Right where we’re supposed to be.

 From Saturday, August 29, 2015

…Iron Mountain weekend continued from “8 feet on the ground”

One of the things I love about this community of endurance riders is how people who’ve never met before help each other out. I put out an ask on the FB community for any riders going to the Iron Mountain ride who might have a horse staying in camp on Friday that we could camp next to so Khaleesi could have a buddy to see while Faygo was out on the course. I got a pretty quick response from a husband and wife who were hoping to find someone to keep their young mare company as well on Friday and we planned to camp together.

When I was just about an hour out I got a message that someone had pulled in the spot they were trying to save, but we would work something out once I arrived. I was worried, but shouldn’t have been. Everything seems to work out how it’s supposed to.

When will I learn that?

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Turns out they were the last two sites on the first road before it turned and I would be just after the turn- basically facing them up the road. Still an easy view for Khaleesi and their mare. But what was better about this spot for us that I had no way of knowing at the time was four-fold:

1- My site had a good fence that I was encouraged by one of the fire-fighters who were hosting us (it’s their campground) to use as part of my corral. It made my panel space even larger and gave the girls more room to walk around.

2- We were now line-of-sight through our ‘backyard” to Cindy and Alison who we didn’t know yet, but would become new friends, and also would help me finish the 30 mile ride. That line of sight came in handy on Saturday.

3- My Thursday/Friday neighbor left on Saturday morning- EARLY. This made it so I could pull my rig over into her camp area for the day and when I re-penned Faygo into a smaller area next to my trailer, at least there was fresh grass there for her.

4- Turns out my other neighbor (Betsy) who came Friday afternoon was a first time rider and we buddied up and became friends.

Sometimes my lesson is that when there are things I can’t control- it may be for a reason!

Friday night, as I was working around camp and trying not to feel defeated (explained in the previous post “8 feet on the ground”), Betsy walked past my camp and I thought she might be headed to dinner. There was some confusion about when dinner and the ride meetings were and I knew the course and had some food so wasn’t too concerned if I missed either, but I would go up if I had the time right. I asked Betsy (who I didn’t know yet) if she knew when dinner was.

I expected just a shout out of the dinner time, but she stopped walking, came over to me and we started a conversation that included the fact the the dinner time was a bit confusing, she was going over the check, and it was her first ride weekend though she had volunteered once and decided to try the sport for herself, and right then we decided to leave at the back of the pack the next morning and at least start out together.

On my second ride, I was already (being only a half inch ahead) helping a new person with their first weekend. (Not that she needed much help!).

A bit earlier I had taken Khaleesi to her first vet-in. She was distracted but not out of control walking through camp with all the noise, occasionally stopping to call out to Faygo (did I mention SHE IS A LOUDMOUTH!?). She got a lot of attention. I wish I would have gotten video of her calling around camp as she walked through. This girl does nothing quietly (I don’t want to think too hard right now about the whole horses reflecting their owner thing…).

People would look at her, look at me, say that she was quite a pretty horse and ask…

What IS she?

Well… a quarter Arab, quarter Walking Horse, quarter Saddlebred, quarter Racking Horse…

Huh. [pause to think] That sounds like a pretty nice mixture of breeds…. Where did you find her!?

That same conversation happened about 8 times through the weekend. It’s kind of fun to be at an event with 90% Arabians, then have a horse no one can figure out. One person had guessed TN walker… one person said they could see the saddlebred… and a few people were sure she was mostly thoroughbred.

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She was pretty good at the vet-in. I was kicking myself for not doing more practice on poking her gums. When I volunteered in June I noticed lots of horses don’t like their gums being poked and I thought that’s something I should do with her like every day. And I just don’t think of it. She eventually let the vet pull up her lips and poke, but she could have been better! She sometimes wanted to move away from the stethoscope, and occasionally called out to Faygo (LOUDLY) but she did a great trot out and back and got all A’s and ready to roll on her scorecard. We were # 201.

The next morning I woke around 5am to get started. My Thursday/Friday neighbor was packing up in the dark to get out before the starts. She wished me good luck and I wished her safe travels. I took my crew bag to the trailer (Ed got me this really awesome big waterproof bag for my birthday! I can fit anything in it and if it rains we’re still good!! I love it) and started getting myself together.

Thankfully as I started taking apart the corral (it’s not heavy and do-able for one person) Betsy’s husband came over and asked if I could use a hand. It made the take down and reset for Faygo’s small day pen much quicker, and that was one thing I didn’t need to be dragging around for too long on race morning- a new pen set up. Meanwhile Betsy went in to the start and checked me in 15 minutes to go. I didn’t want to have Khaleesi with the other 50 riders amped up at the start line, and I didn’t really have the time to spare to walk myself down there and back to check in so both of them really helped me out that morning.

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I banded her mane to keep her cooler, and I tied my green and red ribbons in her tail to be sure that folks knew she was green, and has kicked before. I believed she was ready for this ride, and if I thought she was a habitual kicker or would be unpredictable I would not have brought her. Still, you can prepare, but you can’t know until you go. I wanted to cover our butt so to speak.

One thing I started doing with Pam is getting Khaleesi to stand at the mounting block- today a step stool- for me. I love this little trick where I cluck to her and she walks around to line herself up with me and stand still while I get on. This horse is so funny though she has started this new thing where she lines herself up- then stops a second and then continues on and lines herself up with my but. After doing this a few times the other night with Kate I eventually turned around and go on her. (Yes, I realize she is training me). On ride morning, I didn’t want to be “rushed” but at the same time… time is limited. I like the mounting block exercise because it pulls our focus together before I jump on her. It’s a moment for us to do a routine and start calmly and on the same page. So with Betsy mounted up and us all tacked I stepped up and she did just that same routine. She walks right where she’s supposed to be, I rub her and get ready to step on and she walks around me and lines herself up with my but. After 2 more times of this, I gave in again as we really did need to get going. It does make me laugh because it is pretty simple for me to just turn around and she stands great while I get on her. But it’s apparently HER way, not mine in this case. Ok. We compromise today, work on it tomorrow.

Loudmouth!
Loudmouth!

We walked through camp to the start line. Khaleesi and Faygo occasionally yelling to each other as we went. The ride & tie groups were ready to go and asked if they could just start right then. That was perfect for us because we really didn’t want a group of galloping horses passing us 5 minutes from now. So they went out while we got a few pictures and then casually walked past the out timers calling our numbers as we went. [Clarification as some have asked me: Faygo, Kate and I did the ride & tie on Friday, Khaleesi and I did the 30 mile LD/AERC ride on Saturday. I did not ride & tie with Khaleesi, I rode her the whole way]

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We got an easy start and then began to trot a bit. Betsy’s horse (Zephyr) seemed to lag behind a bit and I wanted to at least start together, but I also knew that this was a good area to trot out and soon it would be uphill, switchbacks and also some of it rocky. We passed a couple 30 milers quickly who asked us to go by because she was struggling a bit with her horse. Onward we went, Khaleesi knew that horses had gone through here before us and had a great forward trot and Zephyr started to kick into gear a bit. It turns out that Betsy & Zephyr were a great match for Khaleesi & I and we kept pace well together.

I was proud of Khaleesi because she led our pair the entire 30 miles. I asked Betsy if she wanted to have Zephyr lead more than once and she said each time that she was happy with our pace and having Khaleesi lead for the day. She trusted me to know the trail (since I’d been out the day before on most of it). Khaleesi took her job to heart and never once did I need the popper to get her to keep going forward as we have had on trail rides in months past. Also, we rode with Zephyr behind us, and had other horses pass us, and not once did she threaten a kick!

We had kept a pace of about 4.5 mph through a long uphill climb and some downhill but the most fun was these beautiful open fields where Betsy asked “Do you canter?” I said – “Sure!” and off we went. We still had some miles to go, and had not worked the horses too hard, so we ran through the roads in the rangelands as fast as the girls wanted to go and who doesn’t love a good canter through an open field!?

Betsy and Zephyr in the rangelands
Betsy and Zephyr in the rangelands

In order that we knew we were still on track there were orange laminated pieces of card stock stapled to stakes. We would canter toward the next orange paper and on each approach Khaleesi would dance away from the scary marker and we’d slow down, look at it, and head to the next one. She didn’t really trust those things… ever that day.

But the photographer was also waiting in the rangelands, and as we rode up the hill toward her smiling and ready for our photo Khaleesi jumped off the trail into the grass certain that big camera lens was going to eat us. Luckily I had my heels down! I did not fly off, but as you can see from the picture (that I begged her to print for me even though not our finest moment) we were a bit off kilter! I think my hands were where we had been a second ago!

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photo by Becky Pearman

Determined that we would learn that ride photographers were not so bad, we stopped and walked over to Becky Pearman (who has been at all the rides I’ve done in the past year including ACTHA rides and she is great) she talked to us, and Khaleesi sniffed her camera.

Ok… we are going to try again… (thankfully being in last place also means no one is waiting to move past camera lady). So we walked down the hill and tried again… she did another jerk-jump to the side. So we walked back down and asked Zephyr (who was waiting patiently!) to lead the way and we let her brave the camera monster and on the third attempt cantering up after her, we at least got this one (she still moved away, but much less so):

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Photo by Becky Pearman

FullSizeRenderOur 4.5mph pace wasn’t going to be enough to finish the ride on time, especially as it appears the out stretch is just a bit shorter than the home stretch and we got into the vet check later than I’d have liked. We had left camp around 8:15, took a few minutes at the start to go slow and collect ourselves… and we arrived into vet 1 at 11:06. We still had a 50 minute hold that wouldn’t start until we’d pulsed down to 64. The vet check is up on a hill, so that doesn’t help pulse rate, and as we approached the tent-city with horses scattered all around (surprise!?) loudmouth Khaleesi started calling for Faygo in her loudest voice. This was something I had not anticipated.

I didn’t know how her recovery would be today, but again, being last has it’s perks. Not many people were trying to get through vet and there were extra pulse timers to give us a courtesy check. When I could get her to stand still a moment the pulse taker said to just wait, it was coming down- wait… wait… ok we were at 65… almost there and NEEEIIIIGGGHHHHHHHHH would come a huge bellow from her and her pulse would shoot up to 80. We walked away to take off her tack, and let her see that this was not home, no Faygo, and just relax a minute so we can get a hold time!

I found my crew bag, dropped her saddle and bridle and let her get a big drink. Meanwhile Betsy had found her husband and untracked as well. We walked back to the pulse box together and Khaleesi was happy to at least have Zephyr with her. She pulsed down to 64 at 11:17 (ten minutes after we arrived) and we got our out time at 12:07. The vet check went great. She did her calling on and off still, but her body was in great shape, no sore spots, gut sounds were fine and she had good impulsion on the trot out (she was still raring to go!). When she was distracted from looking for Faygo her heart rate had gone more down to 60, and her CRI (cardiac recover index- where they check pulse before and after trotting out to see if she’s recovering quickly) went all the way down to 54 (which is great!).

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vet check crewing area

I went to my crew bag to take care of her and me, and Betsy went to find her husband and we agreed to leave together at 12:07. There were some friendly volunteers (thanks Laurel!) who held my horse while I used the rest room and took off my long sleeve shirt (it was a cool morning turned warm afternoon). People asked if you were eating & drinking enough… do you need sunscreen…

Khaleesi relaxing by my crew bag on our hold.
Khaleesi relaxing by my crew bag on our hold.

I got to see Alison, Cindy & Miles run up to the finish line for their second day 15 mile ride & tie, and they came up and borrowed my sponge & sweat scraper for Miles and then helped me tack back up and even took my crew bag home for me so I didn’t have to wait on the trailer later that evening.

crew bags for the no crew folks!
crew bags for the no crew folks- Laurel (volunteer) holding Khaleesi who is munching on Hay and grass.

One thing I learned at the No Frills (my first ride) is that you think the hold is a LONG time and then all of a sudden you’re like wait… it’s over!  So I watched my time carefully and began tacking up at 11:50. Alison and Cindy helped me out which was great since I didn’t have crew or anywhere to tie by my bag. I was mounted and ready at 12:02 looking around for Betsy and the exit (wasn’t sure where the official “out” gate was). With no sign of Betsy, and waiting at the out timer at 12:07, I asked if she had left… nope… he gave me my out time and I passed the gate, but held up. We needed to make up time getting back if we were going to finish, I hated to waste time waiting at the check, but I also hated to leave without Betsy and Zephyr. What to do?

I wandered around right outside of the check calling to her (hm… I guess I was doing a Khaleesi!) and she appeared a few minutes later apologizing that time had gotten away from her (I completely understood!). Relieved we headed down the hill past the photographer who had restationed herself to catch shots coming down the hill and though Khaleesi still was surprised by her, and I was a little off balance we got a pretty nice shot here:

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We absolutely had to cover the ground faster on the way home if we were going to finish by 3:15, so we immediately picked up the pace. I asked Betsy to tell me if we were going too fast and she said she wanted to finish too- and she didn’t think Zephry would have trouble keeping up. Indeed.

After the experience we had pulsing down at the check, I told Betsy my plan upon arrival at base camp was to ride in fast, go through the in timer and then head directly to my trailer and get Faygo, dump my tack, then take both horses back to the pulse box to complete. I knew my best chance for getting Khaleesi to pulse down was to have Faygo with her, not have them screaming around camp for each other. Thankfully Cindy & Alison were within sight of my trailer and had volunteered to watch for me and to bring Faygo up with extra hands to help! (remember #2 from the beginning of this post). I wanted Betsy to know my plan early on so I didn’t have to explain why I was bee-lining back to my trailer and hold her up from getting her finish pulse.

We had a great ride back. We pushed up our trot speed as much as possible and slowed down only for rocky footing or obstacles. We used the technical areas to let the girls catch their breath- see how they were handling the work (they were game to go and doing well), get a drink of water ourselves. Most of the Iron Mountain trails were on the Virginia Highlands Horse trails and had great dirt footing, the trail was overall much easier than the No Frills and what I’ve hear of the OD trails. Here is a picture of some of the rougher patches (a little blurry… we were moving along still)-

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By far my favorite moment that made the entire weekend worthwhile was on our way home, in the last 9 mile leg, we began to have a few of the front-running 50 mile riders come past us.

The 50 mile riders started an hour before the 30s. But they do an extra 20 mile loop, and still they were passing by us to finish their 50 mile ride before we would complete our 30. Of course these are the top riders, many of them on 100 mile horses. I am still get a little excited remembering how it felt to get to watch these riders in action.

The first rider was in a big hurry. She quickly asked us to pass (we were on a single trek path) and we pulled aside for her.  Just as most of the ride in was uphill, most of the ride home was downhill. She was flying down that hill. Memory is not always 100% accurate, and I’m not certain if it was her or another rider that came through with this, but I believe we were only passed by 3 groups total heading toward camp, and I believe it was this rider- she had a longer line and was occasionally driving her horse on with the motion from behind. I remember noticing that she was pushing the horse (not cruelly at all- just a driving motion with the line) as she went by. I can’t say for sure it was this first rider, but that visual stuck with me.

We picked up our pace a bit naturally as Khaleesi was like “Oh… is that what we’re supposed to be doing? I want to stay with that horse” I took the opportunity for us both to learn a bit and we followed her- but only for a very short time. That section was particularly rocky and it just wasn’t worth trying to keep up with them at that breakneck trot and not pay attention to our footing.

The next group to come through maybe 20 minutes later was a much quieter feeling group of 4 riders led by Claire Godwin. I don’t know her at all, but her name has stuck with me since it was on my volunteer paperwork from the OD ride. She finished 5th at the OD 100 that I volunteered at. I also noticed she not only completed Tevis this year, but came in 15th out of 90 finishers and over 200 entrants. If I were a teenager I would have a ride photo of Claire and her horse PL Mercury above my bed and dream of riding the OD and Tevis with the grace that she moves through the trails.

Behind Claire I noticed another rider whose name I am not sure, but I thought he was one of the 100 mile cavalry riders I saw at the OD in June (those guys are hard core, 100 miles with limited provisions and no help or crew of any kind). There were a couple more in the group, but what I noticed from them was how effortlessly they all moved together. They did laugh or chat on occasion, but as fast as they flew, not one of them was pushing their horse forward, and they all seemed light on their hooves- maybe it was because it was Claire’s horse PL Mercury who led the way. The winged feet one.

“Flying along with the 50s” – blurry as we were moving at a good clip, but I had to get at least a picture of the moment.

As we let the riders by we also picked up and followed in line with them and it was the most amazing feeling to be part of that group for a short while. I’m not sure how long we stayed with them, but I let Khaleesi drop in step behind as I watched them and how they rode and moved and hoped Khaleesi was learning too. I was beside myself with a deep joy to be riding along this trail with people I look up to and amazing horses who’ve completed 100 mile rides near and far. We stuck with them a few miles and it was not effortless for me! Khaleesi was doing great but a lot of it was downhill and occasionally some fancy footing (nothing dangerous) and sometimes we were in sync floating along, and sometimes that fast trot was just bouncing me around, and sometimes we hovered in a bit of a 2-point while I let Khalessi pick her way down a hill. After a while we just let them go and settled back into our own quick but not quite Mercury fleet speed and enjoyed our own pace toward home.

After we saw how those horses and riders moved through trail we got a little braver and moved on a little quicker ourselves. Still not one time did I have to do anything more than ask Khaleesi for speed, never a kick, and never did I remove our leather popper strap from the back of the saddle where it was connected for emergency use (never know if I’d have to force her to do something for our own safety, or if she would just refuse to go forward as she had done occasionally in early rides).

When we were within about 3 mies we hear more riders coming up on us and tried to pick up our pace a little again but eventually they overtook us. This group of two was led by Lynne Gilbert who my farrier had told me about when I first told him I thought I wanted to be one of those “crazy endurance people”. I had hoped to meet Lynne, but it took me a while to find her, and usually it was in the middle of a busy time when I didn’t want to bother her. I didn’t know it was her for sure until they passed us and we kept pace with them and chatted a few minutes and I asked her name. I was glad to meet her and told her so- and how our mutual farrier had said she was an amazing rider with an amazing horse.

We gladly stayed with these two 50 mile riders all the way into camp. They had a great quick pace going and gave our two horses encouragement to keep it up. We finished just behind Lynne and her riding buddy and got an “in” time of 2:43pm. If you consider our true start time of about 8:15, and lose one hour at the vet check (10 minutes to pulse and a 50 minute hold) in reality our horses covered the 30 miles in 5 hours 27 minutes which if my math is correct gave us a moving pace of about 5.5mph overall. Endurance riders call that a turtle ride. But slow and steady finished the race and we were very pleased to have 30 minutes to spare!

As planned I immediately trotted back to camp and called over to Alison and Cindy who had heard Faygo start yelling a few minutes before and figured I was on my way. They grabbed Faygo and I let Khaleesi have a big drink and grab a few bites of grass as I pulled her tack then we walked calmly but quickly to the pulse timer. In a Limited Distance ride (under 50 miles) you don’t get a finish time until you pulse down to 60, so just because i passed the finish line did not mean I had finished.

We walked straight to the pulse box with both horses, asked for a pulse on Khaleesi and she immediately pulsed in at 58 for a finish time of 2:56 in 37th place (I believe there were 51 riders originally registered, but I do not believe that even 50 actually rode) and had a CRI (cardiac recovery after trotting out) down to 56 which is also great! She passed the final vet check with an A- (her hydration was good, gut sounds were low, which would be likely resolved with some food), no soreness or tack galls/wounds. She got a B on impulsion (eagerness to trot out with me) and a B for mucous membranes (hydration) though her skin tenting (also hydration) was an A. We had the same vet for each check and he said she looked healthy to him and that we were doing all the right things.

at the finish line with our ride card!
at the finish line with our ride card!

I was elated and even happier to hear from Betsy’s husband that Faygo had calmed down basically once we were out of earshot and from Alison and Cindy that when they returned to camp Faygo was just chillin’ out eating hay and didn’t seem stressed at all. My biggest self-doubt that I had made a mistake in bringing both horses to the event turned out to be ok. My instincts and faith in my girls were on-track and I was so proud of both of them and told them so over and over and over.

I tied Faygo where there was better grass and let Khaleesi ground tie around our large 2-camp area and as I figured she was glad to be close to Faygo, and tired enough to walk around and eat grass, hay, apples, and a grain electrolyte mush I made for her. Faygo was contented that we were all back together and I started to break down camp as I really wanted to get on the road that evening and get back to my home-base and family.

Breaking down camp, taking a shower, taking care of the girls, packing up all takes a few hours which is great because it’s nice to give Khaleesi a little time to relax before hitting the trailer for a 4 hour drive home. I found my spools of red and green ribbon and thought what nice christmas packages it will make this year as I won’t be tying them in her tail anymore after today.

By 5:30 both girls had stopped eating & drinking, were tied by some tall grass and just standing with their back legs cocked in a relaxed half-asleep position. We hit the road just after 6pm. Once it was time to load up, I always put Khaleesi on first as she’s the better trailer loader now- I was able for the first time to truly send the girls on from behind (which makes the process of securing the but bar much easier) and they loaded as if they knew they were really going home now!

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A pretty easy evening drive under a full moon put us back in just before 10pm and the girls were so happy to be back in a big field of grass under misty moonlight. I was happy to pull up my driveway to the excited welcome of two dogs and a husband who traded the few things I was carrying up for the night (unloading could come tomorrow) for a glass of sparkly rose and the news that he’d made some dinner if I was hungry and had the hot tub running and ready for us.

Team Green to 100 hit a milestone, Khaleesi’s first event. 30 miles is still a long way from 100 in every possible way, but it’s a step! We finished at the back of the group, but with a good attitude and a healthy horse. It seemed like the pieces fit into place exactly as they were meant to for us. The best part- we finished. And we all know the phrase that pays: To finish is to win!

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