Mendocino Zanzibar

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 7:40 am (California 2010) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Yes I know, I’m a bad girl for failing to update this blog regularly. Real life just gets in the way!

I am currently in New Zealand, but more of that later…

First back to summer 2010 and Ricochet Ridge Ranch, in Fort Bragg, California.

Life at RRR is hectic to say the least! Guiding trail rides from 1 1/2 hours to 1 week-long, we all work long and hard.

We have about 40 horses at the ranch – half are the ‘string’ horses – suitable for taking beginners up and down the beach,

Die Evil Knees!

and the other half are the ‘trek’ horses – better for more experienced riders and for week-long vacations. And then there are the guide horses – the ones not quite ready to put paying guests on yet!

If you remember I broke both of my legs on the last trip to this ranch, and was very much looking forward to completing a whole season with no injuries.

It was Lari, my boss, who introduced me to endurance in the first place. Back in the UK I had done a bit of dressage, jumping and cross-country, and I enjoyed riding and re-training ex-racehorses, but I had never had an interest in endurance. Who wants to trot around for 6 hours? And Arabs? Ha! As a thoroughbred lover I considered arabs to be far inferior!

However Lari offered me the chance to compete in an endurance ride at the end of the season if I wanted and if my legs were feeling up to it. Quite honestly it was just another box to check for me – I’d tried polo in Argentina and lassoing in Ecuador, so why not endurance?

It helped that my mount was to be Mendocino Gamay – an anglo-arab mare that I had been guiding off before and after my accident, and that I liked very much. My options were for a 30 mile or a 50 mile race – of course I chose the 50 miler – I may as well do it properly! I ended up coming 4th and becoming completely hooked on endurance!

So when Lari said she had a horse she wanted me to ride this year, I was excited.

Then she told me it was Mendocino Zanzibar. The last home-bred baby, and Lari’s own personal horse, Zanzi was rising 6 and a full Arab. Oh. All I remember about this horse from 2008 was that it was his first season under saddle and that he had a bad attitude – he reduced one girl that was working here to tears! I never rode him last time due to the broken legs, and that he had only been worked lightly anyway.

I wasn’t over enthusiastic about this idea. I wanted to ride Gamay. So I took him out for a ride on the beach as my guide horse. And he irritated the crap out of me! I didn’t enjoy riding him! He was a head-flinger, he wouldn’t stand still, ever, he hated the water and wouldn’t go anywhere near it, his trot and canter were not comfortable. When Lari asked me how it went it went I said ‘Yeah, not bad’ weakly! Other guides were in fact laughing at me because I told them that I didn’t like him.

I avoided riding him again for a week and a half, before Lari asked that I ride him again and told me that I could ride

Zanzi the nutter...

him in his first 50 miler at Cooley Ranch. So he became my new guide horse. And something started to happen.

From the beginning he was a pain in the bum on the ground. Hard to catch, hard to bridle, kicks out when saddling, a real pig. And little by little it became easier and easier. But only for me! We compromised on his head-flinging habit – he would only fling his head around below my head height, and I wouldn’t whack him on the head. He would stand still, but only if I let him dig giant holes in the sand while he did it. As we got used to each other he became more and more comfortable. I started to like him.

Cooley Ranch was a tough ride for both of us. Essentially up a  mountain and down the other side in the boiling hot sun.

It didn’t start too well. After about only 3k my saddle pad started to slip, so badly that I knew I had to get off and adjust it. Unfortunately the other riders screaming past as I tried to do this proved too much for Zanzi’s competitive spirit and he began spinning wildly around me, making things very difficult, completely refusing to stand still. Thankfully a very nice man stopped to help, and held him while I fixed the pad and while I mounted. I’m sure he lost many places thanks to helping me but I was very grateful.

Another 5ks down the line the same problem happened despite all my efforts to stop it. This time we were alone, and I had a plan! I would tie him to a tree so he would have no choice but to stand still! Great plan eh? Not really. I was just getting the girth done up again and a group of 4 riders came flying past. Needless to Zanzi wasn’t very happy with this and he broke free, snapping a set of reins and headed of with the other horses. Luckily there was a stream ahead, and as I went sprinting after him, there he was standing in the stream with the others, like butter wouldn’t melt. I had been riding in double reins, so had a spare pair, and went and caught him. The other riders didn’t wait and Zanzi was in no mood to stand still and let me get back on, so we set off running! About 2ks later another girl from the ranch caught up with us and thankfully held Zanzi so i could get back on! Not the best of first legs I’ve ever had.

At the vet check the bloody saddle blanket went flying and we did without it for the rest of the ride! I spent quite a few kms off and jogging, and it was during the rest of this ride that we truly became a team.  After a long slog up the mountain we were both hot and sweaty and I could see the summit. So I decided to hop off and run up the last couple of hundred yards. Ha! After about 50 strides I wanted to die! I could hardly breathe – it was steeper than I thought, honest! I realised that it was too steep to get back on, and looking back I could see a couple of riders in the distance, so I couldn’t risk them seeing me fail to run to the top! A plan! Zanzi can pull me up! Now I certainly didn’t trust him enough to tail up (grabbing  his tail while he trots up the hill) so I grabbed the breast-plate so he could ‘assist’ me in reaching the top. He just looked at me and didn’t move a muscle! No way was he pulling me up! Swine! I managed to haul myself to the top, and stayed off for the long steep downhill. Despite his poor manners usually, he seemed to know things were serious and I had to grab onto the scrub and rocks to keep from sliding all the way down – he stuck right by me, his head just by my shoulder, not pulling or pushing or misbehaving at all. I was so proud of him. We finished in a respectable 19th place, not bad out of 71 starters!

And so I continued to ride him as my guide horse and we bonded more and more… Lari again offered me the chance to ride him at the Mendo Magic ride – one put on by our friends Forrest Tancer and Cynthia Ariosta, and held over Lari’s property and the surrounding area – giving us the advantage of knowing the track at least!

Lari was riding Indiana Jones, and I was taking around a former riding vacation guest who had leased Gamay to do her first ever endurance ride. Zanzi was an absolute dream to ride (although getting back on after dismounting is always a challenge – he still likes to walk off!) I came home in 3rd with Gamay in 4th! Unlike Australia we don’t ride in weight divisions in California, and so this was my highest ever placing from a large starting field and I was so happy! It was at the presentations that night that I found out that we had also won Best Condition AND Best Vet Score! My first ever BC. It really was the greatest day of my endurance career and it really cemented our relationship.

Me and Zanzi after winning BC at Mendo Magic

I always fall in love with a horse or two where ever I go, but this was beginning to feel different – for the first time in 20+ years of riding, I was feeling like I couldn’t bear to leave him behind! And an arab too? Who would have ever thought. I took a week off and went El Salvador for a little break, but on the bus on the way home I was so excited to be seeing him again. I live in a little trailer right at the ranch, and so we get to spend a lot of time together, and he just loves the attention, and the extra carrots.

Of course there were still a few ups and downs in our relationship. Like the time I left my camera on his saddle for about 2 seconds while I turned my back, only to turn round to see it had miraculously appeared beneath his great big hoof, smashed. Or the time we were cantering up a hill, and a tail flick from the horse in front caused him to ‘accidentally’ head-butt me in the face. Or the time he stood on the back of my heel, wrecking the zip in my very expensive long boots. Or most amusingly (for everyone else) the time I got off on trek to adjust a guests stirrups, only for a fly to startle him while eating grass, leading him to flick his head up so suddenly he sent me flying 10 feet through the air! In front of about 12 guests and the boss! He put paid to a few pairs of sunglasses too. But there were some endearing moments too. Like the time I was on a private ride with a couple out in the forest. We were cantering up a hill, and the lady’s stirrup came loose. I stopped to fix it and didn’t think to hold Zanzi, as he wasn’t likely to run off out here. Oops! He walks away, trots, then canters and is gone round the corner and up the hill! My guests anxiously asked me if they should go after him! ‘No – he’ll come back’ I said – well I hoped he’s come back. I continued to fix the stirrup, and next thing we all heard the thunder of hooves and Zanzi came galloping around the corner, eyes popping out of his head! He obviously thought we were all still with him! He slammed the brakes on so suddenly that all of my lunch flew from the pocket pads! He never left my side after that!

We did another endurance ride later in the season at Cuneo Creek along with Cyd and Carina from the ranch with Whisper and Gamay again, coming in 3rd, 4th, and 5th! Then my endurance mentor from Aussie, Jay Randle, owner of Splendacrest, came out to visit with 3 other Aussie endurance chicks! I was so proud to show off Zanzi when we went out riding. (And the havoc they wreaked in the bars of Mendo deserves a whole separate post!)

In my last few weeks there Zanzi and I had become so close that I was even riding him bitless! Another very proud moment for me as he is a bit of a big daft idiot. I really do feel that if I could only ride one horse for the rest of my life, it would be him. I was very anxious about who would ride him when I was gone, and was scheming ways as to how we could be reunited…

Who would ever have thought that I could fall in love with an ARAB??

Me and Zanzi sharing a moment

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Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Monday, June 14, 2010 at 8:13 am (California 2010) (, , , , , , , , , )

I was glad to leave Mozambique. Whilst the horses were lovely and the riding spectacular the racism was pretty hard to stomach.

And I was very much looking forward to coming back to California. After all, I didn’t really get the full experience last time due to the broken legs. Yes that’s right. You may recall that I wrote about breaking my foot in South Africa. Well just about 2 years ago I managed to break both of my legs just a month in my summer in California.

I wasn’t even working! It happened on my day off. We trailered a couple of horses up to my boss’s property to go for a fun ride. I was supposed to jump on a little grey monster, sorry Arab, called Rebbe (short for Running Rebel), just so I could go and catch another horse up there that I was going to ride. Rebbe had other ideas and was spinning in circles around me, making it difficult to mount. So I asked the girl I was with to hold him while I got on. That was a bit of a mistake. As I sprang upwards he sprang forwards and the girl holding my horse LET GO! My ass had not even connected with the saddle at this point and I came down as quick as I went up, landing in a heap as Rebbe galloped off into the distance.

I knew something was pretty wrong. (Readers of a nervous disposition are advised to skip this bit) After a few minutes getting my breath back I slowly lifted my leg, and there was a new and interesting bend to it. I had snapped it in half. Totally. Fantastic. The girl I was with was running around hysterically asking me what to do, and I told her to go and catch the bloody horse before he came back to finish the job!

The next hour was quite surreal. The guys from the ranch arrived. The boss arrived. An ambulance arrived, but couldn’t help me as they have no orthopaedic surgeon in Mendocino. Then the Fire Brigade arrived. They were great. I just remember being very calm and a bit pissed off that my summer wasn’t going to work out when planned, especially as I had been having such a great time. Drugs were administered thankfully at some point. Then the helicopter arrived! Gorgeous, sexy male nurses/pilots. It was quite nice to be the centre of attention, although I wasn’t looking my best.

It was only at hospital I found out that I had actually broken the other one as well. Let’s face it, the one with the bone sticking out had been my most pressing concern. So what’s a mere crack in the other one?DSCF0279

Nine days in hospital and a brand new metal leg later, I was good to go (along with some top quality pharmaceuticals).  Lari, the boss, was fantastic, and moved me into her house to recover, as I couldn’t do much for myself for a while. I stayed on for the summer after all. I did lots of work in the ranch office and was back on a horse 8 weeks later (too soon, as my huge swollen limb demonstrated) and even did my first ever endurance ride just 3 and a half months later. I still had a fabulous time – just not the one I was expecting to have!

So when I received an email for Lari asking me back for this summer, I didn’t hesitate to say yes! My own little trailer at the ranch, a car to get into town, and best of all fully functioning limbs. Not to mention the horses I had fallen in love with and the great people I had met.

I just love being back in America….

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More from Moz….

Monday, April 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm (Mozambique 2010) (, , , , , , , , )

I can hardly believe that it’s been over 6 weeks since my last post. There’s only really one word to describe my time back on the mainland – Hectic! Serves me right for complaining about having nothing to do on Bazaruto.

My day usually starts when I head over to the horses at about 6.30am. There are a number of horses here that, for one reason and another, have not been ridden for years (or possible never at all!), and I started with my choice of 6 to train (or retrain) and school, with the idea of turning out safe, happy trail horses. My students have all done so well that I have about 10 on the go at the moment! My favourite is a grey horse called Arizona. Pat told me that he was wild and unpredictable and had some psychological issues trusting people. Arizona came from a Lion Farm in Zimbabwe – that is a farm that bred lions for hunting. Arizona was the food. When the lions needed feeding  the owner would literally walk into the boma, which had around 60 horses in there, and shoot a few of them. So you can see why he might have a few issues!.As it turns out I think he just doesn’t like men, and we hit it off right from the start. It has been so rewarding to work with these horses and get them out riding on the beach, and to give them back a bit of trust in people.

Then there’s usually a ride or more with clients during the day – we could be going to the fishing village for lunch, or swimming in the Indian Ocean on horseback, but no day is the same. The organisation here is not quite as efficient as some places I have worked, to put it mildly. I have had to chill out quite a bit to cope with the chaos! Our reins and stirrups are not kept with the saddles or bridles, so getting people on horses can be a bit of a mission. Rides never go out on time. But I just take a deep breath! Pat and Mandy seem to thrive on the chaos though and hardly a day goes by without a drama or a crisis! One really odd thing is that the grooms come with the ride on foot. We can often have beginner riders and they will be led for the whole ride by one of the guys. One of our rides is about 30km long, and the guys will run and walk the whole way, often in the blistering heat. It has been a difficult one to get used to, compared with South America where the gauchos wouldn’t be seen dead walking when there was a horse around. The guys who work for us here are also a lot less macho with the horses than the gauchos. They definitely have  a bit more respect for the horses, and it so nice to see horses being treated gently.

We’ve had loads of volunteers here over the past few weeks, and recently we had our first week-long riding holiday clients. Two of the guests were from Manchester, and one of them was at the same bloody Factory lecture at the Museum of Science and Industry that I was at in December. There was only about 50 people there. It is a very small world! There are loads of ex-pat Zimbabweans and South Africans here and it is very much village life – everyone knows what everyone else is doing and with who.

I’ve managed to have a couple of days off too. Me and the other volunteers went on a day trip to Margaruque, the third island of the Bazaruto Archipelago, and I had a go at snorkelling for the first time in my life. I also got to spend the weekend on Benguerra Island with Lucy, the volunteer who never went home. She looks after 9 of the horses and it is an oasis of calm and order! I also spent a day in a boat Para-Sailing, in a freebie for lodge staff.

I have always been meaning to learn to dive as well, and my Dive Instructor friend told me that I would be crazy not to do it in such a beautiful place as Mozambique. I completed my PADI Open Water course just a few days ago with the fabulous people from Odyssea Dive in Vilanculos. I am definitely hooked! I really seem to enjoy pursuits that come with their own outfits – horse-riding, motorbikes, and now diving! I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on the underwater world for so long.

Just a couple of weeks left here now, and I have mixed feelings about leaving – it will be nice to be in a cooler climate and have fewer insects trying to eat me, but I will miss my trainee horses quite a bit…

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The Island

Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 5:24 pm (Mozambique 2010) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been on Bazaruto Island for just over 2 weeks now, and life here is a bit different from the mainland. On the plus side there’s a huge double bed in my room, and fridge, TV, air-con (what a luxury!). The horses are lovely and the riding is fabulous. On the down side there’s not that much to do! Indigo Bay is a luxury 5-star resort, but with just 6 horse to look after and 2 or 3 grooms to help, I have a lot of spare time.

The first week here I had no guests at all, and was free to ride all over the island, learning the routes. This week I have a had a few guests to take out, The dune ride in particular is spectacular. I’ve ridden in lots of countries, up mountains and round volcanoes, but have never experienced anything like looking over the edge of a dune and then riding down the 60 degrees slope! It’s an amazing feeling as your horse’s legs sink into the sand and then it rushes around you like an avalanche or a river. Pretty scary too, but the horses are very experienced and take it so carefully. When you get to the bottom and look back up, you can hardly believe that you just came down it. I have some fabulous pictures to upload when I get back to the mainland.

However due to the heat and humidity we don’t ride between about 9am and 3pm, and the horses go out to pasture, which leaves me with jobs that take about half an hour. Filling my time has been a challenge. I didn’t come to Mozambique to wit in my room and watch TV, but there’s only so much swimming in the sea you can do, and sun bathing is out of  the question, what with my tan-challenged skin. Having said that there’s nothing nicer than being able to just grab a horse and go off round the island on your own.

The food is fabulous as well! After the full-on Meat-fest that was Argentina and Australia, I am happy to say that I haven’t eaten red meat since I got here – it’s fresh fish and squid every day, straight out of the sea. Lots of fruit and more water than I have ever drank in my life. So healthy, and I’ve shifted the extra couple of pounds I may have acquired over Christmas at home!

Best of all, I eventually managed to find the Staff Bar! I can’t believe it took me almost a week. So there has been a few parties… There are a lot of staff on the island and most people work a couple of months before going home for a week or two, usually to mainland Mozambique, or to South Africa, where a lot of the staff come from. So sometimes ‘island fever’ can set in! There is a staff pool and braai area outside the bar, and things can get a little hectic, to say the least. There’s not much else to do of an evening other than drink, and it would be rude not to! The parties usually end up in the sea or in the pool. And these guys can drink! It’s almost like being back in casinos, the amount they can put away.

Two other volunteers arrived this week to replace me as I am going back to the mainland, so of course that was an excuse for a party which ended with everyone in the pool at midnight. It’s my last night tonight, which will mean of course another party…  But I won’t be ending up in the sea this time if I can help it – waking up in a bed full of sand is not so nice! The staff bar is almost like being back in a club in London – dark, loud and sweltering hot, with the sweat running off you as if you were in Fabric on a Sunday night! So a dip always seems like a good idea. Of course most things seem like a good idea after enough beers.

We had a relatively sedate night last night though. We rode the horses up to a spot called the Red Cliffs, and met the rest of the staff for a braai (that’s a barbeque) whilst watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. It’s been pretty amazing here, but I will be glad to be a bit busier back on the mainland. It might be nice to head back over here for a week before I come home though! We’ll see…

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First Impressions from Mozambique

Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 7:20 am (Mozambique 2010) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

There doesn’t seem to be enough words to describe my first days in Mozambique. It has been amazing and incredible and utterly different to any experience I have had so far.

It’s hot. Very hot and very humid. And I have arrived in the Typhoon season! Home is a thatched roof hut on a concrete base, a mere stone’s throw from the beach. The beach itself is miles and miles of pristine sand and clear blue waters of the indian ocean. The sea is so quiet and shallow, and perfect for swimming with the horses.

My hut comes complete with the African essentials – a mozzie net and fan to keep the annoying little buggers at bay. I’m doing really well so far and have only been bitten twice. I decided not to take anti-malarials, and rely on prevention of bites rather than cure, but Mandy has insisted I take the cheap Mozambican version of the drugs. As they are only once a week I have followed her advice.

This part of the country in incredibly beautiful , if also incredibly poor. It is just over 15 years since the end of Mozambique’s civil war, and tourism is just beginning to take off out here. We are based at a beachfront lodge, with the horses a little further inland, and the guests staying at the lodge next door. The local people around Vilanculos are mostly fishermen, and live a traditional way of life.

Pat and Mandy, who run Mozambique Horse Safaris, were farmers in Zimbabwe until the land invasions forced them from their farm. Pat couldn’t bear to leave his horses behind, and so they made it here to Mozambique with over 60! And these horses are very tough – they have to be, to cope with living conditions, the heat and humidity. Fly eggs can turn to maggots in just 4 hours, so quick and effective treatments of cuts and scrapes is essential. Vets and veterinary equipment are scarce, and in a quiet month like now, existence is very much hand to mouth. But the picture is far from bleak. The people and the horses here are adapted top to the conditions. The business is really just getting off the ground.

My first ride was with 2 guests from the UK down the beach to the local fishing village, where we stop for lunch. Quite possibly the best meal I have ever eaten – coconut rice and fresh crab, the local speciality ‘matapa’ – made from Cassava leaves and cashew nuts, followed by fresh pineapple and coconut. we had to wait a while for lunch, for the fisherman to arrive back with the crabs – that’s how fresh they were!

This particular ride serves two purposes. As well an injecting money into the local community, it helps them to see the horses as a good thing. Unlike South America, there is little traditional horse culture in Africa, and there can be some screaming as we ride past!

So I was settling in nicely, getting to know my fellow volunteers and other staff, and I was told that I was leaving. I am being flown over to the Bazaruto Archipelago to help out with the horses at Indigo Bay – A 5 star resort on the island. I’ll be spending 2 weeks with the 6 Boerperds (a hardy South African breed of horse) and riding in the dunes.  How exciting!

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Back on the Road…

Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm (Home) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been over three years now since I set off on what was supposed to be a ‘career break’. Oops.

The places I have seen and the experiences I have had over the past three years have been incredible. If I had stayed at the casino I would have been earning lots of money, but I would have known where I’d be and what I’d be doing and who with, every single day.  Doing this I never know where I’ll be going or what I’ll be doing.

I really am having the time of my life – and right now I am still enjoying every minute, and I can still afford it, so why not continue? So my ‘career break’ has turned into my new career for now!

I know a lot of people think I’m on one long holiday, but I do work hard! It was nice to come home for Christmas for the first time in 4 years, and have a bit of  break.

But Christmas is over now, and it’s time to hit the road once again. And this time I’m off to Mozambique, to work here 

It looks fabulous and I have been lucky to get a place as they usually charge for volunteers. Mandy, the owner, has offered me a free position though because of my ‘skills’!

I’ll be trail-guiding once again in a beautiful place called Vilanculos and working with a few other volunteers – and have been told that the accommodation is right on the beach. It’ll be nice to get out of the cold. It’s such a hard life!

I managed to get a full 90 day visa from the embassy, so will be staying for three months, and flying through Johannesburg.

Yet more exciting news is that as I was making plans for the rest of the year I received an email from one of my former employers, asking me if I would like to go back for the summer – and as my 2007 season in California was slightly ruined by the whole broken leg incident, I accepted.

So that’s me all booked up till October. Of course as soon as I had said yes to California, I had another job offer from an endurance stable in South Africa. As I’m already committed, I am hoping they’ll still have a place for me at the end of the year. We’ll see.

The laptop is staying home this trip, but I have been told there is good internet access, so I will be keeping this blog up to date..

Keep reading, and wish me luck!

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Goodbye to Australia

Friday, November 20, 2009 at 12:12 am (Australia 2009) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I am writing this on my last night in Oz. Tomorrow I’m off back to the UK. (Temporarily don’t worry!)

After the fall described in the last post, it has become clear that although there is no permanent damage, there is not going to be any riding for a while, probably about 6 weeks, and as I haven’t been home for Christmas for 3 years, it gives me the perfect excuse.

Australia had been a bit hit and miss in many ways, and i have ended up in some downright awful places as well as weird ones. I would have loved to have stayed for the start of the season next year, but as my mum says, everything happens for a reason.kalbar1

The only reason I have lasted as long as I have is all thanks to Jay Randle and Splendacrest. I am very grateful to Kate in Charleville for getting me started in endurance in Queensland but it has been at Splendacrest where I have felt most at home. I have learnt  so much more about the sport of endurance and have been lucky enough to have ridden some amazing horses in 50 mile races, thinking especially about Splendacrest Perfection and Heathfield’s Fire. I am now an ‘Open’ Rider in Australia with 300 successful miles under my belt, as well as a couple of Vet-Outs and a withdrawal – it’s been a great experience.

None of this would have been possible, had Jay not offered me that first horse back in July for Widgee, never having met me before. In the three years of travelling so far, in Australia so far I have met some of the best , and some of the worst people.

I want to thank the whole Splendacrest team – in particular Jay, G, Tarni, Steph, Kim, and Clio. They welcomed me as part of the team straight away and were so helpful and friendly, and sometimes downright sarcastic! You all have made my trip to Oz worth it all!

I didn’t get to ride Fire at Fernvale after all, because my back just wasn’t up to it, but Tarni rode him, and he got through easily, and apparently got quite a bit of attention because her looked so good! He is up for sale, and if I had the money I would snap him up. Of course I always fall in love with horses wherever I go, but I do love him, despite the bucking fit!

Of course there was another reason that I wasn’t riding at Fernvale – the ride run by the Toft’s – (see previous post about the ‘best’ endurance team in Australia) – but that will all be in my next post, due to ongoing problems! May need my dad and his baseball bat for this one!

But I’ve been here almost 7 months now – the longest I’ve spent in one country so far and there’s a whole world waiting for me out there. It’s exciting for the first time not to know where I’m going to be off to next.

So I’m going from a heat-wave in Toowoomba of 36 degrees a day , to Manchester in winter!  Lots of family and friends to catch up with though, so I am looking forward to it.

Just sorry to be leaving Splendacrest and Jay. I will never be able to repay all the kindness that Jay has shown me, and I’m sure out paths will cross again!

Manchester here I come….

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Heathfield Queensland

Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 6:00 pm (Australia 2009) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am now staying in what can only be described as a mansion! There’s a pool and everything. Granted that’s not that unusual in Australia, but to us Brits it’s posh!

I am the guest of Ondy Laws-King and Arch Felton, and am staying so I can continue to train and ride Fire in the lead up to the Fernvale ride on 13th November. There are 2 x 80km rides on at Fernvale and Ondy had another horse for me to ride there too, Zimmy, a purebred grey Arab gelding. Hmmm… sounds suspiciously like the horse that broke my leg.

Apart from the endurance horses we have resting racehorses (in conditions 100 times better than those I saw in Tasmania), cows, sheep, ducks, geese, pigs and piglets. Even better (for me anyway) these animals are not for eating. There are 2 baby alpacas, which really are the cutest things I’ve ever seen, a pet lamb called Slim, who is not so slim, and thinks he’s a dog. There’s a peacock, and two pet goats, and of course lots of dogs.

For a city girl like me it had been great to be able to go up and stroke goats and cows, to play with Slim, and bottle feed him in the mornings. Ondy and Arch are two of the nicest, most genuine people I have met in Australia and have welcomed me into my home like I was part of the family.

The days start at 5.30am with a ride, then we potter around doing farm type jobs till it gets to hot and it’s time for a ‘nana-nap’. On Monday we found a newborn baby lamb that had been abandoned my it’s mum. I wrapped him up in a blanket and kept him warm as we went to find his mum. We found her, but then it took 3 of us over an hour to catch her. The lasso was flying and we were diving everywhere. Eventually caught we put them in a stable and it was lovely to see the baby sucking for the first time.

Unfortunately whilst we had been sheep hunting the bloody cows had escaped! I sprinted to the end of the farm to head them off, but they made it out before me. I had to try and hold them in position till Arch arrived in the golf-cart with the dogs. Herding cattle is much easier on horseback.

I was having a fantastic experience, with great company, so this being Australia, you know that something is bound to go wrong.

On Tuesday I saddled up Fire and took him out alone at 6am. Less then quarter of a mile away he started to weave, walking from side to side in an effort not to go forward. He was telling me he didn’t want to go out, so I put my legs on to tell him to go straight, and he just took off into a bucking fit! My beloved Fire. Who’s never bucked in his life! The first buck unseated me, and before I had a chance to react the second and third followed and I sailed to the towards the ground. Fire’s a very big boy, and it’s a very long way down. I landed on my left side, back and hip and was completely winded. I still had hold of one rain, but Fire bolted off, still bucking.

I lay still to test my limbs (not broken) and finally got up when I could breathe again. I had a horrible stabbing pain in my back, but hey – I’ve not broken a leg, so I’ll be fine. Fire had bolted into the neighbours paddock to be with the horses over the fence.

I walked over to catch him, looking like a bit of a granny, and brought him back to where I fell off. It took another 10 minutes but I decided that I would get back on and continue with the ride – I didn’t want to leave things on a bad note. Now if this were a film, I know you would all be shouting ‘Don’t do it!’, but this is Fire we’re talking about  – my big baby!

Getting back on wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the pain in my back was much worse when I lifted my leg to the stirrup. However all that practise of riding with a broken leg cam in handy – I know how to haul myself up with no strength in my leg, and Fire was very patient with me. So I set off on the ride again. I even tried a little trot. Nope. It wasn’t working. I am tough, but the pain in my back was making me feel queasy, and I knew that if he spooked I wouldn’t have any strength to hang on with.  So we turned around to head home, with the plan in my head that I would have a rest and ride him again in the afternoon.

Just 20 yards from the entrance gate to the property a white bird flew from the pasture. Not next to us – a distance away – not enough to spook my horse. But spook he did, and spin, and took off in another bucking fit. Unbelievable! I stood no chance. Already in agony from the first fall, I knew where I was going. What is he practising for his second career as a saddle bronc? And just to make things even this time I came off on the right side, and landed on my right hip and back. Perfect.

Now the next hour was one of the longest of my life. It took me 15 minutes just to get up of the floor, I was in excruciating pain. Then I had to go and catch the little bastard, who had bolted to the same paddock. Then lead him home at a pace only slightly slower than a stoned tortoise. Then guess what happened. Just as we neared to house, a pig frightened Fire and he ripped the rains out of my hand and ran back down the drive. Aarrgh!! I admit I was in tears of agony at this point. But I shuffled back up the drive and caught him for the third time, and finally made it to the stable. I took off his bridle and saddle, and left him.

Back at the house Ondy found me, looking like I’d been run over by a bus, and whisked me off to the hospital. X-rays were all clear, but I do have quite a bit of muscle damage, and am now on bloody Valium off all things, to relax my muscles. Today I can still only shuffle along and lying down or getting up is agony. But I’m optimistic. I keep telling them I’ll be fine tomorrow. I’m sure I will be.

In the mean time one of Ondy’s horses is out so I won’t be riding Zimmy, and only time will tell if I’ll be ok to ride Fire at Fernvale. Incidentally poor Fire was sent back to the breakers for a couple of days mere hours after the accident. That’ll teach him.

Of all the horses I have ridden in Oz, he would have been the last I expected to get a buck from. I wish they could talk sometimes, – I’d love to know what caused it. It seemed to be a temper tantrum at first, but who knows? It won’t happen again – I’ll be ready next time!

So now here I am lazing around in luxury and pain…. Sounds great but I’d much rather be pain-free and riding my boy!

The more you ride the more you will fall, and 9 times out of 10 all that is bruised is your ego (honest mum!) Just unlucky that I hurt myself this time.

There are other, political things, going on in the background of this story, but I won’t be writing about it until there is some kind of resolution. Suffice it to say that I think my time in Australia really is coming to an end now… I have been here for over 6 months and enjoyed riding endurance so much, but it maybe it’s time to move on soon to pastures new….

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Kalbar Endurance Ride

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 10:06 am (Australia 2009) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was very excited this weekend to be riding one of my favourite horses, Heathfield’s Fire, in his first ever endurance ride. We set off at around 7.30am on Saturday morning, heading off to Kalbar for the Great South East Endurance Ride, and it was already getting hot. We were taking 7 horses with us, and luckily Kalbar is only around 2 hours away. (A bit better than the 1800km to the Quilty!) We arrived to find there are virtually no trees in Kalbar, meaning no shade! Thank god we had the rain tarpaulin – so useful at the Quilty sheltering us from the rain – now it could shelter us from the sun!

We were pouring with sweat by the time we had put up the horse yards. It was very, very hot. Jay always packs a lot of cold drinks, and we were going through them very fast. Davo, from the camp next door, managed to cool me down when he caught me out with the hose and soaked me.

Our camp was very popular, as usual. Me, Steph and Ang were doing the 80km along with a woman called Natalie from NSW who was riding one of our horses to try and get her Open card (that’s a third successful novice ride). Tarni and Tasha were both doing the 40km ride, and Rosie was riding her own horse in the 20km social ride, and a friends horse in the 80km. G hates riding at Kalbar, but had very generously come along to strap for us, and Clio’s borrowed horse fell through at the last minute so she was strapping too. Along with Ang’s mum and sister, as well as Jay and Shane, we were overflowing with strappers! And we were going to need them in this heat!

We headed out for a pre-ride at about 1.30pm – It was sweltering – around 35’C – I was only hoping that I wouldn’t still be riding at this time on Sunday! Despite the 20 layers of sun-cream I could still feel my arms burning.

The riders were all in bed by 9pm, while the strappers stayed up to party (although I think they were all in bed by 10pm!). The 80km stared at 4.30am so we were up an hour before to have something to eat, groom and tack up our horses. This time there was no need for head lamps as it was light already as we were leaving the ride base.

Natalie and I were riding together, as both of our horses were doing their first ever 80km ride. As novice horses this means that there is a minimum ride time – we couldn’t come in from the first leg (42km) faster than 3 hours and 15 minutes. The track is very flat, and fairly fast so you have to be very careful that you don’t overdo it with your horses. I wanted to take advantage of the cooler hours of the day, and we came in in 3 hours and 17 minutes. The only excitement on the first leg was when Natalie’s rein unclipped from the bit, and she was riding one reined! The horse, Super, not known for his stopping abilities was very well behaved and pulled up to let us reattach it with no problems.

Strapping was fairly easy after this leg, it still being relatively cool, and Fire vetted through with a heart rate of 40 (It has to be under 55 after the first leg). Before we knew it, it was time to head out again onto the second leg of 38km. Fire seemed a bit confused by having to go out again, but settled back down once he realised there was no turning back.

The minimum time for the second leg was three hours. I had been planning to take it slower this time. Every time we walked though, the heat descended on us like a blanket. The best strategy was to keep trotting, creating our own breeze. We strapped a lot more at every water point, and did pass several casualties of the heat (riders not horses) who had had to take a break.

At the last water point, about 4km from the finish, was a creek. The inventive organisers had paid two lads $10 each to hold the riders horses and pour buckets of nice cold water over them (horses and riders!). Great idea! Fire felt fit and strong the whole way through. He did get a bit tired, but not as much as I had expected, and we crossed the finish line with Super, looking great, in a total time of 6 hours and 34 minutes.

We were the last in from the Splendacrest team and so there was loads of strappers! They were sprayed with ice water, cold wet towels around their necks, faces rubbed. You have 30 minutes to present to the vet, and after the second leg the heart rate must be under 60 this time. I went in with Fire 10 minutes early, and we vetted through with a heart rate of 40 again! I couldn’t have been happier! He looked so good in his trot out too. And best of all, Fire’s owner was there to see it.

The Splendacrest Team had a 100% successful completion rate. Ang was 4th middleweight and Steph, 3rd Junior in a very fast time of 4 hours and 24 minutes on Perfection and Petey. Natalie and I got joint 11th middleweight – not bad for Fire and Super’s first 80kms.

Sadly Fire went home with Ondy, his owner after the ride, but the good news is that they are taking him to the Fernvale ride in three weeks, and they’d like me to ride him. And they’d like me to go and stay with them for a couple of weeks to keep up his training.

So it looks like I’m heading off to Beaudesert on Friday to work at Heathfield Queensland for a while, and I’ll still get to ride my Fire for a bit longer! All in all, a great weekend!

Click here for photos from the weekend

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Clipping horses…

Friday, October 23, 2009 at 10:29 pm (Australia 2009) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I can’t believe it has been almost 2 weeks since I arrived back at Splendacrest. The time has flown and it really is good to be back.

It’s hotting up now though with temperatures around 30’C during the day. Another reason for going home to the UK just yet. This week I actually got my super-pale limbs out at the local pool. Nobody looked too blinded by the brightness! There is an outdoor pool too, but I couldn’t risk that! It’s never going to happen. I just burn, and anyway I like being pale, honest. Well it’s better than being two-tone.

The endurance season is not quite over yet, and we are off to Kalbar this weekend, taking 7 horses with us – 5 doing the 80km and 2 doing the 40km, plus another team member riding someone else’s horse means that the Splendacrest colours will be out in force. I am riding Heathfield’s Fire in his first ever endurance ride. We’re doing the 80km, and because of the heat, it means clipping time.

Fire has lost most of his winter coat already, but clipping will make things a bit more comfortable for him. He’s never been clipped before, and I Jay only taught me how to clip recently. But I really wanted to do the whole lot myself, because he has been my little project. (Actually my MASSIVE project – he’s huge.) He was a brave little soldier though, and put up with it all, barely flinching.

We used face masks because the last time I inhaled so much hair that I was coughing up DSCF4144fur-balls for two days afterwards. We always clip designs onto the rumps of our horses, usually relating to their names. Bentley has a car, Super a Superman sign. Fire’s was pretty obvious, but how were we going to do it? He’s ended up with some great flames  licking up from both of his back legs, all the way up the rump. It looks very cool – and it took me about 2 hours! By the time we finished the combination of sun cream and horse hair had left me looking like King Kong’s slightly prettier cousin!DSCF4167

Tarni then had a go clipping Moe – again his first time, and he was considerably furrier than Fire. He looked like he’d lost about 200lbs by the time we’d finished. Tarni was  getting into a bit too much, and was leaping round with the clippers looking like something out of the Texas Clipper Massacre. Scary!

Our horses are all washed and clipped and ready for Kalbar. We’ll be leaving in the morning at 7am to head off to the ride base. I’m excited, but nervous… It’s very hard to explain endurance riding to people who don’t do it – I didn’t really see the appeal of it until I did my first 50 miler… but then I was hooked.

So I am back working with happy horses. These are fit, athletic, competition horses, but the difference in the lifestyles, and therefore the temperaments, between these and the racehorses in Tasmania couldn’t be greater. I’m very glad to be back.

Plus of course, the weather’s better, the people are nicer, and there’s much, much more to do in Queensland! Jay says that there’s plenty for me to do here, even though the season is finishing, and so it looks as if I will be staying here for a while yet. I think it’s going to be a good summer…

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