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11 Mile *Training* Ride Story :)

     Okay, so at least two people have said to go ahead and tell it so here
     it is.  I get a little long winded, so delete if you aren't

     In the way of a little background, I have been conditioning my 4 year
     old App gelding since April.  We have very difficult trails where I
     board, so we have been taking it very slow.  The loop we usually do is
     about 1.75 miles (we do 2-3 loops), but there are 4 moderate hill
     climbs and a few very technical portions where you are stepping over
     big logs and negotiating gravelly pine straw covered downhills so I
     felt like he was ready for an easy ride of a longer distance.

     The ride was sponsored by a local Special Equestrians group, and since
     I don't give to other charities, seemed like a good deal all the way
     around.  My only problem was how to get there.  I don't have a
     trailer, and no one else at the barn who wanted to go did either.
     Internet to the rescue!  I put out word on another, Alabama horse list
     that I would like to go and would willingly pay gas money, and within
     a day I had a ride.  Yippee!

     We worked out a time to meet Saturday morning which caused me to wake
     up at 4am (see, it was good practice all the way around) so that I
     could get to the barn and let the chunk eat before we left.  When he
     pulled up with the trailer was the first time I actually met Steve,
     and I didn't know his last name until we were on the way home after
     the ride.  Hey, he had horses, and that was good enough for me.

     With Steve's horse in the front of the trailer, Zane had to go in the
     back compartment (stock trailer which he loves).  Well, he got the
     front two feet in and then decided he just wasn't going to fit.  We
     had to convince him that he would be able to get that big butt in
     there by literally putting one back leg in and then the other.  This
     was the first instance of the day where Zane showed off his incredible
     tolerance for all the weird things humans do.

     The ride started at 9am, and we were a good hour away so we hit the
     road.  About half way there, Steve starts going uh-oh and tapping at
     some gauge on his dashboard.  I start to think maybe I should have
     checked to make sure his truck would get us there - and thinking about
     the 20 or so miles we'd already gone away from the barn.  I envisioned
     myself riding back along 2 lane highways.  Turns out his alternator
     had gone kaplooie.  Lucky for me, there is a NAPA parts store in a
     town right outside of the ride site.  Luckier still is that Steve is a
     mechanic.  An unscheduled 35 minute pit stop and we are back on the
     road with a brand new alternator.

     As we pulled up into the trailer parking area (not quite a camp since
     no one stayed overnight, but close enough for me), I started getting
     excited and thinking about how great this was going to be.  This was
     actually Zane's first trip outside of the barn, so I wanted him to
     really get the feel of the camp with all the people, dogs, and other
     horses.  He was remarkably calm and seemed to take everything in
     stride.  He had actually managed to get his head over the divider and
     had devoured half of the hay in Steve's hay bag by the time we got
     there.  (No eating on trail/in camp/anywhere problems here.)  He was a
     little warm, probably from the ride down and the 35 min. alternator
     pit stop.

     We checked in, showed our Neg. Coggins and got a little goodie bag
     that I later found had some really great stuff in it donated by the
     local feed mills and tack shops.  I thought of it as my
     "pre-completion award".

     By the time we mounted up, most everyone had already left and was well
     on their way to the lunch area, 11 miles away.  I started thinking of
     this as my 1st vet stop just to have that mentality.  I actually could
     have gone on a second loop after lunch of 10 miles, but both Zane and
     I had enough by then.

     The trail was beautiful, and true to my informant it was an easy ride
     with a few gentle hills and maybe one or two moderate climbs.  No
     steep downhills.  We had left camp just in front of 15 riders on show
     Arabians, but after losing Steve's dog and waiting for him to be
     found, they ended up in front of us.  Our first water crossing came
     not too long after that.  Zane had never been exposed to water.  There
     just isn't all that much water where I board.  Needless to say, I was
     already a little nervous about how he would handle it.  I was riding
     just behind this gorgeous bay Arab gelding who had never been out of a
     show ring.

     Now, most of you probably know what happened next, but I'll tell it
     anyway.  This Arab sees that water (which was maybe a foot across with
     small banks on either side) and he blows up.  Right in Zane's face.
     His rider spends the next 15 minutes trying to get this terrified
     horse across that water and terrifying him more.  This is one of those
     times when I tell myself to keep my mouth shut, but just don't make
     it.  I told her to back up, let him breathe a minute, let the rest of
     us cross, and maybe he'd go when he saw his buddies leaving him.

     Only at this point it was too late for Zane.  He had seen some scary
     monster scare that horse to death, figured out it was in that small
     ditch, and he wasn't going across it come hell or high water.  Now, I
     think me and Zane have forged a pretty strong bond in our short time
     together.  We have a good base of mutual trust, and we do pretty well
     despite our (my) training flubs.  But he wouldn't cross that water no
     matter what.

     Good thing he's a pig.

     Out comes the secret weapon from the saddle bags.  A nice, big, juicy
     apple.  Carrots, sugar and all that other stuff he could care less
     about - but an apple he'd walk through fire for.  I took up my
     position on the other side of the creek, held out that apple, and
     before I know it he's leaping the creek.  Of course, I was also
     tugging a bit on his reins to persuade him, so when he took that jump,
     I fell down.  And, of course, he jumps straight at me.  Witnesses
     later tell me that his hooves hit just in front of my legs (I had
     curled into a ball when I hit the ground) and then he jumped again and
     sailed right over me.  Good boy.

     Only somewhere in the fall, I've hurt my knee and my elbow.  Later on
     I get bruises on my chin and chest.  Don't ask me how, after I fell
     it's all a blur - although I distinctly remember seeing those hooves
     hit the ground right in front of me and thinking he'd step on me for
     sure.  Yes, I DO have my helmet on.  There are quite a few people
     without them, but not me, I know better than to get up there without
     my brain bucket.

     Come to find out, there are about 7 stream/creek crossings in the next
     mile.  We end up watching that poor Arab get forced into crossing
     every one of them.  I really felt bad for him, because you could tell
     he was genuinely scared but trying his best to do what they wanted him
     to do.  The thing that made it worse (IMO) is the drag rider who kept
     telling us that we had a long way to go and we'd never make it if we
     didn't get that horse across that water.  Ugh.  I lead Zane across the
     first 3 - the second one it was another leap, but I wasn't tugging and
     I managed to jump out of the way (he jumped towards me again - note
     that in some cases, being your horse's security blanket is not a good
     thing).  The third one he walked through.  After each crossing he got
     a bite of apple.  The next four he crossed with me mounted after a
     nice look and a leap.

     An endurance rider who we met up with on the trail (and by the end of
     the ride probably wanted to get away from the crazy girl who wouldn't
     leave her alone with all the questions) helped us out at a much wider,
     get in it and wallow around kind of creek.  She just took his lead
     rope and pulled him in with her cute and floaty trotting grey Arab.
     Her friend, another endurance rider on a beautiful black App, sloshed
     in next to us and pushed on his rump to convince him to go.  He went.
     The App started pawing in the water and spraying it everywhere.  Good
     training for Zane, but it scared him pretty bad at first and I let him
     get out.

     By the end of the ride he was crossing water like a trooper.  At both
     of the larger creek crossings, he stopped and drank lots.  Yea!

     After the water, the show Arabs zoomed on ahead, leaving me, Steve and
     the two endurance riders to ride at a more sedate pace.  We met back
     up with them about half way through the ride at a bridge.  Um, no -
     not a bridge.  A footpath over a big ditch.  No sides, about 3 feet
     wide, with big logs as supports so the horses had to step way up to
     get on them.  Big signs everywhere saying "Danger - Lead Horses
     Across!".  Well, Zane may not do water, but buddy, we do bridges.  I
     asked for trail (see, I learn things on RC) and everyone moved out of
     the way like the parting of the waters.  Everyone I was riding with at
     this point had watched the first stream crossing debacle, and I'm sure
     they were getting ready for another wreck.  Zane looked at it, and
     then hopped right up and scooted across.  I silently patted myself on
     the back as we went on down the trail.  We actually led the way across
     two more of these bridges.

     The only other "casualty" happened near the end of the ride.  We had
     been pestered all day by sweat bees, and we were keeping an eye out
     for yellow jackets - but not a very close one it seems.  By the time
     we got to the narrow track with the yellow jackets, there had been
     probably 75 horses through there and they were good and riled.  All I
     saw was Steve's mare tossing her head, side stepping, and generally
     wigging out in a seemingly harmless stretch of trail.  Zane was stung
     on the lip or the chest - I'm not sure which - and we did our rodeo
     imitation of a bucking bronc before he figured out that forward, not
     up, would be a better choice.  It's times like these when you realize
     that you have a LOT more horse left than you thought.  I got down to
     make sure he was okay when he was done runnin', and although he kept
     rubbing his lip on his chest (thus my uncertainty which got hurt) he
     never swelled anywhere and I figured he'd live.

     The only other bruise I came away with was on my ankle.  He stepped on
     a dead log and half of it shot up and whacked me good.  You'd think
     with all those roots we have to crawl over where we usually ride, he'd
     learn to pick his feet up, but he hasn't.

     My Mother later said that if what I thought was a low injury rate was
     three incidents in 11 miles, she'd hate to see what shape I'd be in
     after a 25 miler.  I was not amused.  Mostly because I *do* think of
     it as a low injury experience.  Especially considering his age,
     inexperience, and all the horrible things that could have happened
     mainly due to the lack of knowledge amongst the yahoos I was riding

     We pulled in to the lunch stop not long after the yellow jackets, and
     the ride managers impressed me by having fresh pears for the horses.
     I didn't try one on Zane, but I was glad they had them.  We had mostly
     walked the whole way and I'm proud to say it took us 4 hours to go
     that 11 miles.  We also stopped at several points, the creek and
     meadows and at the top of a long hill climb, to let the horses rest a

     Zane was sweaty, but breathing easy and not dripping.  I was so proud
     of the way he recovered - most of the horses that had been there for
     5-10 minutes were still breathing hard and were dripping buckets.  But
     then again, this was a pleasure ride and not a lot of those people
     condition their horses.  Not to mention that most of them
     trotted/cantered most of the way.  What really made me smile were the
     endurance ladies comments that he looked really good.  I think I was
     the only one besides them out there checking gut sounds.

     I learned a lot from this little ride, though, and I think it will be
     put to good use when I get to my first 25.

     Ridecamp is very busy and there are people and horses everywhere.  Not
     all of them are watching what they are doing.  Not all of them are
     good horsepeople.

     My horse was in much better condition than I thought.  I had been
     taking it real slow, and without a HRM, I didn't realize he was doing
     so well.  I'm taking his training at home up a notch now - asking him
     to do the loop a little faster than I was before.

     Tolerance is Zane's strongest point.  He was pushed on, had people
     pulling on him, had dogs running in and out of his legs, was stung by
     bees, and had people swinging leads around him, and none of it
     bothered him very much.  Several other riders commented on how
     tolerant he was to put up with so much and be so young.  Especially at
     the wide creek crossing where we had one horse in front pulling on his
     lead, me on top giving strong leg, and another rider in back pushing
     on him and he still took his time, made up his mind, and then calmly
     stepped into the water.

     If the horse in front of you starts wigging out, go the other way.

     11 miles is MUCH farther than you think.

     I have definitely found the right sport!!  I had a blast the whole
     time and I can't wait to do a 25!

     Kenzie & Zane (Sigh. Crazy girl. Doesn't she know we can eat standing
     right here?)
     Birmingham, AL

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