Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Don't mind me, I'm riding a Spookaloosa

Or Our First 100

Each ride I go to brings on different challenges, new learning experiences and not to mention, a horse that is growing and changing with each endurance ride. Quick is not an easy horse, there is far more to riding him than just going down the trail. I have to be constantly aware of his mental state, when to push and allow him and when to just say screw it and walk it out. Sometimes Quick has three gaits, walk-spook-canter. Canter by far is the easiest to sit any spook he has to throw out. He has yet to master the art of spooking and cantering as professionally as he has at the other two gaits. When Quick is focused we can go down the trail nicely, by ourselves without much issue. These moments are starting to happen more and more often. When we reach the spook mode, there are a couple options; walk or canter. Walk gets us nowhere fast, and the spooks can still catch me off guard. Canter however, tires him out faster and there are still spooks, but they usually result in a lead change and jumping to the other side of the trail. And there is a fair amount of warning, since the brakes are not as efficient at slamming on and coming to a screeching halt with some amazing burst of movement sideways.
Quick still lacks a lot of confidence, and the confidence he has, he draws from me. I noticed this about two weeks before the ride, we had gone to visit Kat and Digger and go riding with them and Paula on Roz. Kat and I switched horses briefly. Quick's eyes nearly popped out of his head and were on me the entire time. He was completely upset that I had gotten on Digger and was no longer riding him. This is the horse I had just been working on a nice sitting trot, engaged, back up, soft light contact going down the trail. As well as a nice canter up a technical hill trail where shifting my weight was all I needed to dance us around trees. Seeing his reaction to Kat getting on him reminded me of just how much growing this horse still has to do. I have been his sole rider since February of last year, and the one who had been putting many miles (spooks included) on him before that.
Quick was already pretty fit coming off of ANCER/Fireworks 50 in July. I had hoped to take him to Bare Bones, but it wasn't in the stars for us, other things got in the way. Paula told me how many miles I needed to put on him each week leading up to this ride, I did approximately 143 miles in the weeks leading up to OR 100, then let him rest for two weeks. I conditioned him harder than I knew I would be riding. OR 100 is a pretty flat ride, especially to the 7,000 ft of elevation change that Fireworks boasted. I pushed Quick hard during our training rides, mentally and physically. We went faster than I planned to ride the 100, instead of short fast work with lots of walking in between, I switched it to long fast rides with minimal walking. This was both for him and myself, I put my stirrups up to allow me to get out of the saddle, getting my knees ready. At the 75 last year, it was my knees that did me in.

On the left, an example of a slightly worn shoe. 
And on the right, what was left of one of Quick's shoes.

I was stressing leading up to this ride, we wore through out steel shoes and our usual farrier was having back surgery so he couldn't put new shoes on. I started conditioning Quick in a set of EasyBoots that I had, luckily his hooves and Diesel's are about the same size. I put a lot of miles on those, nearly wearing them out as well. Since I have been trimming Journey's hooves myself, I have become super picky about what I see from different farriers. So finding a new farrier to put shoes on right before this ride was awful. I found a young man who does a really nice job, quite the perfectionist when it comes to his work. There isn't much I could complain about his work.
Quick gave me quite a scare, he got shoes on on Tuesday and when I took him for a ride on Saturday, he was lame. It was intermittent, but there. So Sunday, he got lunged in the arena. No sign of lameness, whatsoever. I think he must have stepped on a rock, that is the only answer I have. He has been sound since and was before.

All of my stress left when we got there. Well I did get horribly nauseous with a bad headache when we got into Bend. It was really all I could do to set up Quick's corral and everything before I crawled into bed with a damp towel over my eyes.
Quick was focused as well. By this time, he knows what coming into Ride Camp means. He trotted out sound and vetted in well. Once I got over my headache, I was also focused.

After we vetted in, we went for a short ride. Quick wanted to go back to camp, but listened well. We trotted and canter a short ways down the trail, all I was checking was his mindset. Then we walked back into camp on a loose rein. We walked around camp a bit, there were a lot of Appy fans there. Apparently Quick has good Appy bloodlines, everyone seemed to really like them. (if you are curious he is on AllBreedPedigree under Viva Sozar)

Quick wanted to go shopping!

During the ride meeting I presented Diana from American Trail Gear with a thank you gift. American Trail Gear graciously donated a breastcollar/bridle set to raffle off to raise money for our trip to ANCER. I raised $500 towards my trip, which was the only reason I was able to go. The money paid for the gas to get there, the ride entry and helped with his Health Certificate and Coggins needed to get into California.

It is always right when I fall asleep that my alarm goes off. 4:30 am to feed Quick and get myself something to eat. Quick was eating well. We got everything together and headed over to the start. Quick was really up, I tried to warm him up, but soon gave that up because his head was so high in the air. We milled about quietly waiting for the start. 9 started the 100, 1 on the 75 who then elevated to the 100.
Spookaloosa out by himself!

3 riders were out ahead of us, I tried to keep Quick slow, but as I have learned fighting him at the beginning is somewhat pointless, it just wastes energy. After a little bit, I let him go. I never saw the 3 riders in front of me. Becky and Marie were not far behind me, and that is how we staid through the first loop. Quick was going nicely, trotting and cantering most of the loop. We spooked into the outcheck where we just had a trot by. Cassie remarked on his goofiness. Yup, just a Spookaloosa!
Off we went again.
I never really thought I would be riding my first 100 mile ride on Quick and not worried at all about going out by ourselves. Last year, the thought was mildly terrifying only because I knew Quick couldn't handle it. This year we had done majority of our conditioning by ourselves, mentally and physically Quick was in a far different place than he was last year.

Riding into Ride Camp was another show of the Spookaloosa.
“Hey its a gray horse, is that Lois?”
Horse spooks 6 ft sideways to the other side of the road repeatedly.
“Nope, that is Quick.”

We cantered into camp, impressing a couple people that I staid on during those spooks. Quick pulsed down nicely and vetted through. We rested and were ready to go back out again.

Photos by Rebecca Vitus

The next loop was 20 miles. It was the longest 20 miles of the whole day. I was surprised I had seen a chestnut horse in front of me a couple times. We were more than half way done with that loop when I caught up with them. I saw them long before Quick did. When he finally saw them, we couldn't have been 30 feet from them. His head was up high, expecting that the horse was a mirage.
It was Garbiella Blakely and her horse was a bit stiff and off. I was walking with her for a little bit, when Lois caught up with us.

Desert as far as the eye can see.

I followed Lois off. Her and Mocha kept up a good pace, slightly faster than Quick and I were going. But he never asked to walk. If we had been at the beginning of the loop I wouldn't have tried to keep up. Mocha is a much taller and way more experienced horse than Quick, (he has 8 100 mile completions) and not to mention Lois has a million more miles than I do. But since I figured that the out check wasn't too far away, I let Quick tag along.
Quick took 5 minutes to pulse down at the out check. We vetted through and waited it out. A couple of the riders behind us came in and Lois was off before I was. Off Quick and I went.
It was 16 miles back to Ride Camp, another long 16 miles. It was during the heat of the day and Quick was on a walk a bit and then trot a bit agenda. It wasn't long before Becky and Marie caught up to us. I had been letting Quick save some energy. Quick wanted to follow them. I could tell they really didn't want me tagging along, but even picking up a canter didn't loose us. It made the miles pass quickly. We went up a hill their horses walked and Quick wanted past. So away we went. We stopped at the next water, and when they caught up asked if it was alright to go on ahead. They said it was and we made our way back into camp.
Of course, as we were coming up the last 100 yards into camp, Quick started spooking at every rock, weird shape on the ground etc. So we were cantering in and spooking from side to side. I got some more comments on good riding that Spookaloosa.

When you give up and walk the Spookaloosa into camp... 
Photo by Rebecca Vitus

At this point there were 3 loops left, two 12 mile loops and the final 16 mile loop.

I purposefully waiting until Becky and Marie had gone on ahead, they have way more miles and experience than I do and I was done with the leap frog bit we had been doing. We walked out of camp, and were soon caught by Heather and her nice Standardbred mare Bunny. Bunny is a nice mare, I really liked her build and attitude, very work-man like. We rode together, both of us on our first 100 mile ride. This loop was pretty uneventful. Heather and I got to know each other more and agreed to ride the last two loops together if at all possible. We talked a lot about dressage and training horses, as well as what we have been doing as far as endurance.

Sun setting coming into camp.

We came back in around 6:30 or so, we would be heading out in the dark for the final two loops. I have ridden horses in the dark before, but never like this. Never at more than a walk on a place I knew. As we set out, Bunny and Heather lead the way. There were lots of ups and downs on this loop, as in hills. The light had faded from the sky, leaving the pink hues until tomorrow to show themselves. The stars began to come out.

Since neither Heather nor I had much experience night riding, it was something to figure out. Just what was working for us. Since it was a late rising moon, and a waning one at that, there was no moonlight to guide our way. We were almost to the canyon trail back into camp, we had just left a barb wire fence to the left of us, and I came up so we were riding side by side. (didn't quite trust him in the dark with the fence to the side)

Did I mention I was riding a Spookaloosa?

Passenger ejection! Flying unscheduled dismount!

And I met the closest sagebrush. Of course I hung on to the reins, but seeing this was my first ejection from the saddle in, oh what, over a year?? (that can't be right) Quick was shocked back into reality. He pulled away.
It scared me half to death, mostly because we had just been discussing lost horses, and those who had not met a kind fate. I scrambled to my feet and grabbed Quick's reins, and hopped back on.
I think it really surprised Heather, she got to see the Spookaloosa in action. Quick got to be a dressage horse again, instead of having a loose rein. Upon our arival back in camp, my flying dismount was undoubtedly caused by not wearing my eventing vest on that loop. (so they say)

Quick's head is in there somewhere. 

Rest and return to the trail. Neither horse really wanted to trot at the beginning of the last 16 mile loop. It was getting cold out, they had already done 84 miles and gravitational pull of Ride Camp was taking hold. We walked a lot of it, a good walk but still walking. I tried to get Quick out in front, but every time I did, Bunny would start shying to the side. We decided that it was Quick's rump rug catching the light that was causing it. I could tell when we made the turn for home. Quick picked up pace, and we started doing more trotting. Even with Quick out in front. Glow sticks lighting the way.
We were about 5-6 miles out from camp when Heather started getting dizzy. She got off and I encouraged her to eat something and gave her my other water bottle to drink. She was feeling a little better, and walking on foot a bit when the last two riders caught up with us. They offered to stay, and then thought better of it since they didn't have rump rugs on their horses. Quick wanted to go with them. Part of me did too, to just get it over with. But honestly I couldn't leave Heather there. She was tired, not feeling well and desperately wanted this completion. And her and Bunny had drug Quick around the last two loops. I staid with her, holding Quick back. Once she was up for it she got back on her mare and we walked back into camp. I kept her talking as we walked, watching for familiar landmarks in the dark. I offered my crew to help vet her horse through to get her completion. Her Mom was her crew, and I figured she would need some help taking care of both Bunny and Heather.
It was a long walk back into camp, you could see it for miles, slowly getting closer and closer. It was around 2 am when we walked into camp. Heather collapsed into a chair and Kat vetted her horse through.
I was chastised on my lack of trotting out skills, something that we need to work on for sure. But we made it. Up until the last bit of walking I felt great, knees didn't bother me or anything. But as usual, in the cold my knees froze up on the last bit coming into camp.
Despite that, I felt both Quick and I would be ready to tackle another loop if need be. Quick had great vet scores all day.

Quick's vet card. You can't beat ending your first 100 miles with all As!!

There is nothing I regret or would have done differently on this ride. Nothing. That is pretty big, usually I go through all that I could have done better. It was my second attempt at a 100 mile ride, I had a fit horse, I was a fit rider and we completed. And we helped Heather complete as well. I was probably the rider out there with the least amount of endurance miles, 325 before this ride. I lack the depth of experience many of the other riders have, to know how far and fast I can push my horse. And yet I know Quick really well, his strengths and weaknesses, my own strengths and weaknesses, I can read how physically and mentally Quick is doing and act upon it. I am not out there to ride the spots off of him, bringing him back healthy is more important to me than any placing. I am out there watching, observing, and learning as I am riding. To not pay attention to those riders with more experience than I have is stupid, a waste of a great opportunity.

I just woke him up from a nap, Monday after the ride.

Viva Quick

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Training horses is like religion....
you have to BELIEVE.
-Jack Le Goff

My goal with working any horse is to leave them better off than when I started. Sometimes this is painstakingly slow baby steps but every step, every calm relaxed ride is worth it. 

When working with young horses I strive to give them a solid foundation, built on relaxation and confidence. A relaxed horse is a horse ready to learn, to understand new concepts. My goal is to not force the horse into a compressed outline for the sake of it being "in fashion". I am interested in allowing the horse the time to build and develop the muscle to correctly carry themselves along with a rider. This involves time, something most people do not want to hear. 

Americans want instant dressage the same
way they want instant coffee.
-Jack Le Goff

It is my belief that self carriage comes not from pulling on the horse's mouth, but from correct, relaxed training that builds muscles and doesn't damage the horse physically or mentally. I also work to find the cause of blockages whether it be tack related, rider related (none of us are perfect, myself included foremost) or physical such as an old injury or needing to be addressed by a chiropractor or bodyworker. 
I also believe in hacking out for fitness and cross training. Good nutrition, proper hoofcare and a good living environment are also important to me. 

Take time,time and more time, with the ones who are not brimming with confidence.
NEVER get caught up in thinking you SHOULD be doing such and such an age.
Look every day at what is in front of your eyes, and think like a TRAINER, not
like some stupid, over eager COMPETITOR......

....And what did Le Goff say, Denny?
He said: "Boldness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from success.
So it's the job of the trainer to create lots of situations that guarantee success."....

.....But it took several YEARS, not months. Never any force, never any beating,
just lots of little stuff, month after month, no time schedule except what 
Rosie "said" in terms of her responses.

"Think like a trainer. Think like a trainer. Think like a trainer." Keep saying this.

If you think like a grubby little competitor, the chances are good 
that you will screw up lots of horses in your career.

If you simply lack the patience and the temperament to be content for as long as it takes
to simply putter about with young or green horses while they learn what's what, then 
you should leave the training to real horse people, and go buy some 
broke horse who can tolerate your needs.

Maybe you will grow up some day, and maybe you won't, 
but spare the green horses your tantrums and hunger for gratification.

This is what I believe in, this is how I ride, how I work with horses. I am always on the quest of knowledge. I do not wish to cheat myself or the horses I work with by taking short cuts, using unnecessary force with my hands because I have not taken the time to learn how to effectively use my seat and legs. No I want to learn to do it, and do it correctly. What keeps me going is the people who tell me "I can tell when you have worked B, she is much calmer when I turn her out the next morning." or "I can tell when you have been riding her, she is much more consistent."
Yes there are holes in my education that I am working towards filling. I do not show, I haven't had the opportunity to have a high level horse and ride it for long enough to show upper levels and do well. Instead I am working towards making a horse, or two. This takes time, it does not happen overnight. 

I have made many mistakes, in the preparation of literally thousands of horses.
 So happy I am aware of these shortcomings, because otherwise, I would never 
have come to move forward. Be still, I have got a lot to learn and I'll be learning 
until the day I die, not only when mounting, but studying, thinking deeply and watching.
-Nuno de Oliveira;

This is the path the horses have shown me, what listening to them and allowing their voices to reach my thoughts has taught me. It is a path I have committed myself to. Blame Journey, for she has challenged me more than any other horse I have met to become a better rider. No matter your thoughts about her, remember before you utter an unkind word towards her, that if it wasn't for her I would not be the rider, trainer, horsewoman I am today. 

Thus anyone who uses too much hand influence and contracts the horse's 
neck, seriously restricts both hindquarters and back. 
- Anja Beran from 
                                                                Classical Schooling with the Horse in Mind

When I was working Diesel for the dressage show, I was stumped as to why he would not stretch down, he was stiff and wouldn't use himself. I struggled with this, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. It was suggested to pick up the contact. When I did so all Diesel did was tense his neck and set his head. He used his front end to carry himself. Yes I did slow his tempo down (it helps when someone reminds you!), but what I was feeling I didn't like. He was not really lifting his back, which I have seen him do. Instead of was fighting me. 
I ended up putting a Back on Track pad on him for the show, it helped a lot, he was able to use his back a bit more. Yet I was never able to achieve a stretch like I knew he was capable of. 
Afterwards, I went to riding him bareback. On our second ride I got on him, and when I picked up the reins he offered a stretch. As I was riding him, I noticed how soft he was through his back, that it was not dropped, but supporting me. His gait was smooth, he was stretching down and yes I was able to take up more contact. The difference was, he was finally able to use himself, to stretch through his topline into my hand, instead of my hand holding his head in. He was able to lift his inside shoulder and weight his outside shoulder. He was able to bend through his body and when all the pieces fit, it felt like magic. It is something that cannot be forced, the feeling of a horse moving softly and correctly. 
It was not as if taking up contact wasn't the solution to the problem, it wasn't the right solution at that time, a saddle that didn't block him was the solution. 
On a side note I tried a saddle that fit on him and to put it lightly, he can really lift his back if the occasion suits him. 

Let us repeat once again: anyone who works correctly on the horse's 
hindquarters and back will get correct carriage of the 
neck and head as a natural consequence!
- Anja Beran from
                                                                      Classical Schooling with the Horse in Mind