2015 – High and Low

The next 80km on our horizon was Kilkivan, to be followed by Nanango for the last of the three-part Blackbutt series of rides for 2015. Jasmine was chasing her last 80km completion. Erin was attempting her 3rd 80km in an effort to get her Open status in one 100% swoop. Adriana was on her first ride as a free-as-a-bird Open rider on a yellow-book horse and so were Milton and I!

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Mizzy and Kim

I was still on a high from our completion at Murrumba. It had been an amazing experience for so many reasons, although there was one shadow cast when I got home to find out that Haze had gone to a new home and I’d probably never see him again. My heart broke, I had cherished the hope of buying him myself – I found out later that my dear friend Rob had even wanted to get Haze for me. But it was not to be.

I cried, and I cried some more. Then I dusted myself off and got back onboard.

Unfortunately, we were going to hit a snag at the Kilkivan ride. We had five horses – four 80kers, and Mizzy was going to be piloted by Kim Barker on her first endurance ride and his second in the 20km. The 80kers rode as a team, which is a lucky thing because as it happens, I was about to have a shock as I vetted in off the first leg – Milton was lame.

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Pre-ride Vetting

My boy had felt perfect out on track, nothing was out of the ordinary except that I had found myself trying to hold him back a little – he was very full of himself! But nothing untoward had happened otherwise so I was in a serious state of shock to find myself watering, feeding and watching my poor steed (who was, by the way, sound as a bell the following morning…) while my team mates headed out on the second leg. Through the haze of my exhaustion and sadness, I was delighted to know that Mizzy had made it through his 20km with Kim.

Jasmine was a bit under the weather, I was worried to send her out knowing she was feeling ill but she plucked herself up and got out there. It was a good thing as Adriana was not keen to lead and Koda refused to so Erin couldn’t have put her in front – they needed their bubbly blonde leaders!

I sat at camp with the strapping team made up of dads and husbands and my dog – who came and placed his new-found fetching-stick on my lap and asked me to play. Instead I picked up the 30kg German Shepherd Border Collie cross, slumped him across my lap in my camp chair and snuggled him until my girls and their horses came back into sight through the darkness.

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Kilkivan ride-start!

Strapping was done quickly, Adriana and Erin were complete – but my heart broke for Jasmine as she and Hala were vetted out lame at the end of the ride. It was awful, knowing that she’d pushed through the pain of being ill to realise only 2kms from home that Hala didn’t feel right. It is never a nice thing to vet out – I sometimes wonder if it is worse knowing that it is going to happen, or dealing with the shock when it is a surprise. From my experience, its the surprise ones that hurt the most.

We were sad, but we celebrated two completions, especially Erin and Koda’s graduation to Open status with five successful completions in a row. It was getting late in the season and I’d never run my horses through a whole season before, I was starting to feel like it had been a long year, but we still had one more ride planned.

The South Burnett club had run two rides at Blackbutt earlier in the year, but for the third ride they relocated to Nanango. The three rides were being held as a series. Any rider who successfully completed the three 80km rides would go in the draw to win a Pandora saddle – and I’d already completed the first two!

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Feeling good – Leg 1 Kilkivan

I was one of several possible winners entering the ride. Erin, Adriana and I headed out in the afternoon light and powered through the first leg in 12kms per hour – which was still quick for us, though nothing compared to the eventual winner’s first leg of 18.1kph! We all vetted through easily – it was looking like a smooth completion.

As we chugged along through the darkness, singing along together to keep  our spirits up, I glanced at Erin and Koda for a moment as I realised Erin had gone quiet. It looked strange – her gait was off. Koda was still stepping strongly and evenly with each of her powering strides, but something still didn’t look right. I asked Erin and she confirmed – not lame, but something wasn’t quite right.

In the dark in the middle of the track we stopped and I got off  Milton, handed his reins to Adriana and turned to Koda. Equine Touch was always my go-to response and it was going to get Koda through the last few kms. I quickly did a few small moves on her and showed Erin how to do them from the saddle. We were back up and going in a few minutes and Koda seemed okay. Within a few more minutes of movement she was moving freely again.

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Before ride-start – Nanango 2015

We trotted into camp after a slightly slower second leg. Sirahh and Milton felt great but we were concerned about Koda as she cooled in the night air. Her woolen rug was only going to do so much. It proved to not be enough as her muscles stiffened while she and Erin were told to wait for the line up and were then held up in the TPR bay.  I was feeling concerned for my young team mate on the brink of what could be her first vet out – unaware of what was about to hit me. Despite my efforts to keep Milton warm while waiting for the TPR and vets, he too had stiffened – four steps into our trot out and I stopped, not wanting to put him through the full run and knowing it was pointless. Both Erin and I ended our seasons on a vet out and I knelt by Milton’s knees in shock and just kept saying how sorry I was to him.

It was not an ideal way to finish our year. The fact that both horses had recovered by morning was a positive, but we were still feeling flat. Adriana and Sirahh had made it through though – so at least we had that to be glad about.

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Milton baby

It had been a long year with a lot of positives and a few not so good things along with it. We’d learned a lot along the way and had a lot of fun and ridiculous stories to tell – from Adriana and I embarrassing our young team mates with our off-key caterwauling as our horses chugged up hills – to scary mannekins blocking fire escapes at scary country-town pubs!

2015 was done and dusted – what were we going to do with ourselves with the off-season at hand? Well, I was going to go stir crazy and realise just how much I rely on my sport to keep me sane. Sure, I had pony club events, hack days, sporting games, trail rides. But nothing beats endurance. Nothing.

Murrumba Magic

After the disaster that was our morning (see last month’s edition if you missed it…) we were finally on the road to the Murrumba Magic 100km. I had an awful feeling that we were going to have a terrible ride, I was not in a good place after enduring the terror of missing horses, my stallion getting caught in a cattle grid and a crazed call to the vet.

Siri was safe and sound at home being watched over by my mother and sister, my dear friends were plying him with antibiotics and pain medication – and my husband put me in the car and started driving. I was the least fun person to be around that day.

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Camp all set!  Photo credit: Adam Perrier

 

We finally arrived at the ride base, Jasmine and her dad and our friend Rob had found us a spot to set up our yards in the main ring. We were right next to my friend Tasha who was riding in the 40km with her mare Miss Jayne, her second horse was being piloted by Mindy in the 100km. The horses were soon fed and watered, the boys were setting up the campsite, we grabbed our gear and headed to the secretary’s tent to weigh in and nominate. Seeing the horses happy and eating after travelling so well, I was starting to relax. I still needed a bit more of a pick me up though, so I detoured by the Dixon Smith tent and bought a new helmet – yep, that helped….!

Time to make sure the horses were ready to vet in. A little feed with their electrolytes and they were ready to go down to the ring. Sahala, Milton and Koda vetted in with HR’s of 29, 30 and 31 respectively and trotted out well – except little miss Koda who still hadn’t gotten the hang of trotting out, Erin wrestled her from start to finish much to the amusement of the vet! On my way to vetting I was approached by several people enquiring about Milton and sent them straight over to Rob.

We were ready to start and it was time to chill out and rest before the early morning start. We had our traditional pub dinner at the Woodford pub – by far the coolest pub we had found so far – which was packed to the seams with riders, strappers, drivers and friends. We had our pre-ride discussion about our strapping system while we waited for our dinner, the boys watched a bit of the football game playing on the tv and then we headed back to camp while they continued their philosophical chats – us three girls went to bed for the night as soon as the horses were fed and watered again.

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Ready to go    Photo credit: Adam Perrier

When morning came we all saddled up silently. I stupidly lost my gloves – or left them behind at home during the confusion of the morning – so Adam gave me his gloves as I climbed up into Milton’s saddle, shaking from the cold. It was misty and freezing but the horses were feeling great. Time to go!

Jas led us out,Sahala pulling to follow the faster horses ahead of us. It was Milton’s third ride as a novice and Koda and Erin’s second big ride ever so we had no intention of going flat out, it was going to be a long road for the younger team – an extra 20km longer. We managed the first leg in 11.9kph and the horses certainly felt good so far. What a shock we were about to have.

As soon as we came in, Rob, Adam, Craig and Spencer appeared to strap the horses. Rob had his stethoscope out and checked each horse as we went. So far so good, except that Hala was higher than usual. Ten minutes later it still hadn’t dropped, we were scratching our heads as he seemed fine – then the tell tale off-colour urine gave us all the information we needed to know.

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Jas-Cam on Leg 1

Metabolic problems can affect any horse at any time. Careful management is needed – especially in the case of endurance horses. Some horses are particularly susceptible and some research shows mares to be more so than geldings, however there are many exceptions. Episodes can be triggered by many different things too, it can be a stressful thing to try and figure out what is causing such problems in your horse but in many cases once you know what it is you can manage it! In our case, we found the problem quite quickly.

Never ever ever give an endurance horse an electrolyte containing bi-carbonate. I mix my own electrolytes so that I can be sure of what my horses are getting, but there are plenty of pre-mixed electrolytes that do not contain it and are suitable for endurance horses. Lite salt, iodised table salt and dolomite mixed at the correct levels have worked for my horses so I have stuck to it.

Hala was ruled as lame by a vet panel and they requested a re-present in 30 minutes so that the vets could re-check his status. He was fine and Jas diligently monitored him while Erin and I quickly fed and watered our horses, then ourselves, before we saddled up again to head out.

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Jas and Erin keeping an eye on Hala ❤ Photo credit: Adam Perrier

It was sad to leave our team mates behind – and I immediately felt their absence as Milton reminded me how much he hated being in the lead. Koda was not as perky as she had been on leg one, but she followed none-the-less. We struggled on this leg, it was not an easy one. It was hot and we were tired but we plugged on with endurance. Somehow we made it through at a pace of 11kph.

Our strappers met us at the line to take our gear and help us get the horses sorted. Milton vetted in at 39bpm and trotted out nicely. Koda came in at 43bpm – and trotted out terribly. The vet almost called a panel as he requested a second trot out. She was not lame, but she was tired. Erin and Koda were allowed to continue, but we were warned to take it easy and get some electrolytes in her.

Once back at camp we realised why Koda’s hydration was off and why she had drank so poorly on the second leg – she hadn’t eaten her feed and missed out on her electrolytes while we rested off leg one… Tasha had just finished her ride with Jayne, so she hurriedly mixed up a cup of electrolytes in yoghurt for us to syringe into Koda’s mouth. By the time we were saddling up we had managed to get her to drink a little of her molasses water.

 

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Photo credit: Denise Keelan – Erin and Koda after the first checkpoint on Leg 2

Erin and I had a very stop and start third leg as we sooked, babied and shoved Koda through the final leg. She is a stubborn little mutton and when she is tired (even a little) she will plant her little hooves and refuse to move. Somehow we managed to convince her to push on and got her home again – this time she vetted through with her first well behaved trot out, though I am not sure if it was because she was too pooped to fight or if it was Erin’s dad refusing to let her run him over!

That’s when it hit me. The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, excitement, joy – knowing I’d trained these horses and they’d made it through 100kms! I had come back from the despair of losing my horse and feeling like a failure to this – two horses solely trained by me completing a big ride successfully. It was pure amazement, happiness and relief.

Milton was open and Rob and I were both so happy. Koda and Erin were well into their Novice status with two down and one ride to go. Although Hala hadn’t completed we were relieved to know the cause of the problem so we could avoid it in the future – and he was well recovered before we had even finished our ride. All was sunny, all was good – onward to Kilkivan!

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My very first Yellow Book!

Hang up the hang ups

I fathomed in the space of a second that he was up to his flanks with both hind legs and a front under the grid – then I was looking for something to knock him out with – I faintly remember Spencer or Erin screaming something. Or maybe I was the one who was screaming as I realised there was no possible positive outcome in all of this.

I’d never been to the iconic Murrumba Magic 100km before and I will never forget my first time and all that happened before we got there. I try to focus on the positives rather than the negatives of the experiences but for the purpose of telling the story I kind of have to paint the whole picture!

A few weeks before the ride, we had moved some of our horses to a new paddock not far from home. They had lived there previously and it was a lovely paddock full of grass surrounded by cane fields and a gate close to a road for us to access. Unfortunately, we had a little issue with fences – someone kept opening our gates. We had managed to catch the horses before any trouble came about when it had happened the first couple of times, but the third time was a complete disaster and happened on the morning we had planned to travel to Murrumba. Here’s the story.

Erin had stayed the night as we were planning on an early morning and her dad was going to meet us there. Jas and her dad were also making the trip while Spence and I towed the three horses down to the ride with our float and ute. The night before, Erin and I had meticulously packed down to having the three horses we were taking in the back yard with their halters and leads hanging on the fence and their morning feeds ready. It was fantastic. I went to bed with a feeling of complete preparation!

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Packed and ready!

At 3.30am my phone buzzed. I ignored it at first thinking it was just an email alert, but when it buzzed again  and again a few moments later I was awake and decided to have a look. An urgent post had been put up on the local equestrian Facebook page saying there were four horses loose around the corner from my house – and the descriptions matched some of my horses!

I was up, dressed and in the car, float in tow, within minutes, racing around to the paddock and past the spot the loose horses had been seen on my way, but I saw nothing! At the paddock, the front gate leading to the road was closed, but there were three more that led into the cane fields so in I went with the float and ute, racing along the cane rows and praying that the horses had just turned around and gone home. There were still three others in the paddock if four were loose – and yes, there they were! Near the dam, sleeping under the trees were three of my geldings dozing – but my stallion, his old companion and two geldings were no where to be seen. But the gate in the far corner was indeed open – it almost looked like someone had driven over it.

I drove along the lane way in the direction that they had been spotted and prayed that I’d see them grazing in the cane fields, but they weren’t there. By this point I decided to alert the troops and darted home to wake Spencer and Erin. With both of them along we went back out to search. It was starting to get lighter when I saw Mister, my sister’s stock horse gelding, strutting up and down a fence across the road from the farm they were paddocked at. He looked in a panic, where were the others? Then it hit me – he was pacing back and forth next to a cattle grid, and the other three horses were on the other side of it.

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Mercy, a week before the “ordeal”

There was no way around that grid, it was a fenced in driveway – the only way those horses had crossed it was by walking or jumping. Thankfully the property was owned by a family friend who happened to be the man we were agisting with so I knew there was a little walk down the driveway, two gates to pass through and maybe an awkward conversation with the tenants about why we were there, but it was a safe route nonetheless. But just as I was climing across the grid myself, Mercy, the big mare, decided she’d had enough of that side of the and walked straight back across it! I panicked for a moment, but her big dinner-plate feet served her well and she walked straight up to Spencer and Erin who were standing by holding Mister on a lead.

My moment of relief was extremely short lived though, because Sizzy had a meltdown on seeing Mercy walk away and decided to follow her on his much daintier and slimmer legs! He made it half way before he fell through it and without thinking I leapt on him, fighting with all of my 55kg to hold him down and stop him from struggling and breaking his legs. I fathomed in the space of a second that he was up to his flanks with both hind legs and a front under the grid – then I was looking for something to knock him out with – I faintly remember Spencer or Erin screaming something. Or maybe I was the one who was screaming as I realised there was no possible positive outcome in all of this.

Suddenly I was flung out of the way as Siri threw me off his head. I don’t know how he did it, I don’t know how it was possible, but he was up and he was out and he was running to Mercy. My brain was in such a state but I heard hooves behind me and then I was up, untying my jumper from my hips and wrapping it around Jett’s neck as he too went toward the grid and his friends. I caught him in time though, thank goodness. He stopped, shoved me a little indignantly and then I dragged him the long way around through the gates – and all the while my mind was racing.

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Jett – the mischief man

I couldn’t look toward Sizzy as I led Jett away. All I kept telling myself was that he was up and if he could walk nothing was broken, he was okay! He was going to be alright! We got through the gate and Erin strapped a halter on Jetson – then I looked at Siri.

There was blood, it was gushing with every step he took from a cut above his hoof. There were grazes and small cuts all the way up to his flanks though none of them bled like that foot. It looked almost arterial, pulsing blood every time he took a step. My favourite jumper – a blue cookie monster one that I call my “lucky jumper” – couldn’t contain the bleeding for more than a few minutes even though we had it folded almost four inches thick. My vet was called, but he was away at a conference so he had me call the vet at another clinic – who happens to be an endurance vet – and she was soon on her way to us but it would be a 45 minute wait at least! There was so much blood, but the legs weren’t bent at odd angles, everything looked as it should other than the surface trauma! What could I do? There were three other horses standing idly by the roadside and Sizzy was off his tree with hysterics. The float – the float was still attached to the ute!

We decided it would be best to keep Mercy – since she was his companion and would help to keep him calm – but the two geldings were a hazard as Sizzy paraded around dominantly and consequently gushing more blood out of his foot while the adrenaline ran high. Jas and her dad arrived, they and Erin loaded Mister and Jett up and took them back to the paddock, Spence went to wire up the open gate, and help arrived for me in the form of my amazing rescuer Abbie. Seeing my appeal for help on Facebook, she arrived with bandages and cloths to help stem the bleeding while we waited for the vet.

Much of what happened is a blur to me, I’ve listed the important stuff but I could have things very much all over the shop as far as order goes! I remember talking to Rob, Milton’s owner, who did a good job of calming me down as I screeched about all of the blood coming out of the wound. Somehow he managed to convince me that legs always bleed badly, especially right above the hoof, which echoed what the vet had told me. I was far too hysterical to be thinking rationally when I spoke to her though!

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All patched up and considering some hay

After talking to Rob who was waiting for us at Murrumba, we had decided that if the vet visit would take us past a certain time, Adam would float the three horses and the girls to Murrumba, then Spencer and I would follow when we were able. If I was at all in a safe enough mental state to attempt the ride at all!

When the vet arrived I was much calmer – and so was Siri. Once the geldings had been taken away he had settled down, then I think the pain kicked in because he stopped prancing about and shrieking, opting instead to stand over my shoulders and rest his foot while I sat between his knees and Mercy grazed nearby. The vet took quick stock of Siri’s condition and gave him a painkiller then asked whether he’d been tetanus vaccinated – the grid was rather rusty. Thankfully, I’d kept him up to date with that jab!

The vet showed me how to wrap the leg and the layers of items to use to keep it from slipping and getting dirty, then gave me a week long supply of antibiotics. He’d need a needle twice a day. Abbie came to my rescue again and offered to visit and check on him while I was away at the ride – she really was my hero that weekend! She got plenty of practice with needles too, which was a new thing for her. Our friend Maddie came out and taught her how to do it, then she was on her way. Thankfully Siz is gentlemanly and behaved himself for them despite the needles. I couldn’t ask for better friends, I have so many amazing ones!

With Sizzy in safe hands, all three of the paddock gates wired shut and time to spare, we were ready to put the three endurance horses on the float and head to the ride. The three halters neatly lined up on the fence were popped on and the horses stepped aboard kindly. It was almost like they knew I’d had my fill of stress for the day.

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A week later, on the mend and playing with the hose!

But my stomach was still in a knot and even when we were on the road there I said to Spencer that I didn’t feel right; so much had gone wrong; we should just go home and be glad that the worst hadn’t happened; lets not ask for trouble by going to the ride. He shook his head – No, we were going. The three horses in the float were ready. They were eating, drinking, calm and happy – there was nothing wrong with them, they had no idea what had happened and there was nothing that would give us reason to go home. Time to hang up my hang ups. Get my head in the game – get on with the ride.

Golden Child

In 2010 my stallion, Siri Mahali was born. At barely a month old, Sizzy suffered an injury which left him incapable of being anything but a paddock ornament and breeding horse. He was my very first foal, I was there from his first day and I’d fantasized of the day I’d break and train him myself for endurance – so to say I was devastated would be an extreme understatement. When I came to grips with the loss of my dreams, I settled for one day riding his foals. It would be a distant future, with little choice but to wait – then, a year after his accident Sizzy’s half brother, Amir Halo (Mizzy as we call him) was born to one of my favourite mares, owned by some dear friends of mine. I was there the day he was born, but I had no idea what the future would hold.

Jump forward four years and Mizzy has been mine a year. My friends decided they couldn’t manage the stifle lock that he had developed as a youngster and gave him to me – with that my dreams came rushing back! Starting my own baby horse, taking him through his first ride, getting him through his first 40’s and 80’s, dreaming of the day he’d be old enough to do a Quilty.

When I first got him, he’d spent a few weeks with a breaker who had an untimely accident with a different horse and cut short the training he’d started. In the end it was just as well since I felt Mizzy was still a big baby at only three years old. So I didn’t continue his education and opted for turning him out with his brother and my other young ones to grow. It ended up being a good thing because he grew another three inches and became a bit broader. He was just as sweet as his brother, they look very alike except for their different shades – one fiery chestnut, the other glistening gold.

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Maloo Vale Siri Mahali and Maloo Vale Amir Halo

It was July of 2015 and Mizzy was about to turn four, so it was time to see if he remembered any of the things Malcolm had taught him. Having had so much trouble with Koda’s teeth with her bit as she aged from 3 to 5 I decided to avoid the issue altogether and started Mizzy in a rope halter. Malcolm had said Mizzy was one of the smartest horses he’d worked with, he was clever but cheeky too – time would tell if it would all come together.

So it began, day after day of pressure and release, pressure and release; left and right, left and right; back and step forward, back and step forward. He remembered it all – Malcolm was right.

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First time aboard!

Within a week I was riding the little scamp around the regular training tracks, bareback at first and then we graduated to a saddle. The stifle lock would disappear once we were on the move – after consulting my vet he suggested that warming up before vetting in at a ride would be beneficial and there was no reason Mizzy wouldn’t make a strong riding horse. So, I was riding my golden pony,  my dreams were coming to life! Where would we go first? Well, there was a ride at Widgee in three weeks – why not start there!

So we decided to load up the float and take Mizzy, Milton and Sally to Widgee for a slow and steady 20km. After Sally’s unfortunate vet out at Rockybar I thought it would be a good idea to try her at a shorter distance and it was only a fortnight since Biggenden so a quiet short ride was just what we were looking for! Along for the ride was my little sister for her very first endurance ride.

It was a long one, Mizzy was barefoot and bitless but he took it all in his stride and we babied him around the 20km track. He’d been under saddle for three weeks and his first entry in his logbook was a completion – what more could I ask for? Well, a completion for Sally was icing on the cake. My sister was over the moon and wanting more. There was more than one funny moment – the best being captured by Kevin Coppalotti at the creek crossing! I remember Milton balking slightly and then slowly wading in and across, I followed in closely behind with Mizzy who just glided through gently. We were almost the whole way through when I heard a shriek and then I was covered in water as Sally, in a panic thinking she was being left behind, leapt into the water and caught my sister off guard. The photos were priceless and I couldn’t ask for a funnier memory!

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Splash! Photo by Kevin Coppalotti

It was the start of a long journey with the golden child, it is still going even now and I hope one day that those dreams I dreamed will be real. Even if I’m not the one in his saddle, I will be so proud to have played a part in making it happen.

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Mizzy all calm at the creek! Photo by Kevin Coppalotti
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Chintzia and Sally on track
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Another one of my artsy fartsy horse-scapes
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Milton and Adriana – Photo by Kevin Coppalotti

Something wonderful

Next up on our calendar for the year was one of my favourite tracks – Biggenden. The ride has never been run over the exact same trail, every year is new! What did Sue have in store for us this time? The last thing our horses wanted – a bloody big hill…

Here at home we don’t have hills. Not real hills, they’re more like gentle slopes really, so our horses tend to struggle on the hillier tracks and we have to slow down a good deal and take care of them through the tough parts. Most of the Biggenden track was undulating and good under foot which is a lot like what we train for, but that hill – oh lordy that hill…!

We had four horses in the 80km – Jasmine riding her horse Hala, Adriana with Sam, Erin on Koda and myself with Milton. We also happened to meet a new rider in our area who we managed to help along to the ride with her horse – her name was Kat and her little mare is Vegas. They were entering the 40km so we would begin a bit earlier.

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I believe Jas was singing and dancing at this particular point..?

Before we vetted in, Adriana and I clipped Sam and left a snowy patch of white hair in his yard which Revan (my dog) found to be such fun to play in. After a quick brush we vetted in and decided to go on a quick pre-ride. It was a lovely afternoon, Spencer and Erin’s dad, Craig, got the fire going and we all huddled around before heading off to the Biggenden pub for our customary pre-ride dinner.

The next morning we rolled out of bed in the dark to the thrilling rustle of horses hooves and the clinking of saddles and bridles. It was foggy and freezing! Adriana, Erin and I were all rugged up – gloves, light jackets, face masks, anything to stay warm! No one really takes notice of one another as we saddle up, its usually so cold you can only focus on your task of getting your horse ready to go and trying to remember where you hid your gear to save it from the dew. Once we’re all aboard and a little warmer and awake we start to pay a little more attention and one thing that got us all gasping was Jasmine in her t-shirt! We all had a laugh and tried to convince her to put on her jacket, but she insisted she was fine and we all shuffled away giggling in the darkness with Adam waving us off.

In those days, with novice horses and novice riders to take care of, we would wait until the front runners were well and truly gone before we trotted out of the gate. Milton’s owner, Rob, was there cheering us on as we buzzed out. We were all eager – it was Erin’s first 80km and Adriana’s last novice (she had completed an 80km in between Biggenden and Blackbutt) I was quietly stewing about the hill we had been warned about at pre-ride talk. Hills were not Milton’s strong suit at that point!

We got a good rhythm going, jogging along nose to tail like we did in training in the order we knew our horses to be most comfortable – Jasmine out front, then Adriana, followed by Erin and then myself at the back where I could keep an eye out on the juniors. We were making a decent time, the track had a couple of boggy crossings that had us laughing as Milton minced through them trying to avoid getting his feet wet! It was not long after we had hit a turnaround point that a story we have re-told many times since occurred which included a random bush dunny – I was not busting enough to use it, but one of us was, I won’t say who…!!

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Biggenden 2015

After much laughing and hysteria and shrieking we were once again on our way and after passing a distance marker we all clicked that “the hill” must be coming up soon. We spotted the bent up and twisted gate that the cows in the paddock had blasted through while the track was being marked – a sure clue to how close we were to “the hill” – Rob had been part of the track marking team and had told us the story so we were fore-warned.

Then it was in front of us. Adriana and I had been singing at the top of our lungs, sufficiently embarrassing Jas and Erin enough to keep our moods up, once I saw the hill I was on enough of a high to think ‘hey, it’s not as big as Sue said!’

It was. At least I was sensible enough to have kept Milton behind because he would have slowed everyone back to a walk within the first ten metres if we had been in the front! As it was, Hala and Sam were seasoned vets and jogged up the hill steadily and cautiously enough, Koda was smart enough to bound up after them like a little deer – skinny legs springing left and right. Then came Milton, lumbering up and slowwwwwing dowwwnnnn. It was a long hill rather than a steep one, so we climbed and climbed and climbed steadily as the other three horses bounced up ahead of us.

The downhill was much easier, but just as steady as some of it was quite steep. Watching Koda scooting around I thought to myself that she was coping very well – I wondered what she would think when she got saddled up again for a second leg, it was going to be a learning curve for the perky little miss! At least she wasn’t throwing her back end at every horse that passed by now, she was learning.

We maintained a steady trot as we came in and smiled for the camera off to the side of the track – Kevin Coppalotti is one of my favourite photographers of all time and he took some amazing photos of us at the ride. My most cherished one is of Milton and I at Biggenden coming in off Leg 1 – my mum says I look like someone from S.W.A.T on a horse, Spencer says I look like we’re going to rob someone…

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Milton and I – coming in off Leg 1  Photo credit: Kevin Coppalotti

Leg 1 was finished in 3hr 38min, a sound 11kph which I was quite happy with. All three of the horses vetted through nicely and our strappers did a fantastic job. After a break and feed, we were all ready to saddle up and get back out. I would say “poor little Koda” but she didn’t seem at all worse for wear!

The second leg was the same loop we had already done, but the day was getting warmer so we tried to put a little more speed on – we didn’t dare push though, as much as we wanted to be out of the weather, we wanted to be sure of our horses more. It was uneventful until the hill rolled around the second time. I got off and led Milton for much of it and at the top I remounted. We had the opposite issue with Koda – she got to the top after bounding up and pooping herself out and then refused point blank to go back down! I think her little mind was ticking and she was not at all sure whether she would be expected to go out again. “Just in case,”she said, “I’ll wait here and you can collect me on your way back around!” Of course, that was not an option, so Erin dismounted and led her down a part of the way until Koda perked up and we continued.

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Still smiling! Adriana and Sam

The stall had made me worry though. I don’t know if Erin realised it or not but my mind was racing in a mad panic, watching Koda’s every move as she jogged beside Hala and the two riders laugh together – while Adriana and I rode behind, silently looking back at one another as unsure as ever if that was a hitch in Koda’s step we were seeing..

If there was anything, Erin wasn’t noticing it. She may have been new to endurance but she’d spent enough time on Koda to know when something is up with her. The fact that she wasn’t commenting on anything made me mentally tell myself off for stressing. I knew what the real issue was – my brain was cued onto Bart, this was my own little horse in her first 80km and my heart was in my stomach with worry for her, regardless of the fact that nothing at all seemed to be wrong with her.

We pushed on, it was getting hot and we were all starting to wilt in our saddles – there was the finish line. We jogged in, just like we always did in training, rode straight up to our strappers and weighed in. We dumped our saddles to be retrieved later and walked “calmly” to camp to strap and everything became a blur. Adam helped Jasmine, Craig helped Erin, Spencer was going back and forth between Adriana and myself as all four of us called for the heart rate monitor, the hose, towels or what ever else our horse needed. We must be an interesting group to watch, I wonder what we look like – I know what it feels like. It feels like fluid motion. We all know what our job is, what the goal is, what to do to achieve it and we just make it happen. A team.

I lost track of everyone, but at some point I know Jas and Erin left to vet in. We still had time and Sam was ready to go in but Adriana didn’t want to leave me as Milton’s heart rate wasn’t quite right. It took me a minute, but I realised he needed to pee. We whistled and walked him slowly but he was determined to hold it – time was up, we had to vet in. I walked beside Adriana to the vetting ring, Rob was waiting for us and as I explained that Milton desperately needed to pee so his heart rate would drop, he finally decided to do it – how weird are we endurance riders, worrying about whether our horses will pee! Rob patted me on the back and sent us in while he went and stood with Yvonne to watch us.

Milton’s heart rate had dropped and while the TPR’s did their checks I saw Koda and Hala trotting out and vetting through. It was a lift I needed – the last hair raiser for the ride was about to come. I walked up with Milton, the vet asked how we had gone and did his checks. We trotted up sound and as the vet gave us the all clear I turned around to see Sam jogging in with Adriana – and we were in complete shock as Adriana was asked to trot out again.

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Marvel Endurance

She was in a panic, worrying for her horse and stressing that Yvonne was on the sidelines watching too. She trotted out again, but her hand was too tight on Sam’s lead and he was sluggish – once more the vets wanted to see a third and final trot out, only three can be asked for. I took Sam’s lead and waved it at him to stir him a little. He wasn’t lame – but he was lazy! I ran beside him, clicking to him as I went. It wasn’t much better, he was determined to be stubborn, but the vets passed him and we went back to camp with raised heart rates of our own!

Yvonne laughed when I talked to her about it later. Sam is a smart cookie and had quickly wrapped Adriana around his little finger – that day put the fear of god into her, she wasn’t going to let that happen again!

We were very happy with the end to our Biggenden Adventure in 2015. Kat had completed the 40km with Vegas and all four of our own horses had vetted through. Jas and Erin had completed equal 9th Juniors and Adriana and I were equal 10th Lightweights, not that any of us considered numbers to be above the achievement of successful completions. It felt like something wonderful, being a part of a team that all worked for the same goal and helped one another along the road. Endurance can be as much a solo sport for anyone, but when you’ve had a team alongside and behind you – there is nothing quite like it.

 

Firsts and lasts

“Sam, is that a guy or a girl?” Well, he’s a tall and handsome New Zealander, with short spiky hair, usually it is fully shaved off! He’s started to grow it out now, but I like it that way – it makes his face look a little less… long?

Blackbutt. We were back again, this time it was Adriana and I going out on the 80km together, Jasmine being swamped with school work hadn’t been able to make it so we were going to head out in the dark just the two of us.

It was a ride full of firsts and lasts. My last ride as a novice (hopefully!), Milton and Adriana would both attempt their first 80km, Koda was on her second 40km with her young rider, chaperoned by an experienced team, and we had a new addition – Sam.

Now, you’re reading this saying “Sam, is that a guy or a girl?” Well, he’s a tall and handsome New Zealander, with short spiky hair, usually it is fully shaved off! He’s started to grow it out now, but I like it that way – it makes his face look a little less… long?

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Sam sampling some sugar cane out on a ride with Spencer

Yes, Sam is a horse – Willowvale Sirahh or Rahh as we sometimes call him. His name changes depending on whether he has ripped another rug, lost another hood or pulled another freshly nailed shoe recently. He’s got quite the talent with each let me tell you! He was a seasoned campaigner who’d had a few odd vet outs until abscesses showed their ugly faces and he was put out in the paddock to rest. Since she had young horses coming up, his owner had left him to relative retirement – then I put out word looking for a quiet ride for Adriana and Yvonne came to my rescue again.

If he was half as awesome as Haze, Sam would not disappoint. I was excited to meet him, but the week before I was due to pick him up disaster struck again – we had an accident in my new ute which saw it completely written off. In the short term, I had no way to get Sam home for Adriana to get to know him before the ride, when Milton’s wonderful owner stepped in and offered to take me out and get him. I couldn’t ask for better friends, I really couldn’t!

At first glance I thought Sam was a twin of Jasmine’s horse, Hala. He really is a cheeky devil, lures you in with his polite and perky manner, his gentlemanly attitude – and then uses you as a scratching post. It was the start of something very special, little did we know how special!

blackbutt3The Blackbutt ride loomed, we found a way to get the horses there, we were ready to ride. Adriana was nervous but we rode off into the afternoon excited in spite of the nerves! I’d last ridden the track solo for the better part of the ride, I’d looked at nothing because I’d been so keen to get through as quickly as I could so that Haze and I could be done and dusted before midnight – but this time was different. This time I had a novice horse to take care of, his first two leg ride which would surely prove a struggle for his mental state. This time I had Adriana to keep me company and we had absolutely no idea what to expect from Sam – slow and steady was the order of the day.

We plugged along at a steady pace. Halfway through our first leg we passed Koda and Erin trotting along behind their chaperones, Kellie and Noname. We waved and continued past – all seemed to be going well. We got the first leg finished in 3hrs 50mins – would we vet through? Why yes, yes we would! Sam was breezing through and Milton was happy to be finished – poor boy, he had no idea what was coming…

Koda came in and vetted while Adriana and I were having a break before the next leg. Spence and Erin’s dad left to strap the little horse and help her rider vet in while we quickly ate and started to saddle up for the second leg. Milton screwed up his nose when he saw the bridle again but he took it and we were off into the darkness. As we rode to the time gate we saw the crew walking back from vetting with Koda – thumbs up, all good! With that little boost in our minds we had a little extra spring in our step as we trotted off down the road.

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Sam and Adriana – out on the first leg

It was slower going for the second leg, my poor Milt was struggling a little with the whole idea of going out again, while Sam was still as keen as a bean to get going – Yvonne had warned us that he was quite insensible of his limitations and would need to be told to take it easy, so we slowed right down until he was in a better headspace and began to move along next to Milton more steadily. As the inevitable fatigue started to kick in, we started telling jokes and singing at the top of our lungs in the darkness to keep our spirits up and the horses active. There was a group of riders behind us that we could hear but not see – they must have thought we were crazy!

We pulled in after finishing the second leg at about nine and a half kilometres per hour, quite a bit slower than the first leg but we made it – time to strap! We felt hot and we didn’t notice the chill in the air but luckily our strapper in chief did and threw rugs on our horses hind quarters while we took heart rates and gave them a light sponge down. We were ready to vet in!

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Happy chappies the day after

I was pretty sure of Milton, he was tired but he still felt strong. It was Sam I was curious about, and as I watched him trot my worries blew away – Adriana was through her first 80km and she was over the moon!

We all headed off to bed as soon as we saw the horses rugged, fed and watered. The track had been undulating and rocky compared to what we were used to at home so we were feeling the energy drain! The next morning we collected our completion prizes, grabbed our customary hot chocolate and headed home – a 100% completion weekend at Blackbutt, what more could we ask for! Milton and Adriana were a ride into novice, Sam was off the 13 month rule and back on the right track – and I’d realised my three year goal. I finally made it to Open.

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Rough Going

I remember a loud cracking sound, and I remember the feeling of my foot bending in a way it shouldn’t be expected to. I remember realising what was happening as I fell into the newly dug and uncovered fence post hole. The front half of my foot had almost made it over, another inch and I might not have even known the danger.

Earlier in the 2015 I had offered a young girl the opportunity to try endurance, riding my then 5 year old Arab Connemara mare, Ardair Skoda. The two of them got along very well and they came along so nicely in training that we planned for them to start in their first 40km at Rockybar, where I planned to do my next 80km with the new horse we had in training.

Haze went home on the 28th of March. I was heartbroken, but I knew that it was just too easy to keep riding the seasoned horse while the young ones stayed fat in the paddock so I had to remove the temptation. It isn’t like I would never see Haze again, he would be at Rockybar in preparation for the 50th Tom Quilty later in the year.

We had gotten into the year with one hell of a swing, things were going pretty damn well! I was two rides through novice, Jas had made it through her first 80km completion at Cooyar, Adriana had made a brave call on Sally at the ride and I couldn’t imagine a better outcome – the future was looking bright! Little did I know that things were going to come crashing down around my ears in a short space of time.

On the 29th of March, my friend brought me her big mare to bring back into work for her to ride. During the night I heard a bit of a commotion down at the paddock, so I grabbed my little torch, slipped into my flip flops and went for a walk down to check on the new mare. When I got to the lane I walked along with my torch up at eye level, searching the long grass for the three mares that were in the front paddock. I wasn’t worried, what ever the cafuffle was about had clearly passed but I did wonder where they had got to. I was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.

I remember a loud cracking sound, and I remember the feeling of my foot bending in a way it shouldn’t be expected to. I remember realising what was happening as I fell into the newly dug and uncovered fence post hole. The front half of my foot had almost made it over, another inch and I might not have even known the danger.

I don’t remember screaming but apparently I did because Spencer found me very quickly and managed to get me to the hospital. There was several hours of waiting despite the fact that the waiting room was empty, only to find out that it would not be possible to get x-rays done until the following day (gee, they don’t have an x-ray operator around at 11.30pm and it took two hours to say so?) So after I was finally given a decent pain killer I was sent home with a note to return for an x-ray in the morning – I knew what came after that and it was not going to happen and that was flat.

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Told you I wasn’t joking, mister plaster tech dude..!

I don’t like plaster casts. When I broke my shoulder in a riding accident as a 15 year old I developed a permanent aversion to them and consider them tools of torture. I would not wear a cast again. I even said I would cut it off as soon as I got home to the plaster technician as he wrapped my foot in a backslab. He must have thought I was joking because he laughed and said I wouldn’t as he merrily went about his business, telling me what an art plastering was. I have no doubt it is an art, I’m sure it is to those interested in such art – I am not one of those people however and it was off before the plaster was even cold, let alone dry!

I’m sure there are many people reading this and thinking I was crazy, so let me assure you. Being that I am an active person and an avid rider, my dear friends who are involved in the world of orthopedics, helped and guided me through the process as I could never have imagined. Thanks to their help and expertise, I was in fact back in the saddle for Rockybar, though not for the 80km as I’d hoped.

Adriana had managed to get Milton ready to do a 40km at the ride, Koda was ready to go with her young rider and as I had not been able to ride for weeks Adriana had organised for an acquaintance of hers to ride Sally along with them. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found out Sally’s rider was not coming.

It seemed a waste to have trained her up and traveled her to the ride only for her not to do it. So I decided I would do it myself! 40kms after not riding for six weeks? Piece of cake!

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On track, Rockybar!

Thankfully, Sally is a very smooth ride, I could sit to her trot for most of the distance and her canter is wonderful too so the impact of my broken foot was minimal. Sally was also much more settled than she had been at Cooyar so we did manage to have a very good ride! At least, up until Koda and Sally decided to have a go at one another, that is… Their kicks met in mid air and I’m not even sure if Koda got much of it, at the time we didn’t think Sally had as she settled back down and charged on. But when we got to the last water trough roughly three kilometres from ride base, something didn’t feel right. We had stood still at the trough for just a few minutes but it was enough to bring out a stiffness and I felt Sally’s stride wasn’t quite right for a short stretch until she warmed back up.

We came back into base slowly and strapped. Sally’s heart rate dropped nicely but I could see now that she was cooled off that her usually high step was lagging and my heart sank as I knew she was lame. Here came my first vet out, but at least it wasn’t a surprise one.

The TPR took Sal’s heart rate at 44 and I watched as Koda and Milton were vetted in along side us, then walked slowly over to the waiting vet who smiled and asked how we had gone. I told her the truth, my little mare was lame. She smiled again and asked what had happened and why I thought Sal was lame as she went through her parameter checks and I told her about the on-track biff between my two crazy mares.

“Well, lets just give her a little trot out to be sure!” Ingrid said, so I jogged a few meters with my little perlino high stepping beside me until I decided we’d showed that clear-as-day head bob enough. I turned around and walked Sally back and Ingrid gave her a pat as we left the ring – vetting out doesn’t hurt as much when you know it’s coming, but it still isn’t a nice feeling. Thankfully Sal was as sound as a bell within the week.

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Adriana and Erin, on track at Rockybar

On the up side, Koda and her rider, along with Milton and Adriana, all vetted through successfully and with good heart rates. Koda apparently was no worse for wear after the kick-fest. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose. She’s one of “those” horses – you know, those ones that can walk through a tensioned 5 strand barbed wire fence without moving a hair? Those ones that can gallop through a paddock full of mines and not land on a single one. Nine lives, that one… Unlike myself who falls in random holes in the driveway in the dark!

But I was back on my horses, I could ride again. The rough going seemed to be gone – next stop? Well, we were going back to Blackbutt!