Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The next generation - Part 2

On the 17th of September I welcomed my dream bay filly, Tyra, into the world. For me, it was nothing less than love at first sight. A gorgeous filly with the same red bay coat as her dad, Jim, topped off with a pretty white stripe and four neat white socks. Her mother, Rose, is a 1/2 sister to my previous mare Opal and has successfully completed three 80km rides and produced four talented foals before she ended up with me. Tyra is almost 4 months old now and growing like a weed. She's already considerably taller than her cousin Taliah was at the same age and it doesn't look like she has plans to stop growing any time soon. Tyra certainly lives up to her name with her supermodel looks and catwalk strut. The next three years before I can ride her are going to drag by, but luckily I've got her cousin Taliah to keep me busy while I'm waiting.

Tyra striking a pose with her mum Rose

It begins

It's been almost a year since my last post and even longer since my last endurance ride, but I'm pleased to say that this year I will be starting my homebred filly Taliah under saddle. Taliah is now 3 years and 3 months old so I've still got another two years to go before we can do an 80km ride. There's plenty I can do with her in the meantime though! So far I've had a few short rides - nothing too strenuous as she's still a baby - and like all good horses she has plenty of spunk. The first time I put a roller on Taliah she screamed at the top of her lungs like a child throwing a tantrum in the supermarket! No bucking, no rearing, no kicking - just this deep, guttural roar which could've easily come from a grizzly bear or a T-Rex. I'm pretty sure I vaulted over the round yard fence like an Olympic gymnast. Fortunately she dropped this alarming habit after a few sessions in the roller, but it would've made saddling up at a ride rather interesting!

For all her quirks, Taliah is a dream to handle and ride. She's happy to be caught (she actually trots over to me in the paddock) and doesn't get revved up when the rest of the herd comes galloping past. Nothing seems to really faze her and I can drag her out of the paddock after a month of no handling and jump straight on - not bad consider I've only sat on her less than a dozen times! Initially I planned to spend a lot more time in the round yard with her, but she learns so darn fast I had to adjust my plans to keep her interested. And so it was that I found myself riding Taliah around my friend Colin's 200 acre property last weekend.

Despite the fact that she's still learning basics like stop, go and turn, she went beautifully and seemed to enjoy doing something different. I believe keeping a horse's mind stimulated is such an important part of training. Doing the same thing over and over again is a sure fire way to make a horse sour so I always try to mix things up. It's also important to go at the horse's speed, not yours. In this case Taliah was starting to get bored in the round yard and if I continued to drill her in there I think she would've ended up very sour. That's the last thing I want, so I'm going to break up those round yard sessions with trails and other new challenges. In a few months I'll be bringing her home to enable me to work her more frequently. I can hardly wait till then!

Taliah on her second ride out of the round yard

Friday, January 31, 2014

The next generation

So I realise I haven't posted for a while and this is largely because I don't have a competitive endurance horse at the moment. Why? Because I'm waiting for her to grow up!

A few months ago I blogged about my new endurance horse Opal who I used to breed a beautiful filly I named Taliah. Well, Taliah is just over 2 years old now and she is every bit as beautiful as her mother. She has Opal's elegant neck, clean legs and expressive eyes. Her father Jim also passed down a few characteristics, like strong hindquarters, an athletic body and (rather unfortunately) a scraggly tail. Taliah might only be 14.2hh at the moment but she is full of personality, chasing the other horses around the paddock and even stealing food from the 900kg steer! Her reign as queen of the paddock has come to an end though as I've brought her in for some additional handling in preparation for breaking her to saddle next year.

I'm very excited to see what this bossy filly is going to be capable of when she grows up. She looks set to mature over 15hh and with her nothing-can-stop-me attitude she'll be a force of nature on the endurance track!

Taliah at 2 years 3 months of age

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I'm famous!!! Sort of...

I have some exciting news to share! An article I wrote on the Horsely Park Promotional Endurance Ride is going to be published in the Hills & Hawkesbury Equestrian News Magazine as well as the NSW Endurance News. Even better, I've been invited to write more endurance-related articles for both of these publications to help generate interest in the sport. Needless to say I'm thrilled to bits! This is a wonderful opportunity for me to give something back to the sport of endurance and it combines my two passions - writing and horse riding.

Both these publications target different audiences. The NSW Endurance News is distributed to a list of subscribers, mostly members of the NSWERA (that's the NSW Endurance Riders Association in case you were wondering). An online version is also available on the NSWERA website which can be accessed by anyone. It's very endurance focused, with previews of upcoming rides, reports from recent events and any items of interest to the endurance community. The Hills & Hawkesbury Equestrian News is distributed to a much wider audience, usually via local businesses. It's a free publication which covers a broad range of equestrian activities in the Hills & Hawkesbury region such as dressage, showjumping, and breed shows just to name a few.

I'm looking forward to writing articles that readers from both publications will find interesting and informative. I'd really like to hear your suggestions and ideas on what topics I should cover! Here are a couple of possibilities I'm considering for my next article.

  • Training & preparation
  • Vetting procedures
  • Strapping tips
  • Nutrition
  • Gear & gadgets
  • Ride reviews
  • Interviews with top endurance riders
  • Interviews with organisers
  • Interviews with ride vets
  • Interviews with first timers

Make sure you check out the next NSW Endurance News online and grab a copy of the Hills & Hawkesbury Equestrian News when it comes out. Yours truly will be gracing the pages!

Me and Opal sharing a moment at the Horsely Park Promotional Endurance Ride
Photo courtesy of Jo Arblaster

Friday, June 15, 2012

What to do if you vet out

Last weekend I was reminded yet again to never take anything for granted in the sport of endurance. I took my mare, Opal, to St Alban's NSW to do her second training ride. While the course had some steep hills, it was only 32kms instead of the usual 40km so I wasn't too worried. Opal could handle it. She was fitter than ever after the 40km she did at Mudgee three weeks earlier and doing another training ride would help prepare her for an 80km. But when I trotted her up at final vetting I heard those dreadful words no endurance rider ever wants to hear, "Sorry, you vetted out." My beautiful mare was slightly lame in her right front leg after pulling a muscle out on track. Vetting out is always a possibility. Sometimes, no matter how many precautions you take, you still vet out. Opal had straight A's for everything else, her heart rate only went up by 2 beats per minute, and she showed no signs of lameness when I was riding her. But when I trotted her up for the vets she definitely wasn't right.

So how do you deal with a vet out? First of all, you don't start arguing with the vet. The vet has a lot more experience than you do at evaluating horses and their opinion should be respected. Usually the vet will confer with another vet before making the final decision to disqualify you and it's not a decision they make lightly. Arguing with the vet is bad sportsmanship and it makes you look like a complete twit, so unless that's how you want to be remembered by vets, volunteers and fellow endurance riders I would advise against it. If you are unsure why your horse was vetted out, then by all means ask the vet for clarification in a polite and respectful manner. They will be more than happy to discuss it with you and perhaps even suggest treatment. Bear in mind though that if there is a big queue behind you the vet may not be able to stand around chatting to you for half an hour. If you want a more thorough evaluation then it's best if you organise for a vet to see your horse when you get home. Occasionally a horse might require emergency treatment on the spot and if you are seriously concerned for your horse's welfare then you should speak to a vet straight away.

After you've vetted out the most important thing is to continue monitoring your horse. What you monitor will depend on why your horse vetted out in the first place. If your horse was showing signs of dehydration then you should encourage your horse to drink and watch for signs of colic. If your horse's heart rate was extremely high then you should keep checking the heart rate and aiding your horse's recovery as best you can. If your horse vetted out due to lameness then you should inspect your horse's legs and hooves, treating any injuries you find. It's also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the signs of colic or metabolic distress. If your horse appears agitated, paws the ground, lies down, rolls repeatedly, or keeps looking at it's belly then you may have a colicking horse on your hands. It's vital that a colicking horse receives prompt veterinary attention, so if you suspect colic don't delay in calling for a vet. Better to play it safe and get a vet than risk your horse's welfare by waiting to see if it miraculously recovers on it's own.

Every vet out is a learning experience. It highlights the areas you need to focus on managing in order to improve your horse's performance. While there's not a lot you can do to prevent your horse pulling a muscle out on track, you can take steps to prevent dehydration, colic and exhaustion. Over time, you will develop a management strategy for your horse and learn how to recognise when your horse is struggling. Some horses can be very hard to read, while others will give you very clear signals. Top endurance riders know their horses inside out and can spot a problem a mile away, which is why they can travel at such fast speeds without damaging their horse. They also know know it's better to finish in 2nd place and vet through than be first across the line and vet out. There's no point running a horse into the ground for the sake of a trophy. In this sport, the horse's welfare matters more than how fast you went, and you won't win any respect (or prizes) for pushing your horse too hard. If you do vet out, the main thing is to learn from your mistakes so you don't repeat them in future.

Me and Opal crossing the river at St Alban's
Photo courtesy of Jo Arblaster

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My new endurance horse :)

There's a new horse in my life and her name is Opal. 

Funnily enough, when I bought Opal I wasn't looking for an endurance horse at all. I was looking for a broodmare. For a few years now I've been entertaining the idea of competing on a horse I'd bred and trained myself. I already knew which stallion I'd use - Jim, obviously! With his excellent performance record, athletic conformation and resting heart rate of 24 beats per minute (not to mention successful endurance bloodlines) there was no question in my mind. The problem was I didn't have a suitable mare to breed him to. So in January 2010 the hunt for Jim's girlfriend began. After looking at a few different mares, I finally decided on a grey 13 year old, 15.1hh purebred arabian mare named Opal. She'd already had four foals, all of which had been sold to endurance homes, and was back in foal to the same stallion. Unfortunately Opal was already entered in a stud auction and her owner didn't want to pull her out at the risk of disappointing other interested buyers. Off to the sales I went with my empty horse float in tow. A few nerve-racking hours later I drove home with my new mare.

Opal had, shall we say, a rather basic education. She knew how to lead and that was it. Things like being caught, picking up her feet, or having a rug put on were all foreign to her. It took me FIVE hours to catch her the first time I tried and while it was nice to know Opal had the stamina of an endurance horse it was hard to appreciate this when she was galloping away from me. I decided to hire a trainer to do some work with her so she'd be easier to handle around foaling time. Before the trainer did any work with her I got the vet out to make sure everything was running smoothly with her pregnancy. Imagine my disappointment when the vet announced that Opal was in fact not pregnant. What to do now? It was too late to put her back in foal and it seemed a shame to leave her sitting out in the paddock. In the end I came up with a crazy plan - to get the trainer to break her in. I wasn't sure how successful this plan would be, but I wanted to give it a shot. Even if it didn't work out at least she'd be easier to handle afterwards. When I told my trainer what I was thinking I expected him to laugh in my face, but he just calmly said he'd do his best and see where it ended up. Well, it ended up with him in the saddle teaching my 13 year old feral broodmare to accept a rider.

Just a few months later I was able to ride Opal myself. She still carried on like a cat on caffeine on the ground, but under saddle she was bold and level-headed. I'd never ridden such a light, responsive horse in my entire life! Most of the time all you had to do was think of what you wanted and she'd do it for you. She'd bend over backwards to please you and I adored her willing attitude. In October 2010 I took her to her very first 20km Social Ride at Harden NSW. She blitzed it - her heart rate was actually lower at the end of the ride than it was at the start. I was having so much fun riding Opal I was reluctant to put her in foal to Jim, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't. Besides, I could always ride her again once she had the foal. When Opal gave birth to a beautiful filly in October 2011 I knew breeding her was the right decision. Her foal, Taliah, has all of the best characteristics from Jim and Opal. I felt like I'd won the lottery when I saw Taliah for the first time. She's everything I've ever dreamed of and more! 

The next six months flew by and soon it was time for Taliah to be weaned. In April I brought Opal back into work and just over a month later I took her to Mudgee NSW to do her first 40km Training Ride. She exceeded my expectations at Mudgee, receiving almost straight A's in vetting and finishing with a heart rate of 34bpm which was the same as at pre-ride. I've tentatively lined up another 40km ride at St Albans in June where Opal will face some pretty tough hills, but I'm sure this magnificent mare can do it!

Me and Opal before the 40km Trainer at Mudgee NSW

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wingello NSW - May 2011

Two weeks after our successful ride at Mudgee, Jim and I were ready to step things up a bit. I decided to enter the 100km elevator at Wingello State Forest, which I thought was the perfect choice for our first elevator. The ground at Wingello is nice and soft - a pleasant change after the hard-packed trails at Mudgee - and with plenty of trees around there would be no lack of shade. I loaded Jim and Sam into the float and made the drive down to Wingello. Colin was driving down in his truck so he could bring a large gas water heater and a lamb. That's right, a lamb. Colin had been looking after an orphaned lamb for several days, getting up every few hours during the night to bottle feed him. There was nobody else who could do it for him so rather than miss out, he decided to bring the lamb to the ride instead. It was quite a sight, this big truck rumbling down the dirt road with a little lamb poking it's head out the window!

After setting up camp and vetting the horses through, we went for a quick ride. It was a lovely track, nice level dirt roads with plenty of markers warning us of any hazards or turn offs. I couldn't wait till tomorrow! We unsaddled the horses, then headed over to grab some dinner and listen to the pre-ride talk. Boy, were we in for a treat. The ride organisers had gone all out. Not only was there a stall selling gourmet burgers, there was also a pizza oven and a live singer. A roaring fire kept everyone warm as we sat around and caught up with friends. We went to bed with full bellies and warm hands.

It was still dark when we fed the horses breakfast. After my experience at Mudgee, I had started feeding Jim a warm mash of Speedibeet, bran and barley in the morning to get plenty of fluid into his gut. He hoovered it all up in no time, and Sam seemed to enjoy his mash too. Colin and I decided to wait until all the other horses left before heading over to the starting line so we could just cruise along at a nice easy pace. Both of us just wanted to complete, not compete. We made our way to the starting line fifteen minutes after the ride was supposed to start. It was so peaceful - just the two horses trotting along at a steady pace - but it didn't last very long. When we got to the first checkpoint we found fifty or so horses and riders just milling around. The person manning the checkpoint said we'd come the wrong way and had to go back. It seemed a little odd that every single rider had ended up coming the same way, so everyone waited patiently while the person at the checkpoint contacted the ride base. Sure enough, it was a mistake. Off we went again, but in the confusion Colin and I got separated.

I rode with a few different people, though it was hard to tell who was who in the dark. I ended up tagging along with Mary and Kayte, who I'd met at the Mudgee ride. They were travelling at novice speed, which suited me just fine. I wanted to take things a bit easy with Jim so he'd have energy left for the final leg of the ride. We arrived back at base in good time and Jim vetted through with ease. I had arranged to meet up with Mary and Kayte for the second leg, but after waiting around for ten minutes I decided to ride with my other friends, Cherry and her dad Michael. Jim got along really well with Cherry's little grey mare, Alice, and Michael's big grey gelding, Arrow. They were like the three musketeers, merrily cantering along the trail together. They were even happy to drink side by side at the water troughs, although Jim pulled faces at any horse who tried to go near "his herd." We arrived back at base right on novice time and I was feeling confident as I approached the vetting ring. Jim had been eating and drinking better than ever before, and he felt like he had plenty of fuel left in the tank for the final leg. Unfortunately, I didn't factor in a strained groin muscle.

After receiving almost all A's for his gut sounds and hydration levels, Jim showed up lame in his right hind leg during the trot out. I was gutted. This was supposed to be our first 100km ride together - instead it was our first vet out. I fretted over him back at camp, massaging his hindquarters with anti-inflammatory gel and giving him some bute to make him comfortable. My poor, noble horse! I felt like I'd really let him down. I should've picked up that he wasn't quite right. But after blaming myself and beating myself up over it, I realised it wasn't helping the situation. I rugged Jim and made sure he had plenty to eat and drink, then waited for Colin to get back with Sam. As soon as Colin arrived I was ready to spring into action, offering Sam a nice mash to get his gut sounds and hydration levels up. Colin took him over for vetting almost straight away and I was over the moon when he told me they passed! This was Sam's third successful 80km completion, qualifying him for a yellow logbook - a fantastic achievement for any horse.

It may not have been a successful weekend for Jim and I, but I learned a very important lesson. Sometimes, things go wrong out and there's nothing you can do to prevent it. All you can do is manage it.

Jim and I near the end of the second leg
Photo courtesty of "That's My Pic Photography"