Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Travel: 2016 road trip days 5 - 8

Red Rocks Canyon, NV outside Las Vegas was our first primary destination. We reached it on our fourth day of travel. From there, we headed northeast, pausing at Gooseberry Mesa,UT for some biking before continuing to Zion Canyon and Moab, UT.

Desert warmth
Pretty red!!
Hiding from the sun, which Dave found hilarious and thus took a photo
At the top of a climb at an area called the Panty Wall
Goofing off on rappel
This must be what Mars is like
Looking the other direction
The striations in the rock were gorgeous
Yep, Martian
Oggling all the routes
Sizing up Tiger Stripe wall
+10 points if you can find Dave (orange shirt) at the top of this climb
Photo looking back toward our climbing area
The geology was so different from home
Making chicken and ramp quesadillas
The hike into our multipitch climb on day 2
Dave was PSYCHED about this day
If you draw a straight line upward from his head, it is basically on the route we climbed
Blooming desert
Route goes up the wall in the center of photo. 1500' total, we'd do 500'
Looking waaayy back toward the car. Took 90 minutes to hike to base of climb
Beautiful to the eyes, not the nose!
Vista for my first belay point at the base of the second pitch
Finally on top. A beautiful climb.
Soaring over the desert...and the trail back to the car.
Hiking out.
Wild ass.
Sunrise from the tent.
Day 3 climbing area  Black Corridor
Sweet Pain wall and Wolfgang (72 y/o) on a 5.11a overhung route
This guy was sick. He helped develop the area
Slot canyon we had to travel through to reach final wall for the day
Vegas lit up
Camping on top of Gooseberry
More dessert blooms
This place was MAGICAL to ride in..
So much sage.
And beautiful views from the tent.
Chef Dave making stir fry for dinner this night

Monday, April 25, 2016

No Frills 55, 2016 edition

The short: 

Completion! Definitely the best competition ride I've had on Q to date. She didn't lag the entire day, led for a fair portion of trail, and only had one significant spook that resulted in me hitting the ground (but it wasn't her signature spook and the fall was more due to rider error than her error, so I hold no grudge). Overall, she was SUCH a more confident horse than she's ever been before at a competition. I was blown away. She also had As nearly all day. She had a B on skin tenting (which from my experience is a score that varies greatly based on the vet, and it's only one of the hydration parameters, so I'm really not too bothered by those Bs ever as long as the other hydration parameters check out) at the vetting prior to the ride and at the first hold, but that was it. The rest of the time she was all As and positive for gut sounds in every quadrant. We've never had better than that! Company was great for the whole ride and our pace was on point at a 6.6 average for the 53 miles. I didn't micromanage every aspect of the day, and it all went very smoothly overall.

The long:

Recognition and a word of thanks --

New this ride, I had not only a training buddy leading up to the event (Dan, who is also my farrier), but also a sponsor: Saddles and Smiles a nonprofit which is run out of Double S Stables in Canaan Valley, WV. Butch, the horse Dan has conditioned and rode for this ride, is owned by them. They also provided the truck, gas, and supplemented us with food and hay for this ride. Dan helps out with S&S and other activities at the barn (in addition to his farrier-ing and multiple other jobs!).

Beyond the obvious "Yay, a vehicle to tow two horses!" (something my 4Runner can't do), it was exciting to be able to represent Saddles and Smiles because I've fostered a secret desire to be involved with an equine assisted therapy program one day.

Saddles & Smiles was established to provide services which aid to kids and families affected by autism. Through Double S Stables, they are able to share the magic of horses. 

You see, kids and adults with autism struggle with recognizing and appropriately expressing emotions. Because horses are mirrors for human behavior, they are very useful tools for teaching these skills. They also help the kids and adults build self-esteem, physical and emotional strength, and supportive relationships.  

Saddles and Smiles offers services including equine assisted learning, individual sessions with horses, riding lessons, and week long day camps in the summer time. They also offer supportive and educational services to the families of clients, helping them find resources for their children/teens with autism.  

Additionally, through a new secondary business, Mindfully Aware, Angie (S&S owner/founder) can provide individual coaching with parents of children with autism which can empower them to live much healthier lives. This, in turn, helps the whole family dynamic be more healthy and happy.

It's a really fantastic program that I look forward to being a little more involved with (as my busy schedule dictates) into the future. Horses used for therapeutic means has always been something that interested me a lot.

Horses have taught me countless lessons about human behavior over the years; I've always taken great interest in what they're able to do for other people. I've thought about making an equine assisted therapy program the focus of my retirement years one day (because I know I'm too busy adventuring right now). As the goal has always been so far down the road of life, it's never been something I talk about with many people. I'm excited to have the opportunity to not only represent such a program now, but to volunteer for them in the future.

Thursday night: Packing and prep --

After work Thursday, I headed home to swap out my vehicle and load up with everything I'd prepped during the week. I arrived home around 4:50p and my goal was to have everything loaded and ready by 5:30p, but thanks to organization on my part the night before, I was able to be loaded and ready by 5:05! Logically, I took the few extra minutes I had to repot some plants that needed it and pick up my apartment so I could come home to a very clean, organized abode.

I made it to the barn around 5:30p, hooked up the trailer and had it loaded within 15 minutes or so - once again thanks to my anal-retentive pre-planning (which not only results in fast packing, but also not forgetting anything!)

During the hitching and loading, the herd decided to come up to the barn and wait by the gate to see if any goodies would be doled out their direction. Q seemed to catch on quickly that this venture may involve her and cantered halfway across the field in seeming protest. Curiosity got the better of her though, and she ventured back over to watch before I finished packing. However, when I went to bring her in, she trotted away for 6 strides or so to prove her point that she *could* make my life more difficult if pressed.

I hosed her off before putting her in the trailer so she would be a little cleaner prior to the ride and then (after she bobbed her head and pawed the ground - something she only does when she's about to get on the trailer) I let her load herself and we were off!

Thursday's goal was to head to Canaan where Dan and I could stage both horses and finish packing the trailer. We planned to leave the following morning and wanted to make life easier in the early hours. Q and Dan's horse Butch (this would be Butch's first race and Dan's first 50) settled into adjacent stalls for the night as Dan and I loaded everything and then bid adieu until the following morning.

Friday: Travel and Ridecamp --

I arrived at the barn around 9:45a Friday morning. The goal was to be on the road around 10:30. Ha. Hahaha.

Packing went smoothly, but it was quite a tetris puzzle fitting things into the back of the truck. We knew it would be raining later, so we packed in such a way to waterproof things (rubbermaid containers and the like) which makes for bulkier packing by far. Fortunately, Dan's a master at packing such things after years as a raft guide and numerous month-long trips down the Colorado River. I stacked my things and just watched him work packing magic.

Ol' reliable

By 10:45a we'd completed packing and secured everything within the truck bed. Nicole (Saiph pseudonym with blogging, but my brain doesn't hold track of pseudonyms well in its translation of thoughts to writing) texted me around this time to ask me to save them a spot in ridecamp. I replied letting her know we hadn't even loaded the horses yet!

...and we wouldn't get them loaded for another 25 minutes. You see, we discovered that the truck sits higher than my 4Runner and didn't have a drop-hitch, so Dan struck out to on a quest to get one. 20 minutes and 3¼" lower later, the trailer was hooked up. Both horses loaded on the first go with no issue (Butch led on and Q self loaded) and we were off at 11:15!

The drive was mostly uneventful. Dan and I gabbed (SHOCKING for those that know us, I know ;-) ) most of the way about numerous horse and life things. Despite going slow because of our load, we still made it in an hour and fifty minutes. (And the truck only smoked a little bit on the final climb. A full bed with our stuff, plus an external gas tank, plus a full trailer with two horses is quite the load for a 1990s F250 but she did well!)

We arrived to a very busy, bustling camp and headed over to the "overflow" field to set up as the first field was packed! This was the biggest turnout for this ride (which held two days with both distances run each of the days) in years.

Nicole and Carlos had arrived moments before us, so we set up camp beside them.

Boy was it ever nice to get to a ride so early! We had plenty of time to set up camp, go register and vet-in, and finally do a bit of a warm up ride. No need to hurry at all. The four of us gabbed as we set up tents and EZ Ups and horse containment situations. Beers were had by all and it was really relaxing.

Camp complete with S&S banner

Finally, sometime after 3 but before 5, we headed up to register. There was a little bit of confusion about the treatment forms (which, for the record, could have been formatted MUCH better to avoid the confusion and resulting short-temper of the registration volunteer, though I did understand her short temper as I'm sure she'd been dealing with the issue for two days -- if someone from the OD foundation reads this, I'd be happy to reformat that form for you to make things smoother in the future!), but it was overall a smooth, painless process.

On our way back to get the horses to vet in, we saw Dom. I'm honestly not sure of the last time she and I were in the same zip code! RBTR?

We agreed prior to arrival that she was going to show me her engagement ring *first thing* like a proper engaged lady by shoving it up under my nose to which I would respond by hopping up and down, squealing, and fwapping my hands about like a proper impressed girlfriend. Joking aside, it's a very beautiful ring that matches Dom so well -- not surprising though as Mike absolutely adores Dom and I know he'd settle for nothing less than perfect for her! (Congratulations again to you two. I'm so very excited for you. You're two of the kindest, most-generous people I've ever known and I was so thrilled to hear about your engagement earlier this year.)

After my reunion with Dom, we set out to get the horses and vet in.

The downside to riding the second day of a two day ride is that the vetting area becomes quite hectic! This ride is tight on space, too, so it makes for some creative juggling of horses, too, but I have to say, despite that I was REALLY happy that the vetting was more centrally located than the last time I'd been at the ride in 2014!

Obviously, horses completing had priority vetting over those checking in for the next day's ride. The upside to the tight space and waiting on those racing to complete was that we all got to visit more with Dom as we waited.

Finally, it was our turn to vet in. Q trotted out great (we've been practicing a lot since October 2015). we pulsed in at 48, had a B on skin tenting, and all As otherwise. Good to go!

Nicole, Carlos, Dan, Dom and I all headed down to the trailers to suit the horses up for a quick warm up ride. Dom chatted with us while we tacked up, and escorted us out as we left.

Dom in line with the horses

We did a brisk 3 mile warm up ride, enough to get all of the horses sweating, and then headed back to camp, walking the entire third mile of the ride.

After returning, we had enough time to settle the horses and set up some things for the following morning before heading to the ride meeting/potluck.

The meeting went as most meetings do and dinner was good. The 55s would leave at 7a. We'd have 3 loops the following day, an 18 mile first loop, 25.5 mile second loop, and 9.3 mile final loop. The long middle loop would have a hospitality stop in the middle where they would take our numbers and have food and water available for horses and riders. Pulse parameter would be 64 and the first hold would be optional tack-off due to the expected chilly, wet weather.

Post dinner, the four of us finished packing the bags we would send to the away check and take them up to the drop off point. As we headed back to camp, the rain began. I noticed Dom sitting inside Skip's trailer so we made a pit stop to hang out with them for a bit in Skip's luxury home away from home.


While we were watching the Caps game and generally causing a ruckus laughing and carrying on, the rain settled in for good. When we finally excused ourselves from the merriment for the night, we scooted back to our tents pretty quickly to get out of the rain.

The patter of drops on my tent fly was soothing to fall asleep to, but I would ultimately have trouble staying asleep all night. Not due to concern about the race at all, but simply because I couldn't sleep at all.

I ended up listening to the on and off drizzle as the night went on, my mind drifting to everything except the ride as I listened to the intermittent chatter of whippoorwills and woodcock in the night amidst the horses chewing hay. It was peaceful, but I did wish I could have slept a little more!

Saturday: The ride --

I finally rousted myself into the rain around 5:30a. I checked the radar and it looked like we were going to get the worst cell of precipitation around the time of the start. The mountains to the west of us were breaking up the intensity (from thunderstorm to showers), but we'd still have rain. It looked like it may slack off at the start, but it would be so hard to tell. Weather patterns are best read by looking at the radar instead of hourly estimates. The mountains still affect things in strange ways though, so nothing is ever certain.

The rain was steady and growing slightly with intensity as the morning trudged on. I knew I'd be wet and had accepted it, but I was really having a hard time deciding what to send to the away check! I've ridden in rain before, but anticipating how to handle the rain with an away check is tricky. In the past, I've been able to be at the trailer for my holds in rainy rides. That makes life a LOT simpler.

Dan and I ended up digging our our crew bags from the trailer that was taking them to the away check to swap some stuff out. SO glad I did. (Added dry shoes and my sheepskin cover for later.)

Dan and I hadn't put sheets on our two horses overnight (probably an oversight, but they survived), so they were clamping their tails and shivering a little when the wind gusted as we tacked them up. Once mounted, they were VERY fresh. Snorting and prancing was a given. Beyond that, their behavior wasn't bad.

By the time Carlos, Nicole, Dan and I were tacked up and mounted to head out, it was 7:06a. We'd wanted to depart 5 to 10 minutes after the start, so this was perfect!

Q led the way out of camp. She was snorty, but not too spooky all things considered. I was floored! Who is this horse?

We'd previously agreed to not go above a trot for the first 4 miles so the wet, cold horses would be properly warmed up. This worked out great because the first 4 miles of the ride were all on Forest Service (FS) road. The worst of the rain would happen during these 4 miles and the fog would pervade for long into the second loop before finally lifting.

As we set off up the hill leaving camp, Lily and Q alternated leading. Go figure that these two horses are taking turns with something that they've both struggled so much with in the past! WHAT a change in both. (I may note that in the time it took to get from our trailers to the exit from ridecamp I was already soaked through and would *squish* every time I posted the trot. Lovely.)

We crested our climb up the FS road, had our photos taken by Becky Pearman at the top, and headed down the other side with Q striding out firmly in the lead for a good while. WHO IS THIS HORSE?!

Derp faces: engage. It was POURING rain here. I was soaked through already.

The rest of the FS road section went uneventfully and we maintained our wonderful bubble away from all other horse and rider pairs throughout - SUCH a luxury! The horses were nice and relaxed thanks to the bubble we found away from folks, too.

We all chatted as the horses moved out at an incredible trot the whole time. A lot of the conversation turned toward how much bigger each horse's trot has become since transitioning to shoes. Those big trots have also come with increased confidence in each horse. I'm a huge fan of the changes in Q.

We reached the turn off from FS road to trail around mile 4. Not long later, we caught up to other riders. Damn. We'd been enjoying the illusion of being alone! No more. We passed some, leap frogged (we passed, then they passed, back and forth) with some, and yo-yo'ed (caught up and then lagged back) with others for the remainder of the loop.We ended up riding with Roger and Felesha for the remainder of the loop once we caught up with them making us a group of 6 that sometimes swelled larger as we became holed up behind other horses through tricky areas.

Endurance trifecta

Around mile 9, I got a sharp, sudden pain in my right shin. It felt like a muscle tore? It continued to hover around a 3 on the pain scale with occasional spikes to a 5 for the remaining 9 miles. Not. Fun. I've always struggled with pressure of the stirrup leather on my shins, and I thought I'd fixed it (a conversation for another time) but apparently not! The only time I forgot about the pain was when I fell off about 2 miles later.

More misty fog on the stateline

Our group of 6 had been plodding along at a nice clip for a good little while along the ridgeline state line between VA and WV. Felesha in front followed by Dan, Roger, me, Nicole, and Carlos. Nicole gave me a heads up somewhere around mile 10 that she and Carlos were going to pause a minute and they'd catch up. Cool. Except when they did catch up a little while later Q bolted in fear at the sudden sound of a horse galloping up behind her. Felesha, Dan, Roger, and I had been walking sedately up a small hill at this point. I had two fingers on the reins at the buckle and while my feet were in the stirrups, my heels were not engaged down. I was pretty relaxed. We'd been plodding along as such for a few minutes now, so I saw no need to ride so actively or alertly. Ha.

Q scooted and bolted out from under me upon hearing Lily (I didn't know WHAT spooked her as I was coming off). I remember her sudden movement, my arms threw themselves up in the air in a subconscious attempt to keep myself balanced as I somersaulted backwards off of Q to land flat on my back on the ground. Hard.

I think I somehow punched myself in the jaw as I went, because the first thing I was aware of once I could breathe again was my face hurting a bit. I could hear everyone exclaiming various things at me, I knew they'd caught Q, but my head was trying to wrap around the fast series of events that had just occurred in the blink of an eye. I remembered Q bolting, my arms coming up, my balance being off, trying to recover, having nothing to grab to recover because my arms were way up in the air, my knees rising, my feet following, and then tipping backwards and falling as I fleetingly wondered to myself if I'd break my neck upon landing. Then I landed, knocked the breath out of myself and, oi!

As soon as I had breath enough to speak, I said I needed a minute in answer to the multiple queries in my direction. Mostly, I needed to assess myself. Airway was clear, obviously because I was breathing and could speak. Didn't feel sharp pain of any cuts, so no bleeding. I could open my eyes and my thoughts weren't jumbled. Good, good, good. I slowly flexed my fingers and toes, rolled myself to my stomach, breathed a bit more, then decided I no great injuries had been inflicted to my body, and pushed myself up to standing.

Nicole's eyes were very concerned. Carlos was dismounted and heading toward me like the RN he is. Dan had Q. I wiggled and shook myself a bit to shake the whole ordeal off, Dan wiped mud off my face from where I must have hit it in the fast series of events, I took the time to fix my stirrups, and remounted. Ack. That was lucky! My body was okay, but my brain was desperately trying to catch up to the series of events! When things happen so fast it can be hard to piece them together. The fortune of NOT breaking myself in that fall also had my head screwed up a bit. It would take me until we left on the second loop to really pull myself together mentally because of all of it. I didn't talk much to anyone as I tried to sort through things.

The remainder of the first loop went okay after that. (I did dismount to walk the rock that caused Q to be pulled in our LD attempt there in 2013.) It was slow going through the rock gardens. The rain and fog and now slower pace had me quite chilled by the end of it. I dismounted when we got to the long downhill to the vet check so I could warm up and give my poor shin a break as I jogged Q in hand down it. We were with Mary at that point, so it was good to talk to her a little as we jogged our horses down the hill.

I mounted up near the bottom and our group of 6 rode into the check, stopping and hand walking the final quarter mile or so. The first 18 mile loop took us 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete - and that included two long pauses for switching up some tack and then my fall. Not too shabby!

Dan and I took Q and Butch straight into the P&R check because they were down. Carlos and Nicole took a little bit longer. I lost track of Felesha and Roger during that time because I was so overwhelmed with my own head and my horse.

Q had a B on skin tenting again, a CRI of 60/60 and all As otherwise. Little bit of a high pulse for her at a first check, but within parameter so I didn't worry too much. I was too cold at that point to care. 

I found my crew bag, unpacked it, got a sandwich and water from the ride volunteers, found my clothes, put a cooler on Q, handed Q over to a little girl volunteer to hold and feed, and struck out into the woods to change into my dry clothes. I needed to warm up to start thinking clearer. I was dizzy and a mess at this point. (And no, I don't think I was dizzy because of the fall (now). I was cold, wet, and hungry and desperately needed to warm up.)

Once changed, I began to perk up a good bit! Just in time to fret over my horse who was refusing to eat or drink. Faaanntastic.

She'd done this in 2014 as well, so it wasn't a huge surprise, but I didn't like it. Her vet check assured me she couldn't be too worse for the wear though, so I tried to get her to eat and tried not to fret too much. She had 4 or 5 mouthfuls of food the whole check. I think the busy, bustling nature of that away check was just too much for her. She couldn't handle it 2 years ago and she couldn't handle it now. I prayed she'd eat at the hospitality check 14 miles later, and Dan, Felesha and I headed out of camp at 10:33 (our out time).

The three of us would ride this entire loop together. GREAT company. It FLEW by. In fact, the whole ride flew by! Seriously the fastest ride day ever.

The beginning of loop 2 we were joined by Amanda Humphreys on her wonder pony Candy for a time. It was great to ride a few miles with her and chat about random things. She was doing the 30 though and we didn't ride together for too long.

On the big climb, we ran into a lot of other riders in front of us on this loop. We'd stay with the big group for a good hour or more before finally pulling the horses back to a walk to get us firmly back into our bubble. We missed our bubble.

While with the group, the horses finally began drinking really well. They'd continue this trend for the remainder of the loop. Very relieving to see! Q also led a fair bit of this big loop. I was SO PROUD of her. We let Dan and Felesha lead the fire roads and FS roads most of the time, but the single track was Q's. She marched along at a great 4 to 5 mph walk for a good time, too!

Q leading along the single track section

When we got to the hospitality check area, Q still refused to eat or drink much. Argh, mare! But because she'd been drinking on trail, I didn't fret too much. Dan and Felesha and I hung out there for a good time. We'd made such good time on the first loop that we knew we had all the time we'd need for the second.

As we finally left the hospitality stop, we passed Nicole and Carlos and called greetings to them in passing. Their out time had been a 10-12 minutes after ours. Our little trio trotted and walked a lot of the remaining 11 miles of loop 2. The horses continued to drink really, really well. We paused two (or was it three?) times to let them graze, too. They were famished for green grass at that point. At the final grazing spot, we let them go at it for a good 10 or 15 minutes. I was so happy Q was finally eating and recalled she'd done this very same thing 2 years ago at this ride - refused to eat at the first hold then been really interested in grass during the second loop.

Carlos and Nicole caught up to us at this last grazing spot. They rode with us for a time, but by the time we reached the second check/hold, they'd slowed up again. They were coming into camp as we were vetting.

Q vetted in with a 60/56 CRI and all As! Butch had a few Bs, but a remarkable 52/52 CRI. He was born for endurance. I was over the moon about Q's scores. Despite not eating, she'd been just fine and I'd done well by her letting her graze and drink so much during the loop. Bonus? She was FAMISHED and dove into all the food we could give her during the second hold! YASSS. I hogfaced, too, downing 4 fruit snacks gummies, a sandwich, and a bowl of soup along with a bottle of water. The sun was out, we had an easy 9 miles left, and life was good!

Alert and ready to head out for the final 9 miles!

Those final 9 miles were basically all on a gravel road. My shins were killing me, Dan's knees were killing him, and Felesha's ankles were bothering her. We were a mess! But the horses were still killing it. We trotted as much as we could so our suffering would be over sooner, but stopped once for the horses to take a big drink on the way.

We finished at 5p making our actual ride time excluding holds and our stop at the hospitality check about 8 hours! 'At'll do, Pig, 'at'll do.

We'd discussed pulsing in immediately, then going to trailer to clean up and untack before the final vetting, but because we (once again) hand walked the last half mile or so, we just said screw it and vetted immediately. My vetting pulse was my pulse time, too.

Final vetting was 60/60 CRI and all As! YES. Q has never had so many As all day long! As I mentioned at the very beginning, skin tenting isn't something I worry too much about because in my experience it seems to be something that vets judge a little differently and as long as the other hydration parameters are fine, it isn't something I fret over).

With completion attained, I asked the vet some questions.

"Okay. Today's gone really well for us. This horse has proven herself at 50s for a few years now and my next goal is the Old Dominion 100. The only limiting factor to this is the girthing issues we've had..." I proceeded to tell her about those and point out that while Q had no galling on her skin any more (I SOLVED THAT PUZZLE, YAY!), she still had some tenderness and mild swelling behind the elbow. I wanted the vet to tell me if that was something that would completely negate me from trying the 100.

No, it didn't alter Q's gait. No she didn't seem sensitive about the girthing up. In fact, except in faster movement downhills, the girth sits back beyond that area. She's tender if you touch it when the saddle is removed, but that's about it.

The vet didn't think it should limit us from doing the 100. It seems pretty mild overall. HURRAH (However, because it's still something I want to completely resolve, I am looking into modifying billets on my saddle to make it more like a centerfire rigged system. Conversations with Dom and Nicole (and a little input by Skip) helped confirm that this should be very doable. I'll be calling to inquire soon.)

Butch vetted through fine and also obtained a completion! Pretty outstanding for his first ever ride! Hell yes! And Felesha got a completion, too. Seriously, a great day!

We headed back to the trailer to untack and clean the horses up after this. I slipped Q's Equiflexsleeves on and set food in front of both Butch and Q before changing my clothes and walking about. (Walking/moving really helps me to avoid being so sore later.)

Mid face scratch on leg. Post tack removal and equiflexsleeve application. Pre grooming.

I want to detail a bit more of my night, but doing so will give away details on Dom, Nicole, and Carlos' completions. So, because I don't want to tell their stories for them, I'll forgo those details in my telling. Know that dinner was composed of ribs, chicken, pork, and steak provided by S&S and cooked on a charcoal grill at our camp. It was a really relaxing evening and we all crashed HARD afterwards.

Sunday: Homeward --

Sunday morning was a bit of a whirlwind to get organized and out of camp. Dan had things with timeframes he needed to adhere to later in the day. We were up and packing by 7a and on the road around 9a after bidding adieu to our friends.

The morning after. Looking GREAT.

Q's legs looked better than they ever have post-ride. A little swelling right above each fetlock, but not like she's been in the past. I was really pleased. This could be due to the Equiflexsleeves or because she was better conditioned. I can't say for sure. But I was pleased. Overall, she looked better the morning after than she's ever looked post-ride. She was perky and loose in her movements. Spring in her step with no evidence of stiffness. Even the girth area where there had been some minor swelling post ride was clean looking! YASSS.

When I finally reached Elkins and turned her loose later that day, she trotted and cantered to meet her friends. Clearly, she wasn't too beat!

I unloaded the trailer as quickly as I could back at the barn before heading home to die on the couch awhile. I just wanted to not move for a few hours! It was bliss.

Overall: So happy --

Q's confidence throughout this ride blew me away. She led more than she ever has and I felt so comfortable riding while she did so. In the past, I felt she was a bomb ready to explode into a spook at any second. Not so now! She's confident and comfortable with her job.

Additionally, her fitness is on point. She didn't lag all day. She was game for the faster pace at the beginning and fine with what we did the rest of the day. Several times when our little trio was alone, she was ready to move out more, but the other two horses couldn't quite handle it, so we slowed up. We had time, and I wanted her to eat and drink a bit more after the lack thereof at the first hold, so why push things? Could she have kept faster pace? Yeah, probably, but I didn't need to prove that to anyone.

The pace we kept for the day was spot on with my goal of 6 to 7 mph. 53 miles with 8 hour ride time results in a 6.6 average mph for the day. PERFECT. RIGHT where I wanted to be. Well within Q's capability and she had plenty of gas in the tank at the end (just what I wanted with my eye on a 100 next).

The big, big question for the day was how she'd do with the girth issues we'd had. I tightened up her crupper (by several holes) and her girth (by one hole) and added body glide to the skin behind her elbows. The combination of these things seems to have largely resolved the problem! She did have some swelling behind her elbows, but as the vet noted, it wasn't something that would be caught during an exam because it's far in front of where the true girthline is that vets check for soreness. The swelling Q did have from this ride resolved overnight (!!) and I do plan to get my billets adjusted so that the girth will sit further back per recommendations by others.

Q's shoes had a lot to do with our successes and the smoothness of the day. They lent to her confidence and aided in the lengthening of her stride so that she's so much happier trotting her big trot now than she'd been prior. (And the big trot she favors a lot of the time right now isn't even the biggest she's capable of!) I'm so totally sold on shoes for competition. She'll be barefoot a large majority of the year, but for competition, steel shoes all the way round (with pads for the 100) is the way to go. I cannot tell you what a luxury it was to not worry about boots at all this ride! Fantastic. And with the weather this ride presented, it would have been a VERY miserable day for boots indeed.

Heading out onto the second loop. This is not her big trot.

So, what's next? The Old Dominion 100! Q's getting 2 weeks off following No Frills. We'll ride more in the middle of May and maintain and build fitness a bit before a 2 week taper period preceding the 100.

I've spent the last 6 months mapping out the OD100 course on two mapping programs and by hand. I've analyzed the trail and figured out where the biggest climbs are, where the sections I can move out are, and I've even read blog accounts of others about the ride to know where things went wrong for them and what to expect from an on-the-ground perspective. I've ridden the first half of the course when I did the 50, and the No Frills ride tackles the northern half of the 100 course for a few miles, so I know a little bit of that, too.

Without seeing the whole course, I'm about as prepared as I can possibly be for knowing what to expect out on trail. I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch by any means, but I am doing all I can to go into this as prepared as I can possibly be for the Beast of the East. My numerous training rides in unforgiving Dolly Sods are more effort to be as ready as I can for the unrelenting trail that is the OD 100.

Physically, I know Q has it. I'm putting myself into mountain bike boot camp between now and then to further myself, as well. The only thing I'll have to wait until last minute to work on is heat conditioning since the body doesn't retain that kind of conditioning for long (and it just isn't hot enough yet to practice this).

I can't guarantee completion of such a feat because luck will play into a lot of things along the way, but I can sure as hell prepare myself and my horse as much as possible. No Frills 55 went wonderfully. It was the last significant check mark before I would let myself commit to the 100 for true and it honestly could not have gone any better. I'm so thrilled with where Q has gotten to and proud of the work we've accomplished to overcome our shortcomings from the past couple years. Miles and time and patience make a huge difference!

Cheers to such a great ride and fingers crossed for the next big thing. I couldn't be happier with this little horse. She's really turning into an outstanding, trustworthy trail partner.