Monday, April 28, 2014

No Frills 55

The season opener for Q and I!

Originally, plans were that Q and I would ride with Saiph and Lily on this ride, but then Lily came up lame due to a laminitic flare up less than two weeks out. Mike was going to accompany me to the ride, too, originally - but then we found out that he had training for work that weekend, so he was out. Additionally, for a very brief window of time, I thought I might also get to see Dom at this ride, but that fell through, as well.

So, quite suddenly, I was looking at tackling this thing all on my own - a first! At each of the 50s I did last year, I was with someone else throughout the ride/in ride camp/for the ride there. Never have I yet had to tackle the whole thing on my own! I knew I could, but still, it was a daunting thought. And not being able to *plan* for it, having it thrust upon me due to last minute fate, that was harder to wrap my mind around! I knew it would be a challenge, but I like challenges (in hindsight, haha).

Throughout the week, I prepped and packed so that on Friday morning I could sleep in a little, wake, and roll out with little issue. All I had left to do by Friday morning was touch up the trim on Q's hind feet, fill up water (we had to bring our own), load her and go!

It sounds easy, but alas, it wasn't. The first tasks went off without a hitch. Q was better than she had ever been for her hind feet to be trimmed. I was so proud of her.

But then came the loading...

Woe is loading on the trailer with this horse. Double woe when I have to do it ALONE.

In anticipation of doing this task alone, I'd backed the trailer under the barn awning area to allow for less room for Q to escape into if she saw fit; this also helped to block her view of the other horses when she was loading, which would hopefully help keep her mind on the task and not on her friends (ugh). I'd also taken my 18' lunge line and tied it to the door handle so I could pull it closed from where I stood at the opposite corner once she was loaded.

I put on leather gloves, snagged the lunge whip (the ultimate prop that lets Q know we're loading, when I don't hold it she doesn't load! Do I have to use it? Nope. Hold it? Yup.), and untied Q from where she was tied nearby.

Instead of going straight into the trailer, I led her in a lap around the barn first. I thought that perhaps walking it out would lower her anxiety. It seemed to work at first, but then she pushed in front of me (rude!) and I circled her back behind into her "box". We approached the trailer and I guided her to load, "Looo-ooad UP!" *boom boom* two front feet were on. She paused, stretched her neck forward then to the left, gazing out the window. She sniffed. She stood. She slowly backed herself off. I backed her up and repeated. She did the same as before. Backed off. I backed her up, and repeated. This time she got on all the way, paused, then back pedaled again.

That she backs off so fast is absolutely infuriating to me, but the fact that she's doing it CALMLY now without getting all worked up is enough of a win, so I was happy with her efforts. I asked again after she'd backed herself off from being completely on, and she hopped back on, all four, and paused long enough for me to snag the lunge line and pull the door closed.

...but not fast enough. She back pedaled, got hit with the door which went flying back open from her rapid backing, then she backed in terror into the barn, knocked over two muck rakes and a shovel, thought about bowling me over but made efforts not to, and then rocketed off through the barn yard, the herd of horses on the other side of the fence rocketing along with her.


I opened the door, lay the lunge line back the way I had it, set the rakes and the shovel in a better place (though they'd already been quite out of the way!), and walked around the barnyard to fetch Q. I walked her calmly back to the trailer and began to repeat the whole process. However, as a new added ingredient to the whole ordeal, Q decided it would be awesome to rear and then lunge on, pause, back pedal off. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Despite the fact that Q is in heat and I was coming off a week of my own "heat cycle" with hormonal mood swings unlike any I've dealt with, I managed to *mostly* keep my calm with her antics. Within minutes, she was back to loading completely on and pausing, longer this time. I, again, pulled the door closed.Q again, back pedaled off, slammed into the door, the door swung open, then banged against a support beam of the barn and swung back toward her, which freaked Q the hell out, and she crashed into the door again, then raced off.


I started crying at this point. I felt so helpless. The whole thing seemed so futile. I decided I would try ONE MORE TIME and if I couldn't get her on, I wasn't going. Just. No. (Hormones. They suck.) 

I set everything back up and fetched Q again, though she spent a good two minutes evading me and running away each time I closed in. I ended up cornering her and moving her with my body the way a horse will work a cow, anticipating and blocking her escape, turning her to where her only option was to stand and wait in the corner.

As I led her back to the trailer, she rushed in front of me multiple times and I circled her back into her box and then threatened with the lunge whip to keep her back there. What a holy terror she was!

Back at the trailer the whole process was repeated, and, by some miracle, she got on, paused long enough that I was able to pull, swing, slam the door closed and lock it. In fact, I was kind of shocked about the whole thing. I gave a big sigh, put the lunge whip, gloves, and lunge line into the trailer, and headed out - only 20 minutes behind schedule.

Fortunately, the haul went without issue. It rained, but other than that, no problems. I even had the foresight to top off my tank of gas right before I got to ride camp so that I wouldn't have to worry about it when I headed home the following evening after the ride.

Arriving at ride camp, the rain began falling as I did slow circles finding a good place to park. I ran to double check with the ride manager before I settled on my parking spot. He said to just pull up 5 more feet and I'd be good!

I pulled up, parked, put on rain gear, and began to set up Q's corral in the rain. I hardly got anywhere with that before my rain pants were soaked through. I'd put on an older pair not thinking the rain would get so bad...but it did. I changed out pants and carried on, damp, but not getting damper. In short order, I had the pen setup, Q unloaded and corralled, eating all the tall green grass.

I putzed around for a bit wondering if the rain would lull, but when it didn't I decided to try my hand at setting up the tent IN THE RAIN. It was a tent Mike had lent me, a nice big one so that I could stand up to change clothes. This is a nice luxury when I'm tired/sore/its insanely early in the morning and I need to get ready. However, I'd never set this particular tent up before, which - of course - led to me botching the setup and getting everything wetter than necessary. UGH. And, to top it off, the tent has a big beautiful mesh window that really isn't shielded from the rain at I had to MacGyver a tarp on top of it to block the entry of rain.

With horse corralled and tent up, I marched up the hill to complete the registration process. Skip, the ride manager (or one of them) offered me another tarp if I needed it (he is the nicest person ever) but I assured him I'd be okay, though I would let him know if I needed it later. He informed me that I could go vet in whenever. I thanked him and set off back to my tent where I drug my chair and cooler and Kenai inside and sat eating for a bit out of the rain.

With my hunger satiated for a time, I took Q to vet in. They were running the 55 and the 30 on this day in addition to Saturday, so when the front runners came in to complete, I politely stepped to the side to let them vet through first. Eventually though, I was vetted through. All A's, pulse of 56, and a comment from the vet about Q's movement as, "She really steps out!" Yep. She's got a lot of knee and hock action.

I took Q back to the corral, set her up with hay, alfalfa, beet pulp, and grain of which she ignored, choosing the grass instead.

I toweled out the inside of the tent and moved the rest of my stuff in there, making it homey. I settled in with a beer to await dinner and the ride meeting. It was nice to unwind for a bit. The rain even stopped during this time!

The ride meeting and dinner were rather uneventful. Same spiel as usual; 18 mile first loop, 25 mile second loop, 7 mile final loop (this sums to 50 miles...not 55?). No changes in trail. Only notable thing being that about 10 miles into the second loop there was a fallen tree that had left a hole where the root ball was, stay uphill and be cautious.

I headed back to my tent post-meeting and settled in for an early bed time after electrolyting and grazing Q around the field and giving Kenai a short walk. The rain seemed to be done for good, though the wind had picked up considerably.

I fell asleep in fairly short order, my mind a mess of turmoil about tackling 55 miles alone the following day. I was awoken numerous times by rain pounding on the tent. I'd count the seconds as they passed during the times of heaviest rainfall. It was the only thing I could do to distract my mind from worrying about the ride. I fell back asleep for a time, only to be awakened around 11:45p by wind cracking the tarp so badly that I decided to go out and take it down; the sky was clear as could be and I knew by this hour the rain should definitely be gone.

I returned to the tent after fixing the tarp situation and settled back to pseudo-sleeping, but mostly fretting about the ride the next day. I was so, so worried to do it on my own. I literally knew no one in camp. I recognized people, but I didn't KNOW anyone. I wanted so badly to pull back and just do the 30, but I knew I would be upset with myself if I did. So I calmed myself best I could and told myself to just decide in the morning.

I guess I manged to sleep some because I was startled awake at 2a by the wind blowing over my STAKED DOWN tent. I ended up with Kenai in my lap, both of us terrified at first because we didn't know what was going on. When I realized it was just the wind and not some monster, I hustled out to restake everything before we were flipped over even more.

I'd intended to get up around 2:15a to give Q her morning mash, so I did that and replenished her hay and alfalfa before returning (again) to my tent where I set to fretting (some more) about the ride. What ultimately calmed me was the knowledge that Karen's friend Uncle Daniel said he was sending some riders to keep me safe the following day. Karen had let me know this earlier in the day, and it brought tears to my eyes knowing I had such a good friend to look out for me. She and Saiph had both been sending tons of super encouraging texts throughout the day to bolster me. This knowledge helped me to fall back into a sound sleep until my morning alarm.

I slept so soundly, in fact, that when my alarm went off I rolled over mumbling 5 more minutes instead of bolting up as I expected I would after a night of worry. Calm had graced me around 2:30a and didn't leave me for the rest of the day.

I did emerge from my warm cocoon though. I broke the tent down and loaded the car back up before I readied Q. I had originally planned to do this post-ride, but I had a distinct feeling that if I didn't load it up now, I would come back to a tent blown half-way across ride camp!

With human camp packed up, Kenai settled into the trailer with his hay nest, and saddle bags prepped, I set to readying Q mare for the day booting her up.

I'd just finished booting Q when I heard a questioning, "Liz?" I turned, a quizzical look on my face to be greeted with, "Liz? Its Gail."

"Oh! HEY! Wow. Hey. Nice to meet you!"

It was Gail from The Journey to 100 Miles! I knew I'd likely see her this day, but I wasn't expecting her to be there so early! It was SO nice to get to visit with her and gain some help from her as I readied Q for the ride. (THANK YOU SO MUCH, GAIL! I COULDN'T HAVE GOTTEN READY ON TIME WITHOUT YOUR HELP!!!) We chatted amiably about horses, endurance, the OD, etc. as I prepared, tacking Q up and electrolyting her once more. Eventually it was time for Gail to go check in with the volunteers, and time for me to do the last few things before the start!

And before I knew was 7a and the trail was open!

Q was VERY forward and it was all I could do to keep her at a trot for the first 10 miles. I set off right behind the front runners, slowing Q to a walk once we reached a long downhill section. I knew we wouldn't keep pace with the front runners all day, and I didn't need Q to want to chase them, so we let them go. We had a long day ahead, I didn't need her to use all her fuel at the beginning!

Not long after letting the front runners go, Claire Godwin and the two juniors riding with her passed us. I let them go ahead, too, but appeased Q's wishes to trot once they were about 200' ahead. We would keep them in sight for the rest of the first loop.

The first half of the first loop was all on Forest Service (FS) roads. A few spurts were in the woods, but it was mostly road until we crossed highway 55 to ride the ridgeline/VA-WV state line. I was surprised to look at my GPS before the first significant climb and find that we'd already gone 6 miles! It seemed like I'd been out no time at all.

As Q and I began traversing the state line trail, I recalled the previous year's mishap that resulted in a visit to the Leesburg veterinary hospital with Q. Q and I walked and trotted this trail until we reached the rise right before the dreaded rock where she slipped last year. Recalling this location, I dismounted and led her for a time. Reaching the rock, I skittered down it and let Q choose her own sliding path down it, which she fortunately did with no issue. I did quite the internal fist pump at this point, feeling victorious to have overcome the obstacle that struck us down the previous year. I turned my iPod and speaker on in the pommel pouch for company and finished the last leg of the first loop without issue.

Arriving at the in-timer, I discovered, sadly, that I had accidentally paused my GPS app on my phone! I'd missed about 6 miles of trail. However, I arrived promptly at 9:59a, which means I did the first 18 miles in 3 hours even, which means I did a 6 mph pace. Perfect!

I took Q to the water tank first thing. There hadn't been water on the first loop, so I figured she was probably thirsty. She was! I counted 34 swallows before she decided she was good. Good mare!

Dr. Marshall greeted me immediately as I walked by the vets, asking about my "little mare" and doing a courtesy check of her pulse. She was at 60, so he had me vet her through right then (tack off was optional). She had a good recovery after the trot out with her pulse at 56, and had As on everything! Dr. Marshall was super complimentary and sent me on my way.

I headed to my designated area for the hold and set about nomming on my own food while Q picked choosily at the food that the volunteers had provided at the away hold. I think for the OD 50 in June I will have to pack her own grain for the away holds because she was so picky about what was available at this hold! She hardly ate a thing while we were there. I had to stuff carrots that I had brought for "trail snacks" for her. I hated to use up the carrots now, but I needed her to eat something!

Claire was set up at a station next to mine, and she asked me briefly if they were going too slow for me since I'd been trailing them the whole time, yo-yoing near and far as we plodded along. I told her that it was just fine, Q just really wanted to be with other horses but I was holding her back because I really wasn't sure how she would do today. Claire noted that she was really glad I was back there because if she had to pull for some reason the two juniors would have someone to ride with. And then, later on during the hold, Claire (a vet and someone who has been in endurance for decades) complimented Q after giving her the once over, "That horse has good bone," which made me happy to hear.

I chatted with Gail some more at the hold before a slew of 30 milers came in and consumed all the volunteers time. We didn't get to chat much, but it seemed she was enjoying her time as a volunteer and learning a lot!

Before I knew it, the 45 minute hold was up and I was headed back out on the second long 25 mile loop. Claire and the juniors had left several minutes ahead of me, so it would be a good time to figure out how Q would do truly solo.

She was great! A little spooky, but mostly focused on moving down the trail. I talked to her the whole time, explaining the surroundings and what she was seeing and why it was there. I spent most of the day trying to figure out her categorical reasoning for "monster rock - run in fear!" vs. "oh, a rock - trot on by".  Her worst spooks of the whole day were on the first loop when she spooked at - wait for it - tall dry, grass. -_- Because this hasn't been a main component of her field for, oh, the last 5 months?! She slammed to a stop, walked two steps, and slammed to a stop again. UGH. Second loop though...much better!

The first part of the second loop was old fire road. Grass had grown over the road and the footing was perfect. We'd only been out about 5 minutes before Q asked to slow and drink from the water running along the trail/road. I'd noticed her eyeing it up for a few minutes, so I let her stop and she tanked up with another 20+ swallows of water before continuing on.

I noticed during this stretch of trail that the cable on the right hind Renegade had snapped. I had expected this as both boots on the back had cables that were fraying, but I put them on anyway, optimistic that they'd last the ride. When I noticed that it had snapped, the boot was still on the foot, the toe strap flapping in the wind on one side from the snap. I dismounted and snatched the boot off her foot before it became more mangled. I decided I wouldn't put a replacement EasyBoot Epic on until later on the trail where her foot would be more dry (this section had a lot of intermittent mud/puddles).

With time, we began our first uphill climb, up and away from the nice fire road. It was on this climb that we caught up to Claire and the juniors. I let Q fall in happily behind them on the rocky single track.

At one point, she stepped poorly on a rock that was sideways on the trail and her front left Viper twisted most of the way off. She let me know immediately and I hopped off to fix it. (This was the only issue I had with the Vipers all day!) I also took this time to wrap her bare hind with vet wrap and slap an Epic on. The four 30 mile front runners passed me during this time, but that was cool. We'd only be sharing the trail a short time.

We continued on up the rocky single track, walking and trotting until once again falling into line behind Claire and the juniors. We would stay with them for the remainder of the loop. No one really spoke much.

There were lots of options to drink throughout the loop, so the horses were all pretty well hydrated. A 10 minute hold and go provided an opportunity for them to eat some, which was the point where Q decided she was famished and HAD to eat. Well, duh, mare, if you hadn't been so picky before you wouldn't be to this point. I stuffed some carrots and apples in her mouth, emptying the trail snacks I had for her. Nancy Sluys even treated us to a fiddle song she'd written about endurance, "To Finish Is To Win". GREAT SONG! I hummed it the rest of the day. =)

The last part of the long second loop was all fire road and FS road. It was nice to finally be able to move out. Q even led the little group for a short time, but surrendered her lead position when she stopped to tank up at yet another puddle (those electrolytes were really doing their job! She'd never sought water out like that!)

Within the last 6 miles or so, Q started doing this really weird head toss thing, only at the trot or canter and only under saddle. She'd be moving along and then just toss her head/nose up in the air and shake her head all funny like for a mere second or two, then continue. I just couldn't figure it out! I couldn't see bugs, her forelock was too short to be in her eyes, the browband was above her eyes, too. It was so strange! She had a tiny bit of foam in the corner of her mouth, but she'd just had two apples, so..??!! I rubbed her ears some, which kind of seemed to help, but it didn't fix it.

Q is so sensitive and dramatic about things. If you poke and prod once at a sensitive place, she evades ALL contact if you try to touch her again after that. She anticipates and builds and explodes over the tiniest, dumbest shit. Its so hard to tell what is really the matter because she gets so concerned about tiny things. This problem could be bugs, it could be hair in her eyes, it could be the fucking WIND in her eyes/ears for all I knew.

I asked Claire (vet) about it and she just said it was probably sweat in Q's eyes bothering her. Yeah, yeah, that sounds good. Okay. Except even after wiping all around her eyes she still continued the behavior.

We stopped at a puddle to all drink and let the horses eat some of the grass about 4 miles out when Claire observed that the cable on my other hind Rennie had snapped. I replaced it and we continued on. Except Q's head shaking was getting worse. I finally pulled her up and got off to walk her awhile. Completely flummoxed about what was causing this. Metabolic? Neuro?

I got back on to ride, but the behavior continued on still! And she was getting more extreme about it. Her head tossing/shaking/twitching becoming so extreme that her footwork was thrown off by it. (You try walking a straight line while whipping your head around. Its hard!) We'd be good for several hundred feet, then she'd have two or three fits, then be fine, pulling the reins from me as she surged forward. It was the most bewildering and scary thing.

I tried to walk her, but I was getting over heated and was worried about causing myself heat illness (I have a really hard time with this) and knew that I would have to ride to make this work. I got on and off her numerous times, determined that I could walk before realizing it would be really stupid of me to cause myself heat illness. I kept telling Q, "Get to camp (the check) get to camp. You have to get there before we can fix this. Just get there. Then we can pull and you can go back to camp." We had to trot, too, because Q was walking at a 2mph or less pace. If she wasn't trotting, she was walking at that glacial pace and just trying to eat constantly. I let her eat some, but realized at some point that I needed to make the executive decision to get to the check - which wasn't far.

And we got there. Claire looked up when I arrived, "We looked around and you were gone!" I explained that the head shaking had gotten worse and I was worried it was her eyes or something worse.

A volunteer helped hold Q while I stripped her tack and sponge her, sharing my concerns as I did so. I finally took her down to Dr. Marshall and Dr. Kohut, explaining that I wanted them to look at her eyes. I explained everything to them. They wondered if it could be metabolic, noted that her pulse was still at 72, then continued to look her over. In the few minutes they looked her eyes over, she came down to 60 and we vetted her through. Her gut sounds were a B, but other than that, she was fine. No lameness. They figured she was probably trotting through clouds of gnats and they were bothering her. They suggested some Off! which a volunteer brought over and I sprayed on Q's face and in her ears.

And lo and behold, when the Off! hit her ears DOZENS OF GNATS began crawling out!!! Poor mare! Also...DRAMA QUEEN!

I spent the rest of the hold napping while Q ate. I talked with some of the volunteers, confirming that there was indeed only 7 miles of FS road left. I stripped off my vest, my long sleeve wicking shirt, took off the cantle pack that had held the spare boots, the cable-torn rennies, and put all of that (and my water bottles OOPS!) into my crew bag that the volunteers would be taking back to camp. I was the 11th of 13 50 riders and we were all at the hold, so they'd be leaving soon (passing me actually as I headed to the finish).

My out time arrived, I slowly led Q away from the hold, mounted, and departed at a slow walk. I was hot, tired, and sore. Q was hot, tired, and sore. We were whooped. We (I) needed a pick me up. So I turned on my iPod + speaker to listen to The Kooks Konk for those last few miles. Best. Thing. Ever.

I jammed out and relaxed, Q relaxed. We trotted. It sucked but we did it. We just wanted to finish.

Q wouldn't respond to my smooching or clucking to canter at first, so we just trotted. The volunteer crew for the hold passed us and cheered for me, which I fist pumped in return to, big grin on my face. After they passed, I said, "Hup, hup, hup!" to Q who immediately broke into a canter. And so we intermittently cantered and trotted.

I looked at my GPS to see how many more miles to the finish. We only had 2 more. We trotted and I let go of the reins. I extended my arms like wings. I cheered and fist pumped the air that we were almost done.

We cantered. We galloped. I saw the finish and I gave a whoop of excitement. We slowed to a walk then a halt RIGHT at the finish line. I dismounted and handed the finish guy my card which he wrote 5:01pm, 11th place on, told me I had a mile or so to camp after the finish. And so we trudged slowly back to camp, mostly me hiking, but then finally remounting to ride because it ended up being more like 1½ miles.

And then, just like that, it was over. I took Q to the trailer to strip her tack, sponge her, and let her eat.

The ride manager, Skip, trotted her out for me for the final check while Claire held Kenai. We passed. We completed. We were done.

And it was wonderful.

I let Q eat all she could while I slowly, slowly broke horse camp down. She ate and drank and sampled back and forth between all her food options while I loaded the trailer and cleaned up.

Two new friends, Lynn and Patty Jo, helped me load Q (holy terror again... rearing... hesitation... UGH!) and I was on the road just after 7p. The haul was uneventful. 2½ hours on the dot. Q unloaded, THRILLED to be back home with her man harem, and trotted/cantered out into the field to find them in the dark, whickering as she went. Someone wasn't so tired anymore!

All in all, a mentally exhausting, but incredibly rewarding experience. I'm glad I did it. I really gained some more trust in my pony through this, learning that she does indeed have a brain and can navigate down the trail on her own without being a complete idiot about things. She has a brain, she can use it, and she does have a motor to push her down the trail. It wasn't until we'd done 30-40 miles before she finally calmed down! The sorest part of me after this ride is my trapezoids from locking into a "must hold the back the pony power" hold.

I'm thankful I had such a great support team available to me via texts/emails/Facebook to help bolster me through, Mike, Saiph, and Karen most notably. Thank you to my Indian riders who helped keep us safe. Thank you to Skip and Daryl and Claire and Lynn and Patty Jo and Gail and others who helped me through the day at the ride. I love endurance and I love the family of people involved in it. <3

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