"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Catchup


So what have we been up to while I went on and on about the OD ride? :)

Lily
She is getting a full 2 weeks of vacation. There are different formulas for determining how much rest your horse should get after an endurance ride. Some say a day for every 10 miles, others do a week for every 25 miles. I'm doing the latter. She more than earned it.

Lily spent the first 5 days after the OD in the stall + dry lot scenario: I wanted her to not have to compete for a fan (there are fans in the mare field run-in but there are 2 new horses) after that huge effort in the mountains, and I also wanted to be able to give her as much food as I wanted. My BO is awesome for letting me do this. Lily had free choice hay around the clock, her beet pulp + Triple Crown Senior mash with her supplements am and pm, and alfalfa for lunch.


Eating in her stall. The grease paint numbers finally came off with some Eqyss Microtek.

She developed some very mild swelling on her right hind fetlock about 24 hours after returning home from the Old Dominion. Of course I freaked. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that she had some skin funk/rainrot starting around that fetlock. Lily has historically swelled in response to fungal infections pretty much every summer since I've owned her. I started treatment of the funk with Eqyss Microtek and Furazone. She was trotting out sound, but after 3 days of treatment the swelling was persisting and I started to worry. My vet was coming out on Friday for a slew of other horses anyway so I added Lily to the list. (She'll split the barn call if she is seeing multiple boarder horses.)

Of course come Friday the swelling was mostly gone. I told my vet what I thought the problem was but reminded her that Lily had just done a 50 mile ride the weekend prior and I wanted to be 100% sure that I wasn't missing a mild lameness. My vet has a fantastic eye for lameness; I've witness her catch slight lamenesses that the average eye couldn't see. She's also really good at determining the source of lameness without imaging the entire leg.

Dr. L had me trot Lily in a very tight circle on the lunge, then flexed her for a full minute before having me trot her out in a straight line. Lily trotted out sound. PHEW! My vet confirmed the skin funk + resulting mild cellulitis diagnosis. No additional treatment: just continue what I was doing.

On Friday I set her free in the mare field. The two new mares are very sweet QHs so there was no issue with them. However, due to a shift in the powers that be, Gracie had taken over as herd leader. She didn't mistreat Lily but she guarded the new mares from interacting with her. So Lily spent the next 4 days on the outskirts of the herd. She's so good about not challenging authority. She's such a sweet horse that it's hard for other horses to not develop a liking for her. I've seen some really socially difficult horses that hated all others take a huge shine to Lily. She simply waited patiently to be accepted again, happily grazing on the opposite side of the field. I knew within a few days she'd be integrated into her herd again.

I've been bringing her up to the barn to hose her off, treat her fungus, stick her in a stall with lunch and a fan, and then turning her back out when she's done after dousing her with fly spray. She has been happy to see me every time. By Monday she had been allowed back into the herd. By Wednesday she was back to being 3rd in command: the QH mares are more submissive than Lily.

Lily and the new mares, Fancy and T&T
As of Wednesday of this week, the skin funk on the RH had resolved and the swelling disappeared entirely.


Gracie
I swear G-mare gained weight during her weekend off while we were away at the OD. I don't like my horses to be skinny (yes, Lily's ribs bother me but that's sadly what a racing-fit TB looks like. She is muscle-bound with no fat on her, and the drawback is that her ribs show. She is on a cup of ground flax a day, a probiotic, UGard, Healthy-Glo Nuggets (fat supplement), 3 lbs of Triple Crown Senior + 3 lbs of beet pulp am and pm, plus pasture 24/7), but I don't like them to be overweight either because of all of the associated health issues.

This is the famous Zenyatta, a TB racing mare that recently made the history books!

And Lily. Photo taken the week before the OD. Ribs show, yes, but she has a topline.
With Gracie's rise to power has also come a rise in attitude. She now thinks she can alpha her way through life outside of the mare field as well. I wouldn't be surprised if she was also mad because I didn't visit her for 3 days while we were at the OD. I went to get her in the field on Friday and she was all, "I don't wanna come with you." I flicked the end of the lead rope at her butt and she offered a kick in response. It was more a threat than anything else, but that got nipped in the bud right away: "OH NO YOU DON'T!" She got her ass handed to her in the form of lunging in both directions at the end of the lead rope. She gave a huge indignant snort when I finally asked her to halt, then followed me without further argument.

No more kicks from her since then.

On Friday we rode in the paddocks behind the main barn. I had been warned by both her previous owner and her trainer that Gracie is not a fan of arena work. If I want to do arena-type work with her, I try to do it in the paddocks whenever possible. She gaits better on firm ground anyway. We worked on gaiting consistently but had a few arguments about turning. NBD; we hadn't worked on that in over two weeks anyway.

On Saturday we worked in the arena because the horses had already been turned out in their fields/paddocks for the evening. Gracie decided she preferred to trot. This was fine, but that meant we had to do more dressage-type work if she was going to be trotting. She was fine with that. We worked on bends, circling, serpentines and baby leg yields at the trot. It was lovely work. I felt like I was riding an Andalusian.

That's how Gracie trots
We gaited up and down the driveway twice afterwards, completing 2 miles on pavement, to do some self-trimming. I barely have to touch the mare's hooves with a rasp. She trims herself perfectly when she is in regular work!

On Sunday we went for a 6 mile trail ride with Kathy. It was Kathy's first ride on Queenie after her hock + fetlock injections 2 weeks ago so we were taking it easy. Or well, that was the plan. Queenie looked like she had lost 10 years: eyes bright, ears up, she only tripped once, and she wanted to gait all over creation. Kathy was SO pleased! So we kept the girls at a dull roar and both of them kept pace at a running walk through the woods, with some proper gaiting thrown into the mix every once in a while. Queenie didn't trot once! Gracie was very good overall except for two arguments about direction: both times she wanted to turn towards home but we weren't going that way just yet. The first time she had a huge fit, tossing her head, then going up into a levade from which she leaped into the air...a pretty accurate representation of a capriole. Seriously. It's a good thing the Alta Escuela fits her because she does all of the Alta Escuela (High School dressage) movements without training... -_-

A levade is basically a low, well-balanced rear.

And the capriole, which both of my horses seem to be gifted at.
I should apply at the Spanish Riding School already...*sigh*
Note the saddle.
She is so balanced when she does these things that I'm barely perturbed unless she's doing it in a weird spot terrain-wise or is crowding another horse. Kathy says one day she'll catch these stunts on her GoPro. I'm sure that the day she starts bringing the camera along, Gracie will never do any of these things again!

She had her one-second tantrum and stopped when she obtained no reaction from me. I calmly told her, "Now that you have expressed your opinion on the matter, we are still going this way." And Gracie said, "Okay."

She is a riot. She continues to remind me of Lucero in every way possible. He was just like this too. It was like he'd periodically have to check that I was still interested in being the boss. "Are you sure? I'll gladly make all the decisions for you!"
"No Lucero, that's fine. I got this."
"Ok. Just checking. You might change your mind, you know.."

For the second tantrum she tried to plow through my aids to again go towards home, but got spun around and re-directed in a hurry. She continued on in my desired direction as if nothing had happened. Good mare.

Photo by Kathy.
That's Gracie being good in front.
She isn't really trying to unseat you when she does these things. She isn't one of those horses where you can't let your guard down because they'll take advantage (those horses are no fun). It's more her way of letting you know that she doesn't agree with your request. She also seems to be the kind of horse who tests you to make sure that you are worthy of her respect. She responds really well to a firm, quiet leader. She gets corrected and we continue without further fuss. She gets tons of praise when she chooses to comply, which makes her happy all over again. She may be a clown but she really does like to please as well.

On Monday I brought both mares up from the field. Lily got hosed off and placed in an empty stall with the fan on and orchard + alfalfa hay in front of her for lunch while I tacked up and rode Gracie in one of the paddocks.

Lily eating lunch this past Monday. She's filled out somewhat in 10 days of vacation so far.
Hay and alfalfa are stored in the main barn loft, from where you can toss the hay directly into the stall. Hence these views from above. :)

Gracie was on fire. We worked on speeds within the gait: collection and extension. She gave me her most collected gait and then we worked on her rack, which has the potential to be her fastest gait if she could maintain it for extended periods of time. She was absolutely spectacular, able to maintain whatever speed of gait I had chosen throughout serpentines and tight circles. We did 4 canter sets and introduced the idea of cantering in a large circle, which is new to her. She did better to the right than to the left, breaking the canter when circling to the left. It will come with time. We worked for 40 minutes and then I called it a day. Gracie, however, didn't want to cool down yet. "Can I gait now?" "What about now?" "I've been walking for 5 seconds. Can I gait now?"

I didn't want to get her worked up by arguing so I just dismounted and, in a lightbulb moment decided to start practicing tailing right then and there.

Photo from Teaching Tailing the Easy Way
I hand walked Gracie a bit and she was happy to relax. I then clipped the reins to the ring of her halter bridle and held the end of her tail while walking next to her. Gracie initially looked at me like, "Why are you holding onto my tail??" I convinced her that all I wanted was for her to walk forward. "Oh. That's it? I can do that."

I realized that the best way to do this exercise would be to hand walk Gracie down to the end of the paddock then turn her towards the exit gate and let her walk towards it while pulling me along. Once Gracie realized that all I wanted was for her to walk towards the gate while I walked behind her holding onto her tail with one hand and the end of the reins with the other, she was all, "I can totally drag you towards the gate all day long!" I guess we'll find out later how she tails going AWAY from home and up hills, but for now we'll just create this positive association while I teach her the command "Tail!"

On Tuesday we repeated the routine: bring both girls up, Lily gets lunch while Gracie gets to work.

I took Gracie out into one of the back paddocks for a lunge. We lunged between 15-20 minutes. I just wanted her to work, watch her move, and see how she behaved on the lunge outside of the arena.

She was actually pretty good. She was goofy initially, zooming around me and then trying to accelerate towards the opposite corner of the paddock, but I reeled her in each time and she soon realized that it was just easier to stay in a large circle around me.

Uphill much?
You can see why her canter is so comfortable: it is very much a 4-beat gait.
Gaited mare has suspension at the trot
I just like this photo :)
We did mostly trotting with some canter sets thrown in, but the main idea was to get her in a working mindset and listening to my verbal aids. Towards the end of the 20 minutes or so, she was quite sweaty so I asked her for a walk. Gracie would walk for a few steps then try to pick up a trot again. You can't fault her work ethic! So we worked on trot-outs, which is something that she needs some fine-tuning on. She's starting to get the hang of it but is not as consistent as I'd like yet. And then we moved on to practicing more tailing. I walked her all the way to the back of the field, held onto her tail with one hand and the lunge line with the other, told her "Tail!" and she started walking. I even had her trot ahead once so I had to jog to keep up. She was really, really good about paying attention, not stopping to eat grass, and halting only when I asked her to.

Butt sweat
She had a bath afterwards

All in all, a pretty successful week of work with the G-mare.

--------------------------------------------

I am going to commit the sin of anthropomorphizing the mares, but this is a post I've had in my head for a while now that I'd been looking forward to writing. I have always been fascinated by animal behavior to the point of owning several books on the subject, both written at laymen level and veterinary level. When I first started college in a universe far, far away, I originally went for a biology major because I wanted to eventually become a behaviorist. I later gave up on the idea because I decided I didn't want to deal with people not doing what was recommended and hurting their relationships with their animals in the process because they didn't understand or were too lazy to do their part. It's like training horses: I get great joy out of working with them but it is incredibly frustrating when progress is constantly set back by a non-compliant owner who doesn't do their part of the work. Hence why I don't train horses for a living. It's not because of the horses, it's because of the people.

Cats and horses particularly fascinate me because they can be so much harder to read if you aren't familiar with them. Dogs will go out of their way to communicate with you and are smart enough to try out different methods of communication so you can understand them. They will get you trained in the process! I still laugh over the story of our family's dalmatian who figured out how to let my mom know when she wanted both the TV on (for background noise; she liked it on at a low volume when the house was quiet!) and the fan on (because it's hot in PR; she'd plunk herself down in front of it). Happiest dog ever when she had her way. With cats it will vary greatly depending on the individual. If you listen to them, most cats will try really hard to let you know what they want. There is a theory among behaviorists that cats have developed the meow for our benefit. If you think about it, you will see that this is true. How many cats have you seen meow at one another? Actually meow, like they do to you when they want their dinner? They will growl, hiss, purr, chirp at one another, but the bulk of their interspecies communication is through body language. They use plenty of body language on us too and if you pay attention, their faces are transparent with a rainbow of expressions that let you know exactly what they are feeling and thinking, but they are very aware that we are vocal creatures and they have adapted in response to that. Isn't that cool?

That look just has "trouble" written all over it...hahaha....
Horses require a little more reading than cats and dogs, unless you have a very extroverted horse, like Ozzy or Ashke. Charles still tells people about when he first started getting dragged hanging out with me around barns: he used to think horses had no personalities and was quite shocked when he realized they could be as different from one another as, well, people.

Horses though, are on a whole other level. You all know what it is like to communicate with your horse from the ground and in the saddle, you know how it feels to reach an "Aha!" moment in the training process, and you know what it is like to be loved by a horse. It is like nothing else. They are not pets. They are our partners.

Your horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes you will.
- Buck Brannaman

My two mares are a study in contrasts.


Whereas if I say to Lily, "Jump!" Lily pricks her ears and asks "How far?", if I tell Gracie to jump, she tosses her mane and asks, "And WHY exactly should I do that?"

Lily is the quiet introverted nerd in school. Gracie is the sassy, bubbly extrovert that likes to play innocent pranks on the teacher. Lily is an overachiever: she thrives on praise and will give you 200% when she knows for sure that she is doing what you want, that you are happy with her efforts. She is somewhat of a Type A personality who only in the last year has started to develop a sense of humor. It's been interesting to see that aspect of her: as she has become more confident, as she has started to get the hang of this new job she enjoys so much, she has stopped taking things so seriously. It's manifested in her recent ability of mentally letting go of things that upset her instead of dwelling on them for the rest of a ride/rest of the week/rest of the month! The same change occurred in me when I moved to the US and had to start making my own decisions in life. I soon learned that life is easier if you are able to laugh at it.

Lily liked dressage because I did, but I would forget so often to praise her. I think that fed into her previous insecurities and distrust. 


Lily enjoys listening. We talk in quiet conversation and enjoy moments of comfortable silence and contemplation. It's become a thing where I can tune out the world and it is just her and me. It's like being carried along by the current in a river: it's a constant flow of communication that doesn't require additional thought or pondering. It just is. It's taken us three years to get to this point, and I cherish it all the more because of how hard it was to get here.



Lily being chill on Tuesday this week while I put Gracie back in the mare field first.
I can pretty much tie her up anywhere and walk away, knowing that when I return she'll be standing in exactly the same spot, waiting patiently. She'll cock a leg and take a nap, knowing that sooner or later I will come back to get her. 
Gracie is a boisterous creature who is always talking. She is ALWAYS talking. She even gets indignant when you walk away from her in the middle of a conversation. "Hi! How are you! Do you have cookies!? What are we doing today? Will you take this muzzle off of me? Can I rub my head on your shoulder? Why not??! Why are you tying me up here? Wait! Why are you walking away? Come back here!"

"Ohai! You came back!!"
The best part is when you return to her and rub her neck or groom her: then she is silent. She gets this expression of pure bliss and relief, and closes her eyes. The mare LOVES being the center of attention!

Like I was saying...
She has gotten better about this. Into month two of ownership (month three of being in training with me), she too has realized that I will come back and is starting to wait as patiently and quietly as Lily does when tied.

Personality for days.
I ground tied her in the main barn aisleway while I ran into the tack room to put away the lunge line.
Here you can see that she was indeed ground tied.
This was the second before she tried to follow me into the tack room...
We need to work some more on the ground tying...
I can't even begin to tell you guys how ALIKE Lily and I are. I constantly catch myself reacting to things the way Lily would, things that I have noticed by watching her interact with her herd mates, and later realizing that I do the exact same things when presented with the same scenarios. For example, in social situations I have caught myself reacting to arrogant leader types in the same manner that Lily does: pin the ears (if I had ears that I could pin) and walk away in disgust. Lily is happy to leave mean horses by themselves but goes out of her way to be liked by everyone. One of the things that makes her the happiest is living in harmony with her herd mates and the people who handle her. I am exactly the same way. We both avoid confrontation when possible, but will set our foot down and put the offender in their place when our buttons get pushed way too many times.

Gracie is the cool kid in class who doesn't conform, who sets all the trends, whom people have a tendency to follow. She is independent but friendly, dramatic but with a great sense of humor. She can be quick to get upset about something but just as quick to forgive and forget. She enjoys standing out and being different.

"What? Why are you laughing?"
Lily is who I am. Gracie is who I yearned to be.

Isn't that fascinating? Does this happen to everyone? I do believe that horses tend to be a reflection of ourselves, either because we attract horses that are like us, they become like us, or we become like them. Or all of the above. Either that, or we go for horses that complement us, that have the keys to our locks and viceversa.

Lily is my mirror image; Gracie is my opposite.

Riding them is so different. I love riding Lily because of the joy that I have found in her, the mutual understanding that we have finally achieved. On her it is like we are a centaur, an extension of one another. It is like when the Na'vi warriors in Avatar ride the Mountain Banshees.

Confirmation that yes, I am a nerd
That. That right there is what it feels like to have reached the level of communication that Lily and I have reached. She has wound herself quietly around my heart and become a part of my soul. If I were to ride into battle on a horse, Lily would be the one I would choose to be my war mare. Together we are a greater whole.

With Gracie, it's like she has the missing pieces. I'm still getting to know her but there is such a familiarity about her. She just fits in with my personality. She is like the kind of person that I'm drawn to as friends. She came to be mine by a series of fortunate coincidences, but if I had deliberately gone out to look for a second horse, she is exactly what I would have looked for. She has only ever known love in the form of her previous mom, and she had some really awesome training put into her by Bob. He did a wonderful job of starting her, setting boundaries for what would have otherwise ended up being a very dominant horse, while still allowing her to be herself: a spirited, funny, social creature with a great heart. She is challenging in a way I like a horse to be challenging: she is smart enough that she likes to have her brain engaged, otherwise she gets bored. However, she doesn't try to constantly outsmart you. Or rather, she doesn't if you have earned her respect and willing partnership. She is beautiful to behold, but my favorite things about her are her mind, her sense of humor, her outgoing nature, and the fact that she will let you know exactly how much she loves you if you do everything right.

It's just the coolest thing to be owned by these two. 





Sunday, June 22, 2014

OD 50: Reviews and Analysis

This is going to be a detailed review of what worked and didn't. I hope I don't bore you guys with the details, but it is more for me to remember exactly what I did right and exactly what needs to be fixed and why! Hopefully my mistakes are helpful for others. :)


What Worked:

Lilybird wearing All The Gear (except the bit; she was still eating)
  • The best decision I made in ALL of this was choosing to ride in the Alta Escuela after all. I don't even want to think about how much more sore I would have been had I ridden in the Wintec, especially given the soreness the Wintec had caused me on downhills when I did the 15 mile trial with it 2 weeks before the OD. The muscle soreness I experienced was mostly a result of muscles that need further strengthening (shins and glutes) but especially as a result of dehydration (more on that later). I experienced no long-term pain or soreness thanks to riding in this saddle. My left hip is infamous for becoming irritated with slight changes in posture/balance caused by saddles. I experienced NO pain in that hip neither during nor after this ride. Most importantly however, Lily passed through all of those vet checks with NO back pain whatsoever. Slow 50s like what we did are known to cause back soreness in horses with even the most well-fitted saddles. Not in our case, thank goodness. 
    Photo by Mike Turner (Dom's Mike)
  • Stretching while riding. I tend to hold tension in my left shoulder for whatever reason. In the wrong saddle, that tension will turn into an excruciatingly painful knot behind my shoulder blade that will affect my posture and even my ability to lift. (Something you want to avoid when you're going to have to be repeatedly placing and removing a 35 lb saddle during a ride! And yes, I finally weighed my saddle.) I made sure to stretch my left arm whenever I felt that tension building up and I am convinced the saddle choice helped with this too. I had no pain/soreness behind my shoulder blade after this ride.
  •  Having a full backup set of boots of a different make.
  • The Vipers did a good job. The two boots whose cables survived (on Lily's right front and hind feet) didn't slip, chafe, budge AT ALL during 50 miles of trail. I was contacted by Renegade about the cables that snapped: apparently there were some quality control issues with some of the Viper cables and I am being sent new cables, free of charge. You cannot beat the quality of customer care of that company. I love them love them love them.
  • The Gloves also did a good job. On a whim I tried Lily's single size 0.5 boot on her hinds the week before the OD. I'd been using size 1s on her hinds prior. With some difficulty the 0.5 boot went on both feet. Oh shit. That explained why I'd had occasional retention issues with the 1s! They were too big! So I ordered a pair of 0.5s from Riding Warehouse (they have $5 two-day shipping for orders over $50. I can't even begin to tell you guys what a godsend that company and their $5 two-day shipping was for getting prepared for this ride!) Also on a whim, I threw in my online cart a roll of Easycare Mueller Black Tape. I suspected now that Lily's left front 0.5 boot was probably a tad too large, given that the same size boot had fit on her hinds, which are larger hooves. I carried this tape in my saddle bag and at the first Bird Haven check I wrapped a good amount of it on Lily's smaller left front boot. That boot stayed on right until the very last loop of the ride, when the tape had become a mush of nothingness and the boot slipped off once. It got strapped on again and didn't give me any other problems. These boots also didn't cause any chafing. Why these boots in particular as backups? I had seen their performance on Q's hinds during Fort Valley last fall and knew they could work over the particular terrain of this series of rides. I would have gladly purchased a set of Renegades as backups but Lily's feet are still changing and the main catch with Rennies is that, because they are made to move with the horse's hoof, they have to be slightly loose to avoid retention problems. Once you get the fit right, those babies WILL STAY ON. If your horse is just being transitioned to barefoot or is just starting distance training, you may want to wait a bit before investing in Renegades until your horse's hooves' growth has stabilized. Hooves get wider and larger with distance work barefoot. Granted, Renegades are highly sought out and have a great resale value. You can still invest in Renegades and then just sell them when/if your horse outgrows them. However, I wanted to have a backup set of boots that would work for a good long while since they were going to be, you know, backups. Easyboot Gloves are meant to fit tight. Actually, the tighter the fit, the better they will perform. This made them perfect as backups: if Lily's hooves grow more, they will hopefully still fit. And it didn't hurt that they are $30 less/boot.
  •  Halter bridle with bit hangers. This was a last minute impulse buy from The Distance Depot. I kept thinking and thinking about this and the idea just would not leave my head. I decided I wanted to be able to remove Lily's bit quickly without having to mess with buckles and straps. This was brilliant. It made things so much easier at the vet checks and it provided another signal for Lily that it was break time - I loosened her girth, unclipped her bit, and turned her reins with snaps into a lead rope. Bonus: it worked perfectly with the beautiful browband Karen had made for us! 
    Photo from The Distance Depot. This is the exact same bridle I have, except in black and DayGlo Blue with brass hardware. In this photo you can see how the bit straps clip onto the bridle halter.
    Lily models her browband by Karen
  • WHITE Tipperary helmet. This was another impulse buy. I have mentioned in passing a couple of times that I really wanted a more trail appropriate helmet than my velveteen-covered $200 IRH ATH helmet. It is SO comfortable but I was starting to have issues with heat due to: a) it only having front vents and b) the helmet being black in color. I walked into a tack shop with Charles to pick up some fly spray (and score a pair of Noble XtremeSoft Boot Socks, thanks to a gift certificate!) and made a point of trying on all of the schooling helmets. I had a Tipperary Sportage in a size large and had had issues with headaches and wobbliness on my head. I tried a medium on and discovered that the reason why I had had problems with the size large was because it was too big! The medium fit my head shape like a glove. So I checked Riding Warehouse for them, discovered they had them in white, and ordered the helmet. I had no heat issues whatsoever, even when riding in the sun on the third loop. I could feel the cool breeze entering my helmet through the vents and actually forgot I was wearing it when we arrived at the third vet check! The color choice was a fab idea: I never once felt like my brain was roasting like I have with dark helmets in the past. Bonus: it's not a plain boring white, this helmet. It's actually a true pearl color with an iridescent sheen. Really pretty. 
    Love it
  • My clothes. I wore a Champion sports bra (Target), a Brooks tank top, Kerrits Flow rise tights, the Noble XtremeSoft socks, seamless underwear, and Merrell low cut hiking shoes. All the clothes were soft, flexible and non-chafing (for the most part). The Noble socks were particularly awesome: they are a wicking blend but do have cotton so they still breathe. Loved them!
  • Having a cantle bag. I had purchased the Stowaway Deluxe cantle bag and the pockets were large enough to hold a pair of boots on each side compartment with the center compartment being large enough to hold all sorts of odds and ends. Center compartment had 3 extra pockets too. This allowed me to free up my pommel bags for water and snacks.
    I have this bag, but in royal blue
  • Chamois Butt'r cream. This stuff is pretty amazing. After the first loop, my butt was just starting to chafe from the seamless seams of my underwear, so I slathered some of this stuff on (I carried it in my cantle bag) and the seams never bothered me again for the next 36 miles. 
  • Not identifying myself as a Green Bean. I've heard a lot of stories recently of people having a rough introduction into this sport when they are recognized as newbies, either because of outwardly admitting it or because they were recognized as such due to different equipment. It is common to attach a green ribbon to your horse's tail so people know you're new. However I didn't want the opinions and criticism. I was riding with an experienced friend and mentor and am not new to conditioning horses. I happened to have enough of the "correct" gear to blend right in: a sheepskin-covered saddle that looks like an Ortho Flex, biothane tack, caged stirrups, tights, riding in hiking shoes, a vented helmet, well-worn equipment in general. I could talk the talk and walk the walk (enough to get me by, at least!), and had a knowledgeable companion to answer questions and guide me. (THANK YOU LIZ!!! :D) There is no shame in being new to a sport, but I just didn't want to deal with the additional stress of strangers' opinions and judgement, especially given the insanity of being a brand-new endurance rider making her first ride not only a 50, but also the Old Dominion. I was happy to admit it afterwards with a successful completion under my belt, but not before. 
    I love the Green Bean stuff and have learned so much from being a member of the Facebook Endurance Green Beans!
  • Caged stirrups. I had mentioned how I won a pair EZ Ride Caged Stirrups on eBay. I LOVELOVELOVE them!!!! Why? The extra thick padding absorbs shock, but the combination of cage + 4" deep stirrup foot bed allows you to pretty much place 2/3 of your foot in the stirrups, which in turn allows you to stand in them almost as if you were on the ground. If I hadn't found these on eBay I never would have tried them out and I would have missed out...they are so amazing. If you spend hours in the saddle, they are truly worth the investment.
  • The weather. We had a pure stroke of luck there: high 70's with low humidity, something which NEVER happens at this ride. It was quite chilly when we were up on the mountains, at least 10 degrees colder. We wouldn't have completed otherwise with such beautiful weather. It also helped that it didn't rain the night prior to the ride so the trails were pretty dry for the most part.  
  • Having a crew car for the away checks so Mike and Charles could bring stuff without having to unhitch Liz's trailer. 
    My car crammed to the gills with stuff for Q, Lily, Liz and myself, plus a Mike and a Kenai :)
  • And last but not least: riding with an experienced friend. Liz! We would never have made it without Liz's guidance, moral support and pace setting during this ride. Thank you Liz for believing in us, babysitting us and pulling us along when we thought we couldn't continue!

What didn't:
  • Electrolyting? I'm still on the fence about this one. I have researched the subject, even making a point of reviewing my facts prior to this ride, but after this personal experience, I need to research this a lot more and come up with my own plan. Electrolyting at endurance rides can be controversial and it is considered by some in endurance circles to be a topic akin to religion and politics. Those of you with medical training will know that electrolyte imbalances can be dangerous. They can cause heart arrythmias and they can even kill you in extreme cases. It is common practice to elyte horses at rides the night before, the morning of the ride before the start, and at each of the vet checks. It helps replace the electrolytes the horse loses sweating, maintaining an acid base balance that can help prevent metabolic problems, and also helps to stimulate the thirst response in horses. Supplement too much and you can actually suppress the horse's thirst response. Truly oversupplement and you can create a real problem. How much is too much? It will depend on each individual horse which is why this can be a touchy subject. I use Perfect Balance Electrolyte because it is the brand most resembling the electrolyte ratios of a horse's sweat. At home I had been elyting Lily only after rides where she had sweated significantly. She was drinking great during our training rides so I had felt no need to elyte her before riding. A horse's gut has an enormous capacity for storing electrolytes. The best source of electrolytes in a horse's diet is good quality grass hay. A great way to prepare a horse for an endurance ride is to provide free choice hay the last week or two before a ride. This is also a good time to provide feed-through electrolytes so the horse can build up a store in their gut. I did both of these with Lily the week prior to the OD. I gave her a syringe with 1 scoop of PBE the evening before the ride, another the morning of the ride, and another at the first vet check. This is a moderate approach to supplementation during the ride: some people will give 3 syringes of electrolytes at a time during each of these instances! I was not happy with her drinking during the first loop of the ride. She drank very little, like she used to over the winter, despite the elyte supplementation. The weather was quite cool in the morning so it wasn't surprising that she didn't drink great during that first loop. (She did, however, drink wonderfully at the check.)  Then we had no access to water before nor during the hard climb of the second loop, though she drank very well as soon as water was provided afterwards. I'm still wondering if the elyte supplementation might have contributed to Lily's murmur at Laurel Run.  I forgot to send elytes to Laurel Run so she was not supplemented before continuing. She drank better than she had during the entire ride during the third loop. She drank every time I pointed her at water. Including puddles. So I didn't elyte her again for the rest of the ride. During the last 6 miles of the OD she didn't drink as well on trail as she had on the third loop but by then she was well aware that we were returning home and knew how long it was going to take to get there. She was just in a hurry to get back and didn't really care to stop for water unless she absolutely needed it. Don't get me wrong: she did drink, and she drank better than in the first loop, but she did not drink at every instance like she had on the third loop. The fact of the matter is that the heart murmur did not reappear. Was it because she stayed better hydrated? Yes. Now, did the electrolytes contribute to that dehydration, to the heart murmur itself? I don't know, but it is a possibility. So now I'm up in the air about the whole subject. Is it enough to just elyte load before a ride? How much should I supplement Lily during a ride? At a hot weather ride like this one, I'd honestly be afraid not to supplement at all. At a cooler weather ride, I would want to to encourage drinking, so I would also want to supplement to a certain degree. Dom gave me some suggestions. She used to use NuSalt for Ozzy, which has added potassium, and Lyte Now in syringes. I''ll try these for longer training rides to see if it makes a difference. Opinions and experiences with this subject, especially with non-Arabs? Please share in the comments!
  • Functioning on so little sleep. I slept exactly 1 hour on Thursday night after working a busy ER shift, then woke up to meet Carol and Nick at the barn. On Friday night I only slept about 4 hours because I was so excited. Yup: 5 hours of sleep in 48 hours is not appropriate rest prior to a 50 mile ride.
  • Washing Lily with alcohol + water at the 3rd vet check. It didn't help her pulse down. The cooling sensation of the alcohol freaked her out. Need to do this more often at home to get her accustomed again.
  • Making this my first endurance ride ever. We were incredibly lucky to complete successfully. Very, very, very lucky. Would I recommend others do the same? No. Hell no. Unless the person and horse routinely train in areas as rocky and steep as these particular mountains. You'll find similar terrain in parts of PA and WV. If those are your training grounds, by all means go for it. But make sure your horse can handle high heat + humidity! Even as an LD, I would not recommend this as your first unless, again, you and your horse are used to training in the kind of footing you will encounter on these trails. 
    Yup, like that.
  •  Merrell hiking shoes. I love them and they were great for riding and walking. But they had no ankle support whatsoever. If I'd been wearing my Timberland hiking boots, I never would have hyperextended my left ankle at the beginning of the ride. They also would have protected my ankle from further damage when trying to hike up the mountains to give Lily a break. 
My Merrell hiking shoes. Love them. Just not for rocks.

Equipment:
  • Need a handheld GPS device for moments when there is no cell reception. Liz's phone GPS will work on airplane mode but mine does not. Without a GPS device on an unknown trail it can be hard to know what pace you're moving at, especially when you're exhausted and start to lose sense of time. A GPS device will also give you an idea of how much longer you have to go before you reach the end of the trail! I like Carol's Garmin and may invest in one in the near future.
  • Charles wants a small cart on wheels for away checks so he can transport stuff from the car to the check. Him and Mike had to hike quite a distance from the car to Bird Haven with the 1,000,000 items they had to set up.

Training:

  • Lily needs A LOT more hill work! This is going to be a once a week drill instead of a twice a month thing. I need to find a steeper hill than the one we've been using. Maybe the one at the park across the street that Kathy and I used to gallop...Carol is interested in trailering up to Southern PA where the terrain is very similar to that of the OD rides. I plan on accompanying her.
  • Tailing. Need to teach both mares to do this. It will come very much in handy!

Flora Hillman and Beaverwood Spiderman tailing through the Indian Graves section of the Fort Valley endurance ride in 2008. Photo from enduranceridestuff.com

  • My rider fitness needs an overhaul. I'd been running 2-3 miles 3 times a week the last 2 months (it's hard to want to workout indoors when it's so beautiful outside!) but that was so, so not enough preparation. I'll be heading back into the gym for Spinning classes, the Stairclimber and the rowing machine. And hill sets for myself on the treadmill!



Nutrition:

I failed EPICALLY at taking care of myself during this ride. While my mare gets an A, I give myself a D. My favorite workout foods are pasta salad (which I make with tri-colored rotini pasta, grilled chicken, tons of veggies, shredded Parmesan, and low fat Italian dressing), chocolate Power Bars and Uncrustables.

My pasta salad
I forgot the Uncrustables in the freezer at home, didn't have time to make the pasta last minute, and Charles couldn't find the chocolate Power Bars when he went grocery shopping on Thursday. So of the 3 foods that I will eat no matter what, I had 0. Zilch. Nada. Instead, I had Cliff Shots, Power Bar Gel Blasts, Gatorade (I also completely forgot that I LOVE coconut water so it didn't even go on the grocery shopping list), Kind Bars, turkey jerky, Nutella, fruit cups, and tuna & cracker snacks (my favorite snack on barn days).
My best meal on race day was breakfast: coffee with creamer, half a banana, half a bagel with peanut butter, and a yogurt cup. At the first vet check in Bird Haven I was starving but was not craving ANY of the things I had brought. I completely forgot the fruit cups that Charles had put in Liz's cooler which would have been awesome at that point. I had also completely forgotten that Charles had bought chocolate milk...which was sitting in our cooler back at base camp so it would have been of no use to me even if I had remembered we had it. I rummaged through the bags of snacks and decided that I really wanted Nutella...and turkey jerky. I sat down with the Nutella jar in one hand and the bag of turkey jerky in the other, looked at both, and had the good sense to realize that these were two food items that would NOT sit well together in my stomach for the following 16 miles. So I sadly set the Nutella aside and ate the turkey jerky. The entire bag. And packed my saddle bags with Cliff Shots, Gel Blasts and Kind Bars. The Cliff Shots were a constant pick me up on the trail. I ate one bag of Gel Blasts and did feel better (thanks to all the sugar they contain...). I ignored the Kind Bars. I packed two in my pommel bag and never touched them, even though they are my favorite snack on an ordinary day. I took Hammer elyte capsules whenever I remembered and alternately drank plain water or water with added Fizz electrolyte tablets. However, I did not drink enough water, especially on the last two loops of the ride. On the last 13 miles I used up Lily's water bottle and my own for pouring on her neck. I ate a PB&J sandwich at the Laurel Run vet check but ate nothing at the second Bird Haven check; I only drank water and Gatorade. Dinner after the ride was a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, broccoli salad and chocolate milk. I had one celebratory beer which was accompanied by a bottle of water! I really missed having my pasta salad and craved carbs for the next 2 days. I lost over 5 lbs of water weight, which took 48 hours to recover. I was thirsty until Tuesday. I was so sore and tired on Monday that I almost called out of work but I would get so stiff sitting around that I decided that it was probably better for me if I went to work and moved. We had an especially busy shift in the ER but I made a point of drinking as much water as I needed to no matter what, and it ended up being awesome because by the time my head hit the pillow at 4:00 am Monday night, all of the lactic acid and soreness had been flushed out of my muscles. I woke up good as new on Tuesday.

I know better.

Note to self: eat better and DRINK MORE WATER DAMMIT! :)


Perspective of a Noob:

Ok guys. Seriously. Endurance is awesome! Let me count the ways:

  1. People doubling back on our trail would warn us of iffy footing ahead so we would know to be careful.
  2. Liz didn't like our neighbor but after living in FL I guess I'm highly tolerant of what others consider rude. I understood why the guy asked us to move and the way he did it: we were all a bunch of young(ish) kids in his middle-aged eyes and I'm sure he thought we'd be a nuisance. (We weren't. We behaved ourselves while in camp) Him and his wife (who was the one actually riding; he was just crewing for her and being a majorly supportive husband!) fell in love with Kenai and offered advice (whether we wanted it or not, but it was all well-intended). On Sunday morning, him and I got to talking about trucks and trailers and he gave me all sorts of wonderful, valuable advice that I took notes on!
  3. Our neighbor's wife tossed our mares some of her own hay when she was feeding her horse in the morning. I was touched.
  4. When we had boot snafus, other riders passing us would stop and ask if we were okay. Then they'd ask if it was okay for them to pass: they didn't want to upset our horses. Two ladies insisted on standing behind us and waiting for me to get Lily's boot on before continuing so our horses would stay calm (Lily and Q would have been fine, but this was such a nice gesture of them.) Later when the two ladies had boot snafus of their own, we returned the favor.
  5. Everyone had such a great sense of humor.
  6. The volunteers at this ride. They were amazeballs. Thank you to all of the volunteers for everything you did for the riders and their horses, for smiling encouragingly at us riders while scribing for the vet, for bringing our horses water, for holding our horses for us while we ran to pee, for letting us know how much time we had left, for forgiving our blunders with the out-time, for checking on us, for offering words of advice, for your support. This was a HUGE endurance ride with more than 100 riders and this wonderful network of staff managed to make me, at least, feel like I mattered, like my horse mattered, and like what I did for my mare mattered. I didn't feel like I was getting lost in the fray. I have never before experienced something like this at an equestrian event.
  7. The vets. OMG the vets! I was having problems with Lily pulsing down at 2 of the 4 vet checks, and these vets were all concerned but kind, wise but flexible, and more than willing to take the time to answer questions and give advice if you requested it. They seemed to like the fact that I had questions and wanted their advice. I'm still impressed with the vet at Laurel Run who went out of her way to consult with the equine cardiologist to make sure that Lily would be okay. I loved our vet at the second Bird Haven vet check who was so sweet and kind. I'm still impressed with the vet who gave us our completion, who reminded us that they are available for us even after the ride if we are concerned, have more questions, or notice anything amiss with our horses. I had gone into this ride afraid that the vets might have an attitude of being out to get the riders, but it was not like that AT ALL. At least, not for me. They genuinely wanted you to succeed but they genuinely cared about your horse as well. It can be a fine balance at an event of this magnitude and this difficulty. Even Nick stopped by at Bird Haven to check on Lily and me and make sure that everything was going well for us. 
    Lily being ausculted at the last Bird Haven vet check

And there were so many other things that now I can't remember.



Behind the Scenes Photo Vomit:

Charles with Flossy, one of the barn cats, while we waited for Carol and Nick to arrive at the barn on Friday morning.
Flossy is NOT a lap cat but she jumped onto Charles's lap. Says something about the guy when all animals adore him. ;)
I love that mountain and want to know what it's called.
We're off! Photo by Dom
This is what happens when I try to get a photo of my man and my horse together.
Yup, like I was saying...lol
Rocks..
...rocks...
...and more rocks...
ALL the rocks!
Kenai being the best Husky ever.
Bird Haven hold.
Liz taking care of herself...
...and me NOT taking care of myself!
But my goofy grin kind of says it all: "WOW first endurance ride first 50 first vet check first ALL THE THINGS WOW!" haha...
Such noobness
Kenai gives Charles the goo-goo eyes :)


Dom and her Mike hang out with our guys after she was done with her LD, waiting for our return to Bird Haven.

This is why Emu is named Emu! Isn't that the coolest marking ever?
Dom talks about him in her post.
We were out scrambling over rocks on the side of a cliff while the boys were very busy at the vet check. Lol
Dom gets Kenai to focus hard.
My Turtle Award. I named her Geraldine.
Carol and Nick's Chesapeake Bay Retriever Gris is the best Chessie ever.
I rode in the back seat of the truck with her napping on my lap most of the long drive back to MD.