In which I muse extensively about Fiddle's first distance ride

Non-endurance riders may find this post a bit tedious, and to them I apologize and promise a nice, "normal person on the farm" post later this week. This post is all about last weekend's endurance ride : what went right and what needs work.

What went right for Fiddle:
A lot of stuff went right. So many that I'm afraid to list them all, because it sounds like bragging--but seriously, when I can say "this went right because I planned for it," I can assure the readership that I learned how to do this stuff by doing it wrong first. Sometimes for a long time. Sigh.

We warmed up early and were able to trot out at the beginning of the ride (although we started behind the main pack of riders); for years I have tried to keep my mount slow at the start of the ride and it was just an exercise in frustration. I may be overdoing the warmup (45 minutes?!?!) but by starting that early, I was able to get Fiddle's mind focused on me and get her muscles warmed up in the early-morning chill. Then, when we crossed the start line, she could pick her pace and I felt confident that she could handle it without stressing cold muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Fiddle was fit for the terrain, and not over-conditioned and over-tired. She not only completed the 25-mile ride at a good clip, she also did a 10-mile shakedown ride at a strong working pace the afternoon prior to the ride. She did not sag or sandbag at any point. In reviewing her finishline vet scores, I see that her CRI was high: 56/60. Since her resting heartrate at the start was 36, this indicates that she was tired at the finish. Not overly tired, but tired. To me, this shows that our ride was good conditioning, and not a huge stretch of physical endurance.

Her legs were cool and tight at the end, and her feet looked great. The shoes show signs of wear, but her feet aren't bashed up at all. In the ride photo taken at around mile 18 (at the top of this page), her stride is loose and comfortable. She had no tack issues at all--her back wasn't even slightly tired or tender at the finish line or this morning when I checked her.

I electrolyted the night before the ride, in the morning before the start, at the vetcheck, and after the vet had completed us. I also gave electrolytes the next morning. That seemed to work, but I suspect she will need more on hotter days and/or longer, tougher courses. We were blessed with temperatures in the 60's on ride day, and a cool breeze; absolutely perfect conditions for an early-season ride. I squirted her with water periodically to enhance cooling, and that worked well.

Fee was completely comfortable in camp, which is no surprise since she's been coming to camp for more than two years. She was a little surprised that I didn't strap on my loppers or a bag of trail ribbons, but she was cool with it. She was also comfortable with all the vet activity--again, because for years I've been borrowing the poking fingers of veterinarians in camp for "practice" vet checks. And yes, I learned to do this the hard way.

I'm glad I taught her this:
Getting Fiddle to behave appropriately in groups has been a challenge, especially when Hana was nearby. Hana doesn't misbehave, but I guess she says stuff to Fee like "Oh, don't go kicking that strong handsome horse just over little ol' me," which of course is as good as painting a target on the other horse for Fee to kick. Argh.

For two years, I've often hauled both mares to my riding lesson so that they could learn to be near each other but not together, without pining horribly. I've also been taking one horse or other away from home periodically, leaving the other at home with the goats. I had no idea if this would actually work in camp, but it did. Huh. Neat-o.

What went right for me:

It's taken years, and it's still not quite perfect, but I've pretty much found a combination of clothing and gear that works for long-distance riding"

My helmet fits, my helmet liner can be adjusted for warmer or cooler weather, I know which coats will keep the rain and wind out and don't have a snap right where it will bang into my upper thigh for 25 miles, I know which tights really do fit properly, and I know which bra will support me without rubbing me raw or constricting my lungs (hint: riding Fiddle doesn't require nearly the foundational-garment support that riding the Toad required!) My socks were adequately warm. The sandwich in my saddle pack was appealing at 20 miles. The camera had fresh batteries, and was stored in an easily-accessible pocket.

I wish I'd had:
Phone service on the trail was extremely limited, and that was a safety problem for two riders who were injured on the course. I was one of the few people who had the ride manager's phone number...but there was no phone service in camp! We discovered that Verizon customers had service at the tops of some hills, and people were able to call 911 for help. Usually AT&T has better coverage in the remote areas of rides, which is why Jim and I use that company. This time, it didn't work that way. At least I had a GPS on my wrist and was able to give people with working phones the coordinates of people who needed help.

I'm glad I brought:
V-8 was great to drink at the vet check. I actually love the taste, and it keeps me from needing chemical electrolytes which always seem to upset my stomach. On the trail I drank water, and that was fine. On a very hot ride, I'll probably pack a little can of V-8 with me on the trail.

Food that worked for me:
Trial and error has taught me a lot about what I will find appetizing at a ride. Salty and savory foods work best for me. Sweet stuff, not so much, although an apple is often very tasty. I always think yogurt will taste good, but I rarely eat it. The exception in the past was when my stomach was upset (usually by the chemical electrolytes, which I now avoid); yogurt wasn't appealing but I made myself eat it. I probably don't need to pack yogurt anymore.

I didn't expect to have to do this:
Fiddle likes to have horses ahead of her, a kind of "target" for her to aim towards. She doesn't particularly want to travel in a group, especially a large group, but when there are horses in sight, her ears go up and she wants to catch up and pass them. With a more foolish horse, this can be dangerous, but for this horse on this ride, it was a nice way to keep her motivated.

At a water tank four miles from the finish line, we were overtaken by Dennis Summers and his horse. We chatted briefly, and then I walked Fiddle away, knowing that Dennis would quickly overtake and pass us. What I didn't know was that Fiddle had, in the few minutes at the tank, fallen deeply in love with Dennis' horse. What Fiddle didn't know was that the only time she would ever be able to keep up with Dennis' horse would be if they were both standing in the same horse trailer. But she was determined. I let her trot forward at speed on the flats, and then at the hills I would stop her and insist that she take a bite of grass before moving forward again. Usually Fee is a motivated eater, but today she was in love. What a pain. It took us more time to cover the terrain, but by the time Dennis and his horse were far out of sight (probably already back in camp, knowing them!) Fiddle understood that when I said "take a bite", it meant that she was absolutely not going to be allowed to leave until she had grass in her mouth.

This surprised me:

After the ride, when I got Fee untacked and bathed, she snacked for a while and then started staring off into space. I'd walk by every half hour or so and kind of poke her to remind her to eat, and she would...but only for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then she'd go back to staring. I have seen this mare when she feels
colicky, and this didn't look like that.

Instead, this looked thoughtful. She was contemplating the events of the day! It took her several hours to finish thinking. I took the mares for several handgrazing walks during this time, and each time they both ate the fresh bunch grass with zest, so I knew that she felt okay. Fiddle is a thinking horse, and she was occupied with thinking through all the stuff that she had learned during the day. When she was done thinking, she ate a bunch of beetpulp and hay and then took a nap.

What I learned from this
is that Fee is probably a lot more like Story than like the Toad. Toad was a very Zen horse who lived entirely in-the-moment. When he ran, he ran. When he ate, he ate. He did not run and try to grab bites of food, he did not eat and look around for the next stretch of trail. Story and Fiddle think about stuff, have a low-flight index, and will sometimes choose rest over food. This is normal for them, and I need to remember not to freak out if Fiddle doesn't gorge herself at vetchecks the way the Toad always did. Story would always eat for 10 or 15 minutes and then nap until it was time to go out again, and it makes sense that Fiddle would do the same, since I've been using her as a trail-building horse for so long--she's capable of napping whenever she holds still, no matter how many chainsaws are roaring in the background, because she knows that the next time I get in the saddle, we may be hauling our butts (and the tools) up miles of steep trail to get to the next work site.

My own huge obstacle was:
I cannot believe how much energy I spent worrying. Fiddle is a large, stubborn, opinionated mare, but she's still overall a safe and pleasant ride. She has tantrums sometimes. I have dealt with them. Why was I fretting about tantrums? And yet, I did. A lot. I hope I'll be able to relax a bit before the start of her next ride.

I brought this to camp again, and didn't need it, and will never bring it again:
Even though I knew we'd be hanging out with Gail and Mike (the ride managers), who compulsively feed people, Jim and I still packed the rig full of food. We returned home with a camper fridge full of food. Ah well, at least we don't need to go grocery shopping for a week or two.

How could I have forgotten this? What was I thinking?
Jim and I normally dose ourselves with Benedryl at bedtime, both as a sleeping aid and to help combat dust and mold allergies. And yet, when I packed up to go to the Dry Side, on a weekend where the weather forcast called for rain and wind, I managed to leave the Benedryl bottle at home. That was a mistake--and lack of Benedryl didn't help me sleep through the worrying I was doing before the ride, either.

The people who helped:
The list of people who got Fiddle and me to the start line and over the finish line is a long one, and I'd hate to miss somebody. However, I want to mention a few key players: Jacqui, Jim, Sky, Dory, Ryan, Willy, Gail, Mike, Jennifer, Trish, and the readers of this blog. You have all helped me more than you will ever know.


  1. You're an internet celebrity!

    I can't believe yall take Benadryl the night before a ride. It puts me to sleep, yeah, but it makes my brain feel soggy for the following day. Ick. I love hearing about Fiddle's personality - she sounds like a very neat mare.

  2. Thanks for the ride story...I always love them, and try to pick out little bits of truth that might apply to us. Glad you had an extra good ride :) ~ E.G.

  3. Wonderful, and thoughtful, write-up - I'm not an endurance rider but I really enjoyed it!

    I like that she's a "thinker" - it's neat that you notice these things. And good, well-executed plan to help her deal with her herd/pasture mate attachment issue.

  4. A very thoughtful assessment of your day. And your fore-thought was what helped it be so successful.
    Love that Jim and Willy got some coverage over on HorseBytes, too...

  5. i was thinking today that you probably had some real sentimental moments out there, as fiddle reminded you of story. and i know you won't worry as much next time.

    go fiddle!


  6. You used my Low Flight Index tagline! Well, not that it's mine... but we must spread this around. Ok, everybody, remember: Low Flight Index! Or, Low Flight Indicator.... LFI, means Not Spooky. I about died laughing when I heard that one.
    You are the best, my chicken buddy... looking forward to our summer adventures.

  7. A little more follow up. These are some things I noticed as I read your post.

    You mentioned that 45 minutes of warm up seemed a little long. Remember our experience across six or eight horses, doing it the old way, it took them at least that long to get their brains at the start line. So whether you fight the battle before or after the start time, well that's the choice, and I think you've made the better one.

    Yes, let's remember that Gail FEEDS us when we show up at her rides. It's good to go prepared, but we probably don't need to overdo.

    Benadryl has a drug tolerance level. Take it long enough, and you don't have the severe effects. And, no, we shouldn't forget it.

    You know that I'm pretty much Zen in my approach to riding; I try not to stress about what the horse will do. I admit this has sometimes gotten me into trouble: too Zen, I guess. But mostly, I find the approach works. You has teh skilz; use'm!

    In all it was a wonderful culmination of three years of practice. But you can keep the V8 juice!

    riantr: What redneck space capsules do at the end of their orbut.

  8. Congratulations! I know this is late, but better late than never right?

    I hear you about the worrying. It probably takes me a whole season of uneventful rides before I stop worrying about a particular issue I've experienced (in in the case of new horse, what could happen). After a year of not seeing anything related to the old bowed tendong I've finally stopped worrying about it. Now with the hocks, I'msure it's going to take at least a year before I stop worrying that her legs are going to fall off in an endurance ride. *sigh* I'm going with the throught that worrying makes me a GOOD endurance rider (as long as it doesn't make me go insane).

    I'm glad Fee was such a good ride for you. I'm looking forward to reading about the next ride!!!!! It was really nice to hear a reide report from such an expereienced rider as yourself!


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