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Let 2017 Begin!

Barely five kilometres in and I was already feeling burning thigh muscles as I realised just how unfit I was! 35km to go…

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2016 was a grand year for us as a team, but 2017 was set to be so much more. I don’t really believe in the fortune cookie thing, but I got one before the first ride of the season that read “This year will be fruitful” and by golly was it ever. There were lows, but the highs were high.

We started out the year at the Stirling’s Crossing Education and Training weekend in February. We had been working hard over the summer training my big bay gelding Aston, he had paired up beautifully with my sister who was looking forward to attempting her second 40km ride and Aston’s first since his injury in 2014. We were focusing on getting Adriana and Sirahh ready for their attempt at the mini-marathon over Easter, I was legging up a new horse for his first ever ride and Bec was starting her second season aboard Mizzy.

 

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First day of 2017 – ready to ride Rock!

I’d purchased Rock late in 2016 and he had been more than a little bit of a handful. I actually turned him out for about six weeks just to get the crap out of his system – he was hyped up on an inordinate amount of feed while not getting any ridden work so he was up to his eyeballs in protein that was sending around the twist! I hadn’t even been able to get a saddle on him the day we bought him, he was a complete lunatic, bucking and carrying on as if he hadn’t been broken in – he had been, I’d spoken to his breaker and seen footage of him under saddle for the first time. But the horse in my paddock was nothing like the calm horse in that video – he was identical in appearance, but the Rock in front of me was a nervous wreck.

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Mizzy 2017 – growing up!

It took time and a lot of work, but within three months we had turned him around. I was riding him in training, and apart from the occasional pigroot he was fantastic. He had a long way to go as far as balance and cadence went, but he was at least able to be saddled and mounted safely – I was not sure how he’d go at his first ride, he was still reactive and sensitive and terrified of the float, so it was going to be an interesting ride for me at least.

Aston and Chintz were going well in their training, but Aston is quite a hot horse and I was concerned that the heat of the weekend might affect him so since it was early in the year we resolved to take it easy, aiming for a slow and steady ride.

 

The weekend approached and it was indeed a warm one, as expected. We loaded up the horses and headed to the ride with a thankfully uneventful trip – until we arrived at ride base and Rock decided he’d had enough of being on the float. It was only his third time on board one since I’d purchased him and he had traveled much better than I’d expected, but we had apparently waited too long to unload him and he was done waiting! Just as we were preparing to untie him and Aston before dropping the tailgate of the float – all hell broke loose as Rock threw himself around. Aston is not a good traveler by any means, but Rock made him look like an angel! But as suddenly as he started, Rock stopped with a thud as he hit his forehead on the roof of the float and, I think, shocked himself enough to realise how stupid he was being.

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Aston-Martin 2017

We then managed to quietly unload all four of the horses and a quick inspection of Rock’s head revealed skin off but thankfully no blood and he was sorry enough for himself to behave himself as we set about setting up camp. With the horses soon vetted in and fed, we all headed to the pub for dinner. It is one of our little pre-ride traditions to have a pub meal together the night before a morning ride and one we very much enjoy!

The following morning I prepared to die – Rock was still very much a question mark for me, I had no idea what to expect and he hadn’t exactly made me easy after his little float hissy fit and cantering in his trot out. He’d also thrown a tantrum about the bridge crossing when we went out to pre-ride – not building my confidence there…! As ride start approached I distracted myself helping to saddle up Aston and getting my sister on board, she was feeling sick but she was getting on anyway. Adriana was just happy to be back at a ride and Rahh and Mizzy were both looking fantastic. The two bay boys would be our focus for this ride.

Just before start, I bit the bullet and mounted – zero fireworks. There were more than five dozen horses milling around in the warm-up area, if there was going to be a crazy moment, it would be now.

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Typically, Aston just cannot play ball when there are trails to get out on!

Nothing. There was nothing. Aston jibbed his head, Sirahh was pulling for the gate, Mizzy was perking up but beyond his eyes popping out of his head a little, Rock was absolutely fine. I was pleasantly surprised, but I wasn’t ready to count my chickens yet! As all of the riders headed out toward the gate, we hung back a little to give our horses some space before getting on our way. Barely five kilometres in and I was already feeling burning thigh muscles as I realised just how unfit I was! 35km to go…

About 20km in, daylight was well upon us. It was not an “easy” track, but it was nice, with some good climbs but we were protected from the early sun of the day by the pine forests. It was the heat I was worrying about as I looked over to Aston and heard him panting loudly. The heat was getting to him, so we decided to slow down. The old boy was struggling with is first ride in two years, my main concern was to get him through soundly on the old tendon injury.

We plugged along to finish in a little over 4 hours in total. There was a struggle to cool Aston down and Rock’s heart rate was less than desirable as he became a little flustered by the strapping process, but after 20 minutes we vetted in with entire team making it through – what more could we ask for?

Chintzia was qualified for Novice, Aston had finally got an entry in his 2 year old logbook, Rock survived his first ride (and I survived his first ride…!) Miz and Bec were on their way and Adriana and Sirahh were on the road to the mini marathon.

We were off to Cooyar next to prep Rock and Mizzy for their first 80’s of the season over the easter weekend – bring on 2017!

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Training Tales 2!

But one thing she does well is load on the float. It’s her one redeeming quality.

We reached the end of the 2016 season in last month’s blog post, so this time I’m going to expand on a couple more of our training stories!

We have countless stories of our travels along the beach. The most entertaining of our beach rides usually involves Koda and her random psychotic spooking at crabs, sticks, or different coloured sand because for the most part our other horses are better behaved than her, well, anywhere! However, the most iconic beach moment happened, not at the beach, but on the way there…

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There is a good section of road that can be a little tricky to traverse because the road edge has barely any shoulder that drops into a deep trench to allow water flow in storms before the fenceline that hems in the farm that fronts the road. When we ride along there we in general go slowly right up against the fence so we are no where near the road and that is where I was, on Koda, when Adriana suddenly let out a shriek. I looked over expecting to see her pulling Sam off the road to avoid a car, but instead I see her preparing to jump as Sam gently lowered himself into the trench as if he was going to have a nap! The little ratbag must have felt a slip under his feet and decided to make the most of the situation by having a break while he was at it!

In a recent beach trip, we took our new horse Jaazy down by float with Koda for a 10km run. Jaazy was as usual pretty perfect – Koda was not, surprise surprise! However, there is one thing Koda does better than him and it was about to happen.

Koda is a cow with most things. She has to be twitched to get her needles because she is, to quote our lovely South African veterinarian, “A little bitch”. He knows something is very wrong when he visits her and she isn’t screeching at him. She’s a twit to be caught – but not the way you think – she’s worse if you aren’t haltering her! If you don’t come to catch her, she will follow you around, threatening to kick or bite and will rear up and scream. Don’t even get me started on how horrid she can be to ride – that will keep you here allllll day! But one thing she does well is load on the float. It’s her one redeeming quality.

On Koda went, zero antics, perfect lady. Jaazy on the other hand got incredibly interesting. He had loaded relatively well on the trip to get to the beach, but it seemed he was having too much fun to go home because he would not put his back feet on the ramp. We tried coercion, bribery and threats in alternating terms over the half hour we spent trying to get him on – and he broke loose and ran into the darkness of the reserve not once, but twice. In the end, he got on – and we learned that Jaazy is a pain to load sometimes…!

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On another of our treks we had the thrill of watching Katy’s first fall. It was quite epic by most standards, Sally does epic so well after all. We’d already had an entertaining afternoon as Rockstar had already made a spectacle of himself with his bronco antics while carrying a new rider, but Sally was about to cap it off in quite a stunning way!

Sal is not the best jumper in the world, she’s quite uncoordinated in that sense to be totally honest! Picture legs getting tangled in mid-air and you are on the right track. We were walking by this point as we were all on edge about Rock’s bad behaviour, so as we approached the creek we had to cross we were taking it easy. All of the horses had crossed it earlier on the way out and Sally had been no exception. On the way home was a different story as she once again took exception to being on the other side of the creek from her friends and at the last moment she squealed and I turned to see her fling – and I do mean FLING – herself into the air, all four off the floor in a spectacular cat-leap with Katy sprung an couple of feet extra out of the saddle. They landed on the other side, but Katy couldn’t save herself – she was hanging from Sally’s neck and finally let go a few metres after the landing! I was impressed she had made it that far to be honest, it was a pretty epic fling!

Here are two more short training tales – because I can’t not tell these ones! The horrific one first. In the slideshow of photos below you’ll see Chintzia posing on Aston, and a photo of Adriana and Sirahh standing nicely. About 10 seconds after the photo of Adriana was taken, I had just put my phone away, when I suddenly felt the world spin and heard running hooves. All four of our horses had gone from a total standstill to flat out spook at the exact same moment – none of us know exactly what set them off and at the time we didn’t have a chance to work out what it was because all hell had broken loose! I distinctly remember seeing my right foot up near Koda’s head and she whip-lashed me backward. I don’t know how I stayed on but I did! From the corner of my eye I saw Chintz get Aston back under control and Bec was miraculously still aboard Mizzy too – but Sirahh and Adriana had parted company.

Adriana was still exactly where I had last seen her – but minus the horse. He appeared to have teleported out from under her and she was in a heap on the grass. Chintz jumped off Aston and darted off to catch Sirahh while Bec and I both went to Adriana. I could see she was fine, but Adriana is hard to convince when she’s had a shock – she was certain she had broken something and I was pretty sure she was going to break my hand with the death grip she had on it! We were soon all back on our ponies and we continued on a gentle ride – no more excitement necessary!

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And, now for the funny one! My husband Spencer doesn’t ride a lot these days, but when he does, something always happens. This particular time, while we were tacking up, he had decided it was a good idea to pick up a rock and throw it into the distance. No idea why, it must be a boy thing, but he speedily regretted it when my dog ran in the same direction as the thrown rock and promptly got whacked by it! We gave him a hard time about it, but Revan was fine – thankfully it wasn’t a big rock! Anyway, karma was about to bite him in a big way with an event that would forever overshadow the rock-dog incident.

Spence likes to talk and joke when he rides, he enjoys the social aspect of training. That particular day he was riding Mizzy. Elena was aboard Rock and they were having a laugh when suddenly Rock decided it was time for a toilet break. Spencer being the chatty social butterfly that he is was not paying any attention to the fact that Elena’s horse had stopped right in front of him, and Mizzy being very much an auto-pilot pony, just on kept walking – sure, he dodged the poop as he went by so it didn’t touch him, but he made sure to graze up closely enough for Spencer’s knee to end up right under Rock’s tail as it was all coming out. The manly yelling and cursing will go down in history as he realised what was happening – really, it could have been prevented but then we wouldn’t have a story to bring up at every social occasion!

Next month’s blog will take us into the QERA 2017 season. It was an eye opening ride and the first back for Aston after his 2015 injury. 2017 was an amazing year with highs and lows – but amazing nonetheless!

Sparkler 2016

Koda was like a horse possessed, completely out of her mind with panic at being out on track alone. She would spot a horse in the distance up the trail and like a bat out of hell she would race to catch them.

Our last ride for 2016 was set to be Sparkler, held at the new purpose-built endurance facility in Imbil – Stirling’s Crossing. It had recently hosted it’s first event, the 2016 Equestrian Australia Endurance Championship where I had attended to strap for my lovely friend Sue in the AERA 160km – but I’ll tell that story another time since the Marvels technically weren’t there for that one!

Sparkler is run by the Faraway Endurance Riders Club and is usually held at the Imbil Showgrounds, so this was the first time it was being held at Stirling’s Crossing and the first time we were riding there too! In the lead up, we had intended to take Koda, Sirahh and Mizzy for the 80km ride, Kat had lined up a ride on an 80km horse for another team and would be camping with us too. However, Mizzy had other ideas…

15192525_1304161119614939_9222220508231538168_n.jpgAbout a fortnight before the ride Mizzy cut himself at his elbow, we assume by catching it with his shoe. It was swollen and sore,  but we hoped that with a bit of rest the little golden pony would come through well enough to attend the ride. In the end it was decided to let him sit it out – there was no hurry to get him through another ride, it was unnecessary so Mizzy stayed home. Thankfully, the lady Adriana and I had ridden the last leg of Murrumba with had a horse spare, so Bec also had a ride for the 80km on Clare’s beautiful big gelding.

We had Rahh and Koda loaded up and ready to go. I was getting my new Holmbro saddle at the ride too, so I was extra excited! Take note, I was going to regret a gear change, don’t change important things like saddles at a ride!

We arrived, set up and then I went to meet up with Peter Holmes to pick up my new saddle. He fitted it to Koda and I went for a stroll around the facility to try it out. Koda was feeling fit and funky, she moved well under the saddle but she was still her usual spooky, nutty self – just with more freedom in her shoulders, which I am not sure is really a good thing for me or not.

Adriana had finished washing Sirahh by the time I got back to camp, so we decided to go and vet in. That’s when we hit a wall – Sirahh vetted out pre-ride with a slight temperature. Nothing in the lead up to the ride had indicated any trouble, standing in the vet ring even the vets said he didn’t appear to be unwell. His colour was good, his heart rate was normal, he was hydrated, had normal gut sounds and he was very bright and perky – but as a precaution he was put in a yard alone. I was anxious, Adriana was devastated and terrified – and I sure as hell didn’t want to go out on track by myself. Yvonne and Scott were both adamant that Sirahh was fine – as the vets had said, he was a healthy horse with a temperature – and that I should get on my horse and go. There was nothing I could do to help at camp, Spencer and Adriana were there for Sirahh and Yvonne was nearby too.

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Koda and I on track

Adriana saddled up Koda and Spencer packed my waterbottles while I quickly got dressed and fifteen minutes after ride start I rode out the gate alone. All other riders had already left – Bec and Kat were riding with the teams of their respective horses, so I was well and truly alone unless by some chance Koda took a liking to one of them when we caught up.

It didn’t happen. Koda was like a horse possessed, completely out of her mind with panic at being out on track alone. She would spot a horse in the distance up the trail and like a bat out of hell she would race to catch them, tearing my arms out as she went. In what seemed like a flash we caught up to Kat on her horse Scout. But Koda didn’t stop so I think I managed a wave as we passed but that would have been about it.

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Bec and her mount Pablo

Less than five kilometres in we saw Bec and Clare, but again, Koda was not interested in stopping. I managed to get her to stay by them for a few minutes and we talked briefly but she was too agitated to stay beside them. Her eye was still on the horses ahead, so I once again let her go and hoped that I wasn’t going to die. She spooked, bolted, lunged and slammed on her breaks before leaping into a canter, all in constant repetition until we passed the first 10km mark and I began seriously hoping to find a checkpoint so I could call the rescue float and withdraw. It was a disaster, after Sirahh’s vet out I couldn’t mentally handle the stress of trying to stay onboard this monstrous little horse who seemed hell bent on scaring me to death. Then we found a friend.

Jacinta had been a fixture in my endurance life from the start, we had met at my second 40km at Fernvale in 2012 where she was doing the 80km on her spunky chestnut gelding Stanley. She had been there the day Bart died and at pretty much every ride I’d been to since then. In fact, I’d seen her earlier in the day when I was trying out the Holmbro. And now Jac and Stanley appeared on the trail ahead of us, every bit as alone as Koda and I were now that her riding partner had pulled up to withdraw. It was like it was meant to be.

Koda and Stanley powered along beside each other, he’s more than a hand taller than her but she kept up and she wasn’t remotely tired. My worries faded now that I had Jacinta with me, to say I was terrified before I found her would be a massive understatement. We had a good rhythm going and it felt like we were moving at a good pace. When we made it back to base we split up to strap our horses and met up again in the vet ring. Koda had strapped easily despite my stressing about her heart rate. Spence and Adriana were very well organised and we were vetted through easily with a heart rate of 48bpm.

Bec and Kat were both on novice horses and the track was tough, but they were both between fifteen and twenty minutes behind Koda and I on track. They both vetted through with their horses too and ready to get out on the second leg.

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Sparkler 2016

Jac and I met at the out gate a few minutes before we were due to head out – thankfully we had given ourselves a little time, because as we were talking and laughing and the time gate keeper was almost about to release us – Jac’s helmet light went out. She tried clicking it a couple of times but nothing happened so she quickly dashed back to her camp to get her spare battery. Thank heaven it worked and we were on track just a minute or two behind our time.

The horses powered along, it was a tough track judging by the fact that both Koda and Stanley are strong horses and we felt like we were moving quite quickly yet the 30km leg felt like it dragged on. We were back in a little more than two and a half hours and again, we split up to strap and vet.

As soon as I was back at camp, my first question was again to ask how Sirahh was – he was fine – and then Spence and Adriana went to work on Koda again. We vetted sound again with a lovely steady heart rate of 46bpm, which shocked me somewhat considering it was not an easy track and Koda is not used to hills. But I was taking it!

On track again we only had 20km to go. We headed back out the gate and rather than going down across the creek this time, we went right along the back fence of the complex and headed out into a different section of the forestry. It was a steady climb up and we met up with a friend on the way when Anthony and his gelding caught up to us. We all jogged along happily and in the back of my mind I was glad that we hadn’t brought Mizzy to the ride.

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Sparkly Koda

After 7H and 02M in the saddle I was glad I had listened to my friends and gotten on my horse. I was especially happy that we had caught up to Jacinta and Stanley because I wouldn’t have survived the ride without them! Then I discovered the bruises on my legs from the Holmbro that had developed through the ride – I was going to learn my lesson about not changing gear at a ride.

The next day we had best conditioned workouts – mounted. So I had to get back in my Holmbro, and let me tell you, when I did, I felt like I was going to die. Don’t get me wrong, the saddle was comfortable so my butt did not hurt and the saddle fit Koda like a glove – but my thighs were bruised and raw from where my stirrup leathers had cut into them constantly over the ride. Bec was living a similar nightmare after riding in an unfamiliar saddle herself. We were both in the top 5 of our weight divisions so we were both presenting in the mounted best conditioned workouts.

I managed to alleviate the problem somewhat by shortening my stirrups which changed the positioning of the bruises just enough for me to survive the workout. Koda was a terror and seemed to have conveniently forgotten her previous life as a show horse. Thankfully she at least remembered how to pick up correct leads, because my lower leg control was less than perfect that morning!

14882208_1268856013145450_9025035807430941899_oWe ended up being awarded Best Conditioned LWT and 2nd place, though 1st place had not presented for BC. It was nice just once to win it, it’s not something that comes around every day after all. Sirahh was completely back to normal the next day, though his only abnormality was the temperature the vets said he was probably fighting off a slight cold. It certainly never came up again so we could finally relax. Our three riders had survived the ride, and each of us finished in the top five of our divisions, Bec in 5th place MWT just one placing behind Jac and Stanley,  and Kat in 5th place LWT only a little over half an hour behind Koda and I.

The holidays were here, Adriana was heading straight off home to Toowoomba and on to her European holiday, while the rest of us were headed home. Kat and Bec were now another 80km into their novice status with just one more to go! Koda had toughed out a hard year with flying colours and amazed me, so it was about time I set a new goal – the Quilty 2019. But before I could get there, I needed to qualify by successfully finishing a 160km first.

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Our 2016 season was over – onward to 2017!

Run Koda, Run

“this time it was a violent shy and then my head and helmet made a huge cracking sound as it met the ground”

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Riding Mags and Orrie at Kilkivan 2016

After the Biggenden event, we took a ride on the wild side at Kilkivan piloting my dear friend Yvonne’s youngsters around the 40km. It was certainly an interesting one and a learning curve too – proving once again that every horse has something to teach you.

With Kilkivan done and dusted, we were headed for Murrumba next! My friend Kath, who I originally met because she used to own a lovely mare Brookleigh Scarlett, lent us her float to get our ponies down to the ride.

Now, I have to go off topic for a moment because there is a side-story that happened on the trip there that cannot go un-mentioned. Our dog Revan is regularly called by his nickname, Poopy, on a daily basis – to the point that one day when he was in trouble my mother had actually forgotten his real name and had me in stitches as she yelled POOPY! over and over while telling him off for what ever it was he had done. How did he come to have this name you ask? No, it actually pre-dates the Murrumba story – he had some terrible tummy trouble as a puppy and Poopy became his nickname as a result. By the time this story rolled around he was well and truly grown up and hadn’t done anything embarrassing in a long time and that was about to change…

Revan is a very good traveller. He generally sleeps or hangs his head out the window but he never makes a mess beyond his dirty feet and he knows he is never allowed to sit on the person in the front passenger seat. In reality I think he doesn’t like to sit on people so he just doesn’t do it – but I like to think he’s just obedient. On this particular day it was me while Spencer drove and we had Kat in the back seat with us. We had been in the ute for a two and half to three hours since early morning and everything seemed fine as we got into Landsborough.

21371294_10213754954368579_1506647452544816114_n.jpgThat’s where the signs started – Revan was suddenly restless and wouldn’t stay still in the back seat with Kat anymore. A few minutes later he was pawing to get onto my lap in the front seat until Spencer told him sternly to go back – which worked for a few minutes before it started again. At that point I thought perhaps he wanted to hang out the window while we went through the busier streets – he likes to look at people and cars, so I let him on my lap and opened the window.

At first all was okay, until he started to hang too far – almost as though he would jump out into the traffic! It was very unlike him and it got me annoyed that he was being so cheeky so I sent him promptly to the back seat again.

All seemed well, he was still upset and we put it down to his not being allowed to hang out the window – he regularly makes a lot of noise about the window situation if it is raining or too windy so we thought nothing of it. But ten minutes later, Kat piped up from the back seat saying, “Um, I think I know why Revan was acting weird…” and I turned around to see him taking a dump on his spot. He’s a very emotive dog and there was so much shame on his face in that moment I felt so horrible for laughing my head off as it all became clear!

Somehow we managed to find a spot to pull over as we climbed the range on Peachester Road. There were public toilets and we cleaned up the mess diligently before heading back on our way – and that seat got a thorough steam clean the day after we got home from the ride! Poopy will never live that trip down…

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We had four horses for the 80-100E – Koda, Sirahh, Mizzy and Vegas. We decided to split into two groups to better manage our strapping and since we had two novice horse/rider combinations and two open horse/rider combinations it seemed logical to group that way. After Koda and Sirahh had done so well going a little quicker at Biggenden, Adriana and I were keen to push some boundaries and test our horses and our own abilities, while Miz and Vegas would need a nice steady ride for a completion and they would not be elevating. It was Mizzy’s first 80km and, we hoped, Vegas’s second after her vet out at Biggenden.

The morning of the ride Koda was keen as a bean, Sirahh was fighting fit, Mizzy was less convinced and seemed happy to sleep, Vegas was mirroring Koda’s enthusiasm and was going to need a bit of convincing to stay steady! Just before ride start Adriana and I split off and headed over to the marshalling area, Kat and Bec would leave at the back of the pack while we intended to get out with the front runners – a first for us, we were usually to be found heading out slowly!

We headed out quickly and hardly had time to wonder where our friends were as we trotted out the gate, under the overpass and over the scary metal bridge. It was dark and it was cold – but it was invigorating.

Before we knew it, we were back at base – in 2 hours and 50 minutes – not lightning but quicker than anything we’d done before. The horses strapped and vetted easily, the TPR that took Koda was amazed at her loud heart and I was thrilled with a 46bpm after very little strapping and Sirahh breezed through at 45. They had plenty of time for the hold and then we were saddling up and heading back out. As we were riding out, Kat and Bec were riding in from their first leg – at a little under 3 and a half hours ride time, they were doing well! So far so good. We didn’t have time to wait to find out if they would vet through, so off we went while the team strapped and vetted.

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The second leg flew by – or did we fly? It hardly seemed possible that the horses we had babied through a season and a half were suddenly fit and capable and pulling to run! A year before, I had pretty well dragged Koda around the ride after the first leg because she had been so pooped – yet here she was, striding out next to a horse that seemed twice her size and certainly had five times the stride length! Then she gave me a wake up call – right as we came into a clearing toward the end of the leg I felt her skinny little twig legs stiffen. She moved on from it in a heartbeat, and then a moment later she startled again – but this time it was a violent shy and then my head and helmet made a huge cracking sound as it met the ground. From my view on the ground – upside down – I saw Adriana acrobatically sliding from her saddle while reaching out and forward for Koda’s reins. It seemed quite impressive in my brain addled state! But I shook it off as a rider or two passed by us, got back on and then we were back on track.

In two hours and twenty minutes – breaking the record of our previous leg – we had finished the second 40km and vetted through it! Were we going to elevate – by heck we were! The TPR taking Koda’s heart rate jumped back in surprise when she put her stethoscope to her, apparently she’s got quite a loud heart and it was beating at a steady 49bpm. The TPR just loved her and marveled over her tiny size and big heart – she asked me to let her know how we went on the last leg.

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Photo by Denise Keelan

We went back to camp, fed the horses and let them relax while we re-filled our water bottles, changed socks, slathered on sunscreen and had some food (my head was thudding so badly I wasn’t sure it was going to stay down..!)  All the while we were expecting Kat and Bec to ride in, but we weren’t really concerned when they didn’t. Maybe we would see them as we headed back out again – and if not, surely up the common track we’d pass by them, nothing to worry about!

We saddled up and headed back out. As we went we expected at any moment to see our friends riding toward us – but we didn’t. It’s okay – we’re going quite quickly – nothing to worry about…

The second leg was flat. Our kind of flat. Koda and Sirahh breezed along, still pulling and arguing about who should be in front. Along the way we met another rider at a water point – it seemed we had been playing cat and mouse most of the ride, constantly passing one another the entire way but this leg was different. We decided to ride together for the last leg – we’d all worked hard, our horses were doing great – lets finish together!

In one hour, we were back from the 20km final leg, passing the line holding hands with Clare on her lovely big gelding Thor, for a finish time of 6h 19m. Spencer was not expecting us so soon, it was a surprise to us all and all the more sweet was the finish and our first time presenting for BC – equal 5th place! We’d never get it of course, but hey, its still nice to be invited to the party right?

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Photo by Denise Keelan

We headed back to camp, and then it hit us – the yards were empty. Where were Kat and Bec? We’d completed the entire 100km in a much better time than we’d ever expected – but surely we hadn’t done it quicker than their 80km?! Yes, yes we had..

To be perfectly honest, I was more than a little worried. I was imagining a lot of terrible things. Legs broken, bleeding riders, crashes, stacks of all kinds – or maybe I was overreacting… With a ride time of 8h 8m we finally heard the strapper call with their numbers and hurried over to help. Poor Bec was feeling the heat and didn’t look well – she was worried Mizzy was lame. Vegas seemed fine and strapped easily, Mizzy took a little cooling but still – the time to strap was pretty good since the leg had been so slow.

Mizzy vetted through for his and Bec’s first 80km completion, they were both absolutely stuffed. Vegas unfortunately did not fare so well – she had stepped on a stick or something like one and opened a cut on one hind foot and she vetted mildly lame which had us all a bit down.

The ride was done and dusted – Adriana and I got to take part in our first BC workouts which was a little extra fun – we attended presentations and then we were headed home. It had been a learning curve for us – we certainly learned a lot about how capable our horses were if we took care! Next up – Sparkler!

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Biggenden 2016

Our beautiful Biggenden club was putting together its’ second ride of the season, this time a full card of rides including the 80km main event. It had taken a bit of time to dust Rockybar off but we were keen to get back in the saddle, it would be my first 80km of the year with Koda.

We’d had a private little tragedy of our own only four weeks prior to the ride with the loss of our beautiful little foal, but on the strong advice of friends and our amazing vet, Koda was given some time to recover before being put into work for the rest of the season. She bounced back, I think it was us humans who really suffered from the shock and loss.

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Mizzy all rugged up the night before

As with every ride, we go with a plan – the plan always includes who is riding which horse, in which ride, how fast or slow and at the tail end of the plan is to ignore the plan and ride to what the horse feels on the day. I must say, the girls always do a fabulous job at doing exactly that! For instance, Koda is strong – if she feels strong you know she’s fine, if she’s had enough she will say so very loudly. Sam always feels fresh – but what he thinks he can do and what he can actually do are two different things, so he can be quite a challenging horse as his rider really needs to know when he’s had enough! Mizzy is a lazy little sod, but he’s more than capable of speed if and when he wants to, so nine times out of ten he’s pulling your leg when he seems to be fizzling out! Each of them and the others have their little quirks, and we all do our very best to learn those quirks so we can manage each horse safely.

Most horse sports require a good relationship between a horse and their rider – but few require the level of knowledge that endurance does in order to be successful. And by successful I mean finishing rides with happy healthy horses, no matter the distance, speed or place in the field. Winning is not a priority and management is everything!

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Sam was a bit chilly too!

By the time Biggenden rolled around, I had not finished an 80km since August the previous season and I hadn’t done a quicker-than-novice pace ever, despite having achieved the status of an open rider more than 13 months prior. It was a minor goal for me to just one time ride on or a little quicker, though I had no intention of pushing Koda beyond her limits. Knowing that the track was relatively flat made meeting that goal a little more likely since we train on flat ground at home and we as a group find hillier tracks more challenging. For once I was going into a ride on an Open horse. Adriana too had the same goal of at some point doing a quicker-than-novice ride, but as always with Sam we really needed to play him by ear!

At this ride we had Mizzy and Bec in the 40km, while Kat, Adriana and I were entered in the 80km with Vegas, Sam and Koda. Kat and Vegas had completed their first 80km at Spring Mountain about a month prior to Biggenden so they were still a Novice duo. Bec and Mizzy would use the opportunity to get another ride under their belts before attempting their first 80km at Murrumba later in the year.

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Our plan was set, flexibility was agreed on and we were ready to go. The first leg seemed to breeze by so quickly – it was a fantastic track, perfectly suited to our horses! Mizzy and Bec finished the 40km in 3 hours and 7 minutes having found our friend Bridget on track with her horse Champ. The three of us in the 80km zoomed around in 3 hours and 3 minutes, all vetting through nicely.

We were back on track in no time and before we realised it we were seeing the familiar landmarks that were taking us back to home base. For part of the ride we played cat and mouse with the lovely Junior group from America who would end up taking home the Cullen Cup in competition with our Australian Junior team.

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Bec and Mizzy earned another 40km completion!

As we came under the rail bridge it registered in our minds that we were close to home and, after checking our watches, realised we were going a little too quick for Vegas and Kat to meet their minimum time. It suddenly dawned on Adriana and I that both Koda and Sam were travelling marvelously well and still felt fantastic – our goal of riding a bit quicker for the first time was within reach! So after a quick toss up we collectively decided that we were close enough to home to split up, Adriana and I kept up the pace we were already travelling at while Kat dropped back so that she wouldn’t come in under time.

We jogged along nicely, the horses had sensed home and were keen as beans to get back! I think they had gotten used to our routine of going at a reasonably slow pace so being allowed to pick up a canter so close to base was a pleasant change for them! Koda in particular was bouncing!

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Koda leading out nicely on Leg 2

I just love the photos from the ride. We were only 10 minutes quicker than the allowed novice time, but it felt like a really big achievement for both of us as riders to bring our horses home happy and fit and sound at the end of our first “fast” (haha!) ride. We were really proud of Koda and Sam, though it turned out that the best was yet to come in that area.

Unfortunately we had a vet out with Vegas and a real scare when we realised that she was showing some puffiness around her tendons. It turned out to be farrier related – and that farrier would never again be seen! I always admire how Kat takes everything in her stride, she would be back on track very soon after.

The incident really taught me how critical farriery is for endurance horses and made me all the more determined to find the right one for our horses. It had been more than 8 months since our previous farrier had moved on to other work and we really were struggling to find someone who would work with our particular style of riding – and our particular style of shoe! Blue Pegasos poly shoes have been and will continue to be our shoe of choice. They are completely worth the expense – however finding a farrier in our area who is open minded enough to try them is hard, convincing them that they need to listen to us on how to apply them is even harder…! I know I sound like one of those “know-it-alls” who tell their farrier’s how to do their job, but when it comes to a specialty shoe on a horse that is involved in a high-intensity sport, I’m willing to earn that badge.

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Sam and Adriana flying home off Leg 2!

In 2016 we went through farrier after farrier after farrier in our quest to find “The One”! I missed Stretch and his willingness to learn about the shoes and his skill at applying them. Blue Pegasos shoes have been a god-send. They provide support and protection like no other besides being Australian owned, designed and made! They are worth much more than their weight in gold for us. It would be a little longer before we found the farrier that would come to agree with me on that score – but he was out there!

Blue Pegasos poly shoes are available in several densities to suit different disciplines and horses, whether they be recovering from laminitis or require superior shock-absorption in activities such as show-jumping, dressage, eventing, campdrafting or endurance!

https://bluepegasos.com/

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..!

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