Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trialling the RP Tribute Saddle #2

Finally a successful ride this morning! - albeit only three miles, and only down my lane - so mostly smooth dirt road trotting, nothing technical or twisty. But at least I felt like things were coming together for the first time.

Before we even started, I moved the stirrups to their forward-most position in the hope that this would tip me back off my feet and stop my body flailing around. The stirrup leather mount sits on a bar with four grooves in it for four possible placement options, and you can move the mount forwards/backwards about 3-4". Yesterday the stirrups were on the second slot, while today they were on slot #1:



I also used a breast collar this time around, to keep the saddle in position and stop the backwards slide that was going on yesterday.

Both of these modifications were a great success - the saddle stayed put (and therefore slightly higher at the front, resting on his withers) and Lucy started to look again a little like someone could ride (although I still don't have any stopping muscles at my disposal, so most downward transitions involve me toppling forwards like a marionette with cut strings).

When I first got on, I still felt a little bit of sideways-to-the-left slippage but then realised that's the side I mounted from (duh), so when it came to tightening my girth, I did it on the right and only felt the off-balance thing slightly once later in the ride.

(Note to self - get a longer girth - trying to reach down to tighten the girth on this horse is an exercise in gymnastics and there's something about the saddle/pad set up which means I can't get it tight enough from the ground before I get on).

I also discovered a nice fat bruise on my left calf muscle from the stirrup leather from yesterday. I can move the stirrup leather in such a way that it doesn't press on my leg, but it keeps wriggling back into the pokey-position at every available opportunity.  I should try running the leathers under the flap to see what that does.

(My fenders came home from AZ yesterday [thanks Ash], so I could ride in those - although not until a saddle is mine, since I'm frightened to mark the saddle).

Here's the lovely Fergus at the end of our three miles with the saddle still where it's supposed to be. He worked hard for me this morning, since I was asking for a lot more engagement than usual (OK, so I was asking for engagement, something that rarely happens. Mea culpa. At least we're both suffering when I ask him, since I don't have the muscles either).



Now that I've settled down and stopped flailing a bit (and because I'm a mean dog-owner and didn't take the cavorting mob with me as distraction, much to their disgust), I was able to properly concentrate on what's going on with me, the horse, and the saddle.

My current concerns are:
  • Why did the saddle need to slide back so badly yesterday?

    I'm assuming it's because his back is so flat, there's nothing stopping it sliding backwards. But if that's the case, why haven't we had this problem in the past with the Sensation saddle the few times we rode without a breast collar?

    Is it from Fergus' big shoulder movement pushing backwards on the front of long panels? And if so, do the panels need to be shimmed differently, so his shoulder can move back without pushing on them quite so much?
  • I'm still worried about the amount of pressure on his "ex-rubbed" area closest to his spine. In my mind's eye, I imagine that muscle popping out and being pressured as we ride along, since I know it hides when he's just standing around.

    While riding at a walk, I tried pushing my fingers under the top edge of the panel to see how tight it felt (which of course doesn't work, because to do this you have to lean forwards slightly, which immediately creates more pressure). But it does feel tight under there and I wonder if I need to shim a pad to lift the saddle pressure somewhat away from that top edge closest to the gullet (with what, exactly, I have no idea, since I don't have shims for that shape/area). But in doing so, that would put more pressure on the area of his back that has no muscle, so that isn't ideal either? This is probably a question for Lisa at the fine-tuning stage.
  • More entertaining was jamming my fingers between the treed-part of the saddle and the panel. There's a lot of flex going on between the two! ...To the point where I had to be careful not to get my fingers pinched.

    So if I can't have a treeless saddle, having flexy panels is the next best thing. Or possibly a better thing? Fergus' back is certainly taking advantage of the flex.




Lastly, here's a shot from behind for comparison purposes in a few months when, hopefully, we'll have worked towards regrowing him a back end:


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Trialling the RP Tribute Saddle #1

Scrambled out this morning and managed to get four miles in before work at Cool before the rains start.

Once again, I used my Triple Thick Woolback pad, no inserts. Despite being nekkid, the saddle weighs a ton when you're hooching it up onto a 16:3 hh horse, esp when you already have the pad under it because you just pulled the whole set-up off the trailer saddle rack.

Although the saddle is a good shape for me, I still wouldn't say that it feels good. It feels - intermittently at a walk - like the saddle is sliding over to the left and I feel the need to twist-correct it, or sit to the right. Unclear if this is me or Fergus (or the combination of us both) causing it to feel this way. On Sunday Lisa hopped on to Fergus when I mentioned this, and she said that the saddle is balanced, so it's likely me.

The only time I felt vaguely comfortable/competent was when he was trotting softly in a straight line on flat ground -  you know, like almost never happens (see yellow stretches on the map below).

Yellow = balanced Lucy trotting
Lime green = shortening, then lengthening stirrups
Red crosses = unbuckle girth and move saddle and pad 10" forwards

Most of the time, however, even at a walk, I felt like I had tension in my legs - such that my right hip started to burn very quickly and I didn't feel at all comfortable. I finally stopped and shortened up my stirrups (lime green blob) in an effort to change the angle in my thigh (curse those blimin' blevins buckles on the stirrup leathers. Whoever invented those things is a sadist). That made my hip hurt less, but I couldn't ride sensibly on twisty singletrack trail, and definitely not at a trot, even on uphills.

Although I love the high cantle (it's what I'm used to), I'm wondering if it's pushing me too far forwards - maybe I do need less cantle? The stirrup attachment is on an adjustable bar, so I might try moving the stirrups forwards a little too to see if that helps angle me better.

The other oddity was that even though we were only going up gentle hills at a walk, the saddle and pad slid back to an alarming degree. I'd opted to forego a breast collar, knowing we wouldn't be doing any big hills, and that proved to be a mistake. I had to stop three times to move the saddle + pad forwards about 10". <squeak>

The final time I stopped to reset the saddle, I lengthened my stirrups again, and put the girth on the two front-most billets (previously the girth had been on #1 and #4). That fixed the sliding-backwards problem, so either it was my shortened stirrups pushing us back, the twisty slightly-uphill singletrack, or the girth-billet set up - I don't know which.

(I've rarely ridden without a breast collar before, but I know that pft has done at least one longer ride without one in his Sensation, and he didn't seem to have any slippage problems.)

I'm sure a lot of my problems are from years of riding (badly) in treeless saddles and it's important for me to shape up and get better at riding correctly, but it's a hard pill to swallow when you've gone from riding 50-100s without too much pain, to not being able to ride more than a few miles "correctly" without suffering from achy hips and back for a couple of days afterwards.

Oh - but one success - the sheepskin cover all but eliminated the hardness in the seat under my seatbones.

So, once again, inconclusive. I'm going to try and see if I can get a couple more miles in tomorrow morning, just along the lane on the flat dirt and see how it goes with a breast collar attached and the stirrups moved forwards.



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Saddle Fit Session #3

Lisa Jordan kindly got in touch with me and offered to take a look at my saddle set up, my wonky horse, my wonky riding, and see what light she could shed on the situation.

<phew> what a lot of information squashed into a short period of time. As such I'm going from addled memory, so any mistakes in information are mine.





Her observations:
  • Fergus' back is flat as a flat thing, and fourteen times longer than it needs to be.
  • Fergus' pectoral area is way more overdeveloped than it needs to be - while his butt is a sad pathetic thing. This likely contributed to him going lame last year - because I've let him get so heavy on the forehand, yet he isn't necessarily moving freely, so he's slapping his big feet down with all his weight on that end.
  • I am riding with all my weight in my stirrups and my pubic bone (no wonder I was experiencing pressure) and need to learn to carry my weight in my thighs (which, in turn, will lift me off my weight-in-feet and stop crushing my delicates).
  • I am moving too much "with" him, thereby exacerbating his big movement even more and creating yet more friction (friction being something I feel like I've been fighting for several years by fiddling around with pad material)

She has a nifty program on her computer that allows you to visually strip down the horse, layer by layer, showing muscle, fascia, bone and ligament. She showed me which muscles are supposed to be there and have atrophied (the more superficial rhomboid and trapezius) and what he has left - the long deep muscle running along either side his spine - the longissimus dorsi.

This is where I'd been confused. I initially thought this was muscle, then was told it was ligament, only to find out that, yes, it is muscle. This is the area that has been rubbing - mostly because it's the only thing left of any prominence in his back, in terms of muscle. It's also the area I've been trying to stay away from with my shimming/panel contortions. But as she pointed out, if I stay away from that, there's not much left to sit a saddle on. :(


Panel comparison:
RP panel on the left, FF on the right.
Notice the "scoop" in the RP panel gullet area
behind the withers. Notice also the larger
weight-bearing surface.
Panels:

She took a look at the Freeform and the panels. Biggest problem she could see was with the shape of the FF panels - they are too straight along the top gullet edge in the middle, which means they are pressing on that problem area.

Luckily I'd identified this as being "wrong" and my way to get around it was to spread the panels as wide as I could. Unfortunately, whilst that widened them away from the pressure area, it also took the weight-bearing surface away from the remaining muscle-area in the back of the saddle. Not good.

We compared the reactor panel panels with my FF ones and concluded that I could actually carve out the offending area of insert in the FF panel - leaving an empty baggy area and I think the cover is rigid enough that it wouldn't get bunched under where it shouldn't - and equally wouldn't put pressure where it shouldn't. Since I plan to continue using these panels on my Sensation saddle on my other horses, I'll likely make this modification.


Saddle Fitting:

My last ride on the borrowed Freeform had been Thursday - I rode two miles - and Saddle Fit Session #3 occurred on Sunday - and I was still sore enough in my adductors to be waddling funny.

My thought was that was if the saddle worked perfectly for Fergus, then I would make it work for me. But in the event, while it might work on a "normal horse" (i.e. any of the others), the weight and pressure distribution was still not going be be great for him - particularly in his compromised state. What I need for him at this point is whatever's going to offer him the best protection and the best opportunity to grow a healthy back. So we didn't pursue the Freeform any further.

Lisa took a look at my Sensation - with the same reservations - it doesn't have a gullet, so needs the panels, but they aren't the right shape for what Fergus needs, and it offers even less support, so we didn't fiddle with that saddle any further either.

Onto Reactor Panel saddles. Since Lisa knows about them and how to fit them to horse and rider, it seemed sensible to try them out and see how things felt.

As I'd mentioned before, I'd ridden in a borrowed RP saddle on a borrowed horse at an endurance ride a few years back and didn't love the saddle - years of riding in treeless saddles has meant that I am not so tolerant about the hardness of treed saddles. Admittedly, that saddle wasn't fitted to me, so it's not surprising I wasn't terribly comfortable in it.

(As an aside, I mentioned to Lisa that I got a horrid calf-rub from it and she wondered if the stirrup leathers had been run *underneath* the flap, which can create a nice little ridge where the stirrup leather comes out at the bottom. I don't remember. I just remember using an entire roll of vet wrap to protect my lower leg from 12 miles onwards).

NB: saddle pics below taken from the RP Saddle website.
Click pics for more info on each saddle.


Baker saddle—the first saddle she put me in was a Baker saddle. She said this is a very flat tree, so ideal for Fergus' flat back - and would be the least invasive to my delicates because of the fairly flat seat and lack of rise in the pommel area. It had knee blocks in under the flap.

We rode maybe a mile or so, with some trotting thrown in and she was able to figure out what my riding problems were (and therefore why I've been having the problems I've been having). I started my endurance career in a Bob Marshall Sportsaddle which, because of the lack of twist, tends to make you ride duck-footed. And apparently I never really got out of the habit. My "protective mode" is to drop my weight in my stirrups and turn my feet out, contacting the horse with the back of my calf (just take a look at my half-chaps for a clear indication of this). And I ride with a long stirrup.

So she shortened up my stirrups (Lucy wailing about jockey-length and insecure seat) and had me rotate my inner thigh in to contact the saddle flap and carry my weight.

I think I maybe managed three strides of "good riding", but I got the idea.

The seat wasn't great for me - too flat, so I was swimming around and fighting my balance (all things that would be helped if I actually had any core muscles... Core muscles? What is it?).


Heraldic—the next candidate was a heraldic saddle - this is basically a flapless version of the englishy saddles, with "poley" type thingies up high to stop you falling out - a definite plus. The lack of flap means it's lighter-weight and potentially closer contact against the horse - although that's debateable, because you then add fluffy covers on the stirrup leathers which are lovely and cushy, but push you away from the horse.

This seat was much better suited to me - I felt much more comfortable in it, with the exception of where the cantle was digging into my butt around the bottom edge (same problem as I had on the Freeform). Whilst it felt more comfortable, I also felt like I'd be able to just fall back into my old habits riding in this saddle, which wouldn't help either of us. I wasn't as able to ride correctly in this saddle due to muscle memory putting me back to my [bad] "comfort zone".

Lisa did point out something I hadn't realised - that any of the trees/seats can be "Heraldic-ized" - that is to say, you can order them in flapless variety. She also mentioned someone might be selling a used "Heraldic" with a Tribute seat - more about that later, but if I was made of money, that's likely the option I would go for. All of these saddles are much heavier than I'm used to, and once I strap on all the stuff-that-I-can't-possibly-do-without, it would weigh a ton. So having a lighter-weight flapless version would be a definite plus.

The next saddle I sat in was the Endurance model - I only tried it on the saddle stand. We discussed the various merits of knee blocks, thigh blocks (which is what the endurance model has built in) (and I thought thigh blocks went behind your leg, but those are actually calf blocks. Huh). The seat felt fine, but the saddle was brand new and quite stiff feeling, which scared me.

Tribute—then she pulled out a Tribute saddle and that—as the Three Bears said—was "just right" for me. It has a higher cantle (something that I felt had been lacking from all the strange saddles I'd been riding in thus far) and just felt "right" for my butt.

So we slapped that onto Fergus and off I went down the road on my out-n-back mile route. I trotted and whilst it wasn't pretty, it felt the best of all the saddles I'd tried that day. It rotated my leg beautifully, so I was able to keep my thigh turned in and my calf on the horse (something that worried me - I thought I wasn't supposed to, but it was explained to me that when your leg is rotated in like that, you're not using the fulcrum (?) of your knee to add super-pressure the way you can when your leg is rotated out, so the horse can breathe and he won't hate you).

The only real complaint I had about it was how hard it was, it was digging into my seat bones. So Lisa kindly loaned me a sheepskin cover and I came home with this (used) saddle on trial for a couple of weeks:




The saddles are beautifully made, and the price reflects that. At this point, this is my main reserve - the cost. If I was made of money, I would get one of these in a flash. But money is tight right now, and given all our other bills, I'm having a hard time justifying it to myself—a really hard time. I want Fergus to be comfortable and healthy and I want to be able to compete on him (although that in itself is looking less promising this year because of finances), but I have to look at other options before I take the plunge on this kind of outlay. I would like to trial an endurance model (slightly cheaper), and I need to test sit anything I can find at the AERC Convention at the end of February, to see if there's something that might work that won't cost as much. :(





It's now Tuesday and I still haven't had a chance to try the saddle out again. The next two days are rain-free, and then it starts to rain again, so I need to get out there first thing before work.

Spot how much fun this type of weather is to someone who works Mon-Friday:



...and how excited am I about that 2.28 inches of rain on Friday?! Woot! Not.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Saddle Fit Session #2

Wednesday

After my sad attempt at riding in the borrowed Freeform saddle during the PLIP Saddle Fitting Session ten days ago - and with the subsequent encouragement from others who also said it took them a while to get used to "free-swing" stirrups again - I decided I needed to give the saddle a second chance since it fits many of my desired criteria:
  • doesn't cost an arm and a leg
  • highly adjustable for horse and rider
  • treeless so moves with the horse and rider
  • sturdy enough to support the needed wide gullet.
     
Slick and clean. If only all horses were like this.
At least Fergus is now blanketed, so I didn't have to worry about coating the borrowed saddle in mud by mere association with said horse. I could whip off the blanket, revealing a clean, slick horse beneath (just avoid looking below belly-level).

Mega-Gullet® added to accommodate Fergus.
I'm still not sure this gullet is wide enough.
To make the saddle suitable for horse and rider, the following adjustments were needed:

  • add the FF panels to provide a Mega-Gullet®
  • arrange them in an artful manner under the saddle to fit Fergus' ginormous back
  • replace the stirrup-plate* with an alternative one with "slightly different" stirrup leathers (really, not that different at all, but any little thing might help the agonizing pokiness the other stirrup leathers were causing)
  • move the whole stirrup-plate forwards for me in an effort to stop me flipping forwards (this probably means now I'll be stuck in a chair seat, unable to post or two-point. Can be adjusted once I get in the saddle)
  • try and make the pommel in the seat be less peaked so I don't keep ramming into it.
(* the stirrups on the Freeform attach to a removable "plate" (velcro patch about 3" x 6" with stirrup rings attached) under the seat -which is also removable and attached with heavy-duty velcro[so heavy duty, so you can't actually get the stupid thing off without a major wrestling match - and you shouldn't try this in woolly gloves or you'll find yourself velcro-ed to the saddle] so you can have your stirrups exactly wherever you need them to be.)

Wednesday was the first day it hadn't poured with rain in a week and I had a window of 70 minutes to get the horses mucked, fed, and get the saddle set up for Fergus and I in a "ready to ride" state before I left for work.

"Speed muck" was what I was aiming for and despite setting myself a timer of 8 minutes per shelter (x five), I still failed dismally. Even though I was dripping sweat by the time I was done, I couldn't get everyone sorted out in that time - and encroached into my puny 30 minute "saddle fit" time slot by ten minutes. Going to be late for work. Erg. (Hadn't taken into account possible side-activities like when Fergus tried to pee on the already sodden manure because he couldn't be bothered to move out into the dirt under the overhang, so I shouted at him and punted him on the bum with my broom from the adjacent shelter. Or the part where I had to sweep the 4"-deep lake out of Small Thing's shelter to stop it draining into Roo's shelter next door. Or the part where at least two horses-who-shall-remain-nameless re-pooped in their newly-cleaned shelters).

The main trouble I encountered is he's so durn big I can't actually see what's going on under the saddle when I'm standing on the ground. So I ended up standing on a short step-ladder which didn't work terribly well since Fergus didn't think me standing on a step-ladder was Acceptable Behaviour. Each time I got up there, he'd move away a couple of steps. Finally he was jammed up against the panel and I was teetering on the steps, a little nervous in case he did something stupid (i.e. blow up, swing sideways, flinging me off the step-ladder, and trampling it, and thereby getting his legs stuck in it and maiming himself for life. Which is what most normal horses would do. Luckily, although he can be a weenie about stuff, Fergus isn't that excitable. He prefers to use the stealth spook method - slither away without anyone noticing).

It was early morning so the light wasn't great, especially with his tall body silhouetted by the daylight outside, but by the end I was reasonably satisfied with how it was set-up. I'm guessing it'll still need some tweaking once I start riding, but at least we're closer than we were.

It wasn't until I went to put the saddle away and opted to switch out the 2" neck stirrups with 1" ones that I realised I had them on backwards. Not sure if this is how they were ten days ago when I last rode in the saddle, but if they were, that wouldn't have helped the pokiness. 


Trying to get the panels lined up evenly under the saddle is an artform.
Looking at this photo, I still need to adjust them slightly.



And I would also like to move the panels forwards slightly,
so they are evenly-placed front-to-back



Thursday:

This ride nearly didn't happen. Events conspired against me and it was a pretty bad day. But we got out in the end, even if it was only for a couple of miles (which, frankly, was about all my body was up for).

Firstly, I remembered to hose off his feet and legs before leaving home, so I was able to boot him - a great improvement to how ouchy he was on our last ride out.

Putting on his boots. His feet were in need of a trim, so what with them being clean and moist,
and being blessed with a new 90 W bulb in the barn, when we got home he got a pedicure.

Here's how far apart the panels were. I'd still like to move them forwards a little.
The panels are currently stuffed with Jen-X layered poron inserts.


Dressed and ready to go and watching a fellow endurance rider up on the hill above us.
I opted to use my Triple Thick Woolback again, since I figured that the panels should provide enough cushioning.

Off we went up the West Ridge - Fergus very animated and extremely cheerful. I, OTOH, felt super-teetery (despite having moved the stirrups forwards. Maybe need to move them further forwards still?) and very insecure. Once we got to the top, I tried short bursts of trotting. Immediately had to stop and lengthen my stirrups - I don't know if it was the saddle, the panels, or the stirrup leathers (Webers), but it felt like I was trotting on elastic bands - super-boingy. Longer stirrups helped, but not much.

If he trotted sensibly in a straight line, I felt like I could nearly approximate someone who knew how to ride. But as soon as he got animated, or we went down a hill, or I needed to slow him down, I was toast, flopping all over the place and tipping over his neck, giggling uncontrollably. At one point he took off on me - trotting downhill and then breaking into a flailing canter that felt like a buck-to-come - all on slick trail - with me having nothing to brace against to rein him in. Luckily either my loud obscenities or his good sense prevailed and it didn't end in tears, but like I say - very teetery and insecure.

Another interesting oddity - I could only feel balanced in this saddle if I rode with both hands. I tend to ride one-handed most of the time and alternate hands, but for this I needed to stay very centered and for that I needed to have both arms in exactly the same place.

Pft watching from behind said I was collapsing to the left, so I have to work on that too.


Downhills were especially challenging. Not so bad if I set myself up for them,
but at this point there's no way I could trot down even a slight incline.

As far as Fergus was concerned - he moved great in this set up. I haven't felt him walk out that well in ages, and clocked him at over 5 mph walking. His trot was BIG and bouncy and I had a hard time toning him down - much more enthusiastic than our last ride at Cool (but then I opted not to boot him on that ride and he was quite ouchy). This ride he was Mr Happy the whole time and if that was from this saddle set up, I'd be a very pleased girl.

To my eye, it still looks like the top edge of the panel is resting on his problem area, but it could be that the way the saddle distributes pressure it isn't a problem. That's a question for my Saddle Fitter Helper.

As far as I was concerned, me and the saddle still need a lot of work. Right now, there's no way I could do a long conditioning ride in it, let alone a distance ride. The panels spread the saddle wide (as my hips do tell me) and using the standard seat, the pommel presses into my delicates, the bottom edge of the cantle was digging into my butt, even though the seat felt, if anything, a little large. There was some pinching from the stirrup leathers and along the bottom edge of the seat - both of which would probably be cured by using my full-length sheepskin cover - which may also help with the insecure feeling and maybe calm my legs down a little,

If I was to get such a saddle, I think I'd need the seat with the poleys and the deeper cantle (not sure if that has a narrow twist though?), and the extra large knee rolls (and maybe even thigh blocks). Using fenders may slow the legs a little too.

Or just riding in it for longer periods of time. Already, by the end of our two mile ride I was feeling a little more "contained", but still not close to feeling competent (and there's no way I'd ride Roo in this saddle - I'd be off him the first time he saw a blade of grass).

When we got back to the trailhead, I had pft take a couple of short videos of me trotting. The first one is headed towards the trailer and Mr Happy is quite animated and I'm having a hard time (note the leg flailing). The second video is trotting away from the trailer, so he's less eager ("Wait? Weren't we done?") and I felt less teetery - although my riding looks better in the first video. Figures.

(* Hmm, anyone know how to get videos to show up in Blog? they look OK until I upload it and then they're blank)

video

video


So, inconclusive results again, although I think we're moving closer to curing his discomfort.

Next stop Saddle Fitter Helper - weather permitting.

Or if weather doesn't permit, I'll be visiting Dionne and trying out her Balance saddle and her Orthoflex.



Monday, January 18, 2016

2015... in Review

Looking back on the year, it felt somewhat disjointed and out of sorts. But despite some missed goals and disappointments, I realise that I rode in some absolutely amazing locations and continue to appreciate just how lucky I am to live in such a lovely area.

We had our ups and downs, but finished the year on an up with ailments either diagnosed or at least on the mend, and starting 2016 positively.



January:

This month marked the driest year since records began in 1877 for our area - the whole state was in trouble, and our lovely dry winter - whilst good for horse conditioning - did little for the parched reservoirs that were dropping to record low levels (for example, Folsom Lake, one of our closest, was at 15% capacity by December).

Over Christmas/New Year, pft and I made our usual trip south to the desert and went horse camping at Catalina State Park down near Tucson, AZ. pft wasn't riding horses, so we only took Fergus and bicycles. It snowed and we froze our butts off, but had a good time nevertheless. The scenery is so gorgeous down there - and best of all, it was slop-free. Ash drove over for the day and we spent a happy afternoon walking deckers in the snow.

I love it there, but the two-day drive to get there is definitely a damper.

Catalina State Park, near Tucson, AZ

Later that month, the horrible Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred, raising many questions in my mind about freedom of speech and ramifications thereof.

20 Mule Team 100 was on the calendar and I decided to give myself some "just in case" insurance by getting both Roo and Fergus fit for 100 miles. I ponied Roo off Fergus at high speeds (gosh, his legs can extend - something I wouldn't in a million years let him do under saddle), and had fun having them both along.

In the knitting department, I churned out this excellent star beret in one weekend. Love it to bits, but it's hard to wear because I'm never quite sure how to put it on:

Star beret



February:

Sally came to visit and we took Roo and Fergus out on the high trail for an afternoon of speed work. This was yet another time when Roo went out under saddle but I wasn't on him - which was a recurring theme throughout this year.

Most people have sporting heroes and mine is musher Brent Sass. Brent has the best approach of anyone I know - his motto being "Attitude is Everything" - doing his utmost to make the best of even the worse situations. Last year he came so close to winning the 1000-mile Yukon Quest before flipping off the back of the sled in a moment of exhaustion and giving himself concussion. This year he was back again, wearing a helmet buried under his layers of hats. Figuring out a helmet that is going to work in -60°F/-51°C took some doing, but it paid off and he won - despite oversleeping on the trail by several hours towards the end of the race, causing his followers to have minor panic attack and think that, once again, "something bad" had happened. It ultimately provided a nail-bitingly close finish, with many hours of hitting <refresh> <refresh> <refresh> following the tracker - and he finally won, beating the 2013-2014 champion Allen Moore.

At the end of the month, Fergus, Spike and I headed south for 20 Mule Team 100. We rode with Kaity and had a lovely time in what turned out to be one of the best spring flower displays in years. Kaity's mom, Carol, crewed for us and took care of Spike for the day - for which I am mightily grateful.

20 Mule Team, near Ridgecrest, CA




March:

After two and half years, I got my braces off! And felt like I had a mouth of someone else's shiny plastic teeth.

The AERC Convention was a fun weekend - at dinner there were four decker-owners in a row... and mine was the only one who (news from home) had TPed the back deck. I came home minus all my sweaters and jackets and had to contact the hotel's lost and found - thank goodness I have friends in Reno who could go and retrieve them. Lastly, I did my homework and filled out eight (count 'em) 100 mile surveys that I'd promised the AERC research vet, Olin Balch.

Inspired by the Adhere guy at the convention, Fergus and I embarked upon a search for squishy feet inside his boots to give him more concussion protection. This proved curiously prophetic later in the year.

Uno got ridden (something that needs to happen more often) at Cronin and Roo and I took to the Larimer Trail in hot and humid conditions (and, bravely, in an S-hack... not the best choice for him) and got chronically lost on the way home exploring the area behind Larkin's.

Larimer Trail high above the Middle Fork of American River, looking down on the River Road used on Tevis




April:

Fergus, Roo, and I headed for a weekend of 50s at NV Derby. Luckily I parked at the end of the trot-out lanes, because whenever we got back to camp, the horse left behind screamed incessantly, necessitating fetching it and taking two horses through the vet check. I opted to let Fergus out a little "to see what he could do" - and the result was a 25th place finish in a field of 72 - but an "I see something on the left front" from the vet at the finish (we completed, but it was there).

(Coupled with an "I see something" at the first vet check at 20MT - it was enough to make a girl nervous that something was brewing ...but predictably not loudly enough to tamper my enthusiasm).

The next day Roo got a top-ten finish tagging along behind Connie and Dave. Although in a field of only 21 starters it was a slightly less spectacular result, I still felt like I worked hard.

Snow that afternoon meant that I couldn't get home, so I spent a frigid, blustery night camped out alone at Washoe Valley (pones bundled in their blankies) before driving back over the mountain on Monday morning when it cleared - on an absolutely crystal clear morning of crisp white snow. Gorgeous.

Fergus, overachieving at NV Derby
Photos Gore/Baylor
Roo holding his own and getting his first top-ten


Towards the end of the month, there was a horrific 7.8 Earthquake in Nepal - lots of destruction in the country and a nasty avalanche at Everest Base Camp. That put paid to the climbing season for the second year in a row.

With our success at 20MT, I decided that Fergus and I would make the trek to Wyoming to do the Big Horn 100. With lots of climbs to get ready for, we spent a good few mornings climbing the Powerlines at the end of the lane.



May:

The whole family (well, pft, Finn, Spike, me, n' Roo) went to the High Desert ride over in NV. I'd never done it before and we were to chaperone friend Dionne on her horse Storm's first 50. It was exactly what was needed - a nice relaxed easy-going 50... pouring rain the day before notwithstanding:


High Desert, near Stillwater, NV.
Roo wondering about the thunder clouds, Storm trying to pretend she can't see them.


Another first - pft took me to the drive-in to see "Thor" for my birthday.

To get our second part of the Triple Crown, Fergus and I went to NASTR 75. Inspired by his performance at NV Derby, I once again let him move out - we were even leading the ride at one point, much to my embarrassment - with the predictable result that he went lame at 60 miles. <slap forehead>

Although interesting and educational, playing "top ten" wasn't remotely enjoyable and won't be happening again - not least because letting 1200 lb horses run on hard dirt tracks is not conducive to good health. A subsequent visit to the vet on Monday produced a "sore feet" diagnosis (I had been resigned to a suspensory injury at best, so this diagnosis was met with some degree of disbelief) and I consequently made the decision to move to slightly beefier Renegade boots for better concussion protection.


Despite the vet thinking Fergus'd be OK for Big Horn 100, I wasn't much enthused by the idea - I always prefer to give a good break after any injury, and didn't think that travelling 2000 miles round trip on a "he'll probably be OK" gamble was a great idea, so our Big Horn plans fell off the calendar.

Finally, after many years of good service, my Miata let me down by nearly not making it to work one morning. We got trucked home, courtesy of US Rider, and the problem was deemed a faulty ignition system. Couple that with being about 100,000 mile past needing a timing belt change, Miata has been moved to the garage for some TLC.



June:

June 5th marked the real start of summer with the annual erection of the back deck sunshade (this year tied to a tree, rather than a cinder block - high tech).

With a visit from friends in England who we'd promised to take camping looming on the horizon, we took a trip up to Faith Valley to reccy the situation. pft mtn biked, the dogs romped, and I rode Small Thing (who managed to kick Spike in the chin on purpose, dampening the fun day). Love it up there.



Faith Valley - across the meadow



Faith Valley - evening quickie on our day of arrival


While we were there, pft got a puncture and Small Thing ended up tied to a tree - no big deal. But he then had a small meltdown when he got his leg over the lead rope - not usual for him who normally sees such things as minor inconveniences. Once we got home, I figured out why - it looked like he'd gotten his legs caught in the fence a few days before we left without me realising. As a result, the fence at the bottom of his paddock wasn't as good as it had been and needed replacing - particularly as that would be Kaity's horse Ani's paddock during Tevis week, so pft and I spent a happy weekend scrabbling in the dirt, pulling out the old (now long-buried) fence and replacing it with new.

Spike n' me do fencing


Knowing this year I wasn't going to ride Tevis, as soon as it got vaguely hot, I shamelessly cranked up the a/c in the car and drove to work in the nice cool. I'll take the little pleasures as needed.

At the end of the month, I spectated the WS100 run - this year giving impromptu help crewing for a runner from the East Coast. As always, in awe of the runners - and enjoyed spending the day in Foresthill and the evening down at the river crossing.



July:

This month saw us cram in as much as we possibly could.

We took the dogs and mountain bikes to Utah, camping - and had one of our best trips to date. Starting at the Wedge - the scenery was amazing, the place deserted (excitement and interest whenever we saw a car off in the distance), and we had a fun time mtn biking the Good Water Rim Trail... a LOT.


Good Water Rim Trail - most amazing, unexpected scenery 

Good Water Rim Trail, a quarter mile from our camp

We spent the second half of our trip at San Rafael Swell, behind the reef, visiting Wild Horse Window cave, Goblin Valley during a spectacular thunderstorm, and finishing up with a hike through the slot canyons of Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Our camp "behind the reef", San Rafael Swell

Wild Horse Window cave

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Canyon
Little Wild Horse Canyon


We were then home for a week, before setting off once more to Faith Valley to set up for the Kind family's camping trip. We had a fun weekend, mtn biking, horse riding (not as successful as hoped, but we were able to salvage some rides out of it), and ending with a trip for pft, Dave, Elliott, and Austin to the Flume Trail on mtn bikes/running.

Small Thing disgraced himself at Faith Valley, but to be fair I put him in a bad situation so take full responsibility for my own stupidity. Unfortunately, however, his behaviour filled his imaginary jar almost to the brim with black balls and it would be Christmas time before we got everything back under control.

Finally it was Tevis week ...



August:

...This year it was Kaity and Ani competing, and Ash, Carol, me and Renee crewing. We got her in, we got her out, and as a team we did a great job. High Five Us! ...Oh, and Kaity and Ani finished on target, so I guess they did good too ;)

After meeting sisters Ali and Jessica at Faith Valley, once we were home, we hooked up and did some fun conditioning rides with Ali on Roo. Although he did plenty of conditioning this year, most of it was either on the end of a lead rope, or with someone else in the saddle. We had plans this month for Bridgeport - Fergus one day to get him ready for VC100 in September, Roo the other; followed by Tahoe Rim - Roo's favorite - to ramp him up for the Riding Dead 100 at the end of October.

Well, best laid plans... Bridgeport was cancelled due to a wild fire, so I ended up having to take Fergus to Tahoe Rim out of necessity. The ride went well but I came out of it in poor shape - mostly from holding him back all day, as well as muscling him around that tight course. My ducks weren't in a row ready for VC100, but I thought I could pull it together in the next three weeks.

Early one morning Finn was out on the back deck barking at squirrels... and continued to bark and bark and bark. Finally pft went out to check — only to see a bear about 50 feet from the back of the house. Oh.

I made some feeble attempts at putting white balls in the ST's jar - not with great success when we once again ended up with him rearing and me yelling. Needs work. I persevered (mostly by avoiding the horses running the fence) and got a couple of shorty rides in, but not with any degree of confidence.

Early in the month pft thought he'd pulled a stomach muscle which gradually got worse over time. The Dr thought it might be a hernia, so he started undergoing various tests to figure out what was going on.

My mumma said she was tired of knitting for babies and I talked her in to knitting me a cardi. When it showed up, I loved it.

My lovely cardi
 



September:

The exciting "moment" for this month was me attempting to trim Hopi in the breezeway of the barn, him having a minor flip out, which escalated in to bigger flip out, followed by me leaping into the hay shed to get out of his way - and him following me into that tiny space. Awk. We managed to get out of the situation unscathed, but it was one of those "life flashing before your eyes" moments.

In a continued effort to get Fergus in better shape for VC100, I had Tom Mayes come out and work on him with some eye-opening results. What I thought was a developing "hunter's bump" turned out to be muscle atrophy on his rump cause by him being jammed up all the way to his shoulder (might explain some of the back atrophy also). Tom suspected that he may have ran into something with his shoulder at some stage and had been carrying this problem around for a while. He also had some similar blocking to his innards, which possibly contributed to my vague impression of his "failure to thrive" this year - it was hard to keep him in good weight. I hoped that this bodywork would help him feel a little better.

pft's health issues continued with a sleep study to see what his apnea might be doing, along with some chiro work to try and relieve his stomach/muscle/back problems. Neither was terribly conclusive.

Our final conditioning rides for VC100 were cancelled due to smoke from the Butte Fire about 35 miles south of us. This fire, which burned enthusiastically for a couple of weeks, ended up consuming 475 houses, 343 outbuildings, 71,000 acres and killing two.

We were well socked in with smoke, raw throats from breathing the air particles, and things were so tinder dry we were living in daily dread over the possibility of any fires starting.

Smoke from the Butte Fire at home

On Saturday 12th, we watched in horror as footage unfolded of what was to become the Valley Fire - strong winds blew what should have been a minor incident into an inferno in a matter of minutes, injuring firefighters and ultimately growing to 50,000 acres in 24 hours. That fire topped out at 76,000 acres, with four deaths, and burned most of the towns of Middletown, Cobb and surrounding communities - 1958 structures burned.

On Sunday 13th, a small fire started a few miles from us and although I could hear the air tankers to the north of us, I couldn't see them in the already thick smoke. They got the fire out quickly and it turned out to be an arson/triple homicide.

It was not a good month for fires.

VC100 happened on 19th - and I think I was already sufficiently unsettled that it just didn't seem to go well, despite Fergus having an outstanding day on paper. I came home exhausted and dreading the fact that I needed to "go again" to get Roo ready for the Riding Dead 100 at the end of October. I knew I'd have fun once we were there, but my heart really wasn't into the commitment needed to get him ready, so although I was bummed when the ride was ultimately cancelled, I was actually secretly relieved.

Poor Roo - Bridgeport cancelled, replaced by Fergus for Tahoe Rim, and RD100 cancelled. My goal to get him to 2000 miles this year was slipping away, despite only needing a couple more 50s to get us there.



October:

"Winter" arrived on October 1st with me having to put socks on for the first time in months. Always a sad day when you have to put away your Tevas.

October turned out to be what I needed - play with no pressure.

The weather held and pft and I (in shorts, natch) took the dogs for a day trip playing in the South Yuba River at Big Bend near Rainbow Lodge just off I-80. Finn got car sick on the way up there, but once we arrived we all had good fun playing on the rocks. Spike amazed us by falling in the river but not caring one jot - swimming across and then swimming back again (this was after he was too wussy to cross the small creek at Faith Valley). He was fearless leaping from rock to rock (and falling in occasionally, before bobbing back to the surface again, legs scrabbling), while Finn was cautiously reticent.


South Yuba River near Rainbow Lodge

Family photo, South Yuba River near Rainbow Lodge

Because of being slammed at work, and being burned out after Virginia City 100, all I wanted to do this month was explore new trails and ride short distances - I was done with coming home exhausted. Erin and I drove up to Silver Fork (between 50 and 88) and explored the trails - climbing up over the ridge between Caples Creek and Silver Fork. The Silver Fork canyon is quite something to see and Roo was in an excellent mood. It was a good relaxing day.

On the ridge dividing Caples Creek and Silver Fork of American River (photos Erin Riley)

Roo snorkeling in Caples Creek


The next weekend Roo and I drove up to Donner Summit on our own and explored the PCT south of I-80 - from New Donner Summit to Old Donner Summit. Such fun technical trails, with no-one to please but ourselves, we had the best time. It seems like I never get up on these trails until late in the year - and then only have a short window before the weather turns to play up there.

Donner Lake from Old Donner Summit

For the final weekend of October, neighbour Becky and I trailered back up to Donner Summit and this time took the 15 mile Castle Peak Loop north of I-80. It had snowed the night before, so we were squeaking in under the wire. Most of this trail is up above 8000 ft, so once the weather turns, you're done until late June at best. I was feeling a little pressure that Roo needed to be ready for two days at Gold Rush Shuffle in November to meet my goal of getting him to 2000 miles. He was fit, but we hadn't done a lot of mileage or long trotting. I hoped that the over-abundance of muscle-using rocks, not to mention the climbs, would set Roo up. 


Although I knew we wouldn't be going fast, I hoped the amount of climbing and the degree of difficulty would give Roo an all-over workout to get him ready for two days at Gold Rush Shuffle in November. (photo Becky Batson)

Back side of the basin behind Castle Peak (photo Becky Batson)

Front side of Castle Peak, looking down on Round Valley towards the Peter Grubb hut (photo Becky Batson)



November:

Dionne and I did a last conditioning ride from Twin Rocks to the Auburn Overlook in the middle of the month. Roo did well and was quite cheerful the entire ride.

I hadn't ridden there in years and although I knew Folsom Lake was "low", I was quite unprepared for the complete absence of lake - and the resulting rock-pile covered moonscape. Very cool landscape to see. The sandy "lakeside" trail was also something I hadn't ridden on before and I made a mental note to ride there again when a) I needed sand work and b) when El Niño hits and everywhere else is sloppy.

My plan for Gold Rush Shuffle was to do two x 50s with Roo to get him to his lifetime mileage of 2000 miles this year. Dionne and I were going to ride together with Roo in chaperone position to be a calming influence.

I hadn't gotten a chance to trim up Roo's feet before the ride, so ended up doing it the day before which I think was a mistake - I trimmed him too short and right from the start of the ride he seemed very subdued. This was ideal for Storm who was quite excited by the whole proceedings, but he didn't get any more enthused at time went on. By about mile 40 I wasn't sure we were even going to finish the ride at all, as he'd lost all impetus.

Having ridden the 55 there last year and gotten caught out in the dark, I still had PTSD from the experience, but this year the trail in the dark was well-marked with glow-sticks, Roo cheered up towards the end and got his completion, despite being a little off. We were given the option of a recheck to start the following morning, but knowing how he felt, I was almost certain we would not be riding the second day. Sure enough, a recheck wasn't necessary - he was still stiff and not moving freely the next morning, so that was the end of our season - finishing up 15 miles short of our 2000 mile goal.

So all in all, a mixed year, endurance-wise. I made a bunch of stupid mistakes that didn't do Roo or Fergus any good and although we had some good results, my impression of the year was one of disjointedness - rides cancelled, rearrangement of plans, and uncertainties that went with it. You live and learn.

On the health front, I finally got fed up with the tendinitis in my left elbow and went and got some physical therapy. The wussy arm started out with 55 lbs of grip pressure (compared with 90 lbs in my good arm) and through (what at first seemed like very wimpy) exercises, it gradually worked its way up to 75 lbs. Best of all, by January the pain finally went away and I could start picking up coffee cups and cans of beans without wincing.

In the middle of the PT, I opted to add a yard of gravel to our parking area - which helped greatly when the rains came (we were getting tired of squelching in sloppy mud trying to get in and out of cars), but didn't help my wussy elbow.

pft had yet another sleep test and was fitted out with a CPAP machine which meant that he started sleeping properly and not thrashing around, yelling, at night. His snoring was gone and he slept quietly all night long. Despite being concerned about having to sleep with a mask, it turned out to be a non-event. Good stuff.



December:

...and the rain started. After a four-year drought, this winter they promised an El Niño event for us - and indeed, the drought appears to be over.

Early in the month, Finn came in from morning feeding restless and shaky. Spike was due in for his rabies jab that morning, so we took Finn along. X-rays were clear so he was diagnosed with a mystery back ailment and sent home with pain killers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories. and commanded to stay quiet for ten days. Within a week he was back to normal, but it still gave us a scare.

In a last minute flurry of tests (ultrasounds, x-ray, MRI), pft's mystery "hernia diagnosis" was finally dispelled and it was concluded to be a bad bout of spondylolisthesis (his vertebrae don't stack one on top of the other properly - and one in particular is about 25% off center, pinching nerves and causing peculiar pains in hernia land).

We got wise and signed him up for the second time with Symmetry - a physical therapist who specializes in straightening people out. They helped him in 1996 when he broke his leg and got all tweaked up. Almost immediately their series of exercises began helping again and pft began to improve.

Once again, I started up working on a quilt that I began making several years ago. I love the design, but the individual pieces take forever to put together - particularly after I came up with a extra-special design of my own making. I think it'll be pretty good by the time I'm done... some time in the next millenium.

Throughout the year, we had a multitude of babby chooks get hatched, and an even bigger number of chooks disappear under mysterious circumstances, such that we're down to our lowest numbers in a long time. With the population decimated, I may have to resupply from outside stock next spring - something I haven't had to do in years.

At the end of the year, we headed south for our annual Christmas getaway in the desert. This year we opted for the easy and camped out at Kaity's place in Apple Valley for the week. The horses lived in her arena, while we plugged the trailer into her barn (necessary for CPAP power) by running an extension cord through the skylight. It was well below the temperatures we were used to (12°F / -11°C at night, warming to a pathetic 45°F / 7°C on the warmest day), and because we had Grizzle with us, we had to run the propane heater 24 hours a day for nearly ten days straight (interestingly, that used less than two tanks of propane). Towards the end of the visit we were starting to lose the battle against condensation, with ice on the inside of the window every morning.

We did civilised things like go to the cinema (Star Wars - the Force Awakens), eating out, playing cards, sightseeing, hiking with the dogs, and watching endurance friends in the Rose Parade on TV on New Year's Day.

Day 1 of riding nearly ended horribly when, in my nervousness, I forgot a crucial piece of equipment.
Luckily no harm done, and we went on to ride five days straight for a total of ~22 miles. 


Kaity and I rode five days in a row - which meant that Small Thing and I worked out our differences (thanks to some quality time in the round pen before each session) and refilled his jar with white balls. He behaved well the whole time, and I learned some coping skills with him when things start to turn south. I think we are back on track for a good partnership.

And so 2015 ended on a good note with one of the best sunsets I've ever seen: