Sunday, September 29, 2013

Getting fit sucks

Getting back in shape sucks. I have new respect for people who slog it out and gym, or like my mother who has started exercising for the first time in years after being a busy mother. 

I have always led an incredibly active lifestyle, and been pretty fit. Every day all day I'm riding horses, grooming horses, catching horses, picking up horse shit, lifting hay bales, fixing water pipes, fences and doing all manner of jobs around the farm. If I ever wanted to get extra fit I went for a run and this was always enough.

Now it's different and I don't like it. My body is weak and I lost a lot of my natural fitness reconvering from the Mongol Derby. It's not like I got fat, but I lost a lot of weight, got sick, weak and then spent three weeks traveling around China recovering eating dumplings and noodles. I got home and was exhausted after half day on the farm. I even found lifting hay I didn't have the same strength as before. Usually this time of year I'm upping my workload and getting extra fit for the eventing season, now I'm struggling to get fit for a normal days work.

What's even more frustrating is that a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in Ger tent having just ridden 1000km revelling in how much more my body was capable of than I had thought. But that adrenalin soon wore off and my body has been in recovery ever since. My mind to, as after the excitement of navigating, being chased by dogs, galloping across the Mongolian steppes, mountains and desert going back to everyday routine  is taking some mental discipline.

If it was only fitness that I had to worry about I think I would be ok. I like the burn of tired muscles, I like pushing myself just that little bit more. But days of riding through hail, heat, wind and rain, on a series of galloping ponies has taken it toll. For the first time my body is not recovering and I can't just ignore and push through, like is my usual routine.

My ankles, which swelled so badly through the derby that even rolling over in my sleep made it feel like shards of glass were being driven through them, and stayed swollen for weeks afterword, now are still not healed. Constantly they give way on me as I walk across muddy rutted paddocks. Riding I have to jam my foot in the stirrup and instead of dropping my heel  I keep it raised to avoid any strain on the tendons and ligaments that feel so fragile and weak.

It's not a secret I was sick on the race. Delirious and vomiting I was definelty in the worst shape of my life when medics got to me, I never been so grateful to have a needle in my arm or to be pumped full of IV fluids. While I got over the bug, my stomach has never been the same since, for a week after the race I out ate my boyfriend at every meal. But nothing ever felt good, and stomach pains and vomiting usally followed. Even now my favourite foods make me feel like my stomachs on fire. Coffe and alcohol, spicy food, garlic and citrus all make me run for the bathroom. It's like my body is playing some cruel joke on me.

It's misery instead of a happy reunion with my favourites horse I'm sick all the time. What's happened to me. Exhaustion is definitely is taking its toll, but being weak is something I hate. I work my horses methodically, feed them, muck out stables but I'm not enjoying it I'm just tired. I feel guilty for not having the extra energy to give them all a scratch or play fetch with dog at night. The guilt makes me feel worse. I've always just pushed through and carried on working, I've never minded going to bed exhausted, I like hard work its satisfying in it own right. 

I just want to wake up and be able to do my usual days work, with no weak joints, no sore tummy and the enjoyment of working horses. I know in no time ill be back to healthy and ill forget it all but for now that can't come quickly enough.

I suspect some part of me just can't get over the yearning to be back in Mongolia. A place I loved more than anything.  That amazing place stirred something deep inside, and something just keeps pulling me back there. Something I can't get over no matter how sick, how hard that race was, how bad I was hurting, no matter how bad I still feel, all of it I would go through again to be in the land if horses once more 

So in the mean time I keep myself busy, and plan for the next adventures, and struggle to get fit again.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Horses, hierarchy and rhinos

There are times when I think I know quite a lot about horses, and then other mornings I wake up and realise there is still so much more to learn. 

Animals behaviour is so complex, it's never a simple situation of leaders and followers, dominant & submissive, predator and prey. The more you watch, especially animals that have strong ties to a natural life the more you learn their societies are far more complex than we ever give them credit for.

The basic explanation of horse society is that in there is a herd stallion, a lead mare and then the rest submissive under these two. The stallion chases off other male competitors, protects his herd, while the mare leads the herd to grazing and water and always eats and drinks first. 

But there is much more to horses than this, a lot of behaviours have been lost or changed in our domestic horses because of their artificial environment. To me it always fascinating to get a glimpse into wild behaviour when watching my own domesticated but once wild horses.

One thing that has always stood out to me,  is the procedure for accepting new horses into the group or herd.

If your a horse person and have watched a new horse be introduced to a paddock of other horses. You'll know the scene of galloping around tails in the air, the rushing to meet the new stranger, and the high spirited sometime idiotic behaviour they exhibit. Kicking, squealing, galloping and bucking as they all sniff noses and meet each other, while you kinda watch cringing hoping no one gets hurt. This doesn't happen at my place anymore.

I have always noticed that with the wild horses especially the older ones the introduction process whether stallion or mare is very different. 

Fern,  my wild mare, in almost all situation is the calmest most docile of equines, and not what you think of when you picture an alpha mare. Having been with me for three years it has been fascinating to watch her behaviour and interactions with domestic horses. From being the new horse introduced to a  herd. To now being the leader of our little mare herd of six. 

I have never seen her gallop up to greet a new horse. In fact she keeps her herd well away and any new rude individual that just assumes it can join she chases relentlessly until they maintain a healthy distance. She will chase them away off for days if they attempt to sneak into the group of horses, which they do frequently, and will make them  move them off until they learn that when she's moves they must obey immediately. Over the next days the new horse is slowly allowed to come closer and then join in the mob. 

When there are young horses in the mob of mares, as we have now with weanling fillies in the herd,  Fern is more extreme in her behaviour towards new horses and will chase newcomer far more aggressively than when there are no youngsters to watch over. Obviously having young  about fire up those protective instincts, no matter if its her own offspring or that of others. With only older horses the new horse is usually accepted much quicker

Even when introduced herself she stayed well away and only joined the domestic horses in grazing together after many weeks.

With a foal at foot and introducing her back into her paddock full of friends the same process was repeated. She kept Sonny her foal, away from the others always positioning herself between him and the herd for weeks before slowly allowing him and herself to ease back into herd life.

This method makes sense, it ensures Fern and her offspring stay safe and elimates any violence during meeting new horses. It also ensures that any horse that joins the group already knows it position and does not show aggressive or dominant behaviour. All in all it keeps the herd as a hole running smoothly and calmly as even the horses within the herd are not allowed to go galloping off to meet any newcomers. 

The reason behind writing all this down is recently reading about wildlife conservation in Africa, and how important it is to introduce animals slowly. The book highlighted the inceribly complex social structure of Rhinos, a species that is commonly thought of to be fairly stupid and loners,  and the huge failures of early rhino rehabilitation. When poeple not understanding this just dumped new rhinos into areas with other rhino established, continuously leading to the deaths of those introduced. 

Animals are complex. What may seem stupid beahviour to us may be innfact an integral part of their survial. I used to think Fern was just like the lone rhino when she first arrived,and could never understand why as a 'herd' animals she never wanted to be with other horses, but she is the ultimate social creature, she just knows how to run things the way they are meant to be. 

I could go on and on about examples of the complex equine behaviour I watched under Ferns herd management. How even extremely herd bound panicky ex-race horses have to go through her rules of isolation, but come out the otherside mentally stable independent 'normal' equines. 

I'm lucky that I can still run my horses in small groups and large paddocks and they have a great existence as close to natural as domestication can be. It gives me valuable oppurtunity to continue to watch and learn and realise how smart these animals are, and how much more their is to learn. I'm incredibly lucky to have been to Mongolia and got to ride through vast herds of horses on open steppes that live as close to wild as you can get. The lesson I learned there have opened my eyes to so much more, and truly showed me how different our domestic animals have become.  But you do have to look for that knowledge and sometimes it's in what you do not see.....but that will have to be for another day and another blog post.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thanks Dublin

Im going to write my account of the Derby, i really am. just at the moment im a shade to busy. traveling for six weeks and then coming back to the farm and trying to get everything organised for film crews, the competition season and a riding camp all at once does this to you i wouldn't have it any other way however.

In the meantime I would like to publicly thanks equestrian brand Dublin for their amazing support. Without them I couldn't have done the Derby. They gave me the boots and the helmet I rode the whole 1000km in.

Dublin is a brand I'm really familiar with and have used throughout  my equestrian career. I can now definitely say they have some of the best gear around and I'm really proud to support a company that produces such good quality equestrian supplies that are actually affordable.

Please check out their website and the blog I did following the race here Dublin blog

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The derby thanks

  First of all thank you to everyone for your wonderful messages of support and donations. It has been incredibly humbling and such a lovely feeling to get so much encouragement from people I know and also people I've never met wo have chosen to support me and the charities I'm raising money for.

I finished the Mongol Derby in 7 and a half days, faster than last years professional jockeys won it in. I finished fifth. It was the hardest most exhilarating and challenging thing I've done in my entire life, and I can safely say I gave it everything I had and more.

I rode over 500km on my own without another rider in sight. I got sick and had to have IV fluids, got chased by wild dogs, crossed mountains, deserts and grassland and spent a bit of time stuck in swamps. I rode 26 different horses, camped alone with nomads and had the adventure of a lifetime.

In the moments I was down, it made a huge difference to know there was people at home watching and supporting and it truly did keep me going.

Thankyou all again for your support. I still have a few weeks left to fundraise and look forward to doing a series of talks when I'm back in New Zealand. 

More updates to follow