Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet Onion Live III (2014)

The whole model horse thing is nuts. I mean, some would say the whole endurance thing is nuts, too, and I’d be inclined to agree, but model horses are different. The whole idea of a model horse show makes no sense. Not really. Not when you start asking the obvious questions.

I was judging OF Traditional Breyer this time (feel free to refresh your terminology memory here). 

So, let’s imagine that there was a sale at the local tack/gift shop and literally everyone in town bought the same shiny, new Breyer. They all unpack them at the show and put them on the table. There are, literally, 15 identical horses on the table. They are an industrial commodity, intentionally manufactured to be as uniform as possible. They are widgets. 

Which widget is the best?

That’s what I was there to decide.

I didn’t take good pictures at the show, so I’m going to do a tiny, simulated OF Breyer class for you on my workbench. Let’s call this class “Half/Part Arabian,” which is a class I judged at SwOL.

Here’s how I decide who wins, in order of what I look for.

Presence. Just like at a real horse show, there are usually one or two horses in the class who just draw the eye. I’ll walk around the table, sizing up the whole group and getting a feel for the standouts. (You'll note at a glance that the horse on the far left is much darker than the other two. That might matter later...)

Basic conformation. Some of Breyer’s molds are very realistic and biomechanically correct. Some of them are a virtual pantheon of how not to sculpt a horse. I’ve done enough research to know who’s who. Thank goodness there are only so many molds, so I just have to know like 100 things and not 1,000. (This class has all the same mold, so biomechanics are irrelevant. For the record, this is the Breyer Mariah, and she is pretty good other than an extremely short back and weird ears.)

Breed assignment. Every horse at the show has a leg tag that tells what breed it is supposed to be. This is not necessarily the breed that Breyer put on the box. The owner can also include a notecard to document why they chose that breed for that model. I mentally DQ’d tons of people for bad breed assignments. Some breeds of horse don’t come in certain colors. Some body types aren’t appropriate for some breeds. Some grooming techniques are used on certain breed and not others (i.e.: cobs are shown roached but hunters are shown loose or braided). It sounds harsh, but when there are 15 horses on the table, it’s nice to throw a couple right out of the running so I have a smaller pool of potential winners to work with when I start looking at the nitpicky stuff.

Imagine this is the Part Arab class. Yes, it is absolutely possible that the guy on the left is part arabian, but he isn't really a prime representative of the body type of a horse who is 50% arab or more. Ergo, he would lose in a part arabian class because his owner chose an unlikely breed assignment.
Nitpicky stuff. Scuffs and rubs. Fuzzy paint edges where they should be sharp. Quality of shading. Dust. Yes, sometimes it comes down to dust.

So that's the order of operations for judging OF. A scuffed horse who is a better conformational example beats a pristine trainwreck.

Congratulations! The first round of breed classes is over. Then first and second place from that class come back to be judged in the championship for their group. (In that way, a model horse show is more like a dog show than a horse show—first judge by breed, then by group, then overall against the other group winners.)

Group judging is where things tend to go off the rails for me. Our theoretical Part Arabian champion from the breed class will find herself in the “light breeds” group along with the champions of Arab, Gaited-American, Gaited-Spanish, Non-gaited Spanish, TB, WB, Morgan, etc. So the question in a group class is: Is this Part Arab a better representative of Part Arabs in general than that Gaited Spanish horse is a representative of gaited Spanish horses in general? This is, of course, a nonsense question.

This would be a pretty typical group class. These are all "light breed" horses from different breed classes.

For argument’s sake, let’s say our little Part Arab wins her group. Now she’s in the running for OF overall championship. Now she is likely competing against a Stock horse, a Draft horse, a Pony and an “Exotic,” like a zebra or a donkey, plus the champion of Collectability (which is a whole other can of worms that I am not even going to dignify here).

Championship (dramatization).

At this point, you might as well throw all of their names in a hat and pick from that, because there is no flippin’ way to decide this fairly.

Anyway, I made it all the way through without embarrassing myself or getting yelled at too badly. I call that a win.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A nod is as good as a wink

I went to the barn yesterday intending to do a little light arena riding. Blue has had two weeks off since Klickitat to do basically nothing but hang out in the pasture with his buddies.

I decided to lunge him in the arena first to make sure he was sound. Last weekend, when I lunged him in the field (new arena fencing was being installed), he was very mildly off on the bad front foot still. But the ground in the field is fairly hard now that it is dry, and fairly uneven because of us riding on it when it was wet. I considered Blue to be nearly normal and well on his way to recovery already, though I didn't ride him. Another week of R&R would set him right.

Nevertheless, as Blue was circling around me yesterday on the smooth, forgiving sand of the arena, something still seemed not quite right. It was puzzling. The rhythm seemed even. The stride length was normal. There might have been an occasional head bob, but it was hard to tell if that was lameness or just high spirits. And yet, something was definitely telling me he wasn't ready to ride yet again.

What was it? I was puzzled. There was...something. I sent him off circling the other way (bad foot on the outside) for a while as I took stock, front-to-back from the ground up. Normal stride length. Normal landing. No stiffness. One ear forward, one ear on me. Willing attitude. Good footing. And yet...

I turned him around again, so the bad white foot was on the inside where I could see it hitting the ground in my peripheral vision as I watched the rest of him.

And that's when I saw the thing that had been tickling my subconscious: Every time the bad foot hit the ground, he blinked.

Such a subtle thing. Too subtle for video, I'm sorry to say. (I tried!)

Horses are always so quiet when they communicate. Blink- blink- blink is horse for ouch- ouch- ouch.

So my saddle will be gathering dust for another week. Luckily, I've got nothing but time! :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Upside of Quitting

Do you guys like public radio and podcasts? I do. Maybe to an unhealthy degree.

Anyway, this is one of my favorites: Freakonomics: The Upside of Quitting (Part 2: Failure Is Your Friend)

At my office, we have this list of official department agreements (rules) that we came up with in a team-building exercise. They're posted in the conference room and we have all agreed to abide by them. Most of them have to do with communicating better and never assuming the worst about each other's intentions. But one of the rules is a little different from the others. This is the full text: The Past Is the Past.

As a group, we had gotten into a bad habit of blaming our problems on things that happened years ago, people who weren't in the department anymore, policies that were created before our mission changed, "the way we had always done it," etc, etc, etc. What it meant in practice was that every failure or conflict became this stupid contest to see who had known it was going to fail first:

Oh, you pointed out that the presentation would be a disaster a week before you made it? Well, I knew it was a mess all the way back when I wrote it.  -- Oh yeah? Well, I knew it was a bad idea as soon as [manager who is no longer on the team] proposed it last year. -- Wasn't she awful? No wonder people hated it. -- Yep, but she promised [bigwig] we'd show it at least once a month, so it's here to stay.

See what happened there? We all got to feel smug and self-righteous and none of us had to take responsibility or fix the problem. We were living in the past.

The rule has changed the game. We might still discuss the history of a problem, but only so we can give context to the solution. It does not matter how much time or money or resources we have put in to something. If it doesn't work, we stop doing it.

I know that seems obvious, but in the corporate world, this is a major breakthrough.

Cutting your losses can be a smart move; it's not always a sign of weakness.

This ant is lying to you.
And I have to tell you, people are a lot happier with the rule in place. It is gradually killing off all of the "but we've always done that!" activities that waste time and money. It leaves more room for creativity and problem-solving. It forces us to be objective about what's working and what isn't—and to justify our decisions with actual data.

In short, looking forward instead of back is super great for morale. And if that means quitting something when the whole world is just one big "Never Give Up" meme? Well, so be it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Let’s talk about Easyshoes, the government and the nature of addiction! (Klickitat ride report)

It all goes back to this injury
Although it healed, the hair never grew back. Blue has naked pink heels on his left front. As it happens, that is the same foot pictured here, looking like a remedial trimmer’s worst nightmare

It’s the same foot that has the worst thrush, the most mud fever, the thinnest sole, the wonkiest frog. It is The Weakest Link. Goodbye.
And, of course, because this foot is The Problem Child, it is obviously the only one that gets boot rubs, too. With no hair to protect that naked heel, raw spots are almost inevitable in wet, gritty conditions. (I call those conditions “The Northwest.”) It takes 20 or 30 miles for it to happen, but after that, “raw and bleeding” is not all that unusual for the left front.
The Easyshoe seemed like a solution. No messing with getting boots on and off. No gaiter to cause rubs. It combined all the convenience of steel with the traction and flexibility of the boots.
Well, all those things are probably true, but they still aren’t working for us.
Some of the blame certainly goes to my trimmer. The first time he came to apply the Easyshoe Performance, he forgot to bring the heat gun to dry the hooves before application. The front left came off within 48 hours. The others developed gaps at the toe and heel. Moisture is the mortal enemy of Vettec Adhere.
That first shoe came off the night before I was leaving for Mt. Adams. My trimmer wasn’t available to come fix the problem, so I booted that foot and took Blue to ridecamp, where Sue Summers was nice enough to pop off the other front shoe so Blue would at least be symmetrical.
Symmetrical failure.

We did Gloves on fronts and Performance on backs. After 45 miles, Blue’s front left heel was bleeding under the gaiter. I did my best with the vetwrap and Desitin I had on board, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the rubs. I REALLY wanted those shoes. (I eventually found the one he lost in the pasture, too, which I never expected to be able to do.)
When we got back from our Mt. Adams pull, the trimmer came to put new shoes on the fronts. He said the old ones could not be reused, so I just kept them for fun. This time he brought the heat gun and seemed to do everything right, except maybe not globbing the glue on quite as thickly as I would have in my own paranoia. The result was a very neat-looking pair of front feet, ready for action. He also didn’t charge me for the new set, so at least there’s that.
I showed him the gapping in the hind feet, but he said his son’s roping horse (who is also in the Performances) developed those gaps too, and kept the shoes on for seven weeks with no problem.
I came out the next day to find the fronts still tightly adhered. And one of those gappy hinds—the left—was missing. I indulged in a moment of frustrated rage-swearing, then calmly emailed my trimmer to let him know. He was going to be out of town for the entire week, so I had a choice to make. Either I could pop off the other hind and do boots on the back (where I most frequently lose them) or try to reuse the hind shoe even though the trimmer said they weren’t reuseable.
I was born obstinate, so, of course, I decided to reuse the shoe.
I’m guessing that the reason they say you can’t reuse them is that under normal conditions, where they actually stay on, you have to rasp them to get them off. Since mine were coming right off the hoof and taking the glue with them, I chose to just Dremel the old glue out of the inside, replace the little foam glue barrier with some craft foam I had, and start fresh. It is just a lucky coincidence that my model horse hobby means I own a heat gun, too. I even sent my husband to the farrier supply store in Beavercreek to get Adhere for me since it was too late to get it online before K-tat. 
The shoe, thoroughly cleaned but still lots of old glue.

Showing what's left of the glue barrier that was in there.

Templating a new glue barrier.

Template next to the old one on top of the sheet of craft foam I just happened to have.

Dremeling out the old glue.

Heat gun to thoroughly dry the shoe after cleaning and before applying the new glue barrier.

This was my first gluing experience. At first the Adhere would barely come out of the tube at all, and I needed both hands to force the plunger. Then it started flowing faster than I could aim it. I slapped the shoe on the foot as straight as I was able. And it was a good thing I got it pretty close, because the Adhere took basically two seconds to cure. I globbed extra glue under the flap and along the toe. I cared a lot more about that sucker staying on that I cared about how it would look. That bias showed in the final, lumpy result. There is more glue than hoof.
I must admit, I was feeling pretty smug as we headed off to Glenwood two days later. “My” shoe was still tight on the foot. No gaps. Rock solid.
Smug turned to angry disbelief when we got to camp and I found the shoe on The Problem Child, the left front, was no longer fully attached. The flap on the side was no longer stuck to the hoof, and everything from the heel on that side to the flap (basically 1/3 of the shoe surface) was the same. Again, I was faced with the catch-22. If I pulled the shoe all the way off (assuming that was even possible with the tools I had with me), I’d have to boot the one foot that gets boot rubs. If I tried to re-glue the part that was detached—sans heat gun—I would be risking the glue failing again.
It was hot and dry. It had been hot and dry at home too. Blue’s foot seemed dry. The weather report said it would stay dry in Glenwood for the whole weekend. Surely with all that dry, the shoe could stay on for another 24 hours. That’s all I was asking for. I decided to chance it and inject some more Adhere into the gaps.
The thing felt rock solid after that. I took Blue out for a warm-up ride without incident. We came back and vetted in without incident. I put him to bed without incident. And then, at some point in the night, I woke up to the sound of thunder. And then rain. Lots of rain. I could practically hear Blue’s feet soaking up the moisture.
And yet, in the morning, as I was tacking up, the shoe was still firmly attached.
Warming up in camp, Blue was feisty but not out of control. He felt very, very good, and I was wondering if I should have signed up for the 50 instead of the LD after all.
We started behind the racers. We moseyed. We stopped to help a green rider in distress. And then I let Blue go and we flew past a bunch of people in quick succession. 
Perhaps three-quarters of the way through the loop I heard it: flap, flap, flap, like my horse was wearing flip-flops. We stopped, and it was of course the part that I had glued the day before that had come undone. Unfortunately, that was the only part that was undone, and I could not get the rest off. I was carrying boots, but the shoe was still too firmly attached on one side for me to tear it off and use a boot. So, knowing we were getting close to the outcheck, I continued. I reasoned that someone there would have something I could use to pry it off. I looked down to check pretty often. I checked before and after the water crossing. I checked after each downhill. The shoe was still attached.
And yet, somewhere between me checking the shoe for the last time and arriving at the outcheck, he lost it. Truly, it couldn’t have been more than a mile at the absolute outside. We got into the check, I dismounted and saw right away that the hoof and the shoe had finally parted company, and I booted him right up. At most, a mile of barefoot. No more. I can’t over-emphasize the shortness of time and distance here.
He passed the vet with all A’s looking like a champ.
He was a little doggy leaving the vet check, but that might have been because we were in a bubble of solitude and going away from camp. He soon found a buddy going the same speed to keep him motivated, and we cruised through 10 miles without incident.
And then, not more than a mile or two from camp, on soft, level footing, Blue’s head began to bob. I pulled him up and checked all four feet. Three shoes still solidly attached with nothing inside. The booted foot looked fine, not even a rub on the heel. We walked most of the way back in. He was sound at the walk and intermittent at the jog.
And we were 8th place! Blue’s first top 10! His best finish ever. 25 miles in just over 3 hours of moving time. Absolutely unbelievable. All A’s down the card.
Except that he was absolutely three-legged dead lame—so lame that he trotted about two steps before Dr. Foss stopped us.
I had told Dr. Foss, of course, that he’d lost a shoe so was booted on one foot. I expected he might have some intermittent gait weirdness just from having different tread on one foot. And the head bobbing on the trail… well, I was really just hoping that it had resolved itself as we walked into camp. We had 30 minutes to try to make it passable, but there was really no way he was going to trot out sound without a nerve block.
My theory is that he bruised the Problem Child's thin sole during his brief shoeless period, and it just hadn’t started hurting yet when we came into the outcheck. An hour later, after continued use, it began to sting.
Regardless of the when or how of it, we went home with nothing. Blue and I are 0 for 2 on Klickitat, both times for lameness. 
When we got home I added a comfort pad to the boot, so he was in three shoes and padded boot until tonight. He spent 12 hours in a stall but was going bonkers in confinement so we let him out today. He's still lame, but much happier. 
Tonight I pried off the other front shoe again so he could be completely bare part of the time while he recuperates from what is probably  a nasty stone bruise. I just hope it doesn’t abscess. The sole is so thin on The Problem Child that I fear things could get ugly. 
Of course, the shoe I pulled off tonight was already half detached. Prying it off was still a battle on the side that was solid, but with a rasp, a hammer and a screwdriver, I managed it in a couple minutes. The hinds are both still on as of tonight, but they have big gaps where the glue isn't gripping anymore. I give them a week, tops. Well, maybe not the one I put on. There's more glue than hoof there. That one might be permanent.
I’m done with my Easyshoe experiment for the time being. Here is my scorecard:
Things that were good
Things that were less good
No boot rubs.
Too expensive to use year-round. (For your edification, it was $180 to get them put on. That is not a lot more than steel cost, but steel can be reset a couple times, and these really shouldn’t be.)
It’s much cheaper to do it yourself, but still not a “budget” hoof care option.
Assuming the glue sticks, they are less fussy than taking boots on and off.
The recommended glue is sensitive to moisture. This would be fine in Arizona. It was a problem in western Oregon. I could try other glues, but why bother at this point? Gloves were fine for us, except the rubs. I’m going to put more energy into rub prevention.
They are super durable. The ones that have stayed on show very little wear after a month of use and 70 miles of competition.
They wouldn’t stay on but they were hard to get off. If I had been able to pull off the half-glued shoe along the trail as soon as I noticed it, I might have completed the ride. Of course, I will be beating myself up about not pulling it in camp and taking my chances with a boot from the very beginning.

They trap dirt and rocks. The shoes have a very wide web that covers the wall, the white line and part of the sole. The Performances also have a triangle to provide frog pressure. There has been dirt, manure and gravel packed into them every time I pick his feet, even dry days.

They might trap microbes too. The shoes that have come off, and the feet they have come off of, smell absolutely disgusting.

 Shoes are still shoes. You can't get in with a rasp or a knife and make adjustments until they come off. In my case, since they came off in hours or days, this wasn't an issue. If you left them on six weeks, you'd be back to your old shoe cycle in no time.

Now that you know my current feelings on the Easyshoes, it is time to talk about the government. For the most part, I have tried to keep my personal life and politics out of the blog, because this is a blog about HORSES first and foremost. But I need to take this little detour into my personal life so that you, dear reader, understand the decision I have made.
You may have heard on the news that the senate gave bipartisan approval to extending unemployment payments an additional five months, retroactive to December 2013, when benefits abruptly ended for about 3 million of your fellow voters.
One of those voters is my husband. One of the people directly affected is me.
Well, the senate approved it and sent it on the house, where speaker Boehner, who is not my favorite person to begin with, is not going to let it pass.
Here’s what it means to me: My wonderful, hard-working, creative, responsible, mature husband has not had full-time work for almost a year. When he was still getting unemployment, we felt optimistic. Our income was stable. He was (and still is) applying for tons of jobs. We both waited for the offers to come rolling in. They didn’t come. The unemployment ran out. He has hustled to scrape together enough freelance and part-time work to keep us on our feet, but things have not been easy since that happened.
And here I have these luxury items. Not just Blue and his upkeep, but the truck and trailer. The shoes. The expense of going to rides, entering. The gas and food. The time off work. These are all luxuries that I have been taking for granted because I had a little cushion of money. The cushion is now exhausted... and I have very little to show for it.
If you add up what I have spent in my effort to complete these last two ultimately unsuccessful rides, it comes out to an amount that would buy us a nice vacation together. It’s almost enough to pay off one of my credit cards.  It's a couple of car payments or three months of HOA dues.
My bumper sticker says endurance riding is not a hobby, it’s an addiction. You’re addicted to something when you desperately seek out the reward it gives you in spite of what it does to the rest of your life.
See where I’m going with this?
Take away the reward, and suddenly the addict has sufficient perspective to see what the drug is costing. Two pulls in a row. No rewards since Grizzly. I'm at a crossroads. Keep chasing the dragon or go to rehab for awhile.
I'm choosing rehab. No more rides until August, at the soonest. Maybe September.
I realize this post is very long and kind of a bummer. And I want to make it absolutely clear, these two pulls have not been the only cause of this hiatus. There are so many other things going on in my life that are invisible to my horse friends. The financial pressures I mentioned are just one facet. The lameness and subsequent pulls are another. And there are more. There always are.
I know you guys through our shared interest in horses, but I also know there are things in your lives that you can’t share with me any more than I can share my issues with you. We all make our choices and live with them. Horses are just a slice of a much bigger pie.
In conclusion, right now, for the health of Blue’s feet and the sake of my marriage, I need to take a little step back. Hopefully it will only be season-limiting and not season-ending, but time will tell. Ask me in August.
In the meantime, I will regale you with more hoof updates, model horse ridiculousness and maybe the occasional glimpse into what I’m doing the rest of the time. Won’t that be a fun change of pace?
And so, I propose a toast: To healthier feet and a healthier relationship with money. May we all do what needs to get done this summer.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The need for speed - Mt. Adams 2014

Facts that you need up front:
1.       We were attempting 55 miles at Mt. Adams.
2.       We got pulled for gait irregularity at 45 miles.
3.       I am not sad about this outcome.

He was so calm. So very calm and focused at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday. My good horse, the Zen master, warmed up on a loose rein, gliding through camp like fog on the mountain.

And then he proceeded to try to pull my arms out of their sockets for 40 miles or so. 

What I said back in camp (half joking, half serious) was that if this is what improving his diet does, then I’m taking away the vitamins and feeding him straw from now on.

My theory is that starting close to the front of the pack borked up his brain. He was so calm and easy in camp that I thought, what the heck, why not start at the official start time? Why indeed. We let the hot shoes go and started in the bubble right behind the leaders. The problem was that it didn’t stay a bubble for very long. 

So there we were, caught up in the front 20 of the pack (50 horses in the 55-mile), leapfrogging with horses who would eventually top 10. And Blue was very game. Four weeks off after Grizzly, plus a month on glucosamine and a high-dose vitamin supplement did their work. 

I realize that I have been on my soapbox about control. Serious failure on my part this weekend. I put Blue in a position that made it very hard for him to settle. There were always horses in sight either ahead or behind. Often both. He was controllable, sure. I could hold him to a walk, trot, or canter. He would stop and back. He turned when we needed to. The problem was that I planned on a normal 7 mph trot and he gave me 10mph. He would not settle and sustain a normal travelling pace as long as there were other horses leapfrogging around, and we paid for it later.

I did the math at awards the Sunday. Blue did the first 31 miles in just over 4 hours (not counting holds). That would have put him roughly 5th place if we’d been in the LD. And I’m fat enough we might have even BCed. 

NOT that I regret doing the longer distance. After 31 miles of going waaaay too fast, Blue was sure he was done. Heading back out for another loop was an important reminder that he doesn’t know everything. I know he is just a dumb animal, but there are times that I really savor taking Blue down a peg. Think you’re done, Boy? Not by a long shot.

He abruptly lost the spring in his step at 38 miles. (The same spot that he had a little meltdown last year.) I tell you, he REMEMBERS these trails. He whooshed into the water set on Martins Road at full tilt, certain that we were finally done and would be walking down to Steph’s front pasture. No such luck.

The six or so miles back up the hill to camp found him getting more and more sour. And sore. I could tell he was getting tired because he preferred to canter and walk instead of going at a consistent speed. It is possible that (hindsight being 20/20) if I had stopped, done some massage and stretching with him and given him a long break, we might have been OK to continue. But when we got back into camp at 45 miles, he was barely willing to trudge over to the vets.

His trot-out (which we have been working on) was abysmal. Dr. Jen asked if he was gaited. The real answer to this question is complicated. The answer I gave was that he shouldn’t be, and he’s very tired. And I would rather not kill my horse today. And that he probably used himself up in the first two loops, which was my fault. And Dr. Jen, who is a nice person when you just confess your sins instead of trying to fool her, said not to feel bad. It looked more like sore muscles in the hind end than anything mechanical. Don’t worry, he’ll be fine with food and rest. We would live to ride another day.

I don’t have the vet card, but I can tell you that he was all A’s up until then. His recoveries were good. He ate like a champ all day. The pull was no big deal. These things happen.

I can tell you that when we got home on Sunday it was raining hard. I still let him out in the arena so he could roll in the sand. He tore around looking mad as a wet hen, bucking and striking at invisible enemies. The old man had energy to spare. 

So this week I think I will go out at least a couple evenings and do some massage/TTouch/bodywork to see if we can release some of the muscle tension and speed up recovery.

If he recovers well and tells me he’s ready, we’ll go try another 50 at Klickitat in two weeks. But we will not be starting anywhere near the frontrunners. We will start in the back and stay there, where 7mph is a nice speed that we can maintain all day long with no fighting.

If he isn’t quite ready, we’ll save that strategy for Bandit or maybe even OR100. At this point in the season it becomes a matter of balancing terrain against temperature. If this summer turns out to be a scorcher, we may not get another chance to do a (relatively) easy 50 when it’s less than 80 degrees outside. Time and El Niño will tell.

PS: It was fantastic to see everyone in camp. I love how this ride gets such a great turnout, you see practically all of PNER and plenty of newbies too. You guys are all awesome. Thanks for the support and smiles!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Make money in the horse business

Haha. Made you look! As far as I know, it is impossible to make money in the horse business. If you are here you almost certainly know the aphorism: How do you make a small fortune in the horse business? Start with a large fortune.

You know from reading this blog an all the others that endurance is, shall we say, a money-intensive pursuit. What with all the custom saddles, veterinary attention, remedial farriery and whatnot, it is a wonder I can feed and clothe myself.

Lots of E-riders have side businesses to help defray the cost of competing. Heather has her hats. Aarene is an overachiever who writes entire books. I know others who have gotten into various ventures like Scentsy, Pampered Chef and the like. I started a thread on AERC facebook today to see what others are doing, too. A lot of them were in-person sales. I am not so good at sales. Even worse at "in-person."

So I am here to thank Shana for dragging me back into theworld of model horses, where I have a few marketable skills.

If you are a friend on Facebook, you probably caught this picture of my workbench overflowing with horses in various stages of customization. I consider them my plastic nest-egg.

You think I’m kidding? Feast your eyes on this guy:

Photo by Mel Miller. Horse by Mel Miller. Photo is presented here purely for drool-inducing purposes.

Now, granted, the horse above isn’t one that I did (I wish!). He was created by an outstanding artist in the Seattle area, Melanie Miller. But let me direct your attention to his final bid price at auction: http://myauctionbarn.com/auction_details.php?name=Seattle-Native-Lonesome-Glory-by-Mel-Miller&auction_id=149218

Yes. That customized plastic horse cost the same as my last two real horses put together.

He started out as this guy, a model you can buy at your local feed store for about $40.

And while I am nowhere near Mel in either skill or the prices I can command, the last one I completed paid for my entry to Grizzly Mountain and all the gas to get there and back. 

I call him Money In The Bank.

Was creating him profitable? Probably not when you figure in all the hours I spent. On the other hand, I do enjoy the sculpting and painting, and I want to be doing it anyway, so the actual cost of that time is hard to calculate.

My real job is salaried, so I can’t exactly pick up extra hours when I need pocket money. Not complaining, BTW. Love my job. But I’m hoping the models will help with the shortfalls when they happen. It would be nice to have a comfy, model-shaped cushion next time Blue decides to maim himself or the truck catches on fire or whatever.

So, here’s who’s on the workbench right now:

Totes Magotes! Is a sabino ¾ paint/Arabian. Tons of individual hairs. He started out a minimal sabino that quickly got out of hand. Now every time I walk by him I feel compelled to tick in a few more white spots.

Big Red’s name is an homage to my alma mater. He’s a chunky QH reiner-type. I’m thinking blood bay with dapples.

The Paso Twins are going to be a seal brown tobiano and a flaxen chestnut. One of them is going to be donated as a raffle item for Shana’s Sweet Onion Live 3 model horse show in August. The other one will be a sales piece.

I'm working o a breed assignment for this gaited pony. Galiceño? American Walking Pony? It has to be someone who can rack because that’s what he’s doing. I completely rebuilt the head from scratch on an armature and am ridiculously proud of how it came out. I’m a lousy sculptor, but I am learning! There are tons of great tutorials out there that didn’t exist when I first got into custom model horses in the mid-1990s.

Don't you just wanna smooch his chunky little pony face?

Barred M Masquerade has a sad story. I actually finished her in time to show her at Bethany’s Card Shark Live back in March. She did great, winning both of her classes and getting a lot of attention because of her weird (but well-documented) color. Well, on the way home she suffered a tragic tail-ectomy and a severed ear. I tried to superglue them, but the pieces didn’t match perfectly and my paint touch-ups were too obvious.

At the show, before her career-ending accident.

Today, back in primer... mostly.
I resigned myself to starting over. She went into a bath of paint stripper to take her back down to bare plastic. After weeks of sanding and scrubbing, she is just about ready to paint again. Should I do the crazy color again? Do I have the energy? Or is it time to make her a more sedate, “normal” mule color?

And when these guys are done, there are a bunch more plastic ponies in the peanut gallery, just waiting for me to approach them with a hacksaw and a vision.

In the meantime, though, I have a real horse I'm taking to Mt. Adam's this coming weekend to attempt 50 miles. The weather looks marginal for Saturday, which is a shame since it is going to be gorgeous all week. Hopefully the rain will stay away long enough to preserve the footing and give us an easy trip. Wish us luck!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Grizzly Mt 2014: Might as well go 50

This is a ride story without pictures. Sorry about that.

The thing I forgot about Grizzly Mountain, or probably more accurately, The Thing I Didn’t Think About Until After Decisions Had Been Made, is that it is a loooooong LD. Not a 25. Not a 30. It’s 32 freaking miles. And, with one tragic missed turn and a hefty chunk of backtracking on my part, it was really more like 35 or 36. And really, if you are going 35 miles you might as well go 50.

But of course by the time we had finished those 35 or 36 miles, it was too late to go 50. We signed up for the LD and we were done.

Heather and I have been talking over email about our season plans, such as they are. Purchasing Bunny has put Heather in a completely different bracket than me, so as she’s contemplating 100 miles as a season goal, I’m hoping to tackle half of that.

Luckily the principles are pretty much the same, no matter the miles. Heather’s been gently nudging me toward this more analytical approach:
  1. Figure out a conditioning schedule that works for you and the horse. This one has been tough. My new work schedule with the commute is kind of an unholy bargain. I love where I live and am happy with where Blue is. The tradeoff is that I lose 2 hours of daylight to I-5 every weekday. Two hours. That’s like… 15 miles of riding time down the tubes. So our conditioning schedule has been, shall we say… spotty… since the fall.
  2. Figure out how long it takes him to recover after a hard ride. This was easier. Using this blog and a few notes I had made in Blue’s veterinary binder, I figured out that a month between competition is best for Mr. Blue. I used our fantastic experience at Renegade two years ago as my standard for “peak performance,” then worked backward to figure out how we got there. Why Renegade? It is a hot summer ride with tons of elevation changes and technical trail, yet Blue powered through the whole thing with instant recoveries and EDPPMF up the wazoo. That’s what I want every time we compete!
  3. Play to his strengths. In a perfect world, every ride would be wooded singletrack on firm (but not very rocky) footing, and it would be 65-70 degrees out and sunny but with plenty of shade. There is a ride that is usually like that. A ride that Blue has excelled at. A ride that is not very far away. A ride with good management and a comfortable camp. A ride I have done enough times to know the trails well. That ride is Mt. Adams. I decided months ago that we’d be working toward an early-season 50-mile completion at Mt. Adams, and Grizzly would be the stepping stone.
  4. Time the rides for maximum performance. Grizzly is exactly one month before Mt. Adams. It was perfectly placed to give us a performance boost going into May. I wanted to do a moderate to fast LD at Grizzly as a prep for attempting a 50 at Mt. Adams. Time will tell if this strategy works, however!

The drive to the Crooked River Grassland (home of both Grizzly and Prineville/Still Memorial) is very different from my new home in the city. On paper, it should have been a faster, shorter drive than the one I took from our old base in Silverton. The difference, of course, is traffic. The first 10 miles of the trip used up the first 40 minutes for a not-quite-three-hour drive. After that, smooth sailing over the embarrassingly scenic Mt. Hood Highway, through the equally but differently scenic Warm Springs canyon, and up onto the semiarid flat lands of central Oregon.

Camp was already bustling when I pulled in, but I found a primo parking spot 10 yards from a potty and 15 yards from a water trough. It was a lovely afternoon in the desert—sunny, quiet, not too hot, so I set about getting everything ready. 

I don’t know if you guys have this moment when you get to camp, get out of the truck, and are just completely paralyzed trying to figure out what to do next…? Is that just me? 

So I set up the corral behind the trailer (closer to the water), went to the motorhome to actually sign up for the ride, came back and set up the inside of my trailer for sleeping, took Blue out for an overly enthusiastic warm up over the first few miles of the course, came back into camp like his tail was on fire and vetted in (pulse at 52—yikes!) and then set about making my e-lyte syringes and filling my packs.

Ride meeting and bedtime. I will speak only briefly of bedtime. I remind you all that I am jealous of your campers, your LQs, your setups with room for a buddy heater, dog or spouse. These I do not have. It was 35 degrees that first night. That was the actual test of endurance, in case anyone wants to know what the hardest part of the sport is.

Morning dawned clear, cold and still. I EDPPMFed and stretched myself and my horse. Sauntered down toward the start. Watched almost everybody leave. Had the mildest of disagreements about an appropriate speed for starting. Picked up a jaunty trot in a nice little bubble. Rode a good chunk with a rider I’d never met before and her lovely half-mustang mare. Missed a turn. Saw hoofprints but no ribbons. Went back (as apparently had the hoofprints I was following). Added a good two miles to the trip finding my way back on course. FLEW through the rest of the 22-mile loop, including the notorious powerline road. Taken at a power-trot instead of a trudge, it really isn’t so bad.

Blue was a horse-eating machine at this point. If someone was in front of us, he was going to catch them. Once caught, they were nothing to him. Less than nothing. Blue was looking for the next horse to catch, these other horses already forgotten.

That is not to say that I was allowing shenanigans. 


One thing that I really hate to see is riders giving up on control and just letting their horses go. I had been guilty of this with Otto once, but never again. You are putting yourself, your horse and everyone else on the trail in danger by not being in control. Just because he can do the mileage at a gallop doesn’t mean he should. Just because your wooly, green, first-time horse thinks he can keep up with a seasoned veteran at the front of the pack doesn’t mean you should let him. This is a hard lesson for both horse and rider. If you are lucky, like I have been, you will have the opportunity to repent. If you are unlucky, you probably won’t last long in the sport. Choosing an appropriate pace is a big deal.

So anyway, no shenanigans. Blue wanted to go, but he was “with” me the whole time. (I don’t know how else to describe that feeling, but you know what I’m talking about. You and the horse are working as a team and reins and spurs become mostly irrelevant.) So I let him make some of the decisions about speed, and he did very well at it, passing five competitors in fairly quick succession.

But at the vet check he was hot and his pulse was hangy. I walked him into camp a good quarter-mile, and he was still at 64. He dropped and bounced a few times. Dr. Jen said everything else looked good. He was well-hydrated and had plenty of gut sounds. His attitude was normal. She surmised (as I did) that he was probably getting hot now that the morning chill had burned off and we’d gone 20-some miles. She said to take him back to the trailer, strip his tack, get him fed, and expect to ride out of camp on a much happier horse once he was cool.

Oh, how right she would be… eventually.

By that time (about noon), it was plenty warm out. Direct desert sun and no wind makes even 60 degrees feel quite warm. I decided to switch all of my “performance” gear (wicking/fleece everything) for summer-weight tights and a long-sleeve t-shirt.

We left camp at a reluctant jog. Blue was certain that we had completed our LD. (At any other ride, we would have. :)) The nice thing is that the second loop is half as long as the first one and, I would argue, a bit more interesting. We caught and passed another rider. We rode through a herd of cows. Like… they were right there. Close enough to reach out and pet their adorable beefy faces.
Dean and Tiffany, doing the 50, caught us. They were being very conservative about speed because Tiffany’s horse was not quite right. She said he felt a little off in the hind end, and they were experimenting, trying to figure out if more movement would work the problem out or aggravate it. Blue happily left them behind again and began powering up the big hill. The big hill is an excellent place for singing The Grand Old Duke Of York at the top of your lungs. You march yourself to the top of the hill and you march back down again. Blue was more than happy to comply, passing two more riders like they were standing still.

Somewhere along that hill, the weather changed. It was like someone flipped a switch. The clouds rolled in. The wind began to howl. There was no more question of being too hot. I started wishing I hadn’t left my jacket in camp. Luckily, we were almost done when we got to the bottom of the hill.
The final test, if you want to call it that, it crossing the highway back into camp. Blue was not tired. I know he wasn’t tired because a gust of wind caught the ribbons on the “Ride Camp ->” sign and he spooked so hard that I’m still wondering if there isn’t some Arabian in him after all. What a dork.

As soon as he pulsed down I rushed him to the trailer to strip his tack and put a cooler on him. It was so very cold. The wind was howling so hard and so loud that Dr. Jen had me turn Blue as she listened to his gut sounds, putting him between her and the wind each time. 

We got our completion, which was all I wanted. The wind was so awful, I seriously considered packing up and going home, but the mileage we'd done made it hard to justify. Blue needed his rest. OF course, by then, the corral had blown over and was laying in a heap. Once I was changed and recovered, I dismantled it and moved it to the leeward said of the trailer so Blue could be out of the wind and still have room to move around.

(I would regret this move in the middle of the night when Blue started using the trailer as a scratching post, rocking me awake and kicking the tires. Note to self: Never use the trailer as one side of the corral again.)

Overall, I was very happy with the whole experience. When we got home, Blue GALLOPED circles in the arena while I emptied the trailer. When I turned him out with his friends, he went thundering down the hill, obviously sick of human company.

I haven't seen any ill effects on his this week. His feet are about the same. He's not obviously stiff on the lunge line. I did notice one small, open scratches lesion on one of his white feet, so I've been treating that as aggressively as I dare. I would hate to miss out on a 50 at Mt. Adams for something as stupid as scratches.