Thursday, July 14, 2011

In which I read a book and laugh and learn and love Sam Savitt's pictures

It poured down rain (again still) this morning during our scheduled ride time.  Sensible people would have stayed home to read a book where it was warm and dry and comfortable. 

We went riding. 

THEN I went home to read a book.
Becky at the Blog of Becky sent me this book suggestion a while back when I was talking about old horse books.  I tracked down a copy of the book at the library, and finally took the time to read it.  Talk about a learning experience!

I think I've read it before, actually.  There were passages that seem very familiar, like this one:

     In the bright light of morning, I observe all types of riding equipment.  There are snaffles and grazing bits, hackamores and half-breeds, Pelhams and jawbreakers, spades and curbs of all description.  I see stock saddles of all sizes and shapes....

   One thing the equipment shows, regardless of vintage and style, is hard use.  All endurance riders must know and understand their gear if it is to serve them well, for a broken piece of equipment on a night trail can spell disaster. 

The book has an old-timey feel to it; the illustrations are classic Sam Savitt.  He quotes several people that he interviewed for this book, notably Wendell Robie, who is generally considered the "Father of the Tevis Trail" and perhaps even the creator of modern endurance rides (the book was published in 1981; Mr Robie died in 1984). 

The focus of the book is the Tevis Cup Ride  itself  (a.k.a. the Western States Trail Ride); however, the author also relates a bit of history of distance riding as well, including a blood-curdling tale from the Pony Express. 

One chapter focused on a Tevis veteran who is also a veterinarian, and his quest to ride a Thoroughbred in the Tevis, although he had successfully ridden Arabs on prior years.  I found it interesting that in order to create an endurance horse out of a galloper, he trained her as a trotter--in harness!

The sport of endurance has changed in small--but significant--ways since this book was written.  Several narratives spoke of bringing their horses down to 68 beats per minute in 30 minutes or so.  Our standard measure in the Northwest Region is almost always 60 bpm, and at the rides where I have pulsed, that criteria is usually met within 10 minutes or so.  I would probably rider-option pull any horse of mine that took 30 minutes to pulse down!  Another big change:  none of the copious sketches that fill the book depict a rider wearing a helmet.  Isn't it amazing how things change?

And yet, endurance remains endurance: a really, really hard thing that some people do, despite the toughness of the course and sometimes against the advice of their doctor.  The book closes with a quote from an experienced rider whose physician told him that attempting Tevis would be "plain suicide":

     He gave the listening audience a beautiful, triumphant grin and held up his glistening thousand-mile buckle.   "But I made it"--his voice echoed over the loudspeaker--"and I'm hear to tell about it!"

So there it is, in 87 short pages with lots of pictures:  a book about endurance.  What a great book, and what a great sport.

Life is good great.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In which a tack catalog inspires some philosophical stuff

(My posts will be photo-lite for a week or so because I finally turned my dinosaur of a laptop into a paperweight.  Jim graciously lends me his machine, but it's the same age as my former dino, and I'm trying not to paperweight-ify it)

The State Line Tack catalog arrived yesterday. 

I love tack catalogs.  I browse through them endlessly, gawking at the shiny stuff, the leather stuff, the plastic stuff, the purple stuff, the bottles and bags and boxes of stuff. 

Looking through the catalog got me thinking about STUFF, and about endurance riding.  When I started riding endurance, I figured I needed THE RIGHT STUFF:  the right saddle pad, the right saddle, the right packs, the right electrolytes...and so forth.

Now that I've done endurance for a while, I find that I don't buy much stuff anymore.  I did a whole post last year about stuff I bought that I don't use anymore.  (That post is HERE).   If I buy stuff these days, it's usually a replacement for something I use frequently that has gotten emptied out, worn out, broken, or torn. 

However, I know some people who seem to spend more time shopping than riding.  There's a woman in my region always seems to be seeking the "endurance magic bullet":  the STUFF (whatever it might be) that will make her into a good rider.  She's bought Arabs, expensive Arabs, gaited horses, and horses that have done 100's (although she has not yet gone farther than a 50).  She's bought (and then sold again) custom saddles, treeless saddles, synthetic saddles, saddles with biothane parts, saddles with free-range organic Italian leather parts (I might be exaggerating slightly on that, but not much).  She's used every kind of horse shoe and boot and barefoot trimming technique I've ever heard of.  She's used Mylar bits, bitless bridles, sidepulls and hackamores and I haven't kept track of what else.  The list goes on...but after expending an amazing amount of money and energy, the list of her actual rides is remarkably short. 

That doesn't work for me. 

After thinking about it overnight, I've concluded that I've only made a two "endurance purchases" that actually made a big difference in my (self-defined) success rate as an endurance rider.  I think my list may surprise some of my readers, as it doesn't include a saddle, or special horse shoes, or even a particular kind of horse.  I have preferences about those things, but they aren't the items that have made the biggest impact. 

The big-impact items are:

Before I had my own rig, I was very limited in the kind of riding I could do.  I've always kept my horse where there are at least a few miles of trails that I can access "out the back door," but a ten mile trail gets really boring when that's all that's available day-in, day-out.  Before I had my own rig, I had to catch rides with other people, and thus was dependent on their schedules and training agendas.  Before I had my own rig, the only trainer available to me was one I could get to without a trailer. 

With the trailer, I am able to ride out more frequently, and choose my riding partner(s).  I can also choose to ride without a partner. I can (and do) spontaneously decide to go for a ride without having to plan ahead much.  I can meet other people at trailheads, or I can offer a ride to somebody I want to ride with; Jim and I like to ride together, but not necessarily with a large group, and not having to borrow a trailer lets us do that. 

Because I have my own trailer, I can choose the events *I* want to attend, rather than being limited to tagging along on the events that other people want to attend.  I can choose the event(s) that fit my training goals.  And, because it's my rig, it only impacts me if I decide to stay home at the last minute because of finances or weather or just "because." 

I mentioned above that, before I had my own rig, the only lessons available to me were those that I could get to without a trailer.  That's a huge limitation.  I could read books, I could watch videos, I could audit clinics...but I am a kinetic learner.  I learn by "doing."  For years, the only instructor available to me gave me some good basic stuff...but I needed more, and I couldn't get it.  That was really frustrating. 

This instructor also had some gaping holes in her training and knowledge, and it was hard to work around those.  Her horses always had sore backs (even the non-endurance horses).  She tried different saddles, different saddle pads, different feed strategies, different chiropractors, but the sore backs were chronic.  You can see where this is going, can't you?  Yep: the soreness was caused by the riders. The riders were all taught by the same instructor.  The riders all had the same posture problems. The instructor couldn't see the problems, and so she didn't work to fix them. 

When I taught karate (many many moons ago) there was a regional testing of students twice each year.  At that test, from the front of the room, we could pick out each instructor's students without glancing at the scorecards.  Mr X's students had a quirky sidekick.  Mrs Y's students had a unique hand posture in slow forms.  Mr Z's students tended to lean forward while sparring. 

The same can be observed in the students of riding instructors.  Some have posture issues.  Some have leg position issues, some have horses that consistantly spook at nothing...and so on.  

At the karate tests, we would discuss what we saw in the students and then after returning home we would work to fix the problems other instructors had seen.  A really good equestrian trainer will evaluate his/her own students (or ask somebody else to evaluate them) to find the consistant problems, and then work to correct the problems.

I knew that I needed to find somebody to correct my posture problems and help me keep my horse's back pain-free.  I found an instructor whose students don't have those issues and now I (mostly) don't have them either.  (My posture is a work in progress; Fee's back is strong and not sore). 
So now here's the question for readers:
What have you done, bought, or learned for your horse or yourself that makes a big difference?  What didn't make much difference? 
For non-endurance people, same question.  What makes a difference and what doesn't? 
The comment box is open and waiting for your wisdom.

Monday, July 11, 2011

In which an old friend returns to horseback riding, and there is training

Remember Duana?
She wants to ride more.

Also, Hana needs to get out and work more.

Do you see a great idea here?  I do!

"Come ride with us on Sunday!" I said.  "We're all a little out of shape; we took two weeks off from riding after Renegade so our horses could rest."
Du wasn't sure that taking two weeks off after riding the most challenging endurance event in our region made us "out of shape".  


Perhaps she has a point.  But anyhow.  We went, and the day was beautiful!
A little overcast in the morning, but no rain and no bugs.  Skivvies (above) was in her usual attire, but the rest of us were in t-shirts also.  The hay meadow is almost ready to be harvested.  I often see deer and coyotes here when I ride alone, but with a group of laughing ladies, all we saw was each other, and that was fine.

We also worked on training issues.  Shade (the gelding in pink gear, above and below) gets notional at times.  One of his main notions is that HE gets to drive.   Uh, no. 
It's a great feeling when the rider gets to drive...and doesn't need any reins to do it, either!

We also worked on "hugging" Fiddle.  The other horses were hesitant at first (especially Fire, who knows the extreme range of Fiddle's rear cannons!)  but everybody took a turn at hugging the dragon. 

Fee's response is so interesting:  she likes being hugged, even though she really doesn't like the mare that Sirie is riding.  You can see in the picture that I don't need to ride the brakes when we do this stunt anymore, thanks to Ryan.  

Thanks, Ryan!

Training issues aside, it was just a beautiful day for a ride. 
Duana said that if she can still walk on Monday, she'll come ride with us again next week.  

Hana will be so pleased!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In which we don't go far to visit the Highlands and hear the music

Jim's birthday: 
the perfect excuse to go to Scotland.
Only...who has money for airfare?  And more importantly:  who will feed the horses? 
We'd better make the trip really fast, so they hardly notice that we're gone.

Fortunately for us (and for the horses), there was a Highland Games festival just up the road. 

We loaded up and went to see the sights... watch the dancing....

...and to hear the music!

Jim got a black wool "formal" kilt to wear for formal occasions.
(It looks better without jeans underneath).

Done with shopping; time to watch some obsessive dogs moving the universe's dumbest sheep.

Speaking of frustrating tasks, how about a little caber tossing? 
If you've never seen the sport of caber toss before, here's a little sample:

The goal is to carry that thing that looks like a phone pole, then toss it end-over-teakettle so it lands pointing away from the tosser.  The caber, mid-toss:
I'm just not sure of the marketable skills gained here.  How on earth do you put that on a resume? 

 Ah, well, caber tossing is probably easier to sum up than the sheep pitch

which entails flinging a heavy "sheaf" (called "sheep") burlap bag filled with straw over a very high bar.  Chiropractors probably love the participants in these games.

Willy and Lisa had never seen a bagpipe band before, and it was fun to show them the sights.

and look:
we've come to the end of this post. 

I hope you enjoyed Jim's birthday in Scotland as much as we did!

Life is good!