Road to Rockybar – Part 2

So, it had already started out being rather a traumatic experience in our efforts to attend the 2016 Rockybar ride. My poor dog was hit by one of our cars, and by some miracle was remarkably unscathed by the incident. My brother missed the turn to Biggenden and almost took us to Woolooga (again). And now here we were, waking up in our tent early the next morning after the disaster of having one of our floats come loose from the car towing it.

Surely that was enough, right? Nothing else, please!

We checked and rechecked the newly repaired towball assembly, and checked again for good measure. The tents were re-packed, the yards disassembled and the horses were ready to load up and make the last half of our journey to the ride base. Koda and Mizzy loaded back into the float without hesitation, after the fright they’d gotten the night before I had worried it wouldn’t be an easy conversation. Sirahh then charged up the ramp and Bec tied him in while I came up with Vegas. I handed the lead to my sister who took her up the ramp, but she balked halfway up and refused to budge – here was the mistake.

As I came up the ramp beside her, Sirahh’s ears went back and Vegas’s attitude suddenly changed – rather than accepting the hand I put on her hip, she threw her head up and lashed a hind foot out, catching me in the thigh.

I’ve been kicked before, but never by a shod horse. There was now a beautiful impression of a Blue Pegasos shoe tread in the middle of my thigh. I didn’t even have the protection of pants, the shorts I wore were absolutely zero help. At my yelp of pain Sirahh decided to remember his manners and Vegas went the rest of the way up into the float. Trying to ignore the throbbing I put the tail gate up, limped to the front of my ute and got in before the pain could stiffen my leg. Yeah, not liking my chances of doing that 80km. Mum didn’t even realise what had happened until we were well on our way to Gayndah and I could feel the bruise tightening my skin.

A little over an hour later we stopped for fuel in Eidsvold and I came to a very painful realisation that considering my inability to walk without looking rather like a one-legged seagull, riding was not going to be possible either. I’d rather have had a twisted ankle. My sister would have to ride, but she was only eligible for the 40km so she would go along with Kat and Bec.

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Bec and Mizzy at pre-ride vet in   Photo credit: Sarah Sullivan

Surely that was the last thing that could go wrong, right? Oh, no no no. Not off the hook quite yet…

We arrived at ride base with barely enough time to nominate and vet the horses. It was a mad rush, but somehow it was done and the riders were soon off to pre-ride talk. It was an evening ride so at least we’d all be able to sleep that night before the drive home the next day. That is what I love about night rides, the knowledge that even if you start a bit warm, it’ll only get cooler and when you are finished – bed awaits! No packing to head home straight away! A few hours of quiet, a nice breakfast, then pack up and head home. Ahh, all was good now except for the fact that I had to hobble around rather than walk or run.

Kat was going for her third 40km, Bec and Chintzia both for their second and Adriana was attempting to do her first ride of more than 80km by attempting to finish the full 100km elevator. The horses were all fighting fit and the stop over clearly hadn’t done them any harm. With luck (which we so far hadn’t had much of) all would be finishing the ride successfully! There didn’t seem to be any reason to expect otherwise.

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The riders were off in the late afternoon. Mum and I waved them all off with Adriana’s dad there to film her departure in the elevator ride. We went back to camp to sit down and have a cuppa – the 40km wouldn’t be in for another 3 hours, so it was going to be a nice quiet evening! And so it was for a time.

My brother decided to go out exploring, though I insisted that he stick to the main driveway – he went off in his ute and I didn’t expect him back for a while – but no sooner had he driven off that he reappeared in a bit of a fuss. He was clearly trying to be calm, but he sucked at calm as he told my mum and I to get in the car. What the hell was going on?

The training riders had been out for barely two hours – and yet there was my younger sister sitting on a chair by the amenities block with the first aid crew clustering around her. She’d fallen off and just been returned to camp by the driver of a car who had happened along the moment after the accident. Mum went a bit crazy, but my stoic little sister wasn’t even crying, more than anything she seemed annoyed!

The source of the annoyance soon became apparent – the nurse at the first aid station was insisting that an ambulance be called and my sister was having none of it, even though she wasn’t at that point able to walk. She explained that Koda had shied at a lizard or some other such creature and she had been flung into the dirt – which is rather like hitting concrete at speed, especially when it hasn’t rained in a while! Her right hip and taken the most of the impact and she was having trouble stretching the leg out to walk – the fact that she couldn’t weight bear made everyone panic. Except me, I didn’t panic. I know how it feels to have a broken bone and this was not a child with a broken leg.

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My mum hadn’t up till then ever dealt with a broken bone herself and no matter how much my sister and I tried to make her understand that the amount of pain she would be in if her hip was broken, she was too manic to listen. My sister was desperate not to go to the hospital, which was an hour away, but my attention was drawn away from the situation by the arrival of Koda on the rescue float. I left my sister arguing her cause against the well-meaning first aid crew and our anxious mum while I went to deal with the horse and the withdrawral. Yep, I was going to have to run the pocket rocket out and I was still more than a little lame myself!

Koda waltzed off the rescue float like bratty little princess she is, completely oblivious to the ruckus she had caused and without a care in the world. I took her heart rate and led her straight in to vetting after pulling off her gear. As I stood by while the vet took her heart rate, I looked up to see my sister, arms folded, hobbling over to us. Still no tears, just a jut of determination in her jaw as she buried her face in Koda’s neck and said she would not go to the hospital.

I had to laugh – everyone was arguing that she had to go because she could have fractured her hip, their argument for it being that she couldn’t walk – yet here she was, determined not to let them win. I finished up with Koda and while we made her comfortable for the afternoon I told my sister to just go and get in the ambulance – no one was going to let it go otherwise! She grumbled and groaned and stropped about it, but in the end she went.

I told my brother and my mum not to let Adriana know what had happened, I didn’t want to upset her or distract her – the last thing she needed was to worry about Chintz while she was out there on track. Unfortunately, Adriana’s dad didn’t get the memo. When she came back into camp after vetting for the first leg she noticed Koda was in her yard, but she didn’t ask what was going on – the usual routine is strap, vet, then take care of the rider so she was sticking to that when Gary unfortunately mentioned that Chintzia had been taken to hospital in the ambulance earlier. Ooops..!

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Adriana and Sirahh on Leg 1

Thankfully she didn’t let it shake her, I told her I was heading into Eidsvold to pick mum and Chintz up later. Adriana saddled Sirahh back up and they headed out on the second leg. Bec and Kat came in off the trainer while I was on the road to town and both were through successfully. I almost hit a very pretty looking spotty pig in the dark on the way back to ride base, which I can still see perfectly clearly in my minds eye even now – it really was a pretty pig! And thankfully nothing else untoward happened. It seemed the bad luck was at an end.

Endurance – I always took it to refer to the event itself, the training that it takes, the care and dedication, to complete. But after that ride and all it took to get there, I came to the conclusion that “endurance” is all encompassing. In the end we made it and the horses did well.

Koda was written in as a withdrawral – funnily enough it says “withdrawn on track at rider’s request” in her logbook which makes my sister snort when she flicks through and sees it. The hospital visit incidentally had turned up nothing, the doctors didn’t x-ray her hip since she could hobble around even without pain medication so they deemed it not worth the risk. In the end she was sent back to ride base with the instruction to stay out of the saddle for at least a fortnight, and that was about it!

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Another successful completion for an awesome pair

Adriana chose not to elevate at the 80km mark, she had dealt with severe pain in her side for much of the second leg so she opted to take her completion and rest. Unfortunately that meant she missed out on meeting her goal of doing her first 100km ride – that would shortly be rectified, but she was a little disappointed at the time anyway.

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The first of many well deserved awards

Kat and Bec both finished the 40km. That qualified Bec to start riding 80kms as a Novice, but it was only Mizzy’s first season so he wasn’t quite there yet. She would go on to take him to another 40km before they stepped up in distance. Kat was now contemplating 80km rides with Vegas too, especially after being awarded the Best Managed rug in the training ride!

When life gives you lemons – make lemonade. We endured the long road to Rockybar that year and we were determined to not let anything stand in our way from then on. This sport takes grit and determination, not just from the horses but from the riders and crew too. We were bound for Biggenden next with our horses, which would have something new for us in store. But before that, Kilkivan was going to teach Bec and I a lesson or two..!

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Road to Rockybar – Part 1

If it had been a flat we would have been speedily back on the way, but no, this was much much worse. The A-frame of the float was hanging, suspended barely inches of the ground by the chains and the towball was also hanging!

The trip to Rockybar was one that I will never forget in a hurry. In 2015 we had gone for the first time and it was lovely – except for the two hour detour when Spencer missed the turn off to Biggenden and took us out to Woolooga before going back the right way toward Ban Ban Springs! But other than that, nothing untoward happened on our journey so it was overall a great trip! 2016 was much different. As far as success goes, we had 3 completions and a single withdrawal so it was good in that sense – but the road to Rockybar was horrendous in the extreme.

The plan was this – Bec and I, along with my mum and sister, would tow Vegas and Sirahh. My brother was towing Koda and Mizzy. Kat was meeting us at Rockybar, she had already left earlier. Adriana was also meeting us there with her dad the following day, they were spending a night on the road and would head out to the station from their motel the morning of the ride.

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Hitched back up at Ban Ban Springs

It all started before we had even gotten the horses on board when my brother was backing his Ranger onto one of the floats and he hit my dog. Sammy is a rather dopey old shepherd and he was not at all listening when I called the three dogs away – by the time we saw that he hadn’t come it was too late. By sheer luck he was saved by the gutter, the tyre seemed to have bounced over rather than actually going over his body. There was a lot of shrieking – from me and my mother and sister – and Sam looked battered as he hobbled toward me. Thankfully Bec kept a cool head and went to work checking all of his limbs and bones – nothing broken and no blood! Poor Sammy was very frightened, but Spencer arrived in time to keep him under watch – Rescue Remedy and a pain killer later and Sammy was snuggled up on his bed for the evening. Spence was not coming to Rockybar so he was under strict instructions to keep a close eye on Sammy and the vet was aware and on speed dial just in case. I was in a bit of a panic, I didn’t want to leave him!

But after all of the work that had gone into planning and with my long-suffering husband on hand to care for my poor Sammy, I got back to the job on hand. The horses were soon loaded with no further incidents and we were finally on the road – I had no idea how much things were going to go wrong otherwise I probably would have just stayed home!

It was almost dark when my brother, towing the float ahead of mine, drove straight past the Biggenden turnoff, just like Spencer had done the year before! We managed to flag him down and turn him around before we got to Woolooga at least, so there wasn’t a huge amount of time lost. We made it to Biggenden and decided to stop and pick up some drinks from the pub, but we were soon back on the road. Nothing major had happened so I was starting to feel a little more comfortable driving all the way out to the station. Bec and I were accompanied by my mum and sister so we were having a nice trip at least! Little did I know what was about to happen.

We reached Ban Ban Springs and the little service station that we always pass was there on the right. We would turn onto the highway and follow it for another hour before we finally reached Eidsvold. My brother was behind me, I looked at my mirror to check and I was comforted to see the ute and float following faithfully behind mine. We turned and continued along.

As we drove we sang to Taylor Swift and laughed and joked with eachother. We’d been going along nicely for about fifteen minutes when I saw the indicator on the car behind me flick on and begin to overtake – well, didn’t I get cranky! What was he doing? Overtaking me and my float with his ute and the two horses when we were easily doing the speed limit as we were? Why did he need to be in front? I knew where we were going, he didn’t! Then it dawned on me as the car went by – it wasn’t my brother’s ute, there was no float and worst of all, there were no lights behind me either.

I felt my heart stop, everyone in the car went quiet as we all registered that we were missing a driver, a Ranger, a float and two horses. Then there was a flash of mobile phones being pulled from handbags and pockets, but there was no use there – we had zero service. Bec sat beside me, calm as ever and told me to pick a nice spot to turn the float around so we could go back. I still don’t remember doing any of it – but somehow we were headed back toward the service station.

I was in a total panic, looking for the white ute and float upside down on the side of the highway and the screaming in my brain wouldn’t stop. But ten minutes later we saw them – my brother standing on the roof of his ute with his phone in the air trying to get service – and the car and float in perfectly normal condition. What the hell had happened?

We were soon very painfully aware of the hell that had happened. Ben was barely 200m from the intersection where I had last seen him and his car behind me, off the side of the highway now as one would park a car with a flat tyre – but there was no flat tyre. If it had been a flat we would have been speedily back on the way, but no, this was much much worse. The A-frame of the float was hanging, suspended barely inches off the ground by the chains and the towball was also hanging! It was still attached by the ball to the float, but the tongue was completely detached from the car!

What the hell. How did this happen? I was thanking my lucky stars that my mother hadn’t been in the car with him when it happened, Ben was clever enough to have heard the thud of the A-frame tapping his bumper bar as he had straightened from the turn and had slowed the car gradually so that it hadn’t suffered more than a small scratch – and the float was still upright, attached and the horses were fine. I cant remember exactly what we did after that but we somehow determined that the pin and clip that keep the tongue of the towball attached had somehow come out.

It was time to do something. I drove my float and horses back to the service station where my mum and sister unloaded them and I unhitched. Vegas and Sirahh happily mowed the small garden near the station while Bec and I went back to my brother where we somehow managed to get his towball off and the float attached to my ute instead. I do faintly recall a panic attack – Bec may be able to clarify it but I remember shaking and crying and freaking freezing cold in the middle of it all – seriously, why does she put up with me! We soon had the two floats and four horses safely off the side of the road and it was time to make a flurry of phone calls – with the almost non-existent phone reception!

I managed to get in contact with Spencer. He was on the road to us with a replacement pin but it would be a couple of hours before he even arrived – what could we do? It was well into the night now, even when he finally got to us we couldn’t keep driving out to the station in the middle of the night! I was exhausted, we were all a little more than frightened and stressed, and then there was Kat who was no doubt waiting for us to arrive with her horse at the ride base! We had to get a message to her, but how! Someone got a hold of Adriana momentarily, who then tried to contact the station. I don’t know if Kat ended up getting our message or not but she’s a hell of a lot more chilled than I would have been in that situation!

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We decided it would be crazy to push on through the night, so while we waited for Spencer we set up camp down a track well off the highway and yarded the horses for the night. They were happy, watered and fed and completely uncaring about the situation at hand. The humans on the other hand were all wondering what kind of crazy people camp on the side of the highway…

Spencer arrived and the boys fixed our towball issue. In their deliberations it was ascertained that the chains on the second float were a bit short and appeared to be the problem – they had popped the clip off allowing the pin to come loose. Check your chains and pins everyone! We ended up settling in for the night and after Spencer assured me that Sammy was totally fine at home, walking, eating and drinking normally, he stayed to sleep and would head out early in the morning to go home and head to work.

The next day was going to be as challenging as the first, but we couldn’t imagine anything worse happening. Surely we had more than our fill of bad luck!

 

To be continued in Road to Rockybar – Part 2

Far Far Away

Well, not very far actually. Far-A-Way is only about an hour and a half from home for us so it is one of the closer rides but over Easter weekend of 2016 I was still a bit daunted by the prospect of attending it – but attend it we did.

Rebecca and I were on the road to the ride on Saturday, with Kat following with her dad not long after. Adriana was away for the school holidays visiting her family so she offered Sirahh to Bec for the ride as we felt at the time that Mizzy wasn’t quite up to the hills of the hinterland just yet! So we had Rahh, Koda and Vegas in tow. It would be my first ride with Koda and what we hoped would be Bec’s second 40km.

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All set up!

To say I was nervous would be an understatement, Koda’s heart rates had not been wonderful of late and I was beginning to worry she had been over worked during the summer months. She was supposed to have done the mini-marathon but we had a last minute change in our plans which meant she no longer had a rider for it – and I was not mentally up for the challenge of doing it myself!

We vetted in on the Saturday afternoon and Rob told me to go and sit down and try to be calm. Koda’s vet in heart rate of 45bpm was nothing out of the ordinary for most horses, but it was just a couple of beats higher than Rob and I were used to seeing in her and he told me I needed to calm myself down – I had no trouble putting Koda’s anxiety back on myself. We did have a laugh when my friend’s dad, currently doing his TPR training, called a vet over to re-check Vegas’s heart rate – he had counted correctly but he couldn’t believe that her 29bpm was actually real!

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Time to get the mattress blown up

We planned for a nice quiet ride, but as usual Koda had other plans. In the middle of the night the cows in the paddock bordering the showgrounds decided to get up close to our campsite. They were over a fence and a distance that I and everyone else considered reasonable but this was not so for Koda who, upon hearing their snuffling and mooing at 2am in the morning, went into a complete panic and broke  out of her yard, tearing a picket from the damp ground and breaking strands of the wire which, being electrified, began to zap loudly against the wet grass. I heard the commotion and looked out to see her fly past so in the darkness I quickly found a jacket and marched out to retrieve my wayward horse. Fortunately the other two horses, while startled by their little friend’s mad dash and the zapping wire, were in no hurry to leave – so Koda had realised they weren’t going to blindly follow her and returned to them, panting and huffing indignantly about the cows as she stood there!

We initiated some quick repairs and were soon back in bed. The ride wasn’t to start until around 6am so we had more time to rest – though sleep was not coming easily for me. I was wide awake early enough to hear the marathon riders heading out down the road. Soon we were up and on our way – a minor wardrobe issue had us stopping for a few minutes but that was speedily sorted and we were back on track. Bec had so far only experienced a small section of the Kilkivan track and the 40km at Maryborough so the hills of Imbil were a bit of a shock to the system! We were traversing a leg that I was quite familiar with having done it a couple of times before. Our horses tend to struggle with it as we don’t have the chance to train on hills at home.

Kat and Vegas were out there for spot on 6 hours and they still weren’t the last to complete that 40km leg, she had slowed to keep company with another rider who was alone on track. We took it at a pace that we thought was rather quick, but in the end Bec and I finished in a little over four hours. Unfortunately things were about to go a bit pear-shaped.

Our electronic heart rate monitors had been going a bit haywire lately, or so we thought. Koda took longer to strap than usual, but her heart rate was still counted at 55bpm which was the absolute maximum limit that it could be and something that had never ever happened with her before. When the counting was done, Rob looked at me and said again, “You need to calm down.” It was easier said than done, I was in a bit of a mental panic now. Thankfully Koda trotted out soundly and we were passed, but unfortunately Sirahh was not. Upon closer inspection I realised that the boots we had fitted on him that morning had rubbed a small patch of his fetlock raw where a little bit of mud fever had shown and it was stinging enough to make him appear lame.

It stung me too. I’d made the decision to use boots that Rahh didn’t usually wear and it ended up costing Bec her completion which just made it all worse. As relieved as I was that Koda had vetted through I was upset and disappointed for Bec. We had hoped she would be ready to do an 80km with Mizzy at the upcoming Rockybar ride, but that plan would now have to be deferred – she would need that second 40km completion before it could happen.

Rockybar was a month and a half away. I decided to give Koda a couple of weeks to rest before bringing her back in for our first 80km of the year at the station ride. Adriana and I were preparing for the 80-100E, Bec would now ride in the 40km with Kat and Vegas rather than the open ride. We had no idea that it was going to end up being much more complicated than that! If I thought FAW had been tough on me mentally – I hadn’t seen anything yet! Rockybar was going to prove a real challenge but not for the reasons you would think!

Work of the Heart

Rarely do rides run with zero problems – our first was when my car decided to crap out the week before it with the track barely marked!

Late in 2015 I had been approached by the wonderful ladies who made up the hard-working committee of the Biggenden Endurance Riders Club. They had heard we had been talking about running a ride in our district and they generously stepped forward and offered to help us run one under their club banner.

It all became very real very fast. Within weeks we were scouting trails together, searching the forestry and negotiating with the management of our local facility and paperwork-paperwork-paperwork! For those of you who have not seen our Maryborough Park, there are few places like it. The majority of our endurance rides are run in small towns with varying levels of facilities on offer, but Maryborough is one of those that takes the cake. It is not purpose built for endurance – but it is pretty damn close! From the grandstands, centre ring, indoor arena, canteens and pavilions, toilet and shower blocks, wash bays and endless rows of stables and powered camp sites – the possibilities of the place blows my mind. I can envision a state championship, or even a Quilty taking place – the top two riders battling neck and neck for the finish after a 160km test of horsemanship, right down to the line as strappers scramble to manage the horses and bystanders cheer. The centre ring is flat, grassed and fenced – the perfect place for vetting or mounted best conditioned workouts. I can see the pavilions filled with excited happy riders and crews enjoying the night before a big ride. It is all there – someone just has to be willing to make it happen.

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In 2016 I was determined to run an awesome first ride and it gave me an amazing insight into just how much effort goes on behind the scenes at every single ride. There is nothing quite like putting in the time and effort to make a ride run like a well oiled machine – and the Biggenden ladies sure know how to make it happen! Within weeks we were on. It was early in the season and we had only a 20/40km ride – our expectation of maybe 30-35 riders was blown out of the water when we received a stunning 68 nominations.

Rarely do rides run with zero problems – our first was when my car decided to crap out the week before it with the track barely marked! We ended up borrowing another ute to tow the water trailer and rescue float and I scurried around the track in my husband’s beat up Subaru hoping not to get stuck anywhere. We somehow managed to finish marking the track the day before the ride and I still had six horses to check on. Rebecca and Mizzy were attempting their first 40km and my sister was also trying for her first with Sally. Jas, Erin and Adriana were riding along with them and Kat was taking her Vegas in the 20km.

I wont list everything that went wrong over those two days, it was one that gives you grey hairs! The successful completion of all of my horses and riders made it a great end for us. Being a ride organiser is a work of the heart. I realised in those weeks that it wasn’t just about the ride but about giving back to the sport, being involved, sharing my backyard and the scenery I get to enjoy here. Sharing is what I love about being in the horse world to begin with! I love to share horses with people – why not a ride too?

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Sue and Chatelaine having a whale of a time

It was later decided to retire Sally from endurance – while she did successfully complete, it was clear that she didn’t have the right personality for the sport, so my sister would graduate to a different mount for her future rides. Bec and Mizzy were pooped but ready for round two and Adriana had set her eyes on a 100km while I was dreaming of running an 80km. A bit over a year later that dream would come true, courtesy of my amazing friends in the Biggenden club.

The Rookie

Vets were terrifying – what if we vetted out? What if he was lame and I didn’t realise? What if his heart rate wouldn’t come down? What if I tripped over in the trot out and landed face first in horse poo? What if, what if, what if…

Rebecca Andrews

The first Kilkivan ride in 2016 marked the beginning of my endurance adventures. It was to be a year filled with laughs, excitement and the occasional tear. The 20km ride at Kilkivan was the first step on my road to discovering the shear beauty of endurance horse riding.

I have been fortunate enough to have horses a part of my life for as long as I remember but for the last 5 years; work, travel and university commitments meant that horses had been a much smaller part of my life than I would have liked. But 2016 was going to see all of this change and Kilkivan was just the beginning. I had been watching this sport from afar for about 2 years, via friends on Facebook who had starting travelling and competing in the sport. I had seen all of the gorgeous pictures of horse cantering along in their multi-coloured breastplates and bridles with the hills and bushland as the backdrop. I had seen the training videos and photos of friends out riding together and I had stalked the endurance Facebook pages reading everything I could about the sport.

After returning to Australia at the end of 2015 I knew that if I achieved nothing else in the next 12 months – I must find a way to complete an endurance ride. And then I met Victoria Clarke and all the pieces started coming together. She had horses, she rode endurance, she had a team of people to ride with, she had strappers, she had a float. She was everything I wanted in my new friend and teacher. And to make things even better she was going to allow me to ride “The Golden Pony”. It was teenage me’s greatest dream come true. It was going to be perfect!

So here we were, setting up yards and strapping water, nominating for the 20km, vetting our horses in the start the ride, tacked up and now ready to go. The excitement was palpable. I couldn’t wait to get out on track and see what this was all about for myself. My trusty steed “The Golden Pony” was ready to tackle his 3rd 20km, so in comparison he was a master of the trade. For me everything about this adventure was new, exciting, fresh – and to be honest a little terrifying. It wasn’t the riding part I was afraid of – that came pretty naturally. It was knowing where the track went – 20km was a long way – what if we got lost? It was the vetting process – vets were terrifying – what if we vetted out? It was the strapping process – what if he was lame and I didn’t realise? – what if his heart rate wouldn’t come down? – what if I tripped over in the trot out and landed face first in horse poo? What if, what if, what if?

Well today did not include any of my “what ifs??” There was of course a pace rider for the 20km who kindly led the way so no one got lost. The vets were of course lovely people and didn’t try to eat me in the vetting ring. The Golden Pony was well and truly fit enough to complete 20km and trotted along the track without a worry in the world. I didn’t trip in the trot out and although the day involved a healthy amount of horse poo – none of it ended up on my face.

So, in short, my first ever endurance ride was not only successful but it was also to be one of the most stress free rides I would probably even attend. There were no floating mishaps, no horses that escaped their yards, no camp to set up and no vet outs in our team. Little did I know that this would actually be one of the easiest events I would ever attend. I even got to go home and sleep in my own bed that night.

Looking back on this event now I realise that the pictures I had viewed on Facebook for the last 2 years, the websites I had stalked and the information I had read taught me very little about endurance. Sure they inspired me with their beauty and their glamour, their promise of adventure and excitement but they didn’t tell me about all the other bits. They say a picture says a thousand words but honestly there are probably 10,000 it doesn’t say.

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First 20km!

The pictures of horses cantering through the bushland with their ears pricked and their riders balanced neatly in their saddle tells something of the love and partnership shared between a rider and their endurance horse but it does not even scrape the surface. It does not show the tears of joy and relief when a horse completes a tough track and vets through after being panelled. It does not show the fear or the pain you feel when a horse pulls up lame on track and you have to call for the rescue float. It does not show the hours and hours of riding that went in to that horse to make those hind quarters strong and powerful or the hours of washing and scrubbing, conditioning and plaiting that went into making that white horse look less like a mud pony. It does not show the anguish of finding a horse lame in the paddock after he has done something silly overnight. It does not show the hours spent fixing holes in rugs and cleaning saddle cloths so your horse is protected and comfortable at all times. The pictures on Facebook had not done this sport justice. There was so much more to it, so much more to learn, so much more to experience. For me, most of this was yet to come. That night I would sleep soundly, thankful for the opportunity to complete my first ride, excited by my achievement and inspired to do more. I was training for a 40km – the longest ride I thought humanly possible at that point in time. I had work to do, I had much to learn and I had Marvel endurance to thank for it. For this rookie, the adventures were only just beginning.

 

 

 

Mizzy Wizzy

That road is a 100kp/h section so we tend to tread very carefully along there – what we do not usually have to take into account are people deliberately trying to frighten our horses! 

A few months ago I told the beginning of Mizzy’s story here in our blog post Golden Child. It was like a dream as we filled in the first page of his logbook with a string of A’s and 1’s barely three weeks after he was broken in, bitless and barefoot to boot.

It was not the end of Mizzy’s year however. The Kilkivan ride was coming up and we were all attending with our 80km horses – why shouldn’t we take Mizzy too? Well, as it happened, there was a lovely girl who was keen to do her first ride nearby! Kim came and rode Mizz a few times to get to know the little scamp and it was soon all settled. Mizzy’s first set of Blue Pegasos shoes went on the weekend before the ride and they completed the 20km sitting on the tail of the pace rider with straight A’s and 1’s yet again.

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Kim and Miz ready to vet in for the Kilkivan 20km

The golden pony had a few little tricks up his sleeve when we trained. He wasn’t without a pigroot in those days and certainly knew how to make things interesting for his rider when he got bored! He never really intended to get me out of the saddle when he kicked up his heels so the times I did come unstuck were in no way his fault.

The first fall came a week before his first ride at Widgee. The break in my foot had healed for the most part but I was still paranoid about hurting myself. We had done a nice 10km loop that brought us home along the roadside, passing the tennis courts as we went. That road is a 100kp/h section so we tend to tread very carefully along there – what we do not usually have to take into account are people deliberately trying to frighten our horses!

We go past the tennis courts regularly, so the horses don’t even blink as people run back and forth or the intermittent CLACK of the ball being hit, but that afternoon there was no one in sight bar one young boy, about 12 or 13 years old. Erin, Chintzia and I jogged down the street with Koda, Sally and Mizzy, minding our own business and I remarked on how good Mizzy had been that day and how well he was handling training. We had no idea what was about to happen.

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The big purple ball had not frightened Mizzy in the least, he had seen it and heard it hitting the ground as it bounced up and down and there wasn’t even the slightest bit of tension in him as we approached. Then the kid spotted us and for that split second I thought he had stopped bouncing to let us pass. But I was wrong. In that moment he had paused and held the ball still he had clearly decided that throwing it at the fence was by far the better and more entertaining option.

All I can say is that in that moment I was praying that there were no cars coming as all three horses lost all sense of reason and spun toward the road. Koda and Sally were under control within a moment, but it was all too much for Mizzy as I tried to restrain him and he was so scared that he decided he had to get rid of me in order to save himself. The three successive bucks had us first sideways, then in the ditch and then onto the road – it was the last that had me off as I went straight over his head and landed on my knees on the bitumen, the rough surface instantly tearing through the denim of my jeans and the skin of my palms as they landed a moment later.

I was angry, but my first thought was for my horse. He stood wide-eyed nearby in the middle of the road while Erin and Chintz scrambled to catch him. He seemed unharmed and not keen to leave his friends which I was very grateful for. My next thought was for cars which may be coming at 100kms down the road unaware of what had just happened, so I stiffly stood to reclaim my horse and guide him away from the road. The next thought was for the little brat who had caused the entire thing – the brat who had now disappeared.

I was in no mood to go looking for him, he clearly knew he’d made a big mistake and I knew that if I stayed off Mizzy for too long while looking for the twit that my knees were not going to manage getting back on. The blood and swelling were evident – time to mount before I lost the ability to bend them altogether…

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Blood all cleaned off  and the swelling coming in nicely!

Now, I’m no doctor, but I know what fluid on my knees means when I’ve hit a solid surface with a good few hundred kilograms of propulsion behind it. I probably should have had x-rays done, maybe a few weeks out of the saddle – but having only a couple of months prior escaped the hell that was a moon boot and broken foot, there was no way on earth I was going to be admitting any kind of weakness here.

So I sat for the next week with various bags of frozen vegetables on my knees while I watched reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Friends, intermittently riding out with the girls for training and ignoring the pain as much as possible. I am no role model when it comes to injuries I’m afraid, but by the next week the swelling was gone and I was no longer limping so we went to Widgee for the 20km. Unfortunately six weeks later it all came raging back as I went for a jog and the swelling returned with a vengeance. Yes, there was a fracture in there somewhere… But as with most equestrians, I grinned, I bore it, I kept riding!

It was soon the end of our riding season and we were moving house so Mizzy was turned out for a rest, but not before our second (and last to date) fall occurred – and it was a doozy! I still have a faint scar on my arm from it.

We had shifted to a new property which wonderfully backed onto miles and miles of trails. On Mizzy’s first outing we followed in behind Jasmine, happily daydreaming since we were not in the lead. It all happened as I tried to turn my stirrup away from the small tree that looked rather dead – unfortunately my twisting motion caught it instead and the next thing I knew the little sad dead tree was wedged between my stirrup and the cage, pulled from the ground and dragging along beside us!

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Ouch – still have the scar!

There were a couple of moments that I thought I could save the situation. In one second I thought I’d gotten the thing loose, in the next I thought Mizzy had realised it wasn’t a big deal and then I suppose one of the branches must have poked him as he suddenly lost it again, springing into the air, bucking and bolting in complete panic and subsequently dumping me sideways into a very spiny and rough grass gum-tree! It was quite a hilarious spectacle I am sure and I still find it rather amusing to think that I got a damn tree stuck in my stirrup!

So, that was the end of Mizzy’s bucking for me. He has never tried to drop me again and I do think his four year old brain had very valid reasons for being upset in those situations. It wouldn’t be long before he would meet his new riding buddy, fresh returned from a stint in the UK and looking for a new hobby. A grand journey was about to begin, we just didn’t know quite how grand yet.

Training Tales

So, before I go getting started on the year 2016, there are a many in-between stories that are deserving of some telling!

Lets start with a few from 2015. It was an amazing year as far as our completion rates and goal achievements, but there were some far and beyond marvellous times that came along in the down time between our rides too. Such as the time we took Spencer for a ride…

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Sharing Haze – not the highlight of my week!

It was our first time out with Milton after he had arrived at the farm, Adriana was taking him for a spin that night and I was aboard Koda. That was an eventful night to say the least, Haze being my precious baby it was not easy letting someone else ride him! But Spencer wanted to know what all the fuss was about so out we went!

I micro-managed every step Haze took, yelling out to my poor hubby as he steered around our track. I almost died inside as I watched Haze cantering along in the dark and realised Spencer had no idea there was a huge ditch coming up – after a lot more yelling they successfully dodged it but my blood was already well and truly up! We jogged along in the dark, Adriana and Spencer laughed and talked while I glanced across at Haze constantly. Then we came to the hill that we usually let the horses flog up – Haze knew that hill and he took off at a strapping pace with Spencer flapping around hilariously. I wasn’t worried, it is just how he rides! Then through the darkness we heard a god awful girlish shrieking and we approach to see Spencer waving his arms in the air, reins dropped and Haze standing leg-wide. He’d hit a very large spiders’ web!

A few months later I had the pleasure of meeting and riding the beautiful kiwi Willowvale Sirahh. Adriana is a lovely correct rider but she will be the first to tell you that safe is her number one priority which is why I took our new pony out for a spin first! I thoroughly enjoyed Sam’s antics, he is an amazing horse to ride – but there was a moment that I ended up deciding not to tell Adriana about…

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Feisty Sam carried Adriana to her first 80km completion the next week!

I had Jasmine and Erin with me that day, we did a lap around the block and came to a nice steep short hill that the horses enjoy sprinting up. Jasmine and Erin let their horses fly, and at the base of the hill I decided to test out Sam’s breaks and steering – they were very effective! But as the snorting, prancing and cavorting grey cantered on the spot, tossing his head and leaned on my hands at the base of that hill and I sat up asking him nicely to be still (which he ignored completely) it occurred to me that this was not the sort of behaviour that Adriana would want to know about before getting aboard for her first 80km! We made it up the hill safely, and Adriana did not hear the story until well after her successful completion of that ride…

Reel back to the time that I was wearing a moon boot because of my unfortunate meeting with a hole. I got in the habit of following the girls along in my ute, carrying water and doling it out for the horses at various points along the way. Most of the roads we use are back roads, quiet ones with very little traffic so I used to drive along the edge of the road, pulling out onto the road when ever one of the white guide posts would appear.

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Note the hiding concrete gutter…

Apparently, on some roads the white guide posts are not a reliable thing to use as a “guide”, a lesson I learned loudly, violently and unreservedly as my ute fell nose first into a grass covered gutter with a sharp concrete edge. There was an amazingly loud scratch and crash as the front left side of my car fell into the muddy hole, followed by much screaming from me – then silence as I registered the hissing sound of what I desperately hoped was not my radiator!

It was not the radiator, but it was one of my tyres and there was no way in hell I was getting out of that hole by myself with absolutely no traction or air in the busted tyre. Adriana and Erin rode on home as a neighbour helped pull my car out of the ditch – apparently it was not the first time this sort of thing had happened on that road, the white guide post that I missed was in fact flat on the ground and covered by grass after some other poor soul had fallen into the same predicament as I now found myself!

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And the very dead tyre!

The poor Patrol that was trying to reef my ute out of the hole died several times in the attempt but finally managed the task in time for my darling husband to appear and replace my busted tyre while I hobbled around on my moon boot in the street. It was almost completely dark by the time I made it home and the girls were very good getting the horses fed, rugged and turned out after their training. And I learned never to trust white guide posts ever again!