Monday, March 17, 2014

AERC Convention

I'm a bad blogger. I'm a good live-my-lifer though. As a result, the blog has been lacking while I've been out doing and living. All three of my blogging cohorts have posted on their AERC convention experiences already (and are linked throughout this post). Here is my much-delayed report on the weekend!

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Thursday morning, earlier than I'd have preferred, I rocketed out of my barn abode and toward the rendezvous point in Strasburg, VA to meet and pick up Saiph to then make our trek down south to Atlanta for the 2014 AERC National Convention.

The morning drive across WV into VA was beautiful. The rising sun kissed the mountains one by
one, promising to melt the snow by weekend end. The drive was relatively uneventful, until my 13 year old 4Runner's gas gauge decided to scare me good in the middle of nowhere with the sudden illumination of my "get gas now or you're screwed" light.

I sent quick panic texts to Saiph and her husband Charles so that if I did run out of gas they would know about where I was to come rescue me. Moments after sending these, I saw that there was a BP gas station in 1½ miles. WHEW.

I put 4 gallons (a true ¼-tank for my car) into the tank and used a red Sharpie to mark where the new, true ¼-tank mark was for future reference and continued on toward Strasburg.

The pass-off of Saiph from Charles to me went pretty smoothly. We traded her things from his car to mine, and I whisked her away from him victoriously. ...okay, okay, so it wasn't quite like that but if he reads this I know he'll laugh. ;-)

Saiph and I proceeded to spend the next solid ~10 hours talking. Fastest road trip ever - or so it seemed. Good company makes everything better.

We stayed with one of my old coworkers - KC - who, fortunately for us, lives in Atlanta. Right after we arrived he shuttled us to a diner that served homestyle-cooked southern goodness. I got chicken pot pie, fried green tomatoes, and black eyed peas. NOM. But as much nom as it was, it still didn't have much on my mom's cooking of the same things (she's from SC).

After dinner, we all crashed in anticipation of waking up bright and early - my friend for work, and Saiph and I for the convention. However, before heading to bed Saiph and I printed off a photo of our other sadly-absent-from-AERC-Convention-attendence blogger friend, Karen. We were sad she couldn't be in attendance, so we decided we'd take her along on our adventures the best we could!

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Because the first day was a business day (Friday) we woke early enough to beat rush hour traffic so we wouldn't miss the first speaker of the day. Mission accomplished. The drive took 30 minutes and we experienced no traffic! Zing!

Once we'd arrived at the convention venue and parked, we were able to snag the tail end of the International Rider "debate" where folks were taking turns discussing opinions and views on the whole FEI debacle that has been unraveling the past year or so. While I don't understand all of the finer points of the debate, I can say that I was impressed with the views each person expressed. Everyone was well-spoken. It was really cool to see folks I've only read about or seen in photos in Endurance News in the flesh - from international coaches and riders to recent winners of the Tevis. Its a strange sensation to recognize someone's face or name and wonder how you know them, and then realize that you don't really know them, but you've learned of their infamy through the endurance community!

Saiph and I quietly excused ourselves from the debate after 20 minutes or so. It was starting to go
over our heads and I didn't care to experience any mental anguish over it. If I were deeper into it all, I may have stayed. As it is, I'm really just starting to get involved in the sport after years of lusting toward it!

Saiph and I slipped downstairs to browse the tack swap and trade show, AKA browse around and temp ourselves to spend money we really didn't need to spend.

Heading to the tack swap we passed by the Renegade booth where we both got distracted meeting Ashley and Mel IRL. Finally! And, *surprise* blogger meet with Caitlin who was also at the Renegade booth!

Visiting the tack swap with Karen!
We all stood around catching up and chatting about horses, hoof boots, and endurance - because seriously, what else would we talk about?!

When the Renegade booth started getting busy with new folks inquiring about the product, Saiph and I excused ourselves to go browse swiftly spend money on our horses.

There weren't a ton of vendors, but Saiph and I managed to spend enough money between the Distance Depot and the tack swap that was going on without having other possible sources to temp money from our wallets.

I was particularly behaved all weekend, only purchasing a few select things that were on a list of things to find. Syringes for dosing electrolytes (3 for a total of $5), a breast plate in lime green for Griffin (a score at $40), and a full sheepskin cover for my Ansur (no deal on this sadly, but nice to finally obtain and not have to pay any shipping costs). The only unanticipated purchase was a second saddle for Mike.

Mike's new saddle
Saiph and I were strolling through the tack swap when I noticed an Ansur saddle. I thought, "OH! Bet it's like $1200," as most of the used Ansurs I've found are right around that dollar amount. I was very surprised to read a $500 price tag! I called Mike immediately and asked how interested he was in getting a second saddle. He'd ridden in my Ansur before and was really enjoying it. This saddle was very similar and should fit him well. My push for him to get it is because I know it is something that works well for Q - who he has been riding frequently (I'd like to use my Ansur on Griffin eventually, too). His stock saddle is so heavy and just doesn't work well on Q because it always manages to eject whatever saddle pad we use with it. Something about saddle fit and Q's movement is a tricky combination. Mike agreed that it was a good option after I assured him we could sell it with little problem if he decided later he didn't want it. I bought it right then and stuffed it away in the car.

After the buying spree, Saiph and I settled into lectures for the rest of our stay. We went to one on shoeing for specific needs first. I didn't glean new information from the lecture at all. I was encouraged that the knowledge I have developed in the past two years is accurate though! It was also refreshing to hear a farrier discuss the importance of balance in the hoof; how balance and the shape of the hoof can place stress on other parts of the leg if not properly balanced. He also waxed and waned a fair bit on how you have to watch a horse's way of going before you can decide how the hoof should be trimmed/shoed. He noted that there isn't a PERFECT hoof for all horses. I was so happy to hear him say this because I know multiple hoof professionals who have ONE image of how a hoof should be and strive to put ALL of their client's hooves into that shape no matter how it may affect the horse later. It frustrates and disgusts me and is part of the reason I choose to do my own horses' feet.

After the shoeing lecture, Saiph and I opted out of the colic lecture (Mel's review here) to go eat lunch. Such hunger. So starving. We bopped by the Renegade booth to see if Mel or Ashley wanted us to pick up anything (Ashley did; Mel was at the colic lecture) and we bopped out to find food.

We ended up at a pretty awesome - albeit sketchy as hell! - Mexican place. Lunch was $4.99 for quite a bit of food. Saiph and I ended up eating + margarita-ing for <$10/each! #winning

After lunch we headed back to the convention for a lecture on the management of heat stress in endurance horses. Thanks to Mel's copious posts on this topic, I wasn't inundated or overwhelmed by the amount of information presented. Here is Mel's review on the lecture.

With lectures wrapped up for the day, we headed across the street to Ruby Tuesday for dinner with our group of mostly-bloggers.

It was a hoot getting to sit and eat and drink with these ladies. We had so. much. fun. Of course, the conversation was all horse-related somehow. Much laughter. Much sillyness. How I wish we all lived closer!!

Me, Mel, Caitlin, Saiph, Ashley

After dinner, Saiph and I traversed across town to KC's again to meet up with him, his fianceƩ and three of their friends for some casual drinks, board games, and conversation at the apartment. No one was in a great hurry to go to bed since we were all sleeping in the following morning.

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Saturday morning was blissful. Waking when my circadian rhythm dictated I should and not when an obnoxious alarm wanted me to.

KC and his fianceĆ© made us all breakfast before headed out on a hiking trip in north GA. Once they'd departed, Saiph and I took a stroll in the beautiful 70°F weather along the Chattahoochee River Trail that we were able to access from KC's apartment. Mmmm, sun!

We mosied across town for a couple more lectures at the convention around noon. The first lecture we attended was about chest and groin injuries in our equine athletes. IT. WAS. AWESOME. The presenter didn't dumb-down the presentation at all from what he'd presented at the veterinary CE earlier at the convention. He was incredibly well-spoken, his lecture was supported by slides instead of narrated on the slides, he had a variety of media (text, photo, video) to supplement his lecture, and he answered questions the audience posed throughout the presentation with succinct tact and professionalism. (I am VERY particular about what makes a good presenter/presentation and this guy was perfect.) I learned quite a bit in the brief hour and a half that he spoke. The time FLEW by. He was so well-versed on his subject matter and it really showed. (I will link Mel's review to this lecture when she posts it.)

We had planned to attend the following lecture on recent research in endurance, but we got to it a little late and realized what was being discussed was quite over our heads! Knowing Mel was present to update us on what we missed - and in a format we'd probably understand better (thanks, Mel!) - we slipped out.

We were then presented with a bit of a conundrum: it wasn't quite 4p and we had nothing else planned for the day (no awards banquet for us). We couldn't drive home because Charles couldn't meet Saiph until 9a at the earliest. We didn't really feel like exploring Atlanta more and spending more money. Hmm... I racked my brain for friends and family that lay between us and our morning destination, wondering if we could get half-way or more to make the following day easier (11½ hours total driving for me; a ½-hour shorter for Saiph). I made a quick call to my aunt and uncle to see if we could crash there that night. They welcomed the visit, happy to be able to see me and meet my friend - even if for a brief stay.

Saiph and I rocketed back to KC's, packed our bags lightning-quick, and headed 4 hours north into NC. We chatted for an hour or so with my aunt and uncle when we arrived before finally crashing to gain a few hours sleep.

We woke early around 5a (which seemed like 4a because of Daylight Savings), packed up, loaded up, ate a small breakfast, and got onto the road.

The hours between NC and Strasburg FLEW by. You'd think after spending an already-inordinate amount of time together we'd have run out of things to talk about....but we hadn't. We realized afterward that we talked for a minimum of 24 hours straight on this trip. That's a TON of talking. We didn't listen to the radio at all. We talked. We talked. We talked. About horses, family, life, love, and everything in between. It was a lot of fun.

We made it to Strasburg around 11a to meet Charles. I said my goodbyes (happily because I'd be seeing them in 2 weeks - this weekend upcoming!) and I rocketed west toward home.

2-pointing on the grey pony; Q and Mike behind
Once home (around 2p), I hugged Mike hello, and we zipped out to the barn to ride for awhile. I had no ride plan this day aside from gaining some time on the rail trail - the asphalt section in particular - to get some trimming done the natural way. We ended up riding 10 miles (only a mile on the asphalt)! Mike on Q, I on Griffin.

Both horses did SO well; I think they were happy to be out on a FLAT trail with easy footing and no snow for once! In fact, neither horse was very sweaty when we'd finished - though that may be in part to the 2 mile cool-down. (I'm not sure I've stated before, but I have to travel 2 miles (one-way) to reach the rail trail. So whenever I post the mileage total for these rides that is always included in the total; if you subtract 4 miles from the ride you'll know how many miles the horses *actually* were in focused work and not a warm-up or cool-down period.)

Q only spooked in her evilest of ways a time or two, and Griffin was the BOMB for his first time out on the rail trail! He was afraid of graffiti and one rootball on an upturned tree, but beyond that he was so game for everything. Through tracking with Endomondo, I was able to discover that he has a very solid 7-8 mph trot. YAY. The perfect end to an incredible weekend!

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