Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Haflinger hair

Two and a half weeks after putting these braids in, a few small bits of hair have already broken at the top.  But.. these braids are still looking decent, and they'd be OK left in for another 2-4 weeks.  Running braids can start to look shabby/fall out within a few days (or, in a few unfortunate cases, mere hours).  Choices, choices.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Crupper attachment failure #4

I am SO DONE with crupper ring failures.

I had a crupper ring added to the dressage saddle in mid-April. Leather sewn and screwed into the saddle.  It held for Mount Diablo, and I was starting to be really impressed with my setup: very little forward-back slipping and thus minimal extra sweatmarks behind the saddle. Yay!

Coming home, Fetti spooked, really tucked her butt under, and leaped forward/sideways. I stuck it, no problem. (Yay!) I hopped off right after, and a minute later it was pointed out to me that the crupper was no longer attached.

Not what you want your saddle's crupper ring attachment to look like.
At this point, I'd prefer that the crupper break, or the snap on the crupper break, or something easily replaceable.  This whole 'breaking crupper rings or leather that holds crupper rings in place' is getting old.

- I replaced the crupper ring attachment twice on the Eurolight: once locally, then sent it to Texas for a second fix.
- I tore up the panels on this saddle using a leather crupper T.
- Now the leather snapped not even a month after getting the ring installed.  Damn.

Saddle shopping just moved way up on the priority list.  It could be worse: I currently have three saddles that fit the horse, even if the two with working crupper rings don't put the rider in a good position.  This is an excellent example of why I feel compelled to keep two saddles if they still fit..

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Moving forward: the beginnings of a plan

Where do we go from here?  Mount Diablo established a good baseline:  five months off real work did not do us any favors.  If our end goal for this year is to complete a 50, Fetti needs to be in better shape.

Conditioning. At this point, I am not capable of trail rides at a 6mph pace at home by ourselves.  I often find myself frustrated at the standard endurance conditioning schedules, perhaps especially the advice given that you should be riding at a 6-7mph average before attempting a 25 (with the implied 'or else you'll break your horse').  For me, for this horse, right now, that does not work.  I think trail work is important to her conditioning, and we're not going to stop trail riding, but right now?  I want to try more of an eventing-type conditioning schedule.  This probably entails more arena work.  That will be good for both of us.  Hills are a problem for her, but our canter work is also lacking, and I suspect that canter work in the arena will aid with hill work on the trail.  Adding more canter will also help her overall fitness; we lost a fair bit over the past six months.

Doing some reading, reaching out to folks that can help with setting up a schedule.. advice welcome! Today we did ~3 miles in the arena in ~30 minutes, w/t/c, and she barely broke a sweat - but we both struggled to hold the canter together for any sustained period of time.. even 30 seconds is difficult.  Clearly an arena lesson is also in order.

Being passed on trail.  One of my April goals was to work on this.  I worked on it, and we can sort of hold it together in low-pressure situations (horse walks off, low-energy, etc).  Horse canters up hill in front of us and I hold her back?  I'm in trouble.  Part of the goal also involved giving myself an out: if it reared its head at Mount Diablo, I'd get a trainer involved.  It did, and I have.  Several rides tentatively scheduled towards the end of the month since that's the soonest our schedules coordinated.  I'm in over my head on this one, and I'm happy to pay someone to give me better tools and the reassurance that 'fussy horse' does not equate to 'bucking, obnoxious horse losing brain'.

Feeding.  Flax seed was spoken of highly at the AERC convention in March.  I'm adding some vitamin E capsules and flax seed to her usual mix of grain + Cosequin + kelp + aloe vera juice.  It's not ground flax (only power source at the barn is far away), but regular flax should still have an effect, if less so.  Inexpensive and worth a try. 

Given the amount of stuff I'm adding in - and the fact that I have someone else give her grain three days a week - I picked up some plastic containers to make my own mini-SmartPaks.  Kelp, flax, and vitamin E capsules all added in.  The Cosequin seemed like it would stick to the container, so that will get added separately; the aloe vera juice will get added separately.  Even so, three additions feels reasonable.  More than that feels like I'm making extra work.

all stacked up and ready to go

Gear: no real problems here with dressage tack, except that I need to ride with shorter reins.  Evidently, using dressage reins reminds me to shorten them more often and to keep them shorter.  I'm buying a second set of dressage reins : using dressage reins seems to shift me to riding with more contact, so I'm buying a second set (and the reins come with a bridle, too).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Gear review

Now that I've actually done a competitive ride with some of this, I can more accurately speak to what I think.  None of these are sponsored reviews, all my own opinions.  If it ever does come up that anything is offered to me in exchange for a review, that will be made very clear from the outset.

Aftershokz headphones: I've never been fond of folks who have earbuds in and can't hear what's going on around them.  But.  These let you hear what's going on around you (albeit not quite as well), plus listen to music/podcasts/whatever.  I started using these for arena work, then for some training rides, and then - what the heck - if we're going to ride by ourselves at NATRC, I might as well get out of my head with some music, right?  I charged them when I first got them, and haven't charged them since.  They ran out of charge halfway through the ride.  Oops; user error.  I know better, too.  Live and learn.  I have glasses, ride with sunglasses over my glasses, wear a headband to keep my hair back, and 100% did not notice these headphones during the ride.  The length of the cord is alternatively too long (when the phone is on my hip, the cord gets under my thigh) or too short (when I have the phone in odd places to take pictures), but both are pretty mild inconveniences that are easy for me to get over.  I'm happy with them and will keep using them.

I should add: I managed to break them a week or so after the ride, but fixed with vetwrap and they're still useable.  Very impressed.

Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS watch: I switched to using this for mileage/speed/tracking at the beginning of the year because MapMyHike isn't playing nice with my iPhone and attempts to resolve the issue with customer service reps have completely and utterly failed.  I like being able to see an approximate current speed.  I wish I could see an overall speed; this watch won't let you do that until you complete the 'run'.  It does show mile split 'pace', and I can mentally track whether we're up or down our 5mph overall speed and get pretty close.  I do believe it's more accurate than MapMyHike, but I continue to import into MapMyHike because I like seeing graphs and data over time.

It's advertised as having 6-7 hours of battery life.  I think it might make it through an LD.  I wasn't able to get it charged up at the lunch stop to use for the second half of the ride, but I'm not entirely sure that wasn't user error (borrowed a different charger, suspect user error given the other device that was plugged in did not charge correctly).  I do wish it would keep recording while charging.

I think this is a good middle-of-the-line option.  I think it's a step up from the phone apps, but I will freely acknowledge it won't do everything the fancier and more expensive GPS units are capable of.  Sometimes I just want to know how fast we're going.  This gives me that.  How fast our training ride was?  This gives me that.  Down the road, I'll likely pick up something newer, shinier, and fancier, but for right now, this (generally) gets the job done with a minimum of fuss at a reasonable price range.

V-Max heart rate monitor: I picked this up after my first LD.  I don't use it reliably in training, because I know that Fetti is generally pretty honest about quitting at 140 at home.  I do use it at rides, particularly coming into vet checks.  It's often said to not ride to the heart monitor.  In general, I agree with that; however, I will admit that on the big hills, I fought with her harder when her heart rate was >140, and 'allowed' (hah!) a trot when she was closer to 120.  At rides, she doesn't quit in all the same ways she does in training, and it's incredibly useful to me to have a visual of how hard she is actually working and how fast she's coming back down.  I've had this one a year and a half, replaced various pieces for various reasons mostly related to losing them, quite happy with it.  (Yes.. this time I had the Garmin watch on the left wrist and the V-max watch on the right.)

Ariat Tioga boots:  I picked these up on sale late last July and started wearing them after Fireworks last year, so I've had them for around nine months now.  They've lasted through a not-very-wet California winter, I can hike/jog in them (slowly!), they provide ankle support.  The laces are about a foot too long, but I still haven't gotten around to replacing them.  These have made it to the nine-month mark when I usually start getting blisters; their time may be coming, but so far so good.  These are not suitable running shoes, but for the occasional hop off and jog with horse, they're not ridiculously clunky.  Comparable to Terrains, I think.  Sizing is also comparable to Terrains, so size down accordingly.  I regularly wear a 9.5 athletic shoe, my Tiogas and Terrains are both 8.5s.

Ariat Terrain II half-chaps: I got these at the same late July sale, same timeline as the Tiogas.  They continue to hold up well.  I had initial reservations about the snaps being stiff.  I still swear at one of the four snaps about half the time, and pretty soon I'm just going to chop it off.  Zippers work fine, snaps seem unnecessary.  The suede at my inner calf that goes against the horse has definitely worn some, but not unreasonably so.  End result: pretty pleased.  I'd replace them with a smaller size if one showed up at a good price, but I'm happy to keep riding and doing chores with my current ones, and don't foresee problems.

I evidently have no photos of the cantle pack on the dressage saddle.
EasyCare Deluxe Cantle Pack: After the booting fiasco at Quicksilver last year wherein I discovered I had no way to carry boots if the cables pulled out, I checked with Saiph about cantle bags and Renegade boots.  Could I fit my large Renegades in the side packs, at least one each, with room for a third in the center?  Yes, she said, yes you can.  So I ordered it, stuck it on the Specialized, and called it good.  It's not as well fitted to the Thorowgood/English saddles, I think, and feels bulkier, but it absolutely did work.  In my case, I ran the straps through the spare billet attachment ring that my saddle has. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Petting the pony

Do you let people pet your horse at home?  On the trail?  Why or why not?  Karen's post got me thinking..

I have fairly firm boundaries around letting people pet Confetti at the barn.  I think it's incredibly rude to go wandering through the barn petting all the horses.  You never know who bites, who's cranky, who's sick, so on and so forth.  If I see people doing that, I'm usually disinclined to have them pet Fetti - or I'll make it explicitly clear that I'm very generously allowing them to pet her and they should ask first.  "She's friendly if you want to pet her shoulder" is a common phrase.  I know she's not mouthy, she's good with kids, and she enjoys the attention.

We're fairly memorable.  I have a blonde horse with braids that goes in hot pink.  I don't want to come across as self-centered or anything, but we stand out and I frequently get recognized.  Or my horse does, anyway!

On the trail, it depends.  If we're on a serious conditioning ride and heading out, I probably won't stop.  I'll wave at kids.  It's not that I'm being rude, but I pass people at least once every minute or two for the first two miles unless I'm riding in the evenings.  I try to stop and walk if it's awfully dusty, but if it's a wide trail and they keep moving, we'll probably keep moving too.

Sometimes we see kids that are clearly awestruck and just dying to pet the pony, but too shy or polite to ask.  Those, I will often pause the timer and stop for.  It makes their day.  Again, she's good with kids, and I'm initiating the offer on my terms.  Kids running up to me?  Nope, not happening. 

To some extent, I see us as being trail ambassadors: we're out on trail a lot, and we're very memorable.  I want people to like sharing the trail with us.  I'm happy to let runners keep jogging by us, or cyclists keep going (where it's safe to do so), or let the kids pet the pony when the kids and pony are all on board with that idea.  The more positive experiences people have, the more equestrian trails we will keep, or at least, that's my hope.

Monday, May 4, 2015

NATRC's Mount Diablo 2015

Friday morning, I loaded my stuff in a friend's truck and put Fetti in her trailer, and off we went to Mount Diablo for a second attempt at NATRC.  Endurance is still my sport of choice!  I had some specific things I wanted to work on in a ride setting. It was reassuring to me that if we failed spectacularly, it would not go on our AERC record.

Hoof boots.  Aurora has been incredibly patient and tolerant with the pony and I over the past few months.  Ashley managed to get the final Viper fitting shell to me last weekend, and when that appeared to fit, I rush-ordered Vipers through Aurora on Monday that arrived at my house on Wednesday.  Thursday we photo-fitted them to the horse and she talked me through switching my old Renegade captivators in for the Viper captivators.  Few more photos, a few laps in the round pen, and we called it good.
Thankfully, ride management strongly recommended hoof protection for all four, but did not require it this year.  I booted Fetti's fronts with the Vipers at 6:00am Friday morning and opted out of booting the hinds.  The next time I touched the boots was eleven hours later, after the final vetting at 5:00pm.  I don't even think I looked down at them more than twice during the whole ride. Mission accomplished. 

Ride start: try not to die. I have a lot of anxiety at the start of rides.  This is very much a Fig issue and not really a Fetti issue except that she takes cues from me.  At endurance rides, either it's been a controlled start (Fireworks) where we're trotting off with the pack, or a start-whenever where we can start at the back of the pack and walk off near-last.  Unfortunately, NATRC is timed out at 30 second intervals, and because I chose to ride in the fastest division, there would be two more divisions timing out behind mine even if I timed out last in mine!  So.. I stressed, and stressed, and even made a note in my phone about how ridiculously anxious I was, and then we walked up to the start, grazed, and moseyed politely across the start line at a walk, and kept walking.  Total non-issue.  Good pony.  Not dead.  Check.

Shortly after the start. Lots of lovely singletrack.
Find a bubble, ride our own ride solo.  This has been on the list for a while, but became a very specific goal for this ride.  I acknowledged that it would be totally okay with me if we fell in with other folks at the start (see: ride start anxiety, 30-second timed outs, etc), but that I did not want to do the entire ride with other people.  We did the first mile or two with other riders, then zipped off ahead and really, genuinely did our own thing.  We trotted.  We walked.  We walked some flats, even - in hindsight, we should have trotted there, but I'm still new to the timing in NATRC and lacked confidence.  It proved to me that her brain really was with me at the time and she wasn't just mindlessly running along.  We should have trotted.. but I did not know that, and I cannot beat myself up for that.  I'm really, really happy with that five-mile section of trail.

Happy pony, happy rider, gorgeous views.
The vet checks proved problematic for us.  In NATRC, you must remain mounted for forwards motion - so I cannot walk her into the vet checks.  Unfortunately, every single other horse in our division had a faster walk than our tiny pony walk, and we were passed (at the walk) walking into the vet checks, often leading to her jogging to keep up, and subsequently raising her heart rate.  So, really: getting passed and going back to riding alone: total fail.  This is top of my list to bring in outside help to work on (I didn't blog about it, but working on it myself last month led to bucks/bolting to catch up).

Downhill. Full sun. Not passing: see uphill ahead.

We were able to pass horses on downhills (she's an endurance pony, we trot down hills!), but there were some serious climbs and they really got to her this year.  Frankly, I really did not have enough horse to keep up with the horses we were riding with, but I did not have enough brain in the horse to back off and let her breathe.  Hill conditioning: needs work.  Not a total fail, but needs work.  We found a bubble early in the second half, but lost it when the hills kicked back in.  Unfortunately, the third P&R check was at the end of some of the worst climbs, and Fetti insisted on trotting at least part of every single climb (and we train on hills, but evidently not enough).  I watched the HRM.  She spiked to 180 at one point.  This is the horse that regularly quits on her own at 140.  These were some tough hills and I did not like her trotting them one bit.  She didn't come down very well at the P&R, plus the P&R folks had an awful time deciding what her pulse was.

Camera is pointing straight ahead or slightly up. Tough hill.
Honestly, we should have been held for 10 minutes.  I don't think we were.  I am 100% sure she was not at pulse criteria after the allotted 10 minutes for her to come down - at that point I pulled tack so I can't guarantee where she was after that, but she was still hanging around 74-76 because she'd just trotted on and off up the stupid hills to keep up to the other horses.  This should have been my mental low.  It wasn't. One of the P&R folks walked up to me and asked if I knew Funder because she recognized us, and Kristin you made my day. So instead of stressing, I chattered at her for a few minutes about what a nutcase my pony was and how little brain she had and of course she wasn't down, nope, totally not concerned.

I eventually got sent over to the vet so he could decide what to do with me; he looked at my horse screaming for the other two horses that had just left the vet check, politely refrained from making the justified comments about how awful her manners were being, and simply said her pulse was elevated now because she was emotionally distraught about her friends leaving.  Hm.  Yep.  Makes sense to me.  I still think we should have been held, but I wasn't particularly concerned about her pulse still being up, it was downhill from here anyway, you know.  We waited a few minutes for her to find part of her brain, spun a few circles around a stump, accepted help from the P&R volunteer who twitched her ear and held her nose while I hopped on (I suspect that's probably not really supposed to be done either, but there were plenty of folks still there and watching, so no objections from me!), and moseyed on down the trail.  We left that check not ten minutes behind the closest two riders, probably less, and I decided our goal would be to not catch them.

So we found our bubble again.  We trotted a while.  We'd walk a ways.  We'd trot a while more.  We'd get a real walk, loose rein and all.  Trot, walk, trot, walk.  She was hollering the whole time for the other horses, but she wasn't fighting me.  Every time they'd come into sight in the distance, we'd walk.  We finished the ride just barely in time, and we never caught the other riders.  Words cannot express how happy I am that I won that battle.

Moseying our way on home.

They did post-ride CRIs, about 10 minutes after we completed.  13/12 for NATRC translates to 52/48.  She clearly did not do well trotting into checks on the hills, but she finished strong and I am very happy with that.

Not getting lost: success.  Trail was well-marked.  We had no problems with that.  Well, one - I second-guessed myself once and tried to turn around.  Fetti refused to turn around.  I gave in.  She was right, and we were going the right way.

Dressage saddle: success.  Even sweat patterns, no back soreness, my calves hurt from dropping my heels for 26 miles straight.

NATRC obstacles:
1. slight hill right after the start.  She trotted up and my position wasn't ideal, but otherwise, not bad.
2. back downhill and in a U shape. I expected major issues, so we did this beautifully and got a verbal compliment from the judge when we did it.  Woohoo!
3. off-side mount, then ride down-up a ravine.  I opted out of the off-side mount.  We haven't practiced this much at all, let alone from near-ground level in the dressage saddle.  But!  I mounted gracefully and my position wasn't completely ideal on the hill, but otherwise, quite pleased with myself.  (Thankfully we weren't judged on the part where we headed back out on trail afterwards, where she resisted and went backwards and bucked until the other horses showed up.  Oh, pony.)
4. Mercury water crossing.  Easy, verbal compliment from the judge.  This was after the last vet check and I could not have been happier with her.

Mounting went well - three P&R checks, one human-is-confused dismount, so four on-trail mounts done with grace and without overthinking any of them.  Very pleased with myself.

Drinking on trail: unexpected success in that Fetti decided to start drinking from puddles on the trail.  Woohoo!  Good pony.

Migraines: waited til after the vet check to kick in, but did kick in.  Sigh.  Needs more experimentation.

Headphones and Spotify: success!  I bought the Aftershokz headphones on the advice of Saiph (and Funder and Mel and Liz, if I'm recalling correctly) and aside from forgetting to charge them and running out of battery halfway through the ride, it was really delightful to have something getting me out of my head.  Would strongly recommend.

Garmin watch: partial success.  It worked very well for letting me watch our speed the first 13 miles, but didn't charge well enough at lunch to keep working for the whole second half.  Possibly user error with the charging since I was using a different portable charger, though.

Overall, very pleased.  We checked everything off the list and have plenty of things to work on.