In which a guest blogger relates her learning curve from Home on the Range

I invited Duana to be the "guest blogger" at Haiku Farm today, so she could talk about her first real crewing experience at the Home on the Range ride last weekend.  She crewed for me a bit, but mostly she was the "extra hands and feet" for Dory and Dean, who rode the 75-miler.

I sent Du a bunch of questions, and pasted her responses into the blog for our edification!

Thanks, Du!

Duana is our guest blogger today, telling us about her adventures at the
Home on the Range Ride in Washtucna, WA.
photo by M. Bretherton

* Introduce yourself. How did you get talked into this crazy weekend? What did you hope to gain from four days of dirt, wind, and horse hair?

I’m Duana. I’m a lawyer. I live in the City. I work in the City. Yet, I never get enough of being in the woods or out on the grasslands. And, despite my mother telling me for years that “I’d grow out of it” when I wanted a pony, after 40 years of asking for one, I decided I’d just get one myself. Sort of – actually, one of my best friends told me in no uncertain terms that she had a horse that wanted to be mine and mine only. 
[Aarene in:  hmmmmm, did I really say it that way?  Yeah, I probably did...]

Turns out, that was true – Hana and I are now fast friends and I’m still in the 5 year old girl phase with her much of the time, it’s a little silly how doe-eyed we get over each other. 

Since I’ve been riding with endurance-minded folks for the past year, and got to do a trail ride at Renegade Rendevous last year, I ‘drank the Koolaid’ and am in love with being on the trails and logging roads with Hana. So, before I truly embark on trying the sport out, I have bought (and read!) a copy of Endurance 101 and figured out the best way to learn the ropes is to crew for my mentors, without my horse around to distract me/make me nervous. Hana is a really fun horse, but her nickname is Bad Radish, and for very good reason – she can be a whole lotta horse for a novice like me, so I need to understand all the ins-and-outs of endurance without having Bad Radish around to require all my attention.

That, and, well, I really love to be at these events, with a multitude of horses, dogs and people – it is one of the more unique environs I’ve ever been in.

* What did you do before the ride to get ready? What stuff did you pack up, what did you cram into your pockets, what did you have staged and ready in your bag?

I got to fly first class. I hooked up with a seasoned rider/camper/crewer and followed her lead [yay, Monica!]. She covered the basics, such as camp stove, air mattress for cushy sleeping and such. 

We planned meals together over email with another person who ate the similar diet so we all shared that load. But I packed a lot of my go-to foods and comfort foods as I knew I would get stressed, nervous or shy being in a new world and figured that having some culinary comfort would be wise. We pre-cooked both dinners so all we had to do was reheat. With pre-trip coordination, we actually ended up eating better than we might have at home! Homemade alfredo pasta with smoked salmon, oatmeal for breakfast with berries, chips/guac for snacks, ratatouille and so forth. Seriously, you can eat WELL at these rides!

* What happened on ride day? 

Wow, what a full day I was in for. I wanted to crew for Dory and Dean, who were riding the 75-miler – this meant getting up at 5:10 to see them off, attached the coffee-i.v. and start to see where I could help out. 
"Where's my coffee, crew-girl??!!??"   photo by M. Bretherton
I fairly firmly attached myself to a few of the more experienced crew members around camp, and spend my day asking ‘what can I do next’ without trying to be excessively underfoot. Overall, I think I did ok with a few slip-ups here and there. In some sense, I felt like I wanted to do more, in another sense, I ended up have the opportunity to do more important crewing work than I had expected (again, had I brought Hana, that would not have been possible and I really would have missed those opportunities). 

For example, when Dory and Dean were in for their vet checks and hold times, which would vary from 15 to 60 mins through the day, I ended up watching their horses quite often – this was so satisfying both on a learning level to work with other horses I don’t know, and on a confident level to realize they believed that I could both listen to them as to what they wanted for their horses and trusted me to do it. That made me feel like a million bucks for sure!
Spot knows her job in the vet check:  EAT!
photo by P. Robinett

Just like in law, there is a lot of hurry-up and wait – which I’m used to in the office, and now can translate into the field, so to speak.

As I had no plan or agenda, I didn’t end up being disappointed or feeling like I missed out on something – and I think that was a great lesson for people new to the sport. Going in with the attitude that I just want to work for people all day long and no other agenda was a great way not to set up faulty expectations and instead focus on learning. And the learning is both from the mental aspect as to things like nutrition and health, but the hands on aspect, such as move your body and handle the horse in a way that encourages eating or drinking, and know where to stand to both be ready to help AND be out of the way at the same time (that’s not always as easy or obvious as it sounds on paper).

Dory and Dean wait for the "okay" from the out-timer.
photo by P. Robinett

* What did you learn?

I found that I got the most out of my learning when I was able to work directly for someone as if I were their ‘sous chef’. I did not have anything totally unexpected – but again, I tried hard to come with no agenda or expectations. I even brought a book in case there was nothing for me to do – that way I could always at least occupy myself and enjoy the time if there wasn’t something for me to do. In reality, I think I read the same paragraph on Friday and Saturday nights for about 30 seconds before I passed out asleep.

[Mid-day on Saturday, crew-chief Katie did a serious tweak to her knee, and had to immobilize/ice/painkill for the remainder of the day]

*  When the ride was over, what still needed to be done, especially with Katie out of the action?

My main crew mentor injured her knee late in the afternoon. Fortunately, since I’d been shadowing her all day (and probably being quite a pest), I knew where most of the gear was and what the routines were when the riders came in for vet checks and such. So, for the most part, Katie could just give me instructions and I could run around taking care of things as she told me to. 
Crew members Tim, Duana and Katie (early in the day, while she could still walk)
photo by P. Robinett

Perhaps the hardest part ended up being when Dean asked me to do his final trot out with his horse, Horus. As I’d been handling Horus on and off all day and had some time to practice a bit, I felt up for the task. Unfortunately, we didn’t plan the trot out well enough and it ended up largely being a disaster. I had done a few trot outs for people at Renegade, but all the horses were confident and pretty easy to trot out, in retrospect. I certainly learned that the trot out can vary greatly from horse to horse and when they are tired!!!! Well, live and learn on that one – my take away is that, since I want to learn from this and to crew again for Dory and Dean, now I need to ask them to practice trot-outs with Horus and Spotty back at the barn when they get in from their training rides. So, always some way to work on things at home, even if the environment doesn’t throw the same stresses and surprises, I guess.

*  What are you planning to "take-away to your first event?

It was so helpful to see other riders dealing with their horses – even to the extent of walking out of camp at the start since they didn’t feel like it was a good idea to be riding at that moment. At HOTR, you can see horses and riders for quite a long stretch after they head out of camp on the first loop. I saw a lot of different responses between horses and riders, and it was so helpful to watch how people dealt with the various unexpected (or maybe expected) behaviors their horses threw their way. I certainly learned that the best laid plans fall apart – so my main goal with Hana in preparing is to be as flexible and go-with-the-flow as I can. I find the more physically and mentally relaxed I am around her, the better she responds to me. Also, sometimes this means that you can prepare for months and then not even start for a variety of reasons – or have to pull part way through the ride – or, hopefully not, walk a reaaallllyyy long way back. Since I don’t know what Hana will be like when we head out on first 25 (well, I know she’ll be jigging at a minimum!) , I think that’s the best I can do when we get there (that and remember what my trainer and mentors tell me!).

Finally, I should be sure to have a very good bottle of wine waiting for me at the end of the day, no matter what.
"Wine = good.  Two beers and a bottle of tabasco = better."  -- Bad Idea Fairy
photo by M. Bretherton


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