Saturday, May 24, 2014

Easy weeks, lots of little things

After 26 miles at the beginning of the month - even a slow 26 miles - and several hours of trailering, it seemed like Confetti had earned an easy week.

On some level, I feel like May should be our big 'getting ready for Fireworks' month - but it's been hot, and I flat-out refuse to do heat conditioning rides in MAY, and I've been battling various not-feeling-well days, and.. well.  Lack of motivation.  We've been moseying lately.  It feels like the month of slow western jogs, honestly, which right now doesn't feel so terrible.

'Fetti flew around the arena on Thursday, so I'm reassured that she's not settling into a life of boring slow trail rides.  Friday we went for a leisurely walking trail ride.  Two hours on a loose rein with a friend; no drama despite what seemed to be practice for the Civil War reenactment this weekend.  I was - am! - very proud of the ponies for that.

Andrea's posts about her struggles with O and avoiding problems really hit home.  If I want Fetti to be polite in the arena.. we have to work in the arena.  I can't take her on trail rides full-time and say things are fixed.  I can't avoid the canter forever for fear that she'll take advantage of that speed on ride days and bolt with me.  We need to train the canter.. and I need to trust my horse, stick with her, and expect her to behave.  (Not that we need to train cantering home, but out? Sure, we should work on that.)  I cannot hold her to a tiny pace during rides because I'm afraid of how much power she has.  If she wants to do a 9mph trot for a few miles.. well, if she's listening, I need to let her move out and not make her feel constantly held.

Lots to think about.  Rehashing long-term goals, seeing how I can end up with something I'm 95% happy with and unafraid of.. time to face some fears.  We're still around, just not doing anything particularly interesting or blog-worthy at the moment.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

NATRC vs AERC LDs : some conclusions

I came to NATRC as an AERC LD rider.  I know the AERC rules - there aren't very many and they're pretty common-sense, straightforward types.  I knew NATRC had more.  I still find myself kind of fuzzy on a lot of them.  Some of the most major differences I noted:

NATRC: no help allowed.  Rider is the only one doing stuff with the horse from the time you're vetted in to the time you vet out (or maybe a bit before/after, I was a little confused on exactly how this was supposed to work - but not having crew, wasn't worried about it).
AERC: help allowed and even encouraged!  Others can hold your horse, groom, tack up, whatever.

NATRC: forwards motion must be on horseback.  No walking with the horse, not even a half-mile down the trail to find a better log to use to get on.  Walking back down the trail the opposite direction is fine, though, you just can't proceed forwards.  Also applies to P&Rs/vet checks, where you have to ride in.
AERC: forwards motion is forwards motion, on or off the horse.  Totally okay to walk/run with your horse, tail up, jog down, whatever.  Often used to try to make it easier on the horse, sometimes used to make it easier on the rider, sometimes just a nice option to have.
I understand why NATRC has the rule, but this is still the one most frustrating to me coming from endurance.  I like being able to get off and walk from time to time.. down big hills, into checks, when I'm not sure I have her brain, etc.  It's a little intimidating to know I don't have that choice.

NATRC: minimum AND maximum time (roughly 30 minute window to aim for). Goal is pacing your horse slowly, not racing in.
AERC: minimum time.  To finish is to win, but indeed you could race if so desired.

NATRC: scored for horse & horsemanship & camp set-up - and frankly I'm not even sure what else, but I know there was more.
AERC: no points, just pass/fail criteria at the vet checks based on how your horse is doing.  Either you're doing well enough to continue, or you're not.

NATRC P&R stop: stand still for 10 minutes at the check, then have pulse & respiration taken. 16 (64) pulse OK, 17 (68) and you need to wait 10min and try again.  There are also points having to do with whether your P&R stays the same/better/worse all day, so folks may ask for a recheck if you think it should have been different.
AERC vet check: pulse taken as soon as you're ready when you come into the check. Vet check follows and looks at the whole horse.  At least in my experience out here, 60 is fine, anything higher is not. Recheck whenever you're ready.

That covers the basic differences that really stood out to me, but it didn't exactly end there, either.
[Side note: a lot of folks that commented on Funder's post seemed anti-NATRC.  I'd love to know why and what everyone else has seen!]

NATRC has three divisions.  For this particular ride, Novice and Competitive Pleasure were essentially the same from what I could see, same ~22(?) mile trail with a speed of 3.5-4mph.  Open - what I rode in - had ~26 miles of trail and a speed of 4-4.5mph.

I know there were people in the N/CP division who stayed at a walk the entire time.  They may all have been on gaited horses, but that just struck me as appallingly boring.  People didn't want to ride Open for various reasons - too fast, too hard, horse not conditioned enough, etc.

Open riders were praised effusively at awards for doing such a long distance and such a fast speed.  Mount Diablo is supposed to be a particularly difficult ride to make time on.  People chose not to ride Open because they felt their horse wasn't well-conditioned enough.  For Confetti and I, Open was not a challenge.  I feel like we could have done it at a 5mph pace - or at least gotten close to it! - without even getting close to running out of horse.  It never felt like she was really working, though. She was more willing to walk towards the end, but she never got tired or thought about quitting. I held her back almost the entire ride.

I rode the horse I had at the ride. I sat the trot up and down the hills to discourage adding speed. I hauled myself and camelbak up onto the horse - not much grace, but she tolerated it and we generally find bigger hills or stumps at home. I ground-mounted during the ride where needed.  We worked through some herdboundness and never totally lost her mind.  As a training exercise, it worked pretty well for us.

If I had really been training for those obstacles* and all the judging and stuff, I'd be disappointed at not getting anything. AERC has made me a convert, though - I finished the ride with a happy, sound, energetic horse who would have done another loop if I asked.

We had four obstacles, if memory serves - I haven't gotten my scorecard back yet since I opted not to stay later in the evening.
- judged mount first thing in the morning
- navigate off-trail briefly following the ribbons
- sidepass to a tree, pin ribbon, sidepass away
- big trot/canter on a loose rein, halt, back up, trot off

Would I do it again?
Short answer: maybe.

At this point, I have no desire to ride a NATRC ride just to ride a NATRC ride.  Confetti and I find joy in doing a brisk trot down the trail, flying up hills, jogging together down particularly steep sections.  I'm not interested in chasing points and doing things a particular way just because some idealized rule says they should work that way.
I don't regret going, not at all.  It was a great training ride for us.  Everyone was friendly and helpful (even though I was the last one into camp and I think the first to leave!), willing to share advice, answer questions, etc.

I think NATRC Open rides would be a great sort of intro-ride for folks looking to get into LDs but who aren't sure about the speed & distance combined.  If you can get through 27 miles at a tiny trot/mostly walking 4mph?  5mph may not seem so bad.  I've mentioned to several friends that I would happily go with them to this ride next year.

If or when Confetti deigns LDs to be too much/too difficult, I will probably consider taking her to NATRC rides as 'retirement' from AERC.  Slower rides, shorter distance, keeps us with a goal to work towards. 

I can appreciate where NATRC is coming from with their bunches of rules and scoring even as it's not something I aspire to currently.  No hate for NATRC from me, it's just not my thing!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mount Diablo: Open NATRC ride

At the end of March, I was lamenting the shortage of local AERC rides prior to Fireworks in July.  I was happy with 'Fetti's fitness level and wished I could push her a bit/retrain in a competitive environment prior to Fireworks.  One friend reminded me about the NATRC ride at Mount Diablo; I looked at the dates, sighed, and ruled it out as an option, since it was right after my vacation.  Then it turned out that I might get that Friday off.. and Funder offered to drive the pony.. and even when I didn't get the full Friday off, my coworker was kind enough to cover the afternoon for me.  Mount Diablo NATRC ride was on.

I made it to the barn by 3 on Friday.  We loaded 'Fetti in Adventure the Trailer and headed out by 3:30. (Loose in the trailer, with the haybag in the back corner figuring she'd want to ride backwards.  Instead, I spent most of the drive watching her forelock fly out of the front corner of the trailer.. maybe two bites of hay were nibbled.) Ride meeting at 7pm, vetting in til dusk.. plenty of time!  On a Friday afternoon, how bad can it be?  Answer: bad.  What should have been an hour and a half drive took three hours.  And then we had to figure out where the heck to park, since everyone else was up at dinner!  Property up there is expensive, you guys.  Expensive houses, expensive properties, pretty mind-boggling.

Post-ride. Very similar to pre-ride. Note the only partly-eaten grain.. sigh.

With horse on Hi-Tie (woo, fancy!), water bucket filled, and hay bag tied, I headed up the stairs to find registration, picked up a packet with only brief verbal instructions to go with it, and headed back down to retrieve horse and find the vets for a veryquick vetting in not 20 minutes after pulling her off the trailer.  No boots, no grooming, just dragged Fetti dooown through the arenas and up the steep hill-path to (eventually) find the vets.  Verdict: something not-quite-right about maybe the right hind? But given I'd just taken her off the trailer, they didn't seem too concerned, and told me to bring her by them tomorrow morning with her boots on for a re-check*.  Argh.

She never quite settled in.

Ride meeting ended up starting close to 7:30.  I should have taken that as a sign.  I had to jog down midway through the trail explanation to be weighed in (things I never even thought about!), jogged back up for the rest of the meeting, and stuck around for the new rider's meeting that went until 9:30 or so.  Tired and slightly migrained still, I braided her mane by headlamp, tried to convince Fetti to eat something, added a haybag, and rearranged for the morning.  Right about the point I went to bed I discovered that we were parked right by one of the arena lights... that stayed on the entire night.  It turned off around 6 the next morning.

For once, Fetti didn't eat an awful lot overnight.  She got tacked up with boots on anyway; if she didn't eat well on the trail, we'd pull, but she was still happy to eat mouthfuls of hay when they were given directly to her.  We trotted out for the vets (sound!) and carried on to obstacle #1: the judged mount.  I made it on the horse with a distinct lack of grace and instructed her to channel her inner Western Pleasure pony for the day, please.

After trotting sound in the morning and managing to get on the horse, I decided it was okay to take pictures.

A half-hour later or so, we were off.  We managed somehow to fall in with some very experienced NATRC riders and tagged along with them for pretty much the entire ride.  The pacing has apparently been very tight in previous years and they were expecting similar this year; Confetti and I found the ride to be a bit on the slow side.  We made it into a Real Trot only three or four times during the ride.  Instead, we spent probably 75% of the ride at a tiny 4mph western jog, 15% at a walk (mostly for 10 steps at a time), and 10% at a medium trot.  In hindsight, I might have been better off splitting off and doing a Real Trot for more of the ride and convincing her to walk/halt substantially more often..

Somewhere within the first few miles.  Gorgeous!

There were a few goals that I had for this ride.  I wanted her to rate and not pull on me the entire time.  I wanted her to be willing to walk.  Slightly less high on the priority list was to end the ride with plenty of horse and have her pulse down well.  These actually went fairly well - while she flat-out refused to walk more than ten steps at a time for most of the ride, she wasn't hauling on me and insisting on lots of forwards.  It was a very polite little western jog to keep up with the gelding ahead of us.  As far as walking went - I did start insisting on 15-20 steps of walk towards the last 10 miles of the ride, and that went better.  Fetti was still pissed at me when I'd half-halt her out of her nearly-trotting more than two or three times, but we could get a bigger distance without fearing for my life.  I never felt like she was out of control at all (well, maybe once in the first half-mile when someone passed us and she wasn't happy!) and I was able to do a lot of the ride with one hand on the reins and one holding my phone to get photos.

Before lunch somewhere.

Pulsing down is a little different than AERC rides.  NATRC has you come into a P&R stop, stand and wait for ten minutes, and then have both pulse and respiration taken.  You must ride into these stops, not walk the horse in.  Fetti pretty consistently took 3-5 minutes to drop to 60, and at the last P&R stop, took closer to 8.  My heart monitor was often 10 beats above whatever the folks checking her were getting.  Baffling.  She was doing well enough to continue, and I knew how well she was doing.  I didn't fuss about trying to get accurate numbers on the scorecard.  We jogged into just about every check since the pony refused to walk.. so.  Can't complain.

Before lunch somewhere still!

Mount Diablo is a beautiful ride with varied scenery and a lot of hills.  For all that it's supposed to be difficult, I felt like we could have [if allowed] made better time on most of the flats and uphills without much of a problem.  Our slow western jog and occasional medium trotting brought us in right on time to just about every check.  We were smack in the middle of optimum time at the finish.

I rode with all four Renegades on, and they stayed on with no problems until the last few miles, where I suspect we pulled the hind boot, I didn't realize, and then when we pulled the front I caught on and fixed both.  We were less than two miles from the finish, so 'fixing' involved 'unvelcro, strap back on, it'll be fine'.  It was.

Even prior to the final vet check I knew Confetti was slightly back-sore.  It's never been a real problem before.  My gut feeling is that it came from trotting down every. single. hill. We don't do that at home, I was bracing/leaning back to keep her slow, and the weight would have been towards the back of the saddle.  I'm not thrilled but I'm also not overly concerned about it as long as it doesn't show up again.  Our final trot-out had more impulsion than the day prior.  Good mare.

After the ride, as she finally deigned to eat when I was looking at her.

It's likely we placed last in our division.  I finished with a happy, forwards horse who could have done more.  That's plenty good enough for me.

Our little corner of ridecamp.

We were done with the ride right about 3, done vetting by 4:30.  Dinner was at 6 and awards at 7.  I figured we'd be out of there by 8 at the absolute latest.  Right?  Wrong.  This particular ride has an incredible assortment of 30-something raffle items (aka baskets of stuff), and tickets are drawn right before awards.  That probably took 45 minutes.  With three divisions of awards and up to six placings apiece, awards took a while too.. when things finished up at 9, Funder and I rapidly made our way down the stairs, hooked up the trailer, loaded the horse, and headed home at 9:30.

Have I mentioned before that Funder's pretty awesome?  We made it to my barn at 11pm.  She couldn't have been home before midnight, and she wasn't even riding.  Much love!

*The potential for lameness had me even more worried than usual.  Normally I know she's sound and am mystified when told there might be something.  The previous two trail rides I'd done, however, both involved about four steps of something baffling in her trot at one spot on the trail, but only there and nothing before/after.  I had visions of vet bills in my head and was nearly ready to beat myself up for not noticing more.  Then I ran out of time to worry and had to zip to the ride meeting.. so I told myself if she was fine the next morning we'd go, but if it was at all questionable or I felt anything during the ride, we'd pull.

Next post: key differences between AERC and NATRC, things I wish I knew, would I do it again?
More photos under the cut.

Friday, May 2, 2014

April recap, May goals

April recap:
- Ride more.  Ask harder questions.  Due to car troubles at the beginning of the month and an out-of-state vacation at the end of the month.. total fail.
- Focus on increasing distance rather than increasing speed.  Two 8-10 mile rides, one 13 mile ride.  Nothing very extraordinary to see here.
- Work on within-gait changes of speed.  Hm.  Worked on it a bit.  Needs more focus and more work.
- Weather and time permitting, at least one 15+ mile day, whether all at once or split between two rides.  As long as we're trotting a good chunk of it, speed is not important.  Check!  One 19-mile day, one 10-mile day.

Total April mileage: 82.52 with me.  Two trainer rides while I was gone, one dressage ride while I was gone.

May goals:
- complete NATRC ride at Mount Diablo tomorrow(!) with minimal drama or panic and plenty of horse left (bonus points if I have energy left at the end and she's rateable the whole way).
- Again, at least one (other) 15+ mile day, split or not.
- Start adding canter work to build stamina/fix my position, but only on the way out or round pen/arena work.