Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All-around pony

In the week and a half following our first 50, Fetti and I have been on three trail rides, the first two in full tack and < 3 miles (and not at competition speed: fear not, I am not overworking my horse, these were social rides) and the third a 7-mile bareback excursion with my best trail riding friend.  This particular bareback ride involved all of the following:

- spook-in-place at a dog(?) charging the other side of a solid fence, complete with dust cloud
- trail-following while I fiddled with my phone to get the GPS tracking app turned on, twice
- 'trail' following that turned into more deer path than anything else
this doesn't look very familiar
- letting me mount from a very wobbly tree on a very not-trail-like hillside
- lazy walk/trot moseying, both leading and following, past strollers and hikers and joggers
- numerous moments where I dropped flat onto her neck to get underneath tree branches
- leg yields as I micromanaged her between closely spaced trees
- impromptu pony ride for small children our riding friend knew from work

Good pony!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

First 50: lessons learned

Confetti still does best with a buddy, and I am extraordinarily grateful to Cyd and Bugsy for hanging out with us all day.

Sponging while on the horse: non-issue.  I'd never really tried this before, since most of my rides haven't had enough river crossings for it to come up.  Per usual, she acted as if we'd been doing this forever.  This horse spoils me.

Electrolytes via DelyteBytes cookies: success in that she ate them and ate/drank well.  It's hard to say how much of a difference the cookies made.  I planned to give her approximately one every hour or whenever I thought of it, packed 10-12 cookies in a bag for the trail, went through 9 of them.  We'll do the same thing at our next ride.

Race brain never kicked in (see: we had a buddy!) and she treated the whole ride like a conditioning ride, complete with asking to quit when her heart rate hit 150.  I am happy to see that she is capable of keeping her brain and not running herself to death.

Good fallen log mounting block, photo by Cyd
Mounting: needs work again.  This is my issue more than hers.  I haven't been practicing much since May and my anxiety is back up again, especially in the Thorowgood where there's less saddle to hang on to.

what are my elbows doing?! photo by Boots n Bloomers, used with purchase
My posture: needs work.  Drop my shoulders.  Drop my shoulders!  That'll fix the elbow/wrist issues I see in photos.  But I am happy that I am relaxed and smiling, riding on a loose rein (which is where I lose some of the good posture - also needs work).

Trailering: she wasn't bad, but she wasn't perfect. I've never had an issue loading her before and it took a couple minutes for all three loads.  I finally pulled out the dressage whip when we were loading up at camp to head home.  Two light taps 'no really I'm serious' and she went in.  It's not a fear issue, it's a 'not sure I want to' reaction.  In fairness, we haven't been trailering out from home much over the past year, and the last time we trailered was in June up to Wild West... another long haul in both directions.  My plan is to bring the dressage whip with me the next time I'm loading her, and escalate promptly to that rather than trying to coddle and convince her into the trailer.

swooshy tail. photo by Boots n Bloomers, used with purchase
Boots: if you know the boot doesn't seem to go on right, rasp the damn hoof.  I even packed the rasp.  I have zero excuses for this one and one lost boot shell to show for it.

Migraines: I did not have a migraine.  This ride was mostly in the trees - enough such that the new visor was plenty of shade even without my forever-worn sunglasses! - and I am confident that was a huge factor.  No migraine day before, no migraine post-ride, no migraine day after.  

Hour holds go by fast.  I can see where having crew would be useful!  A few minutes to pull tack and sponge sweat, a few minutes to let her eat, find spare boot & apply to hoof (thankfully the boot was pre-adjusted for the RF, which was normally the larger and more finicky foot, so it was Good Enough to go on the LF without fiddling at cables), vet in, switch out Camelbak bladders, braid my hair quick, grab food for me, realize I have 20 minutes left and should start tacking up, fight with electrodes and gel, run to portapotty, throw last of tack on, jog over to out-timer to find Cyd, who was starting to wonder if I'd left already (3-4 min past my out time).  Oops.

Lots to work on, but nothing spectacularly awful, and generally all workable issues!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cuneo Creek 2015

It's been radio silence around here for a little bit.  Work has been crazy, and I had a few pony plans in the works that I didn't want to jinx.

The TL;DR version: Confetti and I went north to Cuneo Creek, rode our first 50, and completed in fine spirits.

This really was a "it takes a village" sort of ride.  It took three different trailers and four trailer rides (one of which I wasn't even there for - my boyfriend is thankfully very supportive!) to get Confetti there and back.  I could not have even gotten to the ride were it not for the kindness of a semi-local rider who was willing to haul us up and back, someone I'd met only in passing prior to this ride.

Horse Preparation
I didn't ride very much the week prior to hauling up.  It's not that I wasn't planning to ride, but between ride prep and work I simply ran out of time to ride more than a few minutes once or twice.  Taper: unintentionally accomplished.

Confetti got her fall ride clip the weekend before we left.  It's been hot here, she's got a lot of hair, and I know she can be tough to pulse down at checks.  I took off more from her neck than I have in years past and feel absolutely no guilt about it.  She'll grow plenty back by the time it gets even remotely cold.
Clipped pony and tested boots prior to ride.
I rasped all four feet, with extra focus on the right front, slightly less than a week before the ride.  At the ride, she was about six weeks out from her last farrier-trim, if I'm remembering correctly.

Tack Preparation
I have been saying for how long now that I won't ride a 50 in my Thorowgood?  Well.  The Eurolight has still not shown up on my doorstep.  Three (fixable) things bothered me at Wild West: the seat wasn't quite cushy enough, the stirrups had no give and no relief, and the Webbers rubbed my calf just a bit.  In the interest of not spending too many fortunes, and being awfully short on time, I ordered new stirrups a week and a half prior to the ride and rigged up my little-used endurance seat cover to go on the dressage saddle.  First test: one moderate-speed short ride Saturday after they arrived.  Second test: one short but fast ride the Tuesday before we left.  At least I rode in it first!

I nearly borrowed stirrup leather covers, but then decided not to risk adding additional bulk under my legs without a really good test.  The last time I added leather covers to the Specialized and did a long ride, I flared up my knee.  It could be made workable eventually, but whether it would work on the first try felt like too much of a risk.

Rider Preparation
New helmet was purchased and tested once or twice prior to the ride.  New Salamander visor was attached to helmet the night before we hauled north to the ride and completely untested.

At Camp, Pre-Ride
Per usual, Confetti hopped off the trailer and dove for the nearest pile of hay.  That's my pony!  We hand-walked around camp, checked in, chatted with folks, and were suitably demoralized by a rider camped near to us who kept reiterating what a tough ride it is and how hard it would be.  Folks: this is not how you encourage new riders, new 50 riders, or riders trying to make a comeback to the sport.  The attitude was along the lines of 'you're going to have an awfully hard time and probably fail, but enjoy the scenery!' If I did not have several years of successful near-turtle LDs, that would have been super depressing.  As it was, it was just mind-boggling and we finally wrote it off as someone a bit crazy.

Haflingers spend all their time in camp eating.
I managed to not forget anything important (actually I'm not sure I forgot anything at all), unpacked, settled in, and finally went to put the Renegades on to vet in.  Right to left, per usual.. three boots went on well, the left front didn't fit quite right but with a little adjusting it seemed OK, if not as good as usual.  I decided that since it was the boot that always stays on, it would be fine.

Confetti vetted in with all As and a 44 pulse.  Good mare!  We chatted more with various positive folks, handed off donations for the Valley Fire, and managed to talk my way into riding with Cyd and Bugsy the next day.  One of my big concerns with doing a 50 was finding someone else to do a nice, slow, turtle-type ride, and knowing the night before that we found a new friend to ride with at least at the start was incredibly reassuring.  I opted not to pre-ride, but lunged her in a few circles to knock off a bit of excess energy.  I knew my nerves would just amp her up more and it would take 6-8 miles to make any noticeable difference in her sanity level, something I wasn't willing to do before a 50.

The Ride
It was surprisingly and refreshingly uneventful.  We started a few minutes after most of the 50-milers (a nice leisurely 7am start!), hand-walked our way out, and convinced Fetti we were just going for a leisurely trail ride.  The biggest problem I had was my mounting anxiety flared right back up, I haven't practiced much lately, and it took a half-mile of hand-walking and a creek crossing before I actually made it up on the pony.  Things to work on, indeed.  Halfway through the first loop or so, the front left boot came off.  I swore, hopped off, retrieved it, and stuck all the parts in the saddlebag.  I opted to leave the front right on mostly as an exercise in seeing how long that blasted right boot would remain on the hoof.  We moseyed our way through the rest of the first loop, trotting some, walking some, and casually wandered our way into the vet check.

Singletrack through the trees. Gorgeous, but lighting was tough on the phone.

Wider downhill non-forest trail.
Fetti pulsed down in all of three minutes despite me not walking her in the last half-mile.  Good mare!  We zipped off to the trailer across camp.  I swapped out my water, had some Gatorade and a sandwich, replaced her front left boot with my old spare, vetted the pony through, tacked her up, rushed to the portapotty, and managed to be only five minutes late for my out time.  Sorry Cyd!  (And thank you Cyd for waiting!!)  Things to work on, again.  That hour goes by quick, especially with no crew and a trailer all the way across camp.

Loop two started out with some repeat-trail: a most miserable uphill section that we trudged in the truest sense of the word.  Poor ponies.  Poor humans.  Yuck!  Eventually it ended, thank goodness, and we got to go downhill on some hardpack road.  I thought it was beautiful despite being downhill and hardpack.  It also claimed my front left boot - I suspect she overstepped trotting downhill.  I'd intentionally put on an old spare that I wouldn't feel obligated to retrieve, so I consciously chose not to turn around and go looking for it.  Farewell, old boot: you served us well.  The captivator stayed on and I left it there, knowing it doesn't bother Fetti, and knowing I didn't want to have to get back on.

Then uphill some more, and downhill some more, and redwoods, and trees!  and it was gorgeous.  It would have been quite excellent for photos had we not been behind other riders. I was using both hands to ride and did not have a spare to take photos with.  Back up and before we knew it, into the finish.

Almost home!
We walk/trotted our way into the finish and true to form, Confetti wasn't down yet.  Which is fine!  She didn't need to be, I hadn't handwalked a ways in, it's the furthest she's ever gone.  We hung out for a minute or two sponging and scooping to see if she'd drop to criteria.  Nope.  ("Don't you want me to check?" said one very kind volunteer.  Nope, no point wasting their time, I trust my HRM and if the human thinks she's down when the HRM is still reading upper 70s.. well, it wouldn't be the first time.  But it didn't need to happen.)  Back to the trailer, where she stuck her face in the haybag and I sponged some more, but left tack on entirely so I could see when she dropped.  Fig's personal timing: 13 minutes until she reliably dropped under 60.  It was another 10 before we got the 'official' time, but since we had 30 minutes total to pulse down, it was very zen and non-stressful.
More leftover not-our-hay.
When I took Fetti back across camp to vet, she dragged a bit.  She wasn't done resting and wasn't sure she wanted to go out again.  Even so, she managed to pass the final vet check with just about all As and I could not have been more pleased.

Post-ride, she looked good, felt good, ate well, drank well.  She dragged me around camp at a brisk walk after the awards.  Per typical form, she even demonstrated how to roll on a line for our trailer-buddy horse.  Cuneo has a nifty little spot by a water trough that's clearly designed as a spot for horses to roll, and she thought it was great.

Post-ride, I did not have a headache.  Exciting!

Upcoming posts:
- takeaways from our first 50, things to work on
- Garmin comparison/review
- long vs short rides

Friday, September 4, 2015

The not-pretty ride

We needed a long ride last week.  I knew it was supposed to be warm, so we headed out mid-morning, figuring a brisk 15-18 miles with boots should be doable.

- The ride did not start well.  Fetti decided there was something terrifying in the woods and I walked her down to the river, then got back on.  I think she was serious, not making it up, but it did not set a good tone.
- She was behind my leg very consistently and I was pony-kicking her into a 6mph trot.  Ugh.
- in fact, I'm not sure we ever got to our proper 8mph trail-trot.  If we did, it was a fluke.
- Did not balk hard going into the river, only a little bit; that was acceptable.  Did throw the brakes on at the usual spot in Pogonip.  I was unimpressed.  It lasted not as long as usual, so that does show progress, I guess.
- Faked me out through the entire Pogonip section pretending that she needed to pee.  She just wanted to turn around and quit early.  I have got to remember that she does this through here on her lazy days.
- Nice canter even up in Pogonip, but RF boot twisted and we stuck to trotting after that.
Hoof is straight. Boot is not.
- Portable phone battery charger decided it was dead.
- Garmin started throwing low battery warnings around mile 10.
- Pony drank from the major river crossing!  This is super exciting, since I've never had her drink here before.  It's reassuring that she'll drink here if/when she's thirsty.
- A big tree fell down and she spooked two steps, very politely.  I stopped telling her how awful she was for being slow and lazy and started telling her how happy I was with slow and lazy.
The offending tree is horizontal. Trees ought to be vertical.
- It was really, really hot.  My car said 97 when I left the barn shortly after we got back.
- My tall boots rubbed behind my knee.  Lesson learned: tall boots will not work for long rides.

So: we did do fifteen miles, but they were pretty miserable and ugly.  I think it took something like four hours, maybe a bit more with the tree falling down bit.

For bonus miserable and ugly, I had about two hours of relaxing at home before a migraine kicked in, and then I slept on and off from 4 until about midnight, complete with asking a very kind soul at the barn to please feed my horse because I can't get out of bed.  Mostly they're not that bad!  Thankfully this one subsided by midnight, I slept some more, and returned to being human by the next morning.

End results?
- I ordered a new Garmin model with a longer lifespan.  I'll review after my first competitive ride with it, later this month or early next month.  This was a fixable problem I could throw a reasonable amount of money at to resolve a re-occurring headache, and I was sufficiently frustrated I was willing to do it.  It had been on my 'maybe eventually' list for a while.
- I ordered two new battery packs, so I don't have to borrow my boyfriend's spare at when I want a second one at rides.  This was a problem I felt needed to be fixed immediately.  I feel a lot better having a backup phone charger with me on long rides, just in case.  They're also not very expensive.
- Tall boots went back in the closet for at least a week for my knee to heal.
- Hoof rasping is high on the priority list, and another test will need to occur before our next ride.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Product Review: Higher Standards Leather Care

This is not even remotely sponsored, not even requested, product purchased at full price.

I'm going to be brutally honest here: I am really, really awful about cleaning my tack.  One of the huge perks about endurance and beta tack is that you dump some water on it, maybe scrub a little, and you're good to go.  Leather, though.. ugh, that's real work.

I had some Horseman's One Step cleaner/conditioner for a while.  It wasn't terrible or anything, but the last time I saw it, the heat pretty well destroyed it and it had separated into oily/not oily sections.  Ugh.  I suspect that was probably last summer when I finally tossed the whole thing.  Also known as.. I hadn't touched any of my leather tack with cleaner or conditioner for at least a year, probably more.  Oops?

Mostly, I don't care.  I should, but I really don't.  I couldn't be bothered to go out and buy more saddle soap, find more rags, and condition my tiny collection of leather tack.  Two bridles, stirrup leathers, two saddles (one sitting at home, one Eurolight).

It would not do, however, to list a dirty saddle for sale.  I could not bring myself to do that.  So: off to Higher Standards' shop I went, and purchased two, and lo, they arrived quickly and with bonus peppermint!  Ponies always like bonus peppermints.

Mostly the saddle didn't look too bad, with one exception: behind the crupper ring.  The brass snaps on my cruppers rub the saddle no matter what I do.  It looked pretty awful, and previous half-hearted attempts with water and a rag went absolutely nowhere.

It was surprisingly effective at removing the accumulation of dirt and grime, although the most concentrated areas still took some serious scrubbing.  The after photo was taken when the leather was still slightly damp.  The saddle did end up slightly darker in that section, so I can't recommend spending 20+ minutes scrubbing/removing soap/scrubbing/removing soap in the same several-inch section - but I doubt anyone else is likely to try that.  In areas where I used a normal to perhaps double-normal amount of soap and cleaning effort, the leather color was completely unaffected.

Also, it smells amazing and isn't difficult to use. Sponge on, rinse, sponge again and don't stress too much if a bit is still on there.  Again: would be easier if I cleaned my tack more than once a year, but the reality is that I don't.

Even so: I think I like this soap enough that I might make it up to three or four times a year.  Novel!