The mud of black sheep

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

This weekend proved one of the toughest rides for me. It began the morning of departure – loading up and hitting the road.

I didn’t feel great when I woke up… had a strange disconcerting dream about doing too many things that made me behind to teach a class… then everything took longer than expected. I was grateful to have Iva come along to crew. She’s a huge help and fun to spend time with- only I’d not explained the meeting spot quite right and we waited at 2 different gas stations (in an area with no cell signal) for almost half an hour before I sorted out what happened and went to look for them.

Then on the road we hit severe rain, construction traffic, a truck issue (minor but needed a stop at an auto parts store), and as we got closer to Elkins Creek Camp had some questions with the directions that cost us time sorting out as well.

All told I got on the road almost an hour after I’d wanted, and a 5 or less hour drive turned into 7. I was concerned about K being in the trailer for that long. I’d have prepared and treated a 7 hour haul differently than a 5 hour one.

It also meant 3 less hours in base camp for her to rest and rehydrate for the ride the next day.

Upon unloading the mare I wasn’t surprised to see a horse that was dull, tired from a long ride, likely dehydrated and not interested in eating or drinking. It was concerning. If this didn’t change soon I may not even register to start the ride.

Having Iva meant that though I was getting a late start- I could start setting up camp while she hand walked Khaleesi in hopes of helping her begin to recover. With little change in the first few minutes of walking around, I pulled out molasses, CMPK and a light dose of electrolytes and hoped it would help jump start her system.

In a few minutes the shot of molasses and minerals kicked in and she began at least eating a bite here and there. Not her usual self yet but it was the right direction.

I didn’t think she would be compromised as to not ride at all, but I considered dropping to the 25 mile. I can sometimes be inflexible once I set my mind on something and wanted to consider all possible options. I wanted to make the choice that put her needs first.

I discussed with my team (Iva) and we decided together that K was continuing to improve and that I should go ahead and register the 50 as planned. If she only got part of it done then that’s ok, but we should at least try.

Two hours later we headed to vet-in my almost back to normal horse. She had begun to look alert, eat grass with interest and had drank a little from the creek. I relayed my concerns immediately to get some feedback with closer attention to her metabolic state- not only did she have miraculously good hydration and gut sounds, she had one of her trademark trot outs where on the return a volunteer was moving something large and noisy on the edge of the trot out field and she bucked, jumped, and ran behind me to get on the farther side of the threat and stopped short in front of the amused vet staff who remarked that she looks pretty ready to go.

Make sure she keeps eating and drinking and see how she feels in the morning.

The queen had returned to her normal self and began ravaging the grass as Iva walked her once more around the pretty field right across the stream from us. We were the farthest from the vet check area, but the flip side was we had the nicest spot in camp at the very end where the stream came down and a pretty meadow for hand grazing directly across.

Thank the good lord for the little red wagon. He provided it just in time because the water hose was all the way at the vet check and it would have been brutal to hand haul buckets from there!

It was then I recalled my strange dream where I was almost late to teach a class and didn’t even know what class it was or what expect, I wasn’t sure how to get to the college and if I’d taken the correct turn… I had arrived after some stress in travel, later than I’d wanted, and not knowing what to expect to find that it all had worked out and miraculously I was able to take one step at a time and teach the course.

Things began to fall in line. Elkins Creek Horse Camp is lovely- complete with a small tack shop, great facilities including cute showers. [I highly recommend it as a camping/riding destination- the owners were very hospitable and the trails were lovely just don’t go in monsoon season!] A nice group area where we had dinner and a concise ride meeting with clear explanation of the trails- then to bed in the trailer with two hammocks to watch the lightning bugs light up the field across the stream out the back of the trailer. And my favorite thing of all- to listen to Khaleesi eat and drink all night long. Good girl.


… listen to her eat and drink … and the rain. And more rain… and a monsoon of rain barraging the trailer roof above us.

I knew this was not good.


Start time was 6am. I wanted to get K saddled around 5:20. So though the morning had been still dark when I got up at 4:45, it had at least not been raining- at least it didn’t rain again until 5:15 right as i planned to get the mare (there would not be much grooming at this ride- everything was a mess and a little towel drying was all I planned to try)… the next monsoon came. The kind of rain that beats down on everything and you can’t see through. I opted to go back in the trailer and hope it would pass.

It did. But not until after 5:30. Once again I’m running late. I hate these kind of starts.

I did get the beast tacked up and in the saddle just before 6am and headed to the start to leave just as the last of the 50s were leaving camp.

Partly because of the rush and partly because I couldn’t find a reason not to, I decided to ride in her halter (no bit) which we both prefer. Even at the start with lots of horses around we have no problem with control and negotiating a good speed. I did not ever go back to the bit for this ride- I do not make the choice on control of my horse. It is strictly a question of if the bit can help her when she’s tired with better form and carriage. She self-carries beautifully because of the saddle and my determination to be an effective rider (I’m still working on it). I suspect the bit can help her when she’s tired if she uses it to hold her form by taking the bit in her mouth which she cannot do with the halter. However, this would be more likely if I was better at helping her in that way and I’m not sure I am more help than hinderance still as I’m working on my form and connection.

The course: what condition is my condition in?

A few days before the ride we were told it had been dry lately and the trails were in beautiful shape. The monsoons that came through two days prior and the night before changed that quickly and the rain turned much of the trails into a hoof sucking slop that made for very slow riding.

I had done the sikaflex on my boots before loading up the day before. But this was no testing ground for anything- it was extreme conditions and I would have been afraid of losing metal shoes as well as boots. I saw at least one metal shoe in the muck and I’m sure there were more buried deep down there in the sunken graveyard of trail.

I first lost a hind boot (the right hind which is the one I’m most likely to lose- it’s how she twists the leg somehow). I decided it was ok – the ground was mud let’s carry on for now. When a front came off a bit later I pulled the other hind and replaced the front.

The Scoot boots really stayed on well all considered. The first loop was close to 14 miles and I left my front boots on until the last 3/4 mile into camp. The worst of the mud is on this section because at least 50 horses use this section both coming and going and it had been churned into a mire. It’s also steep. She was close to home and when she’s not paying as much attention to how she moves she’s more likely to lose a boot.

** after sharing my ride story with the Scoot folks I heard they have a new mud strap that is in testing now that would mean the boots may actually stay on even in these conditions…. it’s hard for me to imagine but exciting! Maybe I’ll get to test them! Of course we’ll be going into dry season so may be pointless for now but I love seeing what they are up to!**

I got off, grabbed the boot out of the mud suck, removed the other front and clipped the muck balls onto my saddle. My raincoat was covered in mud from trying to wipe my hands all morning on something and I hand jogged her the final 1/2 mile into camp.

I dropped tack in a heap into the little red cart and thankfully the pulse timer was not busy (we were the last horse in being a couple minutes behind the riders I was with when the last boot came off and I got off to walk in); she was down to 49 so we vetted right through with all As and great hydration and gut sounds- except a slight tightness in her hind. The vet suggested being sure she got some extra calcium (the bottle of CMPK was really coming in handy) and lots of refuel during the hold.

It was on the walk back to the trailer that Iva quietly asked:

so… did you loose all your boots or take them off on purpose?

Grinning I told her not to worry- I didn’t lose them all if that’s what she meant.

We went to the trailer to clean up my muddy gear and get ready for the longest loop of the day. The 24 mile pink.


I made the decision to head out barefoot and carry the boots clipped to saddle as I had no idea what I’d encounter for trail. The pink loop was my favorite for scenery. It had a lot of the mud but some beautiful grassy trails as well. We rode alone now and the rest of the day in last place, but parts of the loop were shared by the 25 mile riders and sections of returning pink loop riders so we did see other horses; mostly going to opposite direction. It was nice to see others on occasion and exchange an encouraging word.

The farthest end of the pink loop had a ‘lollypop’ 4.5 mile circle ending with a 10 minute hold to recharge the horse and rider around mile 12.

That loop was very grassy, pretty and mostly flat and K and I negotiated an ‘eat and run‘ deal where she’d reach down and get a massive mouthful of nice grass and we’d trot immediately for a stretch then I’d allow her to stop and get a big bite. She ate really well this loop before the hold where she chowed the hay and feed provided while the volunteers sponged her continuously to help her cool.

Being last does have its benefits- lots of volunteers hanging around with nothing else to do!

Now heading back to camp (not exactly the same route) and recharged we had some good momentum. Barefoot was working- however it wasn’t foolproof. Occasionally there were sections of trail that had been graveled to help alleviate the mud and trail damage and those we had to walk (although she did walk through that gravel willingly). Some of those stretches would have been decent for trotting if not for the gravel.

At one point I put on her front boots as we were high enough that the trail wasn’t mucky. That helped pick up some more speed through hard pack and light rocks- until the mire of death appeared.

We both stopped and I looked in front of me at a mud suck that had treacherous downs on either side and a drop off and it went down into a ravine then had a climb out. The muck had leg imprints 6 inches or deeper from horses before us. Apparently others survived this sucking pit- if it weren’t for the tracks leading out the other side I may have wondered if they’d been completely sucked under into the abyss.

No. Nope. No way.

I am not riding you through that. That’s wrong. That’s just wrong!

Khaleesi: thank god can we turn around?

Me: I don’t think so. There might be a way around it? Let me see.

We rode back a few feet to see if there was any other way to get around the pit.

There wasn’t. There really wasn’t.

We are like 5 miles from camp on a 24 mile loop- I don’t think turning around is really a potential answer.

As it sometimes happens in life… the only way was through. The worse part was this was a shared trail section with the yellow trail that was the last loop.

Not only was this the only way home, it was also necessary to do it twice to complete the ride.

I seriously considered that it may not be worth going back out if we had to come back through here.

So I got off, I took off her boots as there was no way I’d ever recover them from that bog and they might make getting through it even harder.

Then I got back on and slowly we slid down into the mess. She expertly and carefully climbed out without too much struggle and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe as other life lessons: it looked worse than it really was. Although still- it was pretty bad.

As I questioned if we’d get back into camp in enough time to go out again and even potentially finish in time, and questioned once again if going through that muck hill ravine was worth the completion even if we could make the time…

Then the first riders who we already heading out onto the yellow last loop passed by us and said encouragingly:

Don’t listen to your GPS- you’re so close to camp you guys are almost back! You’re looking great!

And my spirits lifted a little to imagine we were really getting close to camp.

Life lesson three hundred seventy five: a little encouragement can go a long way.

I knew we needed to be in by 3 to even consider going back on trail after a 50 minute hold to finish in the neighborhood of 6pm.

At exactly 3:01 we walked into camp and before even dropping tack the timer came to help us get the first pulse reading possible so we could start our hold time.

Criteria 60bpm.

She walked in at 72. Dropped steadily as we began pulling the tack around the pulse taker 70… 68… 66… 65.. 62 until she saw the pan of feed! Dropped her head to start eating!

No!

Pulse starts to walk back up 66, 68

Iva move that feed pan behind the water tank out of sight!!

I stop moving around tack in cart and just breathe softly.

64, 63, 62,

Time on rider 72!

Whew!

All that happened in 3 minutes.

Our out time would be 3:55. That meant just over 2 hours to do 12 miles.


Khaleesi looked great for just having done 38 tough miles. I knew she could do the last 12 but I was skeptical [honestly doubtful is more accurate] if we could make the time to get a completion.

There was one consideration that gave a glimmer of hope: the official finish line was a half mile out of camp. We were told at the ride meeting that only the top 10 would have someone there with official times. The rest would ride into camp and they were able to offer a 20 minute extension to make up for the walk back to camp. So technically I had a few extra minutes to work with.

Still, I knew it was a reach. I asked what Iva thought since she was part of my team that day.

I could quit now with a strong 38 mile training ride toward the Ride Between the Rivers 50 in August. In a sense this was an investment- money in the bank.

Yet 38 miles is also much closer to 50 than we’d been since October. If I didn’t try now I may not know where her fitness and conditioning is.

I wanted to see if she had 50 in her. I believed she did.

On the other hand- If I continued, as she would be getting tired, it was more likely she could hurt herself in the muck- and injury would set us back significantly.

Was I feeding my ego or making a calculated choice? What did Iva think- honestly.

She watched us come and go all day and saw K looking strong and happy, eating and drinking and said she thought we should try.

We may or may not finish in time, but Iva said she believed that Khaleesi had it in her. And we should give it the chance.

The alarm sounded on my phone at the time I needed to saddle or quit.

I agreed with Iva and began to put the saddle on.

Khaleesi wasn’t so sure but she didn’t protest. She knew she was good to go, she just wondered why on earth we’d want to go for yet another ride when the grass, hay and snacks in camp were so good?

As I rode past the skeptical out timer and called my number I said: well we’ve got two hours left, and we’re going to do something with them.

I did need my crop stick momentarily to convince her to hit the trail but once she left camp she picked up more energy and life than I’d seen all day!

This was where the magic happened – at least for a while. She came alive and climbed that hill out of camp like she had a mission. Miles 38-45 were my favorite all day. It was late afternoon and the light was pretty, the trails had been drying out all day and were already less murky than at 6am, and my horse felt strong.

Every chance she would trot on and almost the entire last ‘yellow’ loop was comprised of sections of the blue and pink trails we’d already seen- somehow familiar trails are a comfort.

We crossed paths with riders coming in to finish and they all encouraged us to ride on and get it done. For the first couple of miles I wondered if we might pull out a miracle.

Then the back side of the mountain came and the continuous rolling ups and downs began. The hills were short but steep and I felt it began to take a toll on her stride. She had been a little tight in her hind at both checks – not serious but present. I knew she was beginning to short stride and so at the top of a very steep hill I got off and walked her down it watching her move. She slid a little (mud) and worked her way and I knew she had burned up some strength in the burst of energy and I needed to help her now by just slowing down but keeping her moving.

On and off all day (11 hours alone on the trails is both a long time and goes by quickly just one mile at a time as you ride the trail in front of you) I would sing my favorite song bytes to her for encouragement:

Call it a reason to retreat, I got some dreams that are bigger than me; we might be outmatched, outsized- the underdog in the fight of our lives….

I know your heart’s been broke again! I know your prayers ain’t been answered yet! I know you’re feeling like you got nothing left- but lift your head! It ain’t over yet! Move.. keep walking… khaleesi keep walking on!

When love broke through- you found me in the darkness wandering through the forest- I was a hopeless fool now I’m hopelessly devoted, my chains are broken! And it all began with you! When love broke through!

This is what love feels like: poured out used up still giving… stretching us out to the end of our limits.

After some walking she began to feel better but I knew it was too late, we would not finish in time.

And that was ok!

We had truly given our best shot and she was a champ! I hated to keep the vets and timers waiting too long so I kept moving at a pace I felt safe but not dawdling. Eventually I asked gently for a trot on a nice flat stretch and she trotted some intervals and felt fine. We walk-trotted until we came to the one gravel road section I’d ridden this morning on the first loop which signaled the very last couple miles into camp. She perked right up and picked up the pace- until two strides in she realized she was trotting on a gravel road and came to a slow plod walk- I decided not to get off again and try to deal with boots which would come off in 2 miles when the last mud section appeared. We searched each side of the road for decent footing and moved out when we could.

The gravel was spread everywhere though and it was hard to avoid.

This gravel road section was truly the only place that going barefoot didn’t work out for us. Still she didn’t come up lame we just did our best and slowed down when needed.

We pulled into camp around 6:40. Technically 40 minutes late but officially we could have rolled in until 6:20 so 20 minutes OT seems a little less disheartening!

She pulsed down quickly but because of her tight muscles I sent Iva to the trailer for the CMPK and date syrup – I went straight to the vet knowing she would be likely to cramp up if I didn’t keep her moving and take care of her properly. Her CRI was 52/52 right off trail which I was pleased with.

No sign of lameness and a fine trot out- and we had done it barefoot!! However she was stiff in the hind end. The vet suggested calcium and to let her eat and drink for 20 minutes before hand grazing her to just move her around before putting her to rest. (And a butt massage which Iva was apparently very good at as K was in heaven!)

She was bright eyed and her usual mare-tude self and though we didn’t make the time, we did ride 50 miles and I was proud of getting through safely with a healthy horse.

AND WE DID IT BAREFOOT!!

I’m glad I made the decision to go back out. I am amazed at what she’s capable of doing and though I have some work to do in July to get her moving again at a faster pace, she proved that she’s good for the miles in what many riders said was a really challenging trail.

did I mention we rode barefoot? 🙂

I owe a lot to the folks at Scoot Boots as nothing is certain in the hoof world but the success and ease of the boots have made it possible for us to continue on the barefoot journey. It does take a lot of time and immense patience- but I am so glad we’re doing it because she is stronger now than she was when we were in shoes!


Mentally this ride was hard on me for a variety of reasons and it would have bee so much harder without Iva. She was fantastic crew, helpful, great company and she’s wonderful with Khaleesi (My heart was happy and full spending a moment watching them walking quietly alone in the meadow post-ride while I cleaned the mud off my tack and the rest of camp was at dinner. She is one of the few people I think Khaleesi actually likes!) She truly was a godsend this time and I couldn’t have done it without her.

The ride home was less eventful thankfully and only took about 5 hours. K walked to the water tank then trotted off into the good grass with Wyoming to graze.

I looked over between unloading wet/muddy gear and she had made her way back toward the fence and was watching toward the barn where I was working.

Then the next day when I came to check in and feed she was at the gate waiting for me. She hung around while I rubbed on them and spent a little time- that was the biggest gift of all.

I had honored her and taken care of her the best I knew how and she has thrived in her own way. And she was still connected to me when we got home- maybe even more than when we left.

That is a million times more valuable to me than a number on a rider record.

Well get there.

In our own way, in our own time.

We’ll do it together.

2 thoughts on “The mud of black sheep

  1. Yay! So glad you got your miles in and had a happy sound horse at the end. Proud of all you have learned and continue to apply. Ride On………

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  2. I have gone OT more times than I truly care to think about. Except for this; I did the miles. And I put my horse first. I threw a 50 out the window once because my boy seemed a little “off”, so I stopped, pulled some grain I had for him out, and stood there hand-feeding him for 10 or 15 minutes. I didn’t care. All that mattered was him.

    You put her first. You didn’t egg her on, you didn’t push to make that cut-off. You did the miles. And, in some INTENSE conditions. I’ve only done one 50 where the mud was almost hock deep on our horses (we were told at the ride meeting “One kind of boggy spot”), and it was just one spot. NOTHING as intense as the conditions you shared.

    Congrats to you and Khaleesi!! Job well done!

    And I’m interested in hearing more about this mud strap for the Scoots!! Sounds VERY promising!!!

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