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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Today Was a Good Day

Today was not an idealistic day. Today was an adventure. Today I got to spend time with some of my favorite beings in the world. Ok, so maybe today was an idealistic day.

Yesterday we went to an equestrian camp we've never been to. To ride on trails we'd never been on. Lillie (10) was going to ride Sasha on trail for the first time. When I made the reservations, the forecast was beautiful. 65. Sunny. What we got was anything from a drizzle to a steady rain. And about 58 degrees.

This morning, we talked about just hanging around camp and then heading back home. This morning, I wanted to be a wimp. I convinced myself it would be good for the horses to camp overnight and go home without being ridden. I didn't want to ride in the rain. I asked Lillie. Answer? "I want to ride." So ride we did!

We could have moved out after our customary 10 minute walking warm up. But Lillie was happy just walking on Sasha. Since this was their first trail ride together, I wanted it to be a good experience. Slow distance was just fine. After awhile, the trail turned where we had to walk anyway. Mud, rocks, twists and turns and ups and downs. And rain. Did I mention it was raining?

After a good long walk, we met up with Daniel who had driven out to walk some trails. After we saw him, the going got scary.

We ended up going down some cowboy trails (these were the official trails) that scared me. Deep, sucking mud and steep. Did I mention it was raining? Tanna was very solid and steady. But I was still scared. One slip and...whoops, don't think like that. Breathe. Sasha came sliding behind us. I coached Lillie on how to ask Sasha to tuck her rear end. I don't know if it worked. I couldn't spare much time to look back. Down at the bottom. Wow, up the other side. Ok, breathe, here we go. No, Tanna, you can't rush this; we have to walk. Go, baby, go. No, Lillie, don't let her past me. Make her walk. Good girl, Sasha. Whew, we made it! We agreed we did NOT want to do that again.

We headed down the trail. Soon after there was another similar section, but a lot shorter. Into a creek. Tanna refused to go further down the creek due to very slippery rocks and a drop down. He does not refuse me often. He will try his hardest for me. Sometimes I fail him. Today, I listened. He said no, so I agreed.

However, turning around meant going back the way we came. Back down the steep, muddy, long incline. And back up the other side. Lillie and I discussed it. We really had no option. So we took a deep breath (or several), adjusted our helmets and pointed our horses back the way we came. Did I mention it was raining? And I hate heights? Tevis (not that this compares to Tevis in any way shape or form) has never appealed to me because I hate heights. And Sasha had likely never seen this type of terrain anywhere? Protect us, Lord.

Over the side we went. Down, down, down. Tuck that rear end. Control the descent. But don't stop. Come on, little mare, you can do it. (What on earth would I do if she refused to follow Tanna??) We all reached the bottom in one piece. Deep breath, just have to get up that hill, then we're fine. Ok, let's go. Don't let her blast up, but keep her moving. Grab mane, center my weight, come on, Tanna, up, up. What a good boy. Come on, Sasha, keep coming, girl. Wahoo!!! The top!! We are done! Thank you, Lord! The rest is a cakewalk compared to that.

I think those hills would not be nearly as scary without the mud. Maybe I just need to go back and do them over and over until I'm no longer scared of them. Maybe in July. When it hasn't rained in 45 days.

Now, lots of you from all over the country will likely be laughing your heads off at my fear. Ok. That's ok. I'm not afraid to admit I was afraid. I am super duper pleased with my horses. Sasha could have quit on us. That was some hard stuff for her. She did stop once or twice on some of the easier sections, but we got her going again. I'm not sure I could have ridden her through that by myself. I believe she needed Tanna to help show her how to handle herself in that terrain. Tanna was great and used his body as a block to help control her descent. Now if she'd lost her footing, nothing to do about that, but he controlled the speed downhill and made her back off and not rush it. Rushing it would have been bad.

We were all happy to get back to the trailer. To dry clothes (coolers for the horses), good food and retelling of the events of the day. After all that, Lillie still says she wants to keep riding Sasha. It was a good day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

It's been a long winter!

Hoping that now that daylight saving time has come, the good weather is not far behind!

We had a period of 3 weeks or more where we were pretty much home-bound. Nashville does not do ice and snow!

Sasha, the new mare, has settled in nicely. I did a 25 mile ride with her in November at Blackwater Boogie. She did really well for being a little mare just out of the hunter/jumper arena. That was maybe her 20th trail ride ever. She ate extremely well. I'm so used to Tanna being so picky, it's refreshing to have the mare almost knock me over to get to her food.



Tanna has been resting since his 100 mile attempt and seems ready to get back to work.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

2014 AERC National Championship 100 Mile Ride

Daniel and I spent all day Sunday prepping our new trailer (picked up Saturday night!) for the trip to TX. 540-some-odd miles. Destination: AERC National Championship, Priefert Ranch, Mount Pleasant, TX.

Monday morning, Daniel zipped off to the tire shop to replace the trailer spare tire while I hauled hay and finished 100 little chores.

The new trailer!!
Finally on the road with Tanna, entered in the 100-mile championship and Sasha, my new endurance prospect, along to be Tanna's buddy horse and get some more experiences.

Trailer cam had to be added before we could leave.
We arrived at camp around 7 PM and were met by the ride manager and her husband and led to where we were going to camp. Being the first non-management/volunteer rig to arrive, we got our pick of the parking. Daniel parked right across from where the trails enter and leave camp.

271 overpass at night

We were able to quickly set up camp, putting out the high ties, hay bags and water buckets. We walked the horses for a good hour, scoping out the start of the trail and walking the last mile of the loops.

Tuesday, I decided to ride Sasha. I attempted to pre-ride the trail, but after the 3rd gate in 1/4 mile and lots of cows in the pastures (this IS a working ranch after all!!), I decided to retrace my steps and left the pastures behind.

271 overpass


All but one of the loops out of camp passed under the new highway 271 and all the loops came back that way. When I rode Sasha out that direction, I had dismounted to walk her under it. The thump-thump-thumping overhead scared her pretty badly, so I was glad to have dismounted. Since I decided to not pre-ride the trail after all, I spent 45-60 minutes getting Sasha used to the overpass. First we stood back and I let her watch the trucks and cars going overhead. And she did look. After she was bored, I moved her closer until we were under the overpass. We did leading games for a good long while under the overpass until her reactions were mild and her heart rate reasonable.

Sasha and I finished up our ride by doing 4 or 5 laps around the field that made up the last mile for all trails.

I got a quick shower and walked the horses before my boss showed up to see how we camp and how I spend my off time. Daniel and I showed off our new trailer and then we all headed to eat at the nearby Chili's.

Sasha after her 15 mile training ride.
Wednesday, I rode Sasha again. I dispensed with the idea of trying to open the gates and just stayed in the large field next to camp. Round and round and round we went...for over 15 miles. Good enough recovery and performance to make me think she might be able to try a 25 mile ride in the near future.

Wednesday afternoon, we checked in for the 100 mile ride and vetted in. We zipped off to the nearby Walmart for a few last-minute things and back for the ride meeting.

Thursday morning, alarm at 4:30, mounted by 5:45, start at 6 AM in the dark. I used my "nighttime" helmet that has a light mounted to it. Also had a Garmin Virb camera mounted.

Loops 26 miles, 25 miles, 15, 10, 11, 11. With hold times 50, 50, 40, 30, 30.

The riders all started at a walk. We soon picked up a slow trot and stayed together for awhile, but then we all begin to separate. By the time we reached the first gate into the ranch, Tanna and I had separated to the back. Tanna does much better on his own in these situations. Has a much better attitude and pays attention to his feet.

I have to pause here and comment on the gates. We went through a lot of gates. All day long, Gate after gate after gate. As mentioned earlier, this is a working cattle ranch, so gates have to be shut or opened as dictated by the ranch. While I had to open those gates myself when I rode earlier in the week, during the ride these gates were manned by a very nice group of Future Farmers of America kids. All but one of the gates were promptly opened for me with a smile. The other gate I actually had to get myself. ;-) The kids were sheepishly apologetic when they realized I had gotten it myself, but they weren't expecting me so soon. :)

It was a little freaky riding in the dark on trails I'd never ever been on. The other night rides I've done, I've known the trails very well in the daylight. But after awhile, I relaxed and enjoyed myself. At one point, we passed a herd of cows just a few feet to our left. They were all staring at us. Freaky reflections from my headlamp. Fortunately, Tanna did not even flinch.

The red loop
The first loop was actually 2 loops. The 11 mile loop, dismount and trot for the vets and then the 15 mile loop. When Tanna and I finished the trot out, I put him on his high tie while I switched helmets. To my surprise, Tanna was eating. So I waited for about 10 minutes until he decided he was done eating.

Then I remounted and off for the remainder of the 1st loop, which was the 15 mile loop. We were pretty much by ourselves for the entire ride. We'd occasionally see other riders on other parts of the trail, but we didn't ride with anybody else.

At the vet check, we pulled tack and took Tanna right to the vet. Good vet scores, everything was a go. Back to the trailer where Tanna proceeded to eat heartily, including his beet pulp. He doesn't normally eat beet pulp during a ride, but I was happy to see him doing it.

When I pulled his tack, I noticed he had a little bit of hair disturbance on his right loin. So I decided to put some Show Sheen along the back of the saddle pad. But when I was remounted and headed to the release timer to go back on trail, I realized I hadn't done that. So Daniel told me to go ahead and he'd get the show sheen for when I passed back by the trailer on the way out on my loop. There was a little mix up in my out time, so it took me longer to be released than we thought, so Daniel just brought the Show Sheen and my mounting block over to the release timer. I was cleared to go out on trail, but I hopped off and lifted the saddle to spray Show Sheen under it along the back edge to reduce friction. Remounted, I headed out on the next long loop.

The blue loop
This was a very long loop. We saw some new trail that I enjoyed. I even saw some donkeys hiding among the cows. Tanna hit the 40 mile blues where he was confused why we were retracing our steps and not exactly happy we were alone. I let him mosey for awhile. It was warm and I don't usually clip for a single day. I did ask him to move out when it was breezy and/or in the shade. After awhile, (as he usually does), he perked up and moved out on his own again.

Back at the vet check, I noticed Tanna a little ticklish in his loin area, but then didn't get any reaction. I asked the vet to pay special attention to the area, but nothing was really found at that point. In hindsight, I think he was guarding that area. He's a tough little guy and handles pain well. Maybe too well sometimes.

Tanna was still eating well. Going back and forth between his mash (beet pulp, alfalfa pellets and Omolene 100), straight Omolene 100, alfalfa hay and carrots. I quickly braided up his mane for the next 15 mile loop. I was planning to take it easy on this next loop and hopefully pick up the pace after the weather turned cool again.

Out on the 15 mile loop. This was the same 15 mile loop we'd done during the first long loop. Most of it was very nice, but there was one section I was very very happy to tell Tanna we would not have to do again. Tanna didn't seem to like it very much either.

During this loop, Tanna's HR monitor showed brief periods of high heart rate, but usually, it would return to a normal rate. I thought at the time that it was electrode placement or maybe the battery needed to be changed. Still possible, but in light of the ending, I wonder if maybe he was showing some pain.

This loop we had some cows standing in the road. They just stared and stared at us until we got within about 20 feet, then headed down the road in front of us.

Back at the vet check, Tanna was reacting more on his back than he had previously. Too far back to be saddle related. We took him to the vet, but I had a sinking feeling we were done. Tanna trotted out slightly lame. 54/54 cri though. They held his card and we hand walked him and fed him and kept him warm, but when we re-presented, I watched Daniel trot him out and Tanna did not move right. Before Daniel got to the turn around, I had decided I was pulling him if the vets didn't. But as Tanna trotted back, I could see Tanna was off. Verdict was left hind, but high up, likely in the loins where he had been reacting slightly earlier. I think it started in the right loin, then the left had to compensate too much for too long.

So our journey ended at 67 miles. I was disappointed, but pulling was the exact right thing to do. By Friday morning, Tanna was only slightly reacting when his back was palpitated and by the time we loaded him in the trailer to go home the next day, there was no reaction and no fill in his legs. A good recovery.

From what I understand from talking to other riders and vets, the terrain likely played a role in the pulls. Other riders were pulled for similar issues. Lameness with the cause suspected or pinpointed high in the back end. My personal thought is that the terrain caused the problem because while it was dry, the ground had dried in ruts and caused instability for the horses that didn't seem readily apparent.

Riders from the back, front and middle were pulled, so it's not likely that speed caused this issue.

I am glad we went and tried. Disappointed that we did not finish. But so glad Tanna is good to go for another day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Playing Catch Up (Again)

Ok, so it's been a long time. I have this thought that every blog post should be insightful and wordy. I should get over that and just keep things simple and quick. Mhmm.

Well, so quickly.

This season has turned out very differently than planned.

I had planned to do Lillie's first 50 this year. Maybe even Rinnah's. Unfortunately, their horse, Rain, was not suitable for us and we returned him to his owner (he was on lease). So the girls have not been able to compete this season.

I had planned to do Snap's first AERC ride(s) this season. Instead, I woke up one day and realized that I am not a horse trainer, I do not play one on TV and I really didn't need to be breaking Snap. So I made a tough decision to sell him. So he is gone.

We are currently evaluating a mare for the new addition to the herd. If we buy her, I will do an intro later. If not, well, then I'm still looking for that perfect horse. I decided that 4 horses was a little much, so we just have the one spot in the pasture.

Tanna has had a decent season. We have completed 3 50s so far this year. We started a 4th one at Biltmore in July. He was rocking right along when he came up lame just before the 2nd vet check. It turned out to be an abscess. So I went from being disappointed to being amazed that Tanna did 29 miles with a brewing abscess. He really does give and give.

Serts is hanging out being a good retiree.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Regarding Omeprazole

The April 2014 edition of the Endurance News has an article discussing the possibility of allowing endurance horses in AERC events to compete while on Omeprazole.

A common argument, I've heard: "everybody else does it." Really? I was told by my mama at a very young age that particular argument wasn't valid. The common rejoinder "if everybody jumped off a cliff…?" I'm not equating allowing omeprazole with jumping off a cliff, however, the argument "everybody does it" still isn't valid.

As I thought about this issue, several questions came to mind.
  1. Will marginal horses that should have been weeded out of the sport be allowed (even encouraged) to continue to compete to their detriment and the detriment of the sport? (I can think of at least one horse that was weeded out of the sport, and rightly so, due to continued issues with ulcers. Would this rule have allowed him to keep running until something worse happened?)
  2. Should we be letting people take the easy way out by dosing their horse with a drug, rather than managing the horse better? There are management techniques to deal with horses that don't or won't eat due to stress. And keeping a full belly is a good start to managing a horse prone to ulcers. The article in the Endurance News points out this rule change is really to benefit multi-day horses and cautions that drugs are not the [only] answer. Management is still key. However, will people really try to go down the management route before putting drugs into their horse if it's sanctioned by AERC?
  3. Since Omeprazole is used for treatment and prevention of ulcers, where do we draw the line on allowing horses being treated for ulcers to compete? Is there a way to tell if the horse is being treated vs just on preventative? Will drug test levels tell us that? If so, will drug test levels tell us whether the horse is on preventative or just at the start of their treatment phase for a full blown case of ulcers?
  4. Do we really know the long-term effects of allowing Omeprazole for endurance horses? From my understanding, the drug inhibits acid production. Stomach acid is part of the digestive process and is required to help breakdown the foodstuffs the horse is eating. If not enough acid is present, then the effect could be to dump undigested food into the hind gut, which can change the PH of the hind gut and cause the death of healthy microbial population which is necessary for fiber breakdown. Is the hind gut any less important than the stomach? What's scary is we can't really check for that. I can't get a scope of my horse's hind gut. That only can happen at an autopsy.
  5. If we're going to allow Omeprazole, what about allowing Ranitidine (another ulcer treatment that also is good for hind gut ulcers) or Sucralfate (a coating agent; also reportedly good for hind gut)? Why just Omeprazole?
Currently the rules allow for a full dose of Gastrogard (Omeprazole at a full tube; a treatment dose) 24 hours before the start of a ride. And a horse can be given anything they want after a completion exam. Is there really a need to allow dosage of Omeprazole during a vet check?

I believe AERC as an organization needs to be comfortable with the answers to these questions before making this important decision.

* A good article discussing Equine Ulcers by Kerry J. Ridgeway, DVM

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Garmin Astro Dog (Horse) Tracking System

After the many loose horses at Skymont 2013, I have decided to go tech for insurance against the time my horses end up getting loose.

Several years ago, Daniel and I purchased a Garmin Astro 220 dog tracking handheld unit. At the same time, we purchased 2 DC30 dog collars. The Astro 220 is now discontinued as are the DC30 dog collars. The dog collars were too short to use for horses and the collars themselves made of rough nylon, which discouraged me from using them for the horses themselves. However, Daniel would put a DC30 collar on the back of my saddle in case my horse decided to dump me and leave me.

But Garmin has upgraded. Of course.

Enter the DC40 dog collar. This collar is great! It is self-contained and can be put on any 1" biothane collar. Which means I can get collars that will fit the horses!

The unit itself weighs only 5.1 oz, including the antenna. I bought 1 unit to test it out since it is compatible with my Astro 220 handheld.

The Astro 320 is the new and improved handheld that is the upgrade of the Astro 220. We don't have a 320, but if we want another handheld, we'll purchase a 320.

There is a DC50 collar, but it is bulkier and does not work with the Astro 220 handheld. The DC50 does boast better satellite reception as well as better battery life, but I decided the DC40 should work for our purposes.

After charging the DC40 and painlessly linking it to my Astro 220 handheld, I retrieved a spare 1" dog collar from my box of dog goodies and used it to extend the length of the included DC40 collar. I then put it on Snap.

The tracking unit is just heavy enough to keep the unit rotated down at the bottom of his neck, allowing the antenna to stick straight up. The antenna is attached to the collar by zip or twist ties to keep it from flopping all over and stay pointing up.


 Here's a view under his chin. You can see the lump doesn't really interfere with anything.

The off side. This is 2 dog collars joined together to make it long enough for Snap's neck. If the testing bears out, we'll get color coded collars for each of the competition horses.


Snap has no issues lowering his head to eat or, in this case, to lick the mineral block. (Don't worry, he gets loose salt in his feed every day as well. The mineral block is for any extra he decides he wants/needs and for the deer.)

Here you can see the data displayed about the horse. He's approximately 65 feet away. You can see the battery life, the GPS reception, as well as the communication strength with the handset itself. You can Select Go To to get an arrow that points right at him.

This view shows the compass. The red arrow is Snap. The blue arrow is one of our old DC30s. I've turned my back on Snap and you can see this is telling me that Snap is behind me, slightly to the left and approximately 67 feet away.

I left the tracking device on Snap until the battery died. The battery is a rechargeable battery, not regular AAs. However, the Astro 220 handheld does use 2 AA, so you can change those batteries on the fly.

The DC40 battery lasted 27 hours 37 minutes transmitting his location every 5 seconds. Advertised battery life at that rate is 17 hours. I can extend battery life by changing the transmitting interval to 10, 30, or 120 seconds.

I'm thinking 10 seconds should be plenty, resulting in a good battery life, while providing good updates if I'm actually trying to track him. You cannot change the tracking interval unless you're right next to the transmitter. So you can't set it to 120 seconds normally and bump it to 5 seconds after he runs off.

I kept the Astro 220 in the house with me. Every now and again, I would turn on the Astro 220 and let it connect with the DC40 to see where Snap was. I could tell if he was just outside the window or at the very back of our property, likely checking out the hay I put out.

The unit did not seem to slow Snap down at all. He was his usually jolly self, playing with Tanna, running pel mel up the hill for no apparent reason, and eating his supper out of his bucket.

I pulled the GPS track from the DC40 onto the computer this morning. In 27 hours, Snap roamed for 5 hours and 12 minutes and was relatively still for the remainder of the time. He wandered 11 miles over his 3 acre field, playing with Tanna, moving with the herd and checking out the hay spots.

All in all, I'm fairly pleased so far.

Yes, there are downsides to this system. It's a line of sight system. So if I'm in a valley, but Snap is in another valley with a mountain between us, the Astro 220 handheld won't pick him up. However, if I move up the ridge line, I should start to get a bead on him and be able to head in his direction.

I don't plan on tying Snap (or any of my horses) with the collar that holds the DC40. I would want to minimize any risk of that collar breaking and then him running off without the DC40.

Next steps are to put the collar on the other horses and see how long the battery lasts and how the older horses take to having the collar on.

If this all works out, we'll purchase an Astro 320 handheld (which is the 220 upgraded) and we'll have 2 handhelds which will allow Daniel and me to split up and cover more ground.

Horses Sometimes Get Loose

A fact of endurance riding is loose horses. Not at every ride, but at some rides, horses seem to get loose at an alarming rate. Happily, most horses are recovered within a few minutes or hours and most without serious injury.

However, there are those other stories. The ones where the horses are lost for weeks in the woods and maybe are never seen again. I read these stories and ache for those riders missing their equine friends.

My husband, Daniel, has been involved in many happy horse recoveries over the years, but I am usually in another place doing another thing. Usually riding.

Last weekend, at the Skymont endurance ride, nearly every popular containment system failed.

Several horses got loose from an electric corral on Friday morning, leading searchers on a merry chase down the road before a local person managed to corner and catch one of the horses. Fortunately, the other horses hung around until more help could arrive and catch all of them. Daniel ended up leading all 4 energetic horses back to camp from the back of a [motorized] mule.

Sometime overnight Friday night, another horse managed to get out of a metal corral system. He was caught not too far away. Meanwhile, his buddy snapped his high tie (unsure of the brand) and took off as well.

On Sabbath, another horse managed to slip his halter and lead other searchers on a merry chase down the pipeline for several hours. Yet another just walked away from the trailer he was tied to after apparently untying himself.

Oh, and don't think because it hasn't happened to you, it can't. One owner of one of the loose horses had said "I haven't had a loose horse in 30 years." What is that Proverb? Pride goeth before a fall?

Dozens of volunteers, including Daniel and me, spent many hours over 2 days covering miles and miles searching for Fougueux, a pretty chestnut wearing a green blanket. In the end, he was caught Sunday evening, just before dark, over 3 miles from ridecamp, down a steep grade. Amazingly, he seemed to be in great shape with very few obvious injuries.

All this excitement, caused me to think about my own horses getting loose. How would we find them? What if we didn't have dozens of volunteers to comb the woods? What if they weren't wearing a distinctive blanket that would aide hunters or other casual observers to point us in the right direction?

Anybody who knows me knows a couple things about me. One being, I'm a tech geek. I like tech. I like gadgets. I have a lot of them. So, I am turning to tech to help me locate one of my horses should they get loose.

Hunters have needed such technology for years to follow their hunting dogs or simply locate a dog that went too far afield. Why not use the same technology for horses?

So, join me after the break to discuss the Garmin Astro dog tracking system...for horses.