Horse Shopping - From the Ground Up

I’ve been horse shopping - but not for myself. I'm looking for a second mount for my husband, Barry. The criteria is straightforward: endurance prospect, gelding, 15.2+ hands, 1000+ lbs., between 4 and 8 years of age, correct  conformation, sturdy enough to carry a heavyweight rider, good feet and nice disposition. My internet search on numerous sites netted a list of about 20 horses in California. From there, I sent inquiries and pared down the list until I had narrowed it to five horses I wanted to look at. One of the five was abruptly pulled off the market. That left me with four prospects.

Horse #1 was gorgeous! He was 15.3 hands, very correct and a nice mover. He had been shown quite a bit, which told me he was great amidst chaos and was a good traveler. Unfortunately, he had three strikes against him: he had never been out on the trail; he was 8 turning 9; and he had bad feet and a terrible shoeing job. He was barefoot in the back (great!), but was shod in the front very close (shoes too small) and had long, contracted heels. Knowing what I know now about transitioning a horse out of shoes, I knew it would be a minimum six-to-nine-month process to get this horse's front hooves back to their natural state. So, by the time he was trail trained and comfortable being barefoot, he would be 10+ years old. I passed on this horse.

Horse #1. Nice show horse, but not what I was looking for in an endurance prospect.

Horse # 2. He sounded too good to be true, and he was. This 5-year-old Arabian gelding was advertised as being 16 hands, 1500 lbs., with “too many good attributes to list.” The only attribute that turned out to be true was his height. He was dangerously skittish. His owner kept his halter on 24/7 because he was difficult to catch and he’d only been “sat on” about dozen times. He had a crooked front leg (knee turned out/tipped pastern/club foot).  He was barefoot in the back and had nice feet. However, he was shod in the front and had the worst shoeing job I had seen in a long time. All this was beside the point because he was grade 2 lame at the trot on a longe line, and it got worse the longer he trotted. I stopped there. The owner was tearful, swearing he had never taken a lame step in his life. While I don't like to voice my opinions about another person's horse, I told the owner that her farrier wasn’t doing her any favors.

Horse #2 was stunning, but.....

Very crooked right front leg. Note the huge splints below the inside of the knees. The shoeing was horrific!

Horse #3  was lovely. He was 15.2 (advertised 15.3) and 5 turning 6 years old. He had nice confirmation but a little light in the hind end, beautiful feet and had never been shod. Although the owner had him in training for nine months, he was very green and very insecure.  If I was looking for a project horse for myself, I would consider him because he was a very friendly, likeable horse. However, I decided that he was too small for my husband and didn’t have that easy-going disposition I was looking for.

Nice gelding gelding with...

Nice hooves!

Horse #4 was a half-Arabian gelding, 7 turning 8 years old, 15.2 hands (advertised as 15.3) and 1000+ lbs. I liked him in all the videos I viewed of him and I liked him more when I saw him in person. He had been shown in dressage, ridden on the trail and had wintered out on an 11,000-acre ranch. He had an easygoing, willing disposition.  He had nice conformation – big hip, very correct legs, nice shoulder and neck. He was slightly longer-backed that I would have liked but that wasn’t a deal killer. He had fabulous feet. Big, round platter feet. My eyeball guess is that he would wear at minimum a size 2W in the Easyboot Glove.

I really liked horse #4, especially ...

His feet! Wow!

Once upon a time, I would not have weighed the importance of good feet to the degree that I do now. Of course, I would look for good feet, but my criteria would not have included "never been shod."  I’m no hoof specialist or veterinarian, but I have learned a lot in the last three years about hooves and transitioning a horse out of shoes. The two horses I looked at that were shod both had terrible shoeing jobs to the point that the shape of the foot had been compromised. The two horses that had never been shod both had beautiful, round, healthy feet. My horse shopping certainly served to reinforce what I have come to learn about the benefits of barefooting.

37,000 Reasons to Love Riding

As soon as I saw John Parke’s Sesenta Anos ride posted on the AERC calendar for Nov. 16-17, I knew it would be a must-do event. The ride was being held in celebration of John’s 60th birthday. Many riders in the AERC Southwest Region know John as the quirky guy in the Hawaiian shirt on the old Icelandic horse Remington (who is now 22). John is quite tall; Remington is not; you get the picture. John and Remington have more than 11,000 AERC miles together. John is known more widely as AERC’s attorney—a position he has held for numerous years and which he does voluntarily. AERC members should be thankful for John’s dedication. He has no doubt saved the AERC hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and gotten the organization out of a few pickles, as well.

Back to Sesenta Anos. The reason for my excitement was the location. The ride was held on the historic Rancho San Fernando Rey in upper Santa Ynez Valley. This valley is located north and inland from Santa Barbara. It is dotted with stunning horse farms and vineyards. It is a prominent wine region made famous by the movie “Sideways.” That’s all great, but this ranch is something truly special. It is an original Spanish land grant rancho that comprises 37,000 acres. I don’t know how to eyeball 37,000 acres, but I can tell you that the rancho stretches in all directions for as far as I can see. It rolls down valley to Lake Cachuma and up valley to the Las Padres National Forest. The Santa Ynez River runs through the ranch and there are 150 miles of jeep roads through the property that are used by the ranch staff. The rancho looks much as it must have some 200 years ago. The landscape is rugged, rocky and challenging. The mountainous terrain delivered numerous heart-pounding climbs. The rewards at the top of every hill were unbelievable views.

The 2-day ride drew about 70 entries. I brought four horses (that’s 16 hoof boots!), including Jenni Smith’s mare Toska. My friend Catherine Gallegos would be riding with us in her first endurance ride. She was excited beyond words, as it was her dream to be able to “ride like the wind.” I mounted her on my mare Stella, who I knew would give Catherine an easy ride, which she did.

On Friday afternoon, we booted everyone up for a pre-ride. I finally got smart and reorganized my hoof boots in separate bags by size. Jenni and Barry helped and so the booting process went much more quickly. We were only riding the limited distance so I didn’t use Easyboot Glue-Ons. The pre-ride proved to be just a glimpse of how spectacular the next day would be.

On Saturday, much to Catherine’s delight, we flew around the course. The horses loved it. We finished 1-2-3-4, and I’ve never seen someone with such a big grin on her face as Catherine had that day. I convinced her to ride again the next day and she and I again flew around the course. Most of the trail was pretty rocky, but because of our Easyboot Gloves we were able to maintain a good steady pace over the rocks. She was thrilled!

Jenni Smith, Catherine Gallegos, Jennifer Waitte and Barry Waitte.

I really enjoy introducing friends to endurance riding and getting to share all the things I love about it. Catherine is no average rider; she is a highly skilled Grand Prix level dressage rider. As we went down the trail I could see Catherine burst out of her constraints and revel in the freedom of galloping down the road. Add to this that we were being given this rare opportunity to ride at Rancho San Fernando Rey, and the days couldn’t have been better.

After the ride, John bent my ear for new ideas about how AERC could increase its membership. I suggested he encourage members to do what I did. If an AERC member knows someone who is interested in trying endurance, then make it possible for that friend to do so. Rather than telling him/her what she needs in order to ride in the sport (a suitable horse, suitable tack, transportation and training), invite the friend to participate in a ride on a finished horse. That’s what I did with Catherine. I invited her to ride with me on one of my horses. I made it easy for her to try the sport. Now she’s hooked and she will likely start looking for an endurance horse to add to her dressage barn. I've already invited her to another ride with us-this time a 50-miler. We elected to do the LD as her first ride. She rode almost 60 miles in two days with no trouble and is definitely ready for the next level.

Footnote: Remember Alyssa Radtke and her Mustang Dixie? Well, I finally got to ride Dixie at the Lake Sonoma 50 in early November. This was my first ride on a Mustang. She definitely has a mind of her own and the day confirmed for me that she is an excellent endurance horse. I've noticed a lot more Mustangs in endurance lately. It's great to see people giving these horses a new life.

Reboot the Mission

Set your goals. Make a plan. Fulfill your dream.

What defines the beginning and end of your riding season? Is it the weather—do you live where it snows and therefore the first snowfall signals an end to one year’s riding season and spring marks the beginning of the next? Do you ride year-round and sync your riding season to the AERC calendar? Does the start of the school year mark the beginning or end of your riding for the year? How about Daylight Savings Time, when you lose those precious hours of daylight after work?

Riders in the Northeast either exchange their Easyboots for show shoes
or move to Florida for the winter in order to extend their riding season.

Tevis marks the end of the riding season for me. After Tevis, my horses need a break from training, I need a break from riding and we need a break from each other.

The horses' version of laying on the beach. This is what vacations are for!

August, September and October are the busiest months of the year in the wine business. So, following Tevis, the horses get three months off. It’s their time for their bodies to heal from the months of hard training and racing, and it’s their time to just be horses. I give my tack a good cleaning and store it away in the tack room. I put all my Easyboots in their footlocker, to be organized, assessed, reordered or repaired as needed at a later date. I use this off-time to reflect on the year’s efforts and achievements. Did I succeed and if so, how? Did I fail and if so why? What lessons did I learn that I will apply to next year? People often ask me what my biggest success was this past year and I respond by saying “not making any mistakes.” (Well, there was that time I forgot to pack my saddle for a training ride on the Tevis trail, but even that didn’t foil the day of riding.)

This is what happens when I forget my saddle for a training ride.

Last week, at three months to the day, I pulled the mares out of the pasture. They are officially back in training. Time to Reboot the Mission. Doing so requires three important steps: setting goals, making a plan and fulfilling the dream.

Step 1: Define my goals for the season. I actually have several goals for the upcoming season (which for me commences with training in November and ends following Tevis). The #1 goal is to obtain that elusive COC (Certificate of Capability) for both mares. This requires my riding partner Jenni Smith and I complete in an FEI/CEI*** ride at a minimum speed. The ride calendar may be cooperative in 2014 (it wasn’t in 2013). There is buzz that a CEI*** will be offered in New Mexico in March and another in Montana in June. Goal 2 is to take my dear friend Kristan Flynn to several local AERC rides. Kristan and I rode thousands of miles together and once tied for first at the Virginia City 100 in 2008. Not long after that she contracted Lyme Disease, which robbed her of her favorite pastime--riding. Treatment has now made it possible for her to ride again. Goal 3 is to get my husband back in the saddle after taking a year off due to work. Goal 4: Tevis.  

The best part about training is riding with friends. Here, well booted,
is Christina Kramlich Bowie, Kristan Flynn and me.

Step 2: Build a plan to fulfill my goals. This entails developing a training plan, juggling my schedule between work and riding. My training program has always entailed two days of riding per week focused on intense hill and heat (in summer) training combined with the Eurocizer for daily exercise. I take a holistic approach to my horses and so the training program is synchronized with a strict feeding protocol, veterinary and chiropractic care and superior hoof care.

It's really important to have everything synchronized.

Step 3: Visualize my dream. Each year I start over. I don’t try to pick up where I left off the previous year. It’s a new year with new opportunities. I think about riding, not winning. I think about pushing my horses just a little bit farther and harder with each ride while carefully monitoring their progress. I think about the stunning scenery I will ride through and the wonderful friends I will ride with. I think about every action and how I can do something better. It’s hard to say which goal I am most excited to fulfill. It’s a toss-up between riding Tevis again with Jenni because we have so much fun training and competing together and taking Kristan to her first endurance ride in four years because I know how important it is for her.

I'm blessed to have a partner who supports what I do, cheers me along when I'm winning and picks me up when I'm down.

The Rimrock Trail

In August, I revisited a favorite place of my early endurance riding “career” – Rimrock Ranch. The 40-acre ranch is owned by longtime friends and fellow endurance riders Jeff Herten and Debby Lyon. Many of you may know them in a Tevis-related way. Both serve on the WSTF board, and Jeff is a member of the Haggin Cup Committee. We became good friends when I lived in San Luis Obispo, where I went to college. I rode hundreds of miles with Debby during that time. We all belonged to a group of riders aptly named the Longriders. Back then, we carried the original Easyboot in our saddle packs in case we lost a shoe, as all our horses were shod.

Jeff and Debby relaxing at a Willie Nelson concert at the famous Pozo Saloon near their Rimrock Ranch.

Anyway, introductions aside, lets get back to Rimrock. The ranch is located east of the little town of Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County. It’s a 20-minute drive on a narrow ribbon of road to get to it, all the time surrounded by vast rolling pastureland and the Los Padres National Forest. The ranch itself is modest in appearance, but it has all the necessary infrastructure that horse people require - great fencing, large pastures, run-in sheds, a barn and an arena. It is where Jeff and Debby’s retired endurance horses go to live out their lives. That alone makes it a special place. It’s what lies beyond the ranch that is so spectacular—some of the most rugged and challenging riding terrain a true endurance rider could wish for. And no end to it.

A place to contemplate, overlooking Rimrock Ranch.

The ranch backs up to Las Padres and is nestled at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountain ridge. Jeff’s first order of business when he acquired the property was to put in a trail to the top. Within a month, they had a rudimentary trail (read "scary trail") in place to get to the top. This became the Rimrock Trail. Construction of the trail was a cooperative effort between some really tough people: Debby and Jeff, Mike and Marilyn Rehorn, Jim Hurley, Jon Priest, Lauren Jefferson, Patty Hawes, and Sandy and Bill Obermeyer. You may recognize some of those names. The trail has been improved upon over the years and is well maintained, but it is still incredibly challenging.

I’ve ridden this trail numerous times, and never without looking at it in amazement that these hardy people cut the trail on foot with pics and axes, and chainsaws to clear the dense chaparral. It’s a hair-raising trail to ride - definitely NOT for the inexperienced or timid rider. The trail exits the back of Rimrock Ranch and then climbs steadily without reprieve. The elevation at the trailhead is 1550 feet. It climbs 3.1 miles to the top of Hi Mountain, where the Hi Mountain Lookout is perched, at 3198 feet. The trail itself is 2.6 miles, after which it connects with the road to the lookout. From there, a rider can go in any direction – forever.

Hi Mountain Lookout is a special place in its own right. It sits at the crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains. It's is a retired USFS fire lookout that has been brought back to life as a research station for the reintroduced California Condor. It overlooks an historic condor nesting site, which is designated a critical habitat for the rare birds. Check out www.condorlookout.org for more information about the lookout. It's really something to be riding out there and have the shadow of one of these giant birds pass over you.

This was my first visit back to Rimrock Ranch in 15 years. It felt good to be back. My trip wouldn't be complete without a trek up the trail. I didn’t have a horse with me, and so I put on my hiking boots and started up the trail. My hike brought back a lot of great memories. As I looked down, I saw something new. Among various animal tracks were those of horses in Easyboots. Some things never change, and some things do.

The Ride of a Lifetime, and a Great Finish “to Boot”

A lot of fabulous stories are coming out of this year’s Tevis Cup. It’s great to be a member of Team Easyboot and to have contributed to the team’s success. Jenni Smith and I started training with Tevis in mind back in January. We competed in three 75-mile rides, in February, April and May. Our training focused on two elements—heat and hills. It all came together on July 20.

The ride began at Robie Park, but the race began at Robinson Flat. Jenni and I came into Robinson Flat in 4th and 5th place. We left Robinson Flat within eyesight of Karen and John Donley ahead of us. Rusty Toth rode with us for a while, then dropped back as we went down into the canyons. We came into Michigan Bluff with the Donleys and then were able to get ahead of them leaving Chicken Hawk, coming into Foresthill in 1st and 2nd. Rusty, Kevin Myers, Jeremy Reynolds and Christoph Schork were all close behind.

Our two mares, Stella and Czoe, got separated during the cooling down process at Foresthill, which upset Jenni’s mount Stella and delayed her pulse time.  When it was time to check out at Foresthill, I was leaving in 1st, Rusty and Kevin were in 2nd and 3rd about 2 minutes behind me, and Jenni was 4th out about 3 minutes behind them. The Donleys were a few minutes back. I left Foresthill resigned to the fact that Rusty and Kevin were going to catch me. However, Czoe had other ideas. She charged through town and dropped down onto the trail with gusto. At one point, I caught a glimpse of the guys on one of the switchbacks above me—and then  I never saw them again. Getting through Francisco’s was weighing heavily on my mind as I trotted down the trail. I had been pulled there last year for making a rookie mistake. I let Czoe stand around too long to eat and she got a significant muscle cramp. The walk up the hill to get out of Francisco’s was an experience I did not want to repeat. 

I left Francisco’s just as the Donleys arrived. Czoe was hungry, so I grabbed a flake of hay and hand-walked her out of the vet check. I didn’t want to let her stand and eat for fear she would cramp up. We walked until she finished the hay. Unfortunately, the Donleys caught me about mile out and I moved off the trail to let them by. I mounted up and asked Czoe to go, but she refused. I asked her again and she moved forward reluctantly. Her ears were moving and she was clearly focused on something else. Suddenly, a whinny came from behind us and Czoe lit up. I looked back and saw Stella and Jenni coming around one of the corners about 100 yards behind us. The two mares exploded in chorus over the delight at being reunited, and Jenni was happily waving and shouting, “It’s me! We’re here!”

From that point on the horses were reenergized. We crossed the river, where Rusty caught up to us, and then the three of us caught up to the Donleys. The five us arrived at the Gravel Pit together. The mares pulsed down and we took them over to eat. We weren’t sure of the Donleys’ status, but they were both off to the side letting their horses eat and we suspected that one of the horses wasn’t recovering. Rusty had his saddle off. We decided to high-tail it out of there. The mares knew where they were and we left at a pretty good pace. We knew we would have some serious competitors on our tail. Rusty, of course, and, although they hadn’t reached the vet check yet by the time we left, we knew that Christoph and Jeremy could not be discounted. I learned from John Crandall several years ago to never underestimate Jeremy’s desire to win the Tevis Cup.

We were about half way between the vet check and the highway crossing, when Rusty suddenly appeared. Perhaps it was the Easyboots, because we never heard the sound of thundering hooves in hot pursuit. Jenni and looked at each other and there was Rusty between us. He disappeared into the darkness ahead of us as quickly as he appeared and we never saw him again. Not even his dust. Giving up the lead to Rusty so close to the finish did not dampen our enthusiasm one bit. Jenni and I were on the home stretch of the ride of a lifetime. We were going to finish together and our horses felt great. When we came across the finish line, our entire crew was there cheering for us—they were as happy as we were.

The next morning we prepared the horses to show for the Haggin Cup. I was not able to trot Czoe out myself. I’m missing half the cartilage in my left knee and running is out of question for me. I have been postponing a second knee surgery until after Tevis. Barry took over the task and did a great job.

Modern technology has enabled us to share the Tevis experience with others through images, video, Facebook and YouTube. In the old days, we’d disappear into the wilderness and eventually come out at the other end. Somewhere in between, a photographer would take our photo and we’d get that commemorative image. Now there are thousands of photos being shared, and Facebook has made it possible for friends around the world to share our experience. Jenni wore her GoPro camera on her helmet and recorded some of our adventures. Here is my favorite. Be sure to listen to her commentary.

There were a lot of great friends involved in our success this year. Thank you Christoph, Kevin and Rusty for applying Easyboot Glue-Ons on Wednesday (for the third year in a row!). Thanks to our fabulous crew -- Barry, Kristan, Alyssa, Anthony, Aaron, Gage, Jennifer, Becky, Ute, Anne, Ben and Tex!

Tiki the Lionheart - A Transition Success Story

This is a success story about my husband's horse, Tiki. Barry purchased MV Mac Tiki when he was 18 months old and already over 15 hands. He matured to a nice, solid 16 hands. Tiki has a few conformation faults, including a hammer head. Tiki’s motto on his Facebook page is “Heart of a lion; head of a wrecking ball.”  Unfortunately, he is also somewhat base narrow in his front legs and has short, upright pasterns. These two faults in combination have caused various lameness issues over the years. When Barry started riding him as a 3-year-old, Jeremy Reynolds was his farrier, and so Tiki had the best hoof care available. When Jeremy moved East and Barry to Napa, Tiki lost his farrier. At the hands of a new farrier, Tiki slowly developed heel pain and reoccurring stress rings around his front hooves. He walked on his toes, his stride became shorter and he could not tolerate trotting on hard ground. My farrier tried different shoeing techniques but the heel pain worsened. I can't solely blame the new farrier. The demise of Tiki's soundness was the result of a combination of things -- shoeing, conformation, carrying a heavyweight rider and training and racing on hard ground.

Add to all this, a comprehensive lameness evaluation at UC Davis indicated inflammation of the digital flexor tendons of both front legs. I had UC Davis’ resident farrier shoe him (twice) and then laid him up until he got the green light to go back to work again. As soon as Tiki went back to work, the problem returned. This time the inflammation in his front heels was visible in his heel bulbs. As it worsened,  he developed a nasty corn. I had a heated conversation with my farrier about Tiki and then, in a moment of sheer exasperation, I instructed him to just pull Tiki’s shoes off and leave him barefoot. My argument was that nothing we were doing was working. Tiki was barely rideable. If Barry couldn’t ride him, then there was no point in shoeing him.

This image was taken January 12, 2011. The inflamed heel bulbs and stress rings are apparent.
The frog is dark, recessed and unhealty. This was the day we pulled his shoes.

The red mark on his frog is a corn. It took a long time to heal.
You can see how unhealthy the hoof wall is.

This is Tiki's left front foot a year later, April 2012. The hoof wall and sole is much healthier
and the frog is improved (still a ways to go). His heels are about 30% wider.

This is Tiki's right front foot. It has increased in size from a 0.5 to a 1.5 in one year.

The Results:

Well, if Tiki could talk, he would have emitted a vocal “It’s about time!” The difference was immediate. He was tender-soled initially, but his sand-based paddock protected him from any bruising. What I noticed right away was that he began to walk around with his head held in a natural position, rather than holding it up to “protect” his front feet. His shoulders relaxed and his walking stride increased. Gradually, the "swing" in his neck returned.

His first set of Easyboot Gloves included a size 1 on the left front and a size 0.5 on the other three feet. He now wears 1.5s on the front and 1s on the back.  His soles, hoof walls and frogs are healthy. Although he still has short, upright pasterns, they have dropped some and his hoof/pastern angle is more closely aligned than it had been. Most importantly, he was completely sound and Barry could ride him again.

Tiki back in action with Easyboot Glue-Ons.

Tiki’s a great horse. He has a lot of personality. He’s fun to take to endurance rides and he’s an awesome trail horse that anyone can ride. He’s 12 years old now and has a long, sound life ahead of him.

Footnote: Incidentally, Tiki was not the first horse I have transitioned. Bearcat was the first. I had pulled his front shoes in 2010 in hope of curing his tripping, which worked. But it was this experience with Tiki that led to all my horses going barefoot now.

Here Comes (B)ridezilla

My girlfriend is getting married this summer. She’s met a great guy and I’m very happy for her. However, since her engagement, whenever I talk to her, the conversation is focused on her upcoming wedding. If I ask how the plans are coming along I get an earful. If I try to dodge the subject, I still get an earful. As the date draws closer, the planning has reached a fever pitch. There is no life; only "The Wedding."  Yesterday, I made my first of what will be many “Tevis-planning” comments to my husband. He rolled his eyes and with a strained smile replied, “Here we go again.” At that moment, it occurred to me that planning a wedding is just like planning Tevis. And now that Tevis is within what I call the countdown phase, I am behaving exactly like my friend the bride-to-be. I've become a ridezilla.

You don't believe me? Read this twice, the first time ignoring the text in the parentheses. Read it the second time and substitute the test in the parentheses for the underlined text. Then I dare you to tell me I'm wrong.

In the beginning, riding Tevis (getting married) is a far off dream that most every endurance rider (young woman) aspires to. But she knows that she must first find the right horse (man), and not just any horse (man), but one that can really go the distance. Finally, she meets the horse (man) of her dreams. Their training (relationship) progresses and she realizes that he’s THE ONE.  She decides she’s ready to commit to riding the Tevis (getting married).

Ridezilla.

Bridezilla

The date is set. She selects her crew (maid of honor and bridesmaids) and gives them their initial list of duties and tasks, which will be revised over and over and over as the BIG DAY draws near. There is much to be planned, from outfits and menus to transportation and logistics.

Ridezilla crew.

Bridezilla crew (aka maid of honor and bridesmaids).

All this time, the unsuspecting horse (groom) has no idea what is in store for him. He just goes along like he’s supposed to and does what he’s told.

Months pass quickly, and the date of the BIG DAY is close enough for the countdown phase to begin. The closer the BIG DAY gets, the more all-encompassing it becomes, until every minute of every waking day is about Tevis (the wedding). The crew (bridesmaids) is (are) now smiling at the rider (bride) through clenched teeth; they are secretly ready for the BIG DAY to be over because the rider (bride) has turned into ridezilla (bridezilla).

The night before the ride (wedding), there’s no sleeping. And when the rider (bride) finally falls asleep, morning comes quickly and she bolts upright in her bed and exclaims, “Today I’m riding the Tevis (getting married)!”

The day goes as planned. Everyone fulfills their assigned duties. The ride (bride) is beautiful. The party lasts into the wee hours of the morning. When she finally lays her head on her pillow with her Tevis Buckle in her hand (wedding ring on her finger) and her horse (husband) by her side, she realizes she is the happiest rider (bride) in the world.

Footnote: As I write this, Tevis is seven weeks away. I’m in countdown phase. I need to select my crew and assign them duties, fine-tune my horse, organize my equipment and—perhaps most important—schedule the time for the EasyCare crew to glue my shoes on for me. However, having done this many times before (Tevis, not weddings) I’m much more relaxed about it. I’m still with the same horse (and husband), and both are very tolerant of me. I’m trying my best not to be a ridezilla, but it is Tevis.

Expensive But Worth It

My riding partner Jenni Smith and I completed our second CEI** (75mi/120km) at the Shine and Shine Only ride on April 20. This AERC ride, which I think is in its 25th year, is managed by Becky Hart. The FEI component is relatively new. It was a great day overall. We finished 1st and 2nd, and 45 minutes ahead of the 3rd place horse. We were the only two horses in the CEI ** in EasyCare hoof boots. I was pleased that my two mares finished so well, and I was ecstatic that I had no wardrobe malfunctions (my code name for losing an Easyboot Glue-On during a race). At the 20 Mule Team ride in February, I learned a frustrating yet valuable lesson about makings sure that the Adhere glue mixes out of the gun in equal quantities. After losing nine of the 12 boots I had glued on and analyzing the failure ad nauseam,  Kevin Myers told me that if the glue dispenses with a bluish tint, then it’s not mixing evenly. I remember seeing the “blue” but didn’t think much about it at the time, assuming it was just cold. I didn’t repeat this mistake, and all the boots I glued on two days before the SASO ride stayed on.

In our quest to fulfill the necessary criteria so that we can nominate for an FEI national or world championship, Jenni and I have now completed the requisite one CEI* (50 mi/80km) and two CEI** (75mi / 120km). Regrettably, we are now stalled out until another CEI*** (100mi/160km) is scheduled somewhere on the West Coast—or at least west of the Rocky Mountains—so that we can get our Certificate of Capability at that distance. While CEI*** races are plentiful on the East Coast, they are a rarity on the West Coast. Only one was scheduled in 2013, and that was at 20 Mule Team. I persistently inquired as to why no other CEI*** events were being offered in 2013 when there are so many riders working their way up through the qualification process. I heard several dubious reasons (ride managers didn’t want to deal with it/too expensive/poor attitudes of the FEI officials and riders). Rob Lydon, DVM offered the most plausible explanation—that in order to hold a CEI*** a four-star-rated treatment vet must be present, and that vet must be licensed in the state in which the event is being held. According to Rob, the lack of a veterinarian with this qualification is the reason why  there are no CEI*** events on the calendar for West Coast riders. Regardless of the reason, there are a group of talented horses and riders on the West Coast who aspire to ride at the FEI level but cannot because fulfilling the qualification process is so difficult. I won't say "impossible" because I could haul my horse to the East Coast for a CEI*** but that is not a realistic or cost-effective solution for me. As it stands, the best we can hope for is that the CEI*** will again be offered at 20 Mule Team in 2014. If it is offered and if Jenni and I are successful in earning our COC, then it will have taken us three ride seasons to complete the qualification process.

In the meantime, we will continue to support the ride managers who offer FEI sanctioned events by entering their rides. It’s expensive, but worth it, if our entries help to maintain the momentum of interest in riding FEI that is building on the West Coast.

Jenni and me after our first CEI* ride and at the start of a long journey
to hopefully one day compete together in an international endurance ride.

Footnote: I am diligent about checking my Easyboot Gloves before and after every training ride. This time I found a rusty nail embedded in the bottom of a boot. How ironic that it was a shoeing nail.

Horse Heaven on Earth - In California?

I consider myself fortunate to live in the Bay Area of Northern California. Although living here has its challenges – the cost of living is high, fuel prices are through the roof, and the term “commute” takes on a meaning all its own – it is a fabulous place to live if you love the great outdoors. The greater Bay Area’s approximately 11 million residents have access to hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands right out their back doors. This is heaven on earth for hikers, mountain bikers and trail riders.

Stretching along the region east of San Francisco known as the East Bay is a network of 65 parks that are managed by the East Bay Regional District. These parks cover more than 113,000 acres and have more than 1,200 miles of trails. The East Bay Municipal Utilities District manages another 27,000 acres of open space with 80 miles of trails, staging areas and an abundance of water tanks for horses.

Water tanks like this one are numerous in the parks. The fish in this one are huge.
I often wonder how they survive all the raccoons and hawks.

Mount Diablo State Park is a stand-alone behemoth, and its 3,864-foot peak is the centerpiece of the East Bay. The state park is comprised of 20,000 acres within 90,000 acres of preserved land. For conditioning endurance horses, it’s tough to beat Mt. Diablo. My riding partner Jenni Smith and I have an 18 mile circuit that we like to train on that includes three strenuous climbs of three to five miles in length. There is ample water and, with summertime temps regularly in the 90s, this is ideal Tevis training ground. Eighteen miles might not sound like much of a training ride, but eighteen miles of Mt. Diablo in the summer is as tough as it gets.

Jenni Smith at Prospector's Gap on Mt. Diablo.

The view from Juniper Campground on Mt. Diablo, looking west over the East Bay.

My other favorite park in the East Bay is the Briones. The park is 6,117 acres and the trails offer challenging climbs, lots of opportunities for long canters and a spectacular 18 mile loop around the stunning reservoir.

Right out my back door is Robert Lewis Stephenson State Park and Mount St. Helena—elevation 4,341 feet. I use the 5.5 mile fire road to the summit for cardio training because I can canter the horses bottom to top without stopping. The 360-degree view at the top is spectacular!

The remnants of an old outhouse at the summit of Mount St. Helena. What a view!

The crown jewels of the Bay Area lie to the north of San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area stretches along 60 miles of coastline. Interestingly, this national park includes the Golden Gate Bridge, although I wouldn’t recommend riding a horse across it. Beyond that is the 71,000-acre Pt. Reyes National Seashore – my all-time favorite place to ride. The trails are challenging and the scenery is spectacular. This is a mecca for trail riders.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with Drakes Bay and the Peninsula in the background.

The fees for using these parks vary. Pt. Reyes and RLS parks are free. Most of the East Bay parks charge $6. Those of us who live in California and others outside the state who pay attention to California politics are aware that some of these parks are in jeopardy of closing due to a lack of funding to maintain them for public use. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown, facing a $15.7 billion state budget deficit, said that closing 70 parks -- one quarter of the state's 280 state parks -- would save $22 million a year. Several parks in the greater Bay Area were closed temporarily. With each closure, a privately-funded organization popped up to provide the funds necessary to reopen the parks.

Easyboot Gloves in the sand.

Living in the Bay Area poses many challenges. Fortunately, not all challenges are negative. The challenge of the trails that I have access to is the best challenge of all. As a horse lover and endurance rider, I can’t imagine a better place to live.

Footnote: My friend Alyssa Radtke recently completed her first 50-mile ride on Dixie the Mustang. Her fiancé Anthony brought along is 2013 Extreme Mustang Challenge entry Luna and did the LD ride just for fun. This is noteworthy because Luna was adopted in January and has only been "unwild" for about 6 weeks. Also, Anthony is about 6'4" tall and Luna is about 13 hands! People at the ride were so amazed by her they asked to have their picture taken with her.

The Other Barefoot Wine Company

My husband Barry and I are in the wine business, and our horses play a prominent role in our company. For the record, we are NOT Barefoot Wines and Bubbly, which is the brand that has the bare human footprint on the label. Our winery, Tamber Bey, is named after Barry’s first two endurance horses, Tamborina and Beyamo. A visit to our property includes a tour of the barn and stables. Guests meet our very-friendly endurance horses and listen intently as we recount their accomplishments. I enjoy pointing out that the horses are barefoot, and I show them an Easyboot, which I describe as a horse’s cross-country running shoe. The guests think this is really cool.

Visitors are awed by our sport—most have never heard of endurance riding and their jaws drop when we tell them about it. We get all the usual questions: “How fast/far do you go? How long does it take? Does your butt hurt? Do you get to rest?” Inevitably, someone will ask what we win. I answer, well, nothing, really. I like to tell guests that I once rode 100 miles and got a jar of beans for a completion award, although I usually get practical prizes, like buckets and mini flashlights. Sometime I’ll get an embroidered horse blanket or a belt buckle. The guest looks dumbfounded, unable to comprehend that we expend so much grueling energy for no significant material reward at the finish.

Barry then launches into his speech about the welfare of the horse and why prize money isn’t awarded. We get a few nods of understanding. I add comments about the “the ride is the prize.” Some guests get it, while others continue to struggle the concept of doing so much for no extrinsic reward. In general, our guests are not horse people and what they know of horse competitions is limited to the lavish Kentucky Derby parties they attend—whether they actually watch the race or not. Say Kentucky Derby and the ladies think hats, not horses. That’s when we pour them another taste of wine and all is good. We’re back on the same page again.

The few horse people we get are interested in the boots. They ask intelligent questions. They understand my explanation about the benefits. We discuss the barefoot movement in other sports. Once in a great while, someone will ask me if barefooting and booting saves me money. To this I answer yes and no. Trimming is obviously much less expensive than shoeing. I was paying $5,200 a year to shoe four horses every six weeks. This does not include the occasional additional charge for pads and clips for a rocky race. I spend $1,500 per year to trim those same four horses. In 2012, I spent approximately $1,500 on Easyboots and gluing products. That’s quite a savings. Also, long after a boot’s tread is worn down too much to use for training, it goes into EuroXcizer duty, where it is useful until holes are worn in the toe—which can be takes months. Can’t do that with old horseshoes.

The “no” part of saving me money pertains to time, which is a form of currency. Neither shoeing nor trimming requires much of my personal time. Professionals do that for me. But the booting is another story. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (or so it seems), chasing lost boots down the trail, repairing broken gators and filing hooves to perfection between trims. I’ve spent many more hours in the barn before a race, covered in glue, with tears of frustration building up. I’m proud of myself for not giving up.

I’m now well past the blood, sweat and tears phase of the shoe-to-boot- transition learning curve and my time burn is minimized. Plus, the wine helps.

And all that cash I’m saving…

Footnote: Last month I introduced you to Mustang trainer Alyssa Radtke. Alyssa is now one month into her training program with her new Mustang Sweet Pea, which she adopted for the Extreme Mustang Challenge in May. Sweet Pea is now completely gentled and desensitized to the many sights and sounds that are part of domestic life. She trailers willingly and Alyssa is starting to ride her. As I write this, the two are participating in a two-day clinic with trainer Wylene Wilson. If you don’t know who she is, check out the award-winning documentary “Wild Horse, Wild Ride.” Have tissues handy.

Jennifer Waitte