Sunday, September 25, 2011

One More Time Around [A Slightly Different] Block

Last weekend, Kate and I joined five other KVTRiders (and one sister) horse-and-rider teams, and a pit-crew of two, for a trek north to Wenatchee, Washington, for the "Dry Gulch Trail Challenge."  A locally produced event of the huge Appleatchee Riders group, this was their third time to hold a competition on a very well built trail course outside of their main barn/arena grounds. (Last spring's challenge was cancelled due to the EHV-1 virus: there was actually one horse from the Appleatchee barns who attended the Ogden Utah cutting show where the virus was traced to.)
Here's a [long] pictorial look at Kate's go on each of the obstacles in the "Greenhorn" division.
The course walk.
 First obstacle:  Water-filled ditch.
Kate took a long hard look at the water hazard--there was several inches of sticky mud at the bottom of a trench.  She got close, and gave it a few half-hearted tries, but we moved on before she could get too flustered.
We did do it later, first in hand, during a break between horses.  Then, after the competition was complete, I rode her through from both directions.  After the first tentative try, she did really well.  Guess we'll have to flood our "fake" pond at home and practice some more.
Second obstacle: Walk in-and-out through the barrels.
"Are they alive?!?" The wind was rustling the fleece "hides" slightly, then Kate's snort, even more so!
"Okay.  I can handle these cows."
Third obstacle:  Bridge.
I figured she would either do this short, wide bridge...or not.  She strode right over without a moment's hesitation.  (She also practiced the long skinny bridge later in the day, with little problem--other than "falling" off the side on the first go.)
Third obstacle: the "Blow-down."
I need to look up!
Kate made it look easy, in spite of me.
Fourth obstacle:  the "Trail ride."
First we went up the hill at a walk, then trotted a circle around a jump at the top...
...then we came back down.
Fifth obstacle: Trot logs.
I was a little worried about this, as Kate would usually prefer to "mosey," especially over logs.  But I think the excitement of the day had raised her adrenaline levels: she trotted right through, and seemed to enjoy the jaunt!
 Sixth obstacle:  Side pass.
Kate prefers to side pass to the left.  After offering that, and giving me a petulant little stomp when I said "no, thank, go right," she complied and did a very nice job.
I'm seriously exaggerating my left seat-bone cue!  But Kate crossed over with her feet very nicely.
Seventh obstacle: the Gate.
...ever! ('nuf said)
Eighth obstacle: Turn-a-round box.
Kate still doesn't quite keep track of her back feet.  And the one log at the back had been knocked out of position by the previous contestant, so that further confused things.
Gives a whole new meaning to the term "rubber-necking."  I have been told not to do this challenge too slowly--just get in the box and twirl around.  Kate wasn't twirling, however!  We need to work on her yielding her hindquarters to my leg.
Ninth obstacle:  The mailbox.
Kate approached it nicely.  Thankfully, they put their mailbox at horse-height.
Then she listened while I read the "mail" out loud: "Sanity is over rated--I bought myself another horse!"
Across the finish line.
The "Greenhorns" division was timed, but only for the sake of breaking ties.  I let Kate trot out from the mailbox.
I was again extremely pleased with Kate's efforts and attitude!
Besides the non-completion "zero" for the water, she got a "3" for taking a while to make up her mind to go between the "hide"-covered barrels, and a "4" for her back-end sloppiness in the turn-a-round.  Otherwise she got all "5's"!
All in all, our E-burg contingent did pretty well: 4th and 5th (Kate) in the "Greenhorn" division; 3rd, 4th, and 6th in the "Dude" (intermediate) division; and FIRST in the "Wrangler" division went to my friend Barb, and her usually mellow, quiet trooper, Fannie Mae, who had a whoopin', hollerin' time cruising around the advanced course!

 Kate and I had completed our second mountain trail event, in not too shabby fashion.  We still have a few things to work on, but it's obvious what they are (water/mud, yielding her hindquarters).
Next up: an ACTHA ride next weekend, right up the road in Cle Elum, at the Washington State Horse Park.

Friday, September 9, 2011

We Accomplished Our Goal...And Then Some!

 As you may (or may not) remember, my goal for Kate and I for this year was to compete in at least one mountain trail type event.  She's more than proven herself on KVTR trail rides this summer, and I've been proud of how much she's matured.  One KVTR member commented recently that he felt that was the true test of a "trail horse" and should be enough.
But I also have that little competitive urge, that drives me to show off Kate's skills and see how she stacks up against others.  After all, I was the one who bred, birthed, raised and trained her.  What an ego boost to have her perform well in a judged setting.
I had taken her to the mountain trail clinic offered by national champion Mark Bolender (I never blogged about the clinic, because I never got the pictures from them!  Boo!), but then missed every single one of his series of three little trail "shows" at the Washington State Horse Park, for various reasons (rain, haying season, attacks by horse-eating stable sheets).
There are several other options for competition in the state and central Oregon and northern Idaho, but most are hundreds of miles away, and I just couldn't see spending the money on gas without a travel buddy to share costs (as well as company).  Plus, I wanted to start off low key and see how well Kate and I did--get us both some experience--before venturing that far away.  Plus, I'm not set up for camping [yet!] and all of the long distance trips would have by necessity entailed one or more overnights
'not JUST a trail horse anymore'
My friends Barb and Debby, who had been working their way through the ACTHA rides in the area, talked me into giving it a try.  I personally think that the cost per ride is a bit high (especially since the format of six obstacles in six miles limits you to competing only one horse, and I have two I'm trying to bring along).  But ACTHA was offering a late season special on membership, and Maddie isn't ready just now, anyway.  Plus, I noticed that Kate was wearing the tread down on my more often used pair of Cavallo Simple Boots, (which I strongly endorse), and I could earn a pretty darn good discount on a new pair by signing up--Cavallo is a major sponsor.
And I had saved all that money on the trail challenges I didn't make it to, right?
 There were two, two-day competitions scheduled for early September this side of Spokane (150 miles or so away from E-burg).  Debby was signed up for the "Ride for the Mustangs" weekend, with her little Kate-clone mustang, Wendy.  But that is right after the start of school this week (bah! humbug!), and I couldn't justify going for the whole weekend, which was Deb's plan.  So Barb and I signed up for the Saturday ride on Labor Day weekend.  (That would give a couple of days to recover!)

Because Barb isn't set up for camping either, we left the Kittitas Valley shortly after 4:00 AM for the 3 hour drive over to Davenport, WA.  We made good time, even with a good rest stop mid-way, and, after getting checked in and attending the ride briefing, I had about 45 minutes to shut my eyes before saddling up.
The description of the obstacles indicated that they were for the most part pretty "natural"--no pool noodle curtains or such.  I knew that Kate would be able to do most of them, as long as nothing got us too flustered.
The first obstacle was called "cavaletti," but was much more random that any English rider might imagine.  As we finished, the judge commented that we were the first horse/rider team (and I later learned only) that did not touch a single one of the poles/branches laid out!
We're on our way.
Next was an 18" log step-over.  Kate just barely brushed across it with one hoof, otherwise she did it with confidence and style.
After a little bit of meandering through young woods, we were scored on an "amble down the hill."  It proved to be our poorest score of the day:  not knowing exactly what the judge was looking for, I let Kate pick her own way.  This resulted in a bit of wandering back and forth across the road, which was all I can figure brought her score down.  That and the fact that Kate got a little impatient waiting at the top of the hill, while Barb's horse Fannie left without her, though this shouldn't have been judged at this point.  (The judge was uniformly stingy on points here, so I don't think I was unfairly penalized.)
Because we had been working so much on walk-overs, I was worried that Kate might not stop and stand quietly over the top of a log as required for the dismount obstacle --though this would certainly help me up afterwards.  But this challenge was taken out of the ride due to the judge's horse picking up a stone on the way out, and her having to return to the ranch.
After skirting a gravel pit (with loader and dump truck actively working) we were asked to step over some poles and side pass off one end--the pleasure division only had to go one way, and could choose which direction.  Kate's sidepass has really come along, though she can get a bit frustrated with me if I ask for both directions one after the other, so this was perfect for her!  She lightly side swiped the pole with her first sideways step, but otherwise nailed it.  The judge said later several people told her that they'd never sidepassed before (really? and you're at a trail competition?), so she didn't even mark us down for the touch.
After a brief trip down to the edge of the Spokane River, the route then returned the way we came (yuk!), with the final three obstacles back at the ranch.  What was fun on the way back--well "fun" might not be the right word....maybe "educational"--was that the openness of the terrain and good footing allowed me to ask Kate to lead--which she usually refuses to do.  I hate to interrupt the flow of KVTR rides for this sort of schooling, so, with just Barb and I in our "group" it was a good opportunity.  Kate would get her normal 10 feet in front, then stop, or worse, back up.  But Barb just backed patient Fannie up too, so Kate could never surrender the lead!  After 5 or 10 minutes of gettin' after her, Kate finally said "Oh, all right." and we led all the way back in a forward and cooperative fashion.
At the mailbox, the "letter" we took out was actually a bundle of donated coupons that we got to keep--that was nice.  I managed to get one and drop another on the ground, so I don't know if that lost us points there.
Any entry forms for next time?
The next obstacle was a wash: not a single participant in any of the divisions completed it!  It consisted of three various-sized holes that had been dug, lined in heavy rubber sheets (that were not anchored in any way), and filed with water.  Most horses didn't want anything to do with it.  Two riders got a few points for getting their horses to at least touch the water before their 60 seconds were up.  Kate got close enough to shift the loose rubber material with her foot, and that was enough for her!  The judge gave me one point for keeping her head facing it until we were excused.  We did go back later and I managed to get her to cross the biggest puddle while driving her forward from the ground.
Finally got our her feet wet.
After the hub-bub at the water, I was dubious that Kate would stay focused for opening and closing the somewhat rickety gate (twice! because we had to both go into and then out of the arena).  She has done really well on several different gates at home lately, but this one was not even on hinges--it was tied to the post, and often would shift and get hung up in the dirt.  Fannie and Barb had a perfect go, executing the two passes through the gate as one long obstacle.  With very un-specific instructions from the judge, I opted to do it as two different efforts: in and close the gate, then walk a small circle and repeat the task the other way.  I think this helped Kate to keep from getting frustrated with me.  Kate did well listening to my legs for positioning, but did try to help me with her nose (cute, but a no-no), and I lost control of the gate a couple of times.  I have to laugh at the fact that, as we shut it the second time, Kate moved right over--and into the gate post!  I hadn't positioned her far enough forward to be "out."  My bad!  We did better than most, and I was okay with her effort.
Kate:  "I'm done!  Let's get outta here!"  Me:  "That's right, Kate. Now we gotta get outta here."
Barb put together this little video that the two of us took of each other.  It's fun to see us "in action," even with the blurry, too close footage at the river ("Who put that zoom button there?").

After messing around with the water obstacle, we put the girls in the shade of the trailer  with their hay bags, ate some lunch ourselves, and waited for the awards.
Rather than start at the "bottom" and work their way to the winners, they did the opposite, to give the best performers first choice at the table full of donated prizes.  Barb and sweet Fannie Mae were second in the "Pleasure" division!  Not having watched everyone else's efforts (except some at the water and gate) I had no idea where Kate might be in the placings.  But it didn't really matter, as she had tried hard and done well in my eyes.
The placings continued: 3rd (open, pleasure, junior); 4th (open, pleasure, junior); 5th (open, pleasure, no more juniors); 6th, open; and the last place awarded: 6th in the pleasure division.  Guess who?
Lookin' towards future rides!
Here's our scores:

Obstacle Name
Horse Scores
Rider Scores


1 Cavaletti

2 Step over/Jump

3 Downhill

4 Sidepass

5 Dismount-Scratched

6 Mailbox

7 Water

8 Gate

The two "pluses" on the cavaletti served to break a 107-point tie with another rider, so Kate had cinched her pretty green ribbon on the very first obstacle.
We packed everything up and headed for home.  I would venture to guess that all four of us slept really well that night!

Our next ACTHA ride, and probably last for the season, will be in early October, right up the road at the State Horse Park.  But there's a couple of non-ACTHA trail challenges coming up in the meantime, so Kate and I will keep honing our skills.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back In the Saddle Again

I went for a ride last week.
With KVTR member Barb and her mellow mare, Fannie (Pat is out of town).
We went west to the Upper Elk Heights trailhead, and did a two-hour loop on sandy footing amid the pines.
Whose ears are those?
Maddie: "It's me, Mom."
We had a nice mellow ride, with only a couple of minor spooks-in-place--nothing worse than before the unscheduled dismount of May.  Though my tummy did a couple of little flips each time, we had a great "first time out" ride.
Thanks Barb.  Thanks Fannie.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dusty and Doomed in the Mountains

Kate and I went on two KVTR rides towards the end of last month.
The first was a return to last year's sojourn to the Teanaway River, with the trailhead being at the Flying Horseshoe Guest Ranch. (This was actually before my rides on Maddie, but I just had to share those first.) Notice how, in all of the photos except those at the river, there is a layer of dust on everything!
Eighteen riders headed down the trail.
Mostly old logging roads.
Kate set a good example for several green horses that were along, walking right in.
It was deeper than last year.  Unlike a few other riders, however, I managed to keep my stirrups and boots dry.
Headed back... a great "gourmet hamburger" lunch provided by Penny Blackburn of Flying Horseshoe.

The following weekend the club ventured far, FAR up the Reecer Creek drainage (some of us got lost just trailering in!)  Although the route was nice, the DNR had blocked the old logging roads in several places, with ditches and slash piles--presumably to keep out the off-road vehicles--which also made the going pretty tough for us.  In places, we could bush-whack around, but in others, riders had to get off and move logs and such.
The leader of the group had lots of experience in the area, and shared lots of history.
Lots of little creek crossings, which Kate handled like they were nothing (though she did get impatient once, waiting for another horse's "green horse moment").
You know those obnoxious FaceBook photos that people take with their camera phone at the end of their arm?...
This one almost worked.
So Denise offered to take a couple.
Thanks, Denise!
This hill is steeper than it looks--we spent 6 or 7 miles going downhill from the trailhead, and now had only about 3 miles to get back UP to the trailers!
We were out over four and a half hours, and I was officially POOPED.  Then, getting out of the trailhead, I got hung up on something (rock? stump?) and developed a slow leak in one trailer tire, lost a truck hubcap, and really burned the brakes coming down the 2000 feet elevation drop in three miles of switchbacks (in spite of downshifting to first)!  Not to mention the gas gauge was inching closer to empty.  It was one of the few rides with the club that I was glad to be done with.

I was ready for a break for a while, so later that week was when I worked with Maddie--More on how that's going in a later post.