Friday, August 11, 2017

Conditioning/Competing a Quarter Horse for Endurance

Alternate titles for this post:
  • How to Condition for Your First LD with the Bare Minimum of Effort
  • My QH is a Badass
  • Praise the Weather Gods
  • Luckier Than a 3-Legged Dog Playing Frogger on a 6-Lane Interstate

ARABIAN AND NON-ARABIAN BREEDS IN ENDURANCE

I want to state up front that I am in no way advocating for one breed over any other in the sport of endurance riding. I do not intend any kind of negative words/thoughts/energy toward any breed through this post. These are simply my thoughts and opinions based on my personal experience with a non-Arab in the world of AERC limited distance endurance riding (where n=1, which is not a significant statistic, folks, and I totally get that).

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The same river crossing we still use today pictured here in 2007

Competing a non-Arab breed in endurance (LDs or otherwise) isn't a remarkable feat. People do it all of the the time with great success. Many people prefer a non-Arab over an Arab for endurance for various reasons. It's awesome that so many breeds have found success at the sport.

But I will say, from my observations over the years, Arabians and Arabian crossbreeds (henceforth referred to as "Arabs" as a group) do have a significant advantage the majority of the time. (There are freakazoid individuals in any breed that can rival them, but these individuals are often few and far between.)

Arabs have metabolics that lend themselves very easily to the sport of endurance. They often pulse down to criteria (commonly 64 bpm or 60 bpm) quicker and more easily that non-Arabs. Additionally, Arabs often hold their conditioning fitness more easily (and often longer) than non-Arabs. As I commonly told my non-horse friends who didn't understand why conditioning Stan was different from conditioning Q, "Q is genetically superior. She's like the elite athletes from a family of other elite athletes you see that consistently kill it in a marathon year after year. Stan is your average run-of-the-mill blue collar worker who likes to watch TV more than exercise. One is infinitely easier to condition than the other." I'm sure you could come up with various analogies to get to the same point.

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Not an Arab. This mare is a Percheron/QH who was a pretty common sight at east coast LDs. Her owner now has a Belgian. 

None of this means that non-Arabs are sub-par or lesser within this sport! Oh, no. It just means that their human partners often work a little more "outside of the box" so far as managing them for success. And that's awesome. Those people are often better horsemen due to it. There is a lot to be said for knowing multiple ways to manage certain conditions instead of just sticking to one method.

CONDITIONING STAN: PAST and PRESENT TIME & MILES

When I conditioned Stan for RBTR it's first year in 2007, I didn't know what the HELL I was getting into. Sonya (his owner then) knew that the club was putting on the ride in August and that it was basically a long trail ride. She looked on the internet and found an endurance conditioning article beginners, printed it off, and gave it to me one evening at the barn. I don't remember what that article said other than recommending riding for at least an hour a day, 5 days a week. I'm pretty sure they assumed people would be conditioning in an arena for the majority of these hours.

Well, I didn't have an arena; I had trails at my disposal. I had many trails over mountains, and on what we originally hoped would be the RBTR course. It wasn't easy terrain by any breadth of the imagination. So, I applied that article in my own way and I rode Stan a minimum of 5 days a week for an hour to three hours each time on the trails at a trot and canter. He was in killer shape. I can't tell you how his pulsing was, but I know it had to have been better than it was this year!

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A very fit Stan in 2007, damn he looked good!

In contrast to 2007, my conditioning for RBTR 2017 looked like this:
  • January - 8 total rides of which 2 were trail rides recording 14.3 trail miles.
  • February - 4 total rides of which 3 were trail rides recording 10.4 trail miles.
  • March - 2 total rides of which both were trail rides recording 7.1 trail miles.
  • April - 4 total rides of which 3 were trail rides recording 9.1 trail miles.
  • May - 7 total rides of which 5 were trail rides recording 30.6 trail miles
  • June - 5 total rides of which all were trail rides recording 47 trail miles.
  • July - 7 total rides of which 6 were trail rides recording 60.45 trail miles.

In total, from January through July, Stan completed 178.95 miles over the course of 26 trail rides.

That's like...nothing. Especially considering what we'd done in the past and what I've done with Q in 2012-2014 when I was originally legging her up for the various endurance distances LD through 50. When legging Q and Griffin up in more recent years, we'd rack up ~180 miles in 3½ months not 7!

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Probably my favorite conditioning ride this year

Regardless, while I knew Stan and I didn't have the quantity of miles I wanted to have under our belts from conditioning, I didn't question his ability to complete 30 miles. Hell, we'd had one ride of 23 miles in each June and July that he handled beautifully over terrain similar to - possibly harder than - RBTR terrain. But completing miles is only half the battle with endurance. The other half is pulsing to criteria intermittently throughout the completion of those miles (keeping metabolics at good levels). And pulsing to criteria during hot, humid summer days isn't easy.

CONDITIONING STAN: HR RECOVERIES

See, I'd also been monitoring Stan's recoveries during several of our July workouts. And frankly, his recoveries sucked. After one particular hill sprint workout on a sunny 81ºF day (above normal for us this summer; it's been in the mid-70s a lot) with relative-high humidity and little to no breeze, he was around 100 bpm 15 minutes after work, at 76 bpm after an additional 30 minutes in which I actively cooled him with a cold hose and scraping, and at 66 bpm after yet another additional 34 minutes where he stood quietly and calmly with a buddy in the shady barn. That's downright horrible. And that was on July 27, 9 days before the race. Yeah...

So the fact that I was a bit erm, spazzy? about our chances of completing RBTR this year from a meeting-pulse-criteria standpoint wasn't too ludicrous. We didn't have the level of conditioning we should have had. At. All.

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Second favorite conditioning ride this year

Now, let's take into consideration that he'd just done 11 hill sprints at full-bore effort and he'd never be expected to do that during a ride. His HR should have no reason to be nearly that high at any point in the race. Period. But STILL. That his recovery was that piss poor 1 hour and 19 minutes after max exertion was of great concern to me. (Thankfully there was nothing going on behind the scenes to contribute to his poor HR recovery. He's just a QH dealing with stupid humid weather with no movement of air. His human (hai!) with her pale skin and red hair who acclimates better to cold than heat was also pissy and hot and having trouble keeping her own HR low due to the weather, too.)

So, following that ride I sent texts to my endurance mentor and another endurance rider who has successfully competed a non-Arab over many miles with mostly top 10 completions asking for help. Through conversations with them, the next time I rode Stan on July 29 (13 flat miles on the rail trail at only a trot), I electrolyted him immediately before and after the ride and gave him 40cc of calcium gluconate afterwards, too. I also made a point to walk him the final ¾-mile to the barn so he could have a chance to get his HR down.

When I hopped off at the barn, I administered the electrolytes and calcium gluconate and checked his HR. 54 bpm! Boom.

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A common view during our regular conditioning loop

The weather for this 13-mile ride was a cool 64ºF with a slight breeze and overcast skies. I'd be a complete dumbass if I didn't note how huge bigly a factor that was in helping his HR. Other beneficial factors were: the electrolytes, calcium gluconate, flat workout with no climbing, walking in for ¾-mile, and sticking to a trot and only a trot. Excepting the weather and the climbing, I could replicate every other factor for RBTR.

RACE DAY SUCCESSES

The 13-mile ride left me feeling a lot more optimistic about RBTR than I had days prior. Still, I knew the weather was going to play a HUGE FREAKING ROLE in how hard or easy success would come to us re: meeting pulse criteria. Fortunately, as of July 29, a cold front was predicted to hit the night before the ride; the weather on ride day would be overcast with a high of 64ºF.

This kind of weather report can and will change, but I was grateful and very fortunate it held through this year. The prediction for weather on race day Friday morning before the ride was partly cloudy with a high of 71ºF. The actual weather ended up being in the upper 50s and low 60s with overcast skies until around noon when the clouds broke up and the sun broke through to bring things to the predicted high of 71ºF. There was a steady 5-10 mph breeze from morning to night.

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Race day trails

Knowing what I know, doing my homework, and planning to control all I could from the italicized factors above, I found success on race day due to:
  • THE WEATHER. Race day was 60-68ºF with low humidity and 5-10 mph breezes. Cloud cover dominated for 75% of our ride with patchy sunshine for the final quarter.
  • KNOWLEDGE OF TRAIL. I know the RBTR trails very, very well and knew where I could afford to move out and where I should save a little.
  • CONDITIONED TO CLIMB. While deficient in time and miles, our training included copious gains in elevation. While Stan lived in Canaan, (yeah, still no good situation in Canaan so all horses are once again a 50 minute drive from me) our rides included a minimum of 1,000' elevation gain each. Stan and I only did 9 conditioning trail rides between June 3 and July 21. A conservative estimate is that Stan climbed 9,000 feet. When you go through my GPS statistics and actually calculate the total elevation gain from all 9 rides you discover that we climbed at least 11,880 feet over 90.15 miles. That certainly doesn't suck! I'm very fortunate to have access to terrain like this for conditioning.
  • HISTORY. My history with Stan facilitated our training and movement down the trail in both conditioning and competition. Our relationship spans 10+ years with a solid few years of nothing in the middle. Fortunately, Stan is such that he picks up right where he left off after any length of time. He was fatter and less in shape for his 5 years as a pasture puff when he entered my life again on July 31, 2016, but his mind was just as wonderful as it's always been.
  • ELECTROLYTES. I dosed Stan 2x on Friday with a 50/50 mix Perform 'N Win & Enduramax mixed with apple juice and molasses. I dosed him again before the ride on Saturday morning and at the hold with the same. At the finish when he had issues with cramping in his hind end, I dosed him with the calcium gluconate. He drank beautifully all day long, increasingly so as the day wore on. Shy of the weather, I firmly believe the horse had another loop in him and could have completed 50 miles.

Really, the way I look at it, what it all boils down to is the weather. I got luckier than shit with the weather forecast. If the weather had been its typical humid, muggy, hot, no-breeze, temperatures in the 80s, we would have had a MUCH different day. That day would have been infinitely slower in average pace (5 mph vs. the 7 mph we achieved) and I would have spent a lot longer on my own two feet than in the saddle heading back into the hold and finish (1 mile instead of ½-¾-mile).

CONCLUSION

So, what's the point of this post? Well, mostly I wanted to document all of this for my future self while it's fresh in my mind. But also, I want to put out there to the world that you CAN condition a non-Arab for this sport and find success without riding 15+ miles per week for 5+ months. I've told people for years that any [sound, healthy] horse can go out and complete an LD within the time criteria. And now I've lent more support to that statement from my own experiences this summer.

I've also said that with continued management of fitness following a successful LD, any [sound, healthy] horse can go out and complete a 50(+) mile endurance ride, provided you have some checks and balances in place for managing your metabolics. Metabolics make things trickier though and require more initiative on the part of the rider, so this statement is one I've only stated cautiously to specific audiences.

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I could go for a different brand of beer, but c'mon, how fun does this look?

Certainly, a variety of factors, especially the weather and terrain that you condition and compete over, play into the game of success for this sport. But the conditioning side of things really isn't as daunting as it seems. In a 7 month training period, I never rode Stan more than 60 miles in a month. I never worked Stan more than 8 times in a month in any fashion. You can break these numbers down by the days in a month in various ways to visualize how little effort this is over the course of time one has available. It's SO possible.

So, what do you think? Have you ever wondered about giving this sport a try whether for cross-conditioning for another discipline or just to see if you could go the distance? Maybe you've never considered it, but you've got a pretty fit horse that's been participating in HTs, dressage, or hunter paces and now the wheels are turning in your head about the possibility of pursuing an LD? Whether to simply cross it off the list of "Things Tried" or to cross-condition for another sport or even to give you a little more drive and impetus to get out and ride your horse with a goal-driven purpose, I encourage you to give it a go if you're interested. It's pretty fun to spend the time and miles with horses and friends traveling across beautiful countryside.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ride Between the Rivers 2017

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Can I just start by saying that this was some of the most fun I've had on horseback in a long time? Because it really was. Stan performed so amazingly and in such a manner that my future training of Q and other endurance horses in my life will be modified with the goal of achieving that level of performance. Stan kept a steady pace and motored down the trail with minimal input from me the whole day. He was confident, reliable, and trustworthy as he navigated the trail. It was a complete joy to ride him and I'm so grateful to have him back in my life.

FRIDAY

Between Dan, Lauren's whole family, Austen, Chuck, and myself, we had quite the little compound in camp this year. And in terms of setup, I think it was my favorite yet! My typical spot was already taken (by the ONLY people in camp on Wednesday when I went out to nab it, like seriously?!), and while that caused me some minor grief at the time, it turned out to be a good thing because we got a corner spot that we partitioned off to ourselves. We were friendly enough with our neighbors and others the whole weekend, but I can honestly say I didn't hate having our own private corner of the world. Our party was big enough at 9 people that we had enough going on!

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Our compound for the weekend

With camp setup and registration complete, we setup a few things for the race the next day and visited as we awaited the arrival of the horse Austen would ride. I'd put a call out on Facebook a few weeks prior in the endurance groups asking if anyone had a spare horse for RBTR. Holly, whom I've crewed for in the past, answered my call with a tentative "yes" which she firmed up about a week out from the ride.

Dan put the front shoe Stan had lost in the days preceding the ride back on in the mean time. Dan pointed out that it had come off because of how much foot Stan had grown in the ~3 weeks since he was last shod; he said Stan put on more hoof in that time than his mare typically did in 6 months. Well, then! Fortunately, the other three shoes were still in good shape and wouldn't pose a problem for us the rest of the weekend.

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Stan was using Dan as a pillow for his WHOLE head right before this photo

Right around the time we expected Holly to arrive, Austen and I wandered through camp seeing if we could spot her. Perhaps she'd already arrived and we'd missed her? As luck would have it, she was pulling in right that moment! I introduced everyone and we helped guide her to a camping spot and then get setup for the weekend. Through that process, she and Austen became well acquainted and I left them to it and struck off toward our camp.

With Austen settled and four shoes firmly attached once more on Stan, Lauren and I vetted in. Both boys pulsed at 52 which was a bit higher than I wanted to see. However, since the Arab was the same as my QH, I decided to just let my worries over it go, especially after Stan received all As on his vet-in!

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Smile, Stan!

Stan and I were vetted in by who I consider to be the toughest vet at any ride I've been to. She LOVED him. She asked if he had any Arab in him (nope) and noted that he moved a lot like one. We talked a lot about his history with me and in general and she shared some products that may help with his hives from insects. I thanked her for the advice but noted that any intensely regimented allergy protocol probably wouldn't happen because he would be on an extended vacation after this ride because I simply don't have the time to keep three horses in full work right now. She was shocked that he'd just be a pasture puff and she expressed interest in leasing him if I was every interested, stating he is just the type of horse she wants to ride.

After chatting it up with the vet for a time, I realized there was a lot of commotion with Lauren's vet in. I glanced at her fact to see a very concerned expression. I waited for the conclusion of whatever was going on before leaving the vet area and even queried our vet as to what was up. "He's lame," she told me simply, never one to beat around the bush.

Oh dear.

Lauren was released from the vetting with her ride card in hand and I asked her, "Hey, what's going on? Is everything okay?"

"He's lame," she replied, her expression absolutely demoralized, "His scrapes from last weekend [from a minor incident at home] are making him lame. They said we can start if we're really careful."

Oh boy. I turned to the vets she'd been working with and queried, "Can you tell me what's going on with her horse exactly? I'm her sponsor for the ride and it would be helpful for me to know what to watch for and be cautious of so we can do all we can to help him out."

"He's lame on the left front and compensating through the hind end. Soak him in the river and with some ice and get something on the cuts to help protect them," they told me.

"Oh, absolutely! We can do all of those things. We'll be taking it slow tomorrow, too. No problem there!"

Poor Lauren was absolutely downtrodden as we headed back to our camp after vetting. I told her various stories of people I'd known who had dealt with similar situations and been just fine. I also outlined a game-plan of icing his legs, doing a betadine scrub, and applying desitin to help alleviate any soreness MJ was experiencing as much as possible. Her parents jumped right on board with it all, and we all continued to try to cheer a very discouraged and concerned Lauren that all would be well.

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Chillin' in the river

Shortly after, Lauren and I set off on a short pre-ride where I continued to do all I could to stymie her concerns. She's the type to go deep into her own head when something is wrong internalizing to the point that she recreates reality to fit the concern. I've met many adults like this and they're hard to work with, but fortunately, Lauren's still at an age where the advice of a mentor and friend can offset some of her internal struggles and bring her back to a more positive place.

I was upfront with her saying that I absolutely saw what the vets saw, but MJ didn't express any stress through the rest of his body language. His very slight lameness was similar to she or I having a cut or blister on the back of our heel and continuing to walk/jog/hike. Additionally, of course it was more pronounced on the gravel! Even Stan, despite shoes, was short striding more on the gravel. It isn't the most enjoyable surface to work on!

I made a point of checking in with Lauren about MJ's movement and how he felt on every unique surface we traveled over during our pre-ride. I also helped her describe in words how he felt under saddle to her, noting that it was important to be able to describe what was going on to the vets. Finally, I made certain she knew that she absolutely did not have to ride the next day if she was concerned greatly about MJ. I added that I truly didn't believe what was going on was in any way life-threatening or life-crippling, but just quite uncomfortable in the moment.

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Austen snapped this as she headed out on her pre-ride

By the end of our preride, Lauren was much more optimistic about things. We'd spent nearly as much time standing in the river letting his legs soak in the cool water as we had walking around. In my honest opinion, the horse looked much better returning the mile to camp than he had going out. I think the combination of movement and soaking in that cold water was just what his legs needed. Lauren's cheerier demeanor told me she seemed to agree.

Regardless, when we returned to camp, her parents, per my recommendation, had a bucket of ice water waiting for MJ. Once untacked, the family stood doting on him as his front left was soaked for a good 20 minutes before we scrubbed it (and his other lesser scrapes) and put desitin on them.

After tending to MJ, Lauren's family and I headed down to the swimming hole for a bit before the ride meeting. We actually were late to the ride meeting, but because our campsite bordered the meeting area, we were able to hear everything we needed to about the changes in the trail for the year, the vet criteria, and other relevant news.

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A Kenai and MJ tail shot. Oh, and Stan. His ride number was the same as his age.

Following dinner, our little camp sat about in the dark laughing and drinking and sharing stories. It was fun to have Chuck in camp as he has far more experience in the sport than any of us, though he hasn't been very active in the recent decade. (He started the Canaan 50 way back when; that ride has been gone for 20+ years now, though as a Canaan local I still ride on many of the original trails.) I enjoyed picking up tidbits of information as Chuck told stories and laughed as subjects moved into less endurance-focused territories. Eventually, I called it for the night and others quickly followed my lead. Saturday would dawn early and we all needed rest.



RIDE DAY

Due to our proximity to the volunteer camp and radio headquarters/breakfast area, our little camp was roused at 4am when the generator kicked on. Oi vey.

I stayed in my tent for another two hours lapsing in and out of a subconscious state before finally rousing myself a little after 6am to wander around a bit getting things ready for my day.

The 50s were to start at 6:30am. I paused my morning efforts to blip up to the start to see Austen and Holly off on their venture, visiting with two of my childhood best friends in the process who were volunteering for the day. They were excited to be present for the day's events and, while uneventful, the start of the 50s was fun for them to witness.

With most of the horses in camp out on trail, I headed back to finish getting ready for the day. Our start would be an hour later at 7:30 and I knew it would sneak up on me if I wasn't paying attention. I readied myself, briefed the crew, and tacked Stan while Lauren iced MJ's leg one more time before the race.

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Go team!

Like a well-oiled machine, Lauren and I were mounted in time to warm-up and our crew was solid with their directions for the day by 7:10. Lauren and I walk-trotted around in camp to get the boys ready and calm nerves.

After her first trot on MJ that morning, a huge smile broke across Lauren's face. "He feels AMAZING!" she beamed.

"Good because he looks, awesome, Lauren. I hope you believe me now when I say [again] what a good job you've done with him this summer! He's 50-mile-ready; today should be a walk in the park," I returned.

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Darlin', you better wake up so we can do the thing.

And then, just like that, I looked up to see that trail was open and the 30s were off! Dan and Butch were the second pair out of camp, Butch giving Dan a bit of sass as they headed out, which gave me a good chuckle.

"Let's go, kid!" I called to Lauren and we headed around the trailers and made our way out onto trail.

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Easy going start, me laughing at Chuck
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Stan was not psyched to be leaving camp at first

Very quickly, Lauren and I found ourselves in a nice little pocket alone on trail. We would keep this for almost the whole ride, only passing one party about 6 miles in. It was GLORIOUS to ride alone in our own little zone all day. Stan did the majority of the leading, too, but MJ did step up to the plate when needed to keep our pace going.

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Look,  Ma, no hands!

The weather was holding steady with overcast skies and temperatures in the lower 60s. The humidity was minimal and I was PSYCHED. This was exactly what we needed to guarantee a successful go of it for Stan whose pulse I knew would hang high at the check and finish. I kept Lauren and I at a trot for the entire first loop, but we rated the trot anywhere from a 5 mph pace to a 11 mph pace, averaging 7 mph the majority of the time.

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Mole and Rocky

Both horses were strong and handily tackled everything on the trail. We trotted 95% of the loop, motoring along through mud, sand, clay, and gravel dodging rocks, logs, and puddles as necessary.

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Literally how I held the reins the majority of the ride

My two favorite stretches of trail, the old railroad grade after the second river crossing and the ORV trail on the top of the ridge were even more fun this year with Stan. Q, my little spook monster, motors through these same sections, but does so with a cautious eye and nimble feet ready to duck, dodge, spook at a moment's notice. Stan, while not spook proof, simply doesn't fret over strange objects the way Q does. He watches them intently, and if they don't move or alter he just keeps marching onward. He certainly side steps and gives a wide berth to questionable things, but he does so in a very smooth, mostly predictable fashion. I rarely felt off balance throughout the whole day.

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The old RR grade

Taking full advantage of the amazing cool weather, fit horses, and knowledge of the trail, Lauren and I completed the first loop (14.5 miles) in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

We were sharing the crew area with Dan, Holly, Austen, and Sandy. As Lauren and I arrived, Dan, Holly, and Austen were just leaving. Perfect! We'd keep this order of things throughout the day, that trio finishing before Lauren and I, and Lauren and I finishing before Sandy's arrival.

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Descending Rattlesnake Drop

Both MJ and Stan were pulsed to criteria and through the first vetting within 5 minutes of arrival. Stan received all As and a B for wounds due to small knicks on his hind fetlocks; his CRI was 60/56. MJ received all As and a B for cap refill; his CRI was 52/48. Not too shabby!

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NOMZ

Lauren's parents tended to her and MJ while Chuck pestered me to death to make sure I ate and drank while he took care of Stan. Just the kind of crewing I needed! If I wasn't taking care of myself, I was hearing about how I should until I did! I ultimately ate a sandwich, some jerky, and had half a gatorade while Stan polished off a large tub of grain/beet pulp/alfalfa pellets and helped himself to some of Holly's alfalfa hay.

By 10:32, we were back on trail, the same loop a second time. The boys weren't quite as gung ho for those first few miles, but by the second river crossing, they'd found their stride and were really stepping out.

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The second river crossing
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Pretty for a photo, but that rock is NOT natural

Our second trip along the railroad grade I got in a minor fight with Stan about avoiding puddles and we ultimately ended up cantering/galloping the whole RR section. I knew Lauren would be psyched to move out and it was totally flat, so why not? Stan and I got back on a good page with one another and the short speedy section helped wake him up.

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RR grade again - movin' out!

We zipped across the first road crossing, and cruised through another gravel section to the next spotter at the base of the long slog up the gravel road.

The sun came out right as we reached the base of the gravel climb. We'd trotted the whole thing on the first loop, but I planned to give the boys some walking breaks this time around. Between the 21 miles traveled by this point and the sunshine, I knew they'd both benefit from a slower pace.

Lauren and I were also dreading the climb a bit. New to the sport and riding in general, Lauren still loathes all gravel riding. I recognize it as a necessary evil and admit that while boring, it isn't completely awful. The sunshine had me more concerned from a pulsing standpoint for Stan! Fortunately, the cloud cover was still dominating the sky so we should have a fair bit of shade in our last 7 miles.

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Pump Station Pub!

Well into the final quarter of the ride by the top of the gravel road climb, we halted the horses for a breather and some carrots while I accepted a beer from Jen's husband Roger, the forever-pump-station spotter. He'd taken his boredom from past years and channeled it this year to create the Pump Station Pub at the top of the hill where he had coolers (which all our spotters have but not as visible as this) with water, green tea, beer, and moonshine. While the horses munched carrots, I got a Bud Light to go (Anheuser Busch is a sponsor of our ride) and Lauren and I continued to my next favorite section of trail on the ridge line.

Thanks to making the most of the weather, by the time we were starting this stretch of trail, we had a solid 4 hours left on the clock before we HAD to be pulsed to criteria and vetted and only 5 miles of trail to go. We could walk the rest of the ride and be fine. It was a great feeling to not have to worry about the clock at all.

This knowledge coupled with the fact that our horses were fresh and happy and eating and drinking well, I just let loose mentally and allowed myself to fully enjoy the remainder of the ride, especially this section of trail.

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Endurance riding, brought to you by Bud Light!

In fact, knowing I had service up there, I did something I had yet to do on my Instagram and shared a story chock-full of videos so that others could appreciate the fun I was having.


Finally, the fun wooded ORV trail ended, we checked in with the spotters at the top of Rattlesnake Drop, let the horses drink their fill from the trough, and headed down the hill.

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Back down Rattlesnake...

Two spotters later, I had a second beer in hand:

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Blue mountains...wait is that still a thing or are all the cans that way now?

We trotted down the road a little ways more until the next river crossing where we hung out and let the horses drink their fill for about 5 minutes. Lauren even scored an errant sponge that someone had dropped in the river!

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A huge smile on her face after fetching a sponge from the river

From this crossing, we had another 2-2½ miles to go. Stan powered along the last section of trail like a boss and we paused again at the final river crossing to let the horses drink well before polishing off the last mile of the ride.

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Walking into the finish, not as glorious as riding, but so much better for Stan's HR!

We dismounted about a half mile from the finish and hand fed carrots as we walked in (something we did on the first loop, as well). About 100 feet from the finish, my BO called out to get back on for a finish photo. I had Stan's bit out and his girth loose so I tightened up one billet strap and hopped on with his reins still hooked as a lead rope for the last few feet for a photo.

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There will be a better, clearer one of these eventually...

We stripped tack and set to sponging and scraping immediately upon finishing. Stan was running high at 73 after a few minutes (sunshine and temps in the upper 60s), but MJ was down to 54 already so I sent Lauren to vet in and finish while Chuck and I continued to work on Stan, moving him into the shade of the tent and gratefully accepting some ice water another rider didn't want to throw out (OMG THANK YOU STRANGE RIDER!).

I continued to sponge and scrape Stan with ice water, keeping my eyes trained on Lauren in the vetting area to see how her final vetting went as I cooled Stan. In moments, I saw a huge smile break across her face and knew she'd completed!

After a few moments more, Chuck and I had Stan down to 60, the finish criteria.

We walked v.e.r.y.s.l.o.w.l.y. to the P&R folks and the vet check where I checked Stan with my handheld one more time before the P&R folks could - 57!

Dr. Nick called us over and I very succinctly shared my concern about his pulse being really close to criteria, noting that his QH nature would keep it as such. Nick grinned up at me, "56! Down and back, please." I grinned in reply and set off down the alley for our final trot out.

Stan
Trrrrrrottting...sound?

As we arrived back, the vet who complimented Stan so much the day prior was passing by (the vet check was really chill at this point and they were taking turns going to get lunch) and called, "How is he doing?"

"Great! Unless Nick says otherwise!" I grinned.

Nick was checking Stan's other vitals during my short interaction with the other vet. When I turned back to him he told me, "Well, his pulse is fine, but you've got another problem," he made eye contact with me as I raised my eyebrows encouraging him to continue, "he's lame," Nick finished.

Well, fuck.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"I think his hind end is just a little crampy," Nick replied, walking to hands hind end to prod around a bit as his wife and scribe confirmed Stan reacting (ear flick and pinched nostrils) in response to the prodding.

"She's got 15 minutes until her cut off," Nick's wife told him.

"Okay," Nick answered, looking at me, "go see if you can work this out and come represent for your completion in 15 minutes."

"Absolutely!" I answered and struck back off for our tent where I immediately set to work massaging Stan's hind end while Dan held him.

I've watched my mentor Mary struggle with hind end crampiness in her gelding Gryphon a lot at checks and especially the finish, so I knew just what I needed to do and set to work getting it done. Massage, massage, massage, back him up several steps, rinse, repeat. I also dosed him with some calcium gluconate during this period to try to help relieve the cramping (he'd been dosed fairly heavily with a mixture of Enduramax and Perform 'N Win throughout the day, too).

Finally, after our allotted time had passed, I marched him back up to represent.

Nick waved me right over and we trotted out and back. On the return, I refused to even make eye contact with Nick, much like I'd done with Q at the second Bird Haven checkpoint on our hundred miler last June. I didn't want his eyes to give me a tell or even false hope if there was none.

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Not making eye contact with Nick

After halting Stan, I finally looked up at Nick with a So-What'll-It-Be? look on my face. "I saw enough sound steps in there," he declared, "You've got a completion!"

I literally squealed and gave Nick an awkward fast hug, pinning his arms to his side for a fraction of a second before releasing him, grinning. (Sorry, Nick.) I rehashed the whole "10 years ago at this ride..." story and Nick smiled and said he remembered overhearing me tell someone the day prior.

And like that, Stan had a completion! Finally.

As a quick aside: I do want to note more for myself than anything how surprisingly little I cared if we actually got a completion. When Nick's words about Stan being lame were first spoken, I didn't get the typical gut-wrenching stomach flip I've had at past rides when a pull was very possible. Instead, I found myself going, "Huh, okay, that sucks, but whatever!" because all that really mattered to me was that Lauren completed. It helped knowing Stan wasn't life-crippling or life-threateningly lame, too. I'm so psyched we DID complete, but I honestly would have been okay if we hadn't, too, and my total "okayness" with that surprised me a lot - in a good way!

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Happily completed horses

Back at our camp, I settled Stan with another mash, wrapped his legs, groomed him, and changed my clothes before heading over to the timer booth to watch the rest of the ride. I day drank, visited with my friends, and waited Austen's finish for a few hours, helping other riders as the moment presented. It was really enjoyable.

Unlike the rider meeting the night before, we were ready and early to the rider awards ceremony. It was your typical pomp and circumstance until we got to the awards for the LD. See, I knew Lauren and I had completed faster than we planned, but I didn't know where we were in the field of competitors at all.

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Lauren snapped this. I love it so much.

It turns out there were 33 starters in the LD. I figured we'd be somewhere around 20th. But then my name wasn't called. We passed the 19th place, still not my name, the 17th place, still not my name, the 14th place, still not my name! I began having fleeting curiosities about Lauren being in the top 10? But no, she'd have been asked about BC and that didn't happen...

Finally, "13th place, Liz Stout riding Stan; 12th place Lauren riding Majayda Lethyf..." DAMN! I'd had NO idea our lovely little pocket for the day was that far up, but I'd sure as hell take it.

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CHEERS! Yes, completion prizes are a custom mug full of beer!

Lauren was even more psyched than I was about it because I'd been preparing her for weeks now that we'd be back of the pack finishers. I was so happy for her that our surprise finish was so much higher than anticipated.

Awards dinner completed, we all headed back to our camp compound as the band started up. We played cornhole and visited until sleep drew us away, exhausted from a long, fun day.

RBTR 2017 may have been my favorite yet. The company was great, having my childhood friends in attendance sweetened the pot, the weather was incredible, Stan was outstanding all day, Lauren got her first completion on her own horse, and the surprise higher-than-expected placing was the icing on the cake. It really couldn't have been much better. Additionally, I really felt like this was the first ride where I troubleshooted all issues beautifully and that troubleshooting directly influenced how well the day went. My learning within the sport is FAR from over, but it's a really good feeling to know that I do have the knowledge-base for this sport to work through things without always relying on mentors.

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"Did I do a good thing?" "Yes, yes, Stan. You did a very good thing."

Stan's performance was seriously the greatest thing for me though. To literally be able to just "go along for the ride" and not nitpick, micromanage, or worry one little bit about a thing was so wonderful. It's definitely partly attributed to his QH brain vs. the typical Arab or hot sporthorse brain, but it also is attributed to his age and our past relationship. I loved every single second of trail at this ride with Stan as my partner. While time isn't on my side at the moment, I may yet try to find a way to keep his fitness level close to a competition-ready place for the future so I can have more fun like this. Time will tell... 😉