Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Improvements and Advancements

Mondays through Thursdays each week I try to ride Griffin. The type of riding depends on the horse I find when I arrive at the barn each day, but as with most of this year, the rides are either dressage-based on the flat or jumping in the back field. Most weeks, I only manage to ride two of those 4 days, but last week I managed to fit in all four. The first two were a 60-40 split flat-jump work and the last two were more exclusively jump/gymnastic-based.

No matter if I ride two days or four, rides tend to average around the 40-50 minute range; however, after working multiple days in a row, I definitely lessen the intensity of the work keeping in mind that Griffin is likely tired/sore from his efforts on previous days.

Currently we've got three little lines setup to work on various things.

Canter poles with a 2' -- yes, these canter poles are skinnies
Yes, I am excited about future skinny jumps

Ground pole, cavaletti, ground pole

Cavaletti oxer to a Swedish oxer of sorts

Each ride always begins with work on the flat to gain Griffin's focus and warm his muscles up. We begin at the walk and slowly build into the trot.

While I can certainly anticipate where Griffin's head is based on how he acts when I'm on the ground, I can never be absolutely certain what kind of horse I'll have until we progress into trot work. This is the gait where his mindset for work really shows itself. The majority of the time, he's just fine, but for the times he isn't (presents as stiffer on that individual day, or presents more herdboundness than another day (this is based on his favorite mare's cycle), etc.), I have to arrange our day in a manner to help him succeed.

Because that is really what my main goal is right now - setting this horse up for success. As long as he continues to find success in our workouts and enjoy the work presented to him, I'm happy. I know there will be much to work on into the future if I'm to have any luck pursuing goals of eventing, but part of achieving that goal is having a game horse that enjoys the job presented. Hopefully he won't develop glaringly huge or horrible bad habits along the way either.

As much as I try to focus on my own riding and work to better myself, it is hard without eyes on the ground or regular lessons. These are certainly things I have planned into the future when my finances can better handle it, but for now I am where I am with things. And I'm okay with that!

Griffin is doing absolutely outstanding, in my humble opinion. Whether my equitation is absolute perfection or not, he's doing wonderfully with what he's presented. I can't ask for much more than that! (Granted, I'm confident my equitation - while certainly imperfect - isn't such that I'm harming my horse in a great way! I've got things to work on (as most of us do) that will certainly better the horse's performance in addition to my own, but until such a time as I work with a trainer, I'm pretty confident my horse isn't going to turn into an asshat or become horribly crippled from my efforts. ;-) )

Our workouts typically proceed in a linear fashion through the above pictured lines: we begin with the ground poles, trotting and then cantering; we proceed to the ground poles with cavaletti, trotting and cantering; if things have gone well, we add a 2' vertical to canter poles; if that goes well, we do the paired cavaletti to the oxer (typically set between 2'6" and 3') for a few goes.

Very first attempt at 3'

If Griffin's efforts and attitude could be translated into speech, he'd tell you his favorite part of our work is jumping - the bigger the better. If you asked me, I'd tell you I really enjoy the canter poles - something Griffin certainly doesn't enjoy as much because he has to work harder!

Griffin has natural skill at jumping. He's been drawn to the jumps from the very beginning of his riding career, veerying off the track I was riding in the barnyard to hunt whatever jump I'd had setup for Q. He's just drawn to jumps for whatever reason. Even today, while more subtle than his previous efforts, he seeks out the jumps and when he's locked onto one, he GOES. He's straight with his approaches and, while I'm full aware it's certainly my job to pick (or maybe help pick?) distances, he seems to have a natural knack for that, as well.

It's all well and good that he's got natural ability, but as with most sports, there is a lot more to it than just natural skill! Exercises to hone, polish, and perfect that natural skill are absolutely critical. And that's why I really enjoy the canter poles. They're the perfect tool to hone and polish his canter into a better canter. And the canter is of the utmost importance when it comes to jumping if the topic's frequency in various publications on jumping/eventing is any indication!

Since the addition of canter poles to our routine, Griffin's definitely gaining more prowess. A single 18" cavaletti is more commonly trotted over or cantered over instead of jumped. His canter is becoming stronger and more balanced all the time.

If he's done well with the "hard" (to him) work, he receives the "reward" of getting to just jump. And boy does he love it! Being allowed to do just jump is the equivalent of a trail horse getting to turn for home. Any perceived fatigue goes out the window. Ears come up, an increase in pep is introduced into the gait, and in general, the horse's whole demeanor is one of enjoyment.

Video screenshot

And again.

And again.

He's anything if not consistent!

If Griffin could speak and you asked him what he hears most often from me as we ride, he'd tell you it was, "Good boy! Now, if only your rider could only get her shit together to be better for you!" And no, I don't say this to be hard on myself, in fact, it is quite laced with sarcasm and jest (as are most things I say, let's face it).

I'm beyond pleased with this little horse - and that definitely outweighs my own shortcomings. Besides, I know I'll have eyes on the ground helping me be better soon enough. =) Nicole has been a monumental help in reviewing videos of our efforts to this point though. --Thank you, thank you, thank you!-- It's hard to always ride alone and get better, but thanks to Nicole, I'm at least developing an eye and understanding for areas of improvement!

I'm finding the journey with Griffin to be quite a bit of fun. As much as I LOVE endurance, I also am really, really enjoying learning dressage and jumping. A LOT. I love the puzzle of dressage, what it does for the horse, and how it improves the rider. Jumping has always been a dream of mine, and I have to say, while I don't have any great expectations about where things will go with Griffin, I certainly wouldn't mind if they led to opportunities to jump big! Time will certainly tell, but until that point, I'm really enjoying the journey.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


On August 15, 2015, I went skydiving for the first time.

Much to my surprise, I didn't grow very nervous at all through the day's events. There were some butterflies when I was finally able to meet my tandem instructor and "suit up", but beyond the excitement in that moment, I didn't experience any crazy burst of adrenaline -- something that surprised me a lot! I experience a LOT more adrenaline release when rafting on a Class V river in a class V rapid than I did all day skydiving. Go figure.

When we arrived at Skydive Orange, we filled out paperwork (read: signing your name and initialing about 4 dozen times), watched a short video, paid up, and then waited and waited. They were having a skydiving festival this weekend (called a "boogie") which led to a lot more  traffic in and around the hangar. It was very interesting to watch another group of adrenaline junkies go about their business though! As someone involved in multiple adrenaline junkie sports, I found it fascinating to observe folks go about their routines in what was a new-to-me atmosphere.

Skydive Orange staffers and many others packing canopies and parachutes for their next jump

Our group received a bit of training on what to expect "in general" from one fellow while we waited. This "training" took about 10 minutes and went over the basics: when you leave the plane you should assume one position with your body (arch your back and legs as much as you can while keeping your hands on your harness) until the instructor taps your shoulder at which point you will extend your arms away from your body into the classic skydiving position you see on TV; upon landing, you will need to pick your feet way, way up to get out of the way of the instructor so they can "slide" you in safely. Further details on what we would be doing would be provided later by our tandem instructor.

Planes took off every 20 minutes with loads of skydivers. These loads consisted of people who paid for tandems and those who were out participating in the sport for fun. Once you're licensed to jump and have your own gear, it's only $20 to jump. If the licensing and gear weren't so expensive for this sport I would TOTALLY get into it. (Expected startup cost before you get to the $20 jump phase is estimated ~$5-6k.)

These are [some of] my coworkers. =)

I arrived at noon and was in a plane around 3p.

You straddle a bench in the plane. You shuffle tight against your instructor, nearly in their lap. If you're slated to be one of the last jumpers out of the plane, you'll have other people nearly in your lap. It seems to be the most efficient way to load a plane from what I could observe; everyone straddling a bench on either side of the aircraft, back to chest.

The flight to 14,000 feet took ~20 minutes. I watched the altimeter I'd been given as we climbed. 5k, 8k, 12k, and then we were there.

The door was rolled open and the non-tandem jumpers started exiting one at a time as the cooler 14k air rushed into the aircraft.

Some jumpers hung onto the side of the plane for a second so they could grab their partner on the way down and try out some basic aerobatics with one another during the freefall. (The real experts had been doing up to 8-man formations on this day.)

My instructor had taken time during the last 3,000 feet or so of the ascent to fasten my harness to his. When you're jumping tandem you wear a body harness that is strapped to your instructor's harness that has the parachute attached. So, technically, I can boast that I jumped out of a plane at 14k feet without a parachute -- but I was strapped to someone else who did have one!

My instructor and I were the last ones out of the plane on this jump.

I knew what to expect based on what he'd told me and what the other instructor had told our group. Hands down, the worst part was the waddle to the door. My instructor was a good 6" to 8" taller than me with longer legs. This made things so tricky! Couple that with the low ceiling in the aircraft and the wind tearing at you as you approached the door and it definitely made for a tricky time.

We made it to the door in short order though and I lined my toes up on the edge as I'd been instructed. The wind tore past me, the drone of the propeller and engine whirred in my ears. I took a moment to adjust myself to the foreign-to-me environment wondering when my instructor would throw us from the opening and into the abyss. My stomach wasn't clenched in fear or anticipation at all; instead, a surreal calmness had settled over me, something that became more and more pronounced as the plane climbed to altitude minutes before.

I felt the instructor begin to rock us forward and backwards as he held to either side of the door with his hands saying, "READY! *rock* SET! *rock* ...!!" And then we were freefalling.

The wind tore our bodies from the plane as we left the aircraft much like an apple core thrown from an open car window on the interstate.

We tipped sharply to the left, nearly upside down within the first two solid seconds of free fall before we adjusted. I arched my body sharply as I'd been told to do, my hands on my harness as my back and feet arched as much as I could muster. We'd been told to try to arch our heels around onto our instructors rear end. It took me a split second to adjust, but I felt my heels come into contact with his body and locked them there for the freefall.

I never closed my eyes and remember seeing the plane to my right and then above me at an odd angle to my falling body for a moment before we were righted and falling "straight".

Once righted and falling "straight", my instructor tapped my shoulder to signal me to extend my arms to further enjoy the remaining 55 seconds of freefall at 120mph. It was this moment when I realized that my face felt strained not because of the wind and gravity tearing at my body, but because I'd had a huge perma-grin plastered to my face since we'd left the aircraft.

I flexed my fingers in the wind, opened and closed my mouth, exalting in the surreal sensation of free falling.

Every 5 seconds or so, I glanced at my altimeter as my instructor had told me to do.

12,000. 10,000. 8,000...only 10 more seconds of freefall I thought to myself, and counted them slowly and silently in my head.

Then I could feel the instructor move slightly behind me and suddenly my rapid descent was jerked to a slower one as the parachute released and caught the air, my body jerking upward like a fish on a line pulled abruptly from the water.

My instructor loosened my harness away from his a little bit to make things more comfortable and maneuverable, "What's your altitude?" he queried me. I glanced at my altimeter, "A little over 5k, " I replied.

He had me look for our landing location which I had already noticed far below, and told me we were about a mile out. I baffled over this a moment and told him about how surreal it was to be looking at the landscape in real time in this manner. I'm so accustomed to looking at it on my mapping program! We had a short conversation about that and then he allowed me to help maneuver the parachute through the air.

Look left to clear your airspace, pull left, release slowly once you've achieved the turn radius you desire and straighten back up. Look right, clear your airspace, pull right, release. It reminded me a lot of my aids with the reins when riding horses or when pulling the release for a bow trap when trapping raptors.

We arched left and right through the air, completing a 360 degree circle a time or two before he reclaimed full control around 2,800 feet.

I was asked to practice my feet up for landing technique as he talked me through what he would do. He was confident we could have a standing landing if I listened to his instructions.

We circled around above the hangar, approaching from the left side of the landing area in a clockwise circle. "FEET UP, " I was told, and I lifted my feet up about waist high. "READY..." he cautioned me as we neared the ground at a higher rate of speed than you'd expect, "...NOW," he said, more for himself than me as I had zero control at this point when he altered the parachute slightly to slow our landing intensely at the last moment before we hit the ground. Much like a bird approaching a branch to land will flare its tail and wings a bit to alight softly on the branch, the parachute changed form to help us alight softly on the ground. "And STAND," my instructor finally told me when he was stable.

My face was aching something fierce from my permagrin at this point, but I just couldn't wipe it from my face.

I was released from my instructor's harness, and we exchanged a high five and a hug before he gathered up the parachute for the walk up to the hangar. He took a moment to tell me that I was the first person he'd ever had who actually hooked their heels onto his bum. They always instruct people to do that but no one ever does. He said my body position was great and I was "made for this sport".
I was ready to get back on the plane and do it all over again!

I officially declare this 30 before 30 goal accomplished.

Thumbs up and permagrins for the longest time. Note the altimeter on my left hand.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Viva Carlos Office/Cubicle BlogHop

I am a biologist that specializes in threatened and endangered species (and species proposed for listing as threatened/endangered). It lends some pretty awesome opportunities.

My typical day is spent here:

Pano of my office. I have a window! I use a standing desk (sit on stool or stand), yoga ball chair, or regular
chair (if I toggle my desk into the lower height option). I like options.
Many maps of WV showing many different things I need to do my job.
Paper machete snail that does not accurately represent our
federally listed snail that is endemic to the state
Yet another map (outdated...shame on me -- I am also a GIS guru and do all of the mapping for my office),
some binders from training courses, photos of the horses and Kenai, and some project files.
(The photos have actually been updated since I took this photo...had to include that new ride photo w/ Q!)
My standing desk in the stand position. Bat poster behind.

But sometimes my office space is much cooler.

Like earlier in the summer when I got to go whitewater rafting on the Upper Gauley (world class Class V whitewater) to find a federally threatened plant species:

Virginia spiraea, the Pillow Rock rapid, raft guide and botanist looking at our next site to visit on the ipad

Or that one time (also earlier this summer) when I got to fly in a helicopter (my first time) to participate in a flyover of a proposed pipeline right-of-way through sensitive habitats:

Helicopters are so cool!

Or when I went to trap federally listed endangered bats to help gather genetic samples for a research project (no bats were harmed!):

Reproductive adult female Virginia big-eared bat, cave opening with harp trap set up, and biologists processing VBEBs to take genetic samples (this species is not affected by the deadly white nose syndrome that has decimated many other bat populations throughout the east)

The many hours put in as a desk biologist are very worth it because I gain opportunities in the field like the above. Also, I very much know how much of a difference I make by sitting at my desk day-to-day. Knowing that I make such a big difference makes everything worth it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

RBTR 2015: The Ride Story

I've slowly written this post in pieces over a day or so. Ultimately, I settled for a bullet fashion because I simply cannot piece it together into a smooth story-telling narrative format.


  • Laying claim - I headed out to camp to lay claim on a spot for the weekend before all the early arrivals. I settled for the shadiest area along the backside of camp where trees were so the horses would have shade all day. I staked the area out, put up my canopy tent, personal tent, and electric corral.
  • Ride packets - Many of our ride volunteers were already posted out there for the week getting things prepared, so they fed me dinner as I stayed to help put ride packets together.


  • Work - I worked a short day at the office and then packed up and headed out to camp.
  • Loading the horses - When I loaded the horses, Griffin hesitated for a moment or five. Nothing naughty, mostly just a casual, "Nope. Don't really care to get on there. Thanks." Once I proved to him that I was serious, he hopped right aboard. I wondered if Q would give me grief after watching Griffin's stubbornness, but much to my surprise, she self loaded without an iota of hesitation!! This was the FIRST time EVER that she had self loaded with another horse already on the trailer. I was blown away and had to pick my jaw up off the ground so that I could close the trailer door and get going. 
  • Meeting Sara - I settled into camp without issue and puttered around for a time until Sara, Dusty and Wyatt showed up! I was so very excited to get to meet them all in person finally. We immediately got along as if we'd been friends for a very long time. I loved getting to talk to Sara and know her better over our few days together. She's a really incredible human and I wish there were more people like her in the world. 
  • An evening ride to stretch the horses legs - Sara and I went out on an (oops) 8 mile ride. It did NOT seem that far at the time! Haha. Neither of my horses had been out in awhile and it did them both good to stretch their legs. I had brought Griffin along to ride camp for the very purpose of Sara having a horse to gallivant on as she chose throughout the weekend. He was a really solid citizen for her and I was really pleased. I'd planned to ride him every day preceding the ride weekend so he'd be tired and well-behaved as a result, but a partially torn quadriceps muscle barred me from that!

    It was so much fun zooming along the trail with Sara. She's a really fantastic rider. We gabbed about her horse Gem a lot and wished (as we would many times over the weekend) that she'd been able to come!
  • Low country boil dinner - After we rode, we headed over to where my friends (the volunteers) were making dinner. We have a low country boil every year. This year, knowing that many would arrive to camp early, we invited riders and turned it into a low country boil + potluck. Very yummy!

Evening ride with Sara
Entering ride camp again
The view of the moon from my tent


  • A big breakfast - The day started slowly. Sara, Dusty and Wyatt went on a ~3 hour morning hike and I putzed about camp and ate a far-too-big breakfast of blueberry waffles, sausage, potatoes, and eggs with mimosas. We do it big at RBTR ;-)
  • Another pre-ride of the trail - Shortly after Sara and Co. returned to camp, my friend Dan and his daughter arrived for the weekend. Dan planned to compete in the LD on his Morgan/Stdbrd. (Störgan -- a term coined my Dom) gelding Dakota. We helped them get camp setup, rode bareback for a time in the field, then just decided to all head out on a slow 5 mile ride. While on the ride, we dallied about in the river and let the horses play. Griffin absolutely had a blast splashing about which, for a time, resulted in all of the horses except Q splashing in unison in the river. (Q is far too stoic to *gasp* play in the water.)

  • The swimming hole - Back at camp, Sara, Dusty, Wyatt, Dan's daughter and I all headed to the swimming hole for awhile. I had a blast playing with water-loving Wyatt. He's such a fabulous kid. Sure, he's two and in the throes and woes of the terrible twos, but wow - what a great personality he has: he's compassionate, caring, and absolutely full of zest. Dusty and Sara are absolutely fantastic parents. I can't wait to see what direction Wyatt goes with his future passions...if it's down the monster truck path he's so fixated on right now, watch out world! Haha.

    As Sara, Dusty and I finished up at the river, Dan was heading down. He'd brought me a beer, so I flipped my shoes back off and trotted myself back down to the river to claim a raft. Dan and I enjoyed our beers as we floated idly in the swimming hole for awhile. Definitely the best way to beat the heat! (Granted, the heat really wasn't too horrible for the whole weekend; bonus, the humidity was low for this time of year!)
  • Dusty makes a crazy decision - At some point during our swim, Dusty made the crazy decision to RUN the 50 miles the following morning on his own two feet! A little off in the head, that one. ;-) Sara would crew for him and for Dan and I the next day. Dusty's goal? Beat Q and I! Haha. Challenge accepted. 
  • Good juju -  Before dinner, Dan dressed Q up (in addition to Dakota) with some Native American symbols to help during the ride. Dan is active within the Lakota and Oglala. A shaman had recommended lightning bolts on the horses hind legs and hawk feathers (of which he had a permit) to be used in the horses tails.

    I realized as Dan put these symbols on Q that I had a lot of good juju from many people: a bridle charm and  bracelet from Sara as made by Beka; browband made by Karen; the feather and lightning bolt by Dan/Indians; Nicole had told me she would be lighting a candle for me, so I knew that would be burning; plus the support of Sara, Dave and Dan's daughter in camp. Suffice to say, I felt really fortunate to have such an incredible support team going into the ride.

  • More arrivals - Shortly before dinner, Dom and Mike, Dave, and Mary all arrived into camp. Big hugs were shared between bloggers, tents were set up, and libations were passed about before we headed to dinner. IAs we headed to dinner, I hooked Mary up with the vets as she'd come to be a scribe for the weekend and learn what she could about endurance to add to her growing knowledge of vet med.
  • Ride meeting and dinner - We do it right and we do it big at RBTR. Friday night dinner is always a whole hog roast. This year, we had a whole hog and 4 hog butts, I believe, in order to feed the masses. Accompanying the delicious pork are mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, and homemade bread -- everything is prepared in camp over various fires. It is delicious.

    I wish I had more to share re: the ride meeting, but honestly, I didn't pay a lick of attention. I knew the loops. Because local. I knew the pulse criteria would be 64. It is every year. And I knew where the spotters would be and about potential hazards. Because local. And because I made the damn maps. So, instead of listening in on the meeting, I blabbered on with's kind of our thing during ride meetings. *innocent look*
  • Evening libations -After dinner/meeting, we all bumbled back to our little camp to sit about catching up for a time. We hand walked/grazed the horses and caught up as we passed about white lightning. Eventually, I called it a night and disappeared to sleep the few hours away before the early morning.

Before ride photo of Miss Q


Morning & the First Loop

  • Stress-free morning - This was the least stressful ride morning I've ever had. I think I'm getting this whole "endurance" thing dialed. I woke an hour before the start, pulled Q from her pen, gave her a mash and electrolytes, tacked her up, and then just kind of stood around twiddling my thumbs for awhile.
  • Slightly rocky start - I started with Dom and the rest of Dr. Bob's crew. This was a bit closer to the front of the pack than I'd desired to be, but I really wanted to ride with Dom for the day, so I hoped we'd find time to fall back a little later on. Dom had her hands full with a very enthusiastic Magic at the start which ultimately ended up in her hand-walking him for a time once we'd climbed the first major hill. While it certainly would have been nicer if Magic had put on his big boy pants and not had "a moment" as he did, it worked out well in the end because Dom and I ended up in our own little pocket for the rest of the loop and much of the next loop, as well.

    Despite Magic being very "up" at the start, Q was fantastic. She was solid and steady and didn't place a single foot out of line. I was really proud of her. 
  • Leading - With Magic's "baby brain" in effect at the beginning of this loop, Q was the leader. Granted, we yo-yo'ed behind some other horses for a time which helped greatly, but she also had plenty of times where she was leading seemingly "all alone" without a confidence boost from a horse in the distance. She did really well. Not outstanding as some horses (Magic, for instance), but I was really proud of her. It was a really honest effort.

    As we bopped along the highest exposed point in the ride, I saw the ride photographer's truck. Dom and I spread out a bit for good photos. The area the photographer was shooting was a bit tricky with downed logs and slash piles bordering it (read: many potential monsters!). Horses really needed to watch their footing through here. I wasn't sure how my ride photo would turn out because I figured Q may spook a LOT! But I put my leg on her to urge her forward, talked to her, and tap-tap-tapped her shoulder with the dressage whip and we made it through just fine! I absolutely ADORE her expression in the resulting photo, too.

    After the ride photo, Magic led for much of the remainder of the loop through areas with wider trail - Q's kryponite. We boogied along happily for the remaining 7 or 8 miles with no issue!

  • The most epic ride photo (see below) - As we came to the final river crossing, some front-runner 50s let us know that the photographer had moved down into the river and was still there. Dom, Magic, Q and I waded in, greeting the photographer sitting in a camp chair in the middle of the river as we began sponging the horses.

    "What a great spot!" I called.
    "It is!" she replied, "One of my favorite pictures ever was taken from a spot like this on a river. A rider galloped through and the water spray catching the light resulted in the most beautiful photo!"
    "Oh?" I replied, "Give me just a second. I'll totally do that for a photo!"

    I'd trotted/cantered Q across the river the previous day for a photo when Sara and Dan and his daughter and I all enjoyed some river time with the horses. Additionally, Q was quite accustomed to running through water after our trip to Maryland the previous spring to gallop along a sandy shoreline in the Chesapeake Bay.

    I finished sponging Q (for whatever good that did), and then lined her up and off we went, cantering through the water, me giggling all the way.

    It ended up being the photorapher's "Shot of the Day". I had so many people ask me about it when I got back into camp at the end of the day. I hadn't even seen it yet!! It had been printed off as an 8x10 amidst the 4x6 photos she always prints off. I ended up buying both the river shot and the above photo on the higher ground. I doubt I'll ever have such an epic ride photo again!
  • The first hold/check - Because I'd walked in for the last 200-300 yards, Q was down very quickly with minimal sponging on the part of my crew or I. 52/52 CRI, +'s in all gut quadrants, As on everything. Good mare!

    We headed from the check to the trailer with help from our crew and Q and I both pigged out for the rest of the hold. We were ready with ample time and headed out with Dom for the second loop.


Second Loop

  • Sabotage? - As we came in from our first loop, the front runners were heading out. As we headed out of the hold on our second loop, some of those front runners were heading back in already. It was...baffling. Mary Howell was included in these people and she finally called out to me that something had happened with the trail marking. An arrow was wrong. It sent them the wrong way cutting the loop short by 7 miles. Mary couldn't describe the spot well, but said I'd know it when I got there.

    I pondered over this for the next many miles. I had an idea of where it could be but wasn't positive. I asked Dom what AERC rules would do about the riders that got messed up and I wondered aloud what we should do if it was pointing a wrong way; I knew the trail and would know the error, but as Dom noted, I was a competitor and thus should follow the trail as it was marked. Quite a grey area!

    By the time we reached the tricky point, the ride manager was there redirecting. She said the sign had been vandalized but was fixed now. At first, we thought it was some local kids out ATVing that messed it up, we would later come to discover that it was another rider that had messed up the sign. Front runners up to a certain point had no issue, then those behind them all got turned the wrong way, and then the sign was finally fixed when those who screwed up arrived back in camp. What a horrible situation! The riders who messed up were given the option to complete the loop properly for placing and points and a completion, or they could just finish the ride and forgo points and placings and just get a completion for the miles they'd done. It was up to individual riders as to what they chose to do. With regards to the rider who vandalized the sign and sabotaged the riders behind? I'm going to choose to not state more information in this public place about that as it is still under investigation. If things come to fruition later, I'll be happy to share -- or perhaps it will end up in an even more public forum.
  • Gooning and moonshine - Knowing the signage was good for us for the remainder of the ride, Dom and I really began gooning - something we do very well without much help.

    It all began as we zipped along the abandoned RR grade. Magic always led this section and Q and I were bopping along happily behind when I hear the loudest "AH HA!" from Dom. It nearly scared me out of the saddle. I thought something horrible had happened! But, before my mind could run away with wonder about what was going on, Dom announced, "We caught you!" And I looked up to see Dusty on trail!

    Dusty had passed us while we were dealing with our vet check/hold because he obviously wasn't required to hold for any amount of time or be vetted through. But lo and behold, we'd caught him finally! He laughed about it as we passed and we told him we'd see him at the next hold.

    Shortly after seeing Dusty, we came upon another set of spotters on trail. Now, at most rides, spotters just take your number and off you go. Well, at RBTR our spotters have libations if you inquire. Dom and I indulged in some Not Fruit Punch, giggling all the while. Magic decided Dom was perhaps a bit crazy at this point and tried to back up each time I returned the Not Fruit Punch to her.

    After our refreshment, we set off up the gravel road for a 2 mile steady climb to the top. Oh the shenanigans. We walked. We trotted. We cantered. Dom stood forward in the saddle and extended her arms forward resembling a jockey urging Magic forward. I howled with laughter. Another rider inquired if he was a thoroughbred? No. Dom's just absurd.

    At some point during the beginning of the climb, Dom and I decided to take some selfies! And right as we were taking them who else zooms up? DAN! He'd caught us as he pushed through the second loop of his LD. We knew he was in the front but didn't realize we were being passed by LD folks yet! So, of course we took some selfies with Dan!

    The rest of the loop after Dan passed us was just a silly fest. Dom and I giggled and carried on about nothing and everything until we found ourselves back at the spotters with the Fun Juice again. We enjoyed some more Not Cherry Juice before continuing on our merry way.

NOT fruit punch
  • Boot issue - Right at the end of the loop, Dom noted that Q's left hind boot was missing! Well damn. We thought we knew where it was though, so I vowed to get it at the end of the ride when we'd come back through that spot again.
  • The second vet check and hold - I walked Q in yet again. She pulsed down quickly again. And we vetted through with all +'s and all As except a B on cap. refill and a 56/56 CRI. GOOD MARE! With the help of our incredible crew, Q and I both stuffed our faces a second time around before leaving camp with Dom and Magic again for our final loop.

Third Loop & Finish

  • Slow and quiet - The third loop went slower and was much quieter. Dom and I were both lulled into the afternoon doldrums. I know many who know us in person will read this next statement and be baffled and confused but... Neither Dom or I spoke a word for many miles on this loop. We were quiet little church mice.
  • Boot issues continue -  I suffered a few more issues with hind boots this loop. I lost both at different points in the first half of the loop. Fortunately, Dom was ON it both times and noticed in time for me to turn around and find the boot not more than 200 feet behind. Thank you, Dom, for being so cognizant and sticking with me through these issues!
  • Finding a group (and a boot!) at the end - After the loss and recovery of the second boot, we found a group to ride with and stuck with them for the remainder of the loop. By the second to last water crossing, we'd even caught up with the rest of Dr. Bob's riders/horses. It was great to get pulled along with them for the rest of the loop. A good mental boost for humans and horses. It made the rest of the loop fly!

    Right before we finished the final loop, and right before the area I suspected my lost boot from the second loop to be, a rider behind Q and I informed that my hind easy boot (we had a rennie and an easyboot on) was flapping, but  not off yet. I thanked her and pulled over to deal with it, unfortunately disregarding telling Dom what I was doing. Sorry Dom. =(

    After removing the boot entirely (we were ~1.3 miles from the finish and I knew Q would be just fine without it for that time), I hand walked Q to the area I suspected I'd lost the other boot. At first, I thought I wouldn't find it, but then I saw a bit of black boot exposed in the deep mud! Victory! I snatched it out, put both muddy boots in one hand and remounted to catch up to Dom before the finish!

    Catching up was much easier said than done! Dom had made great time while I'd dallied about fetching boots. Q trucked bravely down the trail alone, hucked across the final river crossing like a champ, and then trotted and cantered the last mile to the finish all by herself. She was a bit worried about potential monsters, but she knew she where she was and was motivated to get back.

    Right at the *very* end of the loop, I caught up to Dom and the group. I called, "DOM YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DESERT ME. HERE I AM.  YOU CAN'T BE RID OF ME!" She laughed and said she'd been talking blindly to the rider behind her thinking it was me for many minutes before turning around to discover, "You're not Liz!"

    I'm so glad I caught her and that we got to ride across the finish line together. In fact, I rode across with all of Dr. Bob's riders/horses! Mike captured it so perfectly. <3

Photo by Mike Turner

  • Final vet check - My mass of volunteers was right there to crew me at the finish. Dan, his daughter, Dave, and Sara all whisked tack off of Q and were sponging and scraping her before I was barely past the finish line!! We cleaned her up really well for the final vet through. Upon checking her pulse, she was down! We vetted through with all +'s and As with an A- on skin tenting and a CRI of 60/60 for our final hold.

Photo by Diana Ross
Q post-ride

Evening Activities

  • Settled Q - With a completion under our belts, I put no bows and standing wraps on Q, gave her a big mash, and settled her for the evening. She planted herself in a shady corner of the corral and napped for a time after her mash and a drink. We joked that she was flying us the middle finger after such a long day.
  • Libations - Long before dinner, I settled myself down with a gin and tonic to chat with Dave and Dan and Sara. Mary had already headed back north for work the following morning and Dom and Mike were at Bob's trailer. It was really nice to finally sit down after a long day on trail. Company was definitely great, too.
  • Dinner& awards - Dinner was once again served to all and completion awards were passed out. Once again, we really spoil riders at RBTR. Completion prize here is always a mug that you're able to go and fill at a keg immediately.

    In addition to completion awards this year, a special award was given to Pat Oliva who was recently inducted into the hall of fame earlier this year. The plaque reads: Distance tests a horse's strength, Time reveals a person's. Jen (manager) also mentioned how Pat is the first person to camp every year (usually arriving on Wednesday) and shared words about how much she (and we all) look up to Pat for all she is and all she has accomplished. She expressed how she wants to be just like Pat one day (a sentiment many of us share), and told Pat that she would have free entry to RBTR for life. The rest of us applauded this speech and generosity, and gave Pat a standing ovation as she accepted the plaque.

  • Band& fire - After dinner, many settled around the bonfire to enjoy some local musicians for a time. It was very relaxing to sit listening to them as the full moon slowly rose above the silhouetted mountains.
  • Moonlight ride -With the rising moon, we decided to take a moonlight ride. I'd offered Griffin up to Sara originally, but she passed. Dom then almost bit the bait, but ended up passing. So, deciding to not miss the moment, I ran off to take him.

    Dan and Orion and Dave were already mounted (Dan had brought extra horses that didn't compete for such an occasion) and an additional rider and his horse were there, as well. I called out for them to hang out as I threw on my helmet and bridled Griffin in the dark. I vaulted on bareback and we were off.

    We rode down the road toward the closest river crossing at a walk. After passing three groups of teens out in their cars/ATVs though (a popular area for such things) we decided to turn back to camp for safety's sake.

    The moon, despite being the night after full, was SO BRIGHT. We gallivanted around in the field at camp for awhile, chatting and enjoying the evening. I did a short flat work session on Griffin bareback in the moonlight. He was a very good boy. It was a really nice end to a very long day.

What Worked?

  • Rider fitness - I would like to thank mountain biking 10x for all the awesome it has done for me! I felt so great after this ride that I rode Griffin bareback in the moonlight the night of the ride and still wasn't very sore beyond slightly tight calf muscles. I also felt super solid in the saddle all day. 
  • Walking into the holds ~300 yards out - I've done this in the past, but it continues to work well for Q. I dismount, loosen her girth, feed a couple carrots, and walk in all the way. By the time I'm in, she's down. I don't know that she'll ever be a trot in and be DOWN horse, so this method works really well for  us.
  • Feeding carrots on trail - I always meant to be better at this and I finally was for this ride. I took 4 big carrots out every loop and slowly fed them to Q, saving 1.5 or 2 for when I dismounted and walked into the holds. Q was so ON IT about taking carrots from me while under saddle. I bent over her neck (thanks rider fitness for giving me this kind of stability) while we were moving and said, "Carrot!" and she'd tilt her chin back enough to grab it from me every time. Happy mare, happy rider.
  • Camelbak - I'm wearing a camelbak now instead of having a saddle pack with my water. In fact, I'm not using saddle bags at all anymore. I'm also not taking snacks on trail. I've got one extra boot, some carrots for Q and my phone. My current camelbak is very minimal - basically large enough to encompass the bladder but nothing else. It doesn't impede me or bother me at all while riding. In the one fall I've had since using it, it actually PROTECTED my spine against further issue as I landed flat on my back on a gravel road a few weeks back due to a turkey flying and spooking Q. I think in the future I will bump up to a slightly larger, yet still very minimal pack. I'd like the luxury of slightly wider, more ergonomic shoulder straps/padding, and an actual pocket to slip small things into. It will likely be a pack that doubles for mountain biking and riding.
  • Electrolyte supplement - Q continues to drink really well on trail and in camp with the addition of electrolytes. She was a moderate drinker pre-electrolytes, but she's an excellent drinker with the addition. I even went so far as to pre-load the week preceding the ride, giving her one syringe/day Mon-Thur and two the day before the ride. She had a B on cap. refill at the second hold and an A- on skin tenting at the final hold - beyond that she was As on everything all day long (and +'s in all 4 gut quads all day). I am very, very pleased. Additionally, the electrolytes helped Dan's horse to drink more than Dan has ever observed the horse drinking before -- this helped him to a third place completion in the LD this year.
  • Training regiment through summer - A lesser ride frequency but greater ride difficulty coupled with lots of rest really seems to be good for Q now that she's developed a hearty base fitness level. (April - 7 small rides and one 8.9 mile ride for 26.31 miles; May - 5 rides for 50.88 miles; June - 4 rides for 51.34 miles; July - 3 rides for 28.65 miles and 13 of those miles were completed the Thursday and Friday immediately preceding RBTR) Her weight and muscling are great with this training schedule, she finished the ride looking her best yet out of any 50, and her vet scores were great all day. Modifications may be needed if I strive to race a bit harder or faster, but for a nice mid-pack 50, this is perfect. And I'm so very happy with that.
  • Dressage whip - while some comments were received on the photo the photographer shared to Facebook regarding my use of a whip, I stand by having it. To any one who looks at the record of the ride and my ride time, it will be obvious that I didn't use the whip to "win" or "go fast". I had a very respectable mid-pack ride in which I didn't rush. In fact, at each hold, I left a minute or two later so I could continue riding with Dom because we were having so much fun on trail together.

    For Q, the dressage whip is helpful to regain her focus in times when her flight instinct overrides all else. She gets worked up and "sees red" after perceiving so many nonexistent monsters that my voice and aids aren't enough to bring back her focus. A quick, sharp smack on the shoulder with that dressage whip though? That earns me an ear flick of acknowledgement and a softening of her body - albeit minor at times.

    A really great thing about my treeless Ansur saddle is that I can feel her body tensing up, thus I'm more aware of how she is taking in the goings-on in the surrounding environment. When she gets to the "seeing red" point, her body is so, so tense throughout. Her ears will also NEVER make the tiniest of motions back to me. Her focus gets sucked into an invisible-to-me vortex as her body tenses, her gait becomes even more lofty and animated, and her instincts take over all control readying her to flee from the perceived "danger". Certainly, these moments can occur so suddenly that I don't have an opportunity to diffuse them, but the longer I work with Q on building her confidence, the less often those moments become. More frequently, things are a slow build in such a manner that I can diffuse them before an explosion. I hope with time and miles, this trend will continue.

    So, for us, for this horse, a dressage whip aboard is a wonderful aid in times of need.
: : : 

All in all? A fabulous weekend. I loved getting to meet Sara, Dusty and Wyatt for the first time and look forward to many more adventures with them into the future. It was great to visit with Mary, albeit briefly. And, of course, I LOVED riding with Dom for the whole ride. Us riding together was long in the making and I was so happy to finally log some miles with her.

Dan ended up finishing 3rd in the LD and I was really proud of him for riding smartly all day and doing so well. We hope to have both horses in great shape to ride a 50 together at some point next year. He's one of two local-to-me endurance riders (the second being the ride manager, Jen). We work well together (thanks, ski patrol) and our horses pace well together, too. It would be a blast to get to share the gas to get to rides together next season.

As the only ride I'll get to do this year due to financial reasons, I really had a blast this weekend. Q and I are officially on the books for our third successful year of endurance competitions together - seven more to go to make decade team! And hopefully we'll do more than one ride for most of those years. =)

Love my little mare of mysterious background. She's really turning into a great endurance mount.

Monday, August 3, 2015

RBTR 2015 Preview

I'll write up something more conclusive over the next few days, but for now - for those who haven't already seen it on Facebook - I'm just gonna leave this here.

Photo by Becky Pearman
Yes, I bought the photo. She also shared this one to Facebook.