Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Best Intentions...

If anyone is wondering where I went this summer and what happened to my big plans for more competitive rides...

I was riding on Willow, with Jill and Debbie and Jill's two guests from Switzerland. All of us were on Gotlands, it was quite fun! Jill borrowed Belle, Camelia's daughter that lives with Kit.

Willow decided to be a knob, and spook at a duck that flew up out of the grass under her nose. I mean, really, was that necessary? Actually, I think it startled me more than her! But she spooked down into the ditch, then spun and lunged back up it. I got tangled in one stirrup as I went to kick loose. There was nothing to hold onto on a Torsion, so I just slid off her butt. SPLAT!!! With my legs out in front of me.

Of course, I got back on the horse and rode for another 6 miles. This may be been the root of my problem. Or maybe it was the ride I snuck in a week later...

I visited the doc at the insistance of my hubby and friends. She said I didn't break anything. So I can go riding right?, I say. She says NO! you need to take 4-6 weeks off for the muscles and ligaments to heal (I buggered up ligaments and they can take longer to heal). I am going to do this right and not risk future pain by returning to riding too soon. My back is bad enough already!

So I have been good and not riding. I am pretty cranky. This week is week 4. I might last to the end of the week.

Willow is maintaining condition pretty good. I'll just start riding her slow again and work up her wind again and we should be ready for the fall ride in Bel Air! Woohoo!

Not as many rides as I might have wished, but we did pretty good this year. And I am deterimined to do my first 20 mile CT at Bel Air this year!

They're Here! They're here!

Well, it's been a long wait. But the horses are finally here!

I did all the fencing myself, so it took much longer than if I had hired someone! And there was that never-ending wait for the fencer to come in! I finished up the fencing on Friday morning, but didn't have the electric fence tester and I was too busy to finish after work (up to 1am baking for the Saturday Farmer's Market). On Saturday it poured all day. I don't know that much about electrical, but it seemed unsafe to play with it in the pouring rain. We also didn't have the riding mower to do one last trim before the horses move in. There is WAAY too much grass for Willow in here.

So early Sunday morning Mark and I woke up, I sent him the 1+ hour drive up to pick up the mower (friend fixing it for free). While I went over next door and loaded all my horse stuff that had accumulated into the quad and trailer (and borrowed Bill?s fence tester!). Wow, you sure accumulate fast! I filled my trailer! It began to rain? for the third day! I didn't care; they were coming home today, no matter what. I brought the stuff back to my place, and cleaned out an area in my gardening shed. I began moving things in. I built shelves, carried buckets of sand in to level the floor, made a saddle rack, hung hooks. I have a nice little area now. This small blue shed has two doors, one beside a big window that acts as my greenhouse and faces the middle yard (no horses) and the back door that leads out into the Paddock Paradise setup for the horses.

As I was finishing up, I heard Mark return home. It seemed like he had been gone forever! We unloaded the riding mower from the back of the van (yes, we did just drive it up inside the van! It was an awesome van - it kicked the bucket on that drive home - RIP). Mark didn't care that it was still raining, he started the mower up and mowed the grass on the tracks in the rain. Then he pestered me unmercifully until I put down what I was trying to finish, and we went over to get the horses. The rain stopped as we walked over, and the beginning of a beautiful evening appeared.

Pat came out to meet us as we brought the horses in and put the halters on them. My two were the only ones who willingly left the pasture to come stand by the gate to be haltered. The rest knew they weren't included on this trip. Mark took Willow while I led Narra, Pat followed along behind. Narra led nicely for once and we went down the road in a direction she had never been before. We passed our front yard with no event, as we had locked the dogs I the house. Then we were leading the horses into their new yard. We took them the whole circuit of their new tracks to see all the fencing.

Along the west edge near the pond.

In the Trees.

Then we put the grazing muzzle on Willow and turned them loose to explore.

Narra walking over the two jumps I put in the tracks for interest.

I took them over to the loose salt and mineral feeder I had built them, to make sure they knew where it was.

I took the muzzle off Willow so she could graze and relax for a while. The evening was perfect. Mark and I sat there, with a cooler in hand and just watched the horses on that perfect evening.

The next day dawned wet and dreary, but that was OK. I woke up at 6:30, just to go out and look at the horses. I took the muzzle off again to let Willow have her breakfast. 30 minutes later when I put it back on, she was actually enthusiastic about wearing it (may have been the special cookies I had in there...)

Later that day, just before Mark left for work, we took it off again for her to graze and this time we brought Enten in to see them.

Everyone is adjusting fine, and seems pretty happy. There are tracks already worn into the muddy ground and they are using ALL the trails we made. Awesome!

As I write this, the girls are out under the big oak tree. Narra lying down and Willow standing over her, both relaxing in the brief morning sun. Will it never stop raining?


Saturday, June 20, 2009

We did it!

I achieved my goal, and finished in less time than last ride! I placed 9th... out of nine... but only 2 minutes after the 8th place finisher!

Summer is finally heating up here. And last weekend's ride was on the first real warm day we've had. So even though I groaned when I realized I would have to wake up at 6am, I was happy we were scheduled to start an hour earlier than normal.

It was a nice relaxing morning for me. I got to the barn by 7 and was on the road by 7:30. I actually arrived on time for once - no rushing! I got signed up, tacked up and was actually waiting around for the ride to start. Unheard of!

It was overcast and breezy, but you could feel the heat coming, so we were all anxious to get started. I stood around with all the experienced endurance horses at the start line. They were all anxious to get going... Willow was more anxious to get as much grass in her stomach as possible.

The time keeper finally said it was a go and we were all off quickly. Willow and I stretched out in a nice trot, but we were quickly outdistanced by the others. That was OK, I had one person behind me; he had a young horse and wanted to teach her to not gallop like a mad thing at the start. Willow was too sensible to do something like that... that would be too much like work!

We maintained a good trot for about a mile and a half before we were passed by the rider behind us. But that didn't last long as I called him back from the wrong trail. We continued on.

All of a sudden, a pack came up from behind us. I was confused! These people had long outdistanced me! They had taken the wrong trail.

Willow and I had a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious)... this meant we were in the lead! We'd NEVER been in the lead before! Now she got excited! I asked if they (six of them) wanted to pass. But they said Willow was setting a good pace. This surprised me as Willow was 2-3 hands shorter than all of them. And she wasn't even doing her power trot!

Willow was determined to stay in the lead, even though I could feel that she wanted to slow to a walk. She realized that they would then pass her. So she started playing her passive-aggressive/ psychological games. She would suddenly swerve, with no warning to me or the horse behind her, from one side of the trail to the other; like a car in movie chase scene. She would spook at nothing, as if to say "ahhh! It's gonna eat us! Turn around and run away! I'll distract it while you escape! (hehe)". And turning to give the evil eye while dancing around and casting a voodoo hex. OK, so the last was an exaggeration! BUT SHE WOULD IF SHE COULD!!!

Finally, after a mile, I pulled her back and let them pass. I didn't want her to blow her wad, all at the beginning. I got off and walked for a bit, let her cool down. Then I got back on and we began motoring again.

Around mile 6, the rider with the young horse came up behind us. Luckily it was a mare, so Willow wasn't tempted to kick her head of. The ONLY gelding she tolerates seems to be her son. Interesting.

My riding partner had done lots of endurance rides in the past, competing at the Nationals last year, so I took the opportunity to learn. He set the pace, but very soon his young mare refused to pass Willow. She was quite happy being second. And that's how Will liked it!

It started to heat up. We got off and walked a mile or so, trying to get them to drink at the many puddles. I was just hoping Will wouldn't get down and roll like she had last year here. I brought extra shoes this year.

We got back on and tried to finish the loop quicker to give us more time for the second one. We ended up pulsing down in the same time as last ride - 2h 53m. But this time we had already done 15+ miles. I was satisfied.

I ran Willow through her vet check - well actually she ran me! I practically had to sprint to keep up with her. The vet said she looked great. She had actually improved on a few of her scores and her slight limp from vet-in had gone away.

We wandered over to the trailer to get some food into Will. I had made up a bowl of soaked alfalfa cubes before I left. I added some ground flax and another 1/2 litre of water and pushed it in front of her. She slurped it up double time and then went over to her hay. I mixed her up a second bowl; 3/4 lbs Grow N' Win pellets, 1+ litre of water and a dose of electrolytes (safe to give her now that I got some water into her). This too disappeared in short order. I scarfed down a sandwich, then started brushing her off.

We were ready ahead of time at the end of our hold, so I let her have some more grass. She needed the water and electrolytes in it for the second loop - it was heating up. I set out with my riding companion of the first loop.

Neither horse was feeling really excited to be leaving camp. By five miles into the second loop, my legs were killing me from constantly urging her on. My companion had given up even any pretense of trying to pass me and set a quicker pace. The young, inexperienced mare wasn't prepared for this type of work and wasn't really feeling like moving very fast.

If I had been alone I could have probably completed faster, as Willow wouldn't have been constantly waiting for the mare behind her. We could have cantered more and made things interesting for her.

While I did cross the finish line before him, I had problems with my HRM and so we pulsed down 2 minutes after the young mare. Oh, well. I had still obtained my goal for the day and was very satisfied with Willow's performance.

Willow once again raced me up and down for the trot-out and got great marks for the day. Actually prompting the vet and the scribe to say that this was the best they've ever seen her at a finish, even though she did complete it faster. Awesome!

My goal for the next ride is to keep her in shape over summer and at the August Spruce Woods ride, to complete it another 15 minutes faster. ... now I just need to get hubby to stay home and watch the other animals for the weekend!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First ride of the Season! Bird's Hills Park

June 1st

Wheww!!! Tiring but AWESOME!

The trails in Bird's Hills were perfect. The trees were finally greening up, the sun was out and there was a nice breeze. It was warm enough to please me and with the cool breeze and sun dappled trails Willow was pretty pleased too. I spent the whole day in the trees, listening to bird song and smelling the cherry blossoms. It was the perfect day for a ride.

Hmm, that might have been part of my problem... too much time stopping to smell the flowers!

Willow was the fittest I had ever seen her. She has gone from ~850 lbs this winter to a fit 720lbs. She has so much more energy. The past two weeks I've been riding her around home.

She is pretty herd bound so I tried a new program with her. I took her out alone, so the others didn't have to try and keep up with us. We WALK down the road to the highway, dance over to the dike, and trot the full length (1 mile). Slowing only to cross the road and turning onto the other dike. We canter a half mile down there, cross back onto the road beside us and I try to contain her in a power trot down the road - paved or gravel; she ain't slowing! Then we make another turn into a wide grassy ditch and canter again (slow down; I said CANTER!) another half mile, walk a hundred feet or so back up to the road and trot the rest of the mile. Then in the turn to home, she has expended enough energy I can now walk. Whew!

At the barn I quickly switch to a halter and lunge her like crazy - no breaks and no treats! My GPS says this is another mile. Then I snap on the reins to my sidepull and remount and off we go to the highway, the whole time convincing her, yes, we really DO have to leave the yard! At the highway, as close as she will let me get to the whizzing by cars and trucks; I hop off, loosen the cinch and let her eat. Five minutes of that and then we walk home.

Every time, it gets easier to leave the yard. But man, it is taking more and more to tire her out! Remind me again why conditioning is a good thing?!

On Saturday, May 30 we did the full 25 miles and in the time allowed so we got our completion, but not a placing. We were considerably behind the leaders.

The first loop went well. Mostly trotting and the occasional canter and walk. We did 13.4 miles in 2 hours 53 minutes. She vetted in very well with only a few B's - a bit of dehydration. We wandered over to get lunch. Mark had joined me and helped us both get fed. I gave Will lots of soaked concentrated feed and a shot of electrolytes. I gave her a few bowl fulls to be sure she got enough to eat for the second loop. The second loop felt a lot faster. It wasn't much shorter at 11.3 miles but we did it in 2 hours.

About 3 miles into the second loop Will was getting very bored with all the trotting, and didn't want to go anymore. We were walking about 1.5mph, with her head turned back in the direction of camp. So finally I thumped her into a canter. She perked up a bit, so I urged her on, and on; soon we were tearing down the trails at 20mph. She had woken up. But then I though; no way we were going to finish in this amount of time! But I wasn't going to repeat my mistake of last year, so we went for it! I really pushed her. And we got back before max time. Whoot!

She pulsed down real quick and vetted pretty good. A little thirsty and STARVING, but that's it.

As I stood there letting her eat I chatted with the vet. I was getting to know this vet better, and realizing what a wealth of information he could be. He asked me what my goals were with Willow and the sport. He had been the Canadian team's assistant vet when they went to Malaysia last year, and was at the Nationals in Alberta last year - he knows his stuff!

I replied, in order of priority; I want to have fun, I want Willow and I to do it healthy, and I want to improve every time out! I know we will never be competitive with the others, she has to take twice as many steps, but it won't stop me from riding!

He said it is all achievable; he thought Willow still had lots of gas in the tank at the end of this ride. So now I have a better game plan and next time I will push her harder!

My goal for the Mars Hills ride in 2 weeks is to finish 15 minutes quicker.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Better late than never...

Well, I am finally getting started on my conditioning for the 2009 ride season. I know, very late! But I got delayed with health reasons, and doctor said I couldn't ride! Hubby insisted I listen to doctor. Pshhht! What do they know?!

We have been staying in the saddle all winter with awesome lessons with Ashley Fudge, a coach in Centered Riding principals. It's amazing how that arena work has improved our trail riding! We even dabbled a bit in Dressage, and were talking about an all-Gotland drill team. I feel so much better out there!

It's finally spring here in Manitoba (if you don't count today in Selkirk - it's snowing!). Bird's Hill Park is drying out nicely, and there are several trails that are dry enough for riding already. Some have small pools of water over the grass, but the ponies hooves don't sink deep.

Here is the Blue Kiln trail on our first ride on April 27th. It was a beautiful day! The sun was warm and bright and there was a light breeze, just enough to keep our still shaggy ponies cool.

I set out with friends Michele and Ilonka, who were riding Willow's two offspring, Huckleberry and Mayberry. They are 4 and 5 years old, respectively. And it was Huck's first trail ride! Michele and Ilonka have been taking lessons with the same coach as me all winter, and have taken huge strides forward with their young horses. I am a little (OK, a lot!) in love with Huck. He is as handsome as his sire and very athletic! So they actually were all in decent shape to begin with. We did lots of trotting in the sand in lessons and so they were pretty well built up legs.

Just look at how relaxed Michele and Huck are for their first trail ride... though he was convinced the huge rocks at the side of the trail were out to eat him... He spent much of the ride out in front, leading. She has a very brave horse and they should have a great time as they settle in.

I wore my Garmin 401, the heart rate monitor and GPS unit, all on a small wrist monitor. My newest toy!!! Hubby got it for me for Xmas. Love that man; he always knows what to get me! So I hooked it up to Willow for the ride, here are our results...

We rode about 4.5 miles in about 1 hour 15 minutes. This gives us an average pace of 3.7 mph, not enough to complete a Limited Distance ride, but a good start for our training. As you can see Willow was pretty anxious, with a high heart rate much of the time. I kept looking down and being surprised to see she was at 200+ bpm, and yet felt and looked completely relaxed.

Here is a better caption of the speed graph. I love this program it is so fun to check out your workout! I was surprised to see some of the speeds we reached, as we were just trotting; and Willow is under 13hh. There were times where her kids couldn't keep up with her power trot, and had to canter to keep up. I can never tell when we go too fast; Willow has such a big stride and feels effortless that I don't notice our speed.

We didn't go far and we didn't go fast but at least we finally got out there! There have been two more such rides in the last week, and I will try to post more pictures as we go!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What a Ride!!!

Well, this morning started out amazing! It was only -6*C, and nice and sunny. There was a very light breeze. I've been having an absolutely abysmal week, so I had to get out riding before I yanked someone's head off! I called all my Gotland friends to see if someone would come out with me. It was too nice a day to waste. One friend couldn't come; she had to go get her hair done???!!! My hair could bloody well fall out! I mean, look at these trails...

I talked one friend into coming out, even though there was going to be a party at her place tonight (hardcore rider!). She is having a party for the opening of a movie that was filmed in her house. Another friend decided to walk with us (too much back problems to ride anymore). She was going to lead her mare along (the dam of my little filly).
So I got Willow dressed up in her treeless saddle (biggest winter advantage of these is the horse's warmth transfers well!) and the new Lindell-like sidepull I made her. She was eager to go, shoving her head into the bridle. We trooped around the ring for a few minutes as the others got organized. And then we were off!
The sun was out; in fact, by the time we got going I was actually sweating lightly! Course, that may have had to do with the excitement we had at the start of the ride... as we rode down the back trail into the woods, my little nutcase, affectionately called Dayanarra the Husband Slayer, decided that enough was enough! First we had separated her from her mom (she still hasn't gotten over being weaned form her mom - three months later!), and now mom was even leaving the yard (which she never does), but I was leaving, and on her only other friend! And she was left in the field with only the two cranky mares that don't like her! What was she to do???
... the little nutbar "was to" jump the bloody fence! Right over the electric fence, and through the next one (thank god it was off) to come join us. Oh, boy. Not something I wanted her to learn. Got the riding horses all hepped up. Pat, on the ground with the dam (who still allows her to nurse, grr!), got real nervous and started back to the barn to put baby away. Narra went to see mom, but at that moment Willow got very excited that her little buddy was there and ploughed through everyone to get to her, and off to the barn we jigged. Narra followed us, abandoning her mom (which makes me happy - she will be easy to pony off Willow next time).
We plunked Narra in the small pen – with the taller wooden fence! – with Sage. Sage was not happy to be a baby sitter! And we started out. And I prayed Narra would stay put!
Now where was I? …oh yeah …the breeze was warm and gentle through the trees, the sun dappled upon the ground. We had quite the ride. We went for almost 3 miles before returning to the barn. It was a perfect morning.
Now it’s miserable! The sun is still shinning, but the wind has now kicked up to 80, gusting to 100km/h. So if I suddenly go offline… look outside, that may be my house tumbling by!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wanted to share pics, as much of the trails are now lost to a fire!

Last May we went on a Competitive Trail ride, I didn't blog about it as I got so busy. But now I feel compelled to share, as there has been a big forest fire that has destroyed a big chunk of the provincial forest. It was started by a quader, during a quad poker derby two weekends later. Here are some pictures of the fire that was in the news...

But I prefer to remember our ride. It was amazing! We weren't sure about going on this ride, as it was a 2 hour drive south east of us. I decided to just do a 10 mile ride, as I didn't want to get up and out of the farm by 6:30am to make it to a longer ride! Ick, early riser I am NOT! So we all packed up, except for Michele's horse Cici (Michele injured herself) and made the trip out to Sandilands Provincial Forest.

It was a very brisk day, staying below 10 degrees C, and having a cool wind. But it was sunny and had great scenery! The four of us set out; me on Willow, Jill on Sage, Debbie on Meg and Ilonka on Mayberry. The trails were very interesting, with lots of hills (many with danger signs - eek!)

There were lots of hill and thick, gnarly roots sticking up in the trails, with tall pines waving softly overhead. We spent much of the 10 miles in the Gotland’s comfortable, ground-covering trot. I can still close my eyes now, almost a year later and remember the feel of the ride. It just seemed to flow.

We had so much fun on this ride, and it was I think my favourite trail of the year. There is a ride tentatively scheduled for October 2009 (if the trails get marked after the fire). It is definitely worth the 1 ½ drive to go again!

The worst Farrier… ever!

Just as Willow was beginning to recover from the Leg Sucking Mud Incident, we had a run in with a newbie farrier. The regular farrier (who is great!) was training an apprentice farrier. They can get the 7 horses done in record time! So I trotted out Willow for the new guy. I should have known things were not going to work when Willow tried to stomp him and chew his hide off. I was so busy trying to save him, I couldn’t watch what he was doing. I know, it’s no excuse… I know better now!

He put no roll on the front of the hooves (or breakover, whatever you call it), he pared out a bunch of sole and then completely took out her bars. There was nothing left to hold her feet together, and she was very tender until her sole grew back! She had massive flare very quickly. I was bad in so many ways.

Not even two weeks later, Will had horrible chips in all her hooves, and then long quarter cracks! Of course these showed up just as the Gotland people (Pat’s Gotland breeding friends from Denmark) were visiting. They just shook their heads at the trim and said should never see that with the Russ. So all the men trouped out to the barn and trimmed her up, and showed Bill the best way to trim a Gotland. I took a few trimmings from Bill, but she has the best feet out there now, and I have decided to learn how to barefoot trim myself! But it took several more weeks before I was confident to ride her.

So a few great things came from the visit, including meeting the Danes and going on some fun rides with them! But now I think: sure, I can trim myself - I couldn't possibly be any worse than that farrier we actually paid to do it!

Ride season is over *sob*

Well, the endurance season is over here in Manitoba, and mine didn’t go so well. Best laid plans… It started out great with a beautiful ride in Mars Hills, followed by the Sandilands Competitive Trail ride. At Sandilands, I rode with the other Gotlands Girls; Jill, Debbie and Ilonka (Michele was out with a bad back), so I just decided to have fun and do the 10 mile ride. It was amazing, beautiful and a total blast! (I’ll post the story with pictures later!).

And then we started to have problems! At the next ride, an endurance ride in Bird’s Hill Park, Willow and I decided we could do another 25 miler. So off we went. We were doing great, improving our time over previous rides by completing the first 15 mile loop in only 2 ¼ hours. Now, this may not seem like a great feat to more experienced riders, but remember Willow is only 13h, with short little legs and chunky monkey me on her back!

We enjoyed our 1 hour break, where they offered me a delicious stew. As I was leaving the camp site, Debbie and Jill rode in on their horses. I waved as I set out to enjoy the second loop, and hopefully my first completion of a 25 miler!

But 5 miles into the second loop, we came across mud. Great, big pools of leg sucking mud. The trees were tight and there was no way to avoid it. But I had been warned about this mud at the ride meeting this morning, told it wasn’t too bad, and that others had made it through fine yesterday. Unfortunately it had rained overnight, and I was the last horse through in a pack of 30+. We got through the first few patches OK, but then we kept running into more, and they just kept getting worse and worse. It was too late to turn back, and I just hoped they would end soon. I had to push Willow through them, but she was a trouper, always willing when I asked her to go on.

But at the last bog, she got tired halfway through and paused. She started to sink! We desperately thrashed our way out, and came to a shaking stop at the other end. I got off to check her out. No cuts or soreness yet, but even her belly was cake din mud. It may have only been up to the knees of the other horses, but we sank to her belly. Hmm, guess it was a good thing it was so big, it spread out our weight and stopped us from sinking further!

I hopped back on and we continued our ride. She was fine for a mile or two, but then I started to notice irregularities in her trot. Obviously she was sore from the mud. So I got off and walked her. Unfortunately, we didn’t know the trail in BHP yet and we didn’t know any shortcuts back to camp. We were forced to complete the ride.
We got back to camp around 6. The vet checked her out and we were obviously disqualified for lameness issues. He recommended a mud pack, and Maura was great at tracking down someone who gave me one, and she lent me her leg wraps to apply it. But she was off work for the next few weeks to recover. *sigh*