A Sure Cure for FOMO

FOMO. noun, slang. A feeling of anxiety or insecurity over the possibility of missing out on something, such as an event or an opportunity. Acronym for “fear of missing out.”

I’m suffering from a terrible case of FOMO. I started to develop symptoms late last year after promising Hubby that I would sit out the 2015 Tevis. I haven’t missed the ride since it was canceled due to fires in 2008. My FOMO symptoms have included feelings of regret, loneliness, jealousy, envy and contempt combined with an overall sense of malaise. These symptoms seemed to diminish during the work week and then return with a vengeance on the weekends. I felt awful and I needed to find a cure.

My initial strategy (call this Plan A) was to try to renege on my promise to Hubby. I attempted to broach the subject several times with him in an effort to more or less “take his temperature” on the topic. I brought up riding Tevis with such vague statements as: “Czoe is going so well this year…” or  “Did you know it’s the 60th anniversary of the Tevis?” or “I’m soooo looking forward to Tevis.”  Each time, Hubby’s response was one of the following:

1. Ignoring me.

2: Giving me that “look.”

3. Responding with a remark that had nothing to do with Tevis, such as “What’s for dinner?”

4. Grimacing as if he his appendix had just ruptured.

When others would ask me if I was riding this year while Hubby was within earshot, I would coyly reply, “I haven’t really decided yet.”  I would say this in the most casual tone possible and then avoid eye contact with him.

Finally, after a few months of engaging in this behavior without getting the desired results, I simply said, “I would like to ride Tevis this year.” Hubby’s response was almost a plea: “Please don’t,” he said with utmost sincerity. Then he explained, “It’s not the race itself I want you to skip, it’s the six months leading up to it that completely consumes all your free time. It’s the hours and hours of training you will have to do and the huge mind share that Tevis demands.” He was right. Tevis has a way of taking over for months leading up to it. It wasn’t that he wanted me to take a break; he needed a break.

Since my Plan A for curing my FOMO wasn’t going to work, I developed Plan B. This entailed accepting my situation, embracing it and turning every negative symptom into a positive one.

The first step was to make myself available to crew for any of my friends who are riding this year, particularly Jenni Smith, who will be going for her 10th buckle on one of Kevin Myer’s horses as part of the EasyCare Team. Jenni has a HUGE crew (who are all color-coordinated, I might add). However, there’s always room for one more, and I plan on jumping in to help anyone else wearing an Easyboot t-shirt, as well. Rather than feeling left out, I am committed to being there on the front lines to help any way I can. This strategy has cured my regret, loneliness and jealousy symptoms.

The second step was to adjust my goals for the year. If you read my blog regularly, you know I am all about setting goals. Instead of focusing my efforts on just my Tevis horse, I shifted my focus on getting four (four!) horses in 50-mile race shape so that Hubby and I could ride together this season. This is something we haven’t been able to do for several years, as I was always so Tevis-focused and he was so work-focused. We looked at the AERC ride calendar together (yes, together!) and mapped out our rides for the year. So far, we’ve done four, most of which have been multi-day rides. Hubby has an awesome new horse, plus his old standby Tiki, and so we each have two horses to ride. It’s proven to be a better-than-great consolation prize for skipping Tevis. This cured my contempt symptom.

I also looked at this "time off from Tevis" as an opportunity to do something that I would not have done if I was Tevis-bound, which was to have much-need foot surgery. I’ve been suffering for several years now from chronic Morton’s Neuroma. A lot of riders get this, as do people who run and hike. Mine was exceptionally bad (really painful). Injections directly into the nerve were no longer working and I would be in excruciating pain after about 25 miles of riding. After a particularly bad flair up following the American River 50 in April, it became apparent that I wouldn’t be doing ANY endurance rides—let alone Tevis—until I had surgery.

I scheduled surgery for late May, timing it as best I could so that I wouldn’t miss the Cooley Ranch Ride. My doctor told me that I would be out of commission for at least a month. I laughed. Four days after surgery, I was back in the saddle, riding easygoing Tiki on a three-hour trail ride with my bandaged foot hanging out of the stirrup.  

Tevis is two months away. I’m still green with envy, but all my other FOMO symptoms have been replaced with feelings of excitement. I’m looking forward to helping my friends and watching the race unfold. And between now and then, Hubby and I have three rides on the calendar. I know I will see many friends at these rides who are getting ready for Tevis, and I plan on offering encouraging words to each one of them. There are so many ways to be involved with Tevis without actually riding, and I plan on trying as many of them as I can.

 As for Hubby, he's happy. And he as promised me that we'll ride Tevis together next year.

Going Solo

I did something recently that I haven’t done in years. I threw one of my horses in the trailer and set off to explore a network of new trails in my area—alone. I ride all the time, of course, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I went out for a solo trail ride. I’ve wracked my brain about this, and the last time I can recall is about eight years ago. 

I used to ride alone all the time. I would go out for hours exploring the most remote, seldom-used trails I could find. I didn’t think twice about riding all day and never seeing another person. This was back when I had just one horse and didn’t have the network of riding friends that I do now. This was also before cell phones, so when I went off the grid with my horse, I was truly OFF THE GRID.  It never occurred to my then-20-something self that this was a potentially dangerous thing to do. To me, it was the ultimate form of freedom.

When I discovered endurance riding, this practice continued because I didn’t have anyone to train with on a regular basis. I would meet up with fellow endurance riders once in a while for training rides, but I still did most of my riding alone. Wow, have times changed. With five horses and a fabulous network of riding friends, my riding plans begin with a phone call or text to them. I assemble a posse and off we go!

What prompted this was the recent opening of a network of trails about a 10-minutes’ drive from my home. In 2013, the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District opened Moore Creek Park. The park offered 6 miles of trails that were open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. That wasn’t enough mileage to entice me to check it out via horseback. Then last fall, the district added another 7 miles of trails around Lake Hennessey and announced plans to add another 7 in the immediate future. Now my interest was piqued. Finally, a fellow endurance rider asked me if I had been to Moore Creek Park yet, and gave it her recommendation.

I initially thought about taking my dog and scouting the trails on foot, but that never came to fruition. Finally, out of the blue one morning I put Tyler in the trailer and drove out to the park to check it out.

Tyler booted up and ready to check out Moore Creek Park.

What I discovered about this park made me think, “Wow! Why didn’t I come here sooner?” What I discovered about myself made me think “Wow, why did I stop riding solo?” I can’t tell you what I enjoyed more—discovering this fabulous new riding opportunity or discovering it alone. However, the two combined made for a memorable day.

The first section of trail I rode comprised of the remnants of a 4WD road that followed Moore Creek, crossing over it several times. The road petered down to a trail that terminated at what was called the Secret Swimming Hole. I didn’t make it all the way to the swimming hole because that would have required me to leave Tyler tied somewhere and hiking about a quarter mile.

From there I picked up a 3-mile single-track trail that snaked its way up to the top of the mountain and eventually looped back to where I started. It was a cliff-hanger of a trail, but well-maintained and a lot of fun.

I next rode the new Hennessey loop, which was equally spectacular. It was a well-groomed road that rolled along the lake, and I could trot and canter most of it. A few climbs added conditioning value to the course. The setting was stunning: Hills covered with winter grass, oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and the lake itself.

I rode for just over two hours, but I could have gone all day. It was great “mind” time, and a nice break from work. As I headed home, I was already planning another solo return trip.

Fill Your Tank and Hit the Trail

The start of the New Year marks the time to recalibrate my annual horse budget, evaluate my goals for the year, and establish a schedule that balances work and riding. Time and money are perpetually in limited supply, but I've gotten efficient over the years. From managing my feed program (quality vs. quantity improves equine health and minimizes waste), to embracing the barefoot movement, to maintaining my horses' wellness and soundness (reduced vet bills), I'm able to do a lot with my six horses and stay within my budget.

Unfortunately, circumstances beyond my control often dictate my course of action. For the past six-plus years, the price of fuel has greatly impacted my ability to pursue riding to the degree that I would like to. I don't travel around the country with my horses like I used to. I've adapted to planning training rides closer to home, opting out of some horse camping trips and being selective about the endurance rides I go to. I'm sure this is the same for many horses owners.

That seems to be changing for the better. As I write this, the CBS Evening News is reporting that the price of oil has dropped for a record 108 consecutive days, and the national average for a gallon of gasoline is $2.14. Gasbuddy.com posts stations in the Midwest with prices as low as $1.61. Of course, California still has the highest prices in the U.S. The highest-priced gas in the 48 states can be found in San Francisco--$2.66 per gallon.

Diesel is still higher, of course. (Do you remember when diesel used to be cheaper than regular gas?) My local gas station in Calistoga has the best deal for diesel, for $2.75. Not cheap, however, I can still vividly recall the summer of 2008, when the national average for diesel peaked at $4.25 per gallon and the price tipped over $5.00 per gallon here in California. Ouch!

The falling gas prices are liberating, because my horse activities are strongly dictated by the price of diesel.

As I plan my competition schedule for this year, I am putting rides on the calendar that I haven’t in the past due to the high cost of diesel. Now, when I peruse the AERC ride calendar, I can set the search criteria for rides in the Pacific South, Northwest and Southwest, in addition to West Region rides. This is the first time in years that I've considered rides outside my own region. If gas prices continue to fall, I'll be able to go farther and do more with my horses.

For example, at the end of February, Hubby Barry and I will go to the 20 Mule Team Ride (one of our favorites) in Ridgecrest, Ca. It’s an 8-hour drive to get there. Afterwards, we plan to continue on to Arizona with the horses and spend two weeks riding in desert. Then we will drive south to Sonoita for the Old Pueblo Pioneer ride. From there, we’ll make our way home. This entire trip is 1,900 miles. The fuel cost  for the trip will be about $500. That’s a bargain for the two-week horse vacation we've talked about taking for three years.  We have a trip to Colorado planned for mid-June, and if the price of gas continues to decline then we will certainly drive.

Hubby filled up the Land Yacht for $135.00. That's a bargain considering we've paid as much as $240 for 50 gallons of diesel.

As gas prices fall, more Americans go on vacation. For those of us who drive gas-guzzling diesel trucks to pull our horse trailers, these dropping prices mean we can go farther and more frequently than we have been able to for years. There is much talk about the decline in entries for AERC rides. I've always felt that this was due in part to escalating fuel prices. I know this has certainly impacted the number of rides I attended. I hope to see more people out on the trail enjoying their horses and going to endurance rides while falling gas prices give everyone more opportunities to do so.

 

Trick (Glueons) or Treat (Gloves)?

I was looking forward to the Lake Sonoma 50 on November 1 with great anticipation. It’s a beautiful and challenging course around the lake and a well-managed event. I think I’ve competed at this ride five or six times. Unfortunately, a significant rainstorm was in the forecast for Thursday night into Friday morning. A good rain would make the trails dangerous and unusable. Ride manager Dennis Sousa informed me that the decision to hold or cancel the ride would be made by mid-week.

Jenni Smith on M Dash Czoe and Ann Hall on Dreamm On ("Reve")

Fortunately, the ride was not canceled. However, the forecast created another dilemma for me. Even if it didn’t rain enough to force the ride to be canceled, wet trails would be slippery. The red clay-based soils provided ideal footing in dry conditions but would be as slick as ski slopes if wet. My riding partner Jenni Smith and I had lengthy conversations that week leading up to race day about whether or not to go. Furthermore, I was reluctant to apply two sets of Glueons without certainty of being able to ride. On Thursday, we decided that we would go and we would use Easyboot Gloves instead of Glueons—something I haven’t done for a race in probably three years.

The rainstorm pelted the greater Bay Area and Napa Valley on Friday, but the race site, although just an hour north, received only a moderate amount of rain. By the time I arrived to base camp mid-afternoon, the skies were clearing.

Jenni and I decided to boot our horses before vetting in and then leave them on overnight, rather than booting in the morning. Our rationale was twofold: It meant NOT having to boot in the morning in the dark (and getting to enjoy a second cup of coffee instead). More importantly, it meant not having to boot wet hooves if it rained again during the night.

I haven’t had excellent luck using tape. It seems to work great when the hooves are dry, but as soon as they get wet from water and sweat, the tape bunches up and works its way around into the bottom of the boot. I know I’m doing something wrong in applying it. Part of the problem is that some of my horses have low heels and I can’t get a good wrap around the back of the foot and then get it to stay. We applied our Gloves without any tape. As I mentioned in last month’s blog, my horses' hooves have changed over the past few years and are now bigger and rounder. Unless I do something careless (carefree) and blast up a steep hill, I don’t have any trouble keeping Gloves on during training rides.

Much to my dismay, Stella did not trot out well for the vet in. I was quite surprised, as she had been training so well. The vets couldn’t agree if it was left front or right hind, because it was slight and intermittent. At that moment, it didn’t really matter to me. Although I could have asked the vets to let me start and see if she worked out of it, I didn’t. Stella would sit this one out.

 Ride management's offer of "food" at the vet check for riders. Can you say "sugar coma?"

So Jenni on Czoe went out in the morning and I spent the day crewing and visiting with friends. Jenni sped around the course, completing the first loop in 1:30, the second in 1:00 and the third in 1:40, ultimately finishing third with Ann Hall, who was second, and just a few minutes back from the winner Paul Rink. This is a very fast pace for a steep and technical trail (albeit slightly short). Her Gloves performed fabulously. Jenni reported that the trail had received just enough moisture to provide a little bit of “give," but not so much to make it slippery.

Czoe's boots at the lunch vet check. A little muddy on the outside but clean and dry under the gaiter.

Ann Hall remarked several times about Czoe’s hill-climbing ability. I acknowledged the compliment, but what I was thinking was “And her boots stayed on …. Yeah!”

Uninterrupted Conversation

I am fortunate enough to have a great group of friends to ride with, particularly Jenni Smith. We haven’t been out much together this year since Tevis, and I've missed our weekly rides. We have great conversations and I always learn something new. Riding together creates a great opportunity to exchange information.

Jenni and me arriving at the Foresthill vet check in 2013. We went on to get 2nd & 3rd place together at Tevis that year in Easyboot Glue-Ons

During a recent ride, Jenni and I launched into one of our conversations about horse care. I said to her that I thought by virtue of my horses being barefoot that I take better care of them overall.  When my horses were shod, I would meet with my farrier once every five or six weeks and we would talk about how a horse has been moving since his last visit, we would look at wear marks on the steel shoes and sometimes he would watch them trot out if I commented on something out of the ordinary. Then he would replace the shoes and say “See you in six.” In between his visits, I would clean out the hooves but that was about it. Looking back on those days, I want to pop myself in the head. It was practically neglect.

Now I am fussing over their feet just about every day. I’m rasping them regularly, keeping an eagle eye on how they are wearing and taking close notes on any irregularities. And it’s not just their feet: my attention has moved up the legs to the whole body. I am paying more attention to how my horses are moving and feeling overall. And I attribute this to them being barefoot. Jenni nods in agreement. Shoes limit the amount of feedback you get from your horse, she said. You really can’t see significant wear patterns on the shoes, and you don’t get feedback from the hoof itself. It’s like the shoes interrupt the conversation with your horse. "Brilliant!" I exclaim.

Jenni trotting out Stoner at Robinson Flat, Tevis 2014.<

Another thing I’ve noticed is that my Easyboots fit a lot better than they used to. When I first started using them, I sometimes had a hard time keeping them on. I think it’s because my horse’s feet were shaped like the steel shoes they were wearing. Over time, they returned to their natural shape and so the boots fit better and now they stay on.

Also, how the horse moves determines how well the boots stay in place. Our new horse, DeLaCruz, wears 1.5 Easyboot Gloves on all four feet. He travels straight as an arrow and has never lost a boot. Tyler, on the other hand, travels with a slight rotation to his front feet. As a result, his boots can rotate about 10 to 15 degrees inward and then stop. When this happens, I will re-center them during a ride and they will go back to being offset rather quickly. Jenni suggested wrapping Mueller tape around the center of the hoof where it dishes in slightly. I’m going to try that.

Tyler also tries to sprint up steep hills, which results in him peeling out of his hind boots, what I like to call “burning rubber.”  The proper way to avoid losing a boot going uphill is to start out slowly and gradually build up speed. I also quit fixing everyone else’s boots. Now the rule is, if you peel out up a hill and lose a boot, then you have to fix it yourself. My husband isn’t particularly fond of that rule, but it does get him to slow down.

Jenni and Stoner crossing the finish line at Tevis this year in fifth place.

As we trotted down the trail in unison, we agreed that having barefoot horses has definitely led to overall better care for them. 

Life After Tevis (a.k.a. "I got Pulled and it Sucked!")

The gun shook in my trembling hands. Sweat began to bead on my forehead. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them, Stella was gazing at me indifferently. What was I thinking … that I could actually do this? Crazy. I tightened my grip on the gun. Rachel stood cautiously in the background, watching me, waiting to see what I would do ... if I would actually squeeze the trigger. Then she held her hands up and stepped toward me.

“It’s just another race.” Rachel said.

I signed. “But it’s not just another race. It’s the Tevis.”

“You don’t need to do this,” she said.

“I do,” I replied.

I took a deep breath, pointed the gun and squeezed the trigger.

The thick black glue oozed out into the bottom of the Easyboot Glue-On.

There was no turning back now.

This is how Tevis 2014 started out for me. I decided to apply my own Glue-Ons rather than take a half day off work and make the four-round trip drive to the Auburn Fairgrounds to have the Easycare team glue them for me as they had done for three years prior. My success rate glueing my own boots was very high and I was feeling confident about my gluing skills. My hoofcare practitioner Rachel Rezos (Easycare Hoofcare Practioner of the Month for April 2014) agreed to help me, and so I was feeling good about my decision. Until it came time to actually do it.

But first, it started to rain. It rained all night and drizzled most of the following day. I remained wide awake that night wondering how much moisture Stella’s hooves were absorbing and how I would dry them out.

The next morning, suffering the effects of not enough sleep and too much coffee, I was really starting to regret my decision. Rachel talked me down off the ledge. She and I alternated between trimming (Rachel) and applying the heat gun (me)  to dry out Stella’s feet. It worked well. I used fresh glue, not wanting to take any chances by using glue leftover from a previous application. Once I started, the application went smoothly. My veterinarian Lisa Atckison, who was there for a final once-over and FES session on Stella, watched the process with fascination.

Frazzled, but finished. Rachel Rezos, Stella, me and Lisa Atckison, DVM. Note the sissel rug I use for gluing so I don't get glue on the concrete, and also so I can remain happily married.

My usual riding partner Jenni Smith was riding Kevin Myers' horse, Stoner ,and so she had moved to his camp. I was on my own this year and that took a lot of fun out of the pre-ride preparation at Robie Park. I spent most of Friday afternoon alone with my horse. I was really pleased with how she looked and her typical calm demeanor she was displaying. We would have a good ride together.

And we did. Stella was all business (and no kicking) at the start. She breezed up Squaw, motored through the Granite Chief Wilderness and flew into Robinson Flat, where she ate and drank her weight. She worked hard to traverse the canyons and felt really good coming up Bath Road into Foresthill. She reached the recovery pulse quickly, as she had all day, and we headed to the vet.

Barry trotted her out for me. She dogged him, as is typical for her, and she didn’t look great. Not bad, but not good either. A little stiff in the right hind.

The vet asked that we return for a recheck. This gave my crew most of the hour to massage the stiffness out of her. Stella loved it and thoroughly enjoyed the break. I, on the other hand, didn’t enjoy the break at all. Getting through the vet check was one thing. But I then had 30+ miles to go and another vet check that I did NOT want to get pulled at--Francisco's. My stomach was in knots.

I returned for the recheck and Stella trotted out about the same. The vets convened and then gave me that “I’m sorry” look. I hate that look. It meant the end of the road for me. Worse, I had to tell my crew, who had so enthusiastically supported me. They responded with a chorus of sympathy and reminders of how well I had done to that point.

As we silently cleaned up the aftermath, all the “would have, should have, could have” thoughts went through my head. My crew gradually dispersed and Barry started making noise about just going home. I lagged, feeling really sorry for myself and sorry for Stella, who after six years of competing and three prior Tevis completions now had her first pull on her record.

Cleaning up on Sunday was the worst. I kept thinking about all the time, effort and money I'd spent to go to Tevis. All the things I didn't do because I was focused on training. For what? I was in a terrible funk.

It took me a couple of days to get over it. I started looking at the bright side of getting pulled: I won the 69 miler. I didn’t lose any boots. I was finished before dark. Then I uttered the mantra that just about every rider who’s been pulled from Tevis recites: “There’s always next year.”

This is not the first time I've been pulled from Tevis, but it is the that pained me the most. It took me a while to figure out why this year's pull was such a downer. When I finally did figure it out, I learned a valuable lesson. Last year I finished second. This year is was in it to win it. I gambled.  Had I ridden a more conservative ride, I might have finished. I would not have won; might not have even come in in the top 10, but I would have finished. At the time, that's not what I wanted. In hindsight, it sounds pretty good. A friend asked me once, what does it take to do well at Tevis? I respond, "patience." Moping over my pull, I said to hubby Barry, "I wish I had Jenni's patience. She never pushes her horses, and her results show that (nine buckles in 11 attempts and several top 10 finishes). Barry gave a good response. "She always rides other people's horses and so of course she is going to be more cautious." 

Every year, all of us riders who get pulled are like cats thrown out in the rain. We come right back to give it another shot. Hopefully, this lesson in patience will take me to the finish line next year.

 

A Case for EasyShoes

By definition, a dilemma is a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives, or any difficult or perplexing situation or problem. And I’ve got one—a big one. My No. 1 horse M Dash Czoe  (Zoey) has developed an unusual lameness. My dilemma is this: Tevis is now less than five weeks away. Do I just sit this year out and breed her early (tentative plan is to breed her after Tevis), or do I try to get her sound again so I can ride her? My gut says sit it out. I'd rather not go at all than take a horse that is less than 100%. It's too hard to get through the Tevis, and I don't want to get pulled. My hopeful heart says don't give up so easily. Maybe it's something minor that can be resolved. I'd like to take a long nap and get back all the sleep I've lost so far over this dilemma.

The problem started in April, on the 24th to be exact. My regular barefoot trimmer Rachel Rezos (former EasyCare Dealer of the Month), injured her back and was sidelined for awhile. I had a race coming up on the 26th, so I called a farrier I knew and asked if he could trim my horses. He had been filling in for Rachel in my area. My horses are trimmed every four to six weeks, and I am diligent about maintaining them between trims. I typically have my horses trimmed two to five days before an event so that I can apply the Glue-On boots onto freshly trimmed feet. Rachel and I have a good system that has been working well for me. My horses just needed a “buff and scuff” so I could apply the Glue-Ons. Normally I would do this myself but I had four horses to trim and it was more than I wanted to take on.

Zoey has significant high-low syndrome. Her right front foot (the “high” foot) is borderline club foot, although it is straight. The right foot is also smaller than the left. For two years now she has worn a 1.5 Glove on the left and a 0.5 on the right. I’ve recently started using a 1.0 on the right front with good success. In a nutshell, she has two very different front feet. For this reason I have been very particular about keeping up on her trimming. If I let her go too long, the left toe grows and the right heel grows in such a way that how she travels is greatly affected. I can feel it in her right shoulder (it “hikes”) and I can hear it when she walks on pavement or hard ground. She also steps shorter with her right foot. This is more apparent at the walk than the trot. After 6 years of riding her, I've developed a keen sense of what is going on with her feet and how it affects her movement. It's tempting to just knock down the heel on right foot and take back the toe on the left so that the two feet appear similar, but that would cause all kinds of internal problems. This is the confirmation that Zoey was born with and I can only manage it, not change it.

Front view of Zoey's front feet. I wet them down so the pastern joint effusion (more on that later) could be more easily seen.

 

HIgh-low syndrome common in Arabians. Note the dish in the RF hoof wall. The black marks on the hoof wall is old glue.

Back to April 24th. The farrier trimmed four horses. One horse (Tiki) was very tender-footed after the trim. He had clearly been trimmed too short. Stella and Tyler looked good. Unfortunately, he had done too much cosmetically to make Zoey's feet look similar. He took a lot of toe and the front of the hoof wall off the left front foot. Overall, all four of Zoey's feet had been trimmed too aggressively, although I didn't fully realize this at the time. I applied the Glue-Ons exactly as I always have.

The race on the 26th was the American River 50, which was the topic of my last blog.  Zoey and I had a great day and finished 2nd. What I left out of the last blog was that between the time that I trotted out for completion and CRI and then went back 45 minutes later to show for BC, Zoey developed acute lameness in the left front. It gets even more perplexing because on the way to show her for BC, we practiced our trot-out and she looked really good. I got two thumbs up from my riding partner, Jenni Smith.

Within 24 hours, the lameness was gone. By the time my vet was able to look at her, three days after the ride, she couldn’t find any evidence of lameness. An examination of her soles did show tenderness, and Zoey would hold her head to the outside when trotted in a circle on hard ground.  My vet surmised that she had been trimmed too aggressively and the Glue-Ons with Sikaflex hadn’t provided sufficient protection from concussive forces. She didn’t have a definitive explanation for why the lameness would appear so suddenly except to suggest that the circulation in the foot had been diminished during the ride and then when it returned it caused pain and inflammation.

We returned to our normal training routine for the next three weeks, including an intense circuit around Mt. Diablo. Our next race was the NASTR 75 on May 25th. This time Rachel trimmed my horses a week before the race and then I applied the Glue-Ons two days prior to the event.

The NASTR race delivered miles and miles of rocks, sand, heat and hills.

Jenni and I finished in first and second place. We went through the completion exam and CRI and then showed for BC. Zoey looked good and I actually thought I had a chance at showing for Best Condition. We took them back to the trailer and iced and wrapped legs. About three hours later, we took them to the arena for a leg stretch and roll in the sand. Zoey trotted around with energy but was noticeably off, but this time on the right front. My heart sank. I called my vet during the drive home. She came the next morning, which was 36 hours after we finished the ride.

My vet conducted a series of flexion tests and all were negative. She noted effusion of the pastern and coffin bone joints in all four feet. This is the point where the exam took an unexpected turn. When we blocked her right front foot she was then off on her left. When we blocked her left front foot she dramatically shortened her stride in the hind end. The blocks concluded pain in all four feet. This occurred while Zoey still wore her Glue-Ons from the race. My vet did not want me to pull them off right away, thinking they would provide needed protection. We took radiographs of both front feet and, even with the boots on, could see that her soles were very thin, approximately 30% of normal.

 

We started her on Previcox and I waited a few days to let her joints rest then pried off the boots. As before, the lameness minimized within three days. The effusion was reduced as well. She had a week of rest in her paddock and then easy walk/jog workouts in the Euroxcizer with Easyboot Gloves on all four feet. She looked comfortable at the trot but I could see that she was still stepping short on her right front and coming over her shoulder (see video).

Do you see anything at the trot?

How about at the walk?

My vet returned to take a second set of x-rays so we had a clear view of Zoey's sole thickness. She also ultra-sounded both front legs from the knees down. Everything look good and her radiographs showed nothing unusual or alarming. Some minor remodeling and spurring that would be consistent with a 10-year-old endurance horse. She concluded that the inflammation in her joints was the result of her thin soles and therefore she needed 24-7 sole protection. I knew the EasyShoes would be ideal.

 

Rachel returned and we collaborated on our first attempt at applying the EasyShoes, which we did without much difficulty.

I gave Zoey a couple of days in her paddock to become accustomed to them and then I started her back on the Euroxcicer program. The improvement was considerable. We didn't have much success getting the back ones to stay on very long -- they lasted about four days. However, the front shoes have been on for two weeks and three training rides so far. My vet returned again for a follow up and noted that much of the effusion was gone and Zoey was traveling much better.

I mentioned already that when you have a horse with high-low syndrome, don't try to change the shape of the foot. This is an unfortunately case in point. Now, Zoey needs time to regrow lost sole, have her feet return to what is their natural balance and have the inflammation subside in her feet. I don't know yet if I will get to Tevis with her this year. Stay tuned!

Superior-Quality Toilet Paper and Other Endurance Essentials

The American River Classic started at 5:30 am – an absurdly early hour for a 50 miler, in my opinion. I prefer a more civilized 7 am start. It wasn’t like I had anything else planned for the day. First of all, it was still dark. Second, it was cold. My riding partner Jenni Smith and I positioned ourselves at the front of the group lining up to start. We knew the trail well. Ahead of us were 25 miles of single-track along the American River to the first vet check at Rattlesnake Bar and then continuing on to the lunch stop at the Auburn Overlook. It had rained steadily the day before and we knew the footing would be challenging. We did not want to get caught behind slower-moving horses with no opportunity to pass. That makes us nuts.

The ride started along a rocky dike. All around me the sound of steel shoes hitting sharp rocks rang out. An occasional spark lit the way. The controlled start continued for several miles as we wound through a network of trails and roads leading to the Pioneer Express Trail. I heard the familiar skid of metal shoes on wet asphalt behind me. Glad that wasn’t me!

Once we were cleared of the controlled start, Jenni and I moved out. The narrow, winding trail was a network of puddles, which our horses thought would be better to jump and dodge. That made for some dicey moments. The weather report convinced me that the previous-day’s storm had passed and so I saw no need to wear rain gear. Instead, I opted for my running shirt, my cycling shirt (because the pockets on the back are handy) and a lightweight down jacket. Our crew chief, Bob Sydnor, suggested that I pack a change of clothes for every vet check. I didn’t heed his advice and later regretted it.

The Pioneer Express Trail from Folsom Lake to the Overlook at Auburn (the Tevis Cup finish) is narrow, challenging and OVERGROWN. I forgot about this. Five miles into the ride and already I was soaked through all three layers. We sped along, jumping puddles and ducking through water laden overgrowth that included ample amounts of poison oak. All this, combined with a section of trail called Cardiac and Cardiac Bypass, made for an interesting ride.

I had applied our Easyboot Glue-Ons on Thursday afternoon, fully aware of the forecast. Jenni and I discussed the challenges we would have in the wet conditions. We knew we would have to be very cautious. There was also the issue of the amount of water we would be riding through. This ride was going to test my gluing skills. Despite the puddles and some hair-raising turns, the boots performed exceptionally well. We came into the lunch stop at the Overlook in the top three with Mark Montgomery on one of his Mustangs. Mark's horses are steel shod, but he's a fun and interesting guy to ride with, and I like his horses, and so I can overlook the steel shoes.

We vetted through and headed toward the crew area that Bob had so thoughtfully set up for us. He presented us with our dream beverages: An extra hot soy latte for me and a soy chai latte for Jenni.

Bob proceeded to give us a show-and-tell of all the food and beverages he'd brought for us, which included at least seven different kinds of beverages, mostly carbonated, including what Bob referred to as "girl-sized" ginger ale. He had everything from chocolate-covered raisins (sorry Bob I don't eat chocolate or sugar) to biscotti (sorry, no gluten either).

"Bob, do you have a towel?" I asked.
Bob: "I have three kinds of almonds... smoked, raw and honey roasted."
Me: "I could use a towel."
Bob: "
I have V8 Fusion."
Me: 
"A towel?"
Bob: 
"Pink energy drink?"
Me: 
"Just a towel. And some almonds. Thank you."
Bob: 
"And I have superior-quality toilet paper. Three ply."

Jenni and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"I'll take that," Jenni said.

The horses were doing fine but I was freezing in my wet clothes. The ride is a point-to-point and my rig was still back at the start. Therefore, I had no dry clothes to change in (because I didn't listen to Bob's advice). I spotted Becky Hart and Judith Ogus nearby. They were seasoned veterans; Judith would have something dry for me to change into. I coerced her into giving me a purple rugby shirt and a bright turquoise rain jacket.

The afternoon loops were drier and we were able to move out, even cantering frequently. After the third vet check, it was a few miles to the Tevis Trail at Hwy 49 crossing, then over No Hands Bridge and back up to the overlook and the finish. Ultimately we finished 2nd and 3rd, not far behind Mark and his Mustang, with no spills or lost boots. Jenni and Stella earned the BC award. Bob delivered two more Starbucks drinks, which was WAY too much caffeine for me, but it was a welcomed treat after a long, wet day.

 

Trail Riding, How Hard Can It Be?

I was sitting around with my riding pals Cris Jones and Jenni Smith after a fabulous 20-mile ride at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, talking about my new friend and rider, Naomi Brooke, who had ridden with us that day. It had been her first long ride with us:

“Do you think she’ll come back?” Cris asked.
“I certainly hope so,” I replied.
“I don’t know,” Jenni interjected. “She was really suffering.”
“I didn’t hear her complain one time,” I replied.
“She was suffering in silence,” Jenni said.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, I hope she comes back.”
“Who was that chick we took up Mount St. Helena? ” Jenni asked. “She didn’t come back, did she?”
“No, not after that ride,” I replied.
“The problem is,” Cris said, “that people think, 'Trail riding … how hard can it be?’ And it’s a lot harder than they realize.”

Cris Jones at the top of Mount St. Helena.

So true, we all agreed, and we launched into a lively conversation comparing various disciplines to trail riding. Riding, regardless of the type, is physically demanding. Trail riding is often viewed as a relaxing break from the demands of the training and competition arena, when in fact it can more demanding. Riding uses the whole body in ways that no other sport does. When people ask me how I get into shape to ride long distances, I reply, “by riding long distances.” The only way to really get into riding shape is to log hours in the saddle.  And then there are the discomforts that long-distance riding generates if you aren’t acclimated to it. Most discomforts can be tolerated for a short period of time. In fact, they might go unnoticed if a rider is just doing a few laps around an arena and popping over a few fences. However, after a few hours out on the trail, tingling toes go numb, the balls of the feet start to scream, the calves cramp, the knees ache, the back goes into spasms and the shoulders get stiff. Not much can be done about this except to pop a few "vitamin I" tablets, dismount to walk off the pain and then just ride it out.

With five horses to keep in shape, I am always on the lookout for good riders to recruit. They are hard to find. And when I do find a good one, I risk scaring them off, not because my horses are unruly, untrained or difficult to ride in any way, but because trail riding is a lot harder than they think it will be.

Me, Kristan Flynn, Christina Bowie and Pascale Soumoy.

It’s just about impossible to find riders like Cris Jones, the petite Aussie with bravado will throw her leg over any horse and ride for days. She doesn’t own a horse and never will. She doesn’t need one, as she has a large circle of friends with horses who are lined up to have Cris ride their horses. Cris has logged thousands of miles on other people’s horses. I’ve often called Cris mid-week to inquire if she is available for a weekend ride only to be told, “Oh, sorry Jenn, I’m riding with so-and-so; she asked me several days ago.” If I want to recruit Cris for a ride, I need to book her well in advance. Cris is a free agent.

Pascale Soumoy is another fabulous catch rider. She began riding years ago with Bob Spoor and then Jazon Wonders, and is now firmly set in Christina Bowie’s camp. Like me, Christina always has three or four horses going at any one time and so it’s just about impossible to get Pascale these days.

I won the lottery when I befriended  Jenni Smith about three years ago. She came to me from the Bay Laurel group of riders. Like Jazon Wonders, Peter Rich of Bay Laurel owned a string of good horses and had successfully recruited a group of riders to train and compete on these horses. When Jazon and Peter “retired”, their riders became available. Jenni had aspirations to ride at the FEI level and also continue to ride Tevis. I happened to have the horses she could do that with. We’ve been riding together ever since, and she’s completed three Tevis rides (so far) on my horses. Like Cris, Jenni has logged thousands of miles on other people’s horses.

Jenni Smith

I frequently have horse enthusiasts seek me out. They introduce themselves and talk about how they used to ride, had horses, rode dressage, western, cross-country, blah, blah, blah. I sometimes invite them to go riding, but they rarely take me up on the offer.

K.E. did take me up on my offer (I don’t want to use her full name because I’m about to poke fun at her). She came out for a few short vineyard rides followed by a trek out to the coast for a three-hour ride. So far so good. She had good balance, a nice seat and some stamina. K.E. expressed interest in endurance riding and so I invited her on a training ride with Jenni and I. The ride consisted of a 5-mile trot and canter up to the top of Mount St. Helena, and then an easy jog down. It appeared she did fine, but when I ran into her at the coffee shop a few weeks later she confessed to not being able to walk for days. She invited me to lunch but never asked to ride with me again.

I was recently introduced to Rebecca Stockton by Jeff Herten (remember my Rimrock Trail blog?). Rebecca, now 19, has been riding since she was a young kid. She is attending Sonoma State University and just wants to get her horse fix when she has time. She comes to the ranch every Thursday afternoon to ride Merlin (my Friesian) or for short training rides on the Arabians. Rebecca is smart, and she has been riding long enough to not let me talk her into riding more or longer than she can/wants to. Even though she is a skilled rider and accomplished hunter-jumper competitor, she admits to being out of trail-trail riding shape. I’m optimistic that, as she builds her stamina, Rebecca will be a terrific training ride partner.

Naomi Brooke posted a flyer at Alyssa Wetjen’s barn. Alyssa was the topic of my first blog, Meet Mustang Lady. Naomi was an experienced rider, new in town and looking for riding opportunities. I called her immediately. She said she used to exercise polo ponies. That was music to my ears!  A few days later she came to my barn to ride. I started her on Merlin and Bearcat. So far so good. After a few trips around the vineyards, I invited her to a weekend training ride at the coast with Cris and Jenni. She accepted.

Naomi, hangin' in there on Stella.

I mounted Naomi on my best, most comfortable horse, Stella. Even on Stella, after 10 miles of effortless trotting, Naomi’s knees were aching and her calves were cramping. After almost 20 miles, she was, as Jenni observed, suffering in silence. Still, Naomi didn’t complain. Naomi said she was game to go another day. However, mounted on a different horse and in a different saddle, she reached her pain threshold at about 10 miles. I began to think that perhaps Cris and Jenni were right. Naomi might not return.

But she did! Two days later, in fact. Not only did she return to ride again, but she did so in the RAIN. She also quickly learned how to put hoof boots on Merlin after just watching me a few times. A rider who can boot her own mount is a bonus. I may have discovered the next Jenni Smith, Pascale Soumoy or Cris Jones.

There is a point to this story, which is what got me thinking about writing it in the first place. AERC membership is declining because the old, diehard riders aren’t being replaced with new ones. What can be done about it? One approach is to reach out to horse owners and get them to try the sport. We are seeing many more rides offering “fun ride” distances for these people. Another approach is to find good riders who want to ride but don’t want to take on the responsibility of horse ownership. The Peter Rich / Jazon Wonders models of how this works are excellent examples. Find a rider, give him or her a good horse and hope they have the time of their lives. Then hope they are tough, really tough, because trail riding is a lot more than a walk in the park.

Horse Purchasing - From the Ground Up

In my last blog, Horse Shopping - From the Group Up, I talked about horse shopping for my husband. The winner of this search was horse #3, an 8-year-old, half-Arabian gelding named Tyler. Tyler passed the pre-purchase exam with flying colors. Radiographs of his feet and joints were outstanding, so much so, in fact, that the examining vet commented on him, saying “You’ve got a good one here.” I was pleased with my choice.

A week later, we loaded up the rig for the Fire Mountain endurance ride in Ridgecrest. This is one of our favorite winter desert rides. Our plan was to pick up Tyler in Arroyo Grande on the way (more or less) to Ridgecrest. We rolled into Sun King Farms just before dark and loaded him into the trailer without much fanfare. Tyler was about to get his eyes opened to what his new life as an endurance horse was going to be like. That night we drove to Bakersfield and stayed at an overnight stabling facility. He got a round pen to himself and the mares shared the arena. It was much better for them to be able to move around, rather than being tied to the trailer all night.

The next morning, we loaded up and headed for Ridgecrest. Having Tyler with us posed a problem: He had never been on a HiTie and I didn’t want to tie him within striking distance of the mares. As luck would have it, there was one small pipe corral at the far side of camp. We set up next to it and Tyler got the corral while the three mares got their HiTies. All was calm in our herd.

Tyler learning about life in base camp.

For the next two days, Tyler got to witness all the activity from his corral. We took him for a couple of short trail rides each afternoon, and he handled it all very well. On Sunday night, we loaded up and drove back to Bakersfield. This time, we over nighted at the rodeo grounds, and Tyler spent the night tied for the first time. He was still there in the morning, so I’m considering that a success.

Once I got him home, I let him chill out for a few days to recover from four days on the road and to get accustomed to his new surroundings. During this time, I went about the business of getting him set up with a properly fitting saddle and bridle, and measured his feet for new Easyboot Gloves. Here is where I ran into some trouble. Although Tyler has always been barefoot, he hadn’t been getting a proper barefoot trim and as a result his feet were slightly misshapen. I knew this could be corrected over time and so I didn’t worry about it.

His right front measured 130mm wide x 130mm long. His left front measured 135mm wide x 130 mm long. I ordered a pair of 2Ws for him. The 2W was almost too big for his right front foot. His foot wasn't so much flared as it was just much wider at the base than the top—truly bell shaped. His left front was similarly shaped but with some flare on the sides. As a result, the 2W fit his width but was too big front to back, leaving a void between the boot and the hoof wall. I know I can reshape his right front foot and fit him into a 1.5W, but I’m not sure what to do about the left front. This is where trial and error has served me well (although I’m open to suggestions).

So far, the 2W boots have been sufficient for Tyler’s first few training rides. I used extra tape to fill the void on the left front. However, before I can do any speed work with him I will need to get him into properly fitting boots. His back feet, by the way, are normal. They fit into a regular 1.5 boot.

My training program for Tyler is pretty conservative. He’s already proven to be great on the trail. He likes to go out in front and he doesn’t spook at ANYTHING. I like that the most about him. He’s very balanced on his feet and watches where he puts them. He’s also light and balanced in the bridle. These are all desirable attributes in a horse for my husband. His immediate future will be a lot of long, easy trail rides and tag-alongs to rides so he can get further exposed to life in base camp.

Tyler's first long training ride at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

 Stay tuned for his progress and how I solve my booting challenge with him.