Spring Hunter Pace Recap

On May 19, Gina and I competed in Harvard Fox Hounds’ spring hunter pace. Sadly, our original plan to have Levi and Bubba and Kyla and Cal on our team was foiled by Cal’s persistent abscess. It ended up being just Levi and Bubba  with Gina and me.

Gina was a total champ through the day; she loaded easily, stood quietly while being groomed and tacked, and was just anxious and excited enough before we took off to make me feel confident.

Levi and Bubba were beautifully put together, what with Levi’s pearl-snap shirt, fancy belt, and finely detailed Western saddle. Bubba had finally shed the last of his grubby winter coat and revealed a stunning gold palomino coloring that was both impressive and unexpected. Bubba was restless and alert- I think he wondered where the cattle were.

When we took off, both of the horses galloped easily and confidently over the trail. They were eager to be off and going instead of standing around. Levi pointed Bubba at a small log jump- Bubba swerved, then decided to take it at the last possible second. Levi nearly fell off, but stayed on through a combination of sheer determination and the horn on his saddle. Gina took the log without a problem.

We galloped for long periods of time- both of the horses were feeling good. We only slowed when we found the twisting, rocky trails that led up the steep hills that comprised the latter half of the course. Bubba took off like a shot any time Levi gave him a loose rein; Gina followed suit in a rhythmic, steady gallop; she felt as if she could go all day.

Along the way Levi and I debated the merits of riding English; I touted the virtues of the lightweight saddle. Levi expressed his disdain for the silly garb required at foxhunts and the like.

When the end of the pace was near, we urged our horses into a victorious flat-out run and crossed the finish line with a time of 1:39:12, ten minutes faster than our nearest competitor. While we were most definitely the fastest time, we finished dead last in a field of fifteen.

Happily, our horses finished sound and cooled out easily. Levi and I had a fun time in beautiful countryside, and our entry fees went to the HFH kennel fund. Levi has it all figured out for the fall- our team is definitely winning first place!

Two Point Challenge

Thanks to SprinklerBandit and her challenge to the horse bloggers of the world, I took the time to clock myself in two-point today. 

Four minutes. That’s all I could last. Yikes! I absolutely know my college coach would be deeply disappointed in me. I’m also fairly sure that all of my instructors from my Pony Club years would be disappointed, too. I’m not terribly disappointed in myself; I took nearly two years off (I don’t count polo- it was riding, for sure, but it wasn’t at all concerned with how I looked/how well I rode), and have focused on dressage with Gina for the last year or so. Sure, there’s been some attempts at jumping and plenty of galloping, but no training-for-an-event happening.
Gina was a total beast today. She trotted and cantered around like it wasn’t even a thing; she felt alert, confident, and happy. I think we’re going to have a great time at the hunter pace next Saturday.
In less stellar news, baby Cal is lame. His abscess returned, so he’s been poulticed, wrapped, and living in a stall/dry lot since last week. The vet was out yesterday to check him out; I haven’t talked to Kyla, so I don’t know what baby Cal’s status is. Fingers crossed he’ll be able to make it to the hunter pace; otherwise, Kyla’s on our friend Will’s Quarter Horse mare, Misty. While Misty is incredibly cute and very pleasant, she is not, um, on Cal’s speed/endurance level. 
In absolutely fantastic news, Levi and I are officially making the trip to pick up Moe NEXT WEEK! While I’m sort of bummed I won’t have time to visit with any friends (we are driving down, sleeping, and driving back), I am over the moon that my sweet boy and I will be reunited!! Yay!

Trail Ride Extravaganza!

It’s exactly 20 days until the glorious 19th of May- also known as Spring Hunter Pace Day! Kyla and I have been working Cal and Gina regularly to get them fit for the ride. Our third team member, Levi, tells us he’s been working his horse Bubba, too. We’re all pretty excited- after all, Kyla and I have our third-place finish to defend!

Levi’s trailering us to the event, but wasn’t sure if all three horses would fit into his stock trailer. He assured me that it fits six calves, but since we weren’t sure what the ratio of calves to horses is, we decided to load everyone up and take them on the trails at the local lake. 
Kyla and I hit the trails a few weeks ago with our friend Will and his horse Misty. The horses were good then, so we were really looking forward getting out again. The horses loaded up in Levi’s trailer without too much fuss and fit totally fine. Once we arrived at the lake, we tacked up our guys and got ready to set off. 
Gina was totally fine until we set off toward the trail. She immediately zoomed backwards at maximum speed, shaking her head and flailing around. I jumped off, removed her flash noseband, and got back on. She was quieter. We headed down the trail, with Cal and Bubba in front of us. About 100 feet into the narrow, slippery trail, a plastic bag lay. Gina was not having the plastic bag. She reared. I clung to her neck. She spun. I ducked to avoid tree branches. She galloped out of the dense wooded trail and back into the parking area. I stopped her. After that, we decided to take an alternate, slightly wider and less tree-filled route. 
Kyla and baby Cal
Gina calmed down after that and we ended up having a great ride. We let the horses gallop on a long, flat stretch. Bubba, who’s a sturdy little Quarter Horse used for ranch work, smoked both Cal and Gina (two race-bred TBs!). We’re planning a rematch, though, since Cal wasn’t feeling his best and was recovering from an abscess. 
Me (left) and Levi (right) after galloping.
We spent about 2.5 hours riding and traveled about 8 miles. We wove through forests, across streams, over rocks, and ended up right on top of the lake. I suggested we swim across the lake to make for home, but somehow, no one was with me on that suggestion. It would have ruined my tack anyway…
This was the least-dense area we rode through. The lake is beyond the trees.

The horses were tired and soaked with sweat when we got back to the trailer, and we (and our tack) were covered in mud, sweat, and bug bites. No pain, no gain, though, right? We’re definitely ready to smoke the competition at the hunter pace!

Hunter Pace

I spent the night before the hunter pace feeling panicky about the competition. I was worried about Gina’s fitness level. I was worried about Linda’s driving abilities. I was worried about adequate warm up time. I was worried about the horses’ untrimmed muzzles and raggedy winter coats. After a terrible night of tossing and turning, I rose at 5 AM to get going.

The plan Kyla, Linda, and I had discussed involved leaving Linda’s farm at 7 AM sharp, picking up Gina, and heading to the hunter pace. By my rough calculations, the farm where it was to be held was about an hour and a half from us. I figured we’d arrive around 9:30 AM and have lots of time to sort out any forms, tack up the ponies, and have a nice warm up.

The plan went terrible awry, as plans are wont to do. Kyla ran a bit late. Cal, who had previously been a champion at loading, refused to set foot in the horse trailer until a bucket of sweet feed changed his mind. Linda went the wrong direction on the turnpike. We called ahead to say we were running a bit behind, and the nice lady at the hunter pace assured us it was fine and we’d still get to ride.

We arrived precisely at the time we were supposed set off on the course. We hurriedly tacked up the horses and set off toward the starting line.

Now, neither Kyla nor I had ever been to a hunter pace before. I’ve been on plenty of cross country courses and have foxhunted. Kyla has spent most of her career in the equitation ring. I expected to get a map or an idea of an appropriate time. Instead, we were told to head off to the left and follow pieces of caution tape strung on trees. The path would eventually loop back to the start line where we’d have a mandatory five-minute rest period, then start on the second half of the course. I knew the whole point of the hunter pace was to get as close to the “mystery time” (sort of like an optimum time, only unknown to competitors) as possible. I was still surprised when we weren’t given any idea of how long it had taken other competitors to complete the course.

The first half of the course started with crossing a stream about a hundred yards from the start line and parking area. Gina is not a very rough-and-tumble horse, and the last time I tried to get her to cross a puddle, she jumped over it after throwing a fit. I was worried. Very worried. Poor Cal has been hacked around the hay fields a few times and probably hadn’t seen moving water in his entire life. Gina took a look at the stream and started to back up and wheel around, which wasn’t ideal behavior given the sketchy footing. Brave little Cal took the lead and gallantly walked across the stream, not seeming to notice he was in water at all. Not to be outdone, Gina followed without hesitation.

We warmed the horses up as we navigated through enormous fields, more water, and winding, twisting forest paths. I jumped G over several logs and she acted as though she’d done it all her life. Kyla and Cal made it over a few jumps, too, which seemed to be a positive experience for both of them. We kept a steady canter through most of course, except while climbing and descending the biggest hills I’ve seen in Oklahoma. Gina felt great; she was attentive, courageous, and seemed to be having a blast.

When we returned to the starting line for our rest period, I was surprised to hear it had taken us an hour! We checked in with Linda and told her about our adventures in the woods. She and her Corgi, Carson, had passed the time cutting out horse head shapes and napping (respectively); Linda was very pleased to hear how well the horses had done.

We struck out on the second half. I could feel Gina tiring- she was a bit sluggish and less responsive than she’d been earlier in the day, and understandably so. We took some more fences, including a coffin (!) and a coop (!). The second half of the course was a punishing as the first: steep hill climbs and terrifying descents, with big galloping stretches in between. Kyla and I thought for sure we were too slow; we were overtaken once. The horses were sweaty and exhausted, but they pressed on bravely. I tried to give Gina a good ride, but I could feel myself tiring, too. Kyla complained of her ankles hurting; I could only think of the soreness in my butt.

We finally emerged from the woods into a clearing that ran along the stream we’d crossed earlier. We could see the path to glory: through the clearing, over a road, and across a beautifully flat field to the finish line. We urged the horses forward. I could feel Gina hunker down and find the last reserves of energy. I rode on determinedly. We crossed the finish line at a hand gallop, victorious and light-headed with the pride of completing the grueling race.

It had taken us two hours and nine minutes.

We cooled the horses out and tied them up the trailer with their haynets. Linda joined us as we made our way to the barn where a lunch potluck and the awards were waiting. A poster board showed the times of all 25 teams that had participated as well as the mystery time. The mystery time was two hours and six minutes. Kyla and I looked at each other in disbelief, then broke into unceremonious squeals. We settled down to eat and find out where exactly we’d placed.

When the MFH announced we were third, we whooped with joy as we accepted our yellow ribbons. I have never been so proud of myself, my teammate, or my horse. My horse, the hunter-jumper castoff, the horse everyone was afraid of, the horse that was proclaimed unreliable and unpredictable, had eagerly tackled a long cross-country ride filled with unfamiliar elements and triumphed!

We rubbed the horses down one last time, loaded them up, and drove them home. They were turned out and given a few days off. I headed home and collapsed in an exhausted slumber at approximately 8 PM.

Exit, triumphant, stage center.

We’re Still Alive!

Yikes! It’s been over a month since I last posted. Gina and I are still alive and kicking, although we’ve been doing a bit less lately. The shorter days have killed my riding time on days I work (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and I’ve had a veritable horse buffet thrown at me over the last month.

The center’s current director, Linda, (who is the founder and previous director of the program at which I work) has lots of horses. Since she’s 62 and has a bad knee, she offered just about all of them to me to ride. There’s Heidi, a 5 year old Appendix mare; Atut, a 24 year old Trakehner gelding; Xeta, a 4 year old Oldenburg mare; Doc, a teenage Quarter Horse gelding; and Annie, a twenty-something Quarter Horse mare. Linda also has six elderly Thoroughbred broodmares who are enjoying retirement and seven miniature horses of varying degrees of pigheadedness. Linda offered Kyla and me board for our horses in exchange for feeding and mucking stalls a few days a week and keeping her horses in shape.

It’s been a busy month of riding new horses, cleaning stalls, and generally have a good time. I’ve managed to get out and ride Gina a few times- she’s doing well and having a fun time being a fuzzy mess. We’re headed to a hunter pace with Kyla and Cal this weekend; I’m not hoping for best behavior. I’m just hoping for reasonable behavior. Gina is then headed to stay at Linda’s farm for the foreseeable future. Linda’s setup is great- a nice, cozy barn, an arena, large pastures, and about 30 acres of galloping space. I’m pretty excited.

I’ll be sure to get some pics at the hunter pace, but in the meantime, here’s a picture of Heidi being a goober.