Sunday, December 29, 2002

Another Perspective on Tie-ups - Barb McGann

I started endurance riding in 1971 in Utah, and even though I have never really left the sport, I have just under 4,000 miles. Why so little? Part of the answer is just life, but most of it is an epic battle with horses tying up.

My endurance career started in Utah, with Jacque Jewkes as my mentor and Elene Bonine (Mom) as my coach, pit crew and resident “horse expert”. We did fairly well in the beginning; just trailing Jacque around guaranteed you’d be in the top five! I campaigned our Arabian stallion, Cyam, to the Mountain Region Champion Stallion. Then came the 80’s and my personal life turned upside down. We moved to Idaho pursuing employment, I went back to school to finish my degree, and in the middle of all that, my grandmother and dad were both on their last legs, requiring home nursing from Mom. We still had the stallion and mares, and now we had 2 yr olds, 3 yr olds, 4 yr olds that all needed training and riding, so I was riding, but not in competition.
Finally, in the early 90’s, life began to settle down. I had a good job, Mom had retired…it was time to get serious about endurance again. We had two beautiful ½ Arab, ½ Saddlebred brothers, both close to 16 hands and perfect conformation, lots of bone, fit the “three circles”, deep girthed, and just gorgeous! Cyrex was 5 and his full brother, Cyrox was 4. Our good friend, Andrea Day, broke both of them for us and put the first couple of endurance starts on them. Rex was my favorite and since he was the oldest, I put the most time in him, and just brought Rox along slowly.

This was the beginning of 8 years of heartbreak and frustration with tieing up. Rex and Rox both started tieing up the first year. They would do fine in the spring conditioning, but once the year really got rolling and they got in better and better shape, Wham, they would start. This was early onset type, if it was going to happen, it did so in the first two or three miles. If we got past that, we were OK.
Over the next several years, we went through the entire gamut of tie-up advice. We changed our feed – NO grain, grass hay, VIT E, Se. We ran literally hundreds of blood tests. I have tests from 2 days before the ride, day of the ride, day after the ride, 5 days after, 10 days after on both horses! The blood showed that their ca/mg ration was high, as was their ca/phos ratio. We adjusted diets, fed extra magnesium, supplemented phosphorus. Nothing helped. Some rides we would top ten, then the next one, we’d tie up in the first 3 miles. We adjusted riding schedules..I was religious about riding every other day, no matter what. Nothing helped. It started to get very discouraging - right along, we had had people telling us that it was because they were Saddlebreds and tall, big horses weren’t suited for endurance. Our common sense told us that this was nonsense…Rex had a light floating trot averaging about 15 mph that he could do all day long, wonderful recoveries, and a “get out of my way, I’m going down the trail” attitude. Finally after trying everything we could think of, or were told to do for 4 years, we reached the end of our rope. We quit our beloved bred and raised arab/saddlebreds and I went out and bought 2 purebred Arabian mares – One 14.2 hands and one 15 hands. Since I am 6’3”, they seemed a bit small for me, but if there was any truth to the “too big” theory, I wasn’t going to take any chances.

We brought these two mares along VERY slowly, entering LD’s the first year and a couple of LD’s and a couple of 50’s the second. They seemed to be doing fine, and I was heartened. Then, we started getting serious and they started tieing up! Now, I’m totally frustrated. It couldn’t be the bloodlines or size, so we’re back to the management issue, but what could it be?? You just can’t believe how careful we were with everything – feeding, training schedules, supplements. The pattern was still the same as with the big boys. They would start out the year in training and conditioning just fine, go through the first couple of rides fine and then in early summer start tieing up – not every ride, but enough to give me about a 50% completion rate. I got so good at detecting tie up that many times when I would lead the horse back to camp, the vet would say, “This horse isn’t tied up – look at her, prancing and pulling the lead, no cramps” But the blood test would show it.

Just about the time that I was ready to give up on endurance forever, we found an answer – our WATER. We had read an article in EQUUS about horses in Sweden that were tieing up and water was the cause. We thought that was ridiculous, but by this time, we had nothing to lose to check it. We took a water sample down to the local state lab. It came back that our water was thousands of times higher in Ca than it should have been!! All this time, no matter what we fed or didn’t feed, every time they took a drink, they were ingesting high levels of calcium. And what’s worse, come late spring, early summer, they were now grazing on grass irrigated with that water! As they got fitter and fitter as the season wore on, their calcium intake would increase.
What bothers me most is that in all that time, talking to everyone we could think of; consulting with numerous veterinarians, no one ever mentioned water as being a possibility. We strayed close to it in our puzzling – we would say to each other, “Why didn’t we ever have any problems when we endurance rode in Utah – all of this has started since we moved to Idaho?” Still, we continued to think it had to be a management issue, and not an environment issue. It breaks my heart to think that I wasted 4 horses before we finally stumbled across the right answer. (For the record, all 4 are still healthy and being used for pleasure riding/lessons/driving and broodmare uses, but will never be able to do endurance).

The cure was fairly simple – a high capacity water softener system on our domestic water lines, and making the pastures off-limits to the endurance horses once the irrigation season starts. We have now had four endurance horses going off our place for the last 4 years – Andrea Days’ horse “Zinger” ridden by Dot Wiggins; Dot’s mare, Chris; my new Arab (15.3 hands), Chancey YW; and the last of our homegrown foals, Lynn (Arab/Saddlebred). They are all doing fine – no signs of tie up anywhere! We are still careful – we sent hay samples to Susan G. and balanced our ca/mg with extra supplements, feed Ese, limit grain and alfalfa. We try to ride regularly or, if we’re going to give them some time off, we make sure it is 2 weeks. I think I will probably be paranoid about tie up for the rest of my life, but for now we seem to be OK.

My purpose in writing this is twofold – (1) If you’re having troubles with tie up, you might want to check your water. Even mildly high levels in water will contribute to the problem. (2) When I see people on ridecamp making judgements about someone based on their completion/pull records, I cringe…Based on just my pull records, I must look like either a stupid, na├»ve idiot or a cruel, careless over-rider, when the truth is that 2 long-time (over 100 years between the two of us) experienced horsewomen were completely stumped and always chose to pull when in doubt rather than hurt the horses and yet we love the sport so much that it wasn’t acceptable to give up!

Barb McGann, AERC # 840

Thursday, December 12, 2002

2002 Silver State, Thanksgiving Weekend - Karen Chaton

One of the great things about this ride being over Thanksgiving weekend is that it lets you look back over the previous year and think of all the things that you have to be Thankful for. On the 9-hour drive to Jean, Nevada this year I thought of all of those things. Weaver and Rocky, I am sure, don't realize how much I appreciate them, nor do they understand all of the great and wonderful experiences that they have given me. I can shut my eyes (not while I'm driving tho), and think back to any of the various places we have been over the last year and I am magically transformed to that moment. I remember sponsoring a junior on her first 100, while she slept with her arms around Rocky's neck in the last couple of miles to the finish. I remember Weaver drinking out of the Snake River, and of the blisters he put on my hands trying to slow him down after leaving the vet check on the last day at that ride. I remember the how the air smelled from the soft rain and Weaver's warm breath on my neck when I got off to get a gate. Everything I think of makes me smile. I am truly Thankful this Thanksgiving.
As time goes on I think I have learned to appreciate each ride a lot more. I am not in any hurry to finish, because then it is over. I rode with John Bass on the first day, and we finished last. We had the most amazing ride. There was a storm, and the sky filled the desert with the most incredible colors. The contrast between the brown desert and the rainbow of colors in the sky is something that is just so special to get to experience. The weather was just perfect - no wind, it didn't rain and we were comfortable. As John and I went over the Rocky Pass for what may well be the last time anybody rides over it on an endurance ride, I collected one of the trail markers to keep as a souvenir. We were in last place---the first time we went thru Rocky Pass we were getting lapped by the front runners. The second time thru was pretty peaceful! As I was leading Weaver down the steepest part of the pass, he stopped and turned his head, letting me know that we were getting too far ahead of John and Boomer. I looked back and saw that John was indeed quite a ways back, he looked like he was trying out for a role in Night of the Living Dead, or the Mummy, by how he was moving . This gave me more opportunity to snap photos of the spectacular colors. The days are short, so we rode the last couple of miles in the dark. Lights from the Nevada Landing casino blinded us and so we just let the horses find the way. They knew better than we did where the trail went. This day's trail does a loop back into the same camp. We finished at 5:30, went to the ride meeting at 6:00 then headed over to the casino to eat dinner. What a day!
On the second day we ride point to point, from Jean out to Blue Diamond. I really like this trail because it is so much fun to ride. The trail winds and dips and turns and goes up and down. I was sponsoring Heather, a junior, and her horse Marc. Heather's older sister Miranda was moving my rig and Rocky for me to Blue Diamond. I rode Weaver and waited for most everybody to start and leave camp until we left. This resulted in a nice easy relaxed day. On some of the last rides Weaver has become really difficult when he doesn't get to go at a pace that he wants. I much prefer to avoid that kind of situation. Anybody who thinks a young horse is difficult at the start---an experienced *strong* and opinionated horse isn't a whole lot easier! :+D On this day, same as the one before, I often felt as if I was riding a ballet - as the horse just glided thru the trail with such ease and grace. I feel so safe and secure on Weaver, he has never fallen with me and he loves following those narrow single-track trails with as much enthusiasm as ever. We did get rained on a little bit this day, but the temperature was warm and it was nice. The night before it rained for hours. Weaver's neck and head had been wet for a full day and he was still in a good mood. Ordinarily, he hates bad weather. But, this was just rain, no wind, and warm -so he was pretty content. Because it was warm, humid and raining - the horses just never did dry. My Gore-Tex raingear kept me dry and warm, and Weaver had a polar fleece rump rug. The rain from the night before made the desert even more beautiful than ever. The barrel cactus were vivid red in color, the moss had turned bright turquoise and green and the Joshua trees stood out against the brown earth in their new shiny green colors. Add to this the colored rocks as we head up towards Cave Canyon and the clouds in the sky and you've got nearly every color imaginable. Heather decided to pull at the lunch stop, so I continued on and rode the rest of the day with Tracy and her stallion Dragon. The trail markings had been tampered with, but we managed to find our way without too much trouble. It was about 3:30 when we finished--7:00 a.m. starts. RM provided a really nice hot dinner to us that night (the other nights we had the casino restaurants to choose from), and completion awards were polar fleece throws.
On the third day I rode Rocky. This day was the 1st ride day of the new ride season. We started last and stayed behind Trilby for several miles out. I spent a lot of time working on getting him to walk and trying to keep him calm and from getting too wound up. Knowing he'd already spent 2 days not being ridden to get wound up (he hates being not-rode!) He likes to try and use every excuse in the book to break into a gallop. I found that morning, the only two gears Rocky had were "neutral" - which is when he was standing still and "faster", which is what he tried to achieve no matter what gait we were in. It went something like this: (from the horses perspective) "I want to gallop, if I can't gallop, I will trip. When I trip I will save myself by going into a gallop. If you try and control my speed I will run thru a cholla cactus". Yet, I never got mad at him, instead I talked to him and patiently kept working with him until he understood. When I started to feel him responding to my leg aids and he was staying in a trot, I let him go a little more. When he tried to get going too fast we would go back to a walk. During the lunch vet check he probably tossed his head up in the air at least 100 times -all the while eating, drinking, peeing on his food, and dragging me around. Apparently Chill Out wasn't in Rocky's vocabulary on this day. He gets like this sometimes. After lunch I let him go a little more and that made him really happy, though I still had to bring him down to a walk if he saw riders ahead. This was a great training day for us, because at the end of it I felt that I had accomplished something. We still have a long way to go. I still don't know how many cholla cactuses we knocked into.
Well, all three days went by too fast. Just like that, it is over. The casino is there, and we ate dinner in it one last time. It is nice to have good friends. We had a great time, talking about the magic we have from riding our horses on such a fun trail. I will miss this ride. Weaver and Rocky, between them, have completed the last 21 days, or - 7 years - of Silver State. We've had a lot of great times here, and will really miss this trail. It is a real treasure! Thanks to LVDR, Claire, Fred, Peggy and all of their wonderful helpers on all of their hard work. We really appreciate you. :-)
& Weaver
& Rocky .....looking forward to wherever we end up next year :-)

Basic Advice for Newbies - Angie McGhee

One thing that helped me was to find a place where I could measure off one mile that I could travel at a good pace. That allowed me to learn what a 7mph trot felt like (takes 8.5 min. to trot) or a 10 mph (which takes 6). That made it easier for me to understand the training articles I was reading. Unless it's on a toll road, it's free.
You need to know not to skimp on your farrier. Skimp anywhere else, but not there. It's hard for me to imagine that before doing endurance there was a time when I was young and very foolish that I had the farrier put shoes on, then called him when they fell off. >shudder< If you're riding that horse a lot you can't leave them on there after that angle gets off. Different horses grow at different rates...and the same horse grows different in summer & winter. 6 weeks is average for my horses though. This will cost you plenty.
Keep a saddle log. It doesn't cost you anything but will help you set goals and stick to them. Having a training buddy will help you to drag it on out of bed on those really cold mornings since you are both trying to show the other how tough you are and refuse to back out of riding.
Control your enthusiasm. If you've joined the endurance community you have made a life choice. It's a long term commitment. You have the rest of your life to meet your goals and this game is one of those that has a lot of squares that when you land on them say "return to the "GO" and start over". The slow way is the fast way. Take your time. Sure, 2 years is a long time to get a horse started, but 6 months and start over, six months and start over, six months and start over... takes a lot longer. Enjoy the journey. Learn everything you can as you come up. Winning is not the goal... that may be the last part of the goal, but it's *not* the whole thing and if you aren't careful you'll forget to enjoy the other 95% of the sport.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that the people in the back aren't "that good" at this sport. I can point out quite a few people riding at the back of the pack now who were the BIG hot shoes when I was getting started. These are people who made very good horses, ran up front, and when the horses slowed down they decided to stick to that horse and do what he could do *now* instead of trading him for another. Others are past winners who are starting new horses slowly. They'll be the big hot shoes in a couple of years. You can learn a lot from them and they'll enjoy helping you out. They don't charge anything.
If you see a campfire, go to it. Stay late. Listen. Meet everyone. They're free.
Never say "this horse never gets tired". Even though we said it when we were getting started and will forgive you if you do. Forgive us if we smile though. We're remembering when we said it and thinking how dumb that sounds now.
You may not be an expert on saddles, but you can watch *dilligently* for any sign of rubbing of the elbows or girth area. Do not feel that you don't have time to let any small wound heal. Believe me. You have time. If you have a regular western saddle, you can move the girth back by running the cinch down to the girth, then coming up and tying it at the back ring. Go ahead and remove those rear girth straps. Doesn't cost a thing.
You ALWAYS have time to stop and adjust your tack. Do not ride through the pain. Fix it now. Lengthening your stirrups a notch will save you money you would spend on Advil.
Don't drink carbonated drinks during a race. They blow up when you shake them...even after they're inside you. :-P Puking them up is a waste of money.
Look at your horse's expression. Is he having fun? If he looks dull, give him time off and back off. Believe me...YOU HAVE TIME. Time is not money...spend it freely.
A stethoscope is handy. Learn to use it so you can volunteer as a pulse taker at rides. It's like reading other people's mail, very informative. They don't pay you, but they don't charge you either. Learn your horse's resting pulse and check recoveries. In the beginning, it may be fun to borrow a heart monitor so that the training articles will mean more to you. However, other than to find out, "yes, we were trotting along at 121" etc. it was of little use to me. I've owned two. Very seldom use one. I agree with Laura, I'll take the "feel" and expression every time over a number. If they come up with a gut sound monitor, I'll use that. That seems to be the hardest for me to "feel". The "feel" method is free, unless you consider time money, in which case you have to make an investment to get it.
I *wish* I could have gone to equitation clinics. I think getting ourselves in shape and learning how to use our bodies with the least tension is the number one thing we need, but the one we're most likely to skip. I want dressage lessons but they're expensive. My daughter is taking now and I eavesdrop. Pain is NOT gain.
I think the number one thing a newbie needs is patience, drive, (you have to balance those two) and an obsession with the comfort of their horse. You can't buy that in a box. If you're saying, "But I'm 42 now...if I do 2 years of LSD on this horse I'll be 44!" All I've got to say is, "How does 44 and starting over *again* sound?"

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Carolina ride (my first!) - Deb Ambrose

As I can now walk almost normally, (not including going down stairs), here's my story about the Carolina ride.
I've had my Arab Appaloosa, Kaylypso (Lippy) for about 2 years, after 25 horseless years, always thinking I wanted to do endurance. The past year, after some pretty steady, three-times a week training rides, I thought we could make 30 miles together.
First surprise: Even those at the back of the pack, where I started, rode A LOT faster than what my sedate training pace had been. I expected the front runners to set the trail on fire (and they DID), but everyone's just goin' down the trail trot was much faster than the one Lippy and I did in training. So we teamed up with a real nice guy Steve and his pretty bay for the first 16 miles, a little walk, a lotta trot, and some canter. We walked into the check, my non-horsey husband provided water, beet pulp and moral support, and Lippy came down to 48 right away. We got all A's, and I left the check late after letting him eat. At least I tried to leave the check. Saddle back on? Head out of camp? Lippy was pretty surprised and disgruntled. Horses were coming in the opposite direction, back into camp. For those who saw us struggling and offered cheerful encouragement, thank you very much. A hundred miler came along (happily in the same direction we were trying to go), and said, come on with us. Lois, I think. Thank you Lois! Off we went, around a lake, and skirting some cotton fields. After a few miles, I got Lippy back to a walk for a breather, and watched Lois sail off into the woods. I hoped we could do this on our own, and sure enough, he agreed to keep our medium trot for the next 7 or 8 miles. Then out onto some paved road shoulder for several miles. It was a windy day, sunny and bright. A few hundred milers passed us, very polite and friendly, and finally we re-entered the woods for the last 5 miles or so. A couple of other people caught us up and we cantered a little bit more, crossed some more huge cotton fields in the wind, and came into the last wooded part for the finish. Lippy was not even too bugged out when the front runners in the 50 came by in the last mile or so.
I wish I could have found everyone who encouraged and helped us along the way to thank. My husband took pictures of us at the finish, and I have this idiot grin from ear to ear. I was proud of my little guy, and happy he finished happy and hungry. I think we were 40th out of 60 starters and 45 or so finishers.
I've been lurking on RideCamp since the beginning, and enjoyed all your expertise. Thanks, hope to see some more folks at the Sandhills ride in March.
Deb Ambrose & Lippy
Aberdeen, NC

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Jose Dante - Tom Sites

I walked into this tack shop out of the blue. I lived in the city and just found it interesting to visit and look and smell the leather. The clerk asked me if i was buying or selling...i was just looking i said. After looking arround i was ready to leave and this clerk said.."i have a friend who is trying to sell a horse". I took the name and # and went back to my city haunts in Arlington, Va and had this dream of a dancing horse. I called the # and went to look at Dante. She told me the story of Joe a horse she outbid the meat man on at 175$.
She wanted to sell him for $250. "Can i ride him" i asked. Sure, she said. I rode my first horse in 20 years or so and he was a whirlwind. I said. "Sure" but i have to find a place to keep him. Finding a field board place off Route 7 outside a metropolis called Washington DC i took my new horse who i thought was more than a i called him Jose Dante. He was a handful and i had to get a trainer to help me with him. She worked for the CIA and did training on the side. She sold me a weather beaten English Saddle for 15$ that i cleaned and oiled to go along w/ the Western Saddle i purchased when i bought Jose. I'll never forget when she hit me with her crop when i didn't do as she thought i should do. Those lessons were over. Jose and i were on our own w/ 2 saddles.
This was the fall of 1973 in the city with my horse. I was a single young man and brought this friend Lisa to ride and see my new horse. I got on and asked Lisa to come on. Jose bucks us both off and when i went to get him he chased us both over the fence. Jose only did what he wanted to do. When he ran me down from a dead walk and ran out into the traffic on Route 7 i knew my time in the city was spent.
We moved to Luray, Virginia in the fall of 1974 not really knowing what i was going to do but i was on a quest with this dancing horse. Out in the country Jose felt free. We rode to my 8 track to Bruce Springsteens "Born to Run" and we rode and we rode. But you had to hang on cause Jose only stopped when HE wanted too. We had a few tumbles, one w/ Gandolf, the Great Dane/Labrador Retriever and all 3 of us went into this slow motion roll.
Living in the country and being free and no worries i lusted for adventure. The Great American Horse Race came along in 1976 and we went. A duffle bag of clothes, a foot locker of horse stuff, a small bag of toiletries and writing material and Jose and me and only enough money to get into the race. The entry fee was 500$ and i had 659$. There are so many to thank for getting us to the start. Lois Fortune Ireland for the money, my Mother for her support and all those that helped us along. Me and Jose had never been on a camping trip outside Luray. We had never been to a horse event. We were as green as spring grass. We knew we were in the Sport of Kings but had the audacity to not even care, cause we were on a grand adventure.
Coast to Coast in '76'. There are so many stories to tell on that adventure that that is another story. But, we finished. And being in Califorina for 2 days i was ready to come home and took the first ride that came along to Illinois. That was closer than Ca. While there Ted Allegrias' sponsor said he'd take us home if we paid the gas. Luray Bound and Home and Glad. Jose and i were mild celebrities here in Luray for a while but life and everything took me back to gardening and making a living and only riding on the weekends.
1977 came and by then i knew what Endurance was and i had to go to the Old Dominion. I had no truck or trailer in 76 and didn't have one in 77 either but we got there. We finished w/ 15 minutes to spare, the toughest ride i had ever done. 78 i took a break and came back with training and ready to tackle that OD in 79. It was a killer day the OD is known for, but we improved our time and came in at 4:30 w/ 30 minutes to spare.
Jose is dead now and i remember him so fondly. It was only much later i found his tongue had been practically cut off by a bit and thats why he was a runaway. Oh Jose Man, you were a good first horse. tom sites