Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our first ride

Well, Willow is now officially an Endurance horse! We completed our first ride in the Mars Sandhills Wildlife Management area here in Manitoba, this Saturday. We signed up for (and made it through) the limited distance, 25 mile ride. The first of the season here in Manitoba, and one of many we now plan on going to! I am hooked!

We had some great moments (and some not-so-great-kinda-embarrassing moments). Warning; this could take a while. I am normally long winded, and I'm still excited about it.

The morning started kind of slow. I didn't get to sleep until late (getting my trucker husband out of the house for his midnight load), and woke up a little late. I managed to get the animals fed and over to the barn next door only 15 minutes late. I picked up Debbie to run over to pick up her mare at the driving trainer, only 2 miles away. Loading didn't go so well. We got back to the barn for the other horses, now 1/2 hour behind schedule, where they had more loading issues.
Meanwhile I was in the barn, doing a quick first aid on Willow. She had managed to bang herself on the rear left coronet band sometime during the night. My first response was "Noooo! I wanna go on the ride!" (Luckily it was nothing serious and the vet said it would be fine to go on with). We left the barn 1 hour behind schedule. Luckily the roads were great, and directions to the ride was clear (on tiny pie plates). Finally we arrived, and I pulled into the campsite. Then I looked up and noticed I had parked in the middle of the trail. Oops! Hope no one noticed!

Luckily due to a few late arrivals (not just us!) the ride was delayed a bit. The ride meeting was very clear: great job Maura and Tanya! As a first time rider, this helped me a lot. The two horses is this picture are my friends' Ilonka (not seen) with Mayberry, a 4 year-old bay Gotland and Michele with Cici, the sorrel Gotland broodmare (her substitute mount as her gelding is too young). The two young women in the front are two very nice young women I ended up riding with in the first loop.

Unfortunately, I got a late start (I know, big surprise!); I left 10-15 minutes behind everyone else in the 25 mile pack. Willow proceeded to continually ask me, "are you sure we are supposed to be leaving without the others???" She dragged her heels and tried to turn back every few feet. I didn't warm her up so we did an easy walk for the irst mile or so. This resulted in the 15 miler pack catching up to me. That was fine, as I enjoyed riding with them!
The trails were gorgeous, and it was a beautiful day. The sun was out, only a few clouds, and the temperature was in the high teens. The footing was great, a nice sandy soil without too many rocks. Most of the snow was gone, only patches of snow and a bit of ice was left. Tanya did a GREAT job marking the trails (I didn't get lost this time, like I did at last year's Competitive Trail ride!) The only problem was the low hanging branches. Course, having such a short horse, I didn't have near the problems with this issue that others did (hehe!). Well, other than that one pine cone in the mouth that I swear Willow deliberately steered towards for giggles!

A few miles down the road, two women caught up with me. I decided to ride with them, as Willow was desperate for company, and was much more comfortable with others along. I really enjoyed riding with them, and they were very useful to help me establish a great pace (for it being my first time out). I never did get their names, but I know the chestnut was a QH/ Arab named Flicka and the palomino was a Mustang cross named Dove. They were also Fugly fans like me. Flicka had a great ground covering trot and set the pace. Dove was kind of absentminded and tended to trip over everything!

**Note to Dove's Rider: if you are interested in checking out that synthetic english saddle my friend has for sale please contact me. I forgot to give you my number! It's a really reasonable price.**

I got lots of questions and comments about Gotlands on the ride. Everyone seemed kind of surprised we were trying to compete on these short little horses. But once they saw more, they got to understanding. Flicka's rider kept looking over while we were trotting, and saying "It's just so effortless!" Meanwhile I'm thinking, "It's even more effortless to ride it!". Willow has great movement, it's very smooth at all gaits. But her jog is something else. She has this long, easy, fluid stride, that she seems to keeps the rhythm of by swinging her chin side to side. It's very workman-like; she keeps her head low, ears alert, and motors along.

We did lots of trotting, with Willow breaking into a canter every once in a while to catch up to the other two. She refused to be left behind by the bigger horses. Man, she can be opinionated! I had a "run away" a few times when she decided to catch up... well more like a trot- or lope-away. She just refused to listen when I said we would catch up eventually. That's something I think we need to work on!

We were getting pretty sweated up, but I though it was more due to anxiety for Willow. We met up with a few quaders, but they were mostly well behaved. Except for one bunch I met on a curve in the trail; I didn't think they were going to stop! Willow just kept on jogging along, not batting an eyelash. Then I looked back to see the others jumping around. Hmm.. another advantage of the Gotland! I'm sure Willow thought: "That would be like work, and it's not like I could get rid her, so why bother being silly??!!"

Course, right after that she ruined her "good-horse" image. We had ridden through a few puddles, but then we went by a nice one, that no one had stirred up yet! So we turned off the trail and waded in. Dove's rider laughed because Willow put her head down right away, right up to her eyes. As I was beginning to tell a story about how the Gotlands just luuv the water, you guessed it, the little snot layed down in the water!!! It was so subtle. On minute we were standing there up to her knees in the water; next thing I knew it, I was wet up to the knee. Dove's rider was yelling "Kick her!!", and I'm thinking "I can't, she laying on my leg!". I looked down, Willow is submerged on her side completely up to her mane. I was wet to my waist on the right side. Finally I pulled my leg free and kicked her. She popped up and looked back at me as if to say "Oh, sorry, were you still there?!" with a very surprised look on her face. Ha! She can't fool me... twice. Meanwhile, Dove and Flicka's riders were laughing like loons. I didn't finish the story of Camelia's foal who used to lay underwater and look up at her mom. I felt we had already demonstrated just fine that Gotlands like water.

I squished the last 1 1/2 miles into camp.

As we got closer to camp, Willow seemed to sense we were almost there and sped up. Camp kinda snuck up on us, and I cantered the last 1/2 mile. Oops! Nevertheless, she pulsed down quickly. Faster than anyone expected, since she was so soaking wet! *said in a sarcastic voice* Gave Pat (Willow's owner) a bit of concern; thinking I had pushed her too hard. Pfft! We soaked her down, (as I stood there shaking my head - "WHY?!!!") and she pulsed down at 1:16, just less than 3 hours after we went out. I trotted her through the vet check (or should I say; she dragged me through the trot). Still lots of pep in her stride! We scored strait A's and went to take a lunch break.

She earned her lunch... I guess... In the lower right corner you can see my saddle, sitting in the sun to dry. All I could think was "thank god I decided to buy the synthetic Torsion, not the leather!" It was dry almost before I got back to camp. I was doing quite well too. I had gone out to purchase a pair of seamless running pants (read: tights. Eek!) to wear under my chaps. I know, sorry; lovely mental image, eh!! I'm just glad no photos have showed up yet of me in my outfit (and I hope they never do!!!) Tanya was a peach, and offered me her dry Ariats to wear for the rest of the ride, as she was not riding.
As we sat there, Willow frantically calling for the others every few minutes (in between huge mouthfuls of hay - nothing interferes with a Gotland's appetite!), the rest of the Gotland riders came in from their 15 mile fun ride. They had lost their way, and came in the wrong direction. So they snuck up on me a bit. They did a little less than the 15 miles, but did a good pace. Mayberry, Willow's 4-year-old daughter barely broke a sweat. Here they are, Cici in the lead, with Sage, Meg and Mayberry bringing up the rear (Ilonka walking). The next picture is Mayberry as she came in, and Meg; all cooled out and dried off.

I chatted with some of the long time riders in the club, trying to get a feel for how to ride the last 10 miles of the ride, as I would be alone. Unfortunately, many of them had heard the story of the submariner Gotland and had trouble hiding their giggles. Well, at least they'll remember us!!
The rest of the 25 milers started out for the second loop of the ride halfway through my lunch. I was way behind! So I set out (again 5 minutes late), at about 2:25pm on my own. Again, Willow wasn't too sure of this, but we straitened this out eventually. She gave up on going back to camp, and seemed to realize, the best way to get to the other horses is to go forward!
It was a gorgeous ride! Quiet, sun dappled trails and not too hot. The trail was so easy to follow.
I decided to let Willow chose her pace. She's got the pony's self-preservation instincts, and wouldn't push further than she can manage. I'm just glad she doesn't have the pony build, because she was moving!!! She would pick up a jog, utterly relaxed, and covering lots of ground. I also noticed, while she was moving at the same speed trot as in the first loop, her HR was lower doing it. She was a lot calmer, and less stressed. She would jog for a mile or so then slow to a walk for a few minutes, then pick up the jog again. We had no incidents, except for when a little garter snake slithered out form underfoot. She jumped strait up, and forward about 6 feet. Then stopped, and pretended nothing had happened. Embarrased she had been scared by that itty bitty little snake I guess.
We were doing pretty good, she was pacing herself well. But about 3 miles before the finish I had to get off. I had fallen going up the stairs (WTF??) the day before and landed with my kneecap on the riser. My knee was killing me. I got off, and almost collapsed. We limped along for about a mile before my knee started to work again. So I heaved myself back up into the saddle. By this point I was pretty sure we wouldn' t make it in in time. By my clock, we had 8 minutes to complete the 1 1/2 or so miles. So I made her walk quite a bit. BIG MISTAKE!!! As we got closer, she started calling (Well, not really "started", as she had called occasionally throughout the entire 10 miles). Suddenly the two Gotlands left in camp answered, and I had another trot-away! I was laughing as I came over the hill. Jill and Debbie, said before they could tell it was me, they knew by the distinctive Gotland Trot! She was motoring as fast as her legs would carry her.
As I stopped beside the trailer to drop my saddle and pick up the sweat scraper, I heard someone yell "Bring her over here, you can still complete!" WHAT?! We took off to the water troughs, and several people came over to dump buckets over Willow and scrape the warm water off. Maura was there with her HRM, and Willow pulsed down VERY fast. Unfortunately, not fast enough. We missed by minutes. We got a complete, and the mileage, but no points.
That's OK. To me Willow did amazingly well, competing FAR above what I trained her for, and beautifully as well! We must have trotted 70-80% of that last 10 miles (except for the mile where I was on foot). Several people mentioned they were impressed by how well Willow did for her first long distance ride, and how quickly she pulses down.
Her vet out was great too. All A's except for the gut sounds, which were down to a B (goes A to D). She dragged me through the soundness check, and still was full of piss and vinegar! She got an hour rest, and more munchies while we waited for the final vet check.
Everyone was so great, saying how too bad I had missed it by minutes. Well next time I won't, because I won't give up!
Everyone was great, and so generous. A few gave me important pointers. One nice lady lent me her extra syringe and another gave me some electrolytes for Willow and showed me how to administer them. I liked the atmosphere, and the camaraderie the people displayed.
The ride vet seemed very curious about the breed. Asking me many questions. Like how smooth thay were to ride. I said probably the smoothest horse I've ever riden (and I've riden many horses while working at riding stables, and over 12 different breeds). He replied with "Even though they have to move their legs twice as fast?" Ha ha, such a comedian. *rolls eyes*
Can't wait for the next ride!