Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Happy Newbies Horse and Ride - Dean Conti

Jimmy (he’s the horse) and I are definitely members of the Newbie Division of Endurance Riding. I essentially knew nothing about it until attending the PAC 2003 when I crewed for the Kanavys (a friend of mine, Erwin, has one of their horses). It became obvious to me by the end of the weekend I would have to give this thing a try. So this past weekend I just completed my first ride, a 25 mile LD (BTW it’s fine with me they are not endurance miles), at the Klickitat Trek. So now I would like to make a few observations and ask a bunch of questions. I will then shrink into the background to continue my knowledge absorption. (Or is it adsorption? A little vet help here).

The boring (but possibly necessary) details of our first ride so perhaps someone can answer my questions and make suggestions (and others can learn from my mistakes):

My background is from mountain climbing and backpacking, but the knees are not what they use to be. (Yes, I was one of those dreaded horse-eating pack carriers)! So five years ago our family (wife and two daughters) brought horses into our lives (happily including the 4H thing). The horses are at the house and we have access to a nice 14 mile loop trail from there. Two years ago we purchased a four horse trailer so we could start exploring some of the tremendous trails that are in this area (Seattle). Some of the mountain trails we ride gain 2000 vertical feet in 2 miles of length, so good conditioning just happens (nothing like sitting on the horse at 7000’ in the Alpine Lake Wilderness).

Based on suggestions gleaned from RC, I added faster flat conditioning rides to prepare Jimmy, a registered 15.3H, 12 year old Quarterhorse (he was raced early in his life and is built more like a TB). So after a quick 15 miler warm-up and a few off days we headed down to Mt Adams.

Ride day brought what could arguably be called perfect horse weather. Temperature upper 50’s to lower 60s. A little sun, then mostly cloudy with a little rain but a lot of fine mist (comparable to what the NFL uses on the sidelines for hot games). Overheating was never a problem (except for the riders under their rain coat). So my friend Erwin and I stayed away from the start and let the first group go before starting. We trotted the first 11 mile loop and fortunately our horses were willing to allow others to pass without any (big) problem. We walked into camp and both horses quickly pulsed down. After a little coaxing, Jimmy drank and ate well, but not voraciously.

One strange thing did happen. Erwin’s horse, an Arab, went from dry to white foam on the chest in a matter of a minute or two. We were doing an easy trot on fairly flat ground and with no pressure from another horse (at least the humans didn’t notice any). His horse wasn’t showing any signs of distress and then almost as quickly he dried back out. Did we just miss something that he saw that made him nervous (and could that cause that type of reaction)?

Per plan the second loop was at a faster clip, with a considerable amount of cantering. We ended up in a group of four others (with another QH setting the pace). There were plenty of water crossings and Jimmy drank at about half of them. Everything was going along smoothly until we were doing a fairly fast canter down a slight hill when one of my stirrup leathers came off the saddle and it fell completely off. I’m not a good enough rider to sit what we were doing, so I ended up bear hugging Jimmy’s neck with both arms to stay on, and thus unable to slow him down (even though I still had the rains in my hands) . Fortunately the rider in front of us, Jill, noticed the change in beat and started to slow her horse down (who was not particularly interested in listening since Jimmy didn’t seem to mind my hanging onto his neck and thus was keeping the pressure on). So at a slightly slower canter I bailed off (instead of waiting to fall off), and fortunately we both kept the wheels down as we skidded to a stop. Everyone patiently waited as Jimmy and I ran back up the hill to fetch the errant stirrup.

What more could happen? How about Jimmy loosing a front shoe minutes later (on the same side as the problem stirrup), and not having an EasyBoot (forgot to put the darn thing in the cantle bag). But never fear, Jill again to the rescue! I never saw this wonderful person before she passed me halfway through the second loop. Yet here she was off her horse and offering me her EasyBoot as the other riders continued on. She stayed until it was fitted and then we continued on, reclaiming our positions in the ride. I dismounted and we ran side by side the last couple hundred yards to the finish (if I was the horse, I would have been pulled in an instant). Jimmy needed 10 minutes to pulse down, giving us a 3:12 ride time. He did the drink/eat/poop/pee thing well, so we did a light 10 mile ride the next day before going home.

# 1) The farrier has noticed that Jimmies feet are not growing that fast (and he tends to throw shoes). He has not had any lameness problems (yet), but I am concerned. He wears shoes year round since we ride during the winter. The horses get Eastern Washington timothy hay, Strategy grain and salt supplements year round, and plenty of Western Washington pasture from April to November (mud the rest of the year). What supplements have others used that best helps promote hoof growth?
# 2) I got my Vet and BC cards back and suppose I should be able to learn something about my horse from the pre/post ride deltas and overall score (596). How can I learn from them?
# 3) How different will my horse react when we do a ride on a warmer/hot/humid day?
# 4) How should I work electrolytes into my program as I work up to a 50 miler, and hopefully a 100 miler?
# 5) How much more cautious should I be with Jimmy since he is a Quarterhorse as opposed to an Arab?
# 6) Jimmy lightly clipped the inside of his hind legs (at the fetlock?). What is the best boot/wrap to protect this area (the vet said it was fairly common problem), that won’t cause chafing?

Lessons I learned:
# 1) Stop and help someone if they need it. Your turn needing assistance is just around the corner.
# 2) If you know something is wrong with your equipment, fix it. The stirrup had come off once before. Even though it is coming off because I am not a smooth enough a rider, it needs to be fixed so it CAN NOT fall off.
# 3) Ask questions. Everyone was very polite and informative. All were happy to share regardless of how ridiculous the question. This is good since I knew nothing (and at least now I know very little, which is an improvement).
# 4) Listen to your horse and pay attention to what he is trying to tell you.
# 5) There is nothing like banking through the curves on a nice soft single track trail that wanders through the forest. Just be certain to stay on the same side of the tree as your horse (At least I managed that).
# 6) Find a mentor. Erwin has graciously passed on what he has learned from the Kanavys, which made a big difference for me.
# 7) Have fun!

So we thank EVERYONE on RC for spending their valuable time to share their knowledge and appreciation for this sport and their concern for the welfare of the horse. While the temperature on RC has gotten quite high at times, there is still plenty of wonderful information for us Newbies out here. So please don’t get discouraged and sign off, even if the discussions get a little raucous or personal. Remember that it is the horse that will ultimately bear the cost of an information void.


Dean (with a 2 week old, large AERC# 33370 and sliding back into the shadows)

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