Monday, June 22, 2015

Wild Wild West 2015

About two and a half weeks ago, I found myself with the opportunity to go to Wild West, a multi-day endurance ride about five hours north. I cleared it with work, sorted logistics, and sent the entry on in. Live spontaneously and plan rides on less than two weeks notice, right?  

We've never been to a non-local ride, or a multi-day, or anything longer than 25 miles.. or anything involving me camping for 4 full days and not taking my car. Good thing about only having two weeks to figure it out: not really enough time to panic about how unprepared we are.  When Fetti bucked me off, that pretty well solidified my decision that she was in plenty good shape.  I borrowed a tent and cooler. She got trimmed a week before we left, promptly went slightly lame, and recovered within a few days. I even put the front boots on beforehand, plus verified that the hinds were still intact. No spares.. the fronts were new for Mount Diablo.. but they stayed on there fine, and the hinds weren't a problem when we used them before.. so that should be fine. Bonus: Aurora would be there and could reassure me that the fit looked good in person!

We hauled up Thursday morning, uneventful five hour drive, and settled on in. Thursday was a really stellar example of why it's been helpful for me to join a local endurance club. Club member got me to the ride, another gave me extra water when it became evident the human water was perhaps not really all that evident at camp, plenty more said hello and chatted.  I actually knew people! Plenty of familiar faces.  And as always, the Haflinger fan club started as soon as we showed up. We even had someone ask if this was the Confetti that he'd bred a bunch of years ago and sent to the local Haffie lady to sell on. She's not - but I knew who he was talking about, and there is another registered Confetti, though that one is registered with an East Coast suffix.. so who knows. Barn name Confetti? Crazy coincidence there.

Briskly-paced group!
Friday, we started the 30 early and fast. We did the first 3-6 miles quicker than anything before. Clearly, I misjudged how close to the front we were! I started my Garmin late, but the first four miles were pretty consistently 9-10mph every time I looked down. Eep! 
Then there was a puddle. A few steps later she told me the boot wasn't right - so I hopped off to fix it, and we lost that group. Thank goodness! The next rider kindly offered to stop so I could hop on. We ended up sticking together for the rest of the loop, as she also wanted to pace her mare at a more sedate 7-8mph trot.

Walk breaks make for better photos.
4 boots: early in day 1. Gore/Baylor Photography
The vet check was back in camp at about 12 miles. I knew one front boot was missing (safely stowed in saddlebags). I hopped off, glanced at her back feet, and swore: two hind captivators. Zero hind shells. When? How?! And oh shit, she probably did most of the loop with just one boot, what do we do now?! Will they let us go out with fronts only? Can I fix the front fast enough?
Pony tied to trailer, I swore and grumbled and failed at fixing the boot, so we vetted through barefoot. Thankfully, the head vet said we should be fine bare for the second loop, but would want boots for day #2. One day at a time! A few deep breaths and a muffin later, we were back out on trail, minus one boot and two captivators, and even back with our friends from loop 1.
Loop 2 was uneventful and moseying. No need for speed with how quickly loop 1 had gone, so we walked a lot, trotted occasionally. A few more folks caught up to us near the end of the loop, and due to some unfortunate circumstances, Fetti ended up needing to cope with one horse spook-bolting into her.  She flinched, and squealed, and stopped, and that was it; it was probably the highlight of my Friday.  Good mare! We came into the finish with a good 30 minutes to spare. She pulsed down to 60 within a few minutes and with very minimal sponging. Good mare!

Aurora pieced my troubled front boot back together (cables pulled through, same issue as at QS in 2014), and between Mel and Aurora they granted me a set of fitting hind Vipers to borrow for Saturday. I promised to try and bring them back in one piece.

keeping up with the more motivated Sparky
Saturday, we rode with Aurora and Sparky all day in the 35. It's kind of novel to get to ride with someone you sort of know at a ride! The first hour was general drudgery: fire roads, full sun, heat early in the day, downhill. I rejoiced when it went to shady singletrack downhill, then soon thereafter gave in and hiked down - steep, steep trail. Back on at a shallow river crossing, then uphill as we obsessively checked for eight boots and requested that the pony keep walking in hopes of keeping boots on.
Midway up the hill, Fetti stopped and gave me her 'fix it' look. Damn. Front right boot shell missing. Back down the trail we went looking.. but it was not to be. My best guess is that it went over the cliff, because it sure wasn't on the trail.  Onwards then, seven boots attached! The trail finally improved into lovely trottable singletrack and we made excellent time to the vet check.

blogger photo-shoot

I was very impressed with the vets at this ride. The vet check was a gravelled parking lot. I explained to the vet that we were having another rough boot day, she might not trot sound over gravel, she goes barefoot at home and we're taking it slow on this sort of footing today. Trot out verdict: not bad given three boots and the footing, occasional ouchy steps when she hit a rock but not consistent, have a good ride! Aurora was kind enough to wait for our out-time (pony pulsed down far slower than fit Arab Sparky!), and we had a spectacularly uneventful ride back to camp, all seven boots intact.

Gore/Baylor Photography. Happy happy.

Fetti vetted through at the finish, but with the note that she was 'intermittently lame' on her RF - not surprising given the circumstances! I was super impressed that the vet remembered it was her RF prior to seeing our card or our final trot out.  Midday Sunday I trotted her out for the other vet, who thought she looked fine. It's likely she was just a bit footsore post-ride; I'm grateful it resolved quickly.

Sunday the 50s rode on the same trail that the LDs did on Friday, and some extraordinarily kind soul found one of my hind boot shells.  Made my day.

Sunday, napping.

I wish we could have done all three days, but that was never the plan and I'm happy with my decision. The pony is absolutely capable, I have no doubts about that.  She's home, obnoxious, and looks better than when we left.  

- Fetti is almost certainly capable of a carefully managed 50 at this point.
- my calves are not thrilled after two days in the dressage saddle; either switch back to a Specialized or get endurance stirrups.
- consider sheepskin leather covers - even with half-chaps, the webbers are irritating after a while.
- cantle bag: total win. Very pleased. Thanks Saiph!
- 135x135 Vipers for her hinds: success.
- rasp the heck out of her front right before rides, plus take back any possible excess toe right hind
- pack spare boot adjusted for RF for any rides I think it might be needed.  
- slight bump on the right side of her back, where the electrode was placed. Drat! Not sure what to do about that.
- Equiflexsleeves: attempted on a front leg. Could not get on. Current theory is that they're too small for her feet, but may still be the right size for her legs... but her legs didn't fill noticeably if at all despite the lack of attention they got.

Rider management:
Cautious success.  I had a migraine when we hauled in, but only sinus pressure/sinus headaches post-ride both days, and did not have to take strong stuff to alleviate those!  This is the first time in two years I've made it through a ride without losing my head afterward.  I drank almost-all of my 2L camelbak before the check both days, and then again before the finish both days.

Rider food:
Chocolate chip muffins. Ate all four. Would have had more.
Cold cheese pizza. Ate three of six, gave away two.
Diced pears. Ate two containers.
Grapes: did not pack. Should have packed, at least for the first day!
Cheezits: nibbled at. Did not crave, which makes sense; this is my usual migraine-craving-salt food.
Croissants: ate four of four, but preferred muffins.
Gatorade: drank four? of five packed.
Luna bars: one on-trail both days.
Veggie burgers: ate one the first night, but then a packing flaw rendered the rest inedible. Still a good option, try again next time.

I nibbled at the potluck dinner Friday & Saturday, nibbled at the catered Mexican dinner Sunday.

Also packed:
Applesauce (will pack again in future), burrito/sandwich supplies (never got hungry enough to pull these out!), cheese/crackers, rider electrolytes (should pack again - just plain never pulled these out), chocolate/caramel wedges (did not crave, will probably pack again to alleviate sugar cravings in small package).

Monday, June 8, 2015

On falling, spooks, and bikes

I came off on Saturday evening - it was supposed to be a mellow, low-speed jaunt with friends.  Confetti was up, but not unreasonably so, and being polite about it.  I failed to consider that she hadn't really worked since the prior weekend.  We got to a hill that's often cantered up, the front two horses accelerated ever-so-slightly, I held her back to keep off the new gelding's butt, and she objected: this is the hill we get to move out on, I haven't gotten to move all day, it's not fair.  I wasn't holding hard, but it was enough, situationally, to piss her off.

I don't normally link to Horse Nation posts, but this one was particularly accurate for me.  It's rarely any one thing that sets her off.  In hindsight, I know she needed to move.  I should have either worked her harder in the prior week, turned her out, lunged her first, or some combination of the above.

The conclusion we came to is that she wasn't trying to buck me off.  She looked abashed, almost apologetic when I hit the ground.  It was a slight downhill, I wasn't sitting 100% right, and she didn't buck straight: she underestimated how much I could handle as a warning.  Fetti has historically always given warnings before exploding, and it is entirely out of character for her to just buck hard out of nowhere with the only warnings being occasional head-tosses (not unusual).  There were hikers to our right when she bucked.  I didn't see them, I'm not sure if she saw them, and I was and am convinced they were irrelevant.  It was not a spook-into-buck.  She didn't go sideways.  The rider behind me reinforced that this felt very unlike the fear-bucks that she's seen Fetti do in years past (and, thankfully, reinforced that it was a slightly crooked buck - sometimes I wonder).

I don't really know how to correct a horse for bucking when they're doing it because they want to go faster.  She wants to move her feet, and she bucks when I ask her to stay slow.  Sometimes it's terrain.  Sometimes we're heading home.  Sometimes we're following other horses.  Whatever the reason, she wants to go, and I don't want her to.  Do I turn her around and make her work in whichever direction she's less inclined to go?

Having me come off (or whatever set that off, or some combination thereof) pretty well fried the pony brain for the day.  I wish we could have ended the drama there.. but alas, we put Fetti in the back of the group and moseyed slowly, mostly walking, back towards home (again: pony keeps her brain at the walk! I am so grateful for that).  Until suddenly she throws a small buck and spooks forward.  I yell, swear, and turn around to find.. a bike and a jogger coming up quickly and silently not ten feet behind us.  On a no-bikes-allowed trail.  With the bike trail not 20 feet away to the right.  It was an honest spook and I couldn't fault her for that, and on a different day I think I would've gotten just ears, or ears and a sidestep. The buck was a result of her brain being fried and her reverting to buck-bolt behavior.  Yelling at the cyclist clearly made an impression - I hope they learned their lesson.  A different horse could have dumped me for that, and I could have been seriously hurt.

When we got home, Fetti got to run around with her sister, and run she did.  Oh, mares.  Sorry, pony - that's all you needed.

Sunday morning, I limped on over to the barn, bruised and sore, and took Fetti out to Pogonip for a 10-15 mile ride in a heavily biked area of the park!  Pony needed to work, and I wanted to get a good solid work in early this month.

We spent probably five minutes discussing going forwards on the trail to the river crossing.  I don't know why it was suddenly such a big deal.  I do know we'll need to do this ride at least once again before Fireworks to make sure it's a non-issue by then, but I was able to stay on and get her to the river, one or two steps at a time.  It didn't read as fear so much as straight stubborn 'I don't want to, this will be work' attitude.

It was not a fast ride.  Fetti was unenthusiastic by herself.  The rocks were good excuses, roots were good excuses, hills were good excuses.  In fact, this ride has made it on my 'try to do at least twice a month' list as a result.  We met a lot of bikes, got our photo taken a bunch of times, tagged along with one group of bikes

who thought it was really pretty cool to have a horse jogging with them for 10-15 minutes

and found some mountain biker folks I knew (well, okay, I heard a bike coming downhill fast and we hopped off trail and turned to face it.  We were quickly recognized.  Nice folks, but I'd hate to have missed hearing their bikes!) and paused to chat with them for a minute

before they headed off downhill in front of us.

So we moseyed on home, trotting, walking, chatting with folks, having a minor meltdown over a bike tire that folks were troubleshooting (unattached to bike at the time) though they were very kind in letting us work through it, and then walk-trotting back up the hills as she was willing.. and hauling ass all the way home on the flats because she felt amazing and wanted to go.  True to form, no meltdowns were had over bikes, and no bucks were thrown.  Her anxiety was low enough it was all a non-issue.  (Except the bike tire, but that was genuinely a new thing, so who knows.)

Don't get me wrong - some days I wish she were bombproof and perfect and reliable - but for all her quirks she's really pretty good and I love her dearly.  She's not an easy horse, at this point she never will be an easy horse, but she's my obnoxious pony and for that I am ever grateful.

Monday, June 1, 2015

May recap, June goals

The lack of blogging in May was not due to a lack of things going on, but an excess of things going on and a general feeling of anxiety and being overwhelmed.  I have no idea what actually got written and what got drafted and what stayed in my head, so here's a recap.

I rode a lot in the dressage saddle.  It worked really well for me, I'm fairly happy with my position, and it keeps my knee happy.  It's not my intention to end up riding lots of miles in this saddle, but..

I rode a few times in the Eurolight.  It makes my knee unhappy.  (Admittedly, my knee is flared up right now anyway, and I don't believe the Eurolight causes issues when the knee is fine.)  The bigger problem is that it is absolutely not balanced for me, I am tipped forward, and I'm fighting the saddle constantly to be neutral.  Biggest potential problem: the two rides I did in the Eurolight most recently were also rides in which Fetti was excruciatingly slow and lazy.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  I'm not sure.

Saddle fitting.
I would like to get one particular saddle fitter out that has experience with Specialized and also sells used saddles.  They have not yet contacted me back.  My hands are pretty well tied on this one and I'm not willing to compromise on who I have out, for varying reasons.  (If you're local, I can explain more via email.)  Right now, this is a waiting game.

Crupper rings.
In an act of either insanity or brilliance, I purchased a Kincade crupper from Adams Horse Supplies - they were the lowest price with the fastest (USPS) shipping.  Given the previous two points, I needed a near-immediate fix.  It's not that I needed a new crupper, and it's not that I wanted a leather crupper.. but this is the only crupper I've found that comes with a metal T attachment.  So yes, I paid something like $30 for a small piece of metal and intend to be rid of the actual leather crupper.
There are leather T attachments.  I have one.  It bent, pulled out, and ripped some of the stitching at the back panel of the dressage saddle.  At this point, I want the crupper to break rather than the attachments.  I understand that Fetti and I are harder on cruppers than just about any other horse I've heard of.  I don't actually have a great understanding for why that is, although I suspect it has to do with how she's built combined with how she moves down hills.  So, for now, metal T attachment is the answer.

Training rides.
At Mount Diablo, we struggled with walking politely when other horses passed us.  Well, no - we failed spectacularly at that.  I promised to contact trainers.  Several weeks later, one local trainer finally managed to fit us in her schedule.  It was a nice walking lesson in which we established that I have a solid one-rein stop at the walk.  One of the reasons I had chosen to try this trainer was that she had her own horses that she/I could take out with Fetti; we also established at this lesson that her horses trot at about 4mph, perhaps 5mph top speed.  Long-time readers may recall that Fetti is a good, solid horse at the walk 95% of the time, and if everyone involved is low energy, I would even go so far as to say she's a good, solid horse at the walk 99% of the time.  We ended the trail lesson with me losing a battle about (leaving the group) going away from home.  The problem was not the group, the problem was the going away from home.  Trainer was thrilled with how it went.  I was not.
We are not doing more lessons with that trainer.  Training rides are tabled for right now.

Unlike training rides, still on the table.  Scheduling has been challenging.  I spent most of the month waiting to deal with the previous five issues (you'll note only one of which is actually resolved by now).  Favorite trainer has been exceptionally busy with her life too, so we'll ride with her as soon as she's available, but local-dressage trainer is on my list of folks to get in touch with this month for at least one lesson.

My current plan involves hill sets 1-2x/week (thanks Saiph!) and arena conditioning sets 1-2x/week loosely based off this blog post I foundPlus trail rides with friends - which can be done the same day as arena conditioning for sure, and likely even the same day as hill sets if time allows.
Once or twice in June I'd like to get a 12-20 mile ride in, preferably on the Fireworks trails.  Bonus if we can do it at reasonable speed, too.

June Goals:
- try again to contact saddle fitting folks
- hill sets 1-2x/week
- arena conditioning sets 1-2x/week
- dressage lesson