“A canter is the cure for every evil.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli
The canter is indeed high on the list as one of the thrills while riding a horse. The three-beat rocking horse canter with a brief moment of being airborne can be one of those memorable feel-good experiences, logged in the brain for life.
A calm canter depart is the start of developing this dreamy gait. When working with a young horse, or one that is reluctant to break into the canter, be sure to approach the subject in an unhurried fashion and have a plan.
In a western or English saddle, an easy way to get a canter depart is from a very active forward posting trot without rushing your steed off his feet. Establish your forward trot and choosing the direction that your horse prefers, head for a corner of your arena and make a gentle curving line. At some point, the horse will want to break into canter; it’s less work than a butt-busting trot. Don’t stop posting and take advantage of that moment by applying your cue for the canter. If your horse just trots faster slow him back down and ask again. Sometimes, if you ask for a strong forward trot, then slow down the trot slightly and sit to apply the cue for the canter, it will encourage your horse to strike off into the canter.
The canter is a 3-beat gait. If you are making a circle to the right, the inside is the right side of the horse, and the outside is the left side of the horse. Beat 1 is the left hind leg, or outside hind, striking off. Beat 2 is the diagonal pair of legs that move together – the inside right hind and the outside left foreleg. Beat 3 is the right foreleg – the inside foreleg – and when going to the right, the horse will be in better balance especially while on a circle to the right. We say the horse is on the correct lead, because the inside or right foreleg is the leading leg that goes more forward than the other foreleg in this gait. Beat 3 is followed by a moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground.
Most riders ask for the canter by slightly moving the outside leg back and squeezing it against the horse’s side. This is because you are asking for the outside hind leg to strike off to begin the canter, resulting in the horse’s leading leg to be on the inside to be in better balance.
If you ask your horse to canter, and he strikes off on the wrong lead – do nothing – you’re cantering! The horse obliged with the correct gait. Let him canter for a bit. Then you can break back to trot, rev-up the engine again if necessary, and try the canter again until you get the correct lead. When you do, tell him what a genius he is! You’ll find that your horse progressively begins to pick up the correct lead more often, until right and left leads are firmly established.
After you have established a smooth canter depart from the trot and you are sure your horse understands the canter aid; you can try asking for it from a walk. Without hurrying, establish a forward-marching balanced walk that feels like it has a bit of bounce to it. You will probably experience some trot strides before getting the canter, but with repetition, the number of trot strides will diminish until your horse can strike off into the canter directly from the walk.
When you train the canter in this fashion, and all is going to plan, the horse seamlessly slides into it without rushing. If you establish the forward energetic trot or walk before asking for canter, you won’t have to kick, use a crop or spur, and all will be well. If things don’t go to plan – no worries. Take a break, re-organize yourself, establish that wonderful walk or trot and try again. Your confidence will make it happen.
Training your horse to move forward willing and dependably is the most important element to having a responsive and well-behaved horse. Most behavior problems begin with your horse’s resistance to the forward aids – your legs and seat. Severe resistance to the forward aids can result in bucking, rearing, shying, balking, and being unwilling to leave other horses or leave the barn. These are serious issues, but the cure is to go back to square one – your horse’s response to the go forward aids.
Going forward dependably is also a safety issue. If there is a scary monster in the bushes, your horse still has to listen to your go forward command to get past it. He might not like it, he might be tense and wild eyed, but if he continues to obey the forward aids, you can still make it past the obstacle. Going forward when asked is not a suggestion, or a guideline. It’s a hard and fast rule. It effects how your horse steers as well. Like a sail boat, you can’t steer a horse if he’s not in motion. I like to turn my horse’s head slightly away from the monster in the bushes, but continue it a straight line until we’re in the clear.
If you have trained a young horse, or started him under saddle, you have experienced that the green horse is so difficult to ride because his gas pedal is sticky. He goes forward, then the motor cuts out, then he doesn’t steer. Repeat. It’s rarely a problem that you cannot slow down or stop your young horse, he gets that pretty quickly. An experienced rider can get the horse moving forward with their aids, their energy and their mind. Everything about their attitude in the saddle says let’s go forward with consistency without blocking the way forward with hands or a body that cannot follow the forward motion smoothly. After many rides, the young horse learns that it’s fun to go forward in harmony with a rider, and through repetition and reward, and perhaps backed up with a crop on occasion, he learns that going forward is a way of life. Only then can you start bending and flexing, and introduce side way movements, because there is forward energy and motion to work with.
Every successful training moment that you make it past the barking dog, the plastic bag, and the parked car, builds your horse’s confidence in you. You are in charge and if you say go – it is safe. He learns to trust your leadership until finally; there is no resistance to anything. You are a team that can go anywhere! That is what we call a well-broke or fully trained horse. It does take time to get there – but it is so worth it.
It’s a good idea to revisit your horse’s response to the forward aids in the arena throughout his lifetime. I like to get on a big circle and go from trot to walk to trot to walk. Those transitions reinforce the go forward command, and sharpen his response with immediate compliance. Then I do the same thing with trot to canter to trot to canter – reviewing the response to the canter aid. Then really mix it up with a halt to trot to canter to walk to trot and back to halt. Gas pedal, steering wheel and brakes all functioning properly? Then you’re ready to go hit the trail again.
In an article written by Christa Leste-Lasserre for The Horse she relates studies done by Russell Guire, a PhD candidate at the Royal Veterinary College and a researcher at Centaur Biomechanics in the UK. The article titled, Training Aids: How Their Fit Could Help or Hinder Longeing Horses, discusses lungeing your horse for training using a surcingle, side reins, and other training aids. Leste-Lasserre writes “While science has already confirmed the usefulness of training aids…, improperly fitted training rollers [surcingles] could be squelching any benefit these systems offer.”
“ ‘We’ve noted significant pressure under the training roller that’s close to the pressure found during a sitting trot,’ Guire said. ‘Most rollers don’t have trees, so when they’re tightened up, they put that pressure directly onto the horse’s spine at about the level of T12-T13 (thoracic vertebrae). We believe that this pressure could reduce any benefits the horse could have from the training aids. Previous studies by the same team have already indicated that pressure at T12-T13 inhibits locomotion.’”
The Barefoot Surcingle imported from Germany solves this issue of pressure on the back and withers. The pommel of the surcingle protects the horse’s withers and spine. Underneath the Barefoot Surcingle pommel the withers remain unrestricted and there is no pressure – neither on the withers nor along the sides. The supports on both sides are padded softly and extra wide, so that muscles can develop without being squeezed.
Lungeing and ground driving is a great training tool that can be used to introduce young horses to the bit, and to tune up and advance older horses. Working properly with a surcingle and side reins or long lines, the horse is encouraged to flex to the pressure of the bit at the pole and lift and round his back. Developing the horse’s top line in this manner helps the horse to carry the weight of the rider in balance and comfort. Using the Barefoot Surcingle will insure you are building muscle properly without impeding the forward motion and stride of your horse.
Out on the trail is not the ideal time to train. That’s why we ride in an arena in a controlled environment. If you don’t have a fenced arena, create yourself a training area by roping off a section of your pasture, or put logs or poles on the ground to cordon off your training space. It’s not fun to discover that your horse’s brakes don’t work all that well when you pick up the canter with a couple of your riding cronies. Just as dangerous as no brakes is a sticky gas pedal. Your horse must know that going forward when asked is not a negotiable request. You can check your horse’s response to your aids by testing him in the arena. Take every opportunity to ride through the puddle, past the flapping jacket on the arena gait, walking over ground poles, riding in company and by yourself. Once you feel you are completely in charge and are comfortable with your horse’s response and cooperation in all gaits, you are ready to venture out.
Going out on the trail should mean a relaxing time for your horse. When you start out with a young horse, a new horse, or tuning up your horse, take baby steps to develop your horse’s attitude about the trail. You should first establish that trail riding means walking. Go for a short walk at the end of an arena session. Your horse is in a great state of mind to relax and just walk to cool down. Your first trail rides can be around the barn and around the property. Make the ride in a circular pattern. Don’t go out in one direction, make a 180, and then head straight back that might encourage anticipating returning home.
With your riding buddies, take turns leading the way, riding in the middle and following. If your horse acts up in any one of these positions, change back to his comfort zone position, and then give him short doses of what he doesn’t like. That way he doesn’t work himself up, and stays in a relaxed state of mind. Eventually you should be able to ride anywhere you like.
Increase the distance and time of your trail rides by increasing the circumference of your circle. Around the barn, over the hill, and back down the road. Then around the barn, over the hill, across the road to the next field and then back down the road. You get the idea. You and your horse will have no worries as the next steps are never too challenging. Follow a riding buddy to help you across the creek for the first time. Always set yourself up for success.
Once your horse proves to you he knows the trail is for relaxation, you can pick up the trot somewhere in the middle of your ride for a short period. Return to walk to be sure your horse maintains his calm walking demeanor. After several weeks, or months, you can add a loping or canter session keeping an eye on his attitude. Always quit while you’re ahead, there is always another ride tomorrow. Taking the time to advance your rides with baby steps can help the development of your laid-back and happy trail horse. And the old saying, “walk the first and last mile” is still sound advice.
Pamela Karner is an endurance rider and an equine veterinarian. She has had quite an eventful time with her endurance gelding, Castlebar Link, or Link for short. Even after several serious accidents, Pam has persevered and continues to ride, train and plan for her next endurance ride with Link, a beautiful chestnut Anglo-Arabian.
Pam travels to Australia every winter, and that is where she found Link. Pam explains, “I picked Castlebar Link out as a three-year-old from a large, very successful endurance stud. They kept him over the winter and sent him to their trainer for four weeks. I picked him up the following year when I was back in Australia. That year he broke my leg, knee, and ankle with an explosive move while I was on the ground! I had never been hurt like that in 30-plus years of my large animal veterinary practice!”
”The following year he broke his splint bone in the pasture and required surgery,” she continues. “So we were even, both broken once. His six-year-old year he dumped me and I refused to let go of the long split reins, as I was alone in the Australian bush. His response was to double barrel the creature scaring him from behind… thus another hospital visit and surgery.
“The next two years I was determined to go back and start over with this affectionate, lovely horse who was fantastic to ride 99% of the time, but when frightened was over the top explosive. My natural horsemanship friend and coach here in the US was very helpful.
“Link has gradually come along. He is still not a horse to take for granted! We have managed to successfully ride multiple 40K rides and 4,80K rides. I am hoping that he will be ready for the Quilty 100-mile ride next year! It is a challenge in many ways. Link gets 7 months off every year. I start him back every December and leave early May!”
The rain and snow have slacked off, the weather is warming up, and the trail beckons. You put a date on the calendar to go ride with your favorite horse buddies. You anticipate the day’s ride coming up with visions of a warm spring breeze on your face, green grass and spring flowers abound, and your horse’s mane and tail gently blowing in the wind. You sigh…., “I can’t wait until this weekend.”
The first rides of spring can be glorious. But be sure to take some precautionary steps to avoid unwanted surprises. Most importantly, check the frame of mind of your horse! The completely dependable trail horse that you put away in November for his yearly time off, may not prove himself to be all that dependable the first couple of rides out.
Start off with some round pen work, or put him on a lunge line if you don’t have a round pen or arena. Watch how he moves at all three gaits keeping your eye out for soundness issues. How exuberant is he? Perhaps several days of lungeing are in order. Saddle him up and send him around some more. Has he lost or gained weight? Does the saddle still sit level? Girth still fits?
Then, choose an easy trail with good footing. If it’s too muddy, consider going a different way. It’s safer and doesn’t chop up the trails for the rest of the year. Be sure and give your horse some breaks if he gets winded, and gradually increase the length and difficulty of the trails as you both get back in shape. Watch for chicks and cubs who might be hanging around their nests and dens. Protective mothers in the wild are not to be messed with.
Don’t’ forget to stop and smell the roses. And pack your sheepskin seat saver; you may need it after an hour or so! Happy Trails!
When horse and rider suit each other perfectly, like Janet Lopez and Boo, you can just sense their connection. Horses that enrich our lives are what it’s all about.
Janet’s horse, Boo, is a palomino Medicine Hat Paint/Quarter horse that stands at 14.1 hands. Janet bought him when he was 6 years old from the gal who raised him, and he will be 10 years old this year. A Medicine Hat paint horse is almost entirely white, but has a colored patch covering the ears and the top of the head. The distinguishing head markings are what create the Medicine Hat, or war bonnet.
Janet relates, “The gal who sold him worked in a big hunter/jumper facility and could have sold him to a number of people. Fortunately, she felt that her Boo and I would be perfect for each other!
“She was right! Boo and I have ridden together in lots of different cool places – Eagle Cap Wilderness out of Halfway, Oregon, the Tobacco Root Mountains near Billings, Montana and recently the Hassayampa Wash in Wickenburg, Arizona. Those are just a few of the places that we have ridden together.
“We have taken part in cutting buffalo and cattle, as well as searching and rounding up small herds out of Montana and Washington. We have been to several clinics so that I can learn to be a better partner for my horse. I have learned so much and feel so good that Boo and I have learned together.
“Someone told me that having a horse can be a spiritual journey. You can go as deep as you want and beyond or you can just stay on the surface. I highly recommend the journey – what an amazing and blessed ride it is!
“I just love this partner of mine. Boo definitely came into my life to save my soul!”
November’s Action Rider, Rosemary Crowley, bravely took on the project of starting a young Andalusion to saddle and bridle.
“I always was infatuated with the Andalusian breed, but after looking at several older horses I realized that I could only afford a very young horse. I found Chispazo on Dream Horse and began a correspondence with Nancy LeNau about him. He is a P.R.E. and his sire was Silver Solamente and his dam was Belina PWG, Nancy’s mare. His birthday is July 4 and apparently was born during his mother’s anxiousness about the fireworks that night!
“When I saw him, I liked his curiosity as I played with him. I decided to take a chance. I brought him home in a stock trailer as a 15-month-old colt. Once I got him home it became apparent that I should geld him. He spent all his turnout time with my lovely older gelding, Spock, some sort of Spanish/Quarter horse cross, that he adored. Spock allowed him to be a little spoiled, but it was always obvious that they had a very special relationship.
“After I gelded Pazo, I spent a lot of time leading him out and about and just playing with him. He seemed very immature and I waited until he was over 3-years-old to back him. Circumstances and his lack of maturity led me to cautiously proceed with his training. I had an injury during his 4-5 year-old stage and once I started back with him in the spring of 2014, he was really ready to ‘go on with’ -as they say.
“I decided that I had to go to a facility so I could continue to ride him through our sometimes severe northeastern winter. I found a wonderful facility and we developed trust and started real training. He was very spooky and I was timid after my injuries, so it took a while for us to find our stride.
“Now, we have participated in a couple of intro dressage shows and we are working on balance, trust and trying to balance at the canter. I just love his spirit and he is finally developing into a wonderful partner. He is curious, incredibly smart and a pleasure to be around.
“In hindsight, I probably made the well-known mistake of taking on such a young horse as a project, but I wouldn’t do anything different if I had the chance. He is such fun and I have made sure that he is not over faced and appreciated for the character that he is!
“The P.R.E. horses are wonderful, smart and sensible, although he is a hot horse. I have learned to trust that he wants to be my partner and I have to be his leader. It has taken a long time because I am an amateur rider but this shows how forgiving he has been, at least for me. There were many times that I thought I was over faced, but we are doing great. What a wonderful journey!
“The photo in costume was at a Halloween show and I took pains to make sure my handsome boy had a costume which showed him as wonderful and elegant as he is to me every day. I was very proud of him and did the best I could to hand sew an outfit we could be proud of. I think he loved showing off!”
Action Rider Cassandra Olds is such a great treeless saddle success story, we had to share it. Read on.
“I had always read about horses with behavioral issues that were as a result of poor fitting tack but I just assumed it was an all or nothing deal. It was a good fit or bad fit. I didn’t realize that even though the tack may fit, the horse may still not be comfortable. This is what my journey with Tell has taught me… Comfort matters!
“Tell is an 11-year-old quarter horse cross. When I took him on I noticed that he bucked furiously for the first five or so minutes when lunged with a saddle. He also flat out refused to go up any hill when hacking out, instead he would slowly wind his way up. It was put down to being lazy or having too much energy depending on the day.
“He is the gentlest creature on the ground with excellent manners so it didn’t add up. I had a hunch that he wasn’t comfortable with the saddle he came with so I did a lot of research on saddle options, treeless saddles specifically and decided to give it a go. At the same time I switched out his snaffle bit for a bitless bridle, having found that he pulled against the bit relentlessly.
“Since then we have done a four-hour mountain trail ride very comfortably as well as a number of shorter rides and I feel happier knowing that he is comfortable again. From a training perspective, it has been amazing to see how quickly he is learning now that we can focus on the lesson.
“Perhaps the most exciting moment for me was when coming back from a short ride in the arena; we approached a road going up a steep hill beside the barn. Normally we just walk straight to the barn, but on this particular day, Tell seemed to want to go up the hill (there are two horses at the top which he wanted to introduce himself to I guess). Knowing our past experiences with hills I decided to see what he would do if he had the choice, go to the barn or carry me up steep hill with him, which would he pick? Much to my surprise, he energetically walked up the hill! Changing the bridle has also made a world of difference, almost immediately he became very responsive to the lightest aids and no more pulling! Needless to say I am looking forward to find out what else he can do!”
About four years ago I realized that I actually had a bucket list. I was driving down the road in my car, listening to the radio and they were talking about Bucket Lists. Up to this point, I didn’t think I had one. But as I drove, the first thing that popped into my mind was Tevis. The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to complete one of the toughest (if not the toughest) endurance rides in North America. Holy Cow, I have a Bucket List, I better get on it. But of course I can’t complete my Bucket List on a horse that would make sense to complete it on…in other words an Arab. I wanted to complete this on a Mustang. I got a horse 2 months later that I had hoped would fulfill my newfound bucket list item. I worked him for 7 months and realized that HE had NO desire to fulfill my bucket list. A year after my epiphany, I found Jim. The ad said “Forward Mustang”. Forward and Mustang aren’t two words usually used in the same sentence. So I purchased him. In the first 5 rides, he took off on me three times. Yep, he was forward! To this day he will pull something like that at almost every ride…including Tevis. All the horses went left, he thought right was a better direction (because it was East-he always wants to go east) and off we went. More on that later.
Fast forward three years. Now he is a solid endurance horse. He looks like a plow horse on steroids. Starting last Winter I really focused in on this goal. It is amazing how consuming this became in my life. What became a nice surprise was when I did a conditioning ride with my friend, Gina and found out she also planned on Tevis. Riding together, sharing ideas, and having someone with the same goal were priceless. She called me one day and told me we were going to be sponsored by Action Rider Tack. What?! A sponsor?! I was thrilled, humbled, and scared all at the same time. I went into the office at Action Rider Tack and thanked Carla Winkler, the owner, and told her that I was now scared because my chance of finishing this ride was about 33%. I didn’t want to blow the sponsorship. She was so gracious. She understood and wanted to support us in our effort. I can’t thank Action Rider Tack enough for that. From them I received support, sponsorship, but no pressure. It doesn’t get any better. Well it does, but more on that later.
Three weeks before Tevis, Gina had a gut feeling that her mare may be suffering from ulcers so she had her scoped. The Vet found ulcers and that crushed her dream of going. We had not planned on riding together at Tevis, but to share so much with her in our dream of Tevis, I felt her pain like it was my own. I was heading down without her.
Two weeks before the ride, I was making myself crazy with doubt. I told my husband Mike that if I didn’t finish Tevis this year, that I would go back next year, AND I would get a puppy. It is so funny because those were the first tentative plans I had AFTER AUGUST 1st. For a year, AUGUST 1ST was IT. Nothing existed AFTER AUGUST 1ST. It was such a stress reliever to see past that date, and to have something silly to think about after that date. I doubt I would have gotten a puppy, but it was such a fun thought in a time frame AFTER the ride, that it took much of my stress away.
I shouldn’t have been stressed; I had the most amazing crew. Crew Chief, Patty Surowski organized a 50 page 3-ring binder for the rest of the crew. (I don’t know if it was actually 50 pages, but it looked like it.) My husband, Mike Motschenbacher, and dear friends Lisa Schram and Christine Karas were my other crew members. It was the most perfect crew because Mike, Lisa and Christine are all pretty laid back and easy going-which balanced out with my Crew Chief Patty that had everything organized to the minute detail. Patty’s biggest challenge was to herself not to overwhelm the rest of the crew. But that 3-ring binder was priceless. At Robie Park, when Mike started to realize he didn’t really know how to get anywhere, Patty had him turn to page 3 of the notebook, where the map from Robie To Forest Hill was located, and explained in detail (with a color map as a back drop) how to get there. To top it all off, because Gina couldn’t come, I also had Carla Winkler and Sarah Crampton from Action Rider Tack as crew members. Interestingly, I needed EVERY member. They were all running around and had priceless jobs that needed to be done.
I did a pre-ride with Beret Meyer on Thursday. We had such a great, relaxing ride up to No Hands Bridge and back. It went very quickly and cemented the finish in our minds. We decided that if we could, we would start the ride together.
That night at Robie Park I think I slept better than Mike did. He was so worried about getting out of Robie and getting to Forest Hill. The plan was to drop the rig at Forest Hill and if he could, hitch hike to Robinson Flats. He just didn’t know if logistically he could do it. I finally suggested that he just go to Forest Hill and stay there. I had FIVE crew waiting for me at Robinson; I would be fine without him.
We both fell asleep and missed the bear going through camp that kept up poor Carla and Sarah in their tent. The alarm went off at 3:30. I had a great breakfast and got ready and suddenly realized that I was kind of late tacking up. I get Jim tacked up and left my crew and trotted toward the start. There is Beret and we talked, laughed and had a pretty relaxing start. I was shocked. There was one horse that was dancing around a bit, but otherwise every horse was ‘all business’ going down the trail. Now I was fairly close to the back of the pack, but it was very uneventful.
At about 2 miles into the ride I felt my left stirrup slowly slide down my saddle. I was trotting along with a large group of horses and it felt like my left leg was on an elevator going down. I told Beret I had to stop. She offered to stop with me, and did. I pulled off and sure enough my fender had broken on my saddle. I asked Beret to keep going, and reluctantly she did. I pulled out the duct tape and I could see where the stitching had come undone so I duct taped the crap out of it. What I should have done… and didn’t… was check to make sure the stirrups were level before I had done this. It wasn’t even close. I crawled back on by 15.3HH horse on the ‘off side’ and off we went. I was so afraid to put much weight in that stirrup, which wasn’t a problem because it was about 3” longer than the other.
Amazingly, I was still riding with people around me, so I said screw it, I can ride that way, and I did until I got past the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. A little side note here. I am not a spectacular rider. I have had enough dressage lessons that the trainer doesn’t deny I have ever been there. Riding on that trail, over hwy 89, up past the ski lifts for 10+ miles without stirrups made me want to kiss that dressage instructor on the lips.
Along the trail I pulled out my phone and texted Patty that my stirrup broke, and called Mike and told him he had to take the extra set of fenders and that he DID have to go to Robinson. Good luck, I love you, good bye. Poor guy.
Before the ski lifts was Jim’s great opportunity to go East and he took off on me. I couldn’t dig down into my stirrups to turn his head but got him turned anyway. Go core! There were volunteers, water and green grass past the ski lift and I hopped off and reinforced my broken fender with more duct tape and twine that I had in my saddle. I wrapped, knotted, wrapped the other way, knotted, and wrapped and knotted one more time so that I could actually use the stirrup. BUT, alas, I made the stirrup too short this time. I get on and said screw it, I can ride this way. After a mile I came to my senses and had to undo the many, many knots I had made in the twine.
At this point of the ride I was on survival mode. The feeling I got in my gut when that stirrup fender broke was “There goes the ride, but at least I get a puppy.” So now my goal was just to ride on as long as I could until I was overtime. At squaw I heard one volunteer asking another if I was the last one. He said “No, there are about 15 more.” When I was undoing my amazingly knotted twine, most of those riders passed me.
It is funny how things work out, because I was by myself from that point until Red Star. Jim drank out of every bog, he went at his own pace through the technical rocks, and he grabbed a bite to eat some of the high mountain grass. I never expected to be by myself on Tevis. But Jim and I do well by ourselves, and usually he prefers it, so it was such a pleasure just experiencing this trail just the two of us, at our own pace. There was a rider off his mule before Red Star. He had a concussion and a couple of riders were tending to him and didn’t need help, so I continued on. I trotted into Red Star and was shocked at how many horses were there. Because Jim had tanked up at the bogs, and everywhere else, we quickly got through Red Star and continued on. Those wonderful riders that had tended to the down rider passed me and I was by myself again for most of the way into Robinson. My poor crew, I got there so much later than I expected. I got there at 11:38 and cut off was 12:00. Little did they know this would be a theme with me and that they would stress and worry for only 17.5 more hours.
What I didn’t know until later is that Mike got to Forest Hill, parked the rig and tried to hitch hike to Robinson. He went out on the road and stuck his thumb out. Cars just kept going by, and nobody stopped. He went to the entrance and stood there for a while with his thumb out with the same results. He went up to a volunteer and told her that he was trying to get to Robinson Flat, that my saddle broke, and he had the piece to fix it. She yelled over at another volunteer and told him that he HAD to take this guy to Robinson!!!! His rider’s saddle broke and he had the piece to fix it!” The other volunteer dropped what he was doing and drove Mike up to Robinson.
My crew was better prepared than an Indy 500 Pit Crew! It was priceless having Carla and Sarah from Action Rider Tack there because my saddle needed a major overhaul, and they know this saddle well, they sell them, so they were on it! Christine grabbed the saddle, put it in the cart and she, Lisa, Carla and Sarah were off with it. They fixed the saddle, resupplied food, water and elytes in my bags, changed the pad, etc. Patty and Mike stayed with me and made sure Jim was comfortable.
When I got to my crew spot it was a hive of activity and Jim happily munched, Lisa massaged his backend where she found a knot in his muscle and I sat and watched it all. There was no chaos, they didn’t bother Jim, they just did their jobs and made everything work again, including me. Carla had to wait in the long line for the green blood draw card. Poor girl, but having her take on this job took so much stress off of me. All of those little details that the crew took care of made my ride easier. When it was 3 am and I still had the energy to keep going, I really think it was because I didn’t have to worry about all of the little things they took care of.
Jim and I had done the section of the trail between Robinson and Forest Hill at the Tevis Education ride. It was so interesting how much happier he was on sections he knew. We passed many people through here. I got off and hand trotted him down the canyons. We loved playing in the American River. At every stop the volunteers were so amazing.
We came into Forest Hill at 8:12. Cut off was 8:30. Yep, I like to keep my crew guessing. Again, they were rock stars taking care of Jim and me. I was on Jim at 9:10 and waiting for my time to leave and it was dark already. I left Forest Hill and there are more volunteers guiding me thru half the town. It was VERY quiet going through the other half of Forest Hill in the dark. I got off and hand walked him on the pavement. At this point I had done most of the ride by myself. I don’t mind riding Jim by himself and I had been so concerned that at Tevis we would never be by ourselves. Well that certainly wasn’t an issue, and at this point I wanted some company. Well I found it. I got in with a group of riders once I got on the trail and we had a great time. It was the first time I had a conversation with riders, finding out where they were from, what was the story with their horses, etc. It was great. Jim loved that section of trail and led a good portion of it. There were riders close enough ahead that we could tell where the switch backs were. I think that was the most fun we both had.
We got into Franciscos and again it is chaos and there are so many horses everywhere! Jim and I get up to the vet quickly but I had lost my time-in slip. At this point my mind was not working well because I was tired. I went and got another slip and vetted him through. I wanted to get him vetted while there wasn’t a line, so afterwards I then could let him eat and relax. I was fumbling around, probably talking to myself when a volunteer came up and took over for me. He could tell I was functioning at the level of a 5 year old and he did everything but hold my hand in the porta potty. This gentleman made me eat, made me drink and directed me to the porta potty. He walked Jim up to the mounting block so I could get on. We had 15 miles to go on the ride, and I am still so close to cut offs that I hadn’t thought I might actually get this ride done. I was just going until they told me I had to stop.
As I was getting on Jim, the volunteer said “You know you are going to finish this ride.” I was mid-mount and just stopped. “I am?” I am dumbfounded that he said that. “Why do you think that?” It hadn’t dawned on me that I might finish. That moment in time will be forever emblazoned in my mind. That volunteer has no idea what affect those words had on me.
So I left the vet check feeling pretty darn good. Now we were on the trail by ourselves again. Jim was going along, but he was now on a section he hadn’t done before and he didn’t like it. He did a pretty impressive Western Pleasure Jog, complete with head down sniffing for ‘his people’ that he had gone into Francisco’s with. I didn’t know we had left before them. We had 3 riders come up and we all trotted along then he pulled off to go pee. He had no interest in catching back up to those riders, he didn’t want NEW people, he wanted HIS people. So we rode into Lower Quarry by ourselves.
At Lower Quarry I had a real scare because I had to represent him. He had intermittent lameness on left front. It went away when he trotted faster than his newly loved gait ‘The Western Jog’. So we continued on. I was pretty darn paranoid at this point. Who needs caffeine when I have been chasing cut offs all day and NOW a vet saw an intermittent lameness. My crew is at No Hands and I guess I acted a little zombie-like and scared them, but my mind was so focused on Jim. At Robie Point I got off and walked all the way down until it started climbing again. NOW Jim’s people are passing him, and he isn’t happy about that. I tried to get on and couldn’t because he was jigging and I had forgotten to tighten my cinch when I had mounted at Lower Quarry. I don’t know how I had ridden with it so loose. So I got it tightened and got back on. I had people ask if I wanted them wait while I mounted and I told them no. How nice was that! Very nice! I walked him in most of the way and we crossed the finish line at 4:59.
At the stadium again he had to be trotted out twice. While doing the second trot out I thought to myself that I was so proud of this horse, and that I didn’t even care if we were pulled. He was amazing and we did the ride. I got back to the Vets and they looked at each other, smiled, and told me congratulations. I about passed out. My big old 15.3HH Mustang finished the ride. The feeling that comes over a person when they see a horse give that much is unexplainable. He just kept going. What is even more amazing is that when Gina pulled his shoes, he had an olive sized rock in his left front foot. It was embedded in the middle of his frog. That tough, tough horse continued on with that rock in his foot.
That ride is so interesting. I think some people do it and never care to see the trail again. Me, I was planning next year on the drive home. If that ride gets stuck in your head, I think it gets pretty cemented in. I have finally stopped dreaming that I am on the trail. I would wake up and wonder which check point my bedroom was at.
On one side I hope I forget this desire to go back to Tevis. On the other side I never want to forget this ride. I want to again experience every section, every check point, and every rock on this amazing trail.