Tag Archives: NATRC

Imagine Riding a Horse Through An Oven. For 7 Hours.

Sebastian is getting to know the signs of a pending NATRC ride: a bath with soap at 9 in the morning, silly looking braids for the forelock and tail, much awkward maneuvering of the truck and trailer around the paddock in order to get a hose to reach the water tank, etc. During this prep day I also convinced B to take a short work break to install the latest bit of awesome camping gear I have acquired. After the last ride I was talking up the overhead ties that lots of folks use to secure their ponies to the trailer. They allow the horse much more room to move and make them a little less likely to be tangled up with the trailer as they eat or lie down. After running through the pending holidays and realizing that nothing was coming up soon to use as an excuse to get me one of these things, B said “Hey, I want a HiTie for Father’s Day!” The man has not only been studying his Husband Handbook, he has added a few new pages. Turns out “short” is not the length of time needed to drill a set of two perfectly spaced, level holes through 3 layers of steel, but we got it done and it was worth it. Well, it was worth it to me and Sebastian (sheepish grin).

My dear friend Jill went early to the Round Valley camp site and saved us the exact same spot we had last year, including the exact same inconveniently placed bush that served as a marker of my poor horse trailer backing skills once again.

Here is Bastian enjoying the relative freedom of his fabulous HiTie. Yes, that’s the bush and its friend making bunny ears on the trailer.

Jill’s horse Pokani has the TieRite model.

 All went fine with the vetting in. Carol, the veterinarian judge, ordered no snakes at this ride so we didn’t see any of those. Last year there was a very generously sized rattle snake found in camp, so I was thankful. The best part of the vet check was when Carol said Sebastian’s body condition score (a measurement of how fat or thin a horse is, on a scale of 1-9) was a 6! We have had huge struggles in this department- last fall he was an 8 (fat). At home I do a lot of feeling for ribs and poking at the spongy fat pads at  the base of his tail, doggedly trying to measure the imperceptible day to day changes in his weight. Recently I have been hoping he was down to a 7 (fleshy), so when I heard 6 (moderately fleshy) I was so excited! Moderately fleshy! When I gushed to Carol about this later in the weekend she did backtrack a bit- apparently he is somewhere between a 6 and a 7, or perhaps a 6 for his body type. But who cares- anywhere close to merely “moderately fleshy” is a huge victory for my “air fern” (Carol’s expression for an easy keeper). In solidarity with my pony I gorged myself at the potluck before we got the low down for the ride. Rumors had it that the temps would get up to 104, so the open riders had a loop lopped off their ride. No such luck for the Novice and Competitive Pleasure riders. 24 miles it would be.
The night was another long series of randomly timed whooshes! and thumps! from Sebastian’s hearty eating habits. I tried to focus on how wonderful his gut sounds have consistently been at vet checks and not stress about the lack of sleep. Less trailer rocking happened with the new tie system. He did lie down for a couple of hours so we both got a bit of sleep.
The morning temperature was far too balmy for 5 am. By the time we left at about 7:15 it was continuing to warm. The start was a gentle up and down followed by another long flat. Lots of room for the ponies to be frisky, and Sebastian was no exception. Frustrated by my outrageous request to walk at the start of what was obviously a high stakes horse race, he had to let out a small but expressive buck. Made me wish for a nice big hill, but that was a few miles out. Fortunately Jill’s horse Pokani was being a total gentleman and setting a good example. Once we got to the floor of Round Valley we were able to do a long, fast trot to settle out some of the frisk. Pokani is 17 hands tall with a nice big stride (another leggy creature with a 6mph walk- swoon!), so Sebastian had his work cut out for him keeping up.  Soon we were on a several mile climb that looked like this:
It was steep and an excellent use for extra pony exuberance. Also it was beautiful.

Here I am with my stubby… um, compact and efficient at dispelling heat… pony.

After many ups and downs we had the first horse fitness check. I was delighted that Sebastian came in at a 9 and 3 (pulse of 36 beats per minute and respirations of 12 per minute after 10 minutes rest). Apparently his upbringing in the mountains of Nevada had prepared him for the rising heat.
Shortly after we came upon a terrifying obstacle in the trail. Sebastian had not originally realized how dangerous the situation was, but Poki left the trail hurriedly to keep a safe distance.
Jill was laughing! That fool!
Look at this ROCK OF DOOM!
At this point Sebastian was starting to realize the dire position we were all in.
But summoned his deepest courage to snort at the rock from close range. My hero.
It must have been sleeping. Didn’t eat any of us.
The temps continued to climb. I was pleased that Sebastian got an 11 and 4 at his next pulse and reparation check (pulse of 44 beats per minute, respirations of 16 per minute). The volunteers were excellent about providing horse and human water at every opportunity and I was drinking like crazy to keep up. Unfortunately I didn’t have any electrolytes for myself, so Sebastian shared his paste. Eduramax tastes okay, in case you’ve ever wondered. From the looks of Carol’s concerned expression and the number of horses being attended to, this was the vet check where a lot of horses were found to be in trouble. The heat was really taking its toll and the number of pulled horses was rising (by the end of the day 6 or 7 out of 34 were not able to continue). Region 1 of NATRC focuses the judging of the horse on soundness, rather than creating obstacles to assess the horse’s manners on the trail. Carol commented on Friday that this kind of heat makes the veterinary judging straight forward. Any fitness, soundness or metabolic issues are very likely to show up under this amount of stress.
After the check we rode out onto a long, exposed ridge with conditions that B describes as “God’s Hairdryer.” The wind was warm and strong.
Sometime after this totally staged moment where Sebastian and I were in the lead (Pokani was the lead pony at all times), I suddenly found myself riding a terrified steed at a gallop, closing in fast on Pokani’s tail. After a second I realized that the wind had came up very strongly and at just the right angle to turn my penny into a flashing, rattling noisemaker that Sebastian was certain did not belong on his back. Nothing like figuring out that some part of you is what is scaring the daylights out of your horse. I was able to hold it down with one arm and ride with the other, but it made for a tense rest of the loooong ridge, dealing with passing horses and shortening and lengthening the reins with only one hand available.
I was so happy to eventually see the lunch break come into view. Given the heat, they held us an extra 15 minutes at lunch to help everyone recover. I sponged down Sebastian, who was looking like a Zebra with crusted, white tracks of salt all over his body. It was such a dry day that the sweat would dry almost immediately. It was spooky to reach down during the ride and feel an essentially dry horse neck in such heat. I also hosed myself down and choked down some sustenance- salted ham and cheese wraps.
Our third pulse and respiration check was a 10 and 2. I would have been very pleased with those numbers at a first check on a cool day. Phew! Good boy!
Not too many pictures were taken after this point in the ride. It felt a like sort of a frivolous use of energy. But here is Jill going down that long hill that we climbed in the morning. Or maybe it was a hill closer to the P & R. Things have blurred.
The long downhill at the end of the day was a challenge. Especially for the poky pony. Sebastian is, shall we say, careful going downhill and does not think it prudent to rush. Turns out he is not, however, against a small buck in protest when he loses his leggy partner around a blind corner. This was very effective human training on his part. I hollered to Jill and she very graciously made sure not to lose sight of us again. He is still a slow walker. Sigh.
I was so delighted to see the valley floor after that long descent. I was less delighted to ride into the dense, smothering heat that was rising from that floor. The air was still and for the first time all day the heat really felt oppressive. We needed to make up time and the ponies, strangely, had plenty of energy so we trotted through that oven. Turns out it was 108 or 109 at that point.
Definitely no pictures from the rest of the evening at camp. I felt like I was wading through soup. We tucked the horses into their meals and water and gave them thorough baths. Both of them ate and drank very well all day, thank goodness. Both Sebastian and I were less than perky at the final vet check, but we did okay. I had an exciting wave of nausea in the line to the Mexican dinner feast, but held it together and took in a very restorative mountain of food. The awards ceremony was especially nice because the Horsemanship judge, Jamie, was so positive and took the trouble to name several people individually and describe things they did very well on the trail. Sebastian won his Novice class and we got  Novice Sweepstakes again!!! I think we have to retire now. No way to keep up that streak.
I reconfigured hay nets again and we both slept pretty well that night, although I was still slick with sweat as I laid down to sleep at 10:30 pm.  In the morning the tough Open and Competitive pleasure riders were preparing for their day 2.
All I can say is wow.
Jill and I did the obligatory photo sessions with the awesome loot that we won.That’s a leather halter with engraved nameplate for the first place in Novice Horse to go with that beautiful cooler for Sweepstakes! So fancy!
Jill won a very cool ride time watch for her first in Novice Horsemanship and Pokani won second in Novice horse. Here Jill is circumventing the do-something-spastic-so-the-horse-puts-his-ears-forward routine that is usually the responsibility of the photographer. Thank you Jill!
In the end it was a really great weekend. A hard ride in heat like that was not what I would have chosen to do if I had control of the weather, but really it was a gift. It pushed our boundaries (I had no idea that we could do something like that!) and gave me some excellent perspective. I think the conditions of most other Novice rides will seem easy after that one. Knock on wood!

Cowboy Campers

The start of June found us packing up once again to head out to a ride. This drive would be a bit longer, up to a site called Cowboy Camp outside of Williams, California. This area is known for its heat, so I was preparing for the worst. Lots of electrolytes for Sebastian and salty snacks for me.

We rolled into camp, late again. Without anyone telling us where to go I chose the introverts fave location- the very edge of camp. The nature of this position was emphasized by the fact that the bathroom facility was between me and the next closest trailer, making an even larger gap between me and everyone else. I hustled to get checked in and show Sebastian to the vet. In my preparations I had my first experience using athletic tape to wrap around Sebastian’s hooves to make sure his Easyboot gloves stayed on well. I have helped my friend Christina glue hoof boots onto her ponies in the past and am glad to say using tape is nothing like gluing. Sebastian did twist off a hind boot once while catering up a hill, so I figured the tape would be good insurance. I did the Mt. Diablo ride in just front boots, but ended up worrying about Sebastian’s comfort during a long downhill through a solid carpet of sharp rocks. With four boots on I wouldn’t have to think about the footing at all.

The vetting in was uneventful save the large grey snake that slithered through the proceedings. Sebastian found this to be very ho-hum. Makes me question his whole I-was-raised-by-wild-horses story. After dinner and the ride meeting that explained what to expect the following day, I headed back to walk Sebastian and settle in for the night. I had lashed both the top and bottom of the hay nets to the trailer to avoid the loudness of hay nets flying around as Sebastian attacked them. I was hoping I would get some real sleep this time. I was not as hopeful, however, when Sebastian started bucking in place beside the trailer. Lots of folks were still walking their horses around before going to bed, and Sebastian found this tremendously exciting. It was short lived and nothing dangerous happened (no pulling back), but enough to temper my expectations for the night.

Morning came with more sleep than the last ride, so that was something. I paired up with Barbara and Tuscany (the great horse owned by Barbara and ridden by Sara at Mt. Diablo), which was a huge relief. I hadn’t been sure how the ride would go solo, and didn’t want to impose on an already formed group. The start of the ride was a long, flat single track trail that cut through tall grasses. Pretty much everyone’s horses were fresh and wanting to race, so there were some tense passes. Sebastian was right there with that energy, prancy and wanting to race. Shortly we got to the first obstacle, so there was a short delay as we crossed the river that we had been riding parallel to. The rider ahead of me, Kay, was riding an inexperienced horse who was afraid of the water. When in water horses lose one of their main defenses- the ability to quickly flee. Most horses have a deep, natural fear of water before they are desensitized to it and treat the entrance into water as a life or death situation.  Kay is a very experienced trainer and has brought many horses along in NATRC, so she was doing an excellent job. Still, the scene was dramatic- the horse avoiding the water by skittering out onto a mushy peninsula of grass, falling down and popping back up, slipping around in the deep mud. This was all happening right in front of Sebastian’s nose, as we tried to back up a whole line of people to make more room for the horse and rider. Eventually Kay got back onto dry land and I wasn’t sure what Sebastian would think about going into the opaque, mud bog of a water crossing. He put his nose right to the murky surface and slopped right through. The next portion of water was clear and faster moving. When he stopped in the middle I thought “What a smart Mustang! Drinking already!” Instead he began pawing the water in great splooshy waves onto Barbara and Tuscany before dropping down to his knees into the water. At this point I was kicking his sides and yelling, “Get up! Get up!” (at least I hope that’s what I was yelling). Fortunately this worked and we did not roll in the river at 7:20 am. Would have been an uncomfortable morning.

Turns out Tuscany and Barbara were perfect ride partners. Tuscany has a 6 mile an hour walk when he is really going. Sigh. That’s the Big Walk of my dreams. At the start of the ride, when the air was thickest with nervous energy , Sebastian almost matched that Big Walk. Perhaps he does have it in him! Shortly, however, he relaxed into his usual amble. We obviously did some hustles to catch up but Tuscany and Barbara kept us at an excellent pace for the ride.

Here Tuscany leads us up one of the early ascents.

The ride was beautiful. The grass had this soft, pet-able look to it that made the hills look like big sleeping cats.

The heat crept up on us and never felt terribly oppressive. There was even still some green.

At his first vet check Sebastian was fidgety and asking to eat grass the whole time, so his pulse was higher than I was expecting – 48 beats per minute. His respirations were 8 per minute, though, so I felt like the heart rate was likely due to him not being settled. At his second vet check he pulsed down to 40 heart beats and 12 respirations per minute, so I felt like we were on track.

Besides the water that the ride management trucked in for us, there were cattle ponds to drink from. The water was a welcome sight in the heat and Barbara and I had first class insect entertainment while the ponies tanked up. There were the most incredible back and white dragonflies, one type with brilliant white bodies and pitch black wings and another all black with loud white wing stripes. They were not edible, nor did they match the profile of something that might want to eat a horse so Sebastian had no use for them.

Overall the ride was moderate- 19 miles of mostly gentle hills with a few steeper climbs and some flat spots to trot if you felt like it.

Here we are close to the end.

Back at camp I pried boots off and tried to get Sebastian back into presentable shape for the final vet check. No snakes this time. Whew. Apparently the day before the vet almost ran over a rattlesnake making its way out of camp.

Vet check was good, I was pleased to hear his hydration was good.

It was pretty hot. When I opened my truck cab door to get money out to buy raffle tickets at about 3 in the afternoon I recall thinking “Gee, it can’t be very hot because the inside of my truck isn’t even hot.” In retrospect, I’m pretty sure this was a sensory illusion caused by the fact that the ambient temperature was as hot as the inside of a sealed up truck cab parked in the sun. Yikes.

On the bright side, my solar shower was the perfect temperature for a lovely shower. I have showered in many a nice bathroom, but I’m not sure any experience really compares to the delight I took in this particular shower. Behold the fanciness:

Non-horsey friends, this is the second stall in my horse trailer. That green puck just south of my boots is indeed a small sample from the larger pile of horse manure just out of the frame. Moments before the black shower apparatus was hanging from the horse tie point up above to allow gravity to work its magic. Perfect.

Here I am with Bastian, revived enough to take silly photos.

The revival was followed by a nap up in the gooseneck of the trailer.

At the awards ceremony I was very brave and invited myself to sit with some people who turned out to be delightful folks. In the end Sebastian won his class with a perfect score on his vet card! He also won the sweepstakes again! Unbelievable.

Just two weeks until the Round Valley ride. I’m hooked!

Slow Horse in the Winner’s Circle

Finally, the first weekend in May, the day came for me and Sebastian to attend our first competitive trail ride together. NATRC rides are long trail rides where the horse is judged on soundness, fitness and trail ability while the rider is judged on everything having to do with safe horse camping, horsemanship and good riding. It is the perfect sport for me and Sebastian for lots of reasons: it gives us a goal to work towards to keep him fit, it is something we can easily practice right from our house, it gives me an excuse to resurrect long lost grooming practices (like french braiding tails) from my teenage show days, Sebastian’s generally calm temperament gives us a fighting chance of completing these rides without serious bodily harm, and the folks at rides are so darn nice and welcoming. This is not the “A” circuit Hunter/Jumper world I was raised in.

The packing for these rides is really something. You would think we were going to the moon! Here is O, supervising the proceedings.

My friend Jill was good enough to save us a spot out at Mt. Diablo, so although I left late after tending to a zillion unexpected details I was able to camp right next to Jill and her neighbor Val. The first order of business at the ride was checking in and presenting Sebastian to the vet to be sure he was sound and ready for the ride. Sebastian was very well mannered for the vet. It called upon one of his most practiced skills- standing still. By contrast, at Annie’s first ride she unloaded from the trailer and immediately went into raging heat. She would spread her legs, throw her tail to the side and shoot urine when any creature got near her hindquarters. Any creature including the vet. So already I was finding this experience with Sebastian more relaxing.

This would be Sebastian’s first night tied to a trailer, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Annie’s first night tied to a trailer she paced alllllllll night long, rasping the metal clip on her lead rope on the back corner of the trailer with every pass and rattling the metal of her bucket handle against the side of the trailer occasionally for good measure. All the while I was attempting to sleep in the gooseneck of the trailer. Both of us did that Round Valley NATRC ride on zero hours of sleep. This time with Sebastian I thought I was a little smarter with my camp set up- at least set up to avoid any metal on metal. Of course with Annie the trouble would be constant movement, with Sebastian the lack of sleep ended up being caused by something he likes to do best.

Very vigorous eating.

He would grab the small mesh hay net with his teeth and really have at it, rocking the entire trailer and causing a moderately loud WHOMP every time the net was pulled out and flopped back onto the trailer. As it was slightly less grating than metal on metal, I think we may have gotten a few hours of sleep between chow sessions.

Sebastian started the morning a little excited, but it was nothing compared to the bouncing agitation of my companions’ horses. Jill’s horse Pokani has been just excellent at rides in the past, a total gentleman. That day he was just not having it, making Jill ride every step of the 22 miles to keep them both safe and within the timing of the ride (the rides are not races, you are required to complete within a window of the ideal time- going too fast is not acceptable). Val’s horse Jac had not been on an outing like this for a long time and was felling quite full of himself as well. Fortunately both riders were excellent and had many skills to handle the situation. All three of us train with Susan Dockter of Proactive Horsemanship, so it was nice to be in a crowd of riders handling difficult situations with good natural horsemanship skills.

Me, Jill, Val. Pre-ride and feeling fresh.

Not as fresh as some of our horses, however.

Throughout, Sebastian was sort of an island of calm in a river of horse friskiness. I was so proud of him because these types of horse emotions are very contagious, especially when you’re on an inexperienced horse. Could be that Sebastian thought it would just be too much energy to waste. Eventually Jac and Val split off in order to cut down on the amount of concentrated naughty pony energy. Later we absorbed Sara and Tuscany, whose ride partners Barbara and Smokey had had to cancel at the last minute. They were a great addition- Sara was excellent company and Tuscany set a good pace with his giant walk. As a 22 year old horse, Tuscany was all business and did his job very well.

The ride was not too hot, but very up and down. It highlighted my ever present desire for the Big Walk. Uphill and on the flat Sebastian can hustle up to the big walking horses with a little trot (I know, I know. I need to make him walk bigger and not let him trot. We will get there!) On the long downhills, however, this was not as doable. Of course he would be ambling along, unconcerned that his buddies were walking farther and farther away from him until their butts would go out of sight around a corner. Only then would the urgency register- Crisis! Trot down this ridiculously steep grade! The lions will eat me if I am left alone in this wilderness! Whinnies of desperation and tense, quick steps would follow until the butts were again within view and the casual ambling would resume.

At the lunch break we walked though the mine field of small animal dens to reach the water trough at the top of this gorgeous pasture and found just across the fence the exact spot where my friends Jasper and Suzanne were married last year! Small world of beautiful places in the East Bay. Here we are after some refreshments. Sebastian still had not shed out his slimming stars- the pattern I shaved onto his hindquarters last fall when he had gotten so fat that I felt sad and guilty every time I looked at him. Having the stars to distract me as I got him into shape was very helpful, if not actually slimming in the traditional sense.

This next picture is of Jill and the lovely Pokani. Jill was doing a great job on this ride. Pokani lives at Jill’s ranch, horse heaven on earth. With something like 500 acres of hills to play on, he has an incredible base of fitness. When he feels lively there is only small hope of physical tiredness helping a gal out.

The vet checks and judged obstacles along the trail went great. I had been unsure of Sebastian’s fitness since this was our first go, but pleased to see that his pulse and respirations dropped right down at each vet check. At the end of the day we were both tired and happy to rest. Sebastian tucked into his hay and I sort of wandered around in a daze, grooming him up for the final vet inspection. I was worried he would be a super slug at the final trot out (you jog your horse out in hand, then have them travel a circle around you both ways, then jog back together to check for soundness) but he managed to get up to average speed with some brisk encouragement.

At the awards ceremony we had a delicious tri-tip dinner. Consequently, I nearly passed out on the table during the raffle portion of the evening. In the end Sebastian won his class with 99 out of 100 points on his vet card! I was already over the moon, then I found out that he also won the Sweepstakes prize (meaning that he had the highest score out of all the Novice horses in each of the 3 divisions). I was so happy I was in tears! They somehow managed to print and frame this big picture of us climbing a steep hill in a pose not unlike the rider and horse on the NATRC logo. Very cool prize! Pretty darn good for my little range Mustang.

That night we both slept hard, with Sebastian even lying down while tied to the trailer- pretty advanced camping pony maneuver. By morning I was already planning our next ride!