Friday morning, I loaded my stuff in a friend’s truck and put Fetti in her trailer, and off we went to Mount Diablo for a second attempt at NATRC. Endurance is still my sport of choice! I had some specific things I wanted to work on in a ride setting. It was reassuring to me that if we failed spectacularly, it would not go on our AERC record.
Hoof boots. Aurora has been incredibly patient and tolerant with the pony and I over the past few months. Ashley managed to get the final Viper fitting shell to me last weekend, and when that appeared to fit, I rush-ordered Vipers through Aurora on Monday that arrived at my house on Wednesday. Thursday we photo-fitted them to the horse and she talked me through switching my old Renegade captivators in for the Viper captivators. Few more photos, a few laps in the round pen, and we called it good.
Thankfully, ride management strongly recommended hoof protection for all four, but did not require it this year. I booted Fetti’s fronts with the Vipers at 6:00am Friday morning and opted out of booting the hinds. The next time I touched the boots was eleven hours later, after the final vetting at 5:00pm. I don’t even think I looked down at them more than twice during the whole ride. Mission accomplished.
Ride start: try not to die. I have a lot of anxiety at the start of rides. This is very much a Fig issue and not really a Fetti issue except that she takes cues from me. At endurance rides, either it’s been a controlled start (Fireworks) where we’re trotting off with the pack, or a start-whenever where we can start at the back of the pack and walk off near-last. Unfortunately, NATRC is timed out at 30 second intervals, and because I chose to ride in the fastest division, there would be two more divisions timing out behind mine even if I timed out last in mine! So.. I stressed, and stressed, and even made a note in my phone about how ridiculously anxious I was, and then we walked up to the start, grazed, and moseyed politely across the start line at a walk, and kept walking. Total non-issue. Good pony. Not dead. Check.
|Shortly after the start. Lots of lovely singletrack.|
Find a bubble, ride our own ride solo. This has been on the list for a while, but became a very specific goal for this ride. I acknowledged that it would be totally okay with me if we fell in with other folks at the start (see: ride start anxiety, 30-second timed outs, etc), but that I did not want to do the entire ride with other people. We did the first mile or two with other riders, then zipped off ahead and really, genuinely did our own thing. We trotted. We walked. We walked some flats, even – in hindsight, we should have trotted there, but I’m still new to the timing in NATRC and lacked confidence. It proved to me that her brain really was with me at the time and she wasn’t just mindlessly running along. We should have trotted.. but I did not know that, and I cannot beat myself up for that. I’m really, really happy with that five-mile section of trail.
|Happy pony, happy rider, gorgeous views.|
The vet checks proved problematic for us. In NATRC, you must remain mounted for forwards motion – so I cannot walk her into the vet checks. Unfortunately, every single other horse in our division had a faster walk than our tiny pony walk, and we were passed (at the walk) walking into the vet checks, often leading to her jogging to keep up, and subsequently raising her heart rate. So, really: getting passed and going back to riding alone: total fail. This is top of my list to bring in outside help to work on (I didn’t blog about it, but working on it myself last month led to bucks/bolting to catch up).
|Downhill. Full sun. Not passing: see uphill ahead.|
We were able to pass horses on downhills (she’s an endurance pony, we trot down hills!), but there were some serious climbs and they really got to her this year. Frankly, I really did not have enough horse to keep up with the horses we were riding with, but I did not have enough brain in the horse to back off and let her breathe. Hill conditioning: needs work. Not a total fail, but needs work. We found a bubble early in the second half, but lost it when the hills kicked back in. Unfortunately, the third P&R check was at the end of some of the worst climbs, and Fetti insisted on trotting at least part of every single climb (and we train on hills, but evidently not enough). I watched the HRM. She spiked to 180 at one point. This is the horse that regularly quits on her own at 140. These were some tough hills and I did not like her trotting them one bit. She didn’t come down very well at the P&R, plus the P&R folks had an awful time deciding what her pulse was.
|Camera is pointing straight ahead or slightly up. Tough hill.|
Honestly, we should have been held for 10 minutes. I don’t think we were. I am 100% sure she was not at pulse criteria after the allotted 10 minutes for her to come down – at that point I pulled tack so I can’t guarantee where she was after that, but she was still hanging around 74-76 because she’d just trotted on and off up the stupid hills to keep up to the other horses. This should have been my mental low. It wasn’t. One of the P&R folks walked up to me and asked if I knew Funder because she recognized us, and Kristin you made my day. So instead of stressing, I chattered at her for a few minutes about what a nutcase my pony was and how little brain she had and of course she wasn’t down, nope, totally not concerned.
I eventually got sent over to the vet so he could decide what to do with me; he looked at my horse screaming for the other two horses that had just left the vet check, politely refrained from making the justified comments about how awful her manners were being, and simply said her pulse was elevated now because she was emotionally distraught about her friends leaving. Hm. Yep. Makes sense to me. I still think we should have been held, but I wasn’t particularly concerned about her pulse still being up, it was downhill from here anyway, you know. We waited a few minutes for her to find part of her brain, spun a few circles around a stump, accepted help from the P&R volunteer who twitched her ear and held her nose while I hopped on (I suspect that’s probably not really supposed to be done either, but there were plenty of folks still there and watching, so no objections from me!), and moseyed on down the trail. We left that check not ten minutes behind the closest two riders, probably less, and I decided our goal would be to not catch them.
So we found our bubble again. We trotted a while. We’d walk a ways. We’d trot a while more. We’d get a real walk, loose rein and all. Trot, walk, trot, walk. She was hollering the whole time for the other horses, but she wasn’t fighting me. Every time they’d come into sight in the distance, we’d walk. We finished the ride just barely in time, and we never caught the other riders. Words cannot express how happy I am that I won that battle.
|Moseying our way on home.|
They did post-ride CRIs, about 10 minutes after we completed. 13/12 for NATRC translates to 52/48. She clearly did not do well trotting into checks on the hills, but she finished strong and I am very happy with that.
Not getting lost: success. Trail was well-marked. We had no problems with that. Well, one – I second-guessed myself once and tried to turn around. Fetti refused to turn around. I gave in. She was right, and we were going the right way.
Dressage saddle: success. Even sweat patterns, no back soreness, my calves hurt from dropping my heels for 26 miles straight.
1. slight hill right after the start. She trotted up and my position wasn’t ideal, but otherwise, not bad.
2. back downhill and in a U shape. I expected major issues, so we did this beautifully and got a verbal compliment from the judge when we did it. Woohoo!
3. off-side mount, then ride down-up a ravine. I opted out of the off-side mount. We haven’t practiced this much at all, let alone from near-ground level in the dressage saddle. But! I mounted gracefully and my position wasn’t completely ideal on the hill, but otherwise, quite pleased with myself. (Thankfully we weren’t judged on the part where we headed back out on trail afterwards, where she resisted and went backwards and bucked until the other horses showed up. Oh, pony.)
4. Mercury water crossing. Easy, verbal compliment from the judge. This was after the last vet check and I could not have been happier with her.
Mounting went well – three P&R checks, one human-is-confused dismount, so four on-trail mounts done with grace and without overthinking any of them. Very pleased with myself.
Drinking on trail: unexpected success in that Fetti decided to start drinking from puddles on the trail. Woohoo! Good pony.
Migraines: waited til after the vet check to kick in, but did kick in. Sigh. Needs more experimentation.
Headphones and Spotify: success! I bought the Aftershokz headphones on the advice of Saiph (and Funder and Mel and Liz, if I’m recalling correctly) and aside from forgetting to charge them and running out of battery halfway through the ride, it was really delightful to have something getting me out of my head. Would strongly recommend.
Garmin watch: partial success. It worked very well for letting me watch our speed the first 13 miles, but didn’t charge well enough at lunch to keep working for the whole second half. Possibly user error with the charging since I was using a different portable charger, though.
Overall, very pleased. We checked everything off the list and have plenty of things to work on.