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.
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?
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.
After the disaster that was our morning (see last month’s edition if you missed it…) we were finally on the road to the Murrumba Magic 100km. I had an awful feeling that we were going to have a terrible ride, I was not in a good place after enduring the terror of missing horses, my stallion getting caught in a cattle grid and a crazed call to the vet.
Siri was safe and sound at home being watched over by my mother and sister, my dear friends were plying him with antibiotics and pain medication – and my husband put me in the car and started driving. I was the least fun person to be around that day.
We finally arrived at the ride base, Jasmine and her dad and our friend Rob had found us a spot to set up our yards in the main ring. We were right next to my friend Tasha who was riding in the 40km with her mare Miss Jayne, her second horse was being piloted by Mindy in the 100km. The horses were soon fed and watered, the boys were setting up the campsite, we grabbed our gear and headed to the secretary’s tent to weigh in and nominate. Seeing the horses happy and eating after travelling so well, I was starting to relax. I still needed a bit more of a pick me up though, so I detoured by the Dixon Smith tent and bought a new helmet – yep, that helped….!
Time to make sure the horses were ready to vet in. A little feed with their electrolytes and they were ready to go down to the ring. Sahala, Milton and Koda vetted in with HR’s of 29, 30 and 31 respectively and trotted out well – except little miss Koda who still hadn’t gotten the hang of trotting out, Erin wrestled her from start to finish much to the amusement of the vet! On my way to vetting I was approached by several people enquiring about Milton and sent them straight over to Rob.
We were ready to start and it was time to chill out and rest before the early morning start. We had our traditional pub dinner at the Woodford pub – by far the coolest pub we had found so far – which was packed to the seams with riders, strappers, drivers and friends. We had our pre-ride discussion about our strapping system while we waited for our dinner, the boys watched a bit of the football game playing on the tv and then we headed back to camp while they continued their philosophical chats – us three girls went to bed for the night as soon as the horses were fed and watered again.
When morning came we all saddled up silently. I stupidly lost my gloves – or left them behind at home during the confusion of the morning – so Adam gave me his gloves as I climbed up into Milton’s saddle, shaking from the cold. It was misty and freezing but the horses were feeling great. Time to go!
Jas led us out,Sahala pulling to follow the faster horses ahead of us. It was Milton’s third ride as a novice and Koda and Erin’s second big ride ever so we had no intention of going flat out, it was going to be a long road for the younger team – an extra 20km longer. We managed the first leg in 11.9kph and the horses certainly felt good so far. What a shock we were about to have.
As soon as we came in, Rob, Adam, Craig and Spencer appeared to strap the horses. Rob had his stethoscope out and checked each horse as we went. So far so good, except that Hala was higher than usual. Ten minutes later it still hadn’t dropped, we were scratching our heads as he seemed fine – then the tell tale off-colour urine gave us all the information we needed to know.
Metabolic problems can affect any horse at any time. Careful management is needed – especially in the case of endurance horses. Some horses are particularly susceptible and some research shows mares to be more so than geldings, however there are many exceptions. Episodes can be triggered by many different things too, it can be a stressful thing to try and figure out what is causing such problems in your horse but in many cases once you know what it is you can manage it! In our case, we found the problem quite quickly.
Never ever ever give an endurance horse an electrolyte containing bi-carbonate. I mix my own electrolytes so that I can be sure of what my horses are getting, but there are plenty of pre-mixed electrolytes that do not contain it and are suitable for endurance horses. Lite salt, iodised table salt and dolomite mixed at the correct levels have worked for my horses so I have stuck to it.
Hala was ruled as lame by a vet panel and they requested a re-present in 30 minutes so that the vets could re-check his status. He was fine and Jas diligently monitored him while Erin and I quickly fed and watered our horses, then ourselves, before we saddled up again to head out.
It was sad to leave our team mates behind – and I immediately felt their absence as Milton reminded me how much he hated being in the lead. Koda was not as perky as she had been on leg one, but she followed none-the-less. We struggled on this leg, it was not an easy one. It was hot and we were tired but we plugged on with endurance. Somehow we made it through at a pace of 11kph.
Our strappers met us at the line to take our gear and help us get the horses sorted. Milton vetted in at 39bpm and trotted out nicely. Koda came in at 43bpm – and trotted out terribly. The vet almost called a panel as he requested a second trot out. She was not lame, but she was tired. Erin and Koda were allowed to continue, but we were warned to take it easy and get some electrolytes in her.
Once back at camp we realised why Koda’s hydration was off and why she had drank so poorly on the second leg – she hadn’t eaten her feed and missed out on her electrolytes while we rested off leg one… Tasha had just finished her ride with Jayne, so she hurriedly mixed up a cup of electrolytes in yoghurt for us to syringe into Koda’s mouth. By the time we were saddling up we had managed to get her to drink a little of her molasses water.
Erin and I had a very stop and start third leg as we sooked, babied and shoved Koda through the final leg. She is a stubborn little mutton and when she is tired (even a little) she will plant her little hooves and refuse to move. Somehow we managed to convince her to push on and got her home again – this time she vetted through with her first well behaved trot out, though I am not sure if it was because she was too pooped to fight or if it was Erin’s dad refusing to let her run him over!
That’s when it hit me. The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment, excitement, joy – knowing I’d trained these horses and they’d made it through 100kms! I had come back from the despair of losing my horse and feeling like a failure to this – two horses solely trained by me completing a big ride successfully. It was pure amazement, happiness and relief.
Milton was open and Rob and I were both so happy. Koda and Erin were well into their Novice status with two down and one ride to go. Although Hala hadn’t completed we were relieved to know the cause of the problem so we could avoid it in the future – and he was well recovered before we had even finished our ride. All was sunny, all was good – onward to Kilkivan!
I fathomed in the space of a second that he was up to his flanks with both hind legs and a front under the grid – then I was looking for something to knock him out with – I faintly remember Spencer or Erin screaming something. Or maybe I was the one who was screaming as I realised there was no possible positive outcome in all of this.
I’d never been to the iconic Murrumba Magic 100km before and I will never forget my first time and all that happened before we got there. I try to focus on the positives rather than the negatives of the experiences but for the purpose of telling the story I kind of have to paint the whole picture!
A few weeks before the ride, we had moved some of our horses to a new paddock not far from home. They had lived there previously and it was a lovely paddock full of grass surrounded by cane fields and a gate close to a road for us to access. Unfortunately, we had a little issue with fences – someone kept opening our gates. We had managed to catch the horses before any trouble came about when it had happened the first couple of times, but the third time was a complete disaster and happened on the morning we had planned to travel to Murrumba. Here’s the story.
Erin had stayed the night as we were planning on an early morning and her dad was going to meet us there. Jas and her dad were also making the trip while Spence and I towed the three horses down to the ride with our float and ute. The night before, Erin and I had meticulously packed down to having the three horses we were taking in the back yard with their halters and leads hanging on the fence and their morning feeds ready. It was fantastic. I went to bed with a feeling of complete preparation!
At 3.30am my phone buzzed. I ignored it at first thinking it was just an email alert, but when it buzzed again and again a few moments later I was awake and decided to have a look. An urgent post had been put up on the local equestrian Facebook page saying there were four horses loose around the corner from my house – and the descriptions matched some of my horses!
I was up, dressed and in the car, float in tow, within minutes, racing around to the paddock and past the spot the loose horses had been seen on my way, but I saw nothing! At the paddock, the front gate leading to the road was closed, but there were three more that led into the cane fields so in I went with the float and ute, racing along the cane rows and praying that the horses had just turned around and gone home. There were still three others in the paddock if four were loose – and yes, there they were! Near the dam, sleeping under the trees were three of my geldings dozing – but my stallion, his old companion and two geldings were no where to be seen. But the gate in the far corner was indeed open – it almost looked like someone had driven over it.
I drove along the lane way in the direction that they had been spotted and prayed that I’d see them grazing in the cane fields, but they weren’t there. By this point I decided to alert the troops and darted home to wake Spencer and Erin. With both of them along we went back out to search. It was starting to get lighter when I saw Mister, my sister’s stock horse gelding, strutting up and down a fence across the road from the farm they were paddocked at. He looked in a panic, where were the others? Then it hit me – he was pacing back and forth next to a cattle grid, and the other three horses were on the other side of it.
There was no way around that grid, it was a fenced in driveway – the only way those horses had crossed it was by walking or jumping. Thankfully the property was owned by a family friend who happened to be the man we were agisting with so I knew there was a little walk down the driveway, two gates to pass through and maybe an awkward conversation with the tenants about why we were there, but it was a safe route nonetheless. But just as I was climing across the grid myself, Mercy, the big mare, decided she’d had enough of that side of the and walked straight back across it! I panicked for a moment, but her big dinner-plate feet served her well and she walked straight up to Spencer and Erin who were standing by holding Mister on a lead.
My moment of relief was extremely short lived though, because Sizzy had a meltdown on seeing Mercy walk away and decided to follow her on his much daintier and slimmer legs! He made it half way before he fell through it and without thinking I leapt on him, fighting with all of my 55kg to hold him down and stop him from struggling and breaking his legs. I fathomed in the space of a second that he was up to his flanks with both hind legs and a front under the grid – then I was looking for something to knock him out with – I faintly remember Spencer or Erin screaming something. Or maybe I was the one who was screaming as I realised there was no possible positive outcome in all of this.
Suddenly I was flung out of the way as Siri threw me off his head. I don’t know how he did it, I don’t know how it was possible, but he was up and he was out and he was running to Mercy. My brain was in such a state but I heard hooves behind me and then I was up, untying my jumper from my hips and wrapping it around Jett’s neck as he too went toward the grid and his friends. I caught him in time though, thank goodness. He stopped, shoved me a little indignantly and then I dragged him the long way around through the gates – and all the while my mind was racing.
I couldn’t look toward Sizzy as I led Jett away. All I kept telling myself was that he was up and if he could walk nothing was broken, he was okay! He was going to be alright! We got through the gate and Erin strapped a halter on Jetson – then I looked at Siri.
There was blood, it was gushing with every step he took from a cut above his hoof. There were grazes and small cuts all the way up to his flanks though none of them bled like that foot. It looked almost arterial, pulsing blood every time he took a step. My favourite jumper – a blue cookie monster one that I call my “lucky jumper” – couldn’t contain the bleeding for more than a few minutes even though we had it folded almost four inches thick. My vet was called, but he was away at a conference so he had me call the vet at another clinic – who happens to be an endurance vet – and she was soon on her way to us but it would be a 45 minute wait at least! There was so much blood, but the legs weren’t bent at odd angles, everything looked as it should other than the surface trauma! What could I do? There were three other horses standing idly by the roadside and Sizzy was off his tree with hysterics. The float – the float was still attached to the ute!
We decided it would be best to keep Mercy – since she was his companion and would help to keep him calm – but the two geldings were a hazard as Sizzy paraded around dominantly and consequently gushing more blood out of his foot while the adrenaline ran high. Jas and her dad arrived, they and Erin loaded Mister and Jett up and took them back to the paddock, Spence went to wire up the open gate, and help arrived for me in the form of my amazing rescuer Abbie. Seeing my appeal for help on Facebook, she arrived with bandages and cloths to help stem the bleeding while we waited for the vet.
Much of what happened is a blur to me, I’ve listed the important stuff but I could have things very much all over the shop as far as order goes! I remember talking to Rob, Milton’s owner, who did a good job of calming me down as I screeched about all of the blood coming out of the wound. Somehow he managed to convince me that legs always bleed badly, especially right above the hoof, which echoed what the vet had told me. I was far too hysterical to be thinking rationally when I spoke to her though!
After talking to Rob who was waiting for us at Murrumba, we had decided that if the vet visit would take us past a certain time, Adam would float the three horses and the girls to Murrumba, then Spencer and I would follow when we were able. If I was at all in a safe enough mental state to attempt the ride at all!
When the vet arrived I was much calmer – and so was Siri. Once the geldings had been taken away he had settled down, then I think the pain kicked in because he stopped prancing about and shrieking, opting instead to stand over my shoulders and rest his foot while I sat between his knees and Mercy grazed nearby. The vet took quick stock of Siri’s condition and gave him a painkiller then asked whether he’d been tetanus vaccinated – the grid was rather rusty. Thankfully, I’d kept him up to date with that jab!
The vet showed me how to wrap the leg and the layers of items to use to keep it from slipping and getting dirty, then gave me a week long supply of antibiotics. He’d need a needle twice a day. Abbie came to my rescue again and offered to visit and check on him while I was away at the ride – she really was my hero that weekend! She got plenty of practice with needles too, which was a new thing for her. Our friend Maddie came out and taught her how to do it, then she was on her way. Thankfully Siz is gentlemanly and behaved himself for them despite the needles. I couldn’t ask for better friends, I have so many amazing ones!
With Sizzy in safe hands, all three of the paddock gates wired shut and time to spare, we were ready to put the three endurance horses on the float and head to the ride. The three halters neatly lined up on the fence were popped on and the horses stepped aboard kindly. It was almost like they knew I’d had my fill of stress for the day.
But my stomach was still in a knot and even when we were on the road there I said to Spencer that I didn’t feel right; so much had gone wrong; we should just go home and be glad that the worst hadn’t happened; lets not ask for trouble by going to the ride. He shook his head – No, we were going. The three horses in the float were ready. They were eating, drinking, calm and happy – there was nothing wrong with them, they had no idea what had happened and there was nothing that would give us reason to go home. Time to hang up my hang ups. Get my head in the game – get on with the ride.
In 2010 my stallion, Siri Mahali was born. At barely a month old, Sizzy suffered an injury which left him incapable of being anything but a paddock ornament and breeding horse. He was my very first foal, I was there from his first day and I’d fantasized of the day I’d break and train him myself for endurance – so to say I was devastated would be an extreme understatement. When I came to grips with the loss of my dreams, I settled for one day riding his foals. It would be a distant future, with little choice but to wait – then, a year after his accident Sizzy’s half brother, Amir Halo (Mizzy as we call him) was born to one of my favourite mares, owned by some dear friends of mine. I was there the day he was born, but I had no idea what the future would hold.
Jump forward four years and Mizzy has been mine a year. My friends decided they couldn’t manage the stifle lock that he had developed as a youngster and gave him to me – with that my dreams came rushing back! Starting my own baby horse, taking him through his first ride, getting him through his first 40’s and 80’s, dreaming of the day he’d be old enough to do a Quilty.
When I first got him, he’d spent a few weeks with a breaker who had an untimely accident with a different horse and cut short the training he’d started. In the end it was just as well since I felt Mizzy was still a big baby at only three years old. So I didn’t continue his education and opted for turning him out with his brother and my other young ones to grow. It ended up being a good thing because he grew another three inches and became a bit broader. He was just as sweet as his brother, they look very alike except for their different shades – one fiery chestnut, the other glistening gold.
It was July of 2015 and Mizzy was about to turn four, so it was time to see if he remembered any of the things Malcolm had taught him. Having had so much trouble with Koda’s teeth with her bit as she aged from 3 to 5 I decided to avoid the issue altogether and started Mizzy in a rope halter. Malcolm had said Mizzy was one of the smartest horses he’d worked with, he was clever but cheeky too – time would tell if it would all come together.
So it began, day after day of pressure and release, pressure and release; left and right, left and right; back and step forward, back and step forward. He remembered it all – Malcolm was right.
Within a week I was riding the little scamp around the regular training tracks, bareback at first and then we graduated to a saddle. The stifle lock would disappear once we were on the move – after consulting my vet he suggested that warming up before vetting in at a ride would be beneficial and there was no reason Mizzy wouldn’t make a strong riding horse. So, I was riding my golden pony, my dreams were coming to life! Where would we go first? Well, there was a ride at Widgee in three weeks – why not start there!
So we decided to load up the float and take Mizzy, Milton and Sally to Widgee for a slow and steady 20km. After Sally’s unfortunate vet out at Rockybar I thought it would be a good idea to try her at a shorter distance and it was only a fortnight since Biggenden so a quiet short ride was just what we were looking for! Along for the ride was my little sister for her very first endurance ride.
It was a long one, Mizzy was barefoot and bitless but he took it all in his stride and we babied him around the 20km track. He’d been under saddle for three weeks and his first entry in his logbook was a completion – what more could I ask for? Well, a completion for Sally was icing on the cake. My sister was over the moon and wanting more. There was more than one funny moment – the best being captured by Kevin Coppalotti at the creek crossing! I remember Milton balking slightly and then slowly wading in and across, I followed in closely behind with Mizzy who just glided through gently. We were almost the whole way through when I heard a shriek and then I was covered in water as Sally, in a panic thinking she was being left behind, leapt into the water and caught my sister off guard. The photos were priceless and I couldn’t ask for a funnier memory!
It was the start of a long journey with the golden child, it is still going even now and I hope one day that those dreams I dreamed will be real. Even if I’m not the one in his saddle, I will be so proud to have played a part in making it happen.
“Sam, is that a guy or a girl?” Well, he’s a tall and handsome New Zealander, with short spiky hair, usually it is fully shaved off! He’s started to grow it out now, but I like it that way – it makes his face look a little less… long?
Blackbutt. We were back again, this time it was Adriana and I going out on the 80km together, Jasmine being swamped with school work hadn’t been able to make it so we were going to head out in the dark just the two of us.
It was a ride full of firsts and lasts. My last ride as a novice (hopefully!), Milton and Adriana would both attempt their first 80km, Koda was on her second 40km with her young rider, chaperoned by an experienced team, and we had a new addition – Sam.
Now, you’re reading this saying “Sam, is that a guy or a girl?” Well, he’s a tall and handsome New Zealander, with short spiky hair, usually it is fully shaved off! He’s started to grow it out now, but I like it that way – it makes his face look a little less… long?
Yes, Sam is a horse – Willowvale Sirahh or Rahh as we sometimes call him. His name changes depending on whether he has ripped another rug, lost another hood or pulled another freshly nailed shoe recently. He’s got quite the talent with each let me tell you! He was a seasoned campaigner who’d had a few odd vet outs until abscesses showed their ugly faces and he was put out in the paddock to rest. Since she had young horses coming up, his owner had left him to relative retirement – then I put out word looking for a quiet ride for Adriana and Yvonne came to my rescue again.
If he was half as awesome as Haze, Sam would not disappoint. I was excited to meet him, but the week before I was due to pick him up disaster struck again – we had an accident in my new ute which saw it completely written off. In the short term, I had no way to get Sam home for Adriana to get to know him before the ride, when Milton’s wonderful owner stepped in and offered to take me out and get him. I couldn’t ask for better friends, I really couldn’t!
At first glance I thought Sam was a twin of Jasmine’s horse, Hala. He really is a cheeky devil, lures you in with his polite and perky manner, his gentlemanly attitude – and then uses you as a scratching post. It was the start of something very special, little did we know how special!
The Blackbutt ride loomed, we found a way to get the horses there, we were ready to ride. Adriana was nervous but we rode off into the afternoon excited in spite of the nerves! I’d last ridden the track solo for the better part of the ride, I’d looked at nothing because I’d been so keen to get through as quickly as I could so that Haze and I could be done and dusted before midnight – but this time was different. This time I had a novice horse to take care of, his first two leg ride which would surely prove a struggle for his mental state. This time I had Adriana to keep me company and we had absolutely no idea what to expect from Sam – slow and steady was the order of the day.
We plugged along at a steady pace. Halfway through our first leg we passed Koda and Erin trotting along behind their chaperones, Kellie and Noname. We waved and continued past – all seemed to be going well. We got the first leg finished in 3hrs 50mins – would we vet through? Why yes, yes we would! Sam was breezing through and Milton was happy to be finished – poor boy, he had no idea what was coming…
Koda came in and vetted while Adriana and I were having a break before the next leg. Spence and Erin’s dad left to strap the little horse and help her rider vet in while we quickly ate and started to saddle up for the second leg. Milton screwed up his nose when he saw the bridle again but he took it and we were off into the darkness. As we rode to the time gate we saw the crew walking back from vetting with Koda – thumbs up, all good! With that little boost in our minds we had a little extra spring in our step as we trotted off down the road.
It was slower going for the second leg, my poor Milt was struggling a little with the whole idea of going out again, while Sam was still as keen as a bean to get going – Yvonne had warned us that he was quite insensible of his limitations and would need to be told to take it easy, so we slowed right down until he was in a better headspace and began to move along next to Milton more steadily. As the inevitable fatigue started to kick in, we started telling jokes and singing at the top of our lungs in the darkness to keep our spirits up and the horses active. There was a group of riders behind us that we could hear but not see – they must have thought we were crazy!
We pulled in after finishing the second leg at about nine and a half kilometres per hour, quite a bit slower than the first leg but we made it – time to strap! We felt hot and we didn’t notice the chill in the air but luckily our strapper in chief did and threw rugs on our horses hind quarters while we took heart rates and gave them a light sponge down. We were ready to vet in!
I was pretty sure of Milton, he was tired but he still felt strong. It was Sam I was curious about, and as I watched him trot my worries blew away – Adriana was through her first 80km and she was over the moon!
We all headed off to bed as soon as we saw the horses rugged, fed and watered. The track had been undulating and rocky compared to what we were used to at home so we were feeling the energy drain! The next morning we collected our completion prizes, grabbed our customary hot chocolate and headed home – a 100% completion weekend at Blackbutt, what more could we ask for! Milton and Adriana were a ride into novice, Sam was off the 13 month rule and back on the right track – and I’d realised my three year goal. I finally made it to Open.
I remember a loud cracking sound, and I remember the feeling of my foot bending in a way it shouldn’t be expected to. I remember realising what was happening as I fell into the newly dug and uncovered fence post hole. The front half of my foot had almost made it over, another inch and I might not have even known the danger.
Earlier in the 2015 I had offered a young girl the opportunity to try endurance, riding my then 5 year old Arab Connemara mare, Ardair Skoda. The two of them got along very well and they came along so nicely in training that we planned for them to start in their first 40km at Rockybar, where I planned to do my next 80km with the new horse we had in training.
Haze went home on the 28th of March. I was heartbroken, but I knew that it was just too easy to keep riding the seasoned horse while the young ones stayed fat in the paddock so I had to remove the temptation. It isn’t like I would never see Haze again, he would be at Rockybar in preparation for the 50th Tom Quilty later in the year.
We had gotten into the year with one hell of a swing, things were going pretty damn well! I was two rides through novice, Jas had made it through her first 80km completion at Cooyar, Adriana had made a brave call on Sally at the ride and I couldn’t imagine a better outcome – the future was looking bright! Little did I know that things were going to come crashing down around my ears in a short space of time.
On the 29th of March, my friend brought me her big mare to bring back into work for her to ride. During the night I heard a bit of a commotion down at the paddock, so I grabbed my little torch, slipped into my flip flops and went for a walk down to check on the new mare. When I got to the lane I walked along with my torch up at eye level, searching the long grass for the three mares that were in the front paddock. I wasn’t worried, what ever the cafuffle was about had clearly passed but I did wonder where they had got to. I was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.
I remember a loud cracking sound, and I remember the feeling of my foot bending in a way it shouldn’t be expected to. I remember realising what was happening as I fell into the newly dug and uncovered fence post hole. The front half of my foot had almost made it over, another inch and I might not have even known the danger.
I don’t remember screaming but apparently I did because Spencer found me very quickly and managed to get me to the hospital. There was several hours of waiting despite the fact that the waiting room was empty, only to find out that it would not be possible to get x-rays done until the following day (gee, they don’t have an x-ray operator around at 11.30pm and it took two hours to say so?) So after I was finally given a decent pain killer I was sent home with a note to return for an x-ray in the morning – I knew what came after that and it was not going to happen and that was flat.
I don’t like plaster casts. When I broke my shoulder in a riding accident as a 15 year old I developed a permanent aversion to them and consider them tools of torture. I would not wear a cast again. I even said I would cut it off as soon as I got home to the plaster technician as he wrapped my foot in a backslab. He must have thought I was joking because he laughed and said I wouldn’t as he merrily went about his business, telling me what an art plastering was. I have no doubt it is an art, I’m sure it is to those interested in such art – I am not one of those people however and it was off before the plaster was even cold, let alone dry!
I’m sure there are many people reading this and thinking I was crazy, so let me assure you. Being that I am an active person and an avid rider, my dear friends who are involved in the world of orthopedics, helped and guided me through the process as I could never have imagined. Thanks to their help and expertise, I was in fact back in the saddle for Rockybar, though not for the 80km as I’d hoped.
Adriana had managed to get Milton ready to do a 40km at the ride, Koda was ready to go with her young rider and as I had not been able to ride for weeks Adriana had organised for an acquaintance of hers to ride Sally along with them. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found out Sally’s rider was not coming.
It seemed a waste to have trained her up and traveled her to the ride only for her not to do it. So I decided I would do it myself! 40kms after not riding for six weeks? Piece of cake!
Thankfully, Sally is a very smooth ride, I could sit to her trot for most of the distance and her canter is wonderful too so the impact of my broken foot was minimal. Sally was also much more settled than she had been at Cooyar so we did manage to have a very good ride! At least, up until Koda and Sally decided to have a go at one another, that is… Their kicks met in mid air and I’m not even sure if Koda got much of it, at the time we didn’t think Sally had as she settled back down and charged on. But when we got to the last water trough roughly three kilometres from ride base, something didn’t feel right. We had stood still at the trough for just a few minutes but it was enough to bring out a stiffness and I felt Sally’s stride wasn’t quite right for a short stretch until she warmed back up.
We came back into base slowly and strapped. Sally’s heart rate dropped nicely but I could see now that she was cooled off that her usually high step was lagging and my heart sank as I knew she was lame. Here came my first vet out, but at least it wasn’t a surprise one.
The TPR took Sal’s heart rate at 44 and I watched as Koda and Milton were vetted in along side us, then walked slowly over to the waiting vet who smiled and asked how we had gone. I told her the truth, my little mare was lame. She smiled again and asked what had happened and why I thought Sal was lame as she went through her parameter checks and I told her about the on-track biff between my two crazy mares.
“Well, lets just give her a little trot out to be sure!” Ingrid said, so I jogged a few meters with my little perlino high stepping beside me until I decided we’d showed that clear-as-day head bob enough. I turned around and walked Sally back and Ingrid gave her a pat as we left the ring – vetting out doesn’t hurt as much when you know it’s coming, but it still isn’t a nice feeling. Thankfully Sal was as sound as a bell within the week.
On the up side, Koda and her rider, along with Milton and Adriana, all vetted through successfully and with good heart rates. Koda apparently was no worse for wear after the kick-fest. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose. She’s one of “those” horses – you know, those ones that can walk through a tensioned 5 strand barbed wire fence without moving a hair? Those ones that can gallop through a paddock full of mines and not land on a single one. Nine lives, that one… Unlike myself who falls in random holes in the driveway in the dark!
But I was back on my horses, I could ride again. The rough going seemed to be gone – next stop? Well, we were going back to Blackbutt!
At the start of the year I had been put in contact with a girl who was moving to my town from Toowoomba. She had begun endurance in 2014 and with her new job uprooting her to a new place she didn’t want to give up her hobby – so we met up and little did I know how much things were going to change.
Adriana and I are the same age, we are both teachers (of very different things!) and we both have an undying love of horses and endurance. Adriana had already completed her training rides, so she was qualified to begin riding as a Novice, but unfortunately I didn’t have another horse in training to give her for an 80km yet. She was also a bit nervous of riding a new horse, so I introduced her to my little perlino mare, Sally, and I agreed to lend Sally to her to train and ride in endurance. We aimed to have Sally ready in time for a trial run in a 40km at Cooyar, where Jasmine and I would be attempting the 80km.
Sally was fat. I mean really fat. My pony club jumping coach asked me when she was due to drop her foal – that fat! It was going to take some work, but Sally is a really sweet little horse with a very willing temper, her only vice is her inability to tolerate other horses riding right on her tail so she has to wear a red ribbon. Other than that, she is a safe and reliable horse and she and Adriana got along very well. I have a little story that gives testament to her good behaviour – unfortunately it makes Haze and I look like psychos at the same time but I’ll tell the story anyway!
It was January 25, 2015. We knew that rain was forecast, but we desperately wanted to ride and the clouds were far off in the distance and looked decidedly non-threatening so we saddled up – a short ride, we might get a little wet if we were unlucky but hey, whats a little rain? It’s not like we’d melt! So off we went, blobbing around our little 5km loop, Adriana on Sal and myself on Haze. We went into the bushland, unaware that when we would come out of it, the non-threatening clouds would be considerably less non-threatening than previously. In fact, was that thunder? Why yes, yes it was thunder!
Crap. Two kms from home and bitumen roadway the whole way back with rocky verges on either side and in a 70km zone too. Was that lightning? Yes, that was lighting! RUN! Oh boy did we run! We cantered as quickly as was safe along the roadside, all the while knowing that the rain and the black clouds were right behind us and the lighting was right over head – Sally did as she was told without question, left, right, stop, go, she did it and she did it beautifully. Haze on the other hand, was not particularly a fan of the weather I’d chosen to ride him in and was making it known, darting left and right against my leg, spooking at every shadow and even popping in a pigroot or two. Then it hit – wow did it hit! A bolt of lightning touched down about 50m to the left of us in the paddock across the road and while Sally kept course and hardly fluttered sideways, Haze lost all control of himself and jumped out onto the road – despite the slight illogic of running toward the lightning – and went galloping up the road, completely ignoring me as I tried to slow him!
By some miracle we made it back to the paddock before the rain came, we must have been just ahead of it because it took about two seconds for us all to be completely drenched. Spencer had come looking for us just in time and managed to hold the hysterical Hazel while I stripped him of his saddle and shut the gate behind him and Sally, all within two minutes of arriving at the paddock! As we sat in the car, laughing with shock at what had just happened, we watched the ancient tree that the horses used to stand under as it slowly keeled over and gave up on life, finally succumbing to the ferocity of the gale force wind and rain. We still laugh about that day even now!
Our more exciting adventures were coming but I’ll talk about them in time. Two months after the storm we all traveled to Cooyar for the first time, I’d never done a ride there before but I was sure it would be awesome! As it happens I was right because Haze and I completed our second 80km together, and Jasmine completed her first. Not only did she finish, but she came in as 2nd Junior and was awarded Best Conditioned the next day so we had an amazing weekend!
Normally I go into a bit more detail about our rides, but this time we are going to do something a little different – Adriana is going to tell it from her perspective. Here it goes, enjoy!
Cooyar 2015 – Adriana Sardoni
I was introduced to Endurance in 2014 when my career led me from Brisbane (where I had been having riding lessons at Dove Haven Equestrian Park since August 2012) back to my hometown of Toowoomba. I looked up riding schools in Toowoomba, and in March 2014 made a phone call to Jay Randle of Splendacrest. I had a few lessons with Jay and then started going out for trail rides. I had only ever heard of Endurance once at this point. It would have been about 10 years earlier I saw a photo in a horse magazine of a horse being lead over rocky terrain by a rider in a numbered bib. The caption said something along the lines of “in Endurance, riders often dismount to lead their horses over difficult terrain”. During my first few visits to Splendacrest, I started learning bits and pieces about the sport and became both interested and intrigued.
On one of our trail rides, Jay asked me what I wanted to achieve with my riding. I told her that I would love to try endurance “if I’m not too old”. It just so happened that the Lake Manchester ride was 2 weeks away, and they were running a 20km ride which was perfect for a newbie like me. Needless to say, 5km into my first ride, I was hooked. I was pretty sore after 20km and at that point couldn’t imagine riding any further! For the remainder of the year, I completed 1 x 50km and 2 x 40km, before my work took me away from Toowoomba and led me to Hervey Bay. I was devastated to leave my beloved Splendacrest, and thought that my Endurance career would be over before it had even started.
I put a call-out on the QERA Facebook page for any endurance riders in Hervey Bay, and received a response from Victoria. After moving to Hervey Bay in January 2015, I started riding with Victoria and Jasmine. I was lucky enough to ride one of Victoria’s ponies, Sally. She loves heading out and is a lot of fun to ride. As the Cooyar ride was rolling around, Victoria gave me the opportunity of riding Sally in the 40km. Victoria and Jasmine were going to do the 80km with horses Hazel and Sahala, and I organised to ride in the 40km with Tahlia Franke (one of Australia’s best junior riders) and Allison Gerard.
The 80km started half an hour before the 40km, so after Victoria and Jasmine headed off, I got Sally ready and headed out with Tahlia and Allison.Tahlia remarked how perfect the conditions were for Endurance riding. It was Sally’s first time at an Endurance ride, but she was perfectly behaved and had no issue tagging along with two other horses. The first 10-15km were awesome. I couldn’t believe I was back at an Endurance ride, riding with two of my friends from Splendacrest on a perfect Saturday afternoon. We were travelling at a steady speed, giving the horses regular walking breaks and of course stopping at water points. I was a little concerned when Sally didn’t drink at the first water trough, but I also knew that it was common for horses not to drink early on in rides.
My concerns grew when Sally started pacing and panting. We slowed down and stopped at times to give her the opportunity to catch her breath, but this did not seem to do a lot. She seemed quite stressed and we were all starting to worry. When we reached the next water point, we used water bottles to pour water on her, to try and cool her down. I was so grateful to be riding with Tahlia, who has so much experience riding Endurance horses. Whilst I was worried about Sally, I knew that Tahlia would do the best things for her. As we left the water point, all three of us dismounted, Tahlia unsaddled Sally and we started leading our horses down the hill (Tahlia carrying Sally’s saddle!). We hadn’t gone too far down the hill when the rescue float showed up at the water point to collect a withdrawn lame horse, so we decided to head back up to discuss the prospect of withdrawing Sally. The lady driving the float looked at Sally and listened to her heart with a stethoscope and strongly advised that we withdraw. The float already had two horses on it, so I would need to continue walking her through the course and wait for the float to return in about half an hour. I asked the lady if she thought Sally would end up in the vet hospital. She gave me a concerned look and said “I can’t tell you”. My heart sank. Here I was at my first endurance ride of the year, with a horse belonging to someone I had only known a few weeks, facing the prospect of the vet hospital. I thanked Tahlia and Allison for their help and patience and hugged them goodbye before they continued with their ride.
I started walking down the track, leading Sally with her reins, waiting for the rescue float to return. An hour passed, but I wasn’t too concerned. Sally had started to pick up and was eating some lush green grass by the side of the track. She had stopped panting, but was letting out some rather audible ‘neighs’. The sun started to go down, and still no sign of the rescue float. I was starting to think they had forgotten about me and I was going to have to walk to whole way back to base. I had reception on track, but there was none at the base, so I was not able to get in contact with anybody to remind them to pick me up. As the daylight disappeared, I was glad to have attached a light to my helmet ‘just in case’. Two hours after saying goodbye to our track buddies, headlights appeared ahead, and the rescue float arrived! Another horse was already on it, but we loaded Sally with no trouble and headed back to base.
Withdrawing was something I had never thought about before this point. I had thought about vetting-out and what that might be like, but withdrawing had never crossed my mind. Consequently, I had no idea what to do in the case of a withdrawal! The trip back to base was my chance to find out, so I asked the lovely rescue float driver many questions about what I needed to do next. She explained that when I arrived back at the base, I would need to go to the time gate to get a time slip. From that time, I would then have 30 minutes to get to vetting, and if my horse passed the vetting she would be ‘withdrawn’, but if she failed it, it would be a vet-out. I returned to my team camp where Jay, Spence (Victoria’s husband) and Adam (Jasmine’s dad) helped strap Sally and we took her to vetting. We checked her heart rate again just before going to the TPR, and it was in the 40s. While her heart rate was being taken, Sally started getting worked up again, so I was relieved when she passed with a heart rate of 53bpm (it cannot be higher than 55bpm for a 40km). We went to the vet who checked all the essentials. I trotted Sally out for the vet to check her gait, and she was declared sound! Therefore, the Cooyar ride was only a ‘withdrawal” for Sally. I was disappointed to not have completed my first ride with my new team, but I was relieved that Sally was ok, and reminded of one of the things I love most about this sport – the horse’s welfare always comes first!
When Victoria and Jasmine returned from the 80km, Victoria looked and saw Sally in her yard, then looked at me and asked “how did you go?”. “We had to withdraw,” I told her, and of course, she understood. The details were saved for after the girls had vetted and returned the horses to their yards with rugs and feeds. They had finished in good time, so took their horses for a walk to the vetting area before the Best Conditioned workouts, to see if they were needed for that. Sally got all worked up in her yard when her two buddies departed and proceeded to break through the electric fence and canter through the Show Grounds until she caught up to her friends. It was almost something out of a comedy, a white horse running through campsites with two people (myself and Spence) chasing after it!
Jasmine’s horse Sahala won Best Conditioned Junior horse and both horses successfully completed the 80km. Although it wasn’t the start to my 2015 season I had hoped for, I knew that I had found myself a special team. A team of people who put the horses before themselves, who support each other, and are a lot of fun to spend a weekend with. Although I didn’t fall off a horse, I had certainly landed on my feet. This was just the beginning of what I was certain would be a wonderful Endurance season.