Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tough Sucker II

Yesterday I volunteered at the Tough Sucker II - and Trevor came with me :)  We were going to go the night before so we could attend the meeting and camp, but it just turned out to be way to cold, no showers for Trevor, and I ended up wanting a good night sleep after a week of sleep deprivation.  Rather, we left for Oreana around 6:30am and found our way to Regina's (the ride manager) place.  Melba is gorgeous, all green with a river in a valley and the mountains right there :)

We took in the scene when we got there, then went and found Regina to figure out what we were doing.  She was going to have me take pulses and Trevor record in, down, and out times for the riders since he's not a "horse person".  Apparently Trevor thought he'd be following me around all day, not actually put to work.  He was a good sport about it though :)

The 75 and 50-milers had already left, and the LD's were about to leave.  So I did get to see the start of the race, which was way lower key than I'd expected.  Granted, there weren't a TON of people this year, but there were still about 20 people riding in the LD (15 in the 50 and 4 in the 75, though a few had to drop out because of injuries before the race).  I think Snickers will do just fine :)

As we were sitting there, there was a very familiar chestnut getting ready to go out a bit later than everyone else.  The horses' conformation, size, color, markings, attitude, and behavior were almost identical to Snickers'.  Turns out it was his half brother!  The horse was a year younger than Snickers and it was really interesting to talk to the owner about the two. We'll have to ride together sometime :)  I saw on the SWIT&DR emails that she had won the Tough Sucker I LD with a "Gold N....", so it was exciting to see the horse and rider in person.  However, from a few comments made and from her overall behavior, she's not necessarily someone I would trust to mentor me with endurance or would take advice from.  Plus, and it may have just been from the race, but the way she was talking about him and watching him seemed like he was where Snickers was a while ago.  She's had the horse for a year, but it doesn't seem like there's been a lot of progress made with him, though she bought him with no training and was taking him out to Spencers.  On the other hand, Snickers has come so far and learned so much in the last 3 months that I've been with him - and have owned him for less than that.  We've worked through pretty much all of his major issues.  He can still be a nutcase at times, but for the most part he works though it and is quite a lovely horse that I'm very proud of and can even look very professional in my opinion.  But like I said, maybe it's just the race...

We stayed until a fair amount of the LD's had finished as I wanted to see a race from start to finish, so we left around 2.  In that time, I learned a LOT about what I need to be doing with Snickers - I have no doubt that what I was told about volunteering at a ride first was absolutely true.  I feel much more confident in knowing what I need to do to prepare and how the race will go.  Here are some of the nuggets I picked up:

Pulsing down:  It all depends on the horse.  You may not be pulled from the race as long as you pulse down within the 30 minutes after you get back, but if it takes you even 10 minutes to pulse down, then you're in trouble.  You probably need to be riding slower.  Rather, most of the horses walk the last 200-300 ft and were already pulsed down (60bpm) by the time they reached the vet check.  Some walked further, many got off for that part, but some also trotted all the way up and only stopped trotting and got off when they reached the vet check.  Even so, may were pulsed down when the reached the vet check, and the rest pulsed down within 2 minutes, sometimes 3.  It was rare for them to take much longer - a couple took 5-6 minutes, but that was because they were heavier muscled quarter horses, black, carrying heavier riders, and the rider couldn't balance themselves as well.  One horse took 19 minutes, and was pulled from the race (voluntarily I believe).  What I need to be doing:  Walk the last stretch before I reach the first gate on the way back, then get off and take his pulse.  It should be close to 60bpm, and if it isn't there yet, I need to stay there and wait until it reaches that.  Many times, if the horses were around 72 bpm, I was able to keep the stethoscope on their chests and wait until they came down, not taking breaks in between.  I was a little worried about that, but I did this yesterday after a 7 mile run (all at a medium trot), and he came right down within a minute or two, just like the well-conditioned horses :)

Boots - A lot of people wear them, a lot of people don't and might wear shoes or even go barefoot.  I don't know whether they put boots on later, but I saw quite a few taking off barefoot.  I'm still planning on getting Easyboot Gloves, and Beth is coming this week to trim and fit my boys.

Vet Checks and Best Condition - It's hard to really describe the process, but it looks a lot less stressful than I was expecting, especially if you don't come in with a huge group.

Electrolytes and other supplements - Not a lot of people give electrolytes, but some do.  I'm not going to worry about it.  I did see one person giving their horse some of the beet pulp and bran mixes that I do daily, but I'm sure more people did it at their trailers.

Overnight setup - I really like the portable corrals, but they cost $750 (They were at the same booth as the rope halter stuff at the Horse Expo).  Those are probably the best, followed by the high-ties connected to the trailer.  Unfortunately, that's not an option for me since I don't have my own trailer, though I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be with Snickers tied with how much he can move around and get excited.  There were a few people with a portable electric fence set up, but I still don't know how comfortable and competent I'd really feel with those.  The best news, at least for now, is that the main managers here actually rent out pens, and that's what I think I will do for our first ride in May.  They're pretty cheap - yay!

Trevor helped with the first horse coming in for their vet check on the 75 and then hung out for a while, but it was pretty cold and he was tired, so he stayed in the car for pretty much the rest of the morning.  I really appreciated the effort he was making and he wasn't complaining at all, so even though he stayed in the car, I was really appreciated it - especially since it was the beginning of the NBA playoffs :S.  All the other people there were really impressed with how much he was supporting me and being a good sport.  He did come out to take a few pictures for me, though.  He said he'll be more engaged when he's more comfortable with the horses, but he was really a good sport about the whole thing.  I have an amazing husband :)

So anyway, it was an exciting day and I learned so much!  I absolutely agree that, if you want to do endurance, definitely volunteer at a ride first.  It went by really fast and I learned a ton!  And now, I'm ready to ride!!

This is what I wrote on

The best advice I was told before starting into endurance was to volunteer at a ride before I ever entered one. A second person told me that I'd learn 10x more from volunteering at a ride than I ever would riding in a ride. I figured it was a good suggestion, albeit slightly exaggerated... Turns out it wasn't exaggerated even in the slightest.

If you have any interest in getting into endurance riding, I really suggest you do it. It was an absolutely eye opening experience. Here's what I picked up (key words are bolded for what you might be interested in):

Prep for the ride: Get there the night before - there's a dinner and the ride meeting. We didn't make it to this, but that'll have to wait until our actual ride. You can get to know your way around and plan for what is going to happen the next day, as well as receive last minute information about trails, conditions, cautions, etc. What I did get to see was the variety of ways people camped overnight. It was a bit cold, so everyone was in their trailers (I didn't see a single tent). There were high-tyes, portable panel corrals, and portable electric corrals, all of which I expected. My pleasant surprise was the availability to RENT a pen from the ride manager (depending on the ride) - which I plan on doing. Here, they generally charge $5-10/night for renting a pen. When I do get my own trailer, I also plan on making the investment for a portable corral - those things are frikken nifty and many people used the panels along with their truck and trailer hookup to make a nice, big corral for multiple horses.

Start of the Race: There was an area where the water troughs were located, the table for checking in and out, handing over your vet cards, and the vet checks themselves were located. It's also where the start of the ride was. It was pretty low key with a smaller ride (Four 75-milers, fifteen 50-milers, twenty 25-milers). When the time came for the race to start, riders came up, told us their number from their horses, got checked off, and took off. Everyone kind of came up at their own speed when they were ready, though of course there was an initial group that took off right on time. The 75-milers started around 6AM, 50-milers around 7:30am, and 25-milers around 9am. The trail riders took off a while after that. Had you been watching without knowing what was really going on, you'd just have seen a table with some people around it and bunch of riders that came up to the table every now and then to shout their numbers and head down the trail - not exactly how I imagined the beginning of a race. On the LD's, quite a few people left 15-30 minutes after the race had begun!

Then we waited. Here's where I learned SO much - since all the riders were gone, I was able to observe and ask questions about everything I'd seen and wanted to know. The vet was able to answer any questions I had about the vet check and I was walked through the process of taking pulses, recording times, and the things they watched out for. In addition, quite a few people had their gear like boots there, so I was able to see what tack the riders were using, then ask the other volunteers to show me theirs and explain what and why they were using what they were. I also got to hear the types of things said about the riders and their horses, so I could get a 3rd person perspective about how everyone was doing.

Vet Checks and holds: THe manager and other volunteers had a good idea about who would (and should) come in when and told me why they were expecting that. They also told me about what the riders were doing as they approached the vet check area. Most of them walked their horses (and many dismounted) between 200-300 feet away from the vet check to allow their horses to start to come down. Some that weren't in as good of shape dismounted further away. As soon as they got to the vet check, I took their pulse (though some asked me to wait until their horse was done drinking). The people at the table recorded the arrival time, the "down" time (when the horses pulse was down to 60bpm), and then the time that they were able to leave, which was the "down" time plus the hold time. Most of the horses were down already or within 1-2 minutes. A few took 3-6 minutes to come down, and one LD took 19 minutes to come down. You're not pulled from the race as long as you come down within 30 minutes, but generally if it takes 9-10 minutes or longer to come down it's a red flag and the vet will tell you to slow down or another precaution. That rider voluntarily withdrew from the race (they'd gone 17 miles). Of course, this all depends on the horse (the in-shape Arabs with good conditioning and light riders were down almost immediately, one black QH with a heavy rider who doesn't have good balance took 6 minutes to come down, but that's about normal for that horse and just fine - with the Arabs, it would have been a red flag). You HAVE to know your horse, inside and out. Again, I got a running commentary on each horse and how they were doing and why, as well as recommendations for what I should be doing with my boy during conditioning. After pulsing down, they went to their vet check right next to the tables and water, got their scores on their vet card, then went to hang out for their holds.

Vet cards and maps: DON'T loose these! And pay attention to them! And keep them dry!!! We had to replace a handful of lost/ruined vet cards either because something wasn't zipped up, misplaced, or wet from.... well, you can imagine lol. And one rider missed a sign and did an extra 7 miles on one of her loops - she'd been in first for the 50 and went down to last when she came in about an hour and a half after we would have expected her. She wasn't too happy, obviously, though she did go out for the second loop to complete the ride.

End of the race: We stayed until a lot of the LD's had come in, around 2pm, as well as the 50-milers. The LD's have to pulse down at the end of the race, and their placings are determined by the order in which they pulse down - in other words, you cannot run your horse through an LD, come in first, and win. Even if you are the first back and pulse down in time not to be pulled from the race, you may get second or worse if another horse comes in and pulses down before you do. This is to prevent people from running their horses top speed through an LD without proper conditioning. The endurance races (50+) were placed in the order they arrived. Each was asked whether they want to stand for Best Condition (though the vet's wife, who was riding, was not allowed to for obvious reasons), then did their CRI and weighed themselves, which must be done within 10 minutes of completing I believe.

The 75-milers still had another loop to complete (all the rides are completed in loops that come back to the vet check, then head back out again on a different loop). The awards were given at dinner that night, which we weren't there for.

All in all, it seemed the 25-mile LD's were completing in about 5 hours (the results for the Tough Sucker I, a month ago, had the winning time at just over 4 hours), the first 50-milers were coming in at 6.5 hours, and I have no idea how long the 75-milers were taking. This was a bit of a surprise because I was basing "completion time" on our conditioning time and speed. Of course, this also accounts for the 1 hour hold that the LD's and 50-milers had to have (45 min for the 75-milers), so I guess that makes it 25 miles within 3-4 hours riding time, plus the hold.

Anyway, I really recommend that you volunteer before riding, or if you have been riding, do it anyway! Volunteers make the endurance world go round, but you also get the commentary and see the differences between all the riders and horses. So, instead of learning about just ONE endurance ride experience (like I would have if I'd just gone out and done it), I was able to take in experience from 30-40 different riders on the same ride and learn a LOT of invaluable information. And now, I'm ready and confident for our first ride, hopefully next month!!

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