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IRON OAK 2019


Grabbing an image on the go was a bit challenging in this ride, and though I missed most of the most breathtaking/memorable moments because I was busy riding- I did successfully capture this stand of pines.

Grace, Grace and more Grace, where do I start? This little mare was so ready for this ride, it is safe to say that all year we had worked up to this point. While Grace is doing so well, and I am so proud of her, it really took all this time from March until now to get her ready. Even with that said, it takes years (not months) to truly condition a horse due to joints, tendons, ligaments and yes, even bones to strengthen over miles of training. But, do you know what? It was SO worth it. It felt amazing to load her up and be confident in the program we had followed, the method of conditioning we are using and knowing we had done all our homework. I am not trying for a placing, we are riding for a completion. If over the years we bump up in the pack, so be it. Though we finish where we finish and our goal is to finish strong/get the mileage, and we did. 30 of them



Dogs to the sitter, housecare, horse care & chicken care all arranged, trailer fully loaded with enough snacks to keep the kiddos happy all weekend. We packed extra everything for Grace & for us. Extra food, blankets, batteries, flashlights , bridles etc etc. You get the picture. ALL week we had been watching carefully the weather as it approached, the forecast was not good. Night temps to almost freezing and rain/snow in the forecast. God Bless Jim. His attitude was, "Let's load up an go, Babe, if you get up there, and it is too bad weather, we can always come back home." Wow, just wow, how can I say no to that? So away we went, into a very uncertain weather forecast. Grace was beyond wound up when we got parked, the wind was literally blowing sideways. And it had gone from earlier in the week being so warm that she had sweated on her last two rides, to now being cold enough to see snow flurries. I turned her into the round pen at the campgrounds to let her work off some energy and saw some fancy moves from her I simply did not know she had. The dressage horse breeding in her definitely showed up and pranced around and she was so gorgeous that any carousel horse would have paled in comparison to her moves and beauty. She barely touched the ground as she floated around the arena. I quickly decided that she was not going to roll or chill, and that she was getting far MORE amped up- so I'd better get a rope and catch her. Glad I did- the horses on the other side of the fence thought about challenging her- so good thing I got her out of there asap. Instead we walked around and found a friend to visit with at the other end of the campground and that helped take the edge off of her and she settled back into the Gracie Girl we all know and love, calm and cuddly.


We vetted in and the vet had nice things to say about Grace and how well she trotted out for me. She really is looking good. Riders meeting was huge. A lot of riders from Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and even as far away as North Dakota. I took this pic as Jim & I walked away after the riders meeting. The people standing under there were the Competitive Trail Riders. It was freezing cold and hard to hear in the larger crowd so they did the information for the 30 and 55 mile riders of endurance and did a meeting after for the comp riders.

COMP Riders meeting after the general meeting.

Late Night Check


1:30 a.m. check in on Grace

Inevitably I get up in the middle of the night to check in on my pony. She was not settled in, the high winds were blowing around everything, including tents and a large tarp on the property. I grabbed a fresh hay bag and emptied the contents of it onto the ground. Hmmm...says Grace, always the foodie, new food. I emptied her other hay bag into the mix. Staying to talk with her and reassure her. Just knowing that we had not abandoned her seemed to be all she needed to know. She settled in for the rest of the night.


Well marked trails make a happy horse / rider combo. Ruth Casserly did an amazing job marking trail.

READY TO ROLL

This well marked and beautiful trail never disappoints. October, particularly this second weekend in October, these trails yield far more beauty than I was able to convey in pictures. Riding, navigating etc and rating my horse were my top priority. A few times I did take very quick pictures, though they absolutely did not do this scenery justice. Many of the most beautiful scenes I was trotting through, and would not stop to photograph. Most memorable were the scenes created by a glowing, rising sun on the first loop. There are stands of pine, there are stands of young & mature white birch trees and there are portions of this land mixed with a wonderful blend of both evergreens, white birch, silver birch and other hardwoods. One section of woodlands had beams of light shining into the darkness of the forest, the contrast was breathtakingly beautiful, especially given that the high winds were sending golden leaves sailing sideways throughout the forest like confetti. Early morning beams of light causing not only the golden leaves floating wildly through the forest to GLOW brightly, though also the golden leaves still on the birches. All of this while winding through the trails at a good regular trot, and everywhere we looked in this one section of woods there were various shades of oranges leaves thickly layering the forest floor and trails.

It was heavenly. Sometimes you take the photo, and sometimes you take only the experience. I took the experience, and it was glorious, like riding throughout a scene so perfect that it seemed made from a movie scene.


"Into the woods I go to loose my mind and find my soul."

There is something so cathartic about venturing through nature on a mission with your horse, having trained for and now competing in an event that you had marked on the calendar since the previous year. Not only that, Grace is the perfect blend of her parents, both of which we love so much. She is a snuggle bug. She is the kind of horse you hate to say goodbye to after chores and wish you could bring in the house with you.

So sharing these goals, this trail and this weather with her is a complete joy. I love riding her alone. So if you see me with her at a ride, and I wish to ride solo, you will know why, I just love being kind of in zen mode and solo with my Gracie Girl. Faith on the other hand, I may beg for a riding buddy with. But Grace, I love to be near the end of the pack in peace and quiet enjoying the trail and gaining the miles.


Miles of Grace

Soon I realized that taking out the phone to capture images on the fly set her a bit out of balance, so minimal images from horse back this day. The major factors were extreme wind and cold; so most of the beauty of this trail was to be memories vs. captures.



Hardwoods in the north woods of WI

We stuck with the plan we had all year, riding ratios. Grace felt very confident and strong. She was a little pulling at the beginning, thinking she needed to keep up with the others, though she was very light to the rein and easy to communicate with. I was super pleased when I asked for the first walk break, and she was prompt to downshift to a walk. I truly believe in this system of training, not only for the muscles, though for the calming affect it has on the horse's mind. I am so proud of her for how well she lets other horses pass her, how maneuverable she is to the lightest touch of my cues and so impressed with her and how much better she has taken to shifting her balance to her hindquarters and going in good self carriage more often.


Beginning of the ride, early morning before the snow

It is hard to imagine that I used to gallop almost this entire stretch before I found a new way of conditioning. Now I slow down and get to take in some of the scenery, like this:

Abundant water scenes on the trail.


At about the halfway mark, I could tell that Grace was even stronger at this ride than her last one, and was confident that the added 5 miles would pose no physical problem for her, though possibly a mental push through when she thought she was done. And that was exactly the to be the case. She was more than strong at the 15 mile vet check, and seemed eager to go back out onto the trail. During the second loop the sun had been now hidden by clouds and the hint of something such as rain/snow was in the air. To give you an idea how windy it was, at one point the trail briefly opens up by the wide river, and it was blasting wind so hard that there were hundreds of white cap waves bashing onto the shore of the river. As we turned back into the forest, small silver birches were bending hard in the waves of wind and flickering their silver leaves wildly.

I was surely expecting her rump rug to fly up over off her hindquarters, though it stayed put.


It was on this loop that I realized that we had left onto the second loop slightly ahead of horses that had been ahead of us earlier in the day. It gave me a boost of assurance that her conditioning method was working as well as I had hoped it would.


As the second loop went on, she eventually would pass more horses, one of which the rider was having to lightly, very lightly tap the horse with a twig. It was not a hit at all, just barely enough to move a fly away. The horse looked a bit tired, there were only a few more miles left to go. Grace still had plenty of pep left in her and was happy to trot when asked to.


I saw a woman I knew riding through the trees as I was leaving one of my last loops, I knew this ride was special for her. She was wearing an arctic riding skirt and looked like royalty gliding peacefully through the forest on her horse, it was a sweet moment, as I knew that she and her 19 year old horse were about to accomplish something that few do. You see, her Standardbred gelding, Sydney Rain was about to accomplish his 1,000 lifetime miles with the completion of this ride. Another friend, Barb, was riding her appaloosa, Roman, to his 3,000 lifetime miles and yet another rider Marty, was riding her horse to it's 5,000 miles with this 30 mile LD. You know, there is a lot more going on at an endurance ride than what meets the eye. Every rider has their own personal goals and the final placings of the day do nothing to tell you how successful each and every rider was that day. I am so blessed to have been able to meet my personal goals with Grace at this ride, and even more blessed to smile on as I got a front row seat to see some other riders achieve goals that took many years to accomplish. And this is why I love endurance riding.


I could go on, though this is a blog, not a book! And I have captured for my own memory the key memories that I wanted to, other than I have to tell you that the ride managers at this ride are the kindest people you would ever want to meet. I adore Ruth Casserly, she does an amazing job, and her other RMs are just as sweet as she is, Ray and Alice Hubert. What a blessing to get to be around such wonderful people.

Ride far, Ride well, Ride often,

Blessings, Chris

AND THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS MY WONDERFUL CREW! My husband Jim


This is one of the happiest sights I've ever seen, James Hyke is more than I could have ever deserved in this life. I am so blessed that he loves me, believes in me and has ALWAYS always always been so supportive of my horses, my endeavors and my photography. He is proof that even if you had a bad beginning, God can certainly give you more gifts in your life to make the rest of it beautiful, and I know this because He gave me Jim & Grace and so much more.

#ironoak #Grace #endurance #christinahykephotography #Endurancehorsepodcast

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