She’s back

Dixie’s been quiet and tired since the ride. I knew she’d bounce back and I’ve been watching for it. This morning was the first time she did the full head-twirling, rolling aggressively in the sand, cantering around routine, so I now pronounce her Completely Recovered.

The unofficial and rough rule of thumb seems to be to give the horse a day off per 5 days ridden. (Obviously, at a certain point a really peak horse doesn’t need it – that’s how they trot happily through 5-day pioneers or weeks of XP rides.) Dixie did right at 35 miles, so I was expecting her to recover to her usual uppity self no later than Sunday. Seeing her back to normal today makes me happy :)

She’s so funny. I don’t think she’s really disrespectful to me (yeah, still contemplating the leadership thing – I’m not nearly so sulky about it, just critically thinking about our interactions for a while). She just needs to let the whole world know that she’s the bomb-diggity. She trots and canters around her paddock, twirling her head so vigorously that I’m really surprised she doesn’t get dizzy and fall down. Sometimes she’ll come prancing over to me and toss her head, and I’ll wave my arms (or even just flick my fingers) at her and she spins and bolts away, tossing her head at everything else. When she tosses her head at the goat, he runs. Tragically, the chickens are unimpressed and the neighbor horses just watch her quietly. I’m sure if she could make everything in sight flee from her majestic posturing she’d be content. 😉

A head-flinging happy horse is one of the deepest pleasures of my life. I’m so lucky!

G is coming in for the weekend, so I probably won’t post much. Maybe I can finally get caught up on all yall’s blogs (or maybe I won’t even get online). No promises! Stay warm and dry, if you’re in one of the benighted parts of the world still getting snow. And keep your trap shut about your beautiful weather if you’re not getting snowed on! 😛

Hiatus

I’ve been thinking about our ride for almost a week. I think we have a lot of little issues to work out and one big one.

The little ones:
* more hill work
* better electrolyte protocol
* put the damn boots on the night before
* get up earlier because there’s something else I forgot I guarantee it
* learn to pace better

The big one:
DRINKING. I think the heart of the not-drinking problem is that Dixie only goes on short trips. The trailer is like a mobile tie rack, not a home away from home. She knows that pretty soon now we’ll load up and go home, and home water is evidently way better than away water, so ugh, why drink gross away water?

I’ve had a couple people suggest that we do 2 25s in a row. I know she can power through the first day in good shape even if she just drinks a minimum amount, and the second day might really impress on her that she should conserve some strength and drink when she gets the chance. I’ve also thought about just trying another 50 – the weather sucked, but we made it further than we’ve ever gone before. With better weather she might finish fine.

But I think I’ll just wait. I think the heart of the problem is that the trailer isn’t home, and it can’t be home til we have one of our very own. It’s a hole in our training and I think I should back up and fill it in the right way. I’ll just wait til I can get a trailer, and then I’ll start hauling Dixie for short trips. There’s at least 4 different places I can go within 20 miles. I’ll take her for a couple hours’ ride, tie her to the trailer with a water bucket (of glorious home water), and sit down and read a book til she drinks. I can haul her to local AERC rides and local NEDA rides, and either ride her or just leave her tied while I volunteer… then sit down and read a book til she drinks. I don’t think it’ll take forever to get her trained to drink at the trailer if she’s remotely thirsty. If Dixie would just tank up at the trailer, I wouldn’t mind if she didn’t want to drink on the trail – 20 miles without a drink isn’t ideal but it’s acceptable to start.

So until then I guess we’ll do a longer ride once a week to keep her in shape, then work on hill cardio stuff or flat dressage stuff the other times I ride. I’ll go back to applesaucing her at night, to cut down on the snarly-face giraffe-neck at the sight of the syringe. She trotted-out well (well, aside from both trotting and pacing) so I can drop that to once a week or so, just to keep the concept alive. I don’t have any other plan or timeline for the year. :)

Anyway, as a reward for reading this far, here is Banders being weird on the fence.

FenceCat from Funder on Vimeo.

And the RNG says…

Stacey Stearns! You don’t have your email in your profile, so shoot me an email (funder, at gmail) with your address and I’ll get it in the mail tomorrow. Or maybe Wednesday.

Everybody else – if you’re heartbroken about the journal, you can send 25 smackeroos to Steph and buy your own. I might have to buy a replacement myself!

(If I don’t hear from Stacey in a week I’ll reroll the dice and pick a new winner, but I bet she’ll come on down and claim her prize!)

Rides of March 2011: A Novel, by Funder

Let’s start with the weather!

Forecast before ROM

That’s the forecast as of 9:30 am on Friday. (Mel – 2-6″ of snow Friday night, cloudy with a chance of snow showers Saturday, winds 10-20 gusts of 35.)

Sounds delightful! The ride had about 40 pre entries, but a lot of those were Californians who wussed out had serious concerns about driving over the Sierras. There were 15 intrepid riders at the start of the ride meeting, but a couple more rigs came in that night. But back to the beginning.

I packed about 3/4 of everything I own for my epic hours-long journey into the wilderness 15 miles from my house. You can’t quite see the duffle bag of human clothes behind the blue bucket, and the saddle is deeply shadowed to the left of the grey tote. (Who fans: the tote now has a sticker that says “the angels have the phone box.” It rocks!)
So much crap

I got Dixie braided up in super-cute viking war pony braids. I am sorry in advance for any pain this picture causes dressage riders, hunters, eventers, or any other weird English discipline, but she has SO MUCH HAIR that I alternated them on each side of her neck.
Viking braids

While we waited for ~C, we watched the storm blow in.
Bye bye mountain

Dixie loaded very well for C! We crammed my stuff in on top of C’s stuff, tossed the food and not overly horsey bits of gear in the camper, and hit the road. I took this pic for G, and it probably won’t make much sense to yall, but there’s supposed to be a mountain behind those foothills.
No mountain available

By the time we got to camp, it was spitting snow pretty hard and the wind wasn’t much better. We got the horses settled in. (There’s supposed to be a whole mountain range behind the hill in this one!)
Dixie and Dig

Dixie settled in to munching hay at a decent rate (considering she’d been munching hay for hours, interrupted by a 30 minute trailer ride). She ate her e-lyted grain but didn’t want to drink. We went to the ride meeting – she still didn’t drink. C’s friend S showed up and we all ate dinner together, then Dixie… still wouldn’t drink. So not a good start.

  • Should I have given her more electrolytes then? I’ve read so many people pushing elytes the night before. And a bunch of studies about how too much sodium actually depresses the thirst instinct and makes the blood thicker and causes ulcers.

C and I crawled in bed under a truly heavenly down comforter and I got warm for the first time since about noon. It was glorious. I slept really well, except I had this crazy dream about AareneX’s beautiful boarding facility. Aarene, it has hundreds of acres of lush green pastures, all crossfenced with white three-rail wood fencing. Except you were very wishywashy about this guy and his entourage and his reanimated Percheron stallion-zombie, and we boarders were trying to convince you to kick him off the property, and I had to keep moving my mare to different pastures because she was in heat and dear god the last thing I need is a half Perch zombie TWH foal.

Anyway. It snowed all night! Only about an inch, but it was still snowing and very windy when we got up at 5:30. Dixie drank! Not as much as I’d like, but it’s a start. She ate most of a flake of hay overnight too. We are kind and conscientious riders, so we fixed our horses a hot mash for breakfast. Except Dixie still hates all soggy food, even when it’s her favorite grain and it’s pleasantly warm and soggy. Oh well. I ate breakfast, as part of the Great Master Plan to Keep Funder Fueled – a giant slice of the quiche we had for dinner.

Out into the snow. I slung Dixie’s tack on. She kicked AT ME when I looped the latigo through the girth. I smacked her in the neck and went at her screaming like I was going to kill her, and she backed up real fast and hit the end of the lead rope and stared at me. She stood like a sulky rock after that. People started mounting up and heading to the start. She got antsy. I tried to boot her. She just could not keep a foot up long enough and I cussed myself for not booting her the night before like I’d thought about. To hell with it, she can go barefoot for the first loop.

Tossed her rump rug on her butt. One of the little strings was missing. I borrowed a strap thing from C and tied the rug on both of the back.. mini-D rings? Those back rings behind the cantle of the saddle, where you tie a rump rug!

Ok! It’s 7 am! Where did the time go?

I remembered my camelbak, then realized the tube had frozen overnight, so I ripped through my two boxes and found the spare camelbak liner and dumped my 2 liters of elyted water in there and shoved it all in the backpack and slung that on and ran around to my horse. Helmet. I ran back around and dug out my helmet.

Helmet on. Hood up. Other hood up. Ski jacket zipped up completely. Hand warmers in pockets. Two pairs of gloves. Horse has a saddle and a breastcollar and a bridle on. Let’s roll. I go to unsnap the lead rope and… it’s broken. When she hit the end of the rope she somehow broke the little spring that makes the slide go down. Oh my god, why me.

I untied the rope, slung it across her withers, hopped on, and off we went.

  • I didn’t ride with C and S. They finished, I didn’t; well duh maybe I should’ve. C always starts off walking. Dixie and I don’t walk well. Of course from the saddle she walks faster than any human, and on foot she’s a horrible horrible creature to lead when she’s hyped up. She steps on my heels til I yell and then she rolls her eyes up in her head and dances around, then she tries to pass me and shoulderblock me out of the way. I am a worthless horse trainer, yall. Worthless.

Well, away we went. Somehow I managed to keep her at a rack/pace with the reins in my teeth while I tied the end of the lead rope on to the saddlebag in some way that wouldn’t drag the ground. She listened pretty well – she stayed at a moderate speed, she slowed down for the tricky downhills and the unintentional jogger trying to catch up to her friends who’d caught her horse, she passed well but followed well too when we caught up to the mid-pack.

I smiled big for the ride photographer. Dixie step-paced, because we were headed downhill. We’re adorable and out-of-focus in the thick styrofoam-ball snow.

I let her canter once, for maybe 100 yards, on a dirt road with no one else nearby, and when I asked her to rate she slowed right down for me.

  • I am totally second-guessing everything now because I just got a “you’re not a very good leader” comment on an email list. She’s probably right. I’m not a very good leader. This is me sulking in the commentary.

About then I decided things were going quite well and I should hydrate myself. The new camelbak thing… did not work. I spent a while banging it on the pommel and blowing in it and sucking real hard and yanking and gnawing. Nothing. We fell in on a bit of singletrack cow trail / dry creek bed, then a couple more riders piled in behind us.

The nice lady behind me asked if I knew my rump rug was dangling? Crap, no, of course I didn’t know. I looked back and sure enough, the new strap had come unstrapped and it was dangling off Dixie’s off side dragging the ground. At least she didn’t buck me off and run away. I yanked it up and into the seat with me and decided I’d fix it soon. Then I spent the next 15 miles periodically grabbing the rump rug and sticking it back under my rump and riding til it slithered out again.

We got sorted out after the cow trail dumped us back on the jeep road, and I ended up riding with the nice lady who pointed out my rump rug. Turns out it was Vicki on Robin Hood, a gorgeous big mustang with, oh, 10,000 miles. He decided that Dixie needed a buddy and appointed himself her chaperone. (shout out: C told me who he was the night before.) No matter what Vicki did, if Dixie fell too far behind, Hood was just going to walk til she was ready to trot/gait with him. It was adorable. And Vicki was fun to talk to, when we felt like talking.

The first 20 mile loop headed down the foothills, then straight northeast across the valley floor (the Bedell Flats, C?) and up into the next range of foothills, then turned and came southwest back across the valley, up into the hills, and back to camp. The view should’ve been awesome but visibility was a couple hundred yards. The trip out was not so bad. There was water everywhere, either existing stock tanks for the range cows or ROM water tanks put out just for the horses. Dixie didn’t really want to drink, but it was early and Hood wasn’t drinking either, so I wasn’t too concerned.

The trip back… ouch. The wind was blowing snow sideways to the northeast, so when we turned to head back we were riding straight into the wind. I ducked my face down behind the collar of my jacket and practiced enduring for a while. I had my eyes mostly shut and still kept getting frozen ice wads in my eyeballs, so I gave up and put my sunglasses on. It was really dim, and the sunglasses iced over immediately, but it’s not like I could see before. At least I could peacefully open my eyes in my little half-blind prison. Dixie was locked on to Hood’s butt and I could see enough to keep my balance.

We came back into camp in good but not exceptional time. The 20 mile first loop took right at 3 hours. Dixie vetted fine – I think she got a B for mucous membranes. The hold was only 15 minutes due to the horrid weather. I took her to water tank (no) and the trailer (no, ewww, this soggy half frozen crap grain is horrible but I guess I’ll eat hay). I put her crupper on, then fixed the rump rug – swapped the defective strap for a D-ring! Hooray! then I tried to fix my camelbak. I discovered that there was no logical reason for it not to work, but if I just unscrewed the tip I could suck water out of the tube then screw the tip back on. Fine. Time’s up.

I didn’t even try to boot, because this was the one loop I didn’t want to do wearing boots – lots of narrow switchback down the sides of canyons.

  • I could’ve stayed longer. But Dixie was only halfheartedly eating, it was very cold and windy, and her new BFF was ready to go. Riding would keep both of us warm(er) and Vicki was religious about stopping at every single tank and trying to let them drink.

After we headed out on Loop #2, the first 15 mile loop, the snow finally stopped. It was windy and very cold when the sun was behind a cloud, but decent enough when it was shining. I managed to eat a powerbar thing and a bag of absolutely delicious potato chips, and, over the course of the loop, drink all my water.

The “good” tie on the damn rump rug gave out and it started dangling off the other side of my horse, dragging the ground. I managed to unclip it, drag it around, and velcro it to the pommel at a trot. Then the clip thing fell out of the lead rope and it dragged the ground for a mile and Dixie kept tripping on it and I couldn’t figure out what that very strange intermittent hitch in her gait was, but eventually I figured that out and added it to the pile of velcro’d withers crap.

About 3 miles in to that loop, Dixie took her first ride drink. So did Hood. They drank moderately, but at least they drank. I thought surely it was the start of a glorious day of drinking. The humans did a lot more talking, and the loop was gorgeous. We wound up a peak, past a horse-eating tanker car incongruously perched on the side of a hill, then down canyonsides and up canyonsides with just breathtaking views. The first couple miles had a view of the empty valley to the NE, then we crossed a saddle of the mountain and had views of the little community and the foxhounds.

Hood is a fantastic downhill horse. Dixie, I think, will also be a good one – she could keep up with him pretty easily (although I don’t think he was trying very hard!) Hood powers on uphill and Dixie… dies on uphills. In tandem with the “you must drink” plan I must also do more uphills. The second major canyon going uphill on the west side of the peak, around 30 miles, Dixie started fading hard and I knew deep down that our ride was over. A bunch of other riders caught us and passed us, and Hood left with them. Dixie plodded along, slower and slower. When she was walking slower than I could walk, I hopped off. We meandered on up. We’d been letting the horses graze when they saw tasty grass, so I kept doing that. I marched us along smartly*, trying to get her to the next water tank before she really lost heart. Dixie followed me willingly and politely, but her affect was pretty flat. Eventually she perked up a bit and we came to a steep uphill section, so I found a rock and climbed back on and had her lug me to the top. The water tank wasn’t far from there, and we stayed about 10 minutes. There was a lovely flake of mixed hay that hadn’t blown away, and a tank full of water that Dixie politely sipped at. I left her alone to eat, and whenever she’d start to stare off in the distance and worry about being alone I’d get her attention back on me and tell her to graze.

*please note that my version of “smartly” is much much slower than a normal Dixie EVER walks.

I rode maybe a mile further, til I could see ridecamp way off in the distance. Then I hopped off and walked her in. We pulsed down right away and I let her eat and drink a bit. Eventually there was nobody else holding a horse anywhere near the vet, and the vet yelled “come on over!” I told her that I thought we were done but she might as well vet us. :)

We got a very charitable B for impulsion, a B for mucous membranes, I think A’s for everything else… and she bombed her CRI. The vet told me she’d need a recheck, and I said I wanted to see if she’d eat and drink and perk up. She agreed that was a good idea and reminded me that I didn’t have to leave in an hour. I agreed that I didn’t have to leave til 3:30 or 4, but if she was still tired and listless by then I was going to pull. A t-shirt’s not worth it. She consoled me by pointing out we were the 4th or 5th team she’d had to recheck, and that nobody was drinking well today. I decided to keep my spirits up.

We hung out at the vet check for a while, then went to the trailer. Dixie nibbled hay pretty consistently at the vet check, but all she wanted to do at the trailer was doze in the sun. I puttered around, drinking more elyte water and eating a sandwich. I stripped her tack and blanketed her, and every 10 minutes or so I’d lead her to the water troughs and the “good” vet hay and shove carrots in her face, then take her back to the trailer to nap.

C and S showed up and I decided I was done. They were definitely going to turtle, and their horses looked a million times better than Dixie. The ride staff and vet said I could probably vet her through and finish, but… I can’t think of anything worse than pushing a tired horse and getting a t-shirt and some IV bags. I pulled. I cried. Everybody hugged me and consoled me – she’ll learn to drink eventually, and if she doesn’t we can have a lot of fun at LDs and NEDA rides. This is all true.

Sleepy girl

That’s how my afternoon went. Dixie would wake up long enough to eat at most two handfuls of grain or one carrot while she was at the trailer, and she’d consistently nibble hay at the vet check. She sipped a little more water. She napped. Her legs were cold and tight, her feet were beautiful, her muscles were jello-y and loose. She let me scratch her itchy sweaty face – a sure sign that she’s not mad at me.

I was forced to socialize with people, which is A Good Thing. I’m pretty good one on one, but big bunches of people make me very quiet. I tend toward the listening side more than the talking side – this blog is the only place I really truly ramble on – so I end up looking like the weirdo on the outskirts listening to you and your friends talk. I cleaned up all our hay and manure and packed all my stuff for a prompt getaway.

C and S finished with glorious looking horses at about 6:30. I had taken over the Very Important Job of feeding the bonfire by the time they got back. :) They vetted through fine, had their completion awards shoved in their arms, and away we went for home.

I unloaded the horse first and turned her loose still wearing her cooler. Bad idea! I thought as I untied the halter. You’re just going to have to catch her in the dark and get that thing off. Then we carried all 700 individual pieces of crap I’d brought with me out of the trailer tack room and camper floor, seat, bed, and bathroom. As far as I can tell, I actually managed to get all my stuff!

I staggered in, greeted the very happy dog and very happy cats, heated up the last chunk of quiche, and gobbled it down. Then, in a fantastic show of good horsemanship, I went out in the dark and convinced the horse to hold still for me to take the cooler off. She was unimpressed and went off to roll. I went to bed.

I woke up to an inch of snow with more coming down. And a horse that I could not catch to blanket. Oh well. If she won’t let me catch her to blanket her, she must be healthy enough to go without, right? It only snowed til noon. Happy spring, yall!