Monday, March 24, 2008

Moving Cows - Karen Steenhof

I had always heard that moving cows was one of the best things for a horse's brain--especially Arabians who were more accustomed to doing endurance. So I put "moving cows" high on my list of things to do after retirement. I retired on march 3rd.

Not long after that, my friend Regina Rose contacted me to let me know that the local ranchers would be needing some help moving cows not far from where I live on St. Patrick's Day. Soon after daybreak on St. Patty's day, Regina and I showed up with our Arabians at the corrals where the cows had been recently branded.

The cattle drive was an amazing experience--just about every scary thing happening all at the same time, 300 cows and calves, 10-12 horses, about 6 dogs, men on horses with ropes, dogs chasing cows, cows chasing dogs, trucks & trailers following us along, men and women yelling, whistling, men roping calves, men getting bucked off, a loose horse dragging a calf, cows bawling, cows fighting cows, darling little calves--some of them being unable to keep up being roped and put in trailers, men talking on cell phones all the way, little calves that were so tired they were lying down, I was wishing Merri were there to photograph it all.

There was so much scary stuff that my horse, Gil, had to ignore the Wal-Mart bags and traditional scary stuff that usually worry him. He had some good moments and some bad moments. He did very well in the back and really liked nudging the little calves to make them move faster. On the flanks, he was more confused and silly. He was pretty stupid at the start (the general nervous energy reminded me very much of the start of an endurance ride), and when we turned toward "home" (Briar Creek) he got stupid again. But he did get into the idea of moving cows, and the one time that an old cranky cow charged back at him, he didn't freak out. I was more scared than he was.

All the cowboys were super nice even though I'm sure they were amused at my attire (helmet, tights, crash vest)--everyone else had chinks, ropes, and cowboy hats--I saw at least one carrying a pistol. There were times I did feel like Billy Crystal in a real Western movie. I thought it was interesting that no one told any one what to do; everyone just went to work and did a job. Regina and Kris said they would have said something if someone was doing anything wrong. So I guess Gil and I fit in and got our share of the job done. One of the cowboys said something about Gil still having lots of energy at the end of the drive ("Your pony still has alot of Go, don't he?") We covered a distance of about 6 miles, though I am sure Gil and I covered more than twice that.

At the end of the drive we had to wait about 2 hours and keep the cattle bunched up so they could mother up. There was also a problem of water at the destination point (seems the pump wasn't working right). So we were out a total of 8 hours, and I do feel like I just did an endurance ride. It is just that I feel it in my upper body rather than my lower body.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Horse Endurance Racing

I Must Be Crazy - An American Vet Student in Australia

On Saturday I got the opportunity to help out at a horse endurance race in Harvey, WA. Before Saturday, I had no idea what a horse endurance race even was. It was very interesting and a lot of fun. There were approximately 70 riders all together with some doing only 40km and some doing a 3 day 240 km ride. Most of the horses were Arabians and very well trained to do endurance riding. The bond that the riders and horses had were amazing. I am not much of a horse person, but I was impressed.

Three of my classmates and myself were volunteers at the event...


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Nature's Ballet and me - Lari Shea

My kids and I have many wonderful memories and stories about Nature's Ballet, whose nickname was "Blue". My kids rode him, often bareback and in a halter, from the time they were 3 years old. He is responsible for my starting what became Ricochet Ridge Ranch, but that's another story. Following is information from a letter I used to send out to folks who were interested in him. His Cougar Rock photo can be seen at

Nature's Ballet, our Russian Orlov stallion, competed successfully for a dozen years, and sired offspring who are proving his value as a sire of performance horses. In a limited career, "Blue" amassed a rather phenomenal record. He completed the "Tevis Cup" 100 Mile Endurance Race five times out of five attempts, which was a world record for a stallion at the time.

The Orlovs were the horses of the aristocracy in Russia. Developed by Count Peter Orlovski in the mid 1700's by crossing 5 Arabian stallions on Danish Warmblood type mares, the Orlov was bred for beauty, elegant action, stamina, and speed. Standing 15.2 to 17 hands high, they were either ridden or driven.

Nature's Ballet has an interesting history. In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier of the USSR, presented Natourschik, the Grand Champion Orlov stallion of that year to Cyrus Eaton, an American industrialist. The gift was in appreciation of Eaton's having been instrumental in effecting the sale of American agricultural commodities to Russia during their time of great food shortages, at the height of the "cold war." American farmers were able to sell surplus grains which had been rotting in silos, and Russian peasants were saved from starvation. Eaton had also donated some of his own prize Shorthorn bulls to Russia for the enrichment of their agricultural program.

The horse chosen to express the gratitude of the Russian state was Natourschik ("Nature Lover"), the 17 hand high sire of Nature's Ballet. Khrushchev also sent two other stallions to complete a "Troika", or hitch of three stallions, as well as some mares, a veterinarian, and the horses' trainer. When Natourschik died, in 1969 the Russian government sent a replacement stallion, that year's current champion, named Cupal. Unfortunately, that horse was never trained for riding or driving, and died without siring any offspring.

A troika consists of three stallions hitched abreast, pulling a unique light carriage or sleigh, depending upon the time of year. Natourschik performed as the lead or center horse, which trots with head and neck flexed vertically directed towards the front. The two stallions on each side canter, with their necks excessively bent toward their respective outsides, held by unilateral side check reins.

The original Troika sent over in 1959 was timed over 21 miles of snow in 55 minutes, a rate of nearly 23 miles per hour....testament to their speed and endurance. The stallions, Natourschik, Otlik and Konus, toured the country demonstrating their speed and grace. The brochure distributed at the exhibitions specifically notes that Orlovs make excellent dressage horses, "capable of being schooled to the highest degree of Haute Ecole, which shows the natural attitudes and gaits of the horses." After touring, the stallions returned to Eaton's estate in Ohio, and faded from public attention.

In 1976, Chester (Sonny) Ferris, of Fer-Glen Farms, Alberta, Canada, acquired Natourschik's son, Nature's Ballet, and promptly entered him in the Great American Horse Race, a 3000 mile extravaganza celebrating our country's bicentennial. According to the Newsweek article captioning a photo of the Orlov stallion, "if the race were decided on beauty, surely the winner would be the Orlov!"

Although the Orlov did not win that race (the winner was a mule, as a matter of fact), he was in 11th place out of 500 horses at the end of 2000 miles, at which point his owner pulled him from the competition for personal reasons.

Dr. Kerry Ridgway, California's world renowned endurance riding veterinarian, met Blue when Dr. Ridgway served as head veterinarian on the Great American Horse Race. Dr. Ridgway rode the Orlov on the horse's first Tevis Race that year, and bred his own Arabian mare to the stallion. Dressage trainer Michael Norrel took Blue through Tevis the next year, to be followed in 1978 by another successful completion with co-owner Brenda Ferris. Since Tevis has on average a 50% completion ratio, the odds are that any given horse will be unsuccessful half of his attempts. Blue was 100% successful, five times, earning his world record.

In 1979, he was off to three years in horse heaven on the Canadian plains with a herd of select mares. In the mean while, I purchased the offspring of Dr. Ridgway's mare and Nature's Ballet, a colt named Nature's Tzar. Tzar proved to be the horse of my dreams, combining the agility, endurance and flair of the Arabian with his sire's tremendous bone, length of stride, and exceptional disposition. The year I campaigned Tzar at first level in dressage, he earned 27 blue ribbons, with many scores of eight, and the occasional nine. At the California Dressage Society Championship Horse Show, the international judge Col. Andrew diSzigney stopped us as we were leaving the arena after performing a test, and thanked us for allowing him to see such a trot!

Kerry Ridgway was instrumental in helping me acquire a part ownership of Tzar's sire, Nature's Ballet. Coming from three year's retirement on the Canadian plains, at the age of 14 this extraordinary horse earned his entry into the Endurance Horse Registry of America by successfully completing six 50 mile races and another 100 miler within the short course of four months, beginning one month after I obtained him in 1983.

In 1984, I took him on a first for both of us, the Levi Ride and Tie Race. With a big red "STUD" painted on both haunches to warn other competitors not to tie a mare to the same tree with the stallion, Blue impressed all who saw him with his no-nonsense competitive spirit, and his ability to alternately race full out at a gallop or extended trot and then stand quietly resting when tied to a tree waiting for the next rider.

One short month later, Blue was called into action at the last minute for the Tevis race when my Arabian gelding became gimpy. At the age of 15, the incredible campaigner placed 16th out of 274 horses on the Tevis Cup 100 Mile/One Day Horse Race. He finished just behind the front runners, the oldest horse entered that year. The next year, at age 16, he finished 27th out of close to 300 entries on the Tevis. As the miles get longer, Blue gets stronger. With the inclusion of 100 Mile endurance racing at the Olympics, I foresee a real future for the offspring of this remarkable stallion. (Oh, how I used to dream~~~)

From 1982 to 1988, Blue also completed my Tevis Trail Training Seminar, more often than not carrying a student rider on his strong back. The October 1986 Arabian Horse Express featured a 10 page article describing the Seminar. The reporter, a beginning rider who never did learn to post the trot, completed the harrowing 100 miles on Blue, who soon decided to walk all the down hills, and canter all the ups for her, to save both of their backs. Blue carried her in this sensible manner, regardless of what the other horses on the Seminar were doing, ignoring them as they disappeared into the distance on the downs, and calmly passing them in a cloud of dust up the long mountains. It was the experience of a life time for his rider.

Blue has been bred to mares of various descriptions, stamping his distinctive mark on the offspring, which characteristically have his great length of stride, density of bone, stylish action and marvelous temperament. We have found that breeding back to Arabian or Thoroughbred mares seems a good complement, although a few Appaloosa/Orlov crosses are waiting in the wings to show us a thing or two. Blue's semen has been frozen, and is available to ship anywhere in the world. (Not any more.....)

Blue has filled a unique place in the hearts of our family. His phenomenal disposition and intelligence have been evident as he took my children for trail rides or jumping classes, ponied young horses, packed chain saws into the forest for trail clearing expeditions, carried 6 children at a time on his strong back during vaulting classes, or patiently carried handicapped riders in our adaptive riding program. Exploring new trails, if I needed to know I would get there, I always rode Blue.

Sincerely yours,


Sunday, March 16, 2008

FITS: There Are No Easy Hundreds

By Alexandria Kirkland

I started my FITS preparations right after New Years in New Mexico, our last hundred: what went right, what went wrong, etc… Overall, the ride went smoothly, and we had gotten another COC checked off our list. In planning for FITS, I had in mind about an 11-hour ride time. That seemed sensible, because previous years had ride times in the 8 hour range. I was still, however, focused on our ultimate goal: another Certificate Of Capability (a ride time of 13:20 or less). I was told that the course was very easy, and if I rode right, a COC should not be a problem. Ultimately, my long-term goal is to go to the 2009 Young Rider World Championships. But, one step at a time.

For FITS, I would again be riding Darolyn Butler's horse, DJB Cytron Kon JMF, who was my mount for the hundred back in December. My mother and I flew into Tampa Bay International Airport on Saturday, the day before the race. By early afternoon, we pulled up into the race site. Darolyn Butler had brought the horses up a few days prior so that she and her daughter, Ceci, could do the 50 the first day. At that point, it seemed like the stars were lining up.

I suppose the first hint of the trouble to come was when Darolyn and Ceci came back from their last loop on the fifty. Apparently, several days of rain had left feet of standing water over a large portion of the course. I guess "several feet" didn't sink in at the time when I was standing on perfectly dry land. After a few paperwork scuffles and a pre-vet check, I had everything ready to go.

For those riders who haven't ridden with me, I am obsessive in capital letters about strategy. I like to know at any given time exactly what kind of total time I'm pacing for, where I am in the pack, how our times compare to previous rides, how our recoveries compare, etc... So, as typical, I ran around a bit the day before the ride crunching numbers and tracking down loop orders. The ride meeting is usually where I put the finishing touches on my plans because things have a funny way of changing before the ride meeting. However, they informed us that there was some water on trail, so deep in places that the four-wheeler couldn't get through. I don't know why at that point I still didn't realize what I was getting into; I live in Houston and have seen numerous hurricanes pass through. But, everything was prepared and pre-set for the FITS FEI*** 100, so I went to bed.

The 6:30 am start went off without a hitch. My mother and Ceci's husband, Jason, have crewing down to a science. And Darolyn had brought in a woman from Namibia, who turned out to be an excellent addition to the crewing team. After the first four miles, the sandy footing became a lake. Honestly, I have never seen anything like that next 35 miles. I discovered that this was not the easy hundred I had expected. As far as I could see, the trail was just deep, uninterrupted water. We were definitely riding through a swamp. The first two vet checks were out of camp. I tried to dry off after the first check, but I soon realized that from my tights down would be soaked all day. That nice first four miles of trail soon became a very deep stretch of sand, which turned uphill the last mile into camp - not great for heart rates.

(photo:Coming in after 70 miles - it's amazing how my form deteriorates as the race goes on)

It wasn't until the 50-mile point that we finally looped back into camp. Upon returning tocamp for the first time, my crew barraged me with news of top riders being called for rechecks and several pulls. My horse vetted in fine - there were several times when riders would blast past us on trail, spraying us in water, only for us to out-recover them. Finally, when I went out after the halfway point, the trail seemed to dry out some. Though there was still water, there were long stretches of trail that were water-free, and even the flooded parts of trail were much shallower. Still, the damage was done. Fifty miles of deep water will hurt any horse. Horses had been pulled left and right, and these were some of the top horses in the country.

The lovely Colombian girl I had been riding with was pulled, so I rode mostly alone after the fifty-mile check. Early in the day, we both had been riding with Darolyn and Ceci, but elected to slow down. I decided that the Certificate of Capability (a ride time of 13:20) reigned supreme over a high placing. Luckily, Cytron moves out pretty decently alone, though I did catch a few riders on my way. I guess that's one of the really cool things about this sport - there are days when a 15 year old can catch and pass a world-ranked 45 year old. The second half of the ride also gave me a chance to meet people I would never have met otherwise. For example, I got to ride with a woman named Ruth from Canada for almost 20 miles, though we split at the 70-mile vet check. Cytron devoured everything we put infront of him in true top-competitor style. We went out for a 15-mile loop. Ride management had set it up so that the last two loops were the same, giving most riders a chance to pre-ride what would be ridden in the dark - very good thinking on ride management's part. Eighty-five miles in, Jason told me that Valerie Kanavy had done one loop out of order, and had elected to ride 115 miles for an FEI placing, and that John Crandell and Steve Rojek were out. This race was a mess.

The trouble really started for us at that check at 85 miles - uh-oh. The vet saw problems. Dr. Carter is a regular at the rides back in Texas, and I've known him all my endurance career. I've learned that when he says there's something to be concerned about, I definitely need to pay close attention. He told me that Cytron's back was sore on the right. I stripped everything from my saddle, including water, to make it as light as possible. We iced Cytron, and after a 30-minute hold, I went back out again. After talking with Dr. Carter and my crew, I rode very heavy on the left in hopes of saving that right side. I thought maybe I could pull it off for the last 15 miles.

Well, I certainly paid for it in spades. For riders who have ever tried to ride heavy on one side, you will know what I'm talking about. Even though I slowed down quite a bit, every time I posted, I could feel my back get worse. About 12 miles into the loop, I lost all the feeling in my legs and arms, which is a really awful sensation. I tried not to think of the damage I was doing to my poor back - at least I was saving my horse's.

I crossed the finish line in ninth place, a ride time of about 12:20. Thank god my crew was at the finish line, which was posted almost a mile from camp, because by the end, I was half-conscious and in such pain I couldn't breathe. I got to camp and slid off my horse. My crew really did an awesome job, because I just handed the horse over and tried not to pass out. Within a couple of minutes, Cytron had pulsed down. His metabolic status looked very impressive for having just done 100 miles. I sat in the warm car, easily within eyesight of the vet check, watching my crew to ensure no final problems. I saw the first trot-out, and I could see from thirty feet that his gait wasn't right. Dr. Carter asked for a recheck, and so my crew massaged and messaged and iced and messaged again. They truly did everything possible for that kind of situation. I got out of the car when Cytron trotted for the recheck, and he still wasn't sound. I didn't even have to ask - Dr. Carter's face told me everything I needed to know. After all the deep sand and water, after all 100 miles, we were pulled at the finish. It was such gut-wrenching disappointment. This was the first time for me to be pulled at the finish, and it is truly heartbreaking. I feel sorry for my horse, because I feel confident that having to pick his legs up so high in the deep water for so long is what did him in. I definitely think that footing was the culprit, not only for us, but for so many of America's top riders.

And so, it was with many tears and pain that I realized - there are no easy hundreds. As much suffering and crying as there was for FITS, I find myself a week later making plans for my next hundred. Jeez.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lost Easy Boots and a Lakeside Trail with a View

Flora Hillman

Spring has graced us with deliciously warm weather -- so unusual at this time of the year. But with 5 ponies now being worked under saddle, I am thrilled for the nice days, even though I feel like I'm in the saddle 24 hours a day! This week has raced by so fast I'll do a quick recap of the last four riding days.

Tuesday - 3/11 - I decided to begin my day by walking Drummer down to watch the Piedmont Hounds go off. He was very good, standing quietly while looking wide-eyed at the activity while I talked to neighbors and friends who were there either to enjoy the final weekday hunt of the season riding to the hounds, or watching them from the sidelines. When the hounds finally moved off, Drummer and I walked the 1 mile home, stopping only at one point to watch a beautiful red fox lazily trotting across a field, safe from all concern as it was on the opposite side of the territory from the hounds who were now easily another mile away. The fox popped into a local den, and Drummer and I continued our ride home, enjoying the unusual springtime warmth and sunshine. He is still unshod but we spent our whole time walking on the grass or in the woods.

Not so for working Libby -- she wasn't shod as yet, either, but I did want to take her out on part of the gravel road so I opted to throw a set of easyboots on her front feet. Now, Libby has this habit of losing one .. or more.. of her easy boots every time out, so I decided I would stick strictly to the road and not traverse the mucky, oversaturated fields. So... off we go, heading down the road at a merry clip, me trying very, very hard not to listen to the siren song of the spacious grassy fields calling me to come hither and trot across the springy soft ground. I was doing very good not listening to the seductive song as Libby trotted down Willisville Road and back... until we got to Foxlease Farm's back lane at the edge of Cannon Hill's far fields. Libby and I turned down that old road to the stream... and the next thing I knew I was pointing my mare's darling head towards the truck path that led through the fields.

The siren song had been too irresistible to ignore!


Monday, March 10, 2008

A Double-Dipper Day: Flora Hillman

My plan for today was simple -- ride Itchy up the mountain to do the final trail clearing so we can trot non-stop to the top, and get Andy out to see how fit he still is for foxhunting this Wednesday.

Simple, right?

Of course, I had to wait until the weather warmed up a tad more -- it was in the 30's this morning with a tiny wind -- just enough to make me say "I'll wait until late morning to start". While that meant I was going to be working Andy later in the afternoon, it didn't bother me too much. Getting up the mountain and getting the rest of the fallen trees out of the way was my main priority this morning.

As soon as the temperature gauge crept up to 45 -- around 11AM -- that was my signal to go. This time I had packed along my new camera as I wanted to get some shots from the trail going up to the crest of the Blue Ridge.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Redland Express Endurance ride - March 4 2008

Traceysrandomranblings - Full Story

Well, figured I'd better post my ride story from this past weekend before all the details became "fuzzy" like they tend to do nowadays if I don't get the details down soon after the event!

Last weekend Anita and I went to the REDLAND EXPRESS endurance ride up at Lake Carl Blackwell in Stillwater Oklahoma. It was about a 5 hour drive but was fun as it was my first "trip" with the new truck and it pulled like a dream and that interior rides like you are in a cadillac! The weather on the drive up was windy but beautiful and the only downfall was we saw LOTS of grassfires in Oklahoma and also the devastation left behind by previous fires.

We got started later than I like because Mike had to take the truck to have a gooseneck hitch installed that morning. But we still got there around 5 and unloaded our horses and started setting up camp.

As soon as we unloaded my heart just sank...Amira came out of the trailer with a bloodied left flank...uh-oh...something was wrong...


New Zealand: Days of Our Rides: Manakau

Wellington Area Trail Riding Club - Issue 107

by Jo Lake

Where has the summer gone? Loading Palo just after 6am it is dark. The inside light is not working. He looks at me, questioning. I say "it is not the Black Hole of no return. We are going TRAIL riding". He walks on. It is the high point of his week too!

Palo and I are riding novice-20kms in 2.5 hours-nice and cruisey. Both of us are getting on a bit, and we enjoy each other’s company. So why rush?

This is the first beach ride organized by WATRC-and we are looking forward to it. Palo and I team up with two other novice rides-"Echo" a beautiful 5 year old Arab with Kate and "Roughey" a kind 17 year old hack with Jen. Echo's first time on a ride, first time on a beach! Roughey has been on a beach once before. Echo's rider (Kate) has been on one trail ride; this is Jen's first. The horses are not used to water, but will be fine to follow another horse through. OK.

The ride begins with a short (about 10-15minute) walk through the streets, onto the beach, south for 5km towards Otaki, then back north (it's ok, all in a straight line, I can do this) 10km toward Levin, then turn back south 5km, turn left onto the streets and right turn, left turn, right turn, you’re home. What could be simpler!?

On the beach Palo leads the way through the first river crossing-fetlock deep, quite easy, although the sand gives a bit. Echo and Roughey follow and then quickly take the lead, trotting along. I look at their hoof prints: dainty and shallow! Palo cruises along behind; he is 16hh station-bred, good bone, solid and strong; his big feet sink in the sand.

We pass a family fishing –sitting on the quad-bike, the little girl waves, then so does her wee brother. They are really waving at Palo the palomino-every little girl's dream horse, but I wave back anyway. Palo is busy.

There are riders going north and riders going south: horses cantering, trotting, walking; riders waving, chatting, laughing. Freeze-frame now-let it last forever!

We make good time-the first 5 km in 20 minutes and then we turn. Palo thinks we are going home, so tosses his head and bounces. I agree to canter again. He is having fun. We take the lead for a little while.

Locals are walking their dogs, and families are playing on the beach...