Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Riverslide Glide

I suppose it’s safe now to let you all in on a little secret I have been keeping....

I will be attending the Riverslide Glide CTR with JB the weekend of October 3rd. I am going over with two friends who are riding two days of 30 miles. I will riding in the Saturday 25 mile Novice adult division. While it’s not an endurance race, it’s still a distance ride.

If you had asked me about attending this a month ago, my answer would have been a quick .."no" . Debbie and Sherrie, who are friends that I ride with , have been planning to attend this ride for months. One day while out on a ride with them, they asked me if I wanted to come along. At first my answer was a quick no, thinking JB would never be ready in time but then I got to looking at my riding log, considered how well JB had been doing and considered the time I still had to get him ready. With some of the weekend miles we had been putting on lately, I could see that JB could be ready in time. So for the last 3 weeks, we have been putting on the finishing touches.

Debbie and Sherrie are going for AHA championship points. I will be attending for a totally different reason; to finally cross a bridge that has been just out of our reach since last season. JB is moving freeer, better and faster than he ever has. His feet don't bother him and he is in the best condition he has ever been in.

.....It's time friends; time for all the tears shed, the set backs, the frustrations, and doubts to step aside and let us have our moment. JB has earned it and he is ready. I couldn't have asked for a better friend on this journey that we started almost two years ago. He has taught me more than I could have ever hoped to have taught him and I am forever grateful.

So, there is much to do to get ready – Coggins, health certificate, finding JB’s brand inspection, tack cleaning, packing …. And a couple more rides this week!

Stay tuned for the ride story…!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

JB Conquers Lupine Lake ; A Mega Climb

For the last several rides, I have slowly been asking JB for a little more , a little more distance or a little more speed, or tested him in challenging terrain. Each time, he is meeting that challenge and surprising me with his abilities. For whatever reason, he is really coming into his own and all the doubts I was having even just a few months ago, are slowly fading with each ride.
This past week I didn't get to ride but once (a six mile speed run) due to hours at the office . This weekend I joined a friend for a hill day workout. We would be heading west of town to Ashley Mountain and Lupine Lake trail. This was new territory for me but it offered some great technical training trails along with some serious hill climbs, water crossings , great scenery , and the opportunity to run into Moose or possibly even a wolf or two. (hopefully not!)
The first 1/2 mile of the trail decended us down, down , down into a creek bottom. Going downhill is hard enough on a horse, but add in large rocks, stumps , a sharp corner with a shear drop off,and it makes it all the more a challenge. There were areaa on this part of the trail that made me thankful I had JB responding to leg , hand and seat aids effectively. JB hasn't figured out that going downhill is easier if he gets on his haunches but he took his time which is the first step. There were spots where he had to drop off a ledge of rocks. He would stop to look at the footing before he stepped down. Exactly what he needed to do.

After the initial steep decent, the trail leveled off for a while before it started a gradual climb up to the lake. In various spots, it opened up enough to do a little trotting. We reached Lupine lake, about 3 miles into the ride. JB was already pretty sweaty.
We took about a fifteen minute break here at Lupine and there was one fisherman in the background. I shared my sunbutter and apple lunch with JB, who ended up getting most of it... Oh well, I was happy to share! He also got a few carrots as well, which he knows I pack along with on every ride!! I offered him a drink but he wasn't interested.

We headed out and JB took the lead. For the next 3 miles or so, the real climb began. He wanted to rush a bit on the uphills but since it would be a long climb I had to check him back and make him take his time. At about a 1.5 miles of steady , slow but steep climbing, I jumped off and led JB for a while to give him a break. As good as he has been going, I did want to over do it with him.

We finally arrived at the top, and JB was definitely tired. I am not sure what the elevation was exactly but high comes to mind. We popped out onto an old logging road. I loosened JB's girth , let him graze, and offered him a drink out of my water bottle. He wasn't too interested but was definitely hungry. While taking our rest, some hikers came along with a blind dog. We visited with them about the area and even got some information about some other trails in the area. After about 15 minutes the horses seemed to be recovered and we headed back down. We both led our horses down the steepest parts.

The decent we made in the first 1/2 mile of the trail was now a steep climb out as the last hurrah before our day was over. I wasn't certain JB would have enough gas in the tank to climb out of there but to my surprise, he scampered up that hill like a champ. He had definitely figured out how to push himself off his hind end in climbing.

It seems JB is really coming along and proving himself not only as good endurance prospect but a tough little mountain horse as well! It's been a long road for us and I couldn't be prouder of this little horse. He just keeps getting better each time we go out on a ride. I only wish it was the beginning of the season instead of the end!

****By the way, we never did see any moose or wolf, thankfully.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thought for the day

Life is not how you survive the storm....but how you dance in the rain....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Elusive Rare Species; The Perfect Endurance Saddle Pad

In the sport of Endurance , one thing a person can count on to remain constanti s that the equipment selection will always change. Just when you think you have everything perfect , something will change your mind. On the other hand, since it can get expensive to have all the top equipment, endurance riders are a creative bunch that can muster up amazing ideas to make something work in a pinch.

One of those equipment items that seems to be a widely discussed and ever changing topic is the Elusive rare species, the perfect endurance saddle pad. I never would have imagined that this piece of equipment would create so many headaches in the decision making process for me, constantly having to reassess things. Usually, being decisive comes easy for me, but this sport has me feeling like Brett Favre these days (ha!).

In the last month, JB and I have been traveling longer miles in the saddle. Longer miles than we have ever done before. His back is not giving him any trouble , thankfully, but I find myself changing my pad configuration up quite frequently to make sure I avoid that problem. My saddle is a Duett Companion Trail II and fits him quite well so I don't have to worry about padding to improve saddle fit.

Even with a good fitting saddle, I have found that pad requirements can change depending on weather, distance, or how JB appears to be feeling that day. 15 miles in steep country is a different ride than 15 miles down a flat dirt road. I try to keep terrain in mind when making the pad decision for the day.

Since last summer, I have made due with what I have on hand, my large collection that has accumulated over the years. (I am a bit of a tack hoarder). As I add more miles and look toward next season, I hope to refine my pad choices for the best results.

When I started perusing the many endurance sites out there with pads to sell, I realized I would be taking my time on this decision. There are enough choices to make any person dizzy. While I certainly don’t have enough years of experience on the endurance race scene, I have narrowed it down to the following 11 features I am looking for in a pad when making my decision. I used these 11 features to compare 8 different pad choices.

....drumroll please.........

1. I prefer natural fibers against my horse; e.g wool, wool felt, sheepskin are all top choices
2. Ease of care is a nice perk, but #1 is more important to me.
3. Affordability- I like a discount as much as the next person, but if it means my horse and I are more comfortable and the quality is there, I don’t mind paying a bit more.
4. Good back protection for my horse without feeling like there is a mattress between my horse and me. I prefer closer contact.
5. Breathability
6. Lightweight- even when wet with sweat.
7. I want something with impact protection, because no matter how well or light a person rides, even 30 miles is still 30 miles of vibration on a horses back, so I like the foam insert idea but keeping in mind # 4 and #5 (stay away from gel, it doesn’t breathe and creates heat build up)
8. Durability; holds up well to multiple washings and many hours of use.
9. I want something that doesn’t collect every hay fiber or particle of dust that floats by us.
10. I want to have at least two pads to switch between so refer to #3.

and last but not least...
11. This one is more of a personal preference, pet peeve thing. I don’t like the idea of a pad, or a girth for that matter, that grips the horse, like neoprene or some of the other tacky type backings often seen on pads. (just take neoprene and rub it against your own skin while applying some pressure and you’ll see what I mean…) It’s been my experience that the pulling that occurs with a grippy pad backing can actually tear muscle fibers. I know the idea is that the sweat lubricates the material and allows it to glide, but I would rather just keep to more natural fibers if I can.

So there they are…Too Picky? .. Maybe… but my horse’s comfort as well as my comfort are crucial if we are to ever be successful at this sport.

I have taken those 11 features and used them in reviewing the following pads;

Toklat Woolback Endurance pad with inserts- I will keep this straight forward, I did not like this pad at all. It passed #1, #11 and #4, and #7 with flying colors but it failed miserably on #2 , # 4 , #6, #9. I sent it back as soon as I pulled it out of the box…Need I say more?

Diamond Wool-Wool Felt – Square Western Cut -1” thickness and ½” thickness. I like this pad overall and frequently use this pad for my conditioning rides, but it’s a bit big for an English saddle. I could cut it to size but I also like to use this pad under my western saddle. It does well for #1, #3, #4, #5 , #8 , #11 and okay in #7 . It fails in #2, # 6, and # 9. It absorbs a lot of moisture and then gets extremely heavy when wet. Cleaning this pad is not overly difficult, just very time consuming because I have to hose and scrub it with a dandy brush and takes 2 full days to dry in the sun. Overall, it’s a good back up pad that is highly versatile if needed but not my first choice for a distance pad. I have about 4 of these on hand , all different thicknesses.

5 Star Wool Pads- These are excellent quality pads but have some of the similar issues as the Diamond wool pads . They are much more expensive than Diamond wool however. 5 Star’s are overall a great pad for arena or light trail work but I wouldn’t choose this for a distance pad.

Dover Quilted square AP saddle pad used along with a Toklat Woolback AP pad (without inserts)This combination actually does a nice job protecting JB’s back on longer rides and seems to breathe well. It’s Royal blue so he looks pretty snazzy in color!. I rate it high on # 2, #3 #, 5,# 6 when used in conjunction with the Woolback AP. Without the Woolback, it would not offer enough back protection. The part I don’t like is having to deal with lining up two pads. It is also difficult to use both sets of pad keepers, so the dressage pad ends up slipping back sometimes. I bought both pads in new condition for a used price of $10 .It was a priced right and has worked in the short term but I probably would not use this for any distance longer than a 25 mile ride. ****The Dover blue pad is pictured above on JB with a wither relief half pad that I use for arena work on occasion.

Haf Italia Pad- Although I have not purchased one, I like a lot of what these pads offer. They are pricey but they are easy to clean, they are supposed to be the best breathing pad out there and also offer good back protection. All of this sounds really good, although it hard to know what’s marketing and what’s true until you try it. I am still not convinced of the grippy material on these pads and this has been the one reason I have not purchased one. I would probably have to try one for a few rides to be convinced. I might keep my eye out for a used one.

Equipedic- I am heavily considering this as one of my main pads. Can’t find anything I don’t like about this one yet except the price, over $200 from most retailers. The Conforpedic Impact reduction Material is supposed to be good but I have read some testimonials that once the material squishes down, it stays that way. I would be curious about the impact protection of this material. Overall the testimonials have all been more positive then negative. Several riders at the Pan American Championship races loved these .

Skito- Same as above on the material squishing down. These seem to look a bit... well…. “chincy” for what the price is. Not really sold on the overall appearance.

I saved the best for last:

Fleeceworks- This company has been around for a while in the dressage and English discipline, but they just released a new line specific for endurance and trail in August . The entire endurance series comes with full inserts. They are removable through a Velcro enclosure at the top of the pad. They come in models related to distance, which is a bit of a different take. There are 3 different options to choose from. 25, 50’s and 100’s. The 50's and 100's are a bamboo/soy top with a 100% bamboo backing and batting. They are designed for the distance of the race. The 25 does not have the bamboo and is made from merino wool not sheepskin. It is a no frills pad designed for conditioning and getting into the sport. The 100 and 50 are very high tech and are ergonomically cut, have the bamboo, are top of the line sheepskin or sheepskin wool combo and are sewn together with SCUBA tread. The website is not updated with all the information on these pads but they have great customer service. I have a friend who has been using this over the last couple of weeks and putting a lot of miles on her horse. She feels these are by far the best endurance pads she has used to date, exceeding the Haf pad and Skito’s.

So , my two choices will be the Equipedic and/or Fleeceworks pads.

Feel free to comment on your own preferences and what you have found to work or just what's on your wish list for equipment. I know Mel over at Boots and Saddles has done her own review of saddle pads, which I found very helpful. Hopefully, someone can gain some wisdom from my quest to find the right pad and save themselves a few steps.

Happy Trails!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting the thought; and Building a Relationship

Earlier this summer, I introduced Maggie, my newest addition to the herd, a 4 year old Lippitt Morgan mare. Maggie, and her dam, arrived at Acer Farm to be bred to JB. Through a very strange set of circumstances, Maggie did not end up being bred and somehow, the day the owner arrived to pick up both mares to take them home, I found myself signing a sales agreement for Maggie. As I led this sweet natured mare with huge doe eyes, back to the paddocks, I was rift with emotions on what I had just signed up for. Knowing the bloodline, I knew she would be a tough as nails kind of horse and have a lot of "go", characteristics that are important for a good endurance prospect. At the same time, Acer Farm was now at 6 head, the 6th now being a young untrained horse who was going to need much time from me, something that there was already a limited amount of.

Today, several months later and about 120 pounds lighter, Maggie has moved into full time training. Over the last several weeks, when I am not conditioning JB, I am usually in the arena or round pen with Maggie. The two horses are about as different as two horses could ever be.

JB, having plucked him from a ranch where he was essentially running wild as a weanling, arrived at Acer Farm a scared, confused , trembling, wormy, and underweight mess, terribly fearful of humans. Over the years of building our relationship and trust, he has blossomed into a quiet, brave, nonreactive, low key kinda guy that would rather graze and smell the roses than speed away down the trail. (we are working on the speed thing!) We established our bond in a much different way, given his age and complete lack of trust in human beings. Now, he's a pocket pony.

Maggie, a generally sweet natured mare was handled by humans since she hit the ground. Fear of humans is not an issue at all. Instead, Maggie is very emotional, very reactive. Her strong reactions don’t always seem to fit the situation, whether it is in the pasture with the herd or during a training session. She will frequently squeal so loudly you think she is getting into a huge fight with another horse in the pasture but it’s probably just another horse walking up to her and sniffing her. Reactive, sensitive and highly emotional, all the things I am not:

….and all the things I steer away from when it comes to my relationships with humans. “oh dear”…

A difficult set of personality traits they are, but add to that mix.... strong willed. And here is where we found our common ground.

Maggie didn’t really know how or see any purpose, for that matter, in needing direction and leadership from anyone other than her Dam. While she was weaned at 6 months from her dam , there were then reunited as pasture mates and as a result, very bonded. when one moved the other moved in unison., like they were connected at the shoulder and hip. It was an interesting and strong relationship the two had. I knew if Maggie and I were ever going to be a team, the first thing I had to do was to find a way to establish myself as a someone she could look to for safety when she was not with her herd mates. Not being of the mind or sharing in the philosophy that people need to replace the leadership role between horses, it’s instead my belief to let the horse be a horse and the human be a human. Horses can figure out the difference and can bond with a human in a more profound way that we often realize.

After her dam got in the trailer and went home, I spent many hours in those first several weeks grooming her and taking her for walks. Maggie seemed hopelessly lost without her Dam but found some solace in a couple other pasture mates and eventually began to enjoy the time I was spending with her, greeting me at the gate and whinnying to me when I would enter the tack shed to get her halter.

Eventually we moved to free lunging sessions in the round pen.

The first session or two in the round pen were rough. As soon as I took her halter off she would blast off into a fast trot or canter around the perimeter of the round pen, focusing on anything but me. I wasn’t asking for this but I had to see what she would do. I should mention that I don’t use the round pen or lungeing to “work the kinks out” by wearing a horse down. (that’ probably a whole other post!)

My first challenge was to help her understand that the answer was not to run around the perimeter of the round pen as fast as her feet could carry her. I had to get her mind. As sensitive as she was, I knew I had to be careful not to do too much. A small step to the left or right would send her reeling and kicking out as she passed by me, letting me know how unpleased she was. Echoes of the words of my horse training mentor , Harry Whitney, rang in my ears, “ get the thought and the feet will come”.

At this stage it didn’t matter what that change of thought was, or if it came and went in a flutter. We were defining success on a small scale. It was my job to identify the smallest of change in her thought, and reward it. It would require good timing and feel. Having worked with the Barbs, and other less than domesticated horses for the last several years I was pretty confident I could recognize fairly subtle things in a horse. It might be as subtle as a flick of the ear , a quick look in my direction. It could be a slight slowed or faster pace in response to my shift in my weight, or a tail swish, or anything really....
Or, on the other hand, given Maggie’s highly reactive ways, it may not be subtle at all. I was betting on the latter. Either way, I would have to be quick with my reward, to tell her “that’s it, that’s the answer”…to encourage her to keep checking in…regardless of what she threw at me.

As suspected, the first response she gave me wasn’t subtle at all.

As she ran around the round pen, she would rush more on one side than the other. This was a perfect opportunity she had just presented to me. As she came around, several strides before she got to that spot, I stepped to my left, closing in the distance between the panel and me. She would do one of a couple things I figured, she would either stop abruptly and turn around, or she might blast through the tighter space between me and the round pen panel. Maggie, I should have known, highly emotional and strong willed, came right at me, head low and ears pinned. Maggie was not pleased with the change of program and was quick to let me know , just as she would move another horse out of her way, she was trying to get me to move out of her way. I had a flag in my hand and as she came closer, I stepped firmly toward her and gave the flag a little shake, keeping it low to the ground and not directly at her. She turned and was now traveling in the other direction. In her attempt to move me, she fully expected me to move away, out of her path. What had occurred instead was that she had to move out of my way, and move off into a direction she was not expecting to go. A change of thought indeed had just occurred.

I was quite pleased with how it all shook out. Her reaction gave me alot to work with. And... when she found herself back out on the perimeter, she suddenly stopped , looked at me , licking and chewing as if to say "well that didn't go like I had planned".. "what in the world just happened?"

We repeated this a couple more times, except, I moved to different parts of the round pen, changing the program a bit. She instantly became much more interested in what I was going to do next and less focused on everything else. This was what I was looking for.. as long as she was checking in with me, she was mentally engaged. I wasn’t concerned about what direction or what gait she traveled at. I only wanted to capture her attention, if even for brief moments. Whenever she offered to check in with me, whatever that was at that very moment, she was rewarded .
“Good girl, easy girl...” softly coaxing her with my voice and simple pressure/release by body position.

Eventually she might just relax enough to drop into a walk, and then maybe someday stop and allow me to walk up to her, scratch on her for a while and take a walk around the perimeter with her. That would be success.

We built the foundation over many hours and many days of sessions like this until eventually she realized she didn’t need to be out there by herself on the perimeter, full of worry and working so hard. Pretty soon, her thoughts were more on me. She began to come in to where I was standing, looking to me and asking what she should do. She began to hunt for what felt good to her, for the reward of simply coming in and of being quiet together, for a gentle stroke along her neck or a scratch under her belly where only a good friend can reach. We continued down this road, gradually building the blocks of a solid foundation to where we are today.

Today, I can take her into the round pen, undo her halter and she will stay near me until I ask her to go out. I can move her up and down through her gaits, halt, walk, trot , canter with voice commands and the subsequent pressure and release of my body position. I can ask her to come in to see me, change direction and go back out and pick up a trot. All of this in a quiet, controlled manner; not a fast, rushed, frantic way that I see with so many horses who have been “round pen trained”. Her thoughts and my thoughts in line and finally we have something to build from.

Stay tuned for the next post about how all of this translates to time in the saddle!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bittersweet Weekend

Well, the weekend sure didn't go like I had hoped, or atleast start out like I had hoped. Friday night, one of our last remaining two dogs took a turn for the worse . We have been battling urinary issues, bladder issues with her for quite some time and knew that is was only a matter of time. Saturday morning found us at the vet clinic with Morgan, our 14 year oldBorder Collie/heeler cross. While we waited for the xray to come back, I couldn't believe that it was just a few short months ago I was in the same room with our Samoyed, facing the same heart wrenching decision.. The prognosis was not good and there was nothing left to do. Saturday came and went with many tears shed but there was also much work to do as well. We had another load of hay coming, unexpectedly. So, with the wind out of our sails, we grunted and sweated our grief away over the 5 ton of hay staring at us, with a dark gray cloud looming in the western horizon. It was ominous looking and fitting for how we were feeling. We finished , barely in enough time before the rains came in a fury. We spent a quiet evening at home, lost in our own distant thoughts. The day had turned out so different than we had planned.

Sunday, I did a quick ride on Maggie in the arena and went to visit the parents, and planning my ride for today. I was meeting up with a couple of friends, hubby and his good friend was also coming along.

The plans found us riding in new found territory so we set out and I was excited for the new adventure. We found some great new conditioning trails and several of us decided that we would definitely be heading back , maybe as soon as next weekend. Unfortunately, it's about a 45 minute drive for me to get there. There were several tricky water crossings. JB and I had several good training "opportunites" and finally , he realized he didn't have to be a grand prix jumper over water crossings. I was very thankful for my jumping background and ability to stay with him as he launched us over several cricks, that did not exactly warrant that kind of effort! By the last water crossing, he was crossing much easier, still uneasy about it but no more sky rocket launches, thank goodness!!

We had one potentially bad situation where Sherrie's horse suddenly kicked at JB while we were all standing there trying to decide which way to go. The loud Thwack it made and JB's reaction , I thought for sure, he balsted JB's knee in two. I jumped off immediately and looked him over... nothing.... We were farily close so maybe it wasn't as hard as it seemed but it sure sounded hard. What may have happened was the horse may have caught the front of JB's easy boot but I was sure the kick made contact much higher. JB was no worse for the wear and seemed fine , after the initial stun , so we went on our way and he continued to be fine.. I guess these Barbs are tough because a hit that like that should have hurt more than he was letting on. Needless to say, I didn't ride next to Sherrie for the rest of the day... I wasn't going to take any chances. The last thing I need is for JB to get kicked and injured now!

We kept on riding and we estimated, although it was hard to tell, we covered atleast 12-15 miles. JB never really seemed overly tired, and we did trot and canter in several areas. Overall, JB was a real trooper, in spite of the fact that he got blasted for no good reason while he minding his own business. Poor Guy.. he got extra apples and carrots tonight..

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Go Climb That Mountain

This weekend, I hope to scramble up Columbia Mountain with JB. Pictured above is one section of trail. This is a brutal trail with 4,000 feet in elevation gain and total of 12 miles, round trip. ( hmmm, on second thought, crawling might be a better choice of words) There is also an elevation loss of several hundred feet in the first two miles. A total elevation gain /loss ratio of close to 9,000 feet round trip. I hope were up for it. Behold the prize that awaits us though! A view from the top!
Looking out to the Swan Mountain Range (which is where the Crane Mountain Ride was)

Maggie is also on the weekend agenda for saddle time, but I think we'll stick to some easier work for now. Here are some photos of some of the trails I ride on frequently , trails that are more condusive to a beginner... but still offer a great view.