Monday, August 5, 2013

My *surprise* second 50

The annual endurance ride my club sponsors and puts on, the Ride Between the Rivers, was this past weekend. I'd been excited for it for months, first because I'd hoped to ride Q in the 50, and then after she got hurt I was excited because we'd be drag riding and helping with the ride. Anything to still be caught up in the chaos of the event was fine by me.
Friday morning before the ride dawned with a flurry of activity as I prepped myself, the car and trailer, and Miss Q. I received a call in the middle of this to please get more maps on the way to the ride. Because I have a powerful mapping program on my computer and the know-how to create maps (its part of my job and was my second degree program concentration), I was excited to be able to *finally* make them this year. We'd been talking about it forever but couldn't get our shit together.
And thus, I traipsed through downtown with trailer in tow to get more maps run off. Fortunately the print shop has a parking lot that is very conducive to trailer parking. Nevermind the fact that I took up basically the WHOLE parking lot to do so...
It took about an hour of technicalities with technology, but we got the additional copies run off and all was well! So, finally (at 11a), OFF to ridecamp we went!
I got maps passed off, camp setup, Q settled, and then proceeded to see what - if anything - I could do for the time being for ride prep. There were some minor things that needed doing, but nothing major. I met up with Mary (whose mare Siena I rode in my first 50 in June) and got the Ansur I wanted to try out on Q during our sweep riding. Mary got to meet Q, too. She had many complimentary things to say about my little girl; always nice to hear.
The plan for the next day was to only do the first loop on her since the other sweep riders had all bailed on me. I'd do one loop in the morning just to get some riding in, and then I'd work radios in the afternoon. Knowing this, I tacked Q up in the Ansur and headed out to ride for a couple hours Friday afternoon.
I was really pleased with the fit of the Ansur (a treeless saddle) with my Woolbak pad on Q. Mary had thought it would be a really great option for Q since she's mutton withered with a round barrel. It really was. After the first few minutes, I honestly forgot I was riding in a saddle that was new to me. It was really comfortable! And even more so with my wool stirrup leather covers - I think I've discovered a solution to the problem I had at Scioto!
Q and I had a great ~8 mile ride on the blue loop. I didn't really go out with a plan. We enjoyed the newer sections of trail that were added this year to re-route some steep mud/rock sections. We did a lot of walking through the technical parts, but still managed to find many areas to boogie. I even encountered some beautiful fallen logs on a little spur of trail to jump!
Three places along where we rode were VERY steep. Think Cougar Rock incline. They were short bursts no more than 50 or so feet in length on the longest. I'd never ridden my girl on terrain quite like that so it was a fun, albeit brief, challenge. She conquered like it was nothing.
The short loop I'd hoped to create from the blue loop (only doing part of the 16.6 mile loop) was botched in my memory. I knew there would be a section where the riders would be going straight instead of down an increasingly washed out swtichback section in a clear cut. I just forgot where and how we were now sending them to this point. I hadn't brought a copy of the ride map with me (shame shame shame) but I DID have my phone and the Endomondo app running. I was able to monitor this app and make a decision about where it would be best to drop back down into to the river and thus onto the gravel road that led back to camp.
Q and I descended down an old access road for mining/oil and gas activities. It was steep and rocky. Q had zero issues even though she only had Renegades on the fronts and was bare in the back. When we hit the gravel road we cantered most of the way back to camp with only one severe spook due to some pilated woodpeckers that were futzing around on the ground and decided to flush up  with a flash of black, white and red and a flurry of noise as they gave their jungle bird call. I didn't fault Q for this spook, hell, it startled me a great bit! A mile from camp we ran into Mary and her friend Joni and joined them for the remainder of the ride into camp and encountered no further issues.
Back in camp, I hadn't even reached the trailer or dismounted before Jen called me out.
"Liz, I've been looking for you."
"One of the rider's horses was reacting to another horse in the vet check and accidentally kicked her. She's not going to be able to ride tomorrow and I told her you might be able to ride her horse for her. in the 50 Are you interested?"
*blank stare* Uh. *silence* Mary and Joni's eyes lit up for me and they started egging me on to do it. I still stared blankly.
"Its Sallie's horse Gracie. I don't know if you know her. Everything is all ready to go. She really wants the horse to race because she's planning to do a 75 in two weeks and this ride is really important for the horse and for her."
*still staring; silence as I think* Mary and Joni's urging continued, as well.
"Why don't you come back and meet the horse and rider."
Isn't ridecamp beautiful?
I was hesitant because I wasn't ready at ALL to do this. I hadn't brought all the clothes I'd prefer to ride in. I didn't have much food to guarantee that I'd be eating enough. I hadn't been riding a ton to feel in better shape. I was looking forward to riding Miss Q in the morning for about 17 miles. They needed me to help in camp, didn't they? I didn't have my mind in the right place. 
I took Q's bridle off as we walked over to see the horse and rider. Q followed complacently, snatching grass as we went along, completely oblivious to what her poor owner was being asked to do.
I love the Ansur!
Arriving at the trailer I realized I knew this lady. I knew this horse. We did our tune-up ride at No Frills with them. The mare was a huge 16hh grey Anglo Arab mare with a lot of opinions. A strong, forward horse. The look of realization dawned across both our faces. Hers lit up. Mine merely started to finally respond to what was going on around me.
And within minutes it was agreed, I'd test the mare on a ride with a riding buddy right then. We'd figure out if I'd use her Specialized Eurolite or my own saddle after that. We'd go from there. Jen led Q back to the trailer to untack her for me and I remained at Sallie's to decide my fate.
Sallie's husband (whose name I never caught) helped me tack up Gracie. Gracie, of course, had some opinions about this that she shared with me through pinched nostrils and pinned ears. Mares. Lovely. Sallie babbled on through the whole process filling me in on as much as possible about Gracie, how to ride her, and any other information I could hope to need.
My riding partner, Cathryn, I'd also met at No Frills. She has a firecracker personality and the thickest Long Island accent you've ever heard. I'd taken a liking to her (and Sallie for that fact) at No Frills. Cathryn's gelding, Epic, and Gracie were basically in love with one another, not usually something I enjoy in horses, but for this situation? WONDERFUL. It guaranteed me a riding buddy for the entire race.
I mounted up, excited to finally ride in an Eurolite! Cathryn and I headed out for a brief tune up ride, Sallie shouting directions and tips as we rode away.
From the get-go, Gracie and I had some disagreements. I'd received ample instruction on how to be firm with her through such disputes, and I was given a crop to handle them. I knew she was testing me just as I was testing her. However, I had no great desire to beat her into submission in order to win an argument. I needed to get along with her for a day and make it down the trail, not become her best friend. I made my point heard with our arguments, and then retreated to let Cathryn's gelding sway Gracie to my point of view about things by leading through the sticky spots. Both horses were sluggish in our 20 minute ride, but I foresaw nothing great to make me not want to ride the following day. I did decide that while I did like the Eurolite and could see it being a saddle that may one day work for me, I didn't want to use it tomorrow when I had the option of my own gear. If I was going to come out of this ride better than my first 50 experience, I was going to need to be in gear I was familiar with.
Sallie was over the moon that I was going to ride the mare. After dinner we tried my tack and found no issue. I was to be at her trailer at 530a to tack up and warm up for 45 minutes before our 630a start. And so that's how it was.
Ride meeting post dinner
I woke at 445a, drank a little coffee to guarantee my alertness, and headed to Sallie's to help get Gracie ready. Sallie said she was feeling a lot better than anticipated (Gracie had struck out at Epic in true mare fashion and struck Sallie's calf in the process. Major bruising immediately and hence my riding the mare for the 50), but that she was REALLY happy to not be riding. Things proceeded a little slowly, but by 6a Cathryn and I were saddled and heading out to warm up. Gracie and I had some further differences in opinion, but nothing major.
At the start, Sallie was worried Gracie wasn't warm enough (worried about her tying up from this) and gave instructions for me to not canter for the first hour. As this mare was rumored to TROT at 12 mph(!!!) I didn't forsee this being an issue.
The clock dwindled down to 630a and we were off.
Gracie went out strong and fast, but in a controlled way. I kept contact with her for much of the first loop. She had a MOTOR and wanted to use it. We didn't do any cantering for the first hour, as requested. We bopped around passing and being passed as riders juggled for their positions. Cathryn and I stayed together through it all. Both horses took turns leading. That 12 mph trot? AMAZING. Easy to ride and FUN to ride. My biggest complaint about the loop was that my cantle bag was off center and thus so was the saddle. This caused some minor discomfort, but nothing major.
I was in a zen-like state for most of the loop and this continued for most of the ride while out on trail. My thoughts didn't stray to things going on outside the ride, back in camp, or off the trail. My eyes were down trail. My body responded to the horse's movements, and my focus was almost meditative in a sense. I listened to conversation around me and responded back in turn, but much of it is a blur. I just remember the trail. The green. Moving forward. Rising and falling as I posted that ridiculous trot.
Sallie telling me to go take care of myself.
We zipped through those first 16.8 miles in 2 hours with only one little blippit in Gracie's gait that I discovered was due to her frogs shedding and a rock entering the flap of frog. Sallie was surprised when we reached camp as quickly as we did. She took charge immediately and I bounced along behind, doing as she bid and helping however I could. She's got a very take-charge personality, but not in a completely overbearing way. I needed to get food and wouldn't be completely alert until I had it, so I was happy to do her bidding.
The horses pulsed down and vetted through quickly and with no issues.They'd been drinking beautifully on trail and ate wonderfully at the check. One of the farriers cut off the flap of frog and informed us that if something were to hit that point again she'd be done for the day (I was nomming hard on some food at this point and not paying much mind.) We found an EasyBoot to apply over the shoe and called it good. The 45 minute hold flew by and we were headed out for our technical loop, the blue loop.
This loop was highlighted by a lot of mud. The steepness was expected. The boot stayed on for the whole SUPER MUDDY loop. We picked up two riding buddies along the way, Amy and Julie. By this point in the ride, Gracie and I were doing much of the pace-setting. Horse has a MOTOR. She didn't want to leave them, but she was pretty happy in the front the majority of the time.
The loop went without issue until the river crossing at the very end. Amy's horse, who should know better by now I'm told, flipped shit when the sponge got between his legs. He spun and bucked and whirled. Water sprayed everywhere. He crashed into Cathryn and Epic, who then in surprise and fright whirled and bucked sending Cathryn flying off. She hit the ground HARD. Amy's horse continued to bolt-buck across the river (belly deep water) with her barely hanging on. At the other side he whirled and bucked, sending her flying in an arcing C-shape off his left side, landing with a splash. Gracie stood like a champ the whole time. I called to Cathryn after she hit the ground (this whole event happened in seconds) to not move. Stay put. She was already struggling to her feet though. I called numerous questions at her about how she was doing/feeling/moving while I navigated Gracie toward Epic to make certain he went nowhere. Cathryn was shocked, rightly so, but okay. Her hand was cut a little. I knew she'd discover a lot of bruising later. She hit HARD. But fortunately, other than the cut and being wet, she was okay and the four riders and horses - two wetter than they'd been previously - headed the remaining mile into camp and the second check.
The EMTs wrapped up Cathryn's hand and she went to put on dry clothes while we vetted the horses through. They both had no issue again, though my heartrate was quite elevated after doing two trot outs! Haha.
All four off the ground; LOVED this trot! So HUGE!
Photo by Becky Pearman photography
We didn't know where we were in the field of competitors going into the third loop. Sallie said we were in a good position, but wouldn't tell us more so that we wouldn't change how we were riding. She and her husband guaranteed me that this was Gracie's best time of day. They hoped we would do at least the same pace we had on the first time through this loop (we rode red, blue, red to reach 50.2 miles). Cathryn, Julie and I headed out to complete the final loop, cheers of encouragement echoing behind us.
We really mosied for the first half of the loop. I wasn't overly thrilled with this, but it was important to get Gracie through happy and sound. We set the pace for the majority of this loop. Halfway through, it started raining. It felt really amazing. The majority of the loop proceeded without issue. Gracie's big trot was still there, the other horses still cantered to keep up with her.
As we were coming off the trail and back to the gravel road for the last few miles of the ride, Gracie and I were leading, Cathryn was in the middle, and Julie was bringing up the rear on her mare Apple. My eyes were down trail, Gracie trotting along like a champ. I suddenly hear Cathryn call out, "HOLE!" and turn around in time to see Apple fall, one of her front legs completely submerged in the hole. Julie tumbled ass over tea kettle from the saddle while Apple - in this same instant Julie hit the ground - rocketed herself from the ground and the hole, legs akimbo in every direction as she tried to avoid Julie and the hole. One flailing hoof making brief contact with Julie's helmet. Apple recovered and stood still, shaking in fear. Julie rose to her feet, unscathed other than a lot of mud on her shirt and helmet to check Apple over. Some superficial cuts were on three of her four legs, and her lower lip was bloody from contact with the ground. I gave Julie some Desitin for the lip. Apple was sound without issue so we all rode the remaining 4 some miles with caution, ready to finish the damn thing and drink some fucking alcohol.
As we came into the finish, Sallie was there screaming to ride faster. We'd talked about riding across together to tie for whatever place we'd be getting. Julie lagged behind though, as did Cathryn, so I sped Gracie up per Sallie's shouting requests and we cantered across the finish to Sallie's laughter and approval.
We vetted through sound. Amidst hugs and congratulations I completed my second 50. Approval and thanks were lavished upon me like I never expected. Sallie was so thrilled with how I'd ridden Gracie. Cathryn was so happy to have had me as a riding partner, Julie, too. Sallie and Cathryn even sought Jen out post-race to give thanks to her for suggesting me and telling her how thrilled they were with my riding and company. *blush* 
At the award dinner that night I found out that we came in 13 out of 48 riders. Not too shabby.
So was it the weekend I'd planned? Aw hell naw. Was it incredible? A fucking BLAST. Would I do it again? You betcha.
Post script: Q was well taken care of and, while irritated that she didn't get nearly the food she thought she should have in the way of grain, learned patience at this ride. She did have one incident post ride where she freaked out at the trailer I'd tied her to while I peed and spazzed bad. This ended in being very thankful for a quick-release knot and my horse speeding loose through camp. Silly girl. Kenai slept happily on a bed of hay in the trailer all day long.

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