Monday, March 23, 2009

No better way to spend a Sunday

A good night’s sleep is what I needed. While my camper is fairly comfy, there is still nothing like ones own bed, and having the cats curled up next to me for a good nights rest.

Sunday AM, we had an early gathering to do a judged mount, and trot out for the vet.

They had a picnic table there, which most of us used to climb aboard. While Hank moved over to it for me nice, I realize I do not practice asking him to do so for an off side mount, which was the mornings request. But I was first in line, first mounted up, and then I headed back to my trailer for a few min. while they worked through everyone. The day was dawning with fewer clouds than the previous day, and more wind. It was expected to be much warmer than Saturday.

We did have some morning excitement around camp. One horse had broke loose from her tie and ran off in the mornings darkness. They found her down near the lake marina. Another horse got loose during the mount, then spooking another who put on a nice little rodeo but her rider clung on and did not hit the ground, which would have HURT as she was on the paved roadway. She got a huge cheer from all of us watching when it was done and she was still on top of the mare. Well ridden! Then yet another got excited and reared straight up in the air, and really looked close to going over before he came back to earth. I was just glad to get out of camp and on to the trail in one piece, and letting these horses move out!

We headed out first, and had a nice road that we were able to move out with Hanks big trot. Not far out of camp, we scattered the herd of deer who were again out for their morning breakfast near one of the meadows. The trails have permanent markers and we started on white and were to change to red. I saw pink, stayed on white, when the riders behind me yelled I had missed the turn. Well, sure enough, it was red. Early morning eyes and brain were sure that sign looked pink when i went by the first time. Up ahead we had a easy sloping down hill, and up the other side to trot for the judges, then halt at the pink ribbon. Hank was a champ, and did as I asked, with a nice halt. My score card showed I had some body sway, which I am sure I did. Need to work on staying more balanced and centered when I do trot those hills.

This trail goes past a small cave, which is just more of the interesting scenery you can find riding the area.

We got in a nice pocket for awhile, where Hank and I were all alone, which works best for the both of us. But just as we came to a road crossing, and the water trough, his best friend who he rides with often, caught us. I told her to go on ahead, and I would hold back behind, and get in another pocket. They just do not listen as well when we ride together during the rides. After the pulse check around the next bend, and when we got back on the trail, Hank was anxious for a bit, and really full of himself. No doubt he is ready for a 50 mile endurance ride again. But right now, I needed him to slow down, relax, and not try to charge ahead.

This trail works over to the other side of the trail system towards the east. A great variety of cedar groves, hard woods with the trail twisting between the trees, and part of the trail right along the edge of the lake. At some points the trail passes itself very close, and you pass horses going the other way. I saw his best friend going the other direction before he did and turned and faced him so he did not see him pass. I had just got him to relax for me and did not need him try to catch up and charge along again.

I ride with a very small Ipod shuffle. It clips on the strap on my helmet, and I have the ear buds wired on to the helmet, where they stay all the time. How they are fastened to the helmet straps, has them line up next to my ear, but not IN my ear. This way I can have the music play, but still hear the surrounding noises, like horses coming up behind etc. There were moments when we were trotting through the woods alone, with some good music playing, that really made me realize how lucky I was to have the opportunity to do this sport, and also how blessed I was to still have Hank around to be doing it with. He is a very forward, normally cheerful horse, who goes down the trail with his ears up, anxious to see what is around the next bend (and hopefully not spook at it! lol) Those are the moments I cherish, and usually overshadow when he is naughty. Yes, Hank can be naughty indeed!

We had gone awhile along the lake, but because the level was down, it was impossible to go down to the waters edge to let the horses drink. A big drop off, with lots of rocks, or mud. Finally we got a nice spot that was safe to go to, and Hank and some others who caught up were able to water and cool down their horses.

We still had one more pulse check, and we assumed the vet would be checking their metabolics. But, we still had some more woods, lots more of the down and ups, and finally the meadow with the P&R check. After that, we went in hand to the vet, who checked the horses over, then asked us to side pass them in hand, over a log on the ground. They had a few score cards that were I believe, tied up, and close, and they hoped to have one last chance for a horse to shine, or maybe not shine so much. Hank was perfect for me, and got an excellent. Good boy.... Now, another 4-5 miles, and we would be done. I was getting tired and my back was a tad sore but better mine than Hanks. When we reached the 2 mile point, we were on time, and able to cruise on to camp. They have permanent signs on the trails announcing it is 2 miles to camp!

Finally, camp was in sight, and then we were done except the final check out. The line was pretty long, so I let him eat more at the trailer, as they got through many of the novice horses who had been back in camp for much longer, as they only had to do 10-12 miles today. The ticks were still getting Hank on the legs, and I spent some time spraying them, and picking them off his legs. I am sure he brought some home with him. Mean little buggers.

At final check out, Hank was getting good metabolic scores, and I was pleased with how he again had done all weekend. Still stressing over the tummy, wanting to make sure it is doing what it should do, and that what goes in, comes out the other end. He had been a good boy for me on all the observations, and listened to me, and not thinking for himself. I was pleased with the weekend, and that was enough reward. We had over all a really nice ride, with only a few times of frustration when he was a bit less than good.

Now the part that always seems to take forever. Packing up to head home, then waiting for the scores to get done and awards given. I guess because we are more tired at the end, packing seems like more work than unpacking. But, I try to keep things put away all weekend, so it was not long, and I was ready to head home, just about the time they said awards were ready to be given out. When we ride in our little pocket, you don't always get to meet other riders on the trail, or be able to put names and faces together. We had riders from Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, and I think a couple other states. Some of the Open horses have been at the top of the sport, earning many regional and National titles. So as awards are announced, you can at least put a face with a name. As we got to Horsemanship in my class, I got 4th. Not bad, we had that big ol slam of my butt into the saddle on that uphill scramble on Saturday. Now we go through all the novice, CP and lightweight horse awards, and are finally to our class. One never knows how they have really done. I knew it felt like Hank and I had a good ride, and that is reward enough to be pleased with how things went. But, it is a competition, and we are there to compete, and put our skills, horse management etc. up against others. And I will not lie, as they announce names, I don't want to hear my horses name yet. If Hank gets a 1st or 2nd out of state, then all he needs to do is get the total of 75 points to earn another National Championship, as he already has a 1st and a 2nd this year. And when we don't hear our name for 2nd, I am about ready to bust. Hank got 1st again. He Sweepstaked this ride last year, but this year it went to Trish Cleavland in the lightweight class, who was bringing her horse back to competition from a bad injury. I was sure happy for her, and knew that feeling of having a horse do well, after it had something happen that could have been career ending, if not life ending. A rider next to me was embarrassed when she got tears when her horse placed 3rd in her class. But he had done an eye injury months before that could have resulted in the loss of his eye, and maybe his ability to do trail riding again. Her hard work and dedication helped to save his eye, and he was able to do the sport she had worked so hard to compete in. Never be embarrassed by a few tears.....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

You gonna eat that???

I was not very good at blogging during the ride this year. I had good intentions, but just did not get it down. I'd think about what I would want to share, but when I would get off trail, I'd get busy taking care of Hank, then myself, and then dinner, meeting, bed. His care took a bit more time than I used to take, as I am doing some different feeding methods. I used to keep hay in front of him at the rides, all weekend. But Hank is a BIG eater. He likes his food, and would stuff himself. While having the horse eat well at a ride is very important, I am not sure that with Hank, it was too much of a good thing. Those huge meals tend to have the body shift it productivity over to get all that food processed, instead of taking care of other metabolic functions. Now this is not any thing scientific that I can quote, just my personal feeling from how I am to understand the horses body and digestive system to work when a huge meal is introduced. So, I spread out his hay meals through out Friday, and then the nights before we ride he does not get the huge hay bag stuffed full, but rather a measured meal. Ride mornings we he gets a hay meal, but not huge for him to stuff himself. At home he gets beet pulp mashes every night, and on Wednesday before a ride weekend, he starts getting two mashes a day. What the horse eats on Wed. - Thursday is generally what they are depositing out the other end during the ride. So, again, just my mind coming up with this, those meals for Hank would be best to have good fiber, and moist, along with his hay. At the ride, he no longer gets a HUGE beet pulp mash at once, but small ones thought out the weekend. All I can say, is it is working. Also, I bought some really nice Timothy hay to take along to the rides. Hank was on Timothy after surgery, as the vet prefers it, and finds it easier to digest. Again, good digestion is important at the rides. Right now with the pastures not really green, he is on hay all the time. But after he is grazing more, I'll be bringing him in on Wednesday before rides, to start on some hay, along with the grazing.

While many riders spend a ton of time practicing obstacles etc., I spend some time looking at what will make his gut mobility healthy at the rides, and what works for him to keep the other metabolic functions working well. But I find I have to really make myself pay attention, and think about these things, as it would be so much easier to just toss a hay bag out, a pan of dry feed, and cal it good. I guess the surgery woke me up a bit to the fact any horse can have colic. Even those standing in green pastures grazing. Asking them to work hard at distance riding, adds to the risk factor for them to have digestive issues, so what can I do to help minimize that?

OK, I guess I'll report on how the ride went for Sunday in a blog tomorrow. Time for me to get some sleep. Hank unloaded out of the trailer, and blasted off to the other horses, trotting around with his tail up, telling them all about the weekend, and the pretty ribbon he won... it matches his tack. ;-)

Right now, this is all working, so I will keep with this program for the rides. In the past couple rides, he has had perfect metabolic scores with the exception of a hydration point this weekend, when he did not drink as much Sunday afternoon. The important thing is that his gut sounds have been doing their thing at the rides, telling me he is processing his food well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Over the meadow and through the woods.....

Well the weather was kind to us today. While some storms passed through Oklahoma, we only had some light rain once and awhile. Did not even need rain gear to deal with it. Temps in the mid to upper 50's I'd guess for most of the day. The open riders rode 30 miles, while the novice rode 20. The trail has a lot of variety, from some nice open meadows, to short rocky climbs. Wooded single track trails that twist around through the trees like a snake. The footing is generally pretty good. Today I saw plenty of deer, including a grazing group of about 8 or 10. One doe walked into the trail and crossed about 30' in front of Hank and I. Of course, camera was tucked away in saddle pack.

The judges watched us walk over some logs across the trail, cross a muddy creek, go down a steep hill, up the other side, and ask horse to stop part of the way up and count to 5 (me, not the horse), and we had a fun down and up through a small draw with an embankment to hop up. Good test of things we could find along the trail. Hank was pretty good until the last one, where he went off course a tad on the up embankment, while I was trying to stay light in the saddle. Oops. :-)

Tomorrow we have a judged AM mount at 6:45. Whoo Hoo, I'll barely be awake. lol The we get to ride to the other side of the trail system, where it skirts the edge of the lake. If you have not ridden here, and are close enough to come camp, they have an excellent trail system and horse camp.

Right now I'm ready for bed, so I'll post some trail photos below.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Yesterday afternoon, I headed to the airport, and picked up my hubby who had been out of town for work. Took him home, then loaded up Hank into the trailer, and headed to Oklahoma for another NATRC competitive trail ride. This ride is near Lake Carl Blackwell, which is just west of Stillwater OK. The drive up was uneventful, and we arrived just as it got dark. A quick parking job, and got Hank settled in, and before long, it was time for some sleep.

This morning when I could check out camp in the daylight, we have around 10 rigs already here. I like to arrive as early as my schedule will allow, so Hank can have time to relax, recover from the hours in the horse trailer, and not feel rushed.

Last year I wrote about this ride as the weekend progressed, and posted some photos. One photo was of some of the geese who live near the camp, and I swear, these are the same two geese wandering around, looking for horse feed to nibble on.

After visiting with a few folks, I decided it was time to take Hank for a little ride. The weather is much mike home, some 200+ miles southwest. Breezy, clouds, sun, even a few drops of rain hit for a minute. Hank was full of himself, and wanted to move out. I like the trails here, as we have such a variety of single track, woods, grassy meadows, jeep two track roads. They are VERY well marked, with permanent signs and arrows directing us along the different colored loops. They even have some big bright butterfly markers at some intersections

We watched for deer, but only saw one Opossum, who looked to be very old, and moved pretty slow.

After we returned, we got checked in with the vet and judge. Our ride vet got stuck in Denver with some airline troubles, so another vet who was competing was able to get us checked in, with the exception of the horses in her class. I understand that as I am typing this, the ride vet is well on her way to the ride, having finally escaped Denver, and landed in Oklahoma.

I am parked next to my friend Dolly, who I ride with often. She has a young calf (Katie)that she has to bottle feed, who came along with her, and stays in the back of the horse trailer, or on a long leash. Hank was very fascinated with Katie, and checked her out.

This is a full ride, with around 60 entries. Camp has filled up, and we have riders for all the surrounding states.

The cool thing is we have SEVEN open junior riders. The future of our sport! That is a huge junior class, and great to see the kids out there.

Tomorrow we will be riding 30 miles. Hopefully the weather will be kind. Never know WHAT it will do. I will try to update the weekend tomorrow!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Skywriting, roads, redbuds and tents

After some much needed rain this past week, it finally cleared up enough to get the horses out a little. Poor Flag has been getting neglected as I got Hank ready for the ride, and hubby has been out of town. So Saturday I saddled up, and took Flag for a ride down our dirt/gravel road for about 6 miles, then turned around and headed home. He has such a good work ethic. Just chugs along, rarely spooks, and goes like he has some place to go. He is not big, but he has an awesome, quick walk. The road was starting to dry and was not as soft as I had hoped the footing would be, but it was not too bad.

We have been playing with riding with the GPS, and then downloading our rides to a website called "Motionbased" Pretty cool site. It will show you a map, with the course you did. Some on line friends have been playing with doing what we call Skywriting, where you ride the shape of your name, and then download it to the map. Below is the photo capture of how my name looked after I rode it in my pasture.

Sunday I decided to head to the trails, and try to ride some of the more sandy areas, and just walk, as I knew we would have some mud. I again rode Flag, and took Hank along, and ponied him along side Flag. He had not been out all week since the ride, and was seeming to enjoy it, even if he does not like Flag much. Once and awhile I'd see his Shadow reach towards Flags butt, and I'd scold him.

I was seeing what looked like cart tracks on the trail, and had guessed it was the LDS group,doing a Reenactment of the migration west. They dress in 19th century clothes and travel the trails pushing and pulling handcarts like their ancestors did in the 1800's. And sure enough, I came around a corner, and set up beside the trail was a bunch of tents etc. and all the folks doing chores,making fires, cooking etc. Now this of course was very exciting for the horses, who knew they were just not to be there. They did have a porta-potty parked pretty much on the trail, and a couple trash bags next to it, that the horses had to pass a couple feet from them. We went slow, and let the horses look at everything.

One of the carts was parked in the middle of the trail, and no easy way around it. They asked if they should move it, and I said it was fine, but the tent stake and tie rope to a tent very close by could be moved, and then I'd have room to pass between the tent and hand cart. (gave me about 8') I was very pleased with the horses, who never really wigged out, and just looked at everything, and went right where I asked them. It was a great training session, and I was glad they were camped next to the trail I was on! Oh, as I was leaving their camping area, I heard one guy ask another "got any duct tape??" I guess they do not take the supplies to the same as available back in the 1800's.

And finally, spring has sprung! The Redbud trees are blooming, and are a lovely colorful contrast against the dull, leafless bare woods, and dull yellow / brown grass. You will ride along, and all of a sudden see a bright pink burst of color, shooting out from an area surrounded by colorless trees.

Just one more sign that winter is on the way out, and before we know it, the temps will be in triple digits, and we'll be saying "hot enough for ya?"

When I finished, Flag had some suspicious muddy spots way high on his butt

Geeee Hank, I wonder how those marks got on Flags butt

Monday, March 9, 2009

Scampering around Texas

It has been about Six months since Hank had his colic surgery. He has been doing really well. His conditioning program has been increasing, and he seems as strong and healthy as ever. The ride season is upon us, and I have been looking forward to getting out to some rides, and enjoying some trail miles with my boy. While I feel he is ready for all I have been asking him to do, I have still been a worry wart, watching him close for any signs of digestive upset.

This past weekend was his second NATRC ride since the surgery ( The Girl Scout Scamper) and it was held about 275 miles south of us, near the town of Cat Springs TX. I decided to leave in the wee morning hours on Friday, and had Hank in the trailer, and on the road by 3:30AM. I wanted to give him as much time as possible Friday after arrival to eat, drink, and relax after the 5+ hour trip down, and I also wanted to get a camping spot with electricity. We arrived by about 9AM, got parked and Hank settled in quickly. I decided a nap was in order, and laid down for a bit. I must have been tired, as I woke up an hour later, and had a new neighbor. A big beautiful motorhome was parked next to me, about 8" away. That was fine, as no horses were on that side, but how'd I not hear it parking? I was tired indeed!

My camper and our cool neighbors with the big motorhome next door

I checked Hank in with the judges, and saddled up and went for a short 4 mile ride. These trails are well marked with permanent colored markings on boards, and the trail is easy to follow. After we got back, I did a little more clipping on Hanks neck and shoulders, going with the lay of the hair, so I would not mess with the follicles of the new spring growth starting as he sheds the winter coat. The results made him look patchy, but he was cooler, and the coat will grow in fine.

Evening rolled around, and management offered a Pasta dinner. Nice to not have to cook, and it gathered many f the riders in the meeting hall to visit before the meeting. We got our maps, times, and then I was ready to head to bed. Gave Hank a few more carrots, a kiss on the nose and a hug, and told him to sleep well.

Up before dawn, and fed Hank his breakfast goodies, and then prepped for the days ride. The wind was blowing, and we had patches of clouds and fog passing over. I headed up to the timer, deciding I'd time out somewhere in the middle. But as I waited with a few others, here comes a large group of about 6 horses, heading towards the front of the group. I was not going to get right behind all of them, so I ended up timing out first. Headed out at an easy trot, then saw the group cantering up the trail behind me. Why they felt cantering right out of camp was a plan, I have no idea, but I was not going to have them fly past me right before the judges watched us. (I saw the judges trucks just up ahead) So, we picked up an easy canter, and then pulled to a walk as we got to the judges. Hank walked past on a nice loose rein, ears up, cheerful as usual. Here came the pack of followers, and I let them go on past. No need to be caught up in that mess. A few min. later, Don and his nice Arab gelding Khid caught up, and we rode together most of the ride. Hank and Khid paced well enough together, and Hank he was not acting badly having company along. We chatted about all kinds of things, and it was a very nice ride.

Some of the Guinea fowl that live on the ranch, and were out on the trails

Our pulse and respiration checks went well, and Hank did not lose any points. I listened to the vet on her metabolic scores, and he seemed to be doing well. We had an obstacle that was something I have had to do on the trail in the past. A rope was stretched out across the trail, and they told us to imagine it was a downed wire fence, that we HAD to cross. Dismount, stand on the rope to hold it down, and have the horse step across it. Then, after the horse was across, we had to re mount. They had a small step stool there for those who wanted to use it. Hank did very well, and stepped over the rope as I asked, and stood nice for me to climb back on him. I have had situations where we came to a section of wire that was across a trail, and unable to cut and remove it, so this was something practical, and a bit different for us to do. The end of the day we had another check by the vet, and again, it sounded like Hank was doing very well on his metabolic scores, his back was excellent (love my Specialized Saddle) and no lameness issues. Before long, it was the rider meeting, and then again, off to bed. Daylight savings time change, but the ride had us not change our watches until after the ride was over. That worked well.

Another early morning, that I woke up to the sounds of it sprinkling on the camper roof. It lasted long enough to toss a rain sheet on Hank, then it stopped. Not as windy, but still some clouds and fog above us passing by. We had a trot out for the vet, and then heading down the trail again. I timed out in the middle today, and we had instructions to walk until told otherwise. Then we picked up a trot through a section of trail with some kind of low branches like a tunnel. As we rounded a corner, they had set some small logs and limbs across the trail. Hank hesitated, looked at the first one, then trotted slowly across them.

This is a ranch with lots of cattle on it. All kinds, with lots of new born babies. They don't really care about the horses, and often will stand in the trail and not move as you pass a few feet from them.

Cattle near one of the P&R stops

As we rounded a corner into one of the fields with some of the cattle, we hear the words "loose horse" behind us. Here comes the horse who was parked next to Hank, without his owner. He slows down, but does not stop. Finally one of the ladies up ahead catches him, and I volunteer to pony him back to his owner. She had stopped for a little trail break, and as she went to get back on, something spooked him, and he took off through the woods. She was not hurt, and was back on board, and heading back down the trail in no time. Our pulse and respiration check, followed by another metabolic check again had good scores. I was really pleased with how well it seemed Hank was doing. Hank was drinking pretty well out of the ponds and creeks all weekend.

Spanish Moss on the tree

Dons horse Khid stopped at one creek, and decided that they were not just for drinking, and without any real warning, dropped down in the water. But instead of starting to roll, he was sort of on his belly, rocking back and forth scratching it in the mud, as Don was trying to get him to get back up. Khid then stood, and Don was still aboard, and I really thought he was going to get out of this with just wet feet, when Khid went one way, and Don landed in the creek the other. It made for a nice laugh, and a good picture of Don all wet and muddy.

We then had an obstacle that was just the horsemanship judge. At a pond that had a section with a narrow width, we were to ride in, and half way, turn around, and then back out. The footing was a bit muddy, but not bad. The water was just above Hanks knees. He has no issues with water, and is careful with the mud when we water at the ponds. I asked for a nice turn on the forehand, and then asked him to slowly, and carefully back out. He was such a good boy. By not getting in a rush, and asking for slow, easy steps, we handled it really well, and got a verbal compliment from the judge.

Tracey and Amira doing the above pond obstacle

Wish the vet had seen it! But she was up ahead, waiting for us to arrive for her own little obstacle. We had a small log/smooth limb on the ground, for us to stand parallel to it, and side pass over it. NOT Hanks favorite thing to even consider doing. I expected him to jump when he bumped and moved the log, but he didn't, and then managed to step on over it, and pretty much get it down. I was pretty pleased with him, as I know this is an area he has issues. Just a few more miles, and we called it a day. One more final check out with the vet, and the ride was history with the exception of awards. Hank checked out well, and I did not think we lost any metabolic points all weekend from what I could tell. Hank was cheerful all weekend, and took good care of himself. He went down the trail with his ears up, and seemed to be enjoying the ride.

I packed up some in prep of leaving, and waited for awards. I had decided to not leave right away, but nap a little after awards, before driving home. So I was not in a huge hurry to get things ready to roll. But soon enough, they were calling us up that awards were ready. We had a large class, with I think 10 riders. I know that even if you think you had a great ride, anything can happen, and you never really know how you did until your name is hopefully announced. Finally they got to our class, which is last to be announced, and I placed 2nd in Horsemanship. Then we had to wait through all the other classes again for the Horse awards. They announce from 6th, to 5th etc moving up to 1st place. As they are handing out ribbons, I am not being called up, and then we are getting closer and closer, until we get to 1st place, and Hank is announced. I know I teared up again. You can not imagine the feeling. Six months ago, I was going to be happy just to have my horse alive in the pasture. Then we had hope of him being a pleasure mount, even if he never competed again. Then it has moved to him staying healthy at rides. To have him doing so well at the rides, staying healthy, is beyond what I could have ever wished for.

I got home in the early morning hours, and after that 5+ hour trailer ride, Hank was more than anxious to get out of the trailer. He was so excited to be turned loose in the field, and when I did, he galloped around the other horses, rolled, galloped, and I know told him all about his weekend. I swear when he does well at a ride, he is more excited when he gets home.

He knows he is my number one, special boy, and likes to rub it in to the others.

Hank at the end of day 2, after 50-something miles over the weekend