Bits and Pieces

Bits and biting isn't a small subject.  Here are my thoughts on bits, why I have chosen the one I use, and why I don't use certain other ones.

There are many variations on a bit which changes the action of the bit when pressure is applied to the rein, and many variations in metals and shapes that affects the comfort of the bit for your horse, both when resting in the mouth and when the reins are used.  Even just looking at the wide variety of snaffle bits available can be confusing.

My initial preference for a mouth piece is one that has two joints.  This is sometimes referred to as double jointed, with a lozenge, double broken, or 'french link'.  I prefer a bit with two joints over a bit with just one joint because it avoids a 'nut cracker' action.  A bit with just one joint, when pressure is applied to both reins (how most people stop) the two sides get drawn back and closer together, the centre join can then stick up in to the roof of the horses mouth, and the tongue can get pinched in the middle.  There is an argument that if you are needing to pull this hard then there is a huge gap in the horses training, or a health issue stopping the horse responding to the rein aid, but even the best of riders grab both reins in certain situations, even if they don't intend to (eg when your horse spooks), and why risk causing your horse pain by accident???
Image result for snaffle       One Joint
Image result for double jointed snaffle  Two joints

Two joints also allows each side of the bit to move more independently.  As pressure is applied to one rein, the side it is attached to will move and a small amount of movement may transfer to the centre piece, but almost none is transferred to the other side.  With a straight bar, if you apply pressure to one side this will directly impact the other side of the mouth piece, and with a single joint a small amount of movement could be transferred (This will depend on the type of join in the bit).  (A straight bar can also have a 'port' in the middle designed to relieve a little tongue pressure without having to have a joint, ports have also been introduced to jointed bits to further relieve tongue pressure)

Next I look at the rings of the bit.  I like a fixed ring so that pressure applied to the bit rings (via the reins) directly affects that side of the mouth piece and nothing is lost through movement of the rings.  Loose rings can cause pinching if not used with the rubber 'bit rings' to protect the corners of the mouth.  Loose rings are said to help stop a horse 'grabbing hold of the bit'  but this again raises the question of problems in training or a health issue, rather than an issue with what bit you use.  Fixed ring can be eggbutt (oval shaped), D-Ring (With a straight side to 'aid steering' or 'stop the bit slipping through the mouth' - again if this is your reason for choosing a D-Ring there is possibly a gap in training or health issue that needs addressing)
Image result for fixed ring snaffle
Fixed ring   (eggbutt)

Image result for rubber bit rings loose ring bit
Loose ring

The material of the bit used can very much depend on the horse.  Some metals used in bits are said to be 'warmer' than others, you can get rubber or silicone mouth pieces which are generally thought of as kinder than a hard metal, you can also have hollow or solid mouth pieces which changes how heavy they feel.  I have heard of a horse displaying problematic behaviour due to having too much copper in his system, he had a copper bit!  When that was changed his behaviour changed dramatically!  When I was younger I was told that a fatter mouth piece is kinder as it spreads the pressure over a larger area, however, I now know that isn't always the case.  If your horse has a small mouth, or a very 'fleshy' tongue and lips, a fat mouth piece takes up a lot of space and with a closed mouth would be causing a permanent pressure when ever the bit was in.
Image result for hanging cheek bit
This is the type of bit I am using with my horse Buddy at the moment.  I would prefer not to have the hanging mouth piece as, although very small, there is an element of purchase and poll pressure.  With no leverage though this is extremely slight so for now I remain mindful, and continue to seek an alternative that suits him.  I have chosen it based on the mouth piece being thinner, which Buddy seems to prefer.  At least for now he seems happier with this than with the previous fatter mouth piece I was using.
Once you move away from snaffle bits, you begin to move in to the world of leverage (or combination bits).  If anything is reported to give you more 'stopping power' it is likely to be a leverage or combination bit.
Leverage - 'A lever amplifies an input force to provide a greater output force, which is said to provide leverage. The ratio of the output force to the input force is the mechanical advantage of the lever' (Definition from Wikipedia).   Basically the longer the lever the less effort you have to put in to create the same force at the other end.  A shank on a bit is anything that drops below the mouth piece for the reins to attach lower down.
The longer the shank the more pressure can be applied to the horses mouth with lighter pressure from the reins. The 'Purchase' will then determine how much the force also transfers to poll pressure. As the end of the lever pulls back, the purchase pulls down, rotating around the mouth piece.
This can be on a gag bit (the most common is a 3 ring gag where you can move the reins to 3 different positions, depending on how much leverage you want).  Or a Pelham, which also has a curb chain which applies preesure to the horses chin when the reins are taken up too.  Other combination bits may also add nose and chin pressure.  Nose and chin pressure bits are often given the term 'hackamore'.

Image result for shank bits
Western style bit to illustrate lever and purchase
Image result for 3 ring gag
3 ring or 'dutch gag'
Image result for pelham
Pelham with curb chain
Image result for combination bit
Example combination bit
Image result for english hackamore
An english hackamore (no mouth piece just nose/chin/poll pressure)

Now add to this the options for a flash, drop nose band, grackle nose band, martigales and all sort of other contraptions designed to give you better "control".... with all these different actions, styles and gadgets what do you use???
I've mentioned the type of bit I'm using and why.  I feel that if leverage, poll pressure, chin pressure and nose pressure are needed in addition to the pressure in the horses mouth (on the tongue and bars of the mouth) there is likely a training or health issue that needs addressing.  I'm not keen on Hackamores as although they remove the pressure from the horses mouth directly they do have a strong 'squeezing' action on the horses face.  I have however known horses that cannot tolerate a bit in their mouth (despite all training and health issues being looked at) and go very happily in a hackamore without much pressure being applied to the reins.  There is almost as many 'bitless' options as there are bitted options.  (Buddy can also be ridden bitless but I find the contact less precise for schooling, so we tend to use this option more for hacking).

If it 'aint broke, don't fix it.  If you and your horse are happy, then don't rock the boat.
If you're reading this blog because you or your horse are not happy, first consider why?
Are you having to use what is considered a 'strong bit' and you'd like to have something simpler?  Perhaps your horse is fighting rein pressure and you are being advised to get a stronger bit, put a flash or drop nose band on, or to use some other gadget you aren't comfortable with?  If this is the case, first look in to any possible health issue, or tack fit that could be making it worse.  A poorly fitted bridle, a poorly fitted saddle, sore teeth, sore back, as well as the sometimes less obvious gut problems or mineral imbalances can all cause problems with stopping or steering.  Seek professional advice from your vet or instructor.  And then, listen to your own gut instinct and research the bit you are considering using.  Unfortunately, there is no simple answer but I do feel the simpler the bit you can use, the better.
Check out this video.  It only talks about bits that they make of course, but shows you nicely on a horses skull, how a bit works in the mouth.  There are MANY videos out there about bits and biting!!

I hope this article has helped you understand a little more about bits.  I'm happy to answer any questions you have, to the best of my ability, so feel free to drop me a message.
Did you know you can now get someone out to try loads of different bits and help you find the right bit for you and your horse?  Yes! That's right! Just like a saddle fitter there are now bit fitters!!!

Back to basics

It would be good for him to go back to basics... Maybe you should go over the basics again... Perhaps you need to go back to basics... It’s a good idea to go back to basics... and so on and so forth.  How many times have you heard one the above phrases?  How many times have you said one of them (or words to that effect)?

We all know that ‘going back to basics’ is a good idea, and at times could be necessary to help you move forward.  No matter where you have gotten to in your training and no matter where your horse is in his training, the basics are important.  If you don’t have some key fundamentals it won’t be long before you start to get problems and reach road blocks, and you have to go back and start all over again.  Many times you will have to undo some of the work you’ve done, in order to get the basics going right again, before you can move on!

How many times have you actually done it?  For more than five minutes?  For more than one day?  It isn’t a phrase anyone really wants to hear.  It gives us the feeling of going backwards, of getting worse instead of better, and of feeling incompetent.  A yet we all know it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and needs to be done from time to time.  I believe it’s important for us as much as it is for our horses.

This topic was bought to the front of my mind today while I was riding.  Last week I rode a new horse for the first time.  This horse (Nip) is an Endurance horse and I’m riding her (and potentially a few others) alongside her owner to help her with her time.  Her owner (E) has recently moved with the horses from another country so has a lot on her plate with getting the new yards and fields set up and keeping her horses exercised.  She advertised for a rider to help and having had a passing interest in Endurance I thought this would be an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about the sport while being a part of a team preparing the horses.  E is also a BHS AI and has been competing internationally in Endurance for some time, so I’m sure to be learning a lot from her while working alongside her.

That first ride I felt like I was all over the place.  E wanted to see me ride in the little area of field she uses for schooling.  The thought of people watching and appraising my riding always makes me nervous.  The background I was given about Nip is that she is quite sensitive, can be silly but won’t do anything nasty and hasn’t been ridden for about 12 months.  Ps. Nip is an Arab, and my main experience with Arabs comes from my old Mare Coffee.  Coffee was no easy ride either but rather than making me feel better about this situation it made me feel worse.  It’s been a few years now since Coffee left us and a few more than that since I was really riding her regularly.  I don’t know if I will be able to gel with this horse like I did with her, and I didn’t know if I wanted to either.  Coffee really was my one in a million, no other horse will ever take her place, and just because this is another Arab mare it does not mean we will be able to get along.  I would also really like this to work out and after E explains she is quite particular about how her horses are ridden I’m even more nervous.  I manage to get it together enough not to make a complete hash of it, Nip and I seem to get along alright but I wouldn’t say we made friends or anything.  I think Nip takes a lot more than a 20 minute ride to win her over and it sure wasn’t my best riding!  E seemed happy enough to let me return again this week though and gave me some pointers to go away with.  While I was riding another horse this morning I finally remembered to give it some thought.

The pointers had to do with the weight distribution in my stirrups from left to right.  I was putting more weight down through my left stirrup than my right which was giving Nip the opportunity to fall through her shoulder.  I can assure you it’s been a little while since I looked at my position, and weight distribution in the saddle and stirrups is one of the first things we do when we learn.  I can remember it being drilled in to us in those early riding schools lessons, ‘Even weight in both stirrups, heels down, long legs, one leg either side of him...’ and so on.  So, essentially I’m going back to basics; again.  My morning rides went well and I managed to reflect on my weight distribution, found a good fix to get the right muscles engaged to balance me out, and I’m really glad I did it.  Nip proved to be just as testing on our hack round the nearby field, and I really needed to be on my game.  She’s quite skilled at gradually and gently pushing you of balance to slowly get you to follow her thoughts!  I relaxed quicker today, and Nip and I got on better than last time (even though we had a little more wiggling about and strops from her) as I felt we had a job to do, rather than just having my riding scrutinised.

I'm always going back and revisting things I've done in the past.  I've had to go back to the begining with Buddy and loading after he had a bit of an episode (this has taken some time but we are now loading again as well as we ever have).  I've noticed in the last month or so Buddy has started to show signs of tension when being tacked up and mounted, so Freya and I are going back to basics with tacking up and really concentrating on how we present ourselves to him.  This was clearly having a knock on effect in ridden work as a few niggles in riding have disappeared all on their own after we've started taking this time to go over 'old ground'.

I had revisited the basics with a new appreciation for them.  I’d been able to look in to them deeper, and I now have more knowledge and skills as a rider and coach than the last time I looked at these areas.  This means I’m not just ‘going back to basics’ I’m adding a new level to the basics and scrutinising them in a new light in greater detail.

So the point I want to get across is, the next time you feel you are having trouble moving forward maybe you need to try ‘going back to basics’.  Try not to look at it in a diminishing light.  Consider the new knowledge you can bring to the table when looking at the basics, and see it as a chance to go a polish these skills.  I can assure you taking the time with them, really breaking them down and opening up the topics can be quite interesting, and it’s certain to help you improve.  When you go back to these basics and find they are rusty, don’t be disheartened, you knew that already, that’s why you went back.

"If you’re not willing to go back every day and start over, you shouldn’t have started to begin with, because you might have to start over a lot of days in a row before it carries over from one day to the next, or one month to the next or one year to the next. I could start over 500 days in a row and it doesn’t bother me a bit. I’m going to be the same guy at the beginning of the day each day as what I was the day before. Not everybody has that in them. I often tell people that it doesn’t make any difference to me where I start my day, it makes a difference to me where I finish my day. Did I leave things a little better off than how I started? It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if it’s just a little better off than how I started, I got along just fine." - Buck Brannaman


Ok it's been a while again, especially since I wrote a horsey blog, so here we go.  I'm just going to recount a little story for you and then give you some of my thoughts on the subject.  The story came to mind while I was reading about confidence strategies today.

The other day I was riding a young horse.  I've been riding this particular mare for some time now.  She was sent away to be 'broken in' after the owner and I had done some basic groundwork to lay a good foundation for her.  I've then ridden her weekly to continue her education and build on that foundation in the saddle.  She's doing very well and is starting to find a little joy and relaxation on our rides.

We had taken a route that goes along the bottom of the woods, around the end and then back up through the trees to do a loop, before we would then make our way back to her field.  On the way up the hill she started to get a little extra 'keen', she pricked her ears forward and I could feel her energy rise.  She'd seen or heard something that I hadn't yet.  

Knowing her background (except for the two weeks 'breaking in') I knew a lot about what this mare can handle and how she deals with things she is unsure of.  I would say I know her reasonably well and I know that I can deal with most anything she is going to do (given the potential situations I could imagine at the time).  After a small lift in my adrenaline at her response, I had very quickly bought my 'arousal levels' back down by thinking of a few solutions to scenarios I could bring to mind.  

I ducked under some low branches hanging down and as we rounded the next corner I then saw what she had heard.  It was two other riders going the other way.  No problem, they were going down a track off to our right and we were carrying on to the left on the path they had just been on.  I talked to my horse, telling her it's ok that they are going a different way and to keep her concentration on where we were going.  Talking to the horse is more to help me keep on track as to what I need to do and I find it works well.  I give her a little scratch at the withers and we both carry on as if nothing happened.  The riders call out as they see me/hear me 'There's a tree down on that path, you can't get through'.  I'm focusing on my own young steed so I quickly thank them for letting me know and carry on to see what the blockage is. 

This wasn't because I didn't believe them that a tree was down but because I like to go through the problem solving process with a horse.  It's good for them I think, to experience a little waiting, to come across a blockage and realise that their rider will find a solution, and that they may be given a new job to do. 

I soon saw the tree they were talking about, it was a long dead tree, the bark stripped from its trunk and very few branches on it.  It had indeed fallen across the track, and it was too low to duck under, too tight and too high to jump.  However, I quickly scanned the surrounding area, I saw a gap in the trees to my right.  Looks good.  I assessed the ground as we approached and apart from a few brambles, that looked good too.  I decided to go for it, checking the ground as we went to look for any sign of rabbit or Badger holes and a few seconds later we were on the original path again and on our way as planned.  No drama. No trouble.

What stood out to me, a few minutes later on my ride and again with a little more understanding today, was the use of the word can't.  The rider had taken a completely different path (which curves round  and cuts out the end of the woods) because a tree was down.  It was very simple to get past it though, as far as I could see.  So I wonder, did they have a similar 'adrenaline lift' and were unable to get their own arousal levels down? Did their horses react more strongly to the sound of me and my horse coming? Did they react to the tree?  What made them decide to take a new path rather than finding a way round, and why the word can't?  They didn't sound stressed or flustered, it sounded like a very matter of fact statement. Maybe they had to make that decision, and tell themselves they could not get by in order to rationalise a fear or other feeling that the tree blockage bought up?  Perhaps this was caused by a previous unfortunate incident, that had involved a blocked path and had ended up going wrong....? 

Now, please realise here I don't know these riders and I am merely speculating, and musing over the situation.  Please don't feel I'm laying out any judgements here.  I won't ever know the answers to these questions, but these musings made me think about how often we hear a story, a statement of 'fact' from another rider and just take this on, without question?  How often do we hear 'it's windy up there' and we choose to take our ride somewhere else or not to ride?  Maybe it's not windy but it's too hot, it's slippy, there's sheep, or cows, it's busy... And so on and so forth, and even if these things have never been a problem before, all of a sudden, it becomes a problem.  Maybe it's only a little bit but it makes us think twice, and sets our subconscious mind to finding a problem, a negative scenario.  It's ready to protect us from this perceived danger, that we hadn't considered dangerous until now. 

Next time you have a similar situation, I'll bet it will be the next time you chat at the yard, really have a good think.  How have you processed the information provided to you? Can you consider it with interest, know you are capable of dealing with whatever that perceived problem is, and move on, or does it begin a negative thought pattern and get you rearranging your ride/plans?

If it gives you a negative thought pattern, just notice that the person relaying this information is fine, and their horse is fine, and I'll bet you will be fine too!  This should help you to realise what is happening is fear, the perception of danger, not actual danger.

*Disclaimer: please do take note of anything actually dangerous, like a lion loose in the woods.  I don't want people running around willy nilly throwing themselves in to truly dangerous situations.  But do consider is this perceived dangerous, and so just fear, or actually dangerous?

Day 26 - the long drive home

It's Saturday and that means it's time to go home.  We all have things we want to get back to but I don't think anyone really wants the holiday to be over.  I certainly could do more paddling, but I do want to get back to our new house, which we moved in to 2 days before I left for this trip, and I want to visit my horse.  We've all had so much fun and there is plenty more we could still do, but it will have to wait for next year.  We're up and ready, final items packed and leaving the house at 7.40am.  Sat Nav ETA at Calais is 6.28pm, our ferry is at 7.50pm and we have to arrive by 7.10pm to check in.  This doesn't leave much room for rest stops but we usually find the Sat Nav doesn't take the best route and the toll roads are usually quite clear.

Keith and I have to make a stop for fuel as his car didn't get filled up yesterday, but we catch the group up by the time they have their first rest stop and breakfast.  We're keen to keep moving, so we set off again. We manage to cut almost an hour off the Sat Nav time (no speeding required just selecting the right route) and the Sat Nav adds an hour when we turn off by Lille, which we soon loose again and more.  We stop then for a lunch and fuel break using the time we've made up to sit on the grass and stretch out.  Then it's on the road again!

Sam's car has been having a bit of a sensor issue (nothing actually wrong with the car but a sensor is faulty) so her car is struggling to accelerate/rev past a certain point.  The car is fine once it's going though so we just keep that car in the middle of the group so they dont get left behind at any point.  Then Rob's car starts smoking out the exhaust.  It's been smoking a little all week but it's gotten worse on this journey, and the car loses some power.  We stick together and look for the next services but by the time we get there it's improved, so we put the two cars with issues at the front to set the pace and keep chugging along.

One more rest stop before the ferry and a little shuffle of bodies and bags.  We all have to be in the right cars for the ferry, my booking is with Matt so I need to be in his car.  And very quickly we're on the road once again as the car issues have slowed us down.  If we are late for the ferry they will put us on a later one but being tall vehicles there is no guarantee it will be the next one, or that we will all be together.... Let's just hope we make it in time....

We made it! And with plenty of time.  Everyone's mood lifts as we drive in to Calais port and we stand around for a chat by the cars before we are called to load.  There's a small delay on the ferry, but no one minds now, the longest part is over.  We go up to the food court for dinner and people split off here and there to go on deck, to the duty free and so on.  The hardest part of the journey is ahead though.  As our nervous energy drops and we chill out over a meal it's easy to forget there is still around 4 hours driving left to get home.  Night will fall as we go and we have had a long day.  This is one of the biggest reasons we have several drivers for each car, as drivers have swapped and naps taken through the day.

I drive for Matt up to Beaconsfield services once we get to Dover.  He has driven through France and as expected needs a break to snooze.  I've already snoozed a couple of times and so far only been a passenger so it's a nice change for me to drive too.  Sometimes being a passenger on these long journeys is as difficult as driving as it's the same monotonous activity but with nothing to occupy you.  At Beaconsfield the majority of the group are taking a short rest stop and grabbing a drink or food to keep them going and we do the last shuffle of people.  After this point it's every man for himself and we just make it home in our own times.  We've heard from Bill and Ali who are ahead that the M40 has a couple of junctions closed and we decide to use an alternative route, Matt and Trevor stay on the motorway and we hear from them that it has cleared... Bummer.... We're too far along the alternative route to head back now, so we carry on to pick up the M5.

We make it home around 1am so we've made reasonable time even with the detour. We still have to get the bikes off the roof and we have a drink and wind down before we go to bed.  The rest of the unpacking can wait until tomorrow!

And so this is the last of the daily updates. I hope you've enjoyed following the adventure!

Day 25 - guardian of the Guill

It's the last day for activities and as a slight break from tradition we have booked to do the rafting on the Châteaux Queryas gorge.  It's a fairly long drive and we've booked for 9am so we have to be up and out early. I'm a little tired but mostly in denial that it's our last day.  I don't want to get up because that means the holiday is nearly over. I don't want to miss rafting though. Last year was a blast on low water, and this year the levels are so high they weren't paddling the gorge last week, but we have confirmed we will be paddling it today!

A quick breakfast for everyone and kit sorted we make our way over to meet Vincent who owns the raft company.  The guy at the kayak shop in Guillestre says Vincent has been around so long they call him the guardian of the Guill, he knows every rock and the nicknames of all the trout in the river.  I heard about Vincent last year but he wasn't there the day we paddled last time. He is there this morning though and we find out they took a raft through the gorge to check it yesterday and we are the first customers they are taking through. Exciting!  It's certainly going to be different to last year.

We get kitted up and we are split into groups.  I am with Rob, Matt, Tim and Jen. Vincent is our leader for today and I'm quite happy to be getting a guide from the most experienced raft guide about.  He takes us to our raft and we go through the commands he will use. Everyone has to pull their weight in a raft, we all have a paddle each and Vincent will instruct us and steer from the back.  After running through this, and some laughs, Vincent is happy so we carry the raft to the get on and we're off.

With Vincent at the steering wheel we often only need to do one or two strokes each time Vincent calls out.  'FORWARD’ 'STOP’ 'TIM PULL, JEN BACK’ 'STOP’.... Etc…

The gorge is beautiful, I can't imagine how amazing it would feel to paddle it in a kayak, perhaps Keith could let you in on that, I'm a long way off from that and I'm not sure if I'll ever get there.  It's grade 5 water. Strangely though, in a raft I have no nerves about it at all, and I can enjoy the scenery whenever we aren't paddling or getting covered by waves.

We come to a section where we have to get out and walk, there is a large drop and stopper which could tip us out if the raft went through full, and just after that is a nasty syphon so it's better that most of the group walk from here.  Vincent asks Tim to stay in the raft and help him paddle through the drop, and then they get out and the raft is put on a line and sent past the syphon on its own!

All the groups have caught up with each other here and I assume this is planned so everyone gets through and round safely.  Last year we jumped into the water off the top of the boulder causing the syphon, and swam through the next small wave to a beach before we got back in the raft.  There is no beach this year and we don't do the jump. We all get in the rafts and with some space between the groups we head on further and we have now exited the gorge section.  We say goodbye to guardian angel (the bigger bit of gorge where Châteaux Q gorge ends, there is a historical story to why it's called guardian angel, but I can't remember it well enough to try to explain here).

A little further on we come to another point where the majority must walk as we have reached Millennium, a grade 5 / 6 rapid and a full raft cannot go through.  This time Vincent asks me to stay in the raft with him. I'm super excited, and it doesn't take much paddling (that's down to Vincent's skills not mine lol) but as we come towards one drop Vincent tells me he will shout when I need to lean left, and I must lean all the way left.  'FORWARD’ 'STOP’ 'BACK, BACK, PULL’ 'STOP’ 'wait, FORWARD, GO GO GO, NOW LEFT’.... Waahoo! That was amazing! The raft almost went right up on its edge as we went round and down the drop. I can see why all the way left, had I not I would have been swimming! What a rush! We pull up in an eddy and wait for our group walking round.  The groups all catch up with each other again, I see Gregg and Chucky come through with their raft guides (they also have a trainee in their raft). I'm still reeling a bit from the excitement and don't get my goPro ready quick enough but I do then have it ready to catch a picture of Ali coming through with her raft guide.

After this is triple step, which is another grade 5 rapid but this can be done with a full raft.  The first step is the only time Vincent shouts 'BONZAI’, which is when everyone sits in the bottom of the raft with paddles up in the air so we don't fall out!  There's plenty of water in the raft and it's just such a hoot. I think about whether to be a raft guide, and maybe I will look in to it when I get back.

We carry on through the last bits of rapid.  They seem small after triple step but it's still fun and waves still crash into the raft.  Then we stop and gather up again, everyone lifts the rafts up to the road where a minibus and trailer is waiting to drive us back to the start.  My feet are so cold and numb I slip going into the minibus and bang my shins, oops! I think I will order some neoprene socks, the rest of me is fine in my paddling kit but I haven't got proper paddling shoes and socks yet.

Once at the top we thank Vincent for a great run, as always, and we have lunch on the benches before we drive back to the house. Bill, Chucky and Tom Snr are going to squeeze in a last run of the Durance gorge on the way back.  It's the last day so it's tidy up day, and there is plenty to be done, but when we get back Keith and Trevor (who didn't come rafting) have done a lot of the jobs already while the house was empty.

Cars get packed and loaded up, we're leaving early in the morning and we have a tight time frame to make the ferry so everything is ready, house cleaned and just our nice clothes and and over night bags left in the house.  The nice clothes are to go out for a meal together this evening so there is no cleaning or washing up to do in the morning. We go to a restaurant in the town, and have a good laugh over dinner, then after a few of us stay up chatting until later.  Not too late though, it's a full day driving tomorrow so we don't want to be too tired for the journey.

So no photos of rafting, I haven't had chance to go through the GoPro footage and get stills yet. Apologies for any terrible grammer or spelling mistakes, I'm typing this one on my phone in the car!

Day 24 - Galibier & Guitar!

It’s Thursday and the penultimate activity day, so we are all going to ride down from Galibier (minus Keith due to his ankle sprain yesterday, and Trevor who decides to take a rest).  I’m borrowing Trevor’s bike so Jess can borrow mine, and Matt is hiring a bike for the morning.  It’s a later start today and we go up to the statue (not quite the top of the Col) for a group photo before we ride down. Tom Snr has ridden up the Col on his road bike and meets us there briefly before he finishes the climb and then cycles back again!  We all group up at the main road crossing and from there we split in to two groups.  I’ve felt ok with Trevors’ bike, but it’s another different bike to get used to and have had a couple of moments on the loose gravel where the wheels have slipped around a bit, the brakes are a bit sharper than mine!  It’s much wetter on the ground than last year so we are all filthy already, and I realise that the go pro on my chest harness will be largely useless (unless I want a long video of the mud splatter on the screen!)

I go with the first group and take the lead for a little while on the rest of the downhill section.  It’s feeling good and no as hairy as last year.  I’m more confident on a bike in general now.  We get to a gate across the track, we are riding through grazing land so there are sometimes some little electric fence gates that keep the cattle in.  We take a short break to make sure everyone is happy, and a French cyclist who passes us tells us one of the second group has had a fall.  We manage to determine it’s Matt taken a tumble and we decide to wait for the second group just to check all is ok.  When Matt arrives he says ‘I’ve capsized!’ and seems ok and in good spirits.  We carry on along the flatter section now and Jamie takes the lead for a while.  We soon start to have a bit of a rolling lead and positions in the group changes as and when people feel like it.  I’m feeling pretty good rolling and jumping over and around rocks, and do a small drop in the woods.

The groups gather again at the village and pretty much cycle together (ish) through to the town where Matt returns his bike.  He only had it for a couple of hours and wasn’t too happy with the leat section last year so was happy to just ride from the top of the mountain down to the town.  At the start of the leat section we discuss the plan from there, most of the group head down the single track to the cafe at the bottom of the lifts to have lunch there.  A couple are taking a lift in the afternoon to ride a downhill track at Serre Chevalier, and others will cycle along the river back to the house.  I go with Bill, Ali and Rob, along the leat and we head back to the house for lunch instead.

The leat is brilliant, last year I did ok on it and enjoyed it, but it did make me nervous.  On one side of you there is the leat (where the run off of the water in the mountains goes) and on the other you have a long steep drop to the river and paths below.  The track we are on is only narrow, so you have to keep rolling with reasonably good balance.  I manage to ride the majority of it, with just a couple of places where the path narrows too much, or where there are rocks and roots across it which I don’t have the skill to navigate on a bike yet.  It’s such a nice ride to do though, and lovely to feel less nervous about it this year.

We’ve managed to miss the majority of the rain from a small storm that has passed, and cycle up the roads and back to the house in glorious sunshine.  Back at the house I have a quick chat with Keith to tell him about the ride, and bikes get washed off, then it’s time for a shower before dinner.  I catch up on my blog a little and I can start to feel the effects of the ride.  I must try to stretch this evening!

Later on Bill gets his guitar out and he, Jess and Keith play a few songs.  Some singing and dancing also ensues as we’ve had a few to drink!  With having this much fun, my blog stays a day behind and I forget to stretch too.  I knew it would be difficult to make myself do the stretches every day, but at least I’ve done some throughout the holiday and I’ll have to be strict with myself when I get back!

Day 23 - Climbing and more inflatable fun!

Day 23

It’s another day where the group has split up to do a variety of activities.  A walk up the mountain to the Glacier has been planned and Rob, Chucky and Jess leave early for this.  Bill, Tom Tom, Alex, Dylan, Tim and Jen are going back to run the racecourse again, as Tim and Jen’s run got cut short after Matt’s swim and the storm coming in yesterday.  Ali is going with them to do shuttling and Matt is driving over that way to enjoy the scenery on the other side of Col de Vars.  Sam, Gregg, Trevor and Jamie have plans to visit the silver mines not far from Embrun and Keith and I take the opportunity for a lazy morning and a small spot of climbing at Le Bez.

It’s about a 20 minute drive to the crag which is set up for sport climbing, nestled in to the mountains surrounded by trees so it’s an ideal shaded spot.  We got ourselves kitted up and went to the wall to pick a route.  Unfortunately, the board displaying the routes and their grades is no longer there and we don’t have a guide book, so we just guess based on our trip last year.  Keith leads the first climb to a ledge about two thirds of the way up and uses a lower off point there, and I second the climb to collect the kit.  Then I picked a route a bit further along which was a little longer, and Keith seconded the climb.  Keith checked his phone then and we’d had a message from Sam to say when they got to the mines they were closed so they were already at Embrun Lake and we could join them when we were ready.  We decided to head off, we’d both had a nice go at a couple of routes and as we’d started late in the morning we wouldn’t of had much time anyway.  We popped back to the house for a quick bite to eat then headed to Embrun with our swimming kit.

Sam, Gregg, Trevor and Jamie were there, and Matt had driven over too.  Bill and Ali had planned to take in a Via this afternoon so we will catch up with them and the Glacier walkers at the house later.  They had had a game of crazy golf while they were there for the morning, and now we were all going on the inflatable assault course on the lake!  Sam, Jess and I had so much fun yesterday, we’d convinced a few more to join us today.  Alex and Dylan were not looking to get to us in time, so we went to get signed in.  Jamie went to find himself a spot to hang his hammock and enjoyed a chilled afternoon, while the rest of us went to play!  The course was great fun again and we were all tired out by the end of the hour.  Keith mentioned he had twisted his ankle a little while messing around but it didn’t seem to bad, and didn’t stop him trying back flips for the first time!  He did several successful ones from different jumping platforms and was quite chuffed he’d pulled them off!  Alex and Dylan arrived shortly after we finished and they went to get on the course too.  Keith and I stayed for a little while to have a drink and enjoy the lake.  It’s a beautiful spot with loads of activities on offer and we think we will try to make it back here for a family holiday at some point too.

It’s BBQ again for dinner, this time by Sam and Gregg, and as we’re just starting to eat there are dark clouds at the end of the valley and a lot of rumbling in the sky.  After a few flashes of lightening in the distance and some spots of rain, some of us head inside with our dinner.  I’ve already eaten loads and Sam announces there is Eaton Mess for pudding.  It’s one of my favourites so I just have to fit a bit more in!  I’m dead tired, a teeny bit tipsy and now have a full on food coma on the way, so I sit down to type up as much of blog as I can before I really need to get to bed.  The storm is still rumbling away around the mountains, but it seems to have circled us and we haven’t had a lot of rain.  The light show of the lightening has been quite terrific though, and it’s still going on as Keith and I call it a night and go to bed.

Day 22 - Ubaye, inflatable assault course and metre pizza

Day 22
It’s Ubaye day!  This means an earlier start than most mornings, but it’s still 8.30 before we are all ready and leaving.  We head over Col de Vars with the obligatory stop to ‘take in the view’.  We get to the get in for the upper upper section (I’m sure these have better names/descriptions in the guide book) and we wait there to meet up with Alex, Dylan, Tim and Jen who have stayed in this area last night.  There’s a short technical section at the start here that some get on to do and the ones who opt out of this bit carry on down to the fort get in a couple of miles down the road.  We split in to groups again, I’m with Keith, Sam, Alex, Matt and Rob.  I’ve got my man and my safety blanket with me so I’m happy.  I’m told this is pretty much a grade two bimble but I still get the new river nerves.  I remember the upper section from last year and what a roller coaster it was.

We head off down river after a short brief from Keith who is leading us, I’m behind him with Alex next then Sam, as Sam likes to paddle with Alex, then Matt and Rob to tail end Charlie.  It’s apparent quite early on that with a bit more water this isn’t such a bimble and some of the rapids require a little more thought.  At the first blind corner Keith finds an eddy and discusses the river running plan.  We will eddy hop, so he goes to the next eddy where he can see a little further, if it’s clear he calls the next person to him (me), then he moves on one more eddy, passes on the signal to the second person (me) I pass that signal up to the third (Alex) who joins me before I then go to join Keith, he goes on one more and this process continues until he can see far enough that he signals for us all to come through. 

There’s a little wave train on a left hand bend at the end of this, the water is pushing up against a rock face which as you get closer you can tell this has a bit of an undercut to the rock.  We skirt the edge of the wave train to keep us away from the wall, but just at the end there is a big boil in the water.  It turns Keith a little, but he is quick enough with his reflexes to be almost unaffected, I get turned and tipped a little sideways, but with a bit of an ‘oh sh*t stroke’ I’m upright and paddling out.   I hear Sam behind me, this is clearly more technical than she expected and her nerves are evident, she makes it through fine but she’s struggling.  We find an eddy as soon as we can and gather up.  We’re all doing fine, Sam gets a bit of a confidence talk from Keith and Alex, and then we carry on.  There is another group on the water that we bump in to and we end up with some of them in between us, which upsets Sam a bit more.  We eddy again, and let that group get ahead of us, we don’t get out of the boats as Sam says she might not get back in if she gets out now. 

We carry on down, and again Sam’s paddling is fine it’s only her mind games upsetting her.  There are a few more rapids, Keith turns back regularly to check on the group, as a good leader should; he expects me to not be enjoying this, but he sees I’m smiling, I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.  I’m not sure what grade the river has turned out to be at this level, but I suspect it’s only a 2+.  The river levels out in the town, and we bimble to the get out where the first group is waiting.  The last group arrives soon after and we discuss plans for the next bits of river. 

We had hoped to fit in the next section down ‘the upper’ and then the big boy group doing the racecourse after, however we’re later finishing than anticipated and it’s unlikely we will fit in both bits after lunch.  It’s only me, Trevor and Sam who are not candidates for the racecourse, Sam has had enough paddling for today, and Trevor feels he has done enough.  Although I’d like to do that upper section, as it’s the bit we did last year and it would be nice to gauge how I feel on it 12 months later; I’m not going to expect 3 or 4 paddlers to potentially miss doing the racecourse just for me.  Sam, Jess and I also have plans to go to the inflatable assault course at Embrun while race course is being done so I have fun plans for the afternoon anyway.

After lunch we arrange shuttles, and Trevor, Sam, Jess and I head over to the lake at Embrun.  Trevor is going to watch and chill on the beach while us girls get booked in and ready.  We have the safety talk and get issued with an impact vest, which gives us a little protection from any falls and little bit of floatation too.   There’s a 50m swim out on the lake to the ‘start gate’ and we’re falling all over the place in minutes.  There’s load of obstacles and we all feel like poor contenders from ‘total wipe out’ but it’s such great fun!  A thunderstorm rolls across the other side of the valley while we are there, and it gets cloudy, we have a little rain and wind but the storm doesn’t get close enough to affect us much.  The life guards start closing the course up around us (deflating certain parts of it) and then we take our cue to go, after one last go on the slide of course! 

After we get in to dry clothes we head over to metre pizza to wait for the others to get back from paddling.  We’ve had some missed calls so we guess they are off the water and with some calling backwards and forwards we find out that they are.  Matt had a swim on one section and it wasn’t a good one.  He banged his elbow quite hard and didn’t feel he could carry on so he’d had to have his boat roped out of the gorge.  By the time they had done this the storm had rolled in and it had clearly hit harder at this end of the valley, they had heavy rain and hail storms for half an hour and so they made a group decision not to get back on the water.  The other two groups, paddling without incident, had managed to beat the storm to the bottom and just got boats on the cars before it caught up with them. 

There was plenty to discuss over metre pizza, so named because we order the pizza by the metre, 4 metres to go round 14 of us eating tonight!!!  The other attraction of this particular restaurant, as if metres of pizza wasn’t enough, is that when you order the ice cream Sundays you get a little toy on top too!!!  It’s quite late when we all get back to the house and everyone is soon in bed, mostly through food coma!

Sorry no pictures, the wifi is playing upa nd I can't look at this screen any longer.  I'll update with pictures when I catch up with today's blog, hopefully tomorrow afternoon.

Day 21 - A little woop and wiped out....

Day 21

Despite a good  sleep, it was another late one last night.  I’m super tired and once again struggling to stay on my feet.  There’s a group going to do the Briancon Gorge today which is NFM (not for me), and Gregg and Chucky are staying at the house with plans to potter about and take it easy for a day.  I’m going with Keith, Jamie, Sam and Rob to go and paddle the second half of the Sun Run on the Durance.  This is the bit from Rab to Embrun which Sam and I didn’t paddle last time.  I also didn’t do Rab wave last time either. 

We get to Rabioux and have an inspection of the wave.  It’s considerably lower than last week, but possibly still a little bigger than I ran it last year.  We sort the shuttle then get ourselves kitted up.  I’m feeling nervous, even a little sick and I can’t tell you why.  It feels daft but I think maybe the fatigue is kicking in, and I’m a tad worried about going straight through Rab wave without much of a warm up.  My internal monologue is very much external on the way down.  *Keep Paddling, drive the boat, be effective, look ahead, loose hips, paddle forward, ready with a brace but keep paddling...*  Some of the waves in the approach are almost as big as Rab itself, and I make it through the wave just fine.  There were a couple of moments of hesitation but at this level and a good line in it doesn’t affect me too much.  I have a delayed woop, I can’t woop until I’m safe in the eddy and off the boily eddy line.  I’m fairly awake now!

not so impressive in a picture from the bank

What it looks like coming in to the wave, There are kayakers in the eddy here if you can see them to the right!!!
Yup that's the view in the middle of it!

After Keith has had a couple of goes at playing in the wave we carry on down stream, following the nice wave trains.  I’m really enjoying myself after a while, with a bit of wooping over some of the bigger waves.  We stop a couple of times to give Sam a break, she’s finding it hard to get back in to the swing of paddling after a couple of days off, and possibly the tiredness is hitting her too.  She’s paddling fine but her head games are getting the better of her, and every time she apologises we all tell her it’s fine.  Everyone struggles with these head games from time to time, and it’s a sign of her determination that she keep going, even though she’s clearly terrified at times on the water.

When we get down to Embrun, we break out a little way upstream to make sure everyone is ok, and we go down as a group but giving each other plenty of space.  I manage to read the water and watch where the guys in front of me go and what that line does, pick my own line and it’s a pretty good one.  I don’t make the eddy as high up as I’d like but it wasn’t a bad run through at all.  Keith has a couple of goes at getting back in the wave, gets eaten and spat out after a short side surf, and then we all have lunch on the river side.  

Going in to Embrun

In Embrun

Keith going for a surf

You can just see him...

If you look carefully you can just see his hat cam...

Oops, nose up just before he's spat out....

Once shuttles are sorted it’s back to the house, Tom Tom are doing BBQ for dinner and it’s soon time for chatting and laughter.  Jess also arrives tonight, Chucky has been to pick her up from the airport after a few delays to her journey meant she was going to miss buses and trains to get her closer. 

I start to feel the fatigue hit me, it’s making me feel I need some space alone and I head to our bedroom after I’ve eaten to look at some of the days videos, and catch up on a days worth of blog.  It’s not so late before everyone is heading to bed too and after a bit of a chat when Keith comes to bed, it’s off to sleep for us too.

Day 20 - Feeling like a kayaker!

I’m struggling to keep track of everything we are doing.  It’s such a jam packed holiday if I even get one day behind I’m scratching my head as to what I did 36 hours ago.  I can’t keep track of the rest of the group, everyone is having fun but we’ve been a little fragmented these last couple of days.  So here it is, as well as I can remember. 

It’s Sunday, and it’s the 1st of July, a new month has crept up on me, and half the year has gone.  I can’t believe it’s half way through the year, half way through the Alps trip and well over half way through my holiday.  It’s put me in a somewhat contemplative mood, and I’m tired, not just from the need for sleep, but starting to feel that I’m missing home, my horse and my family.  Anyway I gather myself up, get my sh*t together and head out for another day on the water.

Today we are heading to the Gyronde again, it’s a bit of a drive, but by no means the longest on the trip.  I know this is the full on, fast and furious get on, so I’m a tad nervous.  I feel that this is often a good thing though, it reminds you not to become complaisant just because you’ve done it before.  (Not that I’m really at any risk of doing that yet!).  We’ve got 9 people out to paddle, Bill, Jamie and Tom Tom all go to the upper get on, and Rob, Matt, Ali and I go to the pipe bridge, Sam has decided she will meet us to paddle at Argentiere again..  The wait for the shuttle feels long today, I do a little stretching but it’s more of a token gesture, I’m much too tired to stand for too long. 

When the ‘big boys’ get down to the pipe bridge we’ve organised groups and we get on the water in order and get going.  Bill, Ali, Tom Jnr and Matt go in the first group and Rob, Tom Snr, Jamie and I go second.  It’s that GO, GO, GO! Feeling from the start again but I’m in to a rhythm and enjoying myself much sooner this time.  We make a couple of eddies so that we don’t end up on top of group one, but generally just keep moving on.  There have been a couple of moments I really wish Keith had been with us as some moves I made felt really sweet, I felt like a proper kayaker for a change.  He needed his rest though so I’ll have to contain my excitement until later! 

At the weir both groups gather up and we go one at a time through.  I remember it from last time and after the leaders scout the line to check it’s still clear, they call us through.  Then we split in to our groups again to paddle the last bit to l’Argentiere.  There is a little surf wave just before we get there, and everyone has a play.  I even have a little go at surfing myself.  I’m feeling on top form today.  Surprising how much a fast cold river can wake you up and clear your head!

At l’Argentiere find Sam and make a plan.  This is where I had a good swim last year, and although the swim here isn’t too bad, with nice deep water and very minimal consequences, I’d still rather stay in my boat.  I remind myself how much better I am, and that I now have tools in my tool kit to deal with what tripped me up last year.  The plan is that Tom Tom, Matt and Jamie will run down, having a play on the way, and when they are further down the rest of us will follow.  We will get to the first main eddy before the course starts, head through the first main wave in the centre of the river, aiming river left to get the second or third eddy down in the centre, then see how we are from there.

Of we go to the first eddy, *concentrate – paddle hard – drive the boat – aim across the eddy line – edge – angle – paddle – cut off the downstream momentum – phew*.  Not the nicest of eddies but it’s big enough for all of us, we’re all in so it’s on to the next.  I’ve pre-warned Bill that moving eddies get me in my panic zone quick (reminding him of my first time paddling with him where I got pretty flustered in a boily eddy), so he doesn’t make me hang about too long or try to add to my mental pint glass here.  The glass is full.  On to the next eddy *break in upstream – edge – strong paddle stroke – attack the wave - *crash* I’m through – oops the hole got the back edge – quick brace – blink blink blink – keep paddling – aim at the eddy line – paddle hard – urrrgh that’s a horrible eddy line and the eddy isn’t much better* I like this eddy even less, but I can get myself up to the rock to hold myself still.  This calms me a little and Bill suggests another eddy on river right, he briefly explains the line and once the rest of the group is safely in eddies, we move on. *edge – angle – paddle forward – keep straight on the slack water – ready to paddle in to the eddy – kill that downstream momentum* My glass is overflowing, I flatly refuse the next suggestion of another eddy, I want to paddle through now.  Ali and Rob go to another eddy on river left and Bill takes me through the last part of the course.  Type 2 fun, as soon as I’m at the final beach to get out, I’m amazed at myself.  Not only did I tackle last years demons, I added 2 eddies and I did them well (ish).  Awesome paddle!

We get off now, and have lunch.  As soon as I can I get my phone to message Keith (He’s having a day off to rest at the house) and then settle in for lunch.  Some of the group are going to do another lap of the course and head to the Onde after lunch and a couple ar etaking in a Via.  There aren’t enough cars to split three ways so Sam and I, after messaging the boys at the house decide to hang around for them.  Gregg and Chucky have gone bike riding this morning at Sere Chevalier and are now back at the house with Keith.  They come to join us at l’Argentiere as Le Lac is heaving with people already.  There is some sort of event going on at the moat/lake here, with music and rafts going round, so it’s quite nice to laze in the sun here, and take a dip in the water.  

Keith has already done most of the prep for dinner, so when we get back there isn’t much to do but wait for it to cook.  We’re up late in to the night, drinking, chatting, laughing, and Keith and I take a late night stroll to see the stars as it’s a very clear night.  We don’t have to go far out of the town walls to lose enough light pollution to see the stars well, and with the moonlight we can see the river below the Old Roman bridge.

Excellent day.

Last river and a surprise find

Wednesday soon comes around, and this is likely to be my last opportunity to paddle.   The plan today is to travel to the Isar.   For thi...