Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mature Rider Starts 1000 Mile Ride

My friend and mature rider, Belinda Daugherty, is truly starting the riding adventure of a lifetime. A week from Monday, Belinda will be leaving her home in Ten Sleep, WY, to ride 1000 miles through Wyoming and Montana to the Canadian Border and hopefully win admission to the Long Riders' Guild.

The Long Riders' Guild is an international association of equestrian explorers, with an invitation-only membership drawn from 39 countries. To win an invitation, a rider must cover at least 1000 miles in a single, continuous equestrian journey. The rider must also conduct the ride humanely, and abusing or neglecting the horses and mules used will disqualify a rider.

I met Belinda about 15 years ago when she was leading rides through the Big Horn Mountains from Lander, WY. For many years, she operated her own adventure riding business called Renegade Rides, and she led rides in Wyoming and around the World. The information below was provided in an email from Belinda:

"Hi everyone,
Hope the sun is shining on your trail and your horses stay sound.
As some of you already know, I am going on a very long ride this summer, beginning July 6th. I thought you might be interested in how we get along. I am doing the ride with Christina, my guide from Patagonia. She is a heck of a hand and will be a good person to do the ride with. Below is the description of the ride that I sent to the 'Long Riders Guild". Who knows, we may be eligible to join if we have a successful ride!

We will be riding 2 horses which I have raised. Petunia, a Morgan, is 7 yrs, has hoofs like iron and travels smooth. Sandy is an 8yr old QH gelding and has nice gaits. They have both been raised in rough country, are surefooted and sensible, and know the camping routine. We will be packing 2 mules. Jim Bob is a big Arkansas sorrel, 9yr old and Rosalita is a little grey, 14 yr old, molly mule. I've only had the mules since the 6th of June. However, I have been working with them both and they are working well.

Our route: We will ride from Ten Sleep, heading west across the Big Horn Basin. We will ride through Worland, and on to Meeteetsee WY, resupply and stabling are arranged here. This route is pretty gentle, compared to the mountains ahead and will be a good way to break the horses in gently, to the trail. From Meeteetsee we head into the Absarokas, along the Greybull River. Our route takes us throught the SE corner of Yellowstone, before coming to Pahaska, at the east entrance of Yellowstone. There, a friend will meet us for resupply. Next town is Cooke City MT. We will be met again for supplies. Then west , through the Beartooths and on to Gadnier. We will stay at the rodeo grounds. Then it is on to Ennis, where we have someone to stay with, Dillon, then north to Wise River, again with stabling and a ride for supplies, arranged. We continue north, crossing I-90 at Drummond- to Ovando. At Ovando, we enter the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Heading north through the Bobs, we will be met half way, at the Spotted Bear Trail head, for supplies. Then north to St Marys, at the east side of Glacier NP. Depending upon conditions, we may go into Glacier, or we may just ride north to the Canadian Border. From there we will begin our ride back south, ending somewhere around Cutbank MT. I'm trying to avoid big towns and stay in the mts as much as possible. I figure the Canadain border will be around 900 miles. We will ride south from there to make sure we did a thousand.

That is a condensed version of our route. As I'm sure you know, unpredictible events can lead to a change in plans. We have 10 weeks scheduled for the ride, July 6th - mid Sept. I am hopling to average 20 miles per day, 5 days a week and 2 days off. We shall See!

Though we will be packing the mules, we still will pack like backpackers. I have an excellent tent suitable for almost anything. We will have a Kelly Kettle, water filter, etc. I have an electric corral kit for the horses plus hobbles and they are all picket broke. The horses will be wearing sheep bells, because of the bears. We will be packing pepper spray and a handgun. I have an extensive first aid kit.
We will have excellent photo and recording equipment, a gps and our cell phones. I also plan to do watercolors along the way, besides keeping a diary."

I'll post updates of her progress and any photos as I receive them. I'm sure you'll join me in wishing her a safe and successful journey.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Returning to Riding from Injury and Breast Cancer

To listen to this podcast, please click the title link above.

Claire Thompson volunteered for a podcast interview to provide her advice and insights as a middle-aged rider returning to the saddle from a severely broken wrist and then breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy within a two-year period. Her advice is very much on point for anyone recovering from serious injury or surgery with the intent to return to riding.

As shown in the picture at left, Claire started riding at an early age. She grew up in California and rode whenever she could using horses owned by friends and even braiding tack from ropes off of the family boat. She continued riding off and on as an adult, and in her 40s, she started serious work with dressage rider and trainer, Irene Moser Hill, in Austin, TX. Now living in Charlottesville, Virginia, Claire remains a dressage rider, and she's currently working with a Dutch Warmblood, nicknamed "Tigger" and pictured below.

In the interview, Claire makes the point that you have to impress upon your doctors and physical therapists that although middle-aged, you're a rider and an athlete, and you're not willing to settle for just recovering enough to get on a horse and walk around the pasture. Your medical and therapy teams should help you plan the support necessary to return to the level of riding you enjoyed before your injury or illness. That therapy support level may be more than your insurance plan would normally plan to provide for you.

Claire also advises people, when possible, to get into the very best possible state of physical fitness before surgery. If you can, it will make your recovery much easier and you'll be ready to ride again more quickly.

In her interview, Claire also describes her struggle to maintain fitness during her chemotherapy. She talks about how important it is to be a part of a fitness and therapy support system -- encouraging other patients while being encouraged by them -- as you sometimes have to drag yourself to the gym.

If you have any questions or comments for Claire, you can post them to the blog.

To Claire, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with us. I'm sure you'll help lots of people facing and recovering from similar situations.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Fear of Making Mistakes

In their book, True Horsemanship Through Feel, Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond discussed the fear most of us have of making mistakes with our horses. I think this is especially true of mature riders. Most of us are working with our horses on a tight schedule, we want to do it the "right way" because it's best for our horses and will save us time, we're afraid a mistake might get us hurt, and we tend to become less risk tolerant as we get older.

To quote Bill and Leslie:

"So many people worry about making mistakes with their horses. These people seem to hold themselves back by not trying something new, because when they get to that spot, they don't know what to do to make things feel better. If a person doesn't allow for the freedom to risk making a mistake by experimenting, two things are nearly always assured. First that the person's learning process has stopped, and second, their intolerance of their own mistakes nearly always carries over to intolerance of the horse's so-called mistakes. This usually leads to punishment of one sort or another that is rarely understood by the horse. If the horse really understood about the punishment a person has for him, that method would produce lasting positive results. And it doesn't.

From the horse's point of view, when there's a lack of understandable human feel combined with an intolerance of mistakes that he has no idea about in the first place, and where there's punishment added onto that, well, I'd say it just reduces the chances for a meaningful connection between a horse and a human right down to zero."

So despite being mature riders, we need to experiment with the ways we present things to our horses. We need to be prepared to move out of our comfort zones if things aren't working out for us and our horses. If part of your groundwork isn't working well, try to present it a little differently to your horse. If your horse is misbehaving in one maneuver, try another exercise that your horse does well for awhile or try another way of doing the exercise that didn't go well. If your horse isn't responding as you'd expected, take a second look at how you're working with the horse to see if there's some better way of communicating what you want him to do. Above all, don't lose your temper and don't punish your horse for your mistakes.

Bill Dorrance is an inspiration for mature riders. He was training horses and riders, teaching roping, and doing ranch work into his 90s. His brother, Tom Dorrance, was also a legendary trainer and clinician.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Teaching Mature Riders to Jump

My friend, Susan McCarron, recently sent me a link to a great blog called, The Enlightened Horseman, authored by Robin Shen. Susan told me about Robin's blog post called, A Jumping Exercise, which described an innovative way for teaching mature riders the correct position for jumping without the beginner angst associated with actually riding the horse over jumps. When the correct two point position becomes a part of muscle memory, the mature rider will then have a much easier time starting over jumps.

Robin's post describes his own training in jumping from a veteran pony club instructor. He started by trotting poles in two point and then moved to hopping over an "X". Over time the poles were raised and Robin eventually started jumping oxers, combinations, logs, and other stadium and cross country obstacles.

Robin says that this is still a very effective way to teach young riders to jump, but middle-aged beginner riders have problems with this process. The young riders can adjust and correct their positions during the very short time the horse is in the air, but the mature riders often lack the flexibility and agility to do that.

Robin solved the problem by putting horses and riders to work on a hill. Moving at a trot and then a canter up hill and down, in jumping position, gives the beginner rider plenty of time to respond to instruction and correct his or her position. Robin listed the benefits for beginner jumpers as:

  1. Extended time with the horse in the ascending and descending jumping positions, providing plenty of time for instruction and correction.
  2. If the rider's having trouble, the instructor can stop the horse on the hill, which provides an infinite amount of time to correct the rider's position.
  3. Riders will look at the top of the hill ascending, which keeps them from developing the bad habit of looking down at the jump.
  4. It's safer for the riders and horses because the riders won't actually start to jump until they've learned the correct position.
  5. No need to reset the jumps repeatedly turning the teaching process. By the time the rider starts jumping, the rider will be helping the horse clear the jumps with a good position.
I took jumping lessons in my 40s, and I remember being apprehensive about my mare's last second refusals. Several times she stopped at the jump and launched me over it. I'm sure that my fear didn't make her confident about jumping, and her refusals and my fear certainly affected my position. Following Robin's techniques, I wouldn't have started to jump until I had a good, secure position and could give my horse the confidence to jump cleanly.

I'm certainly not a jumper rider or an instructor. What do the jumper riders and instructors think about this idea?