Sunday, August 30, 2009

One year and a thousand memories

One year ago today was Hanks colic surgery. I can not believe it has been a year already. I can remember almost every single detail of that night at the vet hospital when we made the decision to do the surgery. The decision was not easy. On one side, the average person needs to be practical with the monetary issue. I weighed what kind of horse I could get for the amount of money the surgery would cost, and if it would meet the same level of training, age, conformation etc. that Hank had achieved. Also, Hank being under 10 years old, his chance of recovery was better, and we considered if he had some good years left in him, Then, practicality aside, we then considered the emotional aspect. It is very hard to put a price on emotion. But we considered that he had gotten me my Tevis buckle for finishing the 100 mile endurance ride, and had done well in distance riding competitions. Hubby and I talked about it, and would we be happy to have him in the family if all he could be was a pet, or a pleasure horse for him to ride. We decided that his chances were good, since he was fit and strong, and was in some really good hands with two very experienced surgeons. I hope that those who read this do not have to ever be faced with the decision of surgery or not. If it had been any of our other horses, I admit, we would not have gone through with it. That is the practical side of me over riding emotion.

When we went to our first ride of the NATRC season, just 90 days after the surgery, I had no idea at that time, what road , or should I say ROADS, literally, we would be heading down in the months to come. I went to that first ride, to see if Hank seemed to be able to come back to the sport, and chose that ride as it was close to our area, and if Hank did have any issues, we were only an hour and a half from his surgical facility. Then the next ride, with Regional Points in mind. Then another ride, and another..... and suddenly we were being convinced that we should keep going, and chase after National awards, as he had been doing so well.

I have been around NATRC off and on since I was a junior rider in the late 70's. I have never, EVER had even the slightest urge to try to get to 16 rides in a year, and go after National awards. And during this journey, I have actual wondered "why" we seem to have been called to do this. Every rider I have talked to, who has chased these awards, has planned out well ahead of time to do so, and had the goal of doing so before they started. I just started going to rides, Hank started doing well, so we went to more rides. But, I am thinking that there is some bigger reason for all of this. Maybe it is to give hope for those who have to ever consider colic surgery, to show that horses can, and do come back from the surgery's to go back to competing in sports such as distance trail riding. Colic surgery has come a long, long way, with even more advances for success being made all the time. Maybe Hanks story is to be told beyond this little blog. I'm not sure, but we will keep going, and see where the journey ends. I'm just blessed to have my horse out there in the pasture, where a year ago, we were not guaranteed to even have that.

Our work is cut out for us, as we have six more rides to compete in, to do the 16 rides needed to have a shot at the year end award. The first 5 rides are one weekend after the next, for 5 weeks covering about 4000 miles of traveling. I still focus on one ride at a time, and Hank will let me know if it is to much. I figure if we are meant to continue this journey, then things will fall in to place. Meanwhile, I will keep enjoying the country side I am blessed to be able to see through the windshield of my truck, and more important from the back of my wonderful horse.

Wow, what a year it has been.......

Sunday, August 16, 2009

recharging and reflecting

After our last ride, I have been spending time recharging myself and Hank. All of this travel is probably the harder on the Hank, more than doing the actual rides. With a normal ride year we have more time between rides and our travel time is not as long. Within our region it usually only takes us 3 to 6 hours to get to 99% of the rides. I often leave Thursday to arrive by dark or leave pre-dawn on Friday to arrive as early as possible. I still like to give the horses time to rest before we check in at the rides. Then, after the ride, I almost always leave Sunday after awards, as long as the horse is looking good and seems ready to travel. With the longer distances we have been traveling I have been leaving earlier in the week to arrive and have been waiting until Monday morning to leave from most.

Hank travels well, eats well, but does not drink as well as I would like him to. I am cautious about letting him stuff himself on hay if he is not also taking in enough water. I guess I am a bit cautious after having the colic surgery. To make up for the lack of water he drinks in the trailer, he gets beet pulp mashes along the way that are super sloppy wet. He eats Timothy hay on the road, as it is easier to digest. If we stop for the night he will usually drink well and also get to eat as much hay as possible. Still, with all the traveling, he has lost more weight than I would like. So he has been out in the pasture 24/7 since the last ride. Thankfully, with some resent rains, it turned green again and is not as brown and crunchy. I bring him in a couple times a day and give him some Timothy pellets I found at a local feed store and he also continues to get his beet pulp mashes. I can see him gaining some of the weight he lost back and is filling in again. We have 3.5 more weeks until we load up again to head to the next ride.

Hank grazing in the yard where they think the grass tastes better

Also from the weight loss his body is changing shape and the saddle was fitting differently than from the beginning of the season. Unfortunately I had not checked the fit and at the last ride he had a slightly tender spot on one side in front of the loin area. I ride in a Specialized Saddle. One of the reasons I bought a Specialized is the ability to change the fit of the saddle between different horses or as the horse changes, like Hank did and I can adjust the saddle. So before we went for a ride this weekend I set the saddle on his back without the saddle pad, checked the fit and saw that the angle of the bars needed adjusted. I pulled out the wedge shims that were on the saddle and inserted the next thicker set. I also brought the whole fitting panel up a bit, to have it not fit as wide as needed when Hank is more round then headed out for a ride. It spread the weight and contact area back out over his back in a larger area and hopefully we are back in business. If he gains more weight and widens out again, it is easy enough to readjust for his shape.

The fit of the saddle before I changed the shims. See the gap under the panels where the saddle sits wide on his back

changing to a thicker wedge shim matching the pitch of his back better. Will fine tune fit after a ride or two

Along with the horse and saddle needing some attention, I took the trailer in and got a couple new tires. I always wear my tires out before they would ever be compromised from the sun from the trailer just sitting. We have to trailer to ride the trails and it is about 10 miles of gravel roads. Gravel really wears the tires out fast. Then, with all the rides we go to, they have been getting some serious mileage on them. So now I have 4 new tires on the trailer all put in within the past 4 months. While it would be nice to have them all need to be changed at the same time, that never seems the case. Next, I need to take the truck in next week t have the brakes checked. It is time and again, all these miles, I need to make sure we are good on the mechanical things.

It looks like we will have out biggest challenge next month. To get to the number of rides we need for year end national standings, we need to go to six more rides. They take points from the first 16 rides you go to in a season. We have done 10 rides already this year. Since I had never, ever considered doing this point chasing, I did not start out the year with such a plan in my mind so we did not get to as many early season rides. But as Hank started doing so well, we were convinced we should go ahead and give it a go. Thus, our next 5 rides are one weekend after the other, with a break of one weekend and then the final ride of the year. I still focus on one ride at a time, but of course I have planned ahead for the rides that will follow. We start back up with a beautiful ride in Tennessee, then head straight to Oklahoma without coming home. We will stop at home for a day or two before heading back to New Mexico to see all our new Region 3 friends. Then, the following weekend is a ride here on our home trails! Only a 12 mile drive!!! After that we head to Nebraska, then a week off and we finish up with a ride in our own region with a ride in East Texas, only 200 miles away! Whoo Hoo.

That center point under the F is home.

Awards are for the people, not the horses. The horse does not care if he wins or not. Feed them, love them, treat them right and they are happy campers. But I also keep thinking that there is some reason Hank has done so well this year. Maybe to bring to attention that colic surgery is not always a death sentence, nor does it always stop the horses ability to go on and compete and BE competitive. I have been involved in this sport off and on since I was a kid in the late 70's. Maybe it is our way to give back to the sport by bringing Hanks story into the spotlight and give NATRC some recognition on a national level with an article here or there. I'm just not sure but all I can say is that I am feeling we were called to do this. Most riders plan way ahead and make the conscious decision to do so. We never did. Our first ride was just my wanting to see if he could come back into the sport, then after a couple rides, I was hoping he would get another National Championship. When he did that, we looked at placing in our weight division on a National Level. But we never thought of doing 16 rides in a year until about 1/2 way through the season!

I am still amazed at this little horse. Labor Day weekend will be one year since he was put on that surgical table and opened up to see what was going on with him. When we made that decision to do the surgery, we had felt if all he could ever do was to be a pleasure mount for my husband to ride, that would be OK with us. He had already proven to us he was something special by finishing the Tevis 100 mile endurance ride in 2005 on his first attempt and got me my Tevis buckle. He had earned a National Championship in 2006 in NATRC and most importantly, he has become a family member. So as we have been traveling all over the country this year, I realize the most important thing is that I get to see some wonderful trails, on a horse that means more to me than any award.

Now, where did I put those maps.....???

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In To The Night

Hubby has had this week off at home. He has been working so much, that he has had little time to ride Flag lately. And when he did have time, I was often gone with the trailer, and he had no way to get them to the trails. Little guy was feeling rejected and neglected. (Flag, not hubby). So, with the the Texas heat, we decided to go for an evening / night ride tonight. The moon was full a day or so ago, and has been super bright. So we loaded up Flag and Hank, and headed over to the trails. Hank has been hanging out all week, eating lots, and seemed to be wanting some attention, and I figured an easy 10 mile ride would be good for him. Besides, he has been ridden in the dark, and Flag really hasn't, so we did not know how Flag was going to behave.

The sun was setting as we hit the trails. Even though it was getting dark, it was still mighty warm. Around 95 or so. I had hubby lead the way through the woods, so he could be in charge of knocking down all the spider webs. He did a fine job, and even used his face to remove a few (shudder)

Flag was being such a good boy. Cheerful as always, but not charging or tugging to go faster, even though he had not been out in awhile. He is such a different horse than we he came to live with us. In the beginning, he would fight to go faster, even if he was out front. Now, I am sure he will still do that for awhile when we get him to some more events, but he and hubby seem to really get along so well. I don't think he has bonded with a horse this well since he lost his favorite mare about 10 years ago.

We rode most of the way without lighting the glow sticks I placed low on the fronts of their breastcollars. I put them on for a bit, through some dark woods, but hubby actually liked it better without. He used to work in a photo darkroom, and has excellent night vision. Seems Flag did too.

He never took a bad step, knew where the trail went, and did not spook, even with the Armadillo ran across the trail. Hank was happy to tag along, not have to think much, and just watch Flags glowing white pinto spot on his butt in the moon light. They always say for a ride like Tevis, get behind a grey or white horse that has done the ride before when you get to the night time stuff, and follow them. Easy to see and follow.

We stopped at one of the ponds for water, and I took a photo, catching the moon, its reflection in the water, and even some "Orbs" in the photo. Some believe when you get them in a photo they are good luck, others feel they are spirits. I just think my lens is dirty. ;-)

Finished up the 10 mile loop, and loaded the boys up, and headed back home. Hope everyone gets a chance to ride at night under a full moon some time or another. You become very aware of how much you need to trust your horse. Also, many find how much they depend on the visual to be balanced when they ride. Hubby rode along with his eyes shut a bit, and said he could feel where he was riding crooked etc. Many have trouble with vertigo in the dark while riding, so if you Do plan to do a ride like Tevis, find that out ahead of time!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bear Basin NATRC photos

Again I find myself heading west across Texas, on the highway that I have taken many times before. I can see for miles, and the sky changes often.

We stop in Clayton NM at a horse hotel for the night, rather than the odd little fairgrounds I stayed at before. Hank had a nice large corral. It had just rained, and he really wanted to roll in the mud. I told him not until I got a blanket on him. He can be a horse and get dirty after the ride, but for now, he needed to stay clean.

We arrived in camp, settled in, and the next morning awoke to a bit of fog draped over camp below us, and some chilly tempatures. I had parked up the hill in camp. Hank was warm in his blanket he won at the first CO ride we did this year. behind.

The next morning, again we found fog and clouds drifting through the area to make the sunrise memorable.

But it quickly moved out, showing us the spectacular view we had from the camper, and what a beautiful day it was going to be on the trail

The views from the trail were beautiful. Often we did not have a trail, but just followed ribbons across country.

This is an area that had a lot of mining, and some of the very old mines are visable. One of them below, collapsed with 13 miners down inside in the 1800's, and they never recovered their bodies, instead, leaving the mine as their grave.

We had such a wonderful variety of trail, from open high country pasture land

Through Aspen groves where we got to see a Doe

Through the Pines, where we were blessed to be able to spot a cow Elk hiding down in the trees as we rode past

We had a few technical sections with narrow trail above a dry creek, and rocky sections to carefully pick our way through

But it was the views I will remember the most from this lovely area. Here we can see camp, and beyond are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.(click photo for larger view)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Horse shows call it getting the gate

Well, at a Horse Show, when you do not get a ribbon in a large class, we
called it "getting the gate". Cuz that was all you saw on the way out,
just the gate. I knew with a large class of 12, Hank could not really
afford any big issues or mistakes this weekend. And he lost a total of
3 pulse points again. While I am still very puzzled by what is going on,
I discovered a few things on Todays ride that I am going to investigate
further. More on that in a moment. First, a bit more about the ride.

The ranch the ride is on, is about 3500-4000 acres. They were very
creative with marking trails to get the distances needed (we did about
28 Saturday, and about 23 miles Sunday) for each division, and have
access for judges and P&R volunteers to meet us along the trail. Often
the trail would come close to itself, twisting and turning around
through pastures, woods, up over rocky mountains / hills, and along some
of the local county roads. I was surprised at how little natural water
was on the trail. No real streams, a couple ponds, but mostly the water
troughs for the cattle and ranch horses, and the troughs the ride
management hauled out to locations and filled for the horses. The grass
was mostly native, small blade, short clumps of what one called buffalo
grass, which the horses liked, and then occasional taller clumps of
something with seed heads that he liked. Lots of up and downs, some good
climbs, and areas to move out to make time for the slow going through
the rocks etc.

A really beautiful area, yet different than the other two CO rides I
attended. The photos will tell more of that story when I get home and
can post them, but all weekend I felt blessed to have the opportunity to
see this area from the back of my horse. We were challenged and tested,
and I was pleased with how Hank did.

Now, a little more on his pulse. He has learned how to drop his head
really nice and low for me at the P&R's, and relaxes, and stands super
quiet. I have been kneeling down, petting his head, as he sort of
snoozes. But he had pulse points lost on Saturday at 2 of the P&R's, and
I was not only frustrated, but mildly concerned as to why, and if
something was going on I did not know about. But all of his other
metabolics were super. So, Sunday, I watched my heart rate monitor
close, and saw that as I had his head drop really low, his pulse did not
drop, and often went up a beat or two. And, as I pet his face, even
though he never indicated it was an irritation, again, the pulse would
go up. So, I left him alone, let him hang his head what ever level he
wanted, and only pet his neck a little, and did not lose points. Will
try to figure out if this is indeed something causing the higher pulse,
or just coincidence. Something I will consider is as the head goes
really low, that he gets some sort of mild pain or such. Maybe through
the neck or back. But, it could be a mental issue too, and he just
wants me to leave him alone! But the Heart Rate monitor was sure
interesting to watch as we stood in the P&R line and did different things.

I ended up placing 6th in our big class in horsemanship, and Hanks name
was not called for any awards. :-( But I did not tell him that. He will
still tell his pasture mates how proud I was of him, and about the
adventure. He does not need a ribbon for me to tell him he did good,
but we sure would have liked a few ore points. lol

Photos and maybe more on the adventure after I get home. Now it is bed
time, so we can hit the road in the morning.