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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Off to 20 Mule Team

I am off to 20 mule team 65 miler! This will probably be my last internet access until I return....I'm already nervous. I'll feel better once everything is packed up, my trailer is hooked up, and the horse is loaded. I can already feel that this is going to be one of those rides where I don't eat solid food the morning of the ride! It's amazing what moving up a distance will do! I am down right nonchalant about LD's now (until I've realized I've waited WAY too long to tack up), and while 50's give me a thrill, I know they are possible. This will be my first foray into "almost 100 mile" territory! WHOO HOO!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Very Virtual Endurance ride is having another one of their "Very Virtual" Rides. The goal is to get as many miles in as possible in a certain time period (this VV ride is from March 1 to March 31). You are responsible for maintaining your own vet cards, performing your own CRI checks etc. At the end of the month every one compares mileage.

I'm motivated by events like this, so I've signed up and I'm ready to ride! A mile is a mile, whether it's a AERC, NATRC, or conditioning miles in this event! It's really a shame that my 65 miler is February 28th and therefore not eligible....

If this is something you would like to do and want more info, post in the comments section.

Now let's all get out there and ride! (can you believe daylights savings is just around the corner?)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cavalry Endurance Riding?

In my previous post “War Horse”, I highly recommended a book called “War Horse”, by Louis A. DiMarco. I am now three-quarters of the way through it and wanted to share an excerpt with you.

This passage comes from the American Plains Indian Wars (late 1800’s). He is describing how the cavalry traveled in order to cover 25 miles a day, 6 days a week.

“At the end of the first hour of the march, the column halted for 10 to 15 minutes to adjust tack…Once the march commenced again, it stopped every hour for five minutes. At the second halt the command did not rest but rather proceeded forward dismounted leading the horses for 20 minutes. The troopers then remounted and proceeded forward at the trot for 20 minutes. The last 20 minutes of the second hour were completed at a walk. This pattern-lead, trot, walk, was repeated with slight variations for the remaining three hours of the march. Commanders injected short gallops into the march to allow the horses to stretch…The goal of the command was to cover 25 miles in less than 6 hours of marching time.”

Sound familiar? This is the goal of modern day limited distance riding! The cavalry troopers during the Indian wars did the equivalent of a 6 day multiday LD every single week. Let me tell you what is more unbelievable to me….I did my first year of endurance riding in cavalry boots. They were well broken in, as I use them often during civil war events. I did quite a bit a leading, but less than what is described here. My feet were bloody raw at the end of those miles.

During a normal march, “a mounted unit could cover 150 miles a week and 600 miles over the course of a month without detriment to its men and horses.” Here is the amazing part. After keeping this schedule, a “…well-conditioned cavalry could march at a rate of 50 miles a day for three to five days in an emergency”. Amazing! This was before all the knowledge and equipment today. No athletic shoes, electrolytes, horse boots, neoprene, or “moisture wicking fabrics”. Imagine doing a month of 6 day limited distance multi day ride, followed by a five-day 50 mile multi day!
(Pictured is Buster. He's the "eye" pictured in my profile pic).

The book goes on to describe a specific instance in 1879 where a squadron marched 170 miles in 65.5 hours. The unit’s march speed was over 62 miles a day. “This march was particularly noteworthy because no horses were lost, no horses were injured, and the command was totally fit for service when it arrived.” That’s what I call “fit to continue”! What would the pull rate be on a modern day AERC ride if riders attempted such a ride? Not to mention that a cavalry trooper is carrying substantially more “stuff” with them than a modern day endurance rider. Sabre, weapons, canteen, grain bags, haversacks, bedroll, clothing, some provisions, etc.

So here’s the thought for the day:
Obviously the cavalry rider in the late 1800’s was capable of doing what we are doing now, with their period tack. What modern piece of endurance equipment could you not live without?

I have done several endurance rides in this era of tack. I find the tack very functional and comfy for both rider and horse. It’s durable and easily repairable in the field. I don’t think there is any modern tack that I couldn’t live without, even if some of today’s innovations are very convenient! Here’s the list of my must have items: If I have to do a significant amount of walking I would really like a pair of modern shoes. Clothing was heavy, itchy, and hot. Give me modern day riding-tights anytime! (and if I’m already dressed in non-period clothes, can I have my helmet too?)

So what can’t you live without? Your skito pad? You would be using a folded wool blanket. Your treeless saddle? You would be using a McClellan saddle. Biothane/Zilco tack? Everything is leather. GPS? Easy boots? Electrolytes? Modern rain gear? (how does rubberized canvas sound to you?) Your LQ trailer? Or does sleeping under the stars or in a canvas pup tent appeal?

2/22 Livermore ride

Sunday I took Minx out to Livermore with a co-worker/friend and her husband. They are recreational riders and occasionally it works out that I can share some of my favorite local riding spots with them. Their horses are “trail green”, so they like to go riding with a buddy that has a solid trail horse. It’s hilarious that Minx is the “safety horse”. Anyways. The weather was frightful, but we decided to go anyways. Once we arrived in Livermore, the weather had calmed to sprinkles and wind. I was practically giddy because I FINALLY get to try out the rain gear I bought last year after several extremely wet endurance rides where I was absolutely miserable. (Picture below are from Wild West, one of the rainy rides. Pictures were taken by Bill, the ride photographer. As soon as I find his business card I will give him full credit here. He does an awesome job. )

The trails at Livermore have excellent drainage and are slightly gravelly (no mud!) trails, so off we went. It took us 2.5 hours to do 5 miles…..there was an issue of a bull and a calf on the trail and no way to get around them, and my co-workers horse was being a (insert you favorite non-explicative name here) so I offered to school her a bit. I make a point of trying not to offer too much advice on horse training or riding unless specifically asked. I figure my job is to enable them to enjoy time together and on the horses and the last thing anyone needs while having fun is nagging or the feeling someone is judging them. In this situation, the horse was starting to get out of control and I asked D. if she wanted some help.

It was good for Minx to get out, even if we didn’t do a lot of miles. It’s the first time since I rode her 6 weeks ago, when she was off at the trot on her right hind. She didn’t seem off today, but I’m not sure because we didn’t do any trotting (she’s very stoic about pain and a very good liar). She was very forward and seemed to enjoy herself. The Thorowgood I was riding today pops over her shoulders on down-hills so I dismounted and walked. She looked stiff going down the hills, so I think her arthritis in her hocks might be bothering her. If I get her out most days of the week and let her move, she’s not stiff, however that has NOT happened with the weather lately. Not to mention her paddock is so muddy, I doubt she’s doing much moving around on her own.

With her hocks in mind, I’m really glad we didn’t attempt Eastern Mojave this year (2 weeks ago). I’ll see how she is once spring comes and I can get her out regularly, however, I may ride her recreationally only this year, depending on how she is feeling. My vet and I have talked about hock injections, but until this point she’s been sound, as long as she’s ridden regularly, or worked on the ground.

She’s still so skinny! It’s starting to irritate me. I kept very close tabs on it this winter. I started supplementing with beet pulp before the weather turned nasty, and increased her beet pulp/ration immediately once she wasn’t maintaining. And she STILL got skinny! This horse gets all the hay she wants (grass and alfalfa) AND I supplement with 4 pounds of Beet pulp daily, with additional LMF gold (a high fat feed) on days I get her out. She maintains OK on 100% alfalfa, but then she is useless for any kind of trail rides because she thumps if you even look at her wrong.

I like to wait 4 weeks after changing a horse’s ration to give time for results. It’s been 3 weeks since I upped her beet pulp. If I still don’t see weight gain by next week, I’m going to start adding oil. I used to feed oil, but the mess, cost, and keeping it “fresh”, keeps me from doing it unless I have to. It’s been 6 weeks since I floated her teeth and I really thought I would see more results in her weight than I have.

Her girth has actually expanded a few holes, so I’m hoping some of her straggly, skinny look, is being accentuated by her extremely fuzzy winter coat (when it lays flat, like after riding). I can easily feel ribs, but in all honesty, I think there is more flesh over them than a month ago. I have a cool formula for monitoring a horses weight that is suppose to be more accurate than a weight tape so I should probably do that. Right now I’m relying on my interpretation of the body condition scoring system, focusing on the fat cover over her ribs. (pictured below is Minx in January with her coat fluffed out. This is right before upping her beetpulp. Why is it that they never look as skinny in pictures as I think they actually are? Her coat has A LOT of fluff. Compare to the pictures taken at the ride yesterday when her hair was flat.)

I’m in the middle of a post that is going to describe how I put weight on my horses. I’ll have before and after pictures, along with what I did, how long it took etc. I’m reading a lot of Dr. Susan Garlinghouse’s (may have her last name wrong – I’ll edit and correct if I do) articles and trying to apply. According to what I’m reading, 4 pounds of BP should be sufficient to put 50 pounds on a horse in 60 days….All others things being equal, which are course they aren’t. I’ll keep everyone posted. :)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tune up Ride 2/19/09

The weather held out and my boss agreed to my “work Saturday plan”, so Farley and I went off to Del Valle in Livermore on Thursday. I was out for either 2 or 2.5 hours, and did somewhere between 14 and 16 miles. My GPS batteries died half way through. You wouldn’t know by looking at the distance/time how much galloping we did (*sigh*). Hills, picture taking, some grazing, slowing down for other trail users, and me getting out of the saddle and running all took their toll. I wanted more miles, but I had to be back in town by 4pm for a work meeting. Making this meeting in semi-presentable condition was the only stipulation my boss made.
(Pictured - my poor dirty, horse. This is when I pulled her out of the pasture. No grooming yet!)
The weather was QUITE warm. I was in tights and a black t-shirt (short sleeved) and I was sweating. A novel experience coming out of winter. I did remember to put on sunscreen!

While I was at the parking lot, ready to head out, another rig pulled up. Before she even got out of her truck I knew she was an endurance rider. Who else is with horses at Del Valle on a weekday, by herself, with a VERY nice sundowner horse trailer? LOL. When she unloaded a clipped Arab my suspicions were confirmed. What’s nice about fellow endurance riders is that they understand the need to get out on the trail and put some miles in. There were a few moments of chitchat as we both tacked up, but no hard feelings when I took off a few minutes later. Some of the recreational riders I meet at the trail heads want to talk and talk and talk…..I always go out of my way to be friendly and courteous, but there are times I am torn between being a good endurance ambassador and wanting to get my miles in! **sob* I try to remind myself that in this life, it is the people I meet and whose lives I get to interact with that matters, and less about horses and endurance.
(Pictured: the view from the first big hill. The white spec at the middle left is my horse trailer)

I decided NOT to use the hackamore today. She was too wound up and there were a couple of school groups out on the trails (along with cows, usually occurring together…) I didn’t want to have any regrets. Farley has been out only a handful of times since Death Valley at the end of December. Additionally, I have been trying to put weight on her, so I had a feeling she would be a handful (increased calories + no work = energetic horse).

After 15 minutes of walk and very slow trot and felt like she needed to get some of her energy out of her system. The great thing about Del Valle is there are plenty of substantial hills. I pointed her at one and let her go. At one point I apologized to a photographer on the trail, thinking I had ruined his shot. It turns out I WAS his shot. LOL.
(Pictured - grazing break. Actually, this was in the middle of when I got off and "ran" so it was more of a Melinda break. Yes, I took the tangles out of her mane later!)
Does a horsey teenager grow up?
Have you ever ridden a “downhill horse”? And I’m not talking confirmation! Every horse has a strength and weakness. I can feel her get excited when a downhill comes into view. She can scoot down SO FAST. It so smooth, I just move from side to side a little. I don’t let her do it very often in conditioning rides because I believe it’s hard on the suspensories, tendons, ligaments etc. I do it just enough to keep her happy and in practice. On formal AERC rides I’ll let her do it, but only if the footing is good and the hill is not extremely steep. Today I let her do a couple of downhills to see how solid she was feeling.

She got EXTREMELY pissy when I tried to micro-manage her trail ride today. In many ways I have fostered this independent mentality on the trail. Her job is to pay attention to the trail and evaluate her footing. My job is to find the ribbons. I expect the horse to pick the best path down the trail. Riding all 4 days at Death Valley is where it clicked with her that SHE was responsible for where she put her feet. HOWEVER, I think she has forgotten that I will (at all times) have the power of VETO. If she suggests a trot and I insist on a walk, there will BE NO HEAD TOSSING OR BUCKING. If I NICELY ask for a reduction of speed in a gait….DO NOT SPEED UP as soon as rein pressure is released! AHHHH!!!!!!!
(Pictured: the trail. We usually ride on the single track, but the trail was damp and I didn't want to destroy it, so today we took the "high road".)

In the beginning of her endurance training she reminded me of a toddler. Cute, wanting to please, and craving affection. In the first few endurance rides she was so sweet – having fun, looking to me for reassurance and trying out new skills on the trail. At Death valley I felt her starting to grow up and now I feel like I have a teenager on my hands. Argumentative, opinionated, but not experienced enough to let go. However, she deserves some trust, so I’m trying to let her “go” more often. I’m moving up the distance as fast as possible because I want to do 100 milers. I have a feeling the more shorter distances I do, the faster and bull-headed she’s going to get.

I want to be a rider…not a passenger!
I tried to ride yesterday as if I was using a hackamore. Less hands and more seat/voice. I use my voice A LOT, probably to make up for me less than stellar seat and leg aids. In a bit, Minx likes a slight amount of contact on the reins - her background is sulky racing and this makes sense. Minx sees contact as a reassurance that I’m still there, taking care of her. Any contact at all just pisses Farley off. If I start riding in a hackamore I need to get used to NOT have contact on the reins. Not having contact makes me nervous. I feel like things can escalate very quickly out of my control. Adventures on Arabee (see blog in side bar) addressed the whole “loose rein with hackamore” thing in an early post. Hopefully she updates soon how that is going (any tricks?????).

I got off and ran for ~30 minutes in the middle of the ride. Actually – slowly jogged and walked – while panting. Farley was laughing. It felt good. I need to get off more often during rides. It’s so fun to watch Farley trot beside me. When I first started endurance I used to look at other people’s horses and the experienced horses had “that trot”. I don’t know how to describe “it”, but it’s a trot that only comes with miles on the trail. Farley finally has “that trot”.

As a special treat (as if finally being back in the saddle on the trail wasn’t good enough), I saw an osprey, immature golden eagle, AND an accipiter (probably a sharp-shinned) all circling together! I rarely see any of these 3 species (buteos and vultures are the most common) so it was special. I also saw a multitude of what I call “twitter” or “tweetie” birds. LOL. Lots of bluebirds, larks, and magpies. I find birdwatching so rewarding.
(Pictured: This is in the same location as the grazing photo above, but from the other side)

The end
My new equipment worked well. The new skito pad does NOT budge. I don’t think my new tights have as much grip, but they still were very comfy. I came VERY close to falling off. Farley was cantering/charging/galloping up a hill. Going up hill, the trail turned and the inside of the turn was banked. My weight ended up too far to the inside AND my girth was fairly loose. Farley started to do a little mini buck (mostly a little hop) because she wasn’t pleased where my weight was going and then stopped. Probably the closest I’ve come to falling off of her.

In general, the new truck’s transmission is much smarter than I am and I need to just let it do its job. The gearing and response in trailer mode is so much different from my half ton, how I brake, how I down shift etc. Here is how the conversation went today on the back-side of Altimont pass….
Mel: mmm….better let off the gas so when I build up momentum I can still slow down

Truck: (slows down to 45mph)

Mel: Oops. (applies gas)

Truck: (truck resumes a speed of 55mph, continues down the pass)

Mel: Well, I’m now going sixty and I think I’ll tap my breaks (the ½ ton would make a break for it at sixty and I would be going seventy-five before I knew it. However, continuous braking was asking for trouble, so after shifting down I would brake in short spurts)

Truck: You want to slow down? (shifts down a gear)

Mel: That was cool. And now for another little tap.

Truck: I exist to serve. Brakes = you want to slow down (shifts down ANOTHER gear).

Mel: AHHHH!!!!!!!! (counting in head….) what gear am I in now???!!! (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6……)

Off to do laundry and pack for 20MT!

Friday, February 20, 2009

We rode yesterday!

Sorry everyone - my laptop battery died before I could get the the story and pictures transfered to the flash drive to transfer to this computer, that has internet access....yes, the internet thing is complicated right now.

It went well. Pictures and story to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obsessions cont.

I wanted to mention briefly what bits I used with what horse. This was suppose to go into the "Obsessions" post but I already mentioned my brain took a vacation the last couple of days.

Minx goes in a loose ring, sweet iron jointed snaffle. The rings are ~5" in diameter and I would consider the bit fairly narrow. She LOVES this bit. She raced in a simple jointed snaffle, so I was worried that I would have control problems, but she's very rateable in this bit and responds well. I couple months back I tried her in a rubber (not jointed) Pellham and she HATED it. I think it was too thick. A few days ago I tried a kimberwick that had 2 joints and a copper roller in the middle and she was not pleased with that either. I do ride her bare back in a halter sometimes and she responds well, so I think she might be able to do a hackamore. She can get VERY racey in a ride situation though, so I'm not sure it would work at an endurance ride.
Farley's favorite bit is a french link baucher (also called a drop cheek snaffle). I tried a bunch of different bits with Farley and figured out very quickly she cannot handle plate pressure that occurs with a single joint. She did OK with a narrow (when I say "narrow" in relation to a bit, I am referring to the diameter of the bars, not the width of the mouthpiece), solid pelham, but it wasn't "the one". She likes the french link baucher. she eats and drinks well with it, is rateable during rides, and is soft. Farley does NOT do well in just a halter (been there, tried that.....), however I rode her in a mechanical hackamore in the arena and she did OK. I might try her in one on the trail tomorrow. She's strong, but not racey during endurance rides, so it might work.

Both my horses do so well in a bit on the trail (no head tossing, eat and drink) I haven't had a lot of motivation to try anything different. I won't know the difference until I do try, so that's one of my goals this year is to see if my horses are even better in a hack!

Loose Ends

Today I need to wrap up loose ends! The last couple of days I have been very discombobulated (as you could probably tell from my posts). This is sort of long but oh well.

Most in important thing

First things first: I am almost finished with my 2 pound heart box of See's candy :( BUT my lovely Matt also gave me a little gold box of truffles to ease the pain of the end of the heart shaped box :) I didn't eat all the candy in the heart box...the whole point of the beautiful box is to show it off, so, I kept it in my truck (it matched the interior beautifully - black and grey with a red satin heart in the seat) and offered it to especially deserving people - ie my very patient and understanding family. I will selfishly say that the gold box never saw the light of day. I do so LOVE truffles.
Second most important thing:
I got tentative approval from my boss to take tomorrow off in exchange for working this Saturday. "Why not just ride Saturday?", you might ask. Well, that would be one week before the 65 miler and one of my rules is not to ride the weekend before, or haul the competing horse the weekend/week before the ride. The weather is starting to clear up today. Tomorrow will be the test run for: My new saddle pad, my new hind boots, possibly the hackamore, my "new" riding tights, my "new" jacket, my new truck.
I just remembered:
Talking about my "new" riding tights reminds me of a website I forgot to share with you last time. is a wonderful place to get used riding clothes. I have bought boots, spurs, 2 pairs of riding tights, riding mittens, a cooler and much more from her. Her prices are reasonable and she's a very nice lady. Please check her out! When looking for tights for endurance, I look at the fabric. I have found that cotton does not work well for me in the long run on the trail, so I try to get tights that are mostly lycra, spandex, etc.

The real point of the post:
And that brings us to the real point of the post - I test drove the trailer (without horses) with the truck yesterday. It was rainy and there was a lot of water on the road (as you can see in the pictures) so I thought it would be a good test. The trailer is a tad nose low without horses, but it levels out when loaded (or at least it did with my half ton). The amount of drop on my "stinger" (hitch? whatever) was a point of contention between my Dad, Matt, and me last weekend. The 2" drop on my half ton was OBVIOUSLY not going to work. I thought I needed a 4" drop. Unfortunately what they sell is a 3 1/4" and a 5 3/4". My Dad and Matt were adamant that a 6" (5 3/4") would be the ticket. They even got out fancy tape measures to prove it to me. So I bought a 5 3/4". What's the big deal you ask? Once I leave my parent's/Matt's I do not have the capability to change or remove a ball on a hitch because although my tool box contains all-important items such as hammers and screwdrivers (used to pry and poke at things), I do not have the GIANT wrench needed to install balls. Unfortunately my trailer was at home so we just had to guess and hope it was close enough. I'll be able to make a decision after tomorrow.

The truck pulls the trailer great. The trailer whipped my 1/2 ton truck around if I wasn't REALLY careful. As one reviewer put it on a truck website, this truck should come equipped with a sticker on the dash board that says "warning - you are pulling a trailer". The other neat thing is that when put into hauling mode, when you let off the gas, the truck downshifts instead of coasts. On my 1/2 ton, the hauling mode adjusted the RPM's, but not much else.

Only one little "situation" occurred. I tried to accelerate to 60 with the trailer, but it wouldn't shift into the next gear. The RPM's were as high as I was comfortable with (and actually they were higher than I was comfortable with....). With my half ton when that happened, I would let off the gas for a moment and then give it more. This truck didn't cooperate. I pulled over and got out (I could smell something once I got out of the truck, which meant I was REALLY glad I didn't keep pushing it). Then I pulled the owners manual out and read about the break in period. :(

I knew I was suppose to keep the truck at 50-55 during the break in period. Unfortunately I thought that period was 200 miles and it was actually 500 miles. Oops. Too late now. Believe it or not I already have over 500 miles on it. I bought it Sunday with 23 miles on it. So I screwed that up, but considering I'm a conservative driver, it might be OK. I drove home from my parent's at ~60mph. I'm also not suppose to pull a trailer for the first 500 miles. Good thing I drove a lot over the weekend huh? Unfortunately I wasn't suppose to go over 50-55 for the first 500 towing miles. Ooops. Hopefully I didn't shorten the life on my (what I imagine to be) a very expensive transmission too much during my little test drive. I did go 50-55 mph most of the way, but there was ~0.5 mile I tried to get it to shift to go up to 60-62 mph. Live and learn right?


This seemed to be a good time to repost this. I first posted this in facebook a couple months ago.

So I seem to have an obsession - horses, but more specifically saddles and to a lesser degree, bits.

I love saddles. Not your average, everyday pleasure saddles, but saddles that have been designed for a specific purpose, usually historical.

Here's some of the saddles I have in my collection:

The 1859 McClellan: I love this saddle. This is the ultimate in close contact. There was some efforts by the military to improve this saddle but it's darn good the way it is. I've done a couple of 50's in this saddle and of all the saddles, it consistently has the least amount of problems and frustrations inherent in it. There are several things that I wish were different, but I don't spend an inordinate amount of time trying to improve this saddle. It is what it is and I try and manage around its limitations. It's designed for the military sitting seat, so when there is weight in the stirrups over a long period of time (like when I improperly post :) It can cause the saddle tree to flex around the hinged stirrup bars and cause a pressure point (I'm using a single, traditional, folded wool blanket so there's not a lot of padding). The saddle blanket also has a tendancy to scoot unless the girth is REALLY tight. UPDATE: since writing this post for facebook, a friend gave me a 1904 McClellan. It has several differences including no skirts or fenders, the ability to adjust the quarter straps, and a latigo girth on both sides. I have not used it much due to Minx being off and the weather being bad, but I have great hopes for it.

English saddles - I currently own a Thorowgood dressage and a Duett Companion Trail.

I love the maintenance free, light synthetic of the Thorowgood. I've noticed it's not really a trail saddle D rings on the back, and no crupper attachment, which is unfortunate because it has a tendency to pop over the shoulder of my Standardbred. Don’t worry – I’ve gotten creative (as usual). There's not a lot of room in the seat. It's not designed for posting and I've noticed I can get a little chafed in it :). It's a secure saddle though and I would highly recommend it.

I LOVE my Duett trail saddle. I currently use it on Farley. The only things I would change would be the weight, and the width of the flap. I think the flap is ridiculously wide :). The weight of the saddle fully decked out for endurance with a toklet woolback pad is ~32 pounds! :0! It’s so comfy. Since my weigh in I have purchased a skito which should weigh less, and eliminate most of the bulk under my leg. Very comfy. It's built on a dressage tree/seat so it's also very secure. I love the position this saddle puts me in. I highly recommend this saddle and would get another one for Minx if I could find one for the right price and size.

For old time's sake I have also pictured a old english saddle I gave away. It was my first saddle. It had terrible stirrup placement and was NOT secure. The only thing I did consistantly in that saddle was fall out of it! LOL. It definately made me a better rider!

Endurance saddles – A more recent acquisition is an older model Specialized International. It is an endurance/English hybrid. It reminds me a lot of my McClellan in the way it rides except (thankfully) it puts my feet more underneath me and the pommel is more trotting friendly. It is supposed to be able to adjust to fit any horse with a system of neoprene fitting pads. I 'm not sure how much I subscribed to the idea that you can refit a hard object (like the tree) that doesn't fit to a horses back by using shims and pads.....The tree itself reminds me of the McClellan but it's been modified probably to fit an arab back, so while the original McClellan fits the Standardbred very well, the specialized tree is a little "curvy". The seat is a little smaller as well (even though it's be about the equivalent that I usually ride in - 17-17.5 english). It's a secure saddle - Minx did a big time sideways spook and I stayed put. It tends to throw me forward in sudden stops, probably because my legs are in a different position than I'm used to. I'm looking forward playing with this saddle's nuances this winter.

Now about bits - my criteria for buying bits I own that one yet? :)

Pictured: 1. Farley in 1859 McClellan, 2. Minx in Thorowgood, 3. Farley in Duett, 4. Minx in Borelli, 5. Minx in specialized international.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Towing vehicles

For anyone who is on ridecamp, visiting my blog (go to to sign up for this fabulous endurance-related e-mail list), I would like to comment on a recent discussion of towing vehicles.

The opinions ran strong in a recent discussion on an e-mail list I belong to on the subject of what is appropriate to pull a horse trailer with. Basically, people fell into 3 categories:

1. Half tons are not appropriate to pull trailers with. They are light duty trucks and you are risking hurting yourself or others by continuing use such a vehicle. A ¾ ton is necessary and required.

2. Half tons can be OK as long as you live in an area without significant grades. (I believe the California central valley qualifies as such a place).

3. Half tons are perfectly fine if you are careful. After all, they used to pull horse trailers with cars!

I probably fell in between category 2 and 3. I drove my half ton carefully with a trailer and never had any issues. I knew it was borderline, but I was careful.

After driving my new ¾ ton, I now fall in between a 1 and a 2. My half ton drove like a car. True, it was bigger, but I could accelerate from a stop sign, whip around corners, and come to a STOP if I so wished. The ¾ ton drives like a TRUCK. It’s HEAVY, has a LOT of momentum, and there is no pulling out in front of a semi and “flooring it”, even without a trailer attached. :) I haven’t hooked up the trailer yet, but it’s obvious from driving it that it’s geared to pull a trailer, and honestly, I don’t even think I’m going to notice that I’m pulling a trailer! I’ll let you know how it goes….. I may get out for a ride on Thursday. Tonight I think I’ll hitch it up and drive it around the block without horses in it.

Thought for the Day
So, right now I’m pulling a bumper pull 3 horse, steel trailer, with a dressing room with a ¾ ton. (I did pull it with a heavy duty half ton). How about you guys? What is your truck/trailer combination?

The results are in!

THREE times as many readers would "gladly" attempt a 50 mile horse ride, then chose painful injury. I wonder how that would have changed if I had put 100 miles?

Ever since I could remember I've wanted to go further. Not necessarily faster, but FURTHER. I was the little girl that dreamed about running away with just the pack on my back. Not to escape my family life, but just to be away, on my own, seeing the country. My distance passion (obsession - whatever) I started on foot first (marathons). In the middle of my second marathon it dawned on me that I could be doing this on horse back.

I knew nothing about endurance riding. I had one aunt that had done some endurance rides and she offered her ranch for conditioning rides. She also introduced me to Endurance News, AERC, and ridecamp, among a litany of other resources. A friend had given me a Standardbred when I graduated from UC Davis in 2006 and off we went. The trail certainly hasn't taken me where I thought it would, but I wouldn't have missed any of it! (that includes the lameness, the hard times, the pulls, the frustration and disappointment. How else could I fully appreciate the finish is to win motto?). I have learned an amazing amount of information in the few miles I have. I can't even imagine what's in store next!

Happy trails -

Related links: (sign up for ridecamp here! Check out the classifieds) (my number is M36652 if anyone wants to look up my record. There's definately some errors in some of my LD ride times......I don't ride that fast!) (I have gotten some GREAT deals on tack here, I bought Farley from this site) (I love this saddle - I use on Farley) (where I got my skito pad. Great resourse for saddle fitting and pad information.) (not strictly endurance related, but this is an endurance friend who is putting on a day-horse camp this summer)

Yahoo! groups: I highly reccomend the following groups: New100milers, theenduranceopen, barefootendurancehorses,

Check out my blog list to the right. There are some great resources there as well. I only put blogs on my list that I read on a DAILY basis. :)

Stay tuned for a new poll.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Truck grows up

I took pictures but apparently my camera ate them :(. It’s a shame because I got a nice one with the Sales guy with me and him in front of it! I’ll put pictures up with this post tomorrow.

I really liked my half ton Chevy. It was a great little truck. When I graduated from college my parents helped me buy it and cosigned on the load as a graduation present. It has taken me everywhere. It has never given me any problems, but I was overloading it and the miles and towing weight was starting to take its toll. On the way to the dealership I shed tears as I pictured myself saying goodbye to my faithful truck in my parent’s driveway. As I drove off the dealer’s lot in my new ¾ ton, I didn’t give the ½ ton another thought! (How fickle is the women’s heart!)

Matt found this truck for me on Valentine’s Day in Stockton. Halfway through the test drive I let the Sales guy know that I was going to purchase the truck and what my down-payment was going to be. It was really quite easy. I was already pre-approved for the loan, my Dad bought my half ton for my 16 year old brother, and I had already ran the numbers on the financial calculators online, so I knew what my payment was going to be. This is the second time that I have had a great truck-buying experience. I think that if you’re honest and courteous, you will get the same in return. The key is knowing what you want and being reasonable. (I cause Matt stress with this attitude, as he is certain that I will be railroaded into something I don’t want).

I bought a new 2007, ¾ ton GMC, long bed truck. The truck is brand new (23 miles on it). My previous truck was a very basic work truck package, with AM/FM radio and no power anything. This truck feels very luxurious with cruise control, power locks, CD player, and keyless entry. I feel like this truck was custom made for me. It has manual windows, and no carpeting (I hate power windows and carpeting).

So how is this horse-related? Instead of going riding I bought a truck this weekend. The weather was horrendous so this was probably a good thing (I am stubborn enough I would have gone riding if it wasn’t for the truck buying event!). With this truck, I’m not limited by the local of the ride (how steep are the hills going to be? How long will the grades be? Is an extra bale of hay going to be the difference between stopping my trailer and not stopping?). I’m sitting in the service center now getting the finishing touches that will allow me to pull my trailer. After wiring my brake box in, Matt and my Dad could not get it to work with a trailer. After 4 hours (replacing fuses, rechecking and rechecking the wiring at the dashboard, and re-reading the owners manual….) I decided to take it into the shop. It turns out that dashboard wires are not wired to the fuse box under the hood…..I’m glad I took it in. I think Matt was about to kill me as his day off turned into “work on Melinda’s truck day”. While they were messing with the brake box, I purchased a new hitch (needed a hitch that had a larger drop) and moved the tool box from my old truck to my new one. I am going to take a day off work this week to take Farley on the conditioning ride we missed today, and make sure that everything works before we head to Ridgecrest on the 28th.

I must admit I have extreme trepidations about attending this 65 miler. Nothing has gone the way it should this month and as a result I haven’t gotten any riding in (I’m not exaggerating). I hoping that by going slow and being reasonable (ie pulling early if it’s not going well), Farley will get through injury free and we will both have fun. She was so strong at Death Valley and has a good base. I’m hoping with a tune up ride this week sometime, it will be enough. I hear tons of stories of people pulling their horses that have a good base out of pasture and having great rides, hopefully this is one of them.

Thanks to the people who responded on what kind of entries you like. It seems like most people are OK with journal type entries, so I’ll include more of them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Penny Pincher

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

I managed to see Matt and drop off his cheesecake last night. He surprised me with my very own box of See’s candy (heart shaped!) and a box of truffles! Today I headed to San Francisco for another FPGBB performance (see earlier post for adventures last time!). This trip was uneventful. We played the national anthem at a gymnastics competition. I hung around for a while in the evening to watch some of the college level men’s rounds. It’s incredible to see them live, performing on the floor and rings. I was fascinated by the ultimate in strength and grace. When I watch them it is with some longing. It isn’t that I want to be a gymnasist (in fact it’s way too late for that), instead it’s a longing to be incredible at something. It inspires me to do more and strive harder in my own life.

I am possibly getting a new truck tomorrow. The new truck “thing” has been ongoing; way too drawn out, and filled with way too much drama. I want to be done buying large things. In 2006 I graduated, bought a truck, acquired a horse, and bought a horse trailer. In 2007 I bought another horse, and another horse trailer. In 2008 I bought a saddle and had way too many vet bills and other miscellaneous stuff. Now in 2009 I am could be buying another truck!!!! I hate having too much “stuff”. I’m also not the type of person that has to have the latest or newest thing. So why the heck does this keep happening? sigh. In this case I have been pulling my horse trailer with a ½ ton. It does a decent job, but there have been several scary moments during towing. At this point I don’t feel comfortable taking the truck and trailer combination out of California (driving in the valley isn’t bad because of the lack of any real hills). I have my truck loaded to the max and that isn’t the safest thing.

OK – so with the possibility of draining (I’m being dramatic) my bank accounts in the near future, yet still wanting to compete in endurance this year, brings up the question – “how can I better pinch pennies?” Here is what I have come up with so far on my drive home tonight. Feel free to add in the comments!

1. Maintain Minx’s trimmed and barefoot feet myself. This shouldn’t be hard to do if I keep up on it every ~2 weeks. I own on the equipment. I’ll try doing it for 3 months and then have her evaluated by my farrier to make sure I’m maintaining good angles etc. I’ll hold off on competing in rides with her so I don’t have to shoe (hoof protection is required on most rides in this area). Easy care glueons are cheaper than shoes so perhaps this is a reasonable alternative. Amount Saved: $35 a trim

2. Evaluate whether I need to feed platinum performance. I’m currently only feeding to one horse, but this stuff does add up. Does it really help? What if I just fed beet pulp and LMF gold? Would that address vitamin D and selenium deficiencies? What if I fed only for the 2 weeks leading up to a ride? Amount Saved: $140 for a 5 gallon pail. Lasts me on average ~2-3 months.

3. Groceries – stick to a list and only buy what’s on sale and “essential ingredients”. Plan meals so that everything get’s used and I don’t throw away food. My food bill last year was ~$120/month on average. In college I ate for less than $100/month. Amount Saved: $20/month

4. Buy a bike? I sold my bike after graduating from UC Davis. If I biked to work 1-2 times a week (18 miles/day) and 5 days a week (14 miles/day) to the stable, I’m figuring how much gas that would save me, and whether it would pay for a bike. It’s hard to bike in this area because drivers are not used to seeing bikes. Probably not feasible.

5. Don’t do any LD’s this year. I do LD’s to explore new local trails, and to catch up with endurance friends. However, I can easily do LD distances on my own. Amount Saved: $100/ ride. I went to 4 LD’s last year (not counting Death Valley because it was a multi-day).

6. No new tack! I have plenty already. J Easier said than done. Tack is my biggest weakness.

7. No eating out. Amount Saved: $20/month

8. Use public transportation for some of my weekend trips if it’s cheaper. For example: ride the train to see Matt instead of driving.

It’s hard to find areas to cut waste. I do all my own vaccines, don’t have a phone (cellphone is company paid), internet, or cable. Do not run my air conditioner or heater. Grocery shop 1/month (and one other time to pick up milk, bread, and lettuce only). I use the library to read all my books, clean my own pens at the stable, and do not own any gym memberships. I live in the cheapest apartment that I could find. I drive 55 mph most of the time to get the most out of my gas mileage. I adhere to a strict budget. I buy all my clothes from the thrift store. I cook my meals from scratch (no pricey pre-made stuff!). My personal toiletry consists of a soap bar, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, and contact solution – that’s it! No makeup, lotions, hair cuts, foo-foo body washes etc. J My biggest expense (obviously) is the horses. However, with some management changes (mentioned above) and a year free of major vet bills (crossed fingers), there should still be money left over for some rides!

I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression – I have a wonderful job that provides for my needs and allows me to do what I love – endurance. However, I believe strongly in financial responsibility and with the prospect of a big purchase, I want to button down the hatches and eliminate any waste from my life! Considering what I hear in the news, I feel extremely fortunate be employed and still be able to enjoy my horses. If anyone reading this is experiencing real financial difficulty, I am not trying to minimize your situation. A year ago there wasn’t room for one more boarder at my stable. Today, nearly half the pens are empty.

Thought of the Day
So does anyone have comments? Suggestions for cutting waste? Is everyone out there doing OK?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New blogs

I have posted some more blogs in the side bar. There are so many great blogs out there it is difficult to choose! At some point I will probably have to start organizing my non-horsey blogs and my horsey blogs seperately.

This assumes you have any time in your day to read yet more blogs! I certaintly don't but with the crummy (by California standards) weather today I find more time to waste on the internet.

If you only have time for one more blog (or even if you don't), please start with Elly's "Living in a Zoo". It's a fabulous blog. Then check out "A horse and a half". As I read more blogs I get a better idea of what I want my blog to be about. I was worried about making it too "journal" like, but I'm seeing that some journal-type entries can be entertaining. Any comments about which entries you like the most are appreciated.

BTW Let me define "crummy CA weather" :) It's grey outside, sprinkling, with a hint of wind....LOL

Sometimes to Pull is to Win

Part 2 – Mount Diablo Part II

(see picture note in part 1. Pictures in this post are from a Fresno Zoo trip! - more randomness)

Minx started to fade early which is unusual for her. She was willing to let the horses in front of her go forward without her. Usually I don’t get that behavior until mile 20 or so. I was only 10 miles into the ride….The first real vet check (where there was a hold etc.) was at mile 25. Miles 1-10 was done at a full out extended trot with a little walking (trying to get as many miles as possible before the sun came up). Miles 10-25 were tough. The sun had started to come up. I walked in the shade, trotted in the sun. I let her go full bore down hill (we only skidded out once, as long as I could stay centered in the saddle, she could do a racing trot down hill), we trotted the flats, walked the hills. Every time I came to water I wetted her down, watched her drinking. She wasn’t acting right. She was panting and I was having trouble keeping her respiration down even with breaks. She kept wanting to stop. Even though she had peed several times (she was in season), she hadn’t pooped.

We came to a nice little water stop, about four miles from the lunch time vet check. The water stop was in the shade and there was water and hay. I decided to wait there until her pulse recovered (which I defined as dropping to 60 bpm or below) and she had ate and drank. It took 10-15 minutes for her pulse to drop to 60 bpm (shouldn’t have taken more than a couple of minutes) and she wasn’t interested in hay or water. She did drink some water once her pulse dropped. This horse is very good at taking care of herself and this was very unusual. I decided to dismount and walk into the vet check. She seemed to perk up the next 4 miles as we walked. She still had no interest in trotting behind me (so we walked) and made no effort to catch the horses ahead of us. Her pulse was better.

At the vet check:
We arrived at the vet check (25 miles). I stripped tack and watered her (she didn’t drink very much). I didn’t like how she wasn’t interested in her surroundings and was standing with her head low. She pulsed in right away and then we went to vet in. She received A’s and B’s on her vet card (much to my suprise) and was passed to go on after our hour hold. This was probably due to me handwalking her into the vet check, but I knew something was still wrong. During the hour hold she stayed lethargic, did not eat and drink significantly and continued to hold her head low. I brought her back to the vet and asked them to recheck gut sounds. They were almost silent. I made the decision to pull. Because the vet had passed her to go on, it is a “rider option” pull – my first RO. I immediately starting crying. I am the person that usually has it all together but concern about Minx, relief I did not have to push on through the heat – was too much. In retrospect, I probably had heat-exhaustion myself. I took ~10 minutes to compose myself and focused on Minx.

While waiting for the trailer back to camp, Minx started to show more interest in her surroundings (exactly 1 hour and 6 minutes after arriving into the vet check…). She starting drinking well again and did some nibbling on dried grass and hay. Still, I knew I had made the right decision to pull. She was trailered back to ride camp. I had the vet recheck her gut sounds again, which were still very very quiet. She still had not pooped and still wasn’t super interested in food. After our pull at 10am, it took until 3pm until she finally pooped, starting eating semi-normally, and her gut sounds were back up to normal. It was a stressful 5 hours for me!

Every time I do a ride and am reminded how hard it is. I come back from each ride determined to come to the next one a little better conditioned (both me and the horse). I wished I lived somewhere I could do hills more regularly, but I try to make do with what I have. I was going to try and do the Swanton Pacific 75 in August but I think I am going to scratch. Instead I will do the Fireworks 50 ride in August in Santa Cruz, and then Camp Far West 50 the beginning of September. I really want Minx to have a really solid 50 behind her before asking for more. I was hoping that this ride was it, but it wasn’t meant to be.

2/10/09 comments
This is the second time planned to do a ride and it was much hotter than predicted. Each time I have tried for a completion anyways, I was not successful, and came close to disaster for either me or my horse. The previous rides this season had been very cold or rainy without much time for heat-conditioning. It would have been better not to have started this ride, than to do the 25 miles that we did. Mentally this ride was very tough on Minx and I have had a heck of a time convincing her that endurance is fun again!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Race from the Sun

Part 1 – Mount Diablo recap
Minx and I did this ride in June. We had completed a 50 in March, April, and May, each successive one stronger and stronger. This was a sobering ride and a reminder not to take the distance lightly. This report was written on 6/22, the day after the ride. In retrospect I was tired, had heat-exhaustion, and was emotional spent.

The only picture I have of this ride is the one the ride photographer took that is posted in an earlier post in this blog. The pictures in this post are from a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I know – very random

First Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 9:06PM

Looking back at my ride report, I stuggle with with wanting to "brighten" it up. 8 months has definately softened my feelings towards this ride. I kept most of the language the same because that is how I was feeling at the time and that is what my experience was.

Mount Diablo 6-21-08

This was a first year ride, so I expected so hang-ups, but there were significant problems. I’m not sure I’ll ride this ride again next year. I chose this ride over the Mariposa ride the next weekend because Mariposa has a reputation for being hot, rocky, and very difficult.
***UPDATES: 6-26 update: Mariposa was just cancelled because of fires in the I guess it was a good thing that I went to this one after all. Update 2/10/09: Mariposa was rescheduled for early November. I took Minx and Farley and completed the day 1 LD on Farley. Day 2 was so rainy I wimped out. Absolutely gorgeous ride and I highly recommend.

Problem #1: It was originally suppose to be a very doable 80 degrees. However it ended up being over 110 degrees. Very open, very little shade, and no water on the trail (besides the water tanks that ride management set up at vet checks). Not anyone’s fault, but something to keep in mind. Additionally the camp has no shade.

Problem #2: Ride management failed to make camp rules public before arriving at the ride camp. Information that would be very useful to have was not posted on their website or included in the entry packet. Information such as “no dogs allowed”, and “you must leave camp by 6:00pm on Saturday”. I HATE shoving a horse back in a trailer after a 50 miler. I really believe that unless the weather is really cool and you live really close, it is much better for the horse to recover overnight before having to trailer. This information alone probably would have made me choose a different ride. I did provide this feedback to ride management (very friendly volunteers went around afterwards asking for feedback) so this might change.

Problem #3: Changes, changes, changes. The trail changed constantly throughout the day. It was nice that management was adjusting for the weather conditions, but it made it really hard to plan the ride. The trails were not well marked and there were a couple of times I came to an intersection and was not sure where to go. This might have been a result of how often they remarked trails. They kept changing the rules. The LD people now had an extra 1hr, 15 min to finish the ride, and an additional 30 minute check. The 50’s ended up with another 20 minute hold, but no extra time (means you have to ride faster to finish in time). The pre-ride meeting was confusing and not well organized when it came to communicating important information.

Absolutely best thing about this ride: the volunteers. There were lots of them and they were SO FRIENDLY. I respect how difficult it is to put on a ride and am grateful that there are people that step up to the plate to do so. Just because there were problems does not diminish the hard work that was put into this ride. My only intent in point these out is to let others know who might want to do this ride so that they can come prepared.

Ride day:
I almost wasn’t ready on time. I knew the ride started at 5:30, but somehow it didn’t register in the morning and I was on a 6am ride start schedule. Fortunately the person I was riding with (Crystal) checked on me and I got mounted on time. While waiting for the start, one of my reins got tangled on Minx’s leg. I was using some new biothane reins and I HATE them. They are too long and they are heavy. If you release any of the pressure on the reins, they DROP. I managed to get everything untangled but it could have been a major disaster. The ride started. Crystal and I were in front the first 9 miles or so. It was nice because then the horses weren’t pulling on us. We both wanted to get as many miles as possible under our belts before the sun came up. It was like a scene of out a movie (like Riddick) where the heroes are running on a planet, trying to escape the sun because it’s coming to burn them up - that was what it was like. Minx almost bucked me off near the beginning (~2 miles or so). Very unlike her, usually she is very honest. I barely stayed on. My new spandex riding tights were very slick in my Mcclellen saddle.

Stay tuned for part 2.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Moonlight Rides

Please enjoy! This is the first in a series of old ride stories that I will be posting until the rain lets up and I get some riding in!

First posted: Monday, July 14, 2008 at 11:37am

The photos I have added to this blog are from my aunts house where this post takes place. The photos were taken in January, hence all the green grass. (Definately was not there in July!)

Moonlight Rides

If I want to do a 100 mile race, some of those miles will be in the dark. Some people experience vertigo at night that makes it impossible for them to ride during the night, even with a full moon. Since I have not done any substantial riding at night, I needed to rule out that I was not one of those unfortunates. That was the goal of this weekend.

Friday night:
I decided to take Farley out with my aunt Sharlene and cousin Eleanor. I had figured we would get started around 9pm, so of course we didn’t start down the trail until after 10. I was very familiar with the trails we were taking, but Farley wasn’t. This ride would also include cows (in the dark). Great...Now Farley is not a fan of cows. In fact, cows are the reason she had a 6 month lay-up (injured a tendon running away from cows…). So now we are going to do cows in the dark. The plan: we decided to go up the mine road, past the mine cave in, down the back side, and circle around near the road. Altogether the ride was ~8 miles. We walked the ENTIRE way and the ride would end up taking us ~2 ½ hours (lots of climbing, steep hills). Here were the concerns at the beginning of the ride:

1. We would see a cow and Farley would die of a heart attack

2. Climbing up past the mine cave in, Farley would take a misstep and we would fall, plunging into the hole to a very painful and horrible death.

3. I would be one of those people that is incapable of riding during the night due to vertigo and I would spend the entire time dry heaving.

4. I would spontaneously pass out – I had given blood that day and they didn’t do their usual wonderful job. I ended up in pain, bruised, and slightly nauseous afterwards.

Let’s address the concerns one by one shall we?
Concern 1. Cows in the dark are not as scary as cows in the day. In fact, most of the time we played the ol’ favorite game “animal, vegetable, or mineral?” or in our case: “cow, rock, or tree?” It went so well I thought that I should introduce all my horses to cows in the dark.

Concern 2. Once we got to the mine-cave in Sharlene was going to dismount and walk. I elected to stay on. I have ridden past the mine several times. It is extremely steep and I would rather be able to help the horse up from it’s back, then perhaps interfere on the ground and end up under the feet of the horse, or tripping and falling into the bottomless pit. My cousin voted to stay on as well. Sharlene decided that by following two horses in front of her, that it would be OK to ride up as well. So up we went. Falling off the side? HAHAHAHA. The biggest concern was me sliding off the back of the horse! I was riding in the saddle that fits Farley best (but not well. Update note: This was before the Duett, I was riding in a 1980’s close contact that was really only suited for falling out of, which I did frequently). Unfortunately, this particular saddle doesn’t have much of a cantle so I was in a decent 2-point position, holding onto mane, trying not to disturb her as she leaped up the trail, past the pit, avoiding rocks and overhanging branches.

Concern 3. Vertigo was not a problem at all! The night is beautiful in the moonlight. My biggest problem was yawning. I was not used to being up past midnight and I find walking for any length of time on horse back very tiring (trotting is much better).

Concern 4. Didn’t notice my arm at all! Even though it had been very sore most of the day, like most personal problems, it went away the minute I got on the horse.

Here are the real concerns of riding at night:
A. You can’t see the branches until you are right in front of them. It takes a pair of clear safety glasses and quick reflexes to avoid eye injury.

B. Perception is very bad at night, including how steep a down hill is.

C. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE THE WIRE GATES!!! This was a huge problem. Every time we came to a spot where there was a wire gate we could not see whether it was open or not. A couple of times I urged my horse forward, figuring that she would stop if she could see a wire. Some times she would stop anyways because she could feel that I didn’t know whether I wanted to go forward. If the gate was open, the concern became where the fence was on the ground. After riding the trail the next day in the daylight I got to see how close we got to the post and wire gate that was laying on the ground. *SHUDDER*

Saturday afternoon/night:
Eleanor and I (on Minx) did the loop that from now on will be referred to as the “Shoot me now” loop. This was the mine loop combined with the upper-shelf loop for a total of ~13 miles. There is A LOT of uphill and down hill (STEEP). It’s a loop that is equally hard on the rider and horse. Both of us had done the loops before, but not together (ie – there should have been no illusions about what we were in for).

The view is incredible from this trail and you can see everything because you are the tallest thing around. As dusk began to fall the horses perked up. It had been very hot in the sun and both horses had been dragging a bit. By this time we had started the descent off of the upper-shelf, back to the main road. We both dismounted. The horses were NOT inclined to trot in hand down hill so we made slower time than I thought we would (although we made up that time later....).

I found out that I cannot see well at dusk (no problems in the day or night, it’s that “between” time) and mentally I was apprehensive. It was the only time (except, later, when I had to pass under nice mature trees that I was sure a cougar would find appealing) I worried about wild animals, such as bears and mountain lions. This was also the only time I seriously doubted my sanity in doing a ride like this. It definitely let me know that I needed to prepare mentally for this part of a 100 mile ride. FINALLY we made it to the bottom (and it finally became dark enough I could *see* again!). We mounted up and started the wild race home, and thus making up time! Very important since I had told my aunt I would be back in 3 hours....didn't want to be late and have them send out a search party in the dark!

I hadn’t been able to do any speed work at the ride the night before so now was the real test. For the next hour Eleanor and I tore through the countryside like you have never seen. I was in front screaming every time I saw branches, and constantly riding in a 2 point position (no easy feat in a dressage saddle) as to be ready to duck branches, jump debris in the trail, and accommodate that ever wonderful racing trot/gallop transition. We made it home in one piece and exhausted. We both elected NOT to go out and do a second loop like the original plan. I was about 7-10 miles short of the mileage I wanted, but the miles we did do we so tough, I figured I still got some good conditioning. I was also having problems with this saddle popping over Minx’s shoulder onto her neck on the really steep down hills and needed to fit a crupper – a task better suited to the daylight hours.

Eleanor, Sharlene and I went out again on Sunday. I took Minx again (this time with crupper – tied on by bailing twine!!! The crupper I have doesn’t quite reach the billets on the dressage saddle, which is why I hadn’t been using it. Next time I need to find black bailing twine, it will look less tacky than the blue…). We did some trotting but not a lot. Minx was dragging a little. I think she was a little sore from the previous night. We explored some new trails (ie: got lost and turned around!) but got to see some new country which was nice.
Did have a little incident which I hope does not bite me later (Update: *sigh* it did...). We found some water and Minx really needed a drink. She had been panting all day and was border-line over-heating, even though we were taking it easier than the night before :( . I asked her to cross a log, onto some very flat (slick) rocks so that she could have access to the water. She did it, and started slipping BADLY on the rocks. She managed to get stable and I took her to the other side where she got to take a nice long drink. Looking around I saw that there was actually a perfectly safe access point to where I was to go around the rocks, but that I hadn’t seen it :(. That’s the way we took back……She wasn’t lame on Sunday and seemed OK, but I’m going to watch her legs really closely this week to make sure she didn’t pull something slipping on those rocks! I’m really concerned. I really wasn’t thinking when I asked her to cross there. I should have taken a couple minutes to sit back and see if there was a better route. (Update – a few days later I discovered she had popped a splint on her left front leg. I gave her two months off and she is fine now).

So that was my weekend. Got to ride both horses twice. Spent ~10 hours in the saddle. Learned that even though my new management practices (convincing my boarding stable to change her 100% alfalfa ration to ½ grass/ ½ alfalfa, feeding platinum performance etc.) with Minx have improved her performance, she will still need to take it easy on hot, hilly rides. It was also VERY humid this weekend, which is unusual and hard to train in until you are used to it. My gut feeling is that she is not a hot/humid weather horse or a hill horse and once Farley is good to go I will probably avoid those kinds of rides on her (even though I’ll continue to condition in those conditions). Minx struggled on both Saturday and Sunday with the hills and heat. Additionally, I think my last 2 rides have been too fast on Minx and I need to back it off a little. I’m going to look for a nice, slow 50 on Minx at Fireworks in August.

(Update: after discovering Minx’s popped splint, I did not do Fireworks. I have yet to take Minx to another ride since Diablo, which was 4 weeks prior to the events in this post. We’ve done conditioning rides and I think she’s enjoying the time off. She will probably do her first 50 this season in March or April).

Monday, February 9, 2009

A change of Pace

Enough doom and gloom and introspective dialog!  It's predicted to rain all week :( (We need the rain desperately in CA so this is actually a very good thing).  Footing is bad in the arena and visibility is too poor on the roads to ride, so no riding until this weekend.  I have a conditioning ride scheduled for the upcoming weekend with Farley to see if we are ready for the 20 Mule team 65 on 2/28/09.  In the meantime, please enjoy these reposted ride recaps scheduled this week.  This will also put these stories in the archives in case anyone is thinking about riding any of these rides.  

Pictured in this post: 1.  Oliver, my blackeyed siamese dumbo rat 2.  my family and I on a nice, slower paced trail ride together near Nevada City, CA 

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I vowed to spend more time with my family this year.  Church and family really got the short end of the stick last year, which was my first year seriously riding in endurance rides.  I'm hoping to be more balanced this year.  As a step in the right direction I scheduled an entire weekend with my Grandparents.  No horses, no events, no other purpose than to hang out and enjoy their company.  

After sipping margaritas in front of the TV, watching "Home Improvement", and "Golden Girls", and touring the town to see how much it has changed with Grandma this weekend, the time has come to climb back on the proverbial wagon (or in this case the fitness ball).  
(Pictured throughout this blog are pictures of me at the California International Marathon in 2007.  I completed, but basically crashed and burned the last 6 or so miles.  I'm no where near this fit right now, and I need to be to do the Tevis or other 100 miler)

What words are in endurance?  Here's a few off the top of my head:  Dance (requires a partner....), can (as in "can do"), rude (what is so easy to be when stressed or tired), and crane (what it will take to get me off the horse after my first 100!).  The word "me" is not in endurance.  It is a partnership, and I need to hold up my end of the bargain!  It seems the fitter my horse gets, the more unfit I get.  I can't seem to be able to do both.  (There's that balance thing again)
I have done a 50 unfit and a 50 while in great shape.  It's amazing how much easier this sport is when I'm in decent shape.  
Case study (or "Melinda humiliates herself again!")
At my first 50 I was unable to get off and walk up a very steep hill in the afternoon.  It was VERY hot and kept having to stop at the side of the road and dry heave.  Not good.  By my next ride I had started running again and was able to walk my lame horse into camp on foot, even
 with the elevation over 3,000 feet (I live at sea level).  I have always been in decent shape from leading an active lifestyle.  However, the difference was being in decent shape (able to run a couple of miles etc.) versus actually exercising (strength training, flexibility, and cardiovascular workouts) was tremendous.
So what am I doing now to uphold my end of the partnership?  I can't run right now (grouchy achilles and sore IT band) and currently work precludes swimming.  I've noticed in the last year (I just turned 24) I'm loosing flexibility.  :(  Until I can run or swim, I am walking at least 30 minutes a day and doing a elastic band or exercise ball workout once a day.  The band helps with flexibility (I'm doing mostly pilates based workouts) and the exercise ball helps with balance.  I am amazed how much the ball workouts have helped my riding. 
Here's some great links for anyone looking for fitness ideas.   Feel free to add your own in the comments section.  I'm especially in need of some more elastic band workouts. (6 workouts at 3 levels) (personalized work out plans for every level) (good site for measuring routes walking or running or biking)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

So soon?

A Quick note on moving up the distance. (before anyone screams about me doing a 100 "so soon"....see previous post on my 2009 goals)

I will warn you - I'm getting on my soapbox! :) Please don't be offended, this is just my personal opinion. My horses are my world and the last thing I want is injuries from pushing too far, too fast. I'm merely offering a different view.

The picture above is Jonah, one of my cats. It has nothing to do with today's post :)
A lot of endurance programs have this schedule: 1. Do LD or slow 50's for a year, 2. do faster 50's and maybe some multidays for a year, 3. don't do 100's prior to the horse having at least 2-3 years of solid endurance experience.

This is definitely playing it "safe". You would probably be successful following this schedule. However, what about evaluating yourself and your horse, and making the decision that is right for you at that time? Life isn't always "safe". Sometimes, if you don't grab the moment, it is lost. Let me tell you a story.

(Pictured: Gus is the gray in the foreground. Taken Wild West 2007)
Alie Smart (and her mom Jenny) are people I am proud to call friends. Alie and her amazing horse Gus had an incredible year in 2007, my first year in endurance. Look up their record on the AERC website, you will be amazed. Gus did multidays, back to back 100's, 50's one after another without a break all year. The really incredible part? This was Gus's (and Alie's) first year doing endurance. They also did Tevis that year. People started pointing fingers and whispering that it was too much too soon. How could she be pushing that poor horse so hard? Gus only pulls that year were mainly due to other riders using him as a brake for their horse, and that pesky rock with "his name on it". However, this grade horse from the auction kept plugging away.

Fast forward to 2008. After coming so close to breaking the junior mileage record for AERC, the pair decided to go all out for 2008 and break that record in half. But then the "inevitable" happened, Gus started getting pulled at the beginning of the season for being "off", "not quite right", or being "stiff". Everyone, including Alie, assumed he had found his limit and decided time off was in order. Every one's concerns about pushing a horse too far, too fast had been justified. Right?

Updated to say: When I say "everyone" I don't really mean "everyone in the entire endurance community". I don't mean to imply that "everyone was against them". It's just easier to say "everyone", than "some people who were generally nice and supportive but dissaproved... :)" No need to get defensive :) I'm just trying to make a point....

Even after time off, Gus did not improve. At the UCD vet center, the veterinarians discovered that Gus had cancer in his hindquarters. Cancer that required extensive surgery and chemotherapy, and months of rehabilitation and daily care. The vets told Alie that Gus would never be sound again and would never do endurance.
(Pictured: Jenny on a trail ride)
If Alie and her mom had not made the decision to grab life by the horns and GO! Alie would never have had a chance to experience Tevis and the other accomplishments with Gus. No one knows what the next year will bring. If the time is right for something, go after it. Alie and Jenny evaluated Gus and rode within his ability. It pays to keep in mind that different horses have different abilities and talents and not all will succeed using the same "plan". Minx requires many more miles to maintain fitness for a 50 than Farley. As a result the line between conditioning and over conditioning is much thinner for Minx and it's easy to override her. Gus did well with his schedule. Another horse might fail where he succeeded.

Now for the good news :) Gus is doing well. Alie has been riding him again, and although he moves "differently" from before, he is already doing more than the vets predicted. Jenny thinks that he will be able to do a 50's again! I wish them the best.