Submitted by Leslie Spitzer, Team Easyboot 2012 Member
It's been more than three weeks now since I had the fortune of attending the Owyhee Fandango Ride at Steph and John Teeter's beautiful ranch south of Boise, Idaho. My experience had many challenges along the way and many lessons learned! I will try to not dwell about the ride too much since good pals and fellow Team Easyboot members Tami and Amanda have covered that beautifully, but I may not be able to help myself completely! I will try to focus on what I gleaned personally from the whole experience.
I am pretty open about the fact that my long time and extremely talented horse JAC Eagle Cap has developed some changes in his hock and stifle joints as he has aged. He is 15 this year and he still has much desire to go and we have some goals we are trying to meet. As long as he is willing and happy I will do what he needs to keep him that way. He has always been an extreme mover with much action, cavorting and, unfortunately, pounding. He has not done himself any favors in the way he chooses to proclaim his absolute joy and desire to head down a trail as fast as possible. He can display his displeasure equally at being held back with even more action and pounding. He certainly has not done my aging body any favors either! That being said, he is the most exciting and the most powerful horse I have ever had the pleasure of riding.
The week before leaving for Idaho, Eagle had an appointment in Nevada at his vet to check him out. It had been a long while and I felt it was prudent and part of my management program in keeping an aging horse going happily down the trail. He received a report of "He looks super and keep riding him! Best thing for him!" He also received some really nice complements on his feet and his trim job. I was super proud. It was nice to hear that from an vet - a very well known lameness vet at that.
Eagle enjoys the view at his vet visit in Gardnerville, NV.
Since Eagle was already in Nevada and we would be traveling to Idaho with friend and fellow TE2012 member, Tami Rougeau, it was decided that he would spend the rest of the week at Tami's. Tami lives there and it didn't make sense to haul him back and forth.
Early Wednesday I headed back up to Tami's from my place in California and we got the trailer packed and loaded. It's amazing the sheer amount of stuff two girls and three horses could need over the next six days. We finally got on the road. We pulled into the Teeter Ranch pretty late. After a quick hello at the house with Steph and John, we were shown to our parking spot and greeted by the rest of the EasyCare gang: Garrett Ford, Gene Limlaw, Kevin Myers and Rusty Toth. Before we knew it we were parked, our horses had been whisked into pens, fed and watered and we were seated with libations in front of us. This is a full service team. It was wonderful to see everybody and catch up.
"Hi old friend." Horses also enjoy visiting and seeing old friends.
Well, the theme of the next few days would be rain, rain and more rain. I was confused as I had been under the impression that these Teeter rides were usually hot. Thursday dawned drizzly and dreary a bit, with hints of better weather here and there. Good pal and another Team Easybooter, Amanda Washington arrived to round out our group. It was great to see her.
We all attended the EasyCare trimming and gluing demo put on by Kevin Myers and Rusty Toth. They did a fantastic job of explaining things in an understandable manner. These guys really work in synergy together and have their system down to a science. My horse Eagle got to be the demo horse. The clinic for me personally turned out to be quite a lesson and eye opener. Eagle wears a 0.5 all the way around - or so I thought.
I have had some issues with Eagle turning up a bit sore in his left front in the heel bulb area, especially if we were in wintery, wet conditions. Being that Eagle is rough on his boots, I have always gone with the thought that the more I had to cram his boots on, the better they'd fit. Rusty pre-sized him before gluing and yes, 0.5 were his closest fit, except on his left front. His heel was not setting in correctly and was likely why he was becoming tender on occasion. I'd only ever done fit checks with Gloves, so had completely missed that. A bit of humble pie for me, but that's how lessons are learned and we move on. He really needed a size 1 on that hoof and the fit looked great. The rest of Eagle's boots were glued on beautifully and the clinic was enjoyed by all. I think everybody came away from it with at least one piece of new information or a gift. A fun drawing was held and some great EasyCare products were given as prizes.
Size 1 - a pretty good fit. Cramming is not always better.
Eagle being an excellent, patient demo horse (I really like this pic too).
As I mentioned before, Eagle is tough on his boots. Despite constantly working on keeping the toe back and a short, tight trim I have been unable to completely remedy the issue. Proper maintenance definitely helps though. This has been a real source of frustration for me, but I simply refused to give up. Garrett took a good look at his feet and made the observation that his feet are too oval shaped to be an ideal fit for Gloves, especially in the rear. I knew his feet were more on the oval side and I've had others observe that as well. I see plenty of horses with oddly shaped feet slap on Gloves and head off with nary a problem. In Eagle's case, combining the oval shape along with his extreme movement and torque is an issue. Hearing this conclusion from Garrett himself somehow gave me a bit of relief - that it wasn't me being totally inept and also I know there will be a product (I assume!) heading down the line someday that will be perfect for Eagle. I have to say, I am really looking forward to the EasyShoe. I think this will be a fantastic option for a horse like mine without having to go back to traditional shoeing. In the meantime, we glue boots for actual endurance rides and train bare in the rear quite often. There is no need to give up the barefoot/booted lifestyle I have chosen for my horse or any other for that matter with the options that are available to us today.
Since I was scheduled to ride the 100 on Sunday, but had traveled with a real tough girl who decided to ride all 3 days (two 50's and a 100, wow), I had a couple of days to hang around camp and stew a bit. This was probably not the best scenario as I had invented all sorts of reasons maybe I shouldn't ride. Many "what ifs". Luckily I was able to keep fairly busy watching my friends come and go in the rain and in various states of wet and in some cases approaching hypothermia possibly. A tough gang, everybody did excellently. On day one we went to the out check and gave some crew help to Garrett, Gene Limlaw and Tami. They all had a great ride and Garrett and Gene tied for first. I was particularly intrigued by The Fury who was wearing EasyShoes on his rear feet and they looked great. Have I mentioned I am super excited by the EasyShoe? On day two Kevin, Rusty, Tami and Amanda all rode and braved some really wet conditions and nasty, slippery trail. Amanda rode her new War Horse, Breve on his first 50 and he looked like he hadn't done a thing. She is going to have tons of fun with him.
Day 3 and our 100 mile adventure was now upon us. The weather was a constant concern - would it rain or would it be ok? Weather forecasts changed constantly and kept us all on our toes until the last minute. Turns out all was fine and the weather was great with just a few micro-bursts. One of those involved some pelting hail.
I've gotten ahead of myself here and should probably back-track just a bit. A week before leaving at the Tevis Fun Ride, Eagle had come up back-sore. Huh? Eagle is never back sore. He'd been traveling a bit crooked too. A had a big "duh!" moment as it was pointed out to me that my saddle was badly in need of re-stuffing and it read like a map to the points he was sore on his back and to how he'd been going crooked and to how I'd suddenly been riding crooked as well. There was no way he could do 100 miles in this saddle and I have no other saddles at home that work for him. No problem. Two friends offered up their saddles for me to take. One was a treeless saddle I'd ridden in plenty before and another was an english/dressage type that was similar to mine, but a different brand. The saddle had been put on him and deemed a good fit. I did not get to try either on him until Friday, two days before our ride. We went out for a stretch out with Amanda and the beautiful Nero. Eagle was a complete spaz and it was difficult to know if anything would work. I felt like the treeless was tipping me forward and the stirrups did not feel the same to me. Since it was somebody else's saddle I was not comfortable taking it apart to re-adjust everything. I hopped in the other saddle for a moment, gave a quick trot and canter and decided it would work. It felt more like my regular saddle. Great, problem solved.
Eagle "going for it" on our stretch out. (Photo by Amanda Washington).
We had a nice ride start the next morning and were able to stay together with Amanda and Tami. Pretty quickly it became clear that Eagle and Nero were cut from a similar cloth and were going to compete all day long and Amanda and I were going to have our arms ripped from our bodies. To top that off, May decided she liked Nero (Since May's sis had already claimed Eagle) and if Eagle came anywhere near she was going to let him know all about it. Trying to go in back resulted in him flinging his head and jumping to the side of the trail every time May flicked her tail at him. It was quite dramatic. So, I decided to head off ahead just a bit. That seemed to go better.
Now back to the saddle thing for a moment. Remember that old saying about not trying anything new on an endurance ride, especially a 100? Turns out there is some good truth to that. I was not used to the saddle and it put me in a slightly different position which was making posting and riding in the balanced manner I like quite difficult. Eagle's shenanigans were not helping. We weren't more than 3 or 4 miles out when Eagle had a giant spook. I nearly came off and in the process lost both my stirrups. Eagle is the kind of horse that must be ridden with hands, seat and legs. All I had left was hands. He bolted and started leaping in and out of sage brush. I was desperate to stay on because Eagle leaves me when I come off. I know this for a fact. Every time I'd feel like I'd got him under a bit of control he'd duck out another direction and I'd nearly come off again. Finally, after what was probably only a very short time but seemed like an eternity, I got him stopped. Phew! But, my legs were toast. They were shaky and appeared to be totally useless. I hoped I'd work out of it but I was not in a very positive state of mind along with dealing with the saddle, so I announced I'd probably pull at the first check. Amanda and Tami encouraged me "no, you're not" and I fell in behind them. After awhile my legs started to work better, but I couldn't even touch my calves...ouch.
I perked up a bit at the first check and decided the least I could do was ride out to the second check and see the river trail and this bridge everybody talked about. We all headed out together and stayed together for the most part with me going off ahead at times. The joke was I rode 100 yards ahead all day. At this point we rode along the Oregon Trail. The wheel ruts from the wagons are still there. How cool is that? I have to say riding along the Snake River was breathtaking and I had no idea how beautiful it would be! I am so happy to have experienced that and I'm deeply saddened to hear the area has since completely burned. What a tragedy.
Starting the descent down the long road leading to the Snake River.
It was absolutely stunning. I really enjoyed seeing the petroglyphs. That was really neat. The rock fields and the trail through it was also great. I love a good technical trail and this really fit the bill! It was nice to slow down a bit (remember the whole new saddle thing and toast legs?). This was a ride that begged to keep moving and do lots of cantering which we did.
Tami and May with a stunning back-drop.
Very cool Petroglyphs.
See in the upper left corner? This is a Bird of Prey habitat.
Our next hold was at Celebration Park. To get there we had to cross a really cool bridge over the Snake River. Eagle is a trooper about this kind of stuff and he even trotted over parts of it. My legs were still feeling pretty bad but I got some meds going in me and felt encouraged that this was the turn around point. Just ride that beautiful river trail again, through the desert a bit and back to our original first out stop at the ranch? Fine! I can do this!
Off we went. Eagle and I headed out a few minutes ahead. Tami and Amanda caught me as I was heading up the long climb from the river. Eagle and I were glad for the company now as we were tiring and the temperature had really warmed up, slowing us a bit. The horses all were much more agreeable together at this point as well. Soon, we were back at the ranch for a welcome rest. Despite how I felt I realized I'd come this far and it would sure be silly not to make the hop, skip and jump back across the desert to the Teeter Ranch for the 80 mile hold and then get through the last loop. It was time to dig deep and suck it up! I won't lie, it was quite difficult. By this point my attempts at posting were quite inconsistent and I'd resorted to a hovering, half-point position while holding onto handfuls of mane for stabilization. I welcomed the blessed long stretches of cantering! At this point I was very thankful I have incorporated a lot of cantering into my training. It was paying off in spades.
Finally we were back at the Teeter Ranch! I would be fibbing if I didn't say I was extremely jealous that Amanda was done. She and Nero had a fantastic ride! We would miss them on our last loop. We had some time to regroup and I was in my other brain now - dead determined that I would not quit after coming this far! We had plenty of time and knew even if we took it easy we'd finish before dark. I was not concerned about the speed we go at, but my my other persona, who can be a bit competitive, really wanted to maintain our placings.
Heading out for our last 20 miles (Photo by Tami Rougeau).
Maintain we did.z It was just Tami, myself and our horses the whole loop. We still moved out, but took it a bit easy adding in a few walking breaks here and there. It was actually quite pleasant and a special time as the sun began to set and the air cooled. There was no better feeling in the world than flying along the last few miles of our ride, hovering away, handfuls of mane in my hands and my horse actually pulling on me to go faster, feeling strong and sound. How lucky am I to have been given the gift of owning such an amazing horse and beloved friend? We finished 5th and 6th and our horses looked great. In my case much better than the rider. It was very comforting to be met at the finish by Kevin, Rusty, Amanda and vet-extraordinaire and all around much appreciated helping hand, Dr. Robert Washington.
Official ride photo (Steve Bradley Photography).
The next day was a nice breakfast and awards ceremony in the morning and then it was time to pack and bid farewell to all our friends - old and new. That is always bittersweet. I couldn't quite believe how sore my legs were. I know my near fiasco at the start of the ride didn't help things, but I was sorer than when I did Tevis. Luckily it was short lived and I made a quick recovery. Eagle looked fantastic. His boots worked beautifully and he was quite sound and his legs were cool and tight. I am convinced that the barefoot/booted lifestyle for him has been a career extender.
What a feeling of accomplishment a 100 miler always is. It had been a year and a half since I'd done one and it does kind of become this huge, intimidating thing the longer time passes between 100 milers for me personally. Thank you to Amanda and Tami for being encouraging and helping to keep me going. I always try to come away from rides with a new lesson learned. I came away from this ride with several. I learned some valuable information and received some good feedback on Eagle's feet, and I learned I'd been potentially causing him some tenderness by cramming too small a boot on one of his feet.
As far as the saddle I'd never ridden in and the old adage of "never try anything" new - I have mixed emotions on that. Had I followed that advice I wouldn't have ridden, which would have robbed me of the opportunity to complete the ride. I think sometimes you just have to go for it and never, never give up. Whether it is completing a 100 mile ride by riding vet check to vet check (mile by mile?) or dealing with a difficult to boot horse, keep chipping away at it. Eventually you will get there, or a solution will be found and the pain or frustration suffered will make the victory all the sweeter.
Leslie Spitzer and JAC Eagle Cap