Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Air Force Academy NATRC ride wrap up

(Click on any photo for larger view in another window)

After a good nights rest, I woke up to clear sky over the mountains, with the sun rise shining on to the sides of the mountains, casting a lovely orange glow. Camp was empty but for the few of us who stayed over.

I packed up the buckets, flipped the Hi-Ties back against the trailer, took the horses and dog for one more walk before loading up to head home. A 14 hour drive across Colorado, New Mexico and Texas gives one a lot of time to reflect more on the events over the weekend. While I can chat with the dog, she is not much on conversation and actually falls asleep. I thought about all the trail I shared with my horse and the other riders and the challenges we faced. I came to the ride knowing he was very fit but not sure how he would handle the climbs and different trail situations but also the travel to the ride and then being asked to perform. The altitude was not a concern. Although we live at less than 1200’, horses handle immediate altitude change very well. It is the riders who often have issues. I remembered to drink plenty of fluids and watch for signs of altitude sickness. I have had it in the past, and do not want to ever experience that again. (headaches, nausea etc.)

At our regional rides, I have been able to head to most on Thursday and Hank is then able to rest for most of Thursday and then Friday before being asked to take on the trail over the weekend. The trailer rides are usually only between 4 and 6 hours. The week before the rides I do some feed changes on to hay from his pasture only diet, to prep his system for the ride weekend. I also consider what he eats days before the ride, as to what foods are going through the different parts of his digestive tract during the ride. Then, during the ride, I watch not only what he eats, but amounts of the meals to keep his digestion happy, working well and his system doing the best to take care of his bodies needs when he’s working. I seem to have found the right combo for him and try to stick with the routine. This time we left mid day on Wednesday and he had a much longer trailer ride and even a stop on the way there for some rest. I still kept the same basic feeding routine but, but concentrated even more on keeping his system hydrated along the way for a longer haul. He is not the best drinker on the road going to the ride. (but sure drank on the way home!) Also, standing in the trailer actually does work the muscles as they shift and balance, so I want to give him some rest time upon arrival, to let the body recharge. While I have always considered all of these things, his surgery has made me even more aware of his bodies needs to do what I ask of him. But he has been hauled across the country a bunch and over all takes fairly good care of himself.

As we left Colorado Springs, heading south, I looked back to the mountains and saw where we had ridden but my vantage point was looking up towards the mountains I had been riding through, looking down on to the city below. The city that I viewed spread out from the base of the mountains as I rode over the highest points of the ride. I saw the neighborhoods of houses that trickled up the hillside where just days before and I was looking into individual back yards.

I saw the red rocks of the hillsides, where I had passed and looked at the details of the individual rocks.

I saw the green of the trees and bushes but not the details of each.

I thought how many travel the freeway and look out their car windows and think “Gee, those mountains are beautiful” but will never get to experience them as we did over the weekend. I realize how blessed we are to have the ability to ride our horses for miles and miles and see so much our country has to offer.

I thought of one of the moments of pure joy I experienced when trotting along one of the highest points of the ride and Hank and I were all alone. His ears were up and he was truly joyful about heading up the hill.

I could feel by his gait, how strong and fit he was. The smells of the trees, the sounds of his hoof beats and the views were a joy.

(see the horses down the hill at the p&R?)

I thought how close I came to never being able to do this with him again when he was there on the surgery table. We knew that there was a chance that distance riding could be out and he would end up being a pleasure mount. I also thought of the moments over the weekend where he was an idiot and his mind had shut off to anything I was asking of him. While I was indeed frustrated, I thought some more on what caused his mini mental breakdown. He had gone from normal, to gradually building up stress and tension until he was extremely worried about horses in front of him and he would not stop to eat grass, would not drink and was not listening to what I was asking him to do. Then we got back into a pocket alone, he started to relax again and was back to “normal”. He does not mind riding in groups. He will go ahead or behind. Normally other horses do not do much to his mind. But I am thinking it was one particular horse that set him off into “the horse the aliens abducted”. The other horse did nothing that I noticed to irritate Hank. We never really rode next to the other horse for Hank to have any kind of horsey exchange. But later when he caught up to that horse again I could feel him getting a bit upset. Maybe it looked like a horse who beat him up as a foal. LOL. Who knows. Thankfully the emotional low of him being so naughty was over shadowed by the highs of the rest of the weekend.

I thought of the different people I met over the weekend. Some I have exchanged emails over the years, but had never put a face with a name.

Some were riders who I had seen their names in ride results, year end award standings, but again, had never had the pleasure to meet them face to face. I had been told that Region 3 was not as “welcoming” as Region 4 seems to be, but I found everyone to be VERY friendly. I had people come up to me and introduce themselves all weekend. I had to tell them I am horrible with names, and half the time can not keep track of riders and names in my own region, so please do not be offended if I forget their name. I was checked on to see if I needed anything. I had riders on the trail be as polite as any in the sport. It was really no different than any of the other rides, except they were new faces and new horses to me. And many asked when I could come join them on the trail again. And in the end, when I was in shock as to how well Hank did, I had many who I had not met, come up and congratulate Hank and I on doing so well. I had offers to stay at peoples homes in our travels, and left the ride feeling like I had made many new friends.

Now, a bit on Regional ride differences for those who read this and ride NATRC. Being different does not mean it was right or wrong. Just different.

Riders time out in numerical order in the morning. But, they also auction off rider numbers, so if you are a rider who likes to time out first, you may have been spending more to “buy” rider number 1. In Region 4, we time out in what ever order we want, with open heading out first. If I, as an open rider want to time out towards the front, I am sure to be up there waiting first in line as the timer sets up.

All the P&R’s had a mandatory forward motion, or even a mandatory trot into them. Some were up a long slow gradual climb. This eliminates people stopping just a few feet from the P&R timer and “waiting” before timing in. And indeed, no rule against this, but to me, this has always been very tacky. I prefer mandatory forward motions into P&R’s to have that even playing field for horses arriving after the same amount of forward motion (or trot).

This ride (and I think others in region 3) make feeding the riders part of the ride. We had Friday night Spaghetti, Saturday Sloppy Joes, er, I mean “Jims” in camp during our lunch break mid ride, Saturday night lemon chicken, and Sunday salad bar after we got back to camp for lunch. Region 4 does some meals, at some rides, but a Saturday night potluck is very common.

The ride had not only a board meeting, but also would have a bit of a general meeting to ask questions etc. of regional thoughts before the rider meeting. They also have board members for different districts of the region. I don’t think we have “districts” in region 4. (maybe I just missed it) Region 3 seems to keep the communication lines flowing well between the members, and were very organized in this from an outsider perspective. They ask for feedback from riders at most meetings.

They offered an auction before awards. Another great way to generate some income for the ride. It also gathered riders out of their LQ trailers and campers, and in to that central area to socialize. I am basically anti social, but it was nice to see an effort made to get people gathering. And, this is not so much a regional difference, as Region 4 is pretty social with each other. Just a notation.

And now, for those photos what did not fit into the blog.

camp on Friday night

trail bridge. Mountain bikers appreciate them more than the horses ;-)

The Burger King and grocery store!

Academy gas station. Needed a hitching rail to tie up and get a snack!

cabin on the Academy, that has history, I am sure

the footing on most of the trail, even after rain was wonderful

another climb

thru the woods. Hey Hank, want a bite of grass?

how DID this train car get in the mountains?

trail along the side of the mountain

Hank with his High score Arabian halter and lead, Sweepstakes blanket, and ribbons

Our stop on the way home along a quiet road in Texas


Tammy said...

"I thought how many travel the freeway and look out their car windows and think “Gee, those mountains are beautiful” but will never get to experience them as we did over the weekend. I realize how blessed we are to have the ability to ride our horses for miles and miles and see so much our country has to offer."

I think this way often and remind my boys when we are on the trails that we are seeing things MOST people will never see! How lucky we are!

Tracey said...

Great pics...did you ever find out what the train car was up there for?

Sure looked like a nice ride and I'm so proud of you and Hank..great job!