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.