Sunday, September 08, 2013

BSF 2013 - Full of Lessons

Having missed the VA Highlands ride, I was very excited to go to the Big South Fork ride the weekend after Labor Day.

On Wednesday, Daniel and I finished loading the trailer, put the dogs in the truck, loaded up Snap, Rain and Tanna, and headed to BSF. This is an easy trip for us. 3 hours driving time. Add a stop for diesel and ice and we arrived at camp around 2:30 PM.

Rain is our new horse. He is a 16 year old gray Arabian gelding that we got for the girls to ride since Serts has been retired from competition. We are leasing him for the moment. He is doing great. We have had him for a little over a month and are working on getting him back in shape after 10 months of hanging out on pasture.

We pulled into our favorite spot, unloaded the horses and got them set up on their high ties. Snap on the side by himself on one of the TieRite ties. Rain on the other side at the back on the other TieRite. Tanna at the LQ window next to Rain. Tanna was on the HiTie brand. Really nice to have a quick set up for the horses.

We continued to do our camp chores until we were all set up; pausing to chat with others that were already there or pulling in. I still had plenty of daylight left, so I saddled up Snap and headed out on trail for a bit of a ride. I have been working Snap a lot just him and me. We've been having some issues with him spooking. Stopping short mostly, but some harder sideways spooks. We walked for about 10 minutes, then I asked for a trot.

Snap has a great trot, but he hasn't learned to relax in it much when we're out by ourselves. He's usually quite tense. This ride was no exception. He was tense and looking around. He would stop and snort at things.

On our way out, we met Nelia and Kara coming back in marking trail for the ride. Snap did quite well with passing them. No issues. I was pleased. Pretty sure that's the first time he's encountered horses going the opposite way on a narrow trail. At least when we're by ourselves. He did well and continued out the trail.

When we got to Bandy Creek about a mile from camp, he stopped and snorted and danced. Refusing to get his pretty feet wet. I just sat relaxed and blocked every effort to turn around to go back. Finally, he stretched his head down, blew at the water and stepped in. Walked calmly across. Goofy boy. Only took about 3 minutes. On we went, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting.

We were in a good trot and I was starting to think how well he was doing. We came around a bend in the trail and he spooked hard to the right. I didn't and fell on my rear. Lately, I've been thudding when I fall off, but this time, I actually bounced. Hit the ground and popped right back onto my feet. Snap was standing a few feet off, staring intently into the woods…at a stump. I walked up to him and took the reins.

The Barefoot Cheyenne saddle was on its side. A treeless saddle I picked up a couple months ago. It's a nice saddle, but tends to slip on Snap when he spooks like that. Likely because I'm too much in my feet and not enough on my seat. I do keep the girth quite snug on him. I loosened the girth, righted the saddle and tightened the girth again all while Snap danced and snorted. Maybe the stump moved.

I was nervous about getting back on, so I hand walked him down the trail (away from camp!) for a few hundred feet. Then I found a ledge along the trail, got back on and headed away from camp again. This time at a walk. No more trotting.

As we walked along, I analyzed. Snap still spooked at stuff, but at a walk his spooking was very mild and easy to ride. He wanted to look at EVERYTHING. So we walked. At the pavement, we turned around to go back to camp. And continued to walk.

Time to re-evaluate. I had been thinking of Snap as a horse that needs to be conditioned (muscled up) for a 25 mile ride. But he isn't ready for that. He needs lots of time on trail to look at things and realize they won't hurt him. I forget that things are so new to him. I've been rushing him and it's time to back off. So now, I'm not thinking about doing a competition on him anytime this season. We'll go out and walk and walk and walk. Maybe some trotting when with other horses or when he's totally relaxed.

Also, I'm going to fit my Specialized saddle to Snap and use the treed saddle on him for a good while. That way if he does spook hard, the saddle will stop slipping so much.

That was the first big lesson, paradigm shift number 1.

Wednesday evening, Jean, Rinnah and Lillie arrived to set up their tent next to our trailer. We visited, did chores and went to bed.

Thursday - more lessons

Thursday morning, Daniel headed out on his mountain bike to explore nearby bike trails. Rinnah and I took Snap and walked over to the Bandy Creek Stables to get Sport from his stall. Sport belongs to a good friend who let Rinnah ride him on Thursday. Rinnah had never ridden him before.

I picked up Sport's bit, breast collar and girth. Rinnah started off leading Sport back to our trailer about 1/2 mile away by trail. I followed leading Snap. Rinnah enjoyed walking with Sport.

Back at the trailer, I had Rinnah hand graze Rain nearby while Sport took Rain's high tie for saddling. I saddled Sport with the Bob Marshall saddle for Rinnah then switched out horses and saddled Rain with the Barefoot Cheyenne saddle for me.

Finally we were ready and I boosted Rinnah up on Sport, mounted Rain, and we headed off to find Ike and Rebecca to ride with them for a little bit.

We headed out on trail some walking, but trotting, too. At first Rinnah led, but felt uncomfortable in the front on a horse she didn't know, so she got behind me. But Sport moved out around Rain again and got back in front. I thought things were ok, but realized at this point, I should have insisted Rinnah get behind me again.

Rinnah came to a muddy area in the trail. Sport started to walk across, but changed his mind and jumped across. Something happened and he took off running. I suspect he might have been bitten by a bee, yellow jacket or horse fly. I hollered at Rinnah to stop Sport, but he didn't slow down. I was too far away to do anything. Sport took off through the woods instead of staying on trail. Rinnah hit a tree and slid off.

I frantically pulled Rain to a stop and slid off as Ike and Spyder zipped past me. I tossed Rain's reins to Rebecca and ran to Rinnah. She had gotten up and was coming toward me, crying. Walking and breathing, thank God, were my first thoughts. Ike saw that Rinnah was up and moving, so he went after Sport who was still running.

I saw blood on Rinnah's mouth. I gathered her to me and hugged her. Talking to her. Asking her to concentrate on breathing and calming down so I could take a look at her. When she seemed a bit calmer, I moved back from her and looked her over. Her upper and lower lips were busted on the left side of her face. Some minor scrapes on her left cheek. I could see her teeth and she wasn't spitting blood. So I moved on to her shoulder and collar bone. I quickly ran my fingers along her collar bone. Rinnah impatiently said that didn't hurt, but her left shoulder did. I asked her to rotate her shoulder, which she did. It hurt, but she was able to do it.

Rinnah wanted to sit down, but I was afraid if she did, she wouldn't get back up again. So I told her we needed to walk back to camp. We were only about 1/4 mile away. From experience, I know that it seems unthinkable to walk right after you fall off, but as long as limbs aren't broken, walking evens out the breathing and keeps the blood flowing, restoring balance and calms the brain. I asked if she wanted to get on Rain and I would lead him, but she said no, she'd walk. I doubt we could have got her on without hurting her anyway.

I took Rain back from Rebecca and she headed after Ike to help get Sport. Rinnah and I walked back to camp. Her speech started to become harder to understand as her lips swelled up and she spoke out of the corner of her mouth, but we talked as we walked; debriefing.

Lesson number 2. Keep the kids behind me. Brain lapse on my part. I knew that. But didn't do it this time. Lesson number 3, spend some time teaching the kids to completely drop their reins, then snatch up the reins and stop the horse from a walk/trot/canter. Something I should have done long ago.

We got back to our trailer and Jean took over. I put Rain on the high tie and stood around. Jean got Rinnah's shirt off to examine her more closely. Her left shoulder was scraped and bruised. Jean started icing Rinnah's face and shoulder.

Once Rinnah seemed to be ok, I went back to Rain and was going to go back out and look for Sport. I was about to take him off the high tie when my phone rang. Rebecca said Sport had been caught, was untacked and back in his stall. She asked about Rinnah. I told her Rinnah seemed to be ok for the moment. Rebecca and Ike went out to do their ride.

I hopped on Rain bareback and went over to the stables. I tacked him up with my Bob Marshall saddle and headed back to camp. At least my stirrups were now set for the 50 I was planning to do on Tanna on Friday.

A few hours later, Rinnah seemed to be much improved. She was talking better. The ice was helping keep the swelling down. The visitors she got cheered her up and she got to tell the story many times. Brooklyn, a youngster they've met at other rides, came and spent a good bit of time sitting and chatting with Rinnah.
After awhile, Rinnah was off with her friends around camp. Praise God!

I went to registration. Chatted with several people. Then vetted Tanna in. He weighed 802 pounds at the start.

I'm not really sure what happened to the day. I had several hours when I could have done stuff. But somehow I didn't. I felt completely unprepared for the ride the next day. I hadn't even put up a vet check area, so I decided to just vet check at the trailer.

We went to the ride meeting. 50 milers had a 64 bpm pulse criteria. 2 holds of 50 minutes each. 7 AM start for the 50 milers; 8 AM start for the 30 milers. Loop 1 was the Pink and Black loop at 15.8 miles. Loop 2, Yellow and Black: 16.2 miles. Loop 3, Red and Black at 18 miles. The loops got progressively harder as the day went on.

Tanna has had some changes to his hind legs since GERA. I had my vet look at him in August and then I asked Dr. Ken to look at him closely at BSF. I took Tanna to see Dr. Ken for a pre-ride evaluation so we could monitor changes during and after the 50 mile ride to see if there was anything that needed further investigation or if this was his new normal at 19 years old with 2200 endurance miles.

Back at camp, I did chores, provided some materials for a sling for Rinnah's shoulder and went to bed.

At 5 AM, I got up. Took Y-lee out, fed Tanna, put hay out for Rain and Snap.  Then back into the trailer for breakfast. Out to saddle Tanna. We still had a few minutes, so Daniel and I took Snap and Tanna for a little walk. I didn't want to leave Tanna to spin around and possibly kick himself literally moments before the start, so he came along to stretch his legs, too. Rain was left to holler his objections since Jean and the girls could walk him after the start.

At 6:50 AM, I got on Tanna and he jumped around, ready to go. But he wasn't tense and didn't feel like he was about to explode. Just ready. I walked him out to the gravel road to warm up and found Joe and Bogey, our riding partners for the day. The plan was just to get both horses through the ride.

We started about mid-pack and I was happy to see Jean, Rinnah and Lillie standing nearby as we trotted past after the trail was open. I waved and off we went, turning quickly off the road into the trail.

Tanna settled into a good pace quickly. He was eager to run, but responsive and not dangerous at all. What a great start to the ride. Gorgeous morning; a little humid, but still pretty and a little cool that early in the morning. Joe and Bogey set a good pace. Joe and I switched leading several times in the first 2 or 3 miles.

When we got to a gravel road, Joe and Bogey took off at a canter, as did the other riders around us. I spun Tanna into a stop and let them pass, then sent him after at a decent trot. Letting Tanna into a canter that early in a ride on an open road was just asking for him to pitch a fit to get rid of me and go into a full out gallop. Joe pulled up and let me catch up. I wasn't concerned. I knew I'd have caught them when we hit the trail again.

We turned back into the trail and followed the gently rising terrain. It's rather deceptive how much the horses have to work on that climb. It's so gradual, it's not enough to walk, but can take more out of a horse than you'd think.

The yellow jackets were out in force. We had to run to get away from them at least twice on that loop, maybe more. Usually the first horse will stir them up, getting the horses behind in trouble. Best thing to do is just run out of them.

All too soon, we were back on the home stretch back toward camp. We hit Bandy Creek about a mile out and then walked up the hill before picking up a light trot. We wanted to bring the horses into camp as easy as we could to have them ready to get their pulse down to 64 bpm.

When we caught sight of the gravel road, we hopped off and hand walked our horses to the in timer. I provided my card to get my time and split off from Joe. He went to his vet check tent and I went to our trailer.

Daniel had set up my saddle rack and I quickly pulled Tanna's tack. His HR was at 63 before I could get the saddle pulled. So I grabbed hay bag and headed down to the vet check. He vetted in great with a 56 pulse and As on everything but a B in guts. A B in guts is fairly normal for him.

Dr. Ken came over and checked Tanna's legs. They were still nice and tight with soft wind puffs and wind galls. He told me to come back before leaving on my next loop to see how standing in the vet check affected him.

As I followed Daniel and Tanna out of the vet area, I looked over at Joe to see how Bogey was doing, but got a thumbs down. I glanced at Daniel, who was headed toward the trailer with Tanna in tow and then went over to see Joe. Bogey was off on his right front. And quick as that, I lost my riding buddy. At least we hadn't had to do the 18 mile tough loop first. Would have been bad if Bogey had come up lame during that loop.

Back at the trailer with Tanna, I threw a light blanket over his back and rear end. We were in the shade and it was still a bit cool with a slight breeze. Enough to make Tanna cramp without a cover. Tanna ate a little, but mostly just dozed. His normal MO during the first vet check. I busied myself chatting with Jean and Daniel and prepping my saddle pad and girth for the next loop.

About 5 minutes before I went out on my 2nd loop, I took Tanna back to Dr Ken to check his legs. The wind puffs were still soft and pliable. No issues after standing for 40 minutes of the hold. I had been worried they'd puff right up during the first hold, but no issues. Tanna grabbed a short drink from a water bucket as we passed. I borrowed Joe and Tamra's mounting block and headed out on trail right at my out time.

This next loop was a little longer at 16.2 miles and a bit tougher on the elevation. The trail started out the same as the first loop for the first 3 miles or so. There were horses in front of me, but I kept behind them a good distance to keep Tanna from getting too racy, trying to keep up. When I hit the gravel road again about 3 miles out, I allowed Tanna to move into a nice canter. As long as he was relaxed and not racy or demanding, I would let him canter. We ended up canter a good long while until the road climbed a little more than I wanted him to canter, so we dropped to a walk, then moved back to a trot. Tanna was doing really awesome. I was having so much fun with him.

And then, we hit the down hill. The long down into the valley to the creek. We caught sight of about 5 riders in front of us and Tanna began to go a little nuts on me. I stayed back until we got to the bottom and the other riders paused in the creek. It was very shallow though and Tanna showed no sign of drinking, so I let him walk through. I knew there was much better water in 2 or 3 miles.

Then we were on a nice flat, wide, good footing trail running along the river. I let Tanna canter a good bit until another rider came along behind and caught up with us. Tanna began to get racy again, so I pulled up and let the other rider pass. I insisted on a trot, but the damage was done as two more riders caught and passed us. Tanna was completely beside himself with anger. He officially had "race brain." When we reached the good deep water, Tanna would not settle. He spun and spun and tried to take off. Finally, I just left the water and started the climb out.

Tanna did manage to walk as he was ahead of the other horses. He walked eagerly and we didn't take long to get to the top. When we reached the top, I was disappointed. For some reason, I had thought there was a water trough at the top of that climb. One of the reasons I let Tanna go on from the deeper creek water. But there was not. And so, Tanna did not drink. He'd only drunk a little at the vet check. There was no more good chance for water until Bandy Creek a mile out from camp and Tanna finally drank well there. I was not pleased that he'd gone so long without much water.

When we reached the vet check, Tanna did drink quite well during the check. So I began to relax about the water. He'd taken longer than usual to start drinking, but since he was now drinking, he'd probably keep doing so. This time, Tanna vetted through with a 64 pulse and mostly As, but the B on guts and now an A- on overall. Dr. Ken did his vet check this time and checked his legs, which were still good to go.

Back to the trailer where Tanna ate better and drank some more. I checked Tanna's HR and realized it was too high. It was hanging at 60. We had him in the shade with a fan on him. We kept water on him the entire time. His HR would go up and down. It was weird. We decided I would go out on the last loop and keep a close eye on him. I could always come back to camp if I needed to. His entire demeanor was pretty normal for him. I tacked him up and took him back to Dr. Ken for a recheck. Legs were fine. Pulse 48. Gut sounds fine. So I got on and headed out on my 3rd loop a few minutes late.

This last loop was the longest at 18 miles and the hardest with the most elevation change, including several good climbs. Tanna left camp at a trot and trotted along at 8 mph with a 105 heart rate. Ok. I'll take that. As we passed the finish line, I saw Nancy coming to wait for the first place finishers.

As I went along, I realized I had neglected to get my sponge and more electrolytes for Tanna. I gave him the last 10 ccs that I had out of the tube in my saddle pack. He'd only gotten 15 ccs up to that point in the ride. I should have given him more. I began to think his HR in the vet check might have had something to do with too little electrolytes. My sponge was on one of my other saddles and I'd forgotten to grab it. I'd been ok for the first loop, missed the sponge on the second loop and completely forgot to get it for the 3rd loop.

When we reached the first good creek crossing, Tanna drank. Then I hopped off into the middle of the creek, pulled my t-shirt off and sponged my horse good. That shirt was COLD when I put it back on!!! I did that twice more during the loop. Should have had my sponge, but that didn't stop me from getting water on him.

The trail got really slow after that first creek crossing. Either downhill or uphill or very rocky terrain. Very hard to make any decent time. Tanna was willing, but I didn't want him trotting through big ankle-turning rocks. So we walked a lot.

Finally, we came to the last really big climb. I slid off to walk this one. I knew it would be slow going with me on the ground, but it would save Tanna some wear and tear.

I wished that Tanna knew how to tail. I have tried in the past with very little success. This time, I decided to try again. I asked Tanna to move past me and let my long reins play through my hand. When he got past me, I reached out to grab his tail and he stopped and spun toward me. We did that several times until he was right up against the cliff going up on the left side of the trail. This time, when I sent him forward, he tried to turn left, into the steep uphill. I quickly asked him to move forward again and he did! I had his tail and he pulled me up the hill. A couple times I had to restart him, but we went up that hill a lot faster than if he hadn't helped me. And his heart rate was 30 beats lower tailing me up rather than me being on him.

We came to a level place in the trail and Tanna pulled off trail to eat grass. I noticed, to my surprise, that another horse and rider were there. I had caught up with Paul and his horse Adam. Adam was doing his very first ride. A tough 50! I stood, hunched over, trying to catch my breath. Even with Tanna's help, it was a tough climb for me! Finally, my breathing slowed some and Paul got back on. I asked, is it over. He said he thought so. So I gathered up my reins and moved Tanna to a ledge for me to get on.

We moved on together for awhile and finally came on a water trough. There was very little water in the bottom. It didn't even completely go across the bottom. Just a small pool in about 1/3 of the bottom. Tanna drank anyway.

We continued on. Tanna was thrilled that we could trot again and moved out smartly with a good heart rate. We came to a little spur trail and Tanna tried to turn down it. I sent Paul on ahead, and took Tanna back down the other trail, hoping Tanna would pee. He didn't, but ate a bit of grass.

We got back on trail and trotted until we saw Nancy by the finish line. Paul and Adam were there in the middle of the trail. I stopped Tanna a few hundred feet back and waited until he finished with his card and moved on and to the side of the trail. Then I asked Tanna for a canter and we cantered across the finish line in 20th place. Yay! I pulled up and handed Nancy my card, then headed toward camp.

I came in the back of camp and went straight to the trailer. Tanna began eating everything he could get ahold of. I had to wait a couple of minutes for him to lift his head out of the feed bucket to drop his hackamore off his face. I pulled his tack and cleaned him up while he ate and then stood and waited some more while he ate. I wasn't really willing to pull him away from food. Finally, he slowed down and I took him down to vet in. He got several As, several A-s and a B+ on guts. 62 pulse. Completion! He weighed 748 at the finish, but rebounded to 776 by the next morning.

Dr. Ken looked at his legs, which were still good. He told me to go ice his legs for an hour and come back. So I went and iced for an hour. Tanna's legs were still good. All through the ride they were fine. After icing, I put Ice Tight on his legs and wrapped them all the way down to the top of the hoof. I'd been doing that wrong. I'd been stopping above the fetlock joint, but for the issues I was seeing, I need to wrap further down. So basically, what I've been seeing is Tanna's new normal from being an endurance horse for 11 years. But I'm glad to know that instead of worrying that I'm seeing the effects of some structural damage that I'm ignoring and making worse by continuing to work him.

So lessons learned on Friday include making sure I have a full tube of electrolytes in my saddle pack. Tanna did not have enough electrolytes through the day. He made it through, but the lack of electrolytes likely caused him to not drink as well in the beginning and maybe caused his weird HR. I relearned that I can't have him in any kind of race situation like he got caught up in during the second loop. He turns stupid and won't take care of himself. And I need to be sure I have a sponge on all my saddles so I don't end up choosing a saddle without a sponge for a hot ride!

Definitely a weekend of lessons to remember. All in all, I had a good time at BSF. Mostly thankful that Rinnah is ok. She's one tough kid and is already itching to be able to ride again.