Sunday, June 23, 2013

My First 50

Oh, I didn't mention I was doing a 50 this weekend? Huh. Fancy that. Probably because the decision was made Thursday night at 9p, I left Friday morning at 7a, and returned at 1a Sunday. Talk about last minute!

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Thursday late afternoon I got an email from Jen that her friend needed someone to ride her mare in the Scioto Run 50 on Saturday. She asked if I was interested and told me to call her around 9p that night. My mind immediately went into hyper drive as I tried to work through all of the logistics and whether or not I'd be able to pull this off. I'd had other plans, but nothing in stone and nothing that couldn't be postponed or moved. I had a hard limit I needed to attend to for Sunday, but Jen had assured already that we'd be back Saturday night post-ride (not a long drive for us && her two horses were doing the 25).

I was visiting my old summer camp Thursday night (Happy 150th West Virginia, couldn't think of a better want to spend it than at the Mill with 4-H). I had no very little time to prep. I made a plea to my brother's friends to get Kenai out on some walks the two days I'd be gone, and I made the call to Jen to get logistics while I was visiting the Mill.

Everything fell into place rapidly.

On my way home from the Mill, I picked up some snacks. I packed very conservatively and efficiently that night, and had to run by the barn for only one thing on my way to Jen's the next morning. I arrived at her place around 8a and helped Jen and her daughter finish packing, fetched their two Arabs from the field, and loaded up. We were pulling out of her place by 8:30a on our way to Scioto.

As we drove, Jen told me about her friend whose mare I would be riding the following day. Mary had been involved in the sport since the late 90s, and she had experience with events around the country and internationally. Jen assured me I'd love her and we'd get along great. She was right.

As we pulled into ride camp, we looked for Mary who said she'd save us a spot. We'd driven an entire loop around the area, confused because we hadn't seen her, only to turn to loop back again to see a woman of slender, athletic build with blonde hair, wearing neon pink sports bra and shorts, and the most radiant smile you've ever seen jogging through the grass waving her hands at us. Meet Mary.

Mary helped us get situated and then we all settled beneath the canopy to talk and avoid the sun for the rest
Little Siena and I
of the afternoon. (So. Hot. And. Humid. UGH.) Jen and Mary shared so many stories about ride experiences around the country and internationally, incredible stories! It was so much fun sitting there soaking in all of those stories. From getting lost on a pre-race warm up ride in Montana (complete with search and rescue) to learning to drive a hatchback through France. So many

Registration was at 3p so we all wandered over and got situated there without issue. With a signature on a check and waiver, I was all set up for my first 50. A lime green card was handed to me and off I went to vet in Miss Siena. This redheaded mare is a grand daughter of Belesemo Trad, a stallion from a breeding program whose horses I've had my eye on for years. I was over the moon to be able to ride her for my first attempt at a 50. She and the other three horses (Mary's Gryphon and Jen's Vinny and Prince) vetted in without any issues.

Immediately after, the four of us tacked up for a short ride and headed out. I needed to figure out if Mary's tack would work for me. She'd told Jen to let me know  that I could bring my own saddle as long as it was a smaller English-type saddle. I had figured if she already had a saddle meeting that criteria, then I would be fine. And thus, I found myself in an Ansur dressage saddle. It. Was. LOVELY. Siena was a bit sassy, tossing her head here and there, but other than that, she was a very wonderful little ride. Her sassiness was definitely of the sort that would disappear with some miles. Her gaits were very pleasant and we got along relatively well from the get-go. I say relatively because this little mare is a bit stand-offish with her affections. I mean, we had just met. She tolerated me and I her. Civil but no love. She was certain to let me know when she didn't approve of my riding, however. Whenever I would adjust myself and put myself off balance for a moment in doing so, she let me know with a evil little stare over her shoulder. What a character!

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The morning dawned early. I was awoken at 5a by a phone alarm and throaty nickers of horses greeting their humans. It was chilly in the 60s, but I welcomed it. Highs were to be in the 90s and the humidity would make it all the worse. With a pulse criteria of 60 we'd need to be careful. Mary was shooting for a 7 hour 50 with progressively faster loop splits as the day went on. She knew her horses, so I followed her lead.

There were 36 entries in the 50. We left at the 6a start in positions 11 and 12. The ride would be 4 loops. Pink was just over 11 miles and blue was around 14. The order of our day was: pink, 45 min. hold, blue, 45 min. hold, blue, 30 min. hold, pink. Four loops sounded no bueno to me, but more opportunity to be in camp with my food and water refills was lucky.

The first loop was quick. The hills were steeper and rockier than anticipated, but the horses did well. Mary and I chatted amiably as we went. The sun crested the distant mountains as we reached the ridgeline. We pointed and ooo'ed and aww'ed at it as we went. I was impressed with the terrain in a state I'd previously considered flat. The valleys were full of morning mist and cooler as a result. The ridgelines were already warm from the rays of sun that reached them; our long shadows bounced off distant trees as we trotted along. Before I knew it we were back at camp and vetted through without an issue. The horses were already eating and drinking like champs, so I joined their efforts with some of my own. I can happily report (spoiler alert) that Siena and I both were peeing well all day long. Very hydrated ladies, we were.

Off we went to the second loop, our first round of blue. The steep climb at the beginning of this loop was just lovely...not. Nothing too bad in my mind, but for horses that predominantly train on the flat it was bad. Both Siena and Gryphon tackled it like champs though. This loop had a lot more up-down than the pink loop and 3 miles on a gravel road (blah). The road went quickly though, as we were able to canter most of it.  Ride management had a truck with chocolate goodies for the riders and water, alfalfa, timothy, grain, and oats for the horses. Our horses were drinking at nearly every water-filled creek. Plodding along without issue. Me though? I was starting to find issue with the saddle. While the stirrup leathers and stirrups were the exact same as I use, the stirrup bar placement on this saddle was different. Something about it caused the stirrup leathers to put pressure in an undue place on my shin/calf area. That steady, constant pressure was starting to concern me, but I rode on. I didn't really have any other choice, and I figured I could deal.

Mary and I rode several miles of this loop with another rider who is in her late 70s. The three of us chatted for a bit and I shared my knowledge of the flora and fauna with them as we went along. At the most significant downhill of this loop, Siena decided it was time for me to start doing my part and walking. Mary has been babying her on downhills because she's only 5. I hopped off and continued on foot. Happy to do my part and help the horse out. The third rider we'd been with rode off as I took time to find a tree to use to remount (treeless saddle). While mounting from a downed tree is a normal thing, I have to mention the fact that the fallen tree I found was at least 3 feet off the ground. I had to scramble up on it and do quite the vaulting act to get onto an uncooperative Siena. I was successful though, complete with fist pumping and a cheer.

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Out trot out for the second vet check/hold presented a little blippet in our day. The vet insisted that Siena was lame in her RF. He determined it was in the ankle area and that it wasn't major; he gave her a B for it, and wanted us to monitor it. We were pretty certain it was probably from her over reaching with her hinds and clocking herself a time or two, but we were glad he'd planted a seed of doubt in our minds so we could go easier on the third loop. We iced also iced it during the check. I stuffed my face as the horses stuffed theirs. Before I knew it, we were heading out onto the third loop, round two of blue.

The first mile was misery for me. Those stirrup leathers were really making me sore. REALLY sore. I was focused on determining if Siena was off at all (she wasn't) and on how much my legs were hurting. It was a mile of discomfort and worry. However, with the realization that she was fine, just needed to get her mojo rhythm back, I quit worrying about her and became more focused on my own pain. Blah. Additionally, the heat was vamping up at this point. The humidity had been misery since our first hold, but the added heat (a high of 96!!!!) really made it rough.

That long hill was conquered again at a more moderate pace. Uphills were easier on my leg. Cantering was much better on it, too, as that movement was different from the steady, consistent trot. However, by the time we'd reached the chocolate truck on this loop not even the canter was appeasing my discomfort. I'd already dropped my stirrups one hole on the second loop (I knew I'd drop them as she settled into her work), but I dropped them another hole on the third loop. It relieved the pressure the tiniest amount. Mary was worried for me, but I told her that I knew we were halfway through this loop - I'd make it. Jen and her daughter would be finished when we got in for our last hold, I could use one of their Boz saddles to finish the last 11 miles. I dislike the pommel on the Boz saddles, but I could deal with it for 11 miles. I could no longer deal with this pressure on my legs.

I walked all of the significant downhills on this third loop. Our time was slower than the first time through, but we were being conservative for Siena. I was happy to get off and walk for my own comfort level as much as for her's.

At the third hold the other vet vetted us through. She had no issue with the RF, insisting instead that it was the LH. She noted that Siena was cramped up in that leg. This was fixable. There was a masseuse in camp. However, we couldn't find her during the 30 minute hold. Mary massaged Siena's rear for a bit while Jen tacked her up with her daughter's Boz for me. We decided I would post to the right diagonal to help conserve that LH and that we wouldn't canter at all. It was only ~11 miles. We were out of camp at 2:43p, plenty of time to finish within time.

Siena was whooped. Gryphon was whooped. Mary and I were hot, but still had go in our tanks. We walked all downhills. Mary walked one uphill. Gryphon appreciated it and helped push her up the hill with his nose time and time again. Sweet boy. I stayed IN the saddle for the uphill though as I was starting to feel adverse affects from the heat. I'm very prone to heat illness, so I have to stay diligent with myself. We rode several miles more and finally reached a stream crossing. I was already off from walking down the hill with Siena. I let her drink as I splashed water all over myself. If it weren't for wanting to keep my feet dry, I'd have lain down in the creek. I was THAT miserable and concerned with my well-being at that point. Thoroughly soaked except for my boots, horses sponged with thirst quenched, we set out for the last several miles to the finish.

Gryphon was getting excited. He'd picked up his big trot again and was moving out in front of us. Siena's mojo hadn't really returned for this loop. Poor girl was really fading with the combo of heat, humidity, and hills. Terrain was ROUGH, yo. Almost as bad as our ride, but not *quite*. Ohio does have more flat areas than we do, after all.

Siena trotted along behind Gryphon, but fell further and further back. I let her. I called to Mary that Siena was whooped and we slowed for awhile. But we trotted again as we reached camp. We'd passed several riders on this last loop and Mary wanted to trot on into the finish in case they tried to
Siena munching post-ride
race us. Siena perked up once she could see ridecamp.

Mary and I rode across the finish line hand in hand. We'd tied for 5th. Now all we had to do was pass the vet check!

The masseuse saw to Siena's rear end for a few minutes. We stuffed the horses faces. Jen and her daughter helped us out as we were both whooped. After a short time, Mary decided it was time to meet our maker to see if Siena would pass or fail that final check. I was hoping we'd get the vet who thought it was her LH, as none of us could see the RF issue the other vet noted. The LH vet wasn't around though, treating one of several colicky horses it sounded like.

 Mary trotted Siena (she'd done this at the second check, too, as Siena was perkier for her than me). The vet muttered about the RF again. He listened to her gut and looked her over very thoroughly. No one said anything. Within a minute or two he said she had thumps. Crap. He told us to get her some calcium and alfalfa. I watched as he scrawled "PULLED: METABOLIC, LAME RF" on my card. I gave a small sigh. Mary trotted out Gryphon, got her completion, and we headed to attend to Siena. Mary was so sorry for me. I was sorry for myself, but not much. I'd ridden 50 miles, hadn't I? That was a HUGE first. I was proud of myself. I was proud of Siena, and now it was time for us to make sure she was going to be okay. We gave her calcium orally and got her in the shade and eating alfalfa. Within 20 minutes she was her normal self again. Relief.

So, I didn't complete my first 50. But I did ride (and hike) for 50 miles. A faster 50 miles than I'll likely ever ride on my own horses. We came across that finish line around 4p. With two hours of holds, that gives us a ride time around 7 hours. Hot damn. Additionally, I'd managed myself relatively well with that awful, awful heat. I ate and drank well, all damn day. Siena was healthy, happy, eating, and drinking. So we got pulled at the finish. So WHAT. There are far more positives than negatives in this situation.

The bigger positive though? In doing this ride I gained a friend and so, so, so much experience and knowledge. Riding 50 miles with someone who has over a decade of experience in this sport led to so many conversations and tidbits of helpful information. In fact, Mary hopes to have me ride Siena in some rides later this year! That is so exciting for me.

Oh, and as an added fact, only 18 of the 36 starters finished that 50 mile ride; I'm uncertain about the 25. Those aren't great odds.

But our crew came through without any major incident. Jen's horse (his first 25, and she walked/jogged half of it to conserve him - she's seriously, so, so good to her horses) didn't pulse down until the last minute and ended up getting the turtle for the 25; her daughter's horse had no issue. We may not have finished/finished where/when we wanted, but we were all healthy and happy. I count it a success...even if my phone did quit working and lead me to have very few photos and no GPS for the ride. ;-)

That's all folks!

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