Kate and I are both moving a little slowly this morning, but otherwise all the parts and pieces seem to be functional.
We did our first Trail Challenge yesterday, at Horn Rapids State Park, on the Yakima River outside of Richland, WA. Kate did remarkably well, considering it was only her second trip into the wide open (the first being last June's un-demanding poker ride).
There were 14 obstacles, plus a check-in and a check-out. Ten of those obstacles were scattered out on an approximately 6 mile, double-loop track, with mostly nice soft, sand footing (Kate is barefoot, but I took along her Simple Boots, just in case). Even at a leisurely walk, with hold-ups at obstacles, I figured two hours, maybe three. However, we mounted up at 10:30 AM, and didn't get out of the saddle until almost 5:00 PM!
Before one could start on the course, everyone (close to 100 riders were present, but maybe a third to half were just doing the poker ride, not competing) had to wait forever to complete the initial four obstacles located around the parking area. My riding partners and I took turns holding our place in the ques while another went and did circles or figure eights to keep the horses (two greenies and a somewhat fussy, herd-bound elder mare) occupied until our respective turns. It wasn't until shortly after noon that we even started on the 6-mile loop!
I think if they had had staggered starts, or let some people do the mileage first, then return for the close in tasks, or do their choice of loops first, there would have been a lot of much happier horses! (Kate included).
The blow-by-blow, and some of Kate's high-lights:
Kate was required to climb up out of a little hollow, stepping over some scattered sticks and small logs (nothing much bigger around than 5 or 6 inches). Kate trundled through like it was no big deal, until, just as she was stepping out over the final log, one hind foot seemed to find a hole in the soft footing, and she did a little hop (not quite a buck-fart) to extricate herself. Judge said she had a solid 1 up to that point, but only knocked her down to a 2 for her effort.
The "car wash"
I don't see how anyone could construe this type of obstacle as a natural one, but it did test Kate's confidence in herself and me. There was a tarped arch over the trail, but to enter it, the horse and rider needed to pass through a couple of dozen swimming pool "noodles" hanging as a curtain over the entrance. Although Kate's steps were veeeerrry sloooow and m.e.a.s.u.r.e.d, she never stopped her forward motion, and let me tap her with a couple of noodles on the way through! (She got a pizazz 0 score!)
This was a small (3 foot wide, 6 or 7 foot long) wooden bridge at the bottom of a gully. For a score of 1, the horse simply had to walk down to the bridge, cross it, and go up the other side. For our pizazz score, we walked to the end of the bridge, stopped and stood for a moment, then backed back to the beginning, stopped and stood, then proceeded over again, and out.
The exercise ball
Here the horse was to push a 36" or so shimmery white ball across a 20 by 20 foot blue tarp. Kate has never minded tarps (when she was foaled, half the barn walls were still temporary tarps), but she had never seen anything like the ball (except maybe Sandy's 10 inch Jolly Ball). She sniffed it, poked it with her nose, then stepped towards it, knocking it with her knee. It took a very lucky roll across the tarp, but to make sure it didn't look like it was all dumb luck, we went over and touched it one more time before stepping out without touching the surrounding logs. Score:1.
I had worked a little last fall with swinging a rope around and over Kate, from the ground first, then from the saddle. We had "roped" a few barrels, and even drug a log, both behind us, moving forward, and backing, facing the log as one might face a roped calf. So I was confident that Kate would have no problem pulling the animal hide on this effort, as long as she didn't object to the hide. She didn't, and we drug the hide from one marker 20 yards or so to the other marker at a walk, as required, then turned around and trotted it back to the judge for another pizazz 0!
Kate has just in the last week or so gotten the hang of side passing: though it takes her a minute to figure out which way I want her to go, once she gets it, she moves very nicely off my leg. But she'd much rather do it in the center of an uncluttered arena, than over a log--she wants to step on or kick the log, to check it's location. We didn't get a great score here, because she did "relocate" the log, but once she made it to the mailbox, she stood quietly while I opened it, shook the rattle-box in the air, then bounced the box off her neck a few times, then closed the mailbox and side-passed perfectly away ('cause that silly log wasn't in her way).
The big rock
This big (3 X 5 foot?) rock was not quite flat, and the expectation was that the horse stand with her front feet on it, pedestal style, for 5 seconds. Kate approached it willingly, hesitated, then started up. When she threatened to walk right on off the back side (it made as much sense as anything else I had asked her to do this day), I checked her, but too much--she backed back down. Second approach she wasn't as happy, being a bit confused about what I wanted, she danced a bit, then stepped up again. When she leaned toward the far side, I checked her more subtly this time, she rocked back, I shifted forward ever so slightly, and she stood--one thousand one, one thousand two....until we got our five seconds (with a minimum of fidgeting) and a perfect score of 1.
Kate and I had practiced doing 360 degree turns in an eight by eight box at home, so I thought she might do okay here. She was to step up onto the top of a six foot diameter wire spool (just the top, about 6 inches off the ground), turn 360 degrees, then walk off in the same direction she came on. One issue we had here was that the spool was set in the middle of a nasty field of jagged volcanic rocks, so Kate really tippy-toed into it. Once up, with little hesitation, her turn-around was a little shaky, stepping off in back with a stray rear foot a couple of times. But her attitude was willing--it was just her coordination/sense of space that got in her way.
Beside the no-score 5 at the gate, there were only two other obstacles that I was not happy with:
I think Kate would have actually done better with a live stream, but here we had a sticky-mud puddle in a low spot in a dirt road, about 8 feet wide and 20 feet across, with what Kate no doubt considered plenty of access on either bank to get to the other side without getting her cute wittle toesies wet. It was the last obstacle of the day (though we still had a 2 mile trek back to the trailers), and Kate was ready-to-be-DONE (as was I). She approached, sniffed, and stood there. She was stuck, even before she got to the mud! I had tucked my horse-beater, er, dressage whip, under the gullet of my saddle, but hadn't had to use it all day until now. With a little encouragement from the whip, she finally stepped into the water, hesitated, then walked on through. We returned with just leg cues and only a slight pause at the far edge, then went one more time for good measure. The judge, scoring her last horses of the day (we were the last riders on course), gave her a gift 4.5 for finally making it.
The steep hill
This was the only place all day that I got truly frightened (and hurt myself a bit). The hill was probably 50 yards up one nice sandy track, then back down another, parallel track. It didn't look too bad from below, but once on it, you realized that the last 10 yards or so was pretty close to vertical! You know those videos of motorcyclists doing hill-climbs, where they get almost all the way to the top, then don't have quite enough momentum to make it, and they have to bail out and watch their bike tumble down the hill? Just short of the top, with Kate trying her best to chug on through, she looked up towards the crest of the hill, and
couldn't ... see ... anything ... there ... but ... blue ... sky!
(Plus she could hear disembodied voices from the next obstacle, just over the hill.) She stalled, and lost her momentum. She started backing up, and I was truly afraid she might flip over backwards! I pulled her sharply sideways, and she clambered off the track onto some more solid, vegetated footing, and we went to the top from there. We should have taken a longer moment to catch our wits, but now Kate was worried about rejoining her friends at the bottom of the hill. Skidding down several yards, with my feet up by her shoulders, and my back almost laying on the saddlebags, but my head and neck straining forward to try to see where we were going, we came to a little 2 foot drop. She was thinking about jumping it, and I checked her, and we stalled again for a moment. After what seemed like forever, she clambered down the drop, and we quickly reached the gradually less steep lower hill and our cohorts. But I realized I was in pain, and getting light-headed! From one armpit to the other, across the top of my chest, I felt like I had a barbell weighing me down. I wasn't sure if it was a severe muscle strain or another "cardiac episode." I managed to navigate Kate to where Pat was standing, and asked her to hold Kate's head for me while I tried to maintain my position in the saddle (I wasn't sure I could have gotten back on, if I had dismounted at that point), and slowly tried to stretch out of the tightness. By the time Deb had finished her run up and down the hill (to which I was oblivious), I felt well enough to proceed carefully up the gully to the next obstacle.
What happened next was interesting, to say the least: As we waited our turn at the mail box, Kate and I were standing in a decidedly "fluffy" spot in the trail. (I have decided that the dusty trails were a combination of river sand and silt, and volcanic ash left over from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, almost 30 years ago. In the cut-away on the side of the hill, you could see the demarcation of several instances of ash-fall.) I'm not sure if Kate was offering me a little rest, or if she felt she deserved some R&R, but without warning she dropped to her knees, then just rested on her belly! My feet were flat on the ground, so I stepped off, poked her with my toe, and she got back up. I checked her over to see if she had injured herself on the hill climb, then walked her around a bit to make sure she hadn't strained anything. Then Pat held her head while I remounted from a tall tuft of bunch grass. Walked her a bit more, and decided there was no inherent problem. The hill was the tenth obstacle on the course, and finishing the rest, and then returning to the campground, there were no more indications of a physical problem. (In fact she gave me one good buck-fart on the jog back cross-country, just to check if I was okay!) As I said at the opening, she's is tired today, but moving okay, with no sign of lameness.
Several others "firsts" on this day of firsts:
Kate has never hauled in anything but my trailer, which has a ramp, because I think this is mentally and physically safer for mamas and babies. But on this occassion, we hauled to town in the wee hours and then unloaded and reloaded into Deb's three-horse slant with a step-up. The last stall was a bit cramped to encourage her in, so Deb unloaded her little mustang, and Kate walked right up into the middle stall. It was also the longest ride she'd ever taken--two hours each way from town (where we met Deb), not including the half hour rides between town and home. She loaded and unloaded four times without a problem (once in the dark).
At the first check point of the ride, points were based on "preparedness" for a trailride, so I had loaded my spiffy new nylon saddle bags with a first aid kit, sponge and towel on one side, and Kate's boots and a hoof pick, trash bag, and other miscellaneous on the other. My pommel bags had snacks, my (never-used) camera, the course map, and my score sheet. Sweatshirt tied to the cantle, halter on under her bridle and lead tied to the front saddle strings. Where to put my insulated water bottle carrier? Guess I'll tie it here, to the off side of the rear cinch. So what was new, you ask? All of the above! (Except the halter arrangement, and maybe the idea of stuff hanging on the pommel.) Did Kate mind, you ask? NAW! Didn't even seem to notice!
So we survived! Kate is a natural trail horse. I'm not so sure I'm up to this kind of competition, but we'll give it a couple of more tries, before I give up and take up knitting. As for today, I've put off weekend catch-up chores long enough. And Maddie is scheduled for a show next weekend, so I guess I better get outside!