Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cowboy Country HDT 6/4-6/5/16 - Marathon

I've been SO BUSY this week.... running around trying to catch up with work, and house stuff, and then having to go spend the weekend at a family reunion. I feel like I'm a half dead zombie. To top it off, I've been really struggling to come to terms with the shooting in Orlando this past weekend. I feel like I'm grappling underwater and I can't even catch my breath.

But I finally have an update on the marathon at Cowboy Country! Sorry it took ages. I've been feeling so completely spent and overwhelmed that I needed a little bit of process time before I could sit down and write. Not about the show of course - the show was really good! 


After having a good dinner with Dr. G and crashing for the night, I dragged my sorry carcass out of her super comfy guest bed and headed to the barn for our morning ritual of stall cleaning, feeding, and handwalking. O was not eating still - she is just the worst about eating when at shows. She lives on her Ulcergard and her Pro CMC, but she just likes to stand around and stare at everything instead of eat. She'll nibble delicately here and there, and she'll eat grass, and then when we get home she'll ravenously dive into her haybag like she's starving (which she probably is, after not having eaten much all weekend) - but at the show, she's just terrible about her food. I had walked the entire course the night before, including all four of our hazards - and they were easily the hardest and most complicated ones O has ever done. They were tight, they were solid, and they were complicated. I chose to do several of the tighter turns, as I thought this mare was capable of handling them, and when we do move up to Prelim she'll need to have some experience with those tighter turns. She may not ever win the dressage, but by god she'll be tough to beat in the marathon with a little more practice.

After getting O's boots out and ready, I wandered up towards the office. Since B2 couldn't come this time, I recruited fellow blogger Stephanie from Hand Gallop to come and help! Originally, she had mentioned that she would like to come and watch, and I told her that if she brought her helmet I would give her a ride. As luck had it, B2's poor pup had bloat surgery and she had to stay home with him, which left me with no navigator. I asked Stephanie if she wanted to jump in and give it a whirl, and she said yes!

As I was walking up to the office, I heard a voice calling my name, and turned to see Stephanie driving up in her car. We skipped off together to the office to sign a release form, then trotted back to the barn to see O and stuff her with cookies. I took Stephanie over to my carriage and did my best to give her a brief crash course on navigating, and how to use your weight to counterbalance the carriage. The two most important things, I told her, were to keep your weight on the inside of turns, and to keep your weight on the uphill side of the carriage. Oh yeah, and watch out for branches. And mud. Oh yeah and did I mention there are big rocks and ditches in this course? Oh yeah and whatever you do don't fall off!

As we hitched up, Stephanie and I continued to chat about how to hang on, what to do in turns, how to handle terrain, and the like. We were so busy chatting it up that I completely forgot about going to our safety check. At HDTs and CDEs (and probably ADTs, but I've never been to one), there is a mandatory safety check before each section, where someone inspects your harness and carriage and equipment to make sure you are properly hitched and your gear is in good safe order. This is obviously super important, and I'm glad they put an emphasis on it. If you miss your safety check, you are eliminated - that is how important it is, and they do mark it down. The horse before me had just trotted off on course, when I suddenly when, oh god! My safety check! Crap! I told Stephanie to hang on, and told the starter I'd be RIGHT BACK, and we took off for the safety check. Naturally, the guy there wanted to ask what breed she is and the like - I must have looked like I was in a hurry though, as he didn't hold us too long, and as soon as we were done we trotted right back to the start line to head out on course. I thought I heard the starter say she was starting us at 10:19, our actual go time, but I was not correct - this will come back later.

Warming up

The actual course maps are here, if you're interested. But they probably won't make a lot of sense! Training level only did hazards 1, 3, 4, and 5 - hazard 2 was for Prelim and above. Our course was 4.4 KM, and was through a whole lot of wooded, hilly terrain. There were some HUGE giant washed out ruts, and some big giant rocks, but for the most part the footing was 10,000 times better than the swamp at Pine Hill. I felt that I still would have a lot of horse at the end of the course.

Off we flew through the woods, bumping over the giant ruts and cruising up and down the hills. Stephanie went into this course totally blind - usually you walk the course with your navigator, so you both know the route, but since we did not have time for that this go around she just hang to hold on tight! I did my best to call out some of the things we were doing so she could prepare, but half the time I think I was probably talking quietly to myself instead of being helpful. I talk to O a lot too while we are underway.

The first hazard was the most simple - just some turns through the trees, a good warmup for Stephanie to get a feel of the turns. In these pictures, you'll see my helmet cover blew off somewhere early in the course - looks kind of funny flopping down over the back of my helmet!

Here goes nothing!

Turn mare turn!

She is the best at tight turns

Well done mare! Well done Stephanie!

The other set of professional photos we got was from the next hazard, called the Rattlesnake. It was easily the most complicated thing I had ever set eyes on! These hazards are permanent, and get decorated differently every year. 

I had decided to stair-step the first element, which you'll see in the helmet cam video. We did it carefully and were successful, although we did scrap a wheel on the way out. It was tight in there! 

This is my favorite picture of O from the whole season!!


We powered along to and through the next hazard, The Fort, which was another permanent fixture on course. It's SO COOL. I don't know who originally built it, but it was just amazing and I have video of it too!

The Fort!

It's a bit grainy since it was a video that Dr. G sent to me, but you can still see how she handled it! Unfortunately, my helmet cam had died by this time, so you only will get to see the first two hazards.

The final hazard, Cactus Jack, O handled in supreme style, although she did slow down and walk through the more complicated parts. That's all right... we will add speed as she gets stronger and more confident! She was exceptionally clever about her footing this weekend as well, slowing down and looking at the footing when it was a bit questionable, chosing her own path, and being extremely speedy when the going was good.

And when I say speedy I mean... way too speed. WAAAAY too speedy! Our speed time was 19 minutes flat, and our optimum time was 21 minutes - we have a 3 minute window to come in. There is a 300 meter mark where you must continue your forward motion once you cross it (no stopping or circling or whatnot), and as we reached that mark I looked at my watch.... yeah, we were at 15 minutes. Oh man how were we going to kill four entire minutes!? We slowwwwly walked up the hill... slowwwwwwly.... slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwly.... the finish line was approaching..... we slowwwwwwly wandered towards it... and barely crossed over it with just 12 seconds over the speed time!

O cooled out super fast and was cleared by the vet with compliments on her fitness.  Unfortunately for us, while I thought I had started on time, we actually started 30 seconds past our set start time. They are strict on this (as they should be), and I was penalized heavily for it, knocking us down to 4th. I can tell you something though, I'll NEVER do that again! Only takes one time of making a big costly rookie mistake. I won't forget it ever again!

I could not have done it without Stephanie's fine help as a navigator. She did wonderfully for her first time ever being on a carriage!! And I also couldn't have done it without Dr. G, who let me crash at her house all weekend and fed me and cheered me on. Thank you guys so much!!

Here's the helmet cam footage. It's a little hard to hear, but if you turn up the volume, you can hear me talking to both O and Stephanie:

What a weekend! What a mare!

I checked the rulebook recently to see what the official rule on pregnant mares is for the ADS, and they have a strict 4 month cutoff. I think that is perfectly reasonable, but because of it, this means Cowboy Country was O's last show until the babe is weaned. Our show season in Texas goes totally dead until about September/October, which is too late in the year for that cutoff. From here on out, O will rest and be merry, and Dylan will take over as primary show horse. I feel really good about the whole thing - I was able to do what I set out to do, get this mare full blast through her show season until she could not technically show any longer due to the rules, then let her rest. What a luxury it is, to have a fine show mare that I can breed and then pull out of my show string, not because she is crippled or old or not useful anymore, but because she is a fine, sound, strong mare and I just so happen to have a fine, sound, strong stallion that I not only have full access too, but who I want to be fully focused on while I have him. I have the luxury to choose which of my two fine, strong, sound show horses I would like to show most at the moment. What a lucky person I am.


  1. It was SO MUCH FUN navigating for you!! Thanks again for letting me ride along! :D

  2. Driving is a lot cooler than I would have ever guessed. . . . now on to the WE!!

  3. This looks like so much fun. I'd love to try doing this one day. I don't know how you memorize these obstacles, they look more complicated than any course I've ever had to remember for jumping or XC.

  4. Wow that looked like so much fun!

  5. It's amazing the change in the mare now she's found her job. It's so impressive

  6. I love seeing all these pictures and your horses at work... But my job has ruined me and I keep getting distracted by tack and what everyone is wearing. Like, I'm looking at Stephanie's helmet and going "... I think that's the suede version of the one I picked up."

  7. We've all made that rookie mistake that costs us hugely. But it's a great lesson learned. I once missed crossing the finish flags during my stadium round. Crappiest way to get eliminated, especially because I had no idea until the TD came over to talk to me.

  8. Looks like a lot of fun! I am always amazed when I watched combined driving how anybody can remember which way to go through the hazards. I think I would get hopelessly lost.

  9. Y'all are insane! And I love it. What an incredible driving horse she's become.