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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Know thyself

Today I finally checked an item off my todo list that has been postponed and postponed and postponed yet again for at least a month.

Wash my sleeping bag.

Let me put it a different way.

Wash the sleeping bag that Tess has peed on three times, that I've climbed into after innumberable endurance rides and civil war reenactments caked with sweat and dirt and manure, that has endured a combined total of WEEKS of backpacking nights, that covered an injuried stranger who had fallen off the cliffs onto the beach....

You get the picture.  The bag was used and abused and although it was holding on strong as ever, that "strong" was starting to refer to it's odor rather than its function. 

Lovely eh? 

How does this have anything to do with horses and endurance riding you might ask? 

But of course, you wouldn't, my readership being FAR too polite to question the direction this post is going.  Right?

Do you know why I have a Marmot synthetic sleeping bag instead of the down sleeping bag I coveted?  It wasn't cost --> this was a gift from my boyfriend and he was fully prepared to buy me a zero degree down bag. 

It was the "know thyself" clause. 

As much as I wanted the that down bag, I wasn't sure that I could be counted on to not store it tightly packed in a compression sack.  I'm horrible at doing routine stuff like washing it.  I tend to skimp on weight in my pack which means the chances it would stay dry in a downpour in my pack in a waterproof container was nonexistent.  In short, I knew, even though the down bag would be superiorly warm for my ever cold ass (and yes, when your ass has as much "padding" as mine it is icy cold.....), I knew that it would be unsuitable based on the reality of my personality.   Let's face it.  Even with pee on it, it sat in my truck for a MONTH before I took 45 minutes and $3.50 out of my day and sat in the laundromat. 

Buying horse tack and equipment, ESPECIALLY for the endurance rider is very similar.  We have wonderful products at our disposal.  Horse have a mental check list of what is theoretically "best" for the horse.  And then there is what we will REALISTICALLY do. 

Let's take saddle pads.  Theoretically real, sheepskin fleece is fabulous for the horse.   there's always a few outliers who do well in anything, or who have a fleece phobia for some reason, but if I have a horse that I know nothing about and I'm going to slap a pad and saddle on and go 50 miles on it (yeah right, but let's use our imaginations), fleece is my first choice. 

I own, like, zero fleece pads.  That's not true, I actually own a wool felt one and a fleece one, but they are for special circumstances and since their use is not ever day and limited, you'll get my point.  Read on.....

Why do I not ride the majority of my miles in something I know will probably be my best bet for problem-free conditioning? 

Know thyself.

The probability of maintaining a fleece pad by washing it, removing stickers, fluffing it with a slicker brush, pulling foxtails out of it, keeping it off the ground etc. is absolutely NILL.  On the flip side, expecting my horse to be clean enough that it doesn't GET dirty is also........nill. 

So I use a Haf pad with those little nubblies thingys on the back for the majority of my conditioning rides.  I save the wool felt pad for 100's, when I think it really matters.  And I keep my old Toklat Woolback pad because I can't bear to get rid of it, and the new ones really suck.  The Haf pad rinses off between uses, and doesn't attrack stickers.  It's always clean, always dry, and always ready to go. 

Let's talk about bridles, breast collars, stirrup leathers.  I'm not so good at maintaining my leather goods.  I have the stuff, I know how to use it, I've tried to establish good habits by being diligent for long periods of time, but let's face it.  I have way too much to do than to worry about oiling and cleaning leather.  I think most endurance riders already have this figured out.  Biothane,  Beyond inspecting it for damage and wear, it gets cleaned approximately every 1-2 years.  In the dishwasher.  Same for my bits.  For stirrup leathers, which are so very very very important for safety, girths etc. it would be folly to expect myself to actually maintain leather ones - "know thyself".  For saddles I tried really really really hard to maintain my leather saddles, knowing I wouldn't be able to afford to replace it if the leather cracked or failed.  However, it still didn't get done every ride, or even every week, and you can't imagine how relieved I was when I got my Wintec and didn't have to feel guilty over the amount of tie I was NOT spending cleaning it.  (I'm better with other people's tack - I'm borrowing a saddle right now that is leather and that gets better maintained than any of my own leather goods!). 

I don't blanket my horse for a variety of reasons, but one of them is I would be far too lazy to actually wash the blanket. 

I tend to inspect the horse with my hands and brush tack areas off before riding, and rinse afterwards, but actually bathe my horse?  HA!

It's not all negative.  Take wormings and vaccines.  I'm meticulous about it.  I don't need reminders to come in the mail to remind me that it's west nile time, or remind me to rotate my wormers.  So I do all my own health care management (as much as I legally can).  My horse is barefoot in part because I'm meticulous about looking at and noting changes in her feet.  I know her feet better than my own hands. 

I think all of us have our own style of horsemanship and there are many shades of "doing right" --> especially in a sport of endurance riding where stepping outside of those shades often results in a pull and (should) a reevaluation of horse management.  If your system is working for you and your horse, meaning --> you aren't gritting your teeth at the frustration and annoyance of a bunch of tasks you find time consuming and never ending, and your horse seems happy, then stick with it!  Don't switch to fleece when synthetic is working, just because someone says you "should" and it's "best".  Don't take the shoes off your horse if you know that you'll never find the time to evaluate the feet and without the pressure of shoes on the horse, never schedule the farrier appointment.  Don't switch to a girth that must be washed and cleaned regularly, if a synthetic girth is working for your horse and you can easily hose it off. 

Remember that you can make compromises too.  Let's say that you find out that you really do need to use a wool or fleece pad for 50's and 100's, but your horse is perfectly fine with your synthetic up to 35 miles.  Condition in the synthetic, and then use the high maintenance equipment the day of the ride. 

As long as your equipment and management "shortcuts" aren't compromising the safety and health of you or your horse (and in the case of my lack of maintenance of real stirrup leathers, it WAS a potential issue!), then I say try it.  And remember to come back to that if you start seeing issues at a certain distance or under certain conditions (like season). 

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