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.

Lots of green rolling hills. 

A lot of the trail felt like this - dirt trail in the middle of green fields on either side.  Very different from our normal.

More hills in the distance.

There wasn't an awful lot of flat trail, but it never felt exorbitantly hilly, either. Steeper than Harvey Bear, I think, but less so than home.

Even at an obnoxious western jog, we managed to keep a horse length between us most of the time.

A rancher lets the ride use one of his fields for the lunch break.  This is the view from one side.  Gorgeous.  Pony dutifully did not get her nose into the barbed wire.

Wide trail, lot of green grass and flowers.

The Morgan Fire last year burned a fair bit of the park.

None of my photos really capture the incredibly gorgeous-yet-eerie feeling of riding through the burned sections.  It felt sort of like riding through a moonscape.  Very pretty, yet so terribly wrong at the same time.  The flowers are just starting to come back in.

Sections of green.  Still seeing for miles.

Maybe eight miles to go from here? Maybe not that much.

My riding partners for the afternoon.

This gives a bit of a sense of the hills and trails.  We're headed to the trail visible through the trees.

Okay, some sections were kind of hilly. Especially when doing a sitting trot for the entire hill.

Closer to reality.  Very eerie.

There wasn't an awful lot of shade on the ride, much to my dismay and eventual sunburn.

So very, very green!

Somewhere soon before or after Mercury Pond.

Just about done

Coming in to the finish.


Another view of ridecamp - more rigs in the arena that you can't see, even more in a higher up arena. 36 riders total, I think.


  1. Woohoo! It sounds like a good LD30, and I think you've definitely got a shot at a 50 if you want to try one. (About like me doing a hundred on Dixie - no guarantees, but not an unreasonable goal!)

    What a great description of riding through a burn. I've ridden some very old burns, and of course you remember the road to Robinson Flat goes through the '08 burn. It IS an eerie moonscape. I do love it - sad for the destruction, but all the new growth that comes back is cool.

    Great shots, great story! Happy to get to help you two!

  2. What lovely countryside and wow, the burned areas are striking even in the pictures -- I remember a fraction of that feel from hiking through controlled burn areas in Illinois and can only imagine how much more unsettling it is given a larger and scarier fire.

    Western-pleasure jogging for miles sounds dreadful. LOL But what a good Fetti to be rateable and hurrah for the opportunity to take lots of pictures! Sounds like a nice outing and a useful conditioning ride. Hope the funny steps were just One Of Those Things and not foreshadowing; so hard not to second-guess that kind of thing, but if the horse seems good, what can you do?

    1. Honestly, it was an incredibly comfortable little 4mph western jog! Incredibly frustrating, but totally comfortable to sit. She was first trained as a western horse and occasionally remembers how to do such things, LOL.

  3. Go you two for getting out there and doing it even though all of the idiosyncrasies weren't quite your cup of tea. Its great that Fetti was so forward and happy and not tired through it all, though no bueno that you had to hold her back. Still, you've done well by her if she had so much gas in the tank at the end!

    Also, it excites me to see that last photo where a car the size of mine is pulling a trailer SO MUCH BIGGER than mine. Smart? Probably not, but makes me feel more comfortable using an atypical vehicle to pull a trailer!