Road to Rockybar – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adriana and Sirahh on Leg 1

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

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

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

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Another successful completion for an awesome pair

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

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The first of many well deserved awards

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

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

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Road to Rockybar – Part 1

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

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

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

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Hitched back up at Ban Ban Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To be continued in Road to Rockybar – Part 2

Work of the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sue and Chatelaine having a whale of a time

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

Murrumba Magic

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

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

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Camp all set!  Photo credit: Adam Perrier

 

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

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

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

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Ready to go    Photo credit: Adam Perrier

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

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

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

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Jas-Cam on Leg 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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My very first Yellow Book!

Hang up the hang ups

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

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

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

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

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Packed and ready!

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

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

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

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Mercy, a week before the “ordeal”

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

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

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

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Jett – the mischief man

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

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

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

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

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All patched up and considering some hay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Child

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

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

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

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Maloo Vale Siri Mahali and Maloo Vale Amir Halo

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

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

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First time aboard!

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

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

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

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Splash! Photo by Kevin Coppalotti

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

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

Firsts and lasts

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

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

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

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

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Sam sampling some sugar cane out on a ride with Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sam and Adriana – out on the first leg

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

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

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Happy chappies the day after

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

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

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