong.  The experienced people I was with didn’t seem concerned about starting anyway so I went with it.

On Hazing and Being New

I’m thick skinned.  I’m not offended if high milers want to say LD riders aren’t doing real endurance.  In fact, I’m not offended by much of anything.

But I see and hear things.  And some of those things make me sad.  Some of the stories I received yesterday of people who are ‘taking a break’ or who have left the sport soon after joining make me sad. 

The conversation on the AERC group on facebook actually makes my point better than I did.

“Before you go pointing fingers at an organization and others within the sport, in a public forum; please make sure your own actions and behaviors at rides are above reproach. Or at the very least at a socially acceptable level….you shouldn’t violate rules and then call others out publicly for it. You won’t find me casting that first stone, but I’ll definitely catch it and toss it back!”

“She has not gone to many rides check her ride record and by her own account her experience is limited”

“I would encourage newbies to check ride records on the individuals making comments before drawing conclusions!”

“I think your in the wrong sport…. Like I said maybe those rides aren’t for you. Those rides are an adventure”

“..get over it. 25 miles is a training ride, not endurance.   I am perfectly aware of what LD vs endurance is. I have done both. Although I have have done LD, I still do not consider it true endurance. It is perplexing that a new person would be so critical of a sport that she is not acquainted with…”

There was some mention and many insinuations that I’ve somehow not paid my dues.  What are these dues I apparently didn’t pay?  I paid my AERC membership and ride entries.  If it’s sweat and time shoveling, I spent my childhood riding my bike to the farm and doing any and all work for the chance to ride.  More recently, I wake up before work, go to the barn, work, go to the barn….so basically Eat Sleep Ride Repeat but with the addition of Work Full Time & Do All That Other Adulting Stuff.  Am I implying you don’t do those things?  Or that huge amounts of volunteered time from very busy people goes into rides?  Nope.  Just wondering which dues it is I’ve missed.

Am I going to quit and go home to cry?  Not likely (unless I’m banned from the AERC entirely for choosing to publicly share my experience and opinion without the magical prerequisite number of AERC miles that would bestow upon me the right to an opinion).

Am I going to get more involved and do I want to see (and contribute to) positive change and growth in the sport?  Definitely.

Stay tuned for the next article on some of the ideas ESRR has for improvement as well as some of the great ideas already in place around the country.

These are few of my favourite things

Wine, horses, food, and friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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Now in its 3rd year, the Waterloo-Wellington Hunt Club Peller Estates Wine Ride is one of the club’s most popular fundraising events, with all money raised going to support the club’s hounds.  Despite having such a wet summer in Ontario this year, the sun shone down on 40 horses and riders as they enjoyed good company, beautiful scenery, outstanding wines and a spectacular meal, while raising over $3,500 for the hounds.

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Photo credit to Alison Gittens

Riders were treated to a stirrup cup and toast to hosts Jeff Peller and family on the Peller Estates Winery lawn. After a photo shoot commemorate the occasion, the ride took participants down lovely scenic trails, past Fort George National Historic Site, down the Niagara Parkway trail along the Niagara River to Riverview Cellars Estate Winery where riders were treated to taste a variety of wines, paired with meats and cheeses.

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Next on the tour was a stop at Frogpond Farm Organic Winery, where the hospitality continued, with riders being presented with various wines to taste, and snacks to keep rider’s appetites at bay until the next meal.

And what a feast it was!  Back at Peller Estates, riders were treated to a delicious 3 course gourmet meal created by Chef Jason Parsons, which consisted of a pickled beetroot, goat cheese and arugula salad and potato and black kale soup for the starter, choice of either spring salmon or angus beef striploin for an entrée, and a bittersweet ganache bar for dessert (with all courses being paired with an appropriate wine from Peller Estates, of course!)

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Photo credit to Alison Gittens

Many thanks to the wineries for their hospitality, Alison Gittens for capturing the day in beautiful photographs, and Jeff Peller and family for being such wonderful hosts and for putting this event on.  It’s already on my calendar for next year!

 

Tevis – Against the Odds

After completing Race the Wild Coast in Oct 2016, it was time to consider the next adventure.  Sam Jones (Aus – Winner of Mongol Derby 2014 & 2nd Race the Wild Coast 2016) had ridden and completed the Tevis Cup in 2016.  Hey!  That’s in my own country!  Maybe it’s time for a domestic adventure.  I’ll ride Tevis!  Tevis is 100 miles in one day with a total ascent of ~15,460 feet and total descent of ~21,400 feet.

But I needed a horse.  December 4, 2016, I saw that a Derby friend of mine, Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Murray, was going to South Africa for a year and needed to find a situation for her promising young endurance mare.

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And the Road to Tevis 2017 began.

Horse Acquisition & The Training

I flew to Pennsylvania to pick up the truck and visit my parents; drove to Virginia to visit my horse family, Foxhunt for Christmas, and pick up the trailer; drove to Michigan to pick up Stevie, Sparta, Gilbert, and all the tack and gear to go with both horses; and we drove across the country.

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I had zero AERC miles.  I had never trained an endurance horse.  Sparta wasn’t backed until she was 8 years old and had done 3 rides in 2015 (25,25,50) and 2 in 2016 (30,50).

I reached out to my endurance Gurus as I would need their guidance.  The main ones being  Stevie, the mare’s owner of course as well as Amy Wallace-Whalen who had started the mare and Connie Burns-Caudill, a distance rider and vet.

I joined the AERC.

Bought a cot.

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And racked up my first 50 on Jan 28th.

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I started learning about training schedules, nutrition, metabolic functions, shoeing, and mares.  Smart 1/2 Arab 1/2 saddle-bred mares.  Our second ride was 65 miles at 20 Mule Team.  The morning after a 5th place finish, we prepared to present for BC and Sparta wasn’t 100% sound.  She was slightly stiff in her right hind.

I dropped her off at her ‘vacation home’ at Kingsway Farm in Temecula where I take her after a ride to go out in the big field with the mares and just be a horse for a few weeks.  By the time we got to the farm, she was sound (of course).   After Sparta’s break, I stepped up our flatwork to continue building the muscles for evenness and self-carriage.  I also contacted a friend and horse chiropractor/masseuse who is based at Kingsway, Debra, to arrange a session and also for her to teach me.  I wanted to know what I could do during a ride at holds to stretch, massage, check, and otherwise help Sparta.

One of the things Debra showed me was poll massage.  I decided I could use this in my routine as a tool to help the mare relax in stressful situations.  It became the first thing I did when I got to the barn and every time I entered her stall, the last thing I did when I left, and everywhere in between.  Sparta soon began to anticipate and enjoy it.  Now, as soon as I touch her poll, it’s her signal everything is ok, to relax, and she drops her head.  It is useful for faster heart rate recovery walking into vet checks too!

My next ride (not Sparta’s) was in Florida!  Amy, one of my Gurus, was there with her daughter Annie (who by the way has earned a place on the Young Riders team going to Italy this year!!)  Amy arranged a ride for me and as it was also an FEI event weekend, I would have the chance to watch some of the best.  The Olsen’s were kind enough to provide me with a great mare as well as a crew!!  They had a lot of horses going, and I was just added to the mix!  It was so amazing/weird to do be descended upon by a horsey pit crew at camp after each loop.  My vast experience so far had been all ‘away’ vet checks where we weren’t even back at camp until the end; not to mention the different muscles I used cantering on flat sandy terrain for 50 miles vs. mountains.  As a bonus, I got to meet Connie who had agreed to be a resource having never met me, and got to see Lynne (who I knew was there), and Kathy Broaddus (who I didn’t know was there).

In the week leading up to the next ride I’d planned to do at home, I bailed.  I was really undecided because I logically couldn’t define something wrong.  It was a long drive, I was feeling draggy, and Sparta seemed to feel the same way.  I went out for a training ride that weekend and when we got back, she was sneezing.  By the next morning she had a runny nose.  Over the next 2 weeks, she never ran a temperature and kept eating.  We spent a lot of time hand grazing (the farm close to my home doesn’t have turnout).  The runny nose cleared up and for another week we just walked the trails as she was still sneezing a bit.

At the end of May, we completed another 50.  And again, there was a slight stiffness in the right hind after the finish that again disappeared almost immediately..  Knowing Tevis was coming fast and twice the distance, I had a full lameness workup done by Mark Silverman, a former farrier and lameness vet.  We decided to tweak some shoeing issues and also start a preventative maintenance regime of a daily supplement, Platinum, and monthly Adequan injections.

At the invitation of another Mongol Derby friend you all know, Sarah, I flew up to Ontario and Ashley was kind enough to let me ride Splash.  It was my first incomplete ride due to excessive Bonus Miles.  I apparently have a problem following a marked trail and this was a reminder that I’d want my GPS for Tevis.

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Final Preparations

The last pre-Tevis event was the Educational Weekend (The Horse is Fine, The Rider Is Crazy) where I would have the opportunity to ride sections of the Tevis (Western States) Trail with a mentor.  It was well worth it for the people I met as well as a better understanding of the logistics involved in this 100 mile ride.  I talked with a lot of people and the typical responses I got along with skeptical looks were, ‘You chose Tevis as your first 100?’, ‘You know only ~50% of riders complete this every year?’,  ‘It’s your horse’s first 100?  And your first 100?’, ‘You know many horses don’t complete their first time, especially Tevis’, and lastly, ‘You don’t have any crew!?!  You need crew!’  My response was that we’d give it a try and see, but I also knew I had good advisers and was putting everything in place, for the things I could control, to be successful.  None of this prevented me from contacting my gurus with a variety of last minute worries that got progressively stranger as the ride got closer…

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I put out a call for crew.  And Rosie Campbell, owner of Freedom Fields Farm in Virginia, MFH of Bull Run Hunt, card carrying badass, and my horse mom, answered the call.  Her husband Chris (horse dad), took Friday and Monday off work to watch the farm and Rosie booked a flight across the country to Reno and would meet up with me at start camp Friday, the day before the Ride!

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Two weeks out I had arranged to have the farrier out.  He came…but didn’t put on the Impak pads in the front that I needed, nor did he do the hind shoes.  I begged him to come back and he came and put the pads on the front, but still didn’t do the hinds.  Her toe was long and catching the fronts a bit. I called but the farrier didn’t come.  The interference was intermittent, the front shoes were tight, and I decided to leave it.

Monday evening I was all packed, loaded the mare, and pulled out of the farm at 7 pm for the 11 hour haul to Auburn, CA (speed limit with a trailer in California is 55 mph).  At 5:30 AM Sparta and I arrived at Eve’s Tux Hill.

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Sparta immediately fell in love with Tux (as usual, hoebag).  And I could barely believe my luck that my mentor Eve, who had only met me on one weekend, during which I had a screaming meltdown, had invited me to stay with her.  In the short 3 days before heading up to start camp in Soda Springs, I got to learn more from Eve about nutrition, the trail, my ride plan, the logistics, and a million other details including what was going into her kit (as she was also riding Tevis on her friend’s horse).

Friday I loaded up and we caravaned up to start camp.  Space was non-existent, we were on gravel, and got parked in.  I checked in.  Rosie arrived, looked at the mare, and asked if I knew she was missing a shoe.  WHAT?!??!  She was in fact, missing a HIND shoe.  A HIND SHOE.  Her foot wasn’t torn up, it was just gone.  She had it that morning.  It wasn’t in the trailer.  But a HIND shoe?  Seriously?

There were 4 farriers across the street and even after some very kind people brought their horses over to where Sparta could see them, it took all four of them to get back shoes on her.  She wasn’t really handled until she was 8 and had come a long way with the farrier…at home.  As I watched horrified, I saw my ride ending before it even started.

The farriers were so kind and did an amazing job so if you know who they are, thank them.  I was a little to frazzled at the time to get names.  Miraculously, we left the farrier station with only a few cuts and scrapes to go with the new hind shoes (and the shorter toe I’d wanted).  I checked the schedule and it said I had until 6 pm to vet in but it was a 2.5 mile walk.  We squeezed between a giant RV, a pen, and some horses butts to get over to the trail to the vet area.  At 5:15 when we got there, they were packing up to leave having been told they were finished.  Interesting.  I tried not to look annoyed in the mug shot they took.

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I was filthy, had a bath, and settled in to attempt to get some rest before The Big Day.

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The Big Day

At 3:30 AM I gave Sparta breakfast & got dressed.  At 4 AM I tacked up.  There was barely any space to get out, so Rosie and I walked Sparta around toward the wood-lined strip of dirt road that was the start ‘pens’ for the 170 horses entered.  To say the mare was wound up, with 170 horses converging in the dark on a small area, is an understatement.  With a reluctant bystander sort of holding Sparta, Rosie managed to give me a leg up as the mare was leaping about.  We walked into the woods on the dirt road in the dark through a mass of milling, fit, wound up horses to check in.  Our placings in the rides we had completed already bought us a ticket into Pen 1.  It was slightly less chaotic with most of the 60 or so horses in pen one making a long skinny loop walking up and down the stretch of road.

After what seemed like forever (45 minutes or so), Pen 1 was finally released for the ‘controlled’ start; where all 170 horses would walk, staying on the road, for about 3 miles where we would cross a wooden bridge single file before being released.  Immediately, a horse near the front reared and the rider came off.  The horse flew backwards and we scattered.  She remounted and barged through to get back near the front (obviously crucial placing for a 100 mile race that would take us most of 24 hours).  I noticed the horse in front of me dancing around swinging it’s butt, and noticed that it wasn’t getting bumped and crowded…so I gathered the reins, put my leg on, and proceeded to put our flatwork to good use appearing to have sketchy control and buying us some breathing room.

With the bridge in sight, I noticed a woman working hard to keep her horse from charging ahead.  I said something like, ‘You can run into our butt if you need to!’  We were instantly friends.  She was glad to have someone to tuck behind and I was glad to have a friend for Sparta.  We crossed the bridge and were set loose!  It didn’t take long for me and my new best friend Melissa to realize we had a similar riding style and sense of humor.  It was beneficial and a good fit for both horses too.

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We ate dust on the first leg and riders were still bunched up.  We’d spread out enough by the time we came to Cougar Rock that there were only two people ahead of me and I decided to go over to get the iconic photo.  I was told to wait until the horse ahead went over the top.  Instead, Sparta reared, I yelled some profanity, and up we went!  No problem. Then on to the first vet check, Red Star, at Mile 20.  Both horses came into the check pulsed down, drank, and passed the vet check.  We let them eat hay for a few minutes, then picked up handfuls of hay for the horses to nibble as we walked out of the check.  We had to keep moving.

Sparta doesn’t stand well for me to get on.  It’s a work in progress.  There was some regression and rearing before I was mounted up to move out again.  This next piece would take us down through Duncan Canyon to Mile 36 at Robinson Flat, the first (of two) 1 hour holds.  It also included, in the last 6 miles coming into Robinson, an elevation gain of ~1300 feet.

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As we approached Robinson, I told Melissa I didn’t know if I’d have a person, but that my stuff (courtesy of Eve’s coordination) would be there (grain and electrolytes for Sparta, Anti-Monkey Butt Powder for both of us).  She had lots of crew and offered their help.  I was SO grateful to have a hand to help pull my tack off, hold it while I vetted, and then help me find my stuff amid the chaos of crews for 169 riders (not including me here).  It was drizzling and a bit chilly so while Sparta ate, I put her saddle pad over her back and butt to keep her muscles warm as best I could.  A typical Tevis year, it’s really hot and dry.  It was 112 deg F the weekend of the Ed Ride.  I didn’t have a cooler or sheet.  I guess I looked pretty pathetic crouched by Sparta nibbling my granola bar because Melissa came and asked if I had anything to eat (apparently the bar didn’t count) then had one of her crew hold Sparta and sent me over to her area with a shout to her crew of, “Feed this rider!”

With 20 minutes until I could head out, I tacked up and started walking around making frequent passes at the water tanks.  At 10 minutes I got on with little fuss.  At 5 minutes, I still didn’t see Melissa even though our out times were only 1 minute apart.  The timers released me and I set off alone hoping Melissa and her horse were ok.  We got water at Dusty Corners and cruised through the vet check and halfway point (50 miles!) at Last Chance before dropping into the next canyon, then climbing out gaining ~1400 feet in about 1.5 miles.

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I jogged down leading Sparta, took a quick dip in a fork of the American river, crossed the Swinging Bridge, and tailed (held her tail to pull me up as I walked behind) up as it gives the horse a break and is much easier for them to pull a bit than carry a rider up a mountain.  We passed Devil’s Thumb and vetted through at Deadwood.  The volunteers at all these places with limited access and no crews were amazing offering food and water to both horses and riders.  Michigan Bluff is a little tiny town and we ride through on the main street.  There were people out to watch, crews, and I dismounted to let Sparta drink and have a bite to eat…but she wanted no part of any of it and dragged me through town.  A mile or so out of town, I had just finished having a little chat with Sparta about standing next to stuff so I could get on (I was running out of holes to tighten her girth) when along came Melissa!!  Boy was I glad to see her.  It turned out her horse had a scary but short choking incident delaying her departure from Robinson Flat.  He was recovered and quite perky as we joined up again.

At mile 68, Foresthill, we had our second 1 hour hold.  I was excited coming up the road to see all the crews and spectators as I looked for, and found, Rosie! My Crew!!  A face I knew! After passing the vet check, she led me to where she had set up my things along with Eve and her camp.  The ice boots went on and both Sparta and I dug into the food!  All too soon, it was again time to tack up and ride out into the quickly fading light of the evening.  Again, Melissa and I had come into together, but she wasn’t to be found as I left.  The trail was marked by glowsticks and I also had the GPS track.

I puttered along in the dark, sometimes in the company of another rider, but mostly alone, trusting Sparta to see and pick her way and pace.  It was an almost full moon, but still very dark in the canyons.  I sang, and talked to Sparta, and may have howled at the moon.  At Francisco’s the 85 mile vet check, Sparta was ravenous and devouring the mash a volunteer brought to us.  I was so excited she was eating, I forgot to go directly to the vet to trot out in case she stiffened up at all.  Someone I’d met before came over and reminded me.  Sparta was less than enthusiastic to leave the food.  Our trot out was lacking impulsion and we trotted a second time.  The vet saw a little something intermittent, possibly her right front?  I suspected it was her right hind and massaged and stretched her before heading out.  I slowed her down, put my leg on, and did trail dressage to keep her supple and to work different parts.  I stopped posting when we trotted and stood in the stirrups to be as even as possible.  I got off to jog down the small canyons.  And I worried.  But she felt good.  At the river crossing we got a lead at the steep entry.  Normally it would have been no issue, but Sparta was clearly questioning my sanity departing yet another place with lights and people to go into a river.

I could see the lights of the Lower Quarry vet check at mile 94 for what seemed like forever as we wound our way toward it.  She trotted out totally sound (whew!) and we were in and out quickly and on to the last 6 miles!

The trail wiggled all OVER those last little canyons and those 6 miles felt like another 100.  When we came to a good area to trot, Sparta still volunteered most of the time and I may have groaned as I stood up.  When she didn’t volunteer, I clucked and then she’d groan and trot.  At one point she stopped and spun, but she was right, I’d missed a water tank that didn’t have any glow stick on it.  We passed some kids at the end of a dirt road making out in a car.  Then FINALLY came to the timed finish!!  It was totally anticlimactic.  I dismounted, loosened the girth, dropped the bit and collected a small scrap of paper with my number and time.  3:54 AM

The ‘photo’ finish line was in the stadium and I could see the lights…but there was no indication which way to go to get down to it.  Seriously?  I picked a way and walked down the hill to the stadium looking for Rosie.  Someone told me I had to get back on to do a victory lap and go under the stadium finish.  I may have been less than totally polite inquiring if I’d still have my completion if I walked as there was no way in hell I was going to tighten the girth, get back on, and ask that amazing mare to carry me one step further (she could have, but seriously.)  So I stalked around the area vaguely hearing the announcer announce something about me to the 3 or 4 people in the stands.   My finish photos are pretty lame, but we did it!!  Almost.  We vetted out and then were officially complete!

Against all odds, we tackled The Tevis Cup, and with a combination of hard work, good advice, and some luck, completed in 22 hours and 39 minutes!

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It’s like barrel racing, but with guns

It sounds pretty redneck but it is one of the fastest growing equestrian disciplines.  A horse, guns, balloons, and a stopwatch and BANG! You have cowboy mounted shooting.

I have been wanting to try this sport for a few years now.  While I was participating in the St. Tite Rodeo in St. Tite, Quebec with the Canadian Cowgirls drill team, the cowboy mounted shooting  association in Quebec gave a little demo.  If you’ve never seen it before, it is thrilling! The general gist of the event is to race around a pattern, shooting balloons in a certain order with the best precision and fastest time.  Seconds are added for missing balloons, going off course, knocking over any barrels, etc.

Why haven’t I tried this before? Well Ontario has much stricter gun laws than the US and most of the other provinces so there is a lot of red tape to cut through. Arenas need to be licensed as shooting ranges and many venues are not willing to put the time or effort in.  Thanks to Britt Needham, a cowboy mounted shooter from Saskatchewan who now calls Ontario home, this sport is getting its start in this province!  I attended a 2 day clinic just north of Orangeville to get a feel for what the sport is like and to learn more about it.  (Side note: one of the rules for Ontario is going to be that you have participated as a rider in one of these clinics before you are allowed to compete in Ontario. I highly suggest giving the Ontario Cowboy Mounted Shooting Facebook page a like so that you can keep up to date on upcoming clinics and events. https://www.facebook.com/ontariocmsa/)

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Day one of the clinic focussed on rules, regulations, and just getting a feel for the guns.  You might be interested to know that Mounted Shooters use .45 caliber single action revolvers like those used in the late 1800’s. Single action revolvers must be cocked each time before firing by drawing the hammer back.  They also shoot brass cartridges filled with black powder that can break a balloon up to about 15 feet.  No live rounds are used and are prohibited at competitions. Any one and any horse can compete.  There are men’s and women’s divisions from levels 1-6. There is also a youth division.  They ride the same pattern that the grown-ups do, but they may shoot Hollywood cap pistols, engaging each target as if they were shooting real blanks. They then shoot the real McCoy (.45’s with blanks) at balloons, from the ground while standing stationary with mom or dad at their side.

Day two got participants learning about patterns and getting to ride a mock one. Even though Splash was having a bad day (it started off with a rodeo as soon as I put the saddle on so you can imagine how the rest of the day went), I had a ton of fun, learned a lot, and met some great people.  Even if you don’t think you will ever compete in a mounted shooting event, it is really neat to try out a different discipline, especially one like this, in a safe environment with knowledgable instructors to help set you and your horse up for success.

Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program

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

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

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

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Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

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

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

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

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

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

The (New) Greatest Show on Earth

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

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

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La Grande Aventure / Credits : Dan Harper

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

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LIBERTÉ / CREDITS : JAK WONDERLY

 

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

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

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VIP Lounge

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

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

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CAROSELLO / CREDITS : DAN HARPER

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

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

Ecogold CoolFit Pad Review

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

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

 

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

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

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Photo credit: Teresa Finnerty

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

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

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

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

Grand River Raceway Open House

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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