Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The Vermont Equine Riding and Driving Association (VERDA) hosted a 30 mile competitive trail ride (CTR) on Saturday, September 18th. I entered John and we rode up with my friend Megan and her son Burnie and their horses.

The VERDA ride is held in Springfield, Vermont and we had plenty of room to set up temporary paddocks for the horses. We vetted in and then had a potluck dinner with a bunch of the other riders.

Saturday morning arrived and we waited around for a long time. Several local horses came in that morning and we had to wait for them to vet in. I was a bundle of pure nerves at this point, part of it anticipation, part of it actual nervousness and part of it the urge to get out on the trail already. Patience is not always my strong suit.

I decided to ride alone at this CTR. At the first two CTR's, I rode with Megan and Burnie but John gets so competitive with Megan's horse, Minnie, that I ended up fighting with him a lot. At the NEATO ride in August I rode with another rider and it was a good training session for John, but I think ultimately he may be best off competing alone.

After the rider's briefing where we went over the trail I was a little nervous about riding alone. What if I got lost?

The drivers went out and then riders started filing out of ride camp and onto the trail. John and I rode out of camp at 9:20 am. We had to finish the 30 mile trail (two loops of 15 miles each) in five and a half hours, including a twenty minute hold.

For the first five miles John was very strong, but he listened to me. I trotted for the first ten minutes before I would let him canter at all (canter is his favorite gait). Riding alone was beneficial; usually our first five miles are a huge argument.

The trail was dirt road and some paved road for the majority of the first fifteen miles and the views were incredible. I decided to keep my pace pretty even, going about five miles every forty five minutes and coming into the hold after two and a half hours. I nailed the timing, coming into the hold after two hours and twenty eight minutes on the fifteen mile loop.

We did our twenty minute hold in a field with everyone else. It was kind of helter skelter with horses everywhere. John was fussing a lot because there was so much activity, so I didn't sponge him off too much. He pulsed down to 60 and they said to put more water on him even though he was in the parameters. I sponged him down a bit more but with all of the horses around he was fussing so I trotted out for the vets and got back on the trail. We still need to work on group activities and John staying focused while there is a lot of commotion.

After twenty-two minutes in the hold, I headed back out on the trail for the second loop. When I got to the trail for the second loop, I realized I had made a big mistake. The trail was mostly woods trail and it was tough (footing wise - rocky etc) and technical (lots of changes in direction and not a wide trail). John is not a big fan of woods trail (ha-ha, great trail horse that he is, we need to practice woods trail at home) and the footing made it challenging to go fast. We also got to some places where I lost the trail because I could not see the next marker and had to look around for it. On one of these occasions, John decided to make his own trail. Luckily I closed my eyes at the last second, and took quite a few tree branches to the face. For those of you who were at VERDA, this occurred somewhere between the "four to go" and "three to go" markers.

As we rode along through the really tough trail, usually at a walk, I berated myself for holding John back on the first loop. There were many times that he had been willing to trot and I had walked him, trying to keep the timing on my two loops even. When we could, I trotted and cantered, trying to make up time, but according to my watch, I was slowly losing the game.

The VERDA ride was also five miles longer than our previous three rides. When we got to the "five to go" marker you could see the confused look on John's face. He was probably thinking, "we should be done, where is ride camp?" I could tell he was tired and I was pushing him hard whenever there was decent trail to make up time. John put his heart into trying and really gave me everything he had. I was exceedingly proud of his effort.

Finally I gave up and decided that we would be late and I would take the penalty points. Making time was not worth risking injury to him or souring him on the experience. I got lost again right before the "two to go" marker and thought I was on the wrong trail. Luckily a group of other riders came along and I let them pass so I could follow along. Using them as motivation (John was tired enough he did not care about racing them), we kept alternating trotting and walking, keeping the last two horses in sight. John was interested enough in keeping up with them that he walked with purpose. I found that riding alone, he did not have other horses to motivate him and I had to work harder at the walk to make sure we were walking and not ambling leisurely along in the woods.

We got back to ride camp and crossed the finish four minutes late, which meant four penalty points. I jumped off and took John back to Megan's trailer to cool him off. After twenty minutes we had our pulse check. He was still at 52 (supposed to pulse down to 44) but considering the pace of our last two miles, I was glad he pulsed down to 52! His respiration was at ten, which was great.

We headed over to vet out. His trot outs were much more subdued than his trot ins and he lost a point. This is an improvement but I still need to practice more at home. He lost another 1/2 point on the skin pinch, he needed to drink more water on the trail. I think I need to give him more electrolytes and again, he needs to be sponged more. I need to practice that at home too. He lost a point for opening up an old interference. I know where that happened, I felt it when he spun and dove through the trees between the "four to go" and "three to go" markers. Again, we will be practicing woods trail.

At the end of the day, he scored a 91.5 and was in a tie for fourth place. But I was really happy with him and the effort he put in on a tough trail. The mistakes made were mine and I feel bad about that, but I hope that at our next CTR I will have improved many of those areas! The pictures were taken by Megan, three of the different views we saw and John relaxing after the thirty miles.

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