Monday, October 28, 2013

Fort Valley 50: Q's a boss

An alternate title could be:

Fort Valley 50: Best Crew EVER

But as this story is basically all about how awesome the little mare is...

The story is long, but I've done my best to concisely cover everything.

Friday: I woke up early to finish packing. The morning had dawned very crisp and cold, the kind that makes you question why in the hell you even want to be out in it sans skis. There was a light dusting of snow all over the fields surrounding my barn apartment and the mountain tops had a heavier layer.

I had everything loaded in my car within 15 minutes or so as I'd packed it all the night prior. This left me enough time to shower and warm up then scarf some food before rolling to the barn to *hopefully* get the little monster loaded on the trailer.

My friend Hannah who would be riding over with me and crewing alongside Saiph and Charles (who were meeting us there) arrived at the barn moments behind me. I loaded a couple things I hadn't the night prior and fetched the little monster from the field. She was a muddy mess.

I tossed a light blanket on her once we reached the barn. Dee came down from the house to help with the trailering issue.

My arm was pretty effing sore, but heaps and loads better than it had been. We tried to get Q to just get on, but once she had two feet on she'd back right back off. We got her to get on completely once, but she WHIRLED around and darted right off and into the round pen where Dee when after her with the lunge line with the mutterings of, "Here we go."

She sent miss snakey-head-tossing sassy-pants around the pen. This really does nothing but work Q up more as its nigh impossible to tucker out the little endurance queen. We'll have to come up with a more creative solution for overcoming the trailer issue this winter.

After several circuits, Dee requested that Q load up. She trotted through the door and up onto the trailer, WHIRLED around and stood nostrils flaring with anxiety. As Dee made move to close the door, Q darted off.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat with the round pen. The second time Q loaded up she WHIRLED around, but stayed standing. We talked low and steady to her and slowly closed the door. We'd tied a rope to it that Dee could swing to me so that if Q did decide to challenge the door she'd be unable to bowl anyone over with it. I grabbed the rope and with a *clunk* the door was closed.

"That wasn't so bad," proclaimed Dee. I sighed with relief and closed the mare up. Hoping she'd be okay riding 3+ hours backwards. I was a little concerned she wouldn't be able to eat any hay or other treats I'd placed in the front manger, but oh well. She was loaded and its the best we could hope for.

Hannah loaded her stuff into my car and we pulled out of the drive at 9a sharp, just as I'd planned - Q only dancing a little in agitation on the trailer.

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I'd routed the trip so that instead of having to go up-down, up-down, up-down over about 5 mountains on the two-lane highway, I'd instead only have to climb up once and descend once prior to reaching Corridor H. This would help out both the horse and my car/gas mileage.

The light layering of snow that lay around home grew thicker as we climbed in elevation into one of the snowiest counties in the state. Fortunately, it hadn't been extremely cold and the snow plows had been out and had treated the roads, so they were completely clear, albeit wet.

All the same, I can check off driving a trailer in the snow!

All in all, the trip took 3 hour 15 minutes from point to point. Not too shabby, and not a bad haul at all!

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Ride camp was night and day difference, weather wise.

Upon arrival, Hannah and I cruised to the back row of trailers and parked beside Mary.

We got Q off the trailer, and Hannah let her graze on the lush, green grass while I prepped her pen.

By the time I was beginning to set up other parts of our little camp, Saiph and Charles pulled up! Team Q was all accounted for!

The four of us proceeded to finish putting camp together as Q grazed in her corral.

Sometime during this period, Catherine (who I rode with at Ride Between the Rivers when I rode the grey war mare) pulled in on our other side! Now I had my two riding buddies and endurance mentors from this year flanking me! I couldn't have asked for better company!


Team Q got registered and bought some raffle tickets for the Asgard Arabian gelding they'd be raffling off the following evening and then headed to the vet check with Q.

My little monster had transformed in the ride over the mountains. She'd gone from a terror to her old, sweet self. This 100% had to do with her being AWAY from the barn and her friends. Instead of depending so heavily upon them she instead transfers that reliance to me and other humans that interact frequently with her while away from home.  

(As an aside, I'm nearly certain that her insane behavior at the barn of late is due to the addition of another horse a few months back. All of the horses are in a tizzy since his arrival. Since his owner hasn't been out once since dropping him off, its likely we will consider putting him in the back field through the winter if all of this ridiculous behavior keeps up.)

Q nearly fell asleep while awaiting her turn to vet in. She was completely blissed out in the sun despite the flurry of activity around her. As a result, she pulsed in at 40!!

 I was over the moon about this - I think Saiph was equally thrilled as I'm pretty sure her smile mirrored my own. Hurrah for having such a relaxed, in-shape little monster!


We returned Miss Thing to her corral and the four of us + Kenai wandered camp for a bit browsing at Running Bear, Taylored Tack, and the OD yard sale.

This pursuit ended up with me buying a new sponge leash, Hannah purchasing a used English saddle and irons, and Saiph finding some beta/biothane tack (a headstall and reins, I believe) in electric blue for Lilybird.


After our shopping spree, I decided to tack Q up and ride around the field in ridecamp for a bit.

Upon pulling out the required tack bits for tacking up though, I discovered that I had FORGOTTEN MY SADDLE PAD!

I fretted over this for a second or two before realizing that someone was bound to have an extra. Catherine came to my rescue with an Equipedic pad that fit very similarly to the Toklat with foam inserts I typically used. Thank GOD for overprepared friends!!

I completed tacking up Q, and mounted for the first time in nearly 2 weeks!

I had a little more of a sassy horse than usual, but nothing insane.

After I spun around on her for a short time, I had Saiph leg up so that she could try out the treeless Ansur that I find SO comfortable. She and Q tooled around for a time, and then I legged back up for a bit more before deciding I was content with Q's behavior.

Team Q helped me untack her, and then we all proceeded to sit around and chat for a bit.

Mary arrived again from picking up the junior rider who would be riding Sienna the next morning, and also picking up her 22 year old Quarab, Shiloh with whom she competed for over a decade in distances from LD to 100s. I was thrilled to meet him - finally! A friend of Mary's would be riding him in the LD the following morning - quite the treat for them both as Shiloh misses his job and the rider would get the thrill of riding a horse who reads the trail ribbons and has a ton of "go" in him.

Mary informed me that she and the junior, Hunter, would be headed out on a short ride if I wanted to tag along. I decided what the hell and tacked Q up again for a short 2-3 mile jaunt on part of the third loop. All three horses got along fairly well, and I made the decision then to ride with the two of them tomorrow if they kept a pace I was happy about.


Dinner was phenomenal and the ride meeting and awards for the 30/50 that had been ridden Friday went without issue - other than the increasingly dropping temperature! Team Q headed back to our camp afterward and swapped out Q's blankets (all borrowed from Saiph and Lily [further reasoning behind best crew ever]) and then the humans retreated to vehicles with heat for nearly an hour before surrendering to the sleeping bags.

Trailer sleeping quarters

Hannah and I were on cots in the back of the trailer and Saiph and Charles were in my tent.

: : : : :

Saturday: Something about those cots and being off the ground made life a bit colder. Hannah and I made it until 2:30a before we both decided to throw in the towel and make the most of sleeping in my cramped car. All sleeping bags were only rated to 20°F, which means that with temps borderline 20°, we'd maxed out the capabilities of the technology and were cold.

I'd played the "too cold for sleeping bag" song and dance years ago when I slept in -22°F in my 20° bag. I decided it wasn't worth it with a race in the morning. Hannah and I managed to score another 4 hours of sleep in the car before we had to muster up the courage to confront the morning cold.

EVERYTHING was covered with a thick layer of frost. Team Q bumbled around (Saiph had also retreated to her car and Charles decided to embrace the slow loss of feeling in his body and remained in the tent like a boss) in the cold cursing why we were all so crazy. I think Q was the warmest of all!

I managed to cram some chocolate chip oat bran muffins in my face and guzzle a little gatorade while we tacked Q up. My wonderful crew covered all the bases making sure to ask if I had everything I needed while out on trail ready to go. Just what I needed!

I mounted a VERY FRESH little horse. I was concerned for a few moments that she was going to go into a rearing/bucking fit - something she's never done - as she was all collected and fired up beneath me.

Mary and Hunter astride Gryphon and Sienna were plodding around to one side of me as Hannah helped Catherine onto Epic on the other side. Four very fresh horses with four very cold humans proceeded to troll around ridecamp at a walk and trot as we awaited the 7:30a start.

The controlled start would take us across a small one-lane bridge without guardrails and up a paved
road where we would then be released to trot up a gravel road and head into the National Forest.

When they called for the trail to be open, I headed out with the main pack, trailing behind Mary, Hunter, and Catherine. I wasn't sure who I would ride with at this point, but as we progressed and Cahterine and Epic strode out ahead, I called out that I would be sticking with Mary and Hunter.

Within ~2 miles, the gravel road turned right into the forest on a sandy/rocky trail that then turned into a very rocky trail that descended to the other side of the mountain. The sun's rays hit us as we made the transition to the other side, making our shadows play off the golden leaves.

Mary, Hunter, and I dismounted and walked the horses down through the rocky section, remounting when the trail became better.

Down, down, down we went until we beared left onto a FS road that traversed the side of the mountain. We cantered this stretch, zooming along with Mary and Gryphon in the lead, Hunter and Sienna in the middle, and Q and I pulling up the tail end.

Somewhere in the zoomy section, Janet and her Paso Fino Duke (competing in their first 50) pulled up behind us and stuck with us through the loop.

The zoomy section terminated at a gravel road where we continued to trot alongside some pretty little farms. Mary warned that there would be mini horses and pigs and goats along this section. Within minutes of her proclamation I could see a herd of minis in the distance galloping around their field.

We continued to trot along as we didn't expect to encounter them for a bit longer, and then Mary exclaimed, "Here comes a mini through this field! See him moving through the tall grass? He looks like a little pig or gremlin or something!"

Cue panic.

The horses lost. their. shit.

Q especially. Her entire body tensed up. Her head shot straight up. Her eyes rolled. Her nostrils flared. And her feet became a flurry as she performed a myriad of fast, athletic motions to escape this little chocolate palomino terror.

We pivoted and whirled. All the horses bolted in some direction or another. All riders were calling out to "whoa" and "easy" to no avail. Q whirled and bolted back toward camp as I nearly came off. I managed to get her stopped for a moment. She turned around to see the little mini again and bolted a few more steps before I could get her halted again and quickly dismount. I tossed her reins over her head and led her towards the mostly-under-control others.

Q danced and thrashed around at the end of the reins. The maneuvers she performed were akin to a wild mustang on the end of a rope for the first time - a blind panic to escape. Leaping in the air and to the side, moving laterally with huge strides. It was both impressive and frightening to behold. She stayed out of my bubble the entire time, but I couldn't help but be astonished with the athleticism of the animal at the end of my line.

Mary cooed at Q and apologized to me about the whole situation as I quickly remounted. I assured her that it was no harm, no foul since I'd been able to dismount without injury.

We proceeded through the rest of the loop, following the gravel road and then turning up the mountain to climb another rocky stretch before traversing the ridgeline back to the sand/rock trail without great issue. Just easy ups and downs aside from the mountain climb.

Shenandoah River

A little rocky

With some drop offs

There were so many beautiful views as we climbed and descended the mountain though! The rising sun's rays playing off the autumn leaves was so beautiful. 


Team Q was awaiting me at the check with a bucket to sponge the mud from Q's legs and a blanket to throw over her. Q took this opportunity to drink almost all of the water provided, as she hadn't drank on trail.

Hannah and Saiph tending to wonder mare
We had the option for tack on at this check, but in a last minute decision, I opted to take it off.

Hannah set to sponging as Saiph and I untacked the mare. Charles carried the tack back to the trailer while Saiph and Hannah accompanied me through the check.

Q was down and went through the first check with a 44/44 CRI, an A- on gut sounds and A's on everything else. I was, once again, over the moon. The vets were laughing at Q, too, during her trot out because she was apparently looking all over the place as I trotted her.

Team Q and I all headed back to the trailer where the best crew ever took over making sure Q was happy and fed (they'd provided her with more water and had her buffet of hay, alfalfa, grain, carrots, apples, and treats out AND they'd cleaned her corral. I was able to focus on myself by eating a chicken salad sandwich and swapping out my synthetic down jacket for Saiph's crash vest.

Q even peed! YAY.

Hannah made certain to keep me reminded of the time so that I could get tacked back up and out of there in time. I'd have missed my out time were it not for her! But thanks to her reminder, I was able to meet up with Mary and Hunter just as they were coming to look for me. Mary is the best!


Within 5 minutes of the start of the second loop I nearly came off Q. When Hunter had difficulty getting Sienna to lead, and Mary wanted to give Gryphon a break from leading, I pushed Q into the lead. Her behavior since the new horse arrived has included some spectacular spooks. In place of the stink eye and a wide berth of scary things, she's begun leaping violently to one side or the other, or slamming on the breaks and whirling. Too fucking athletic, that's what this horse is! All the same, we led for a short stretch until she saw a large white rock and spooked violently, throwing me onto her neck where I was able to grapple for position and regain my seat, but not before I'd slammed my face into her neck hard enough to give me a headache for the rest of the loop!

The second loop doubled up with the beginning of the first loop's terrain and doubled twice through the zoomy section of the first loop. It went pretty fast and provided a few water crossings where Q guzzled water like a camel.

We did a LOT of cantering and galloping on this loop.

After traipsing through some water and then moving out fast, Q lost her left back boot completely, but as she always lets me know when she loses a boot I was able to quickly turn and retrieve it and put it back on.

I had 0's on her rears for this ride. She really needs 1's back there, but I dilly-dallied around with ordering boots and waited too long to rectify the situation so we had to make due with boots that were a little small for this ride.

Within a mile of losing the first rear boot, a rider behind me informed me that the right rear boot was loose and had spun around. I'd wondered if this was the case as Q had been giving me odd signals about it. I was able to stop and fix it - impressed and proud that my mare had still moved forward despite a very wonky boot on her right rear hoof! Mary also had a lot of praise for her.

The cable was a little frayed from the odd angle the boot had ended up at, but I slapped it back on anyway and we were able to finish the loop without issue.

The second loop required us to climb the mountain the same way we'd descended in loop one, so Mary, Hunter and I all dismounted and led the horses up the mountain. It. Was. A. Bitch. But it was worth it for the horses.

And I'm doubly glad I walked up that hill with Q because at the second check, even with tack off and some sponging, her CRI was 60/60. The warmer temperatures must have been playing into this, I suspect. She got a B for cap refill, gut sounds, and impulsion at this check, as well.

Super crew getting everything ready for me! Hannah even saved the day by
remembering the "very important orange paper" that was my ride card!!
But thanks to super crew, she ate and drank a ton before we headed out on loop 3.

Additionally, at this check Saiph earned the super duper crewer award by having Desitin handy for me. Something about this ride had me ready to scream the Funder war cry of "Death to Underwear!!" Desitin saved my ass though. Literally.

Super crew continued to be super on this loop. I was frazzled over the boot issue and the chafing. I was able to give direction about where things were and Saiph got Q's back feet de-Renegaded, wrapped with vet wrap, and encased in some EasyBoot gloves I have on hand as spares if something happens with my Renegades. I pulled almost everything out of my cantle pack except water and the spare Rennie that didn't have a compromised cable while my awesome crew tacked up and stuff Q full of food.

I was mounted well before my out time and able to meet Mary and Hunter for our last "easy" loop at the out timer.


This last loop twisted and turned all OVER the place. We skirted the perimeter of hay fields, went up and down a lot of easy grades, curved our way through scrub/shrub, let the horses eat in fields of lush grass, and conquered some tricky water crossings.

Mary and Gryphon in one of the many lush, green fields!

I was able to get Q to lead through the winding woods trails for a good bit. She picked a really smart little pace of an 8-9 mph trot. I talked to her the whole time saying, "log" and "rock" as we encountered scary things. She didn't spook violently AT ALL. It was SUCH a relief. Her behavior lately has made me really start to doubt whether or not we're going to ever be able to travel on our own on trail. I can't risk coming off such a spooky horse so many times during a ride! I really hope a lot of groundwork, dressage exercises, and basic reinforcing of foundation stuff this winter will rectify things.

Q threw one buck when she was at a standstill eating grass with the other horses no where near her. It was odd and made me wonder if she'd been bitten or stung by something? This horse has never bucked/reared before.

I could tell Q was beginning to tucker out on this loop. She still had go in her tank, evident in her power canter when we had the opportunity, but she was more than happy to stop and eat whenever provided the chance.

The third water crossing was probably the most interesting part of this loop as the horses had to step off a 1' embankment into the water. It had become a bit muddy from all the competitors.

Mary and Gryphon tried to go first, but Gryphon was NOT having it. Hunter half-assed an attempt to get Sienna to go, but she wouldn't either. I studied the possible entry points to the water, the depth of the thalweg throughout, and decided that our best bet would be me putting my new Dublin Pinnacle boots to the test.

I dismounted Q and stepped lightly into the water, watching my step. The water was ¾ of the way up my shin, but my feet stayed dry. As I walked across, the water that sloshed over my boot tops caused me to get a little bit wet, but overall, my feet stayed dry.

My super long reins I make myself from climbing rope were a huge help here. I was able to cross to a safe shallow area, and then encourage Q to come in with me instead of having to worry about her jumping on top of me. She took a few seconds to study her entry - deciding whether she should jump or step in - but as with all the times we cross the little wet area in her field when I bring her in to the barn for work, she followed right across.

Mary was able to get Gryphon across, and Hunter with Sienna after. I walked Q up the bank and remounted in the field on the other side.

The rest of the loop wound around and through fields, mostly. We did a lot of cantering.

We all three chose to tie at the finish, crossing the line holding hands, Mary on my left and Hunter on my right, Q on auto pilot between. An epic finish to a great ride.

I loosened Q's girth and texted my crew (I'd been doing this all day) to let them know we were done and would be walking into camp. They met me right before the vet check with alfalfa and carrots for Q, which she was able to indulge in as we finished the walk to the check.

At the outskirts of the check, we untacked Q and sponged her. It turned out that someone STOLE my bucket, sponge, and sweat scraper. I mean SERIOUSLY, who steals a BUCKET?! So we used Mary's.

The EasyBoots had stayed on very well through that last loop it turned out, although she'd been interfering front to back a LOT with them throughout the loop. And an oddity, the Renegade on her right front had gotten a little botched somewhere during that loop and ended up a little bent all over. It didn't seem to bother her, and the boot seems fine, but the cable was definitely a little compromised.

Q vetted through the final check with a 52/52 CRI, a B on cap refill and A's on everything else. And just like that, I'd completed my first 50 on my own horse. GO Q!

The rest of the evening was a blur: getting Q settled, fed, watered, blanketed, legs wrapped, myself changed, and fed, etc. Saiph and Charles departed that evening amidst many thank yous and hugs to head back to DC. Hannah and I remained in camp to double-bag sleeping bags and fortunately nab many hours of warm sleep before the morning when we packed up camp and the horse (who rode backwards home).

: : : : :

I can't say a big enough THANK YOU to my crew. You were green, the horse was [relatively] green, and I was [relatively] green about everything. But TOGETHER everything went so smoothly and so wonderfully and I really, truly couldn't have made it through without your help!

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