Saturday, September 22, 2018
I often wake up in the dark on race day and get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and wonder what I’m doing here. Why do I do this?
Yes. I do feel fear.
Thursday morning my biggest fear was that my Scootboots would fail me.
What was I thinking coming to ride a 50 with just my training strap on Boots? It’s against the odds to use strap on boots on a tough 50 mile endurance ride. Most people know better… I’m going to lose them… I’m going to be getting off my horse every 5 miles to fix them, a twist, falling off, lost in mud.
Is my horse really ready for this? I haven’t been able to get more that 15 miles in one day due to many assorted issues in the past 6 weeks. Sure she finished a 50 in June… but that was a lifetime ago… have I really gotten the conditioning in? Do I have what it takes? Is my horse even suited to do this- she’s not like the other horses here. What about my saddle set up- I can’t get anything to be truly consistent. Just when I get a great sweat pattern then next ride the same set up leaves dry spots. She doesn’t have any back soreness but will we run into trouble over 50 miles?
Am I failing my horse?
I’m going to throw up.
Boldness comes not from the absence of fear but from moving forward anyway. Fear will also come along with big adventures and growth potential. The choice is to do your best and walk on– willing to learn what lessons come– or get paralyzed and hide.
We’ll fly into the turbulence… no telling where we’re going to land. Isn’t that part of the adventure?
For the most part I tend not to hide. I pull up my ‘granny panties’ and get on the horse.
What’s the worst that can happen today? I fail to complete. I loose all my boots. I look foolish for trying.
But what if we fly?
So at 0-7-hundred we head out into the mist at a nice trot on the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to throw our number into the AERC National Championship 2018 50 mile ride and see what adventure brings.
It was a beautiful morning and my horse was forward and trotting beautifully passing by some other riders as we settled into a comfortable trot. With 90 riders on trail we fell in with a group that seemed to pace well and made a friend for the day (MaryAnn and her horse Princess Tessa).
The adventures began at mile 5 when Khaleesi began to fuss. Was something on her leg? In her boot? Kicks, a couple small bucks then a big buck I was tossed onto her neck not quite ready for it but still in saddle. At that point I was about to get off when I heard the too familiar
GO GO GO GO GO! BEES!!!
We were under attack and so I took my bucking bronco and said RUN GIRL desperately grateful I hadn’t gotten off but now feeling like a rodeo rider. She ran and bucked on down the trail. I am still shocked that I stayed on through all that. I have never ridden that kind of leaping and bucking in my life and at a full out run too in this little AP jump style Balance International saddle that won’t stay put on its own. It took a minute for her to level out and then we kept cantering along as we still had bees in pursuit.
Talk about flying through the turbulence!
The rest of the first loop went much better. It was cool in the morning and I allowed her to move along down the trail as much as possible knowing the heat was coming and I’d like to buy some time now.
The first loop was 15.6 miles and we came in a little under 2 1/2 hours. Khaleesi immediately pulsed in at 56 with CRI of 52 and ate like a machine the entire hold.
I am so grateful to Brandea for coming to crew for me. It was a great introduction for her to the sport and being a bit of a loaner I tend to assume I’ll be on my own but have been very lucky to have crew company on many rides. The support and company is really helpful and in part makes you feel a little less alone in the crowd.
She learned quickly about what needs to be done with the horse but even more important, she is a mom so she was adept at being sure my human water was refilled for the trail and that I’d eaten something and always knew where whatever I needed was as I’d mindlessly tossed helmet, breast collar, pads etc into piles with laser focus on my horse, cooling, pulse, and getting to vet ASAP.
The second loop was 20 miles and I knew that would be a challenge as we headed into the heat of the day. It was out the black access across the famous bridge over the French Broad River and 12 miles around the wooded trails of orange west before returning to the main estate and doing a 5 mile jag to add enough mileage then returning to camp.
It was in the high 80s and extremely humid. About half way through the loop Khaleesi began panting after climbing hills. The air was still and thick so trotting on at a controlled pace was really all we could do because at least that created some airflow. Slowing to a walk occasionally was ok but she couldn’t ever cool that way and stopping completely to recover would have killed us. We had to get air through the radiator so to speak and a slow trot through the shaded trails was the best bet even though it was insanely hot.
Still she was willing and forward. That told me we were ok- because this mare doesn’t stay willing and forward to please me. She takes excellent care of herself and will tell me when she is not doing well regardless of who leaves her behind. However the other horses we were riding with would grab some grass as we meandered along and Khaleesi was too hot even to eat. That had me concerned.
Finally when MaryAnn stopped to pick up a dropped sponge from the trail and we waited a moment in the shade, Khaleesi grew momentarily bored and began picking at the grass. That was a good sign and from then on she would snack here and there as we went.
The rest of the loop went ok though we walked on and off in the shade to keep from overheating and the riders we’d grouped with decided to stay together even though Khaleesi likely slowed the pace of the thin gray Arabs they were riding a bit.
I anticipated the heat would be a challenge and made sure I had two full bags of ice ready and Brandea had them waiting for us to cool Khaleesi at the second check while she ate like a monster (mile 35). Thankful to my lesson from Kate on my first OD 50 riding in heat- to cool that horse the entire hold with cold water to get back on trail cool to the core. That was my plan.
Unfortunately upon trot out the vet saw a potential left front issue. Not enough to call lame but a question and she held our vet card. Upon closer inspection I’d found a slight boot rub where some recent scar tissue was. [K had come in a couple weeks ago with a cut on her foot looking like a caught in a fence issue. It wasn’t serious but just enough by mile 35 to begin to irritate her.]
I tried some vet wrap but wasn’t convinced it would stay in place. We rechecked with the vet and given the all clear to take on the last 15 miles with this word of warning from Art as we walked away: don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!
Brandea had done her best to sponge and scrape K with the cold water but it was miserably humid and even so I didn’t think we’d gotten her cool as I wanted to the core. The whole thing- cooling and boot issue- made for a harried check period and I barely had time to scarf a sandwich and pee myself.
At least we were heading out later in the day (maybe beginning to lessen in heat intensity) and I had moved fast enough early on to leave about 4 hours for the last loop.
Tessa and MaryAnn had waited the extra minute or two we needed to get out of the hold and we began to ride on together. She said she liked riding with us and once she paired up with a buddy didn’t like to leave anyone behind. I thanked her and we walked onto trail together.
This is the first ride that returns to camp each loop that Khaleesi left camp willingly on all loops. Usually I have to encourage her to get back onto trail and then she’s fine. This ride she certainly didn’t take off at a canter like the front runners did as they jetted out onto each loop but I never had to insist she go out.
After around 5 miles I felt any tiny stumble or uneven step and began to worry. The vet wrap had indeed come loose and wasn’t protecting anymore.
I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have gone back out.
The doubts and fears.
I stopped as we began to lag behind the little group and silently hopped off as they went on – I didn’t want to make a big deal- they didn’t need to wait for me.
Don’t make us regret letting you go out there!!
I made a decision to pull the front boots. Our only hope was to do the last 10 miles barefoot. We had almost 3 hours. If the rub is truly the issue this might be the only chance. I can’t make it worse.
Sweet MaryAnn noticed I’d fallen out and called to me. I told her go ahead I’m fine and I heard hoofbeats as she cantered back to check.
I told her my plan and said to go ahead. I will be slowing down and I ride alone all the time! Enjoy the last few miles and see you at camp.
She frowned in thought and said she didn’t want to leave us. I assured her that I am really ok and would not accept her walking along with us at a handicap with bare front feet! Go!
She reluctantly cantered back to the other women and I hooked the front boots to the saddle and prayed her feet were continuing to improve to the point we could do 10 miles barefoot in the time allotted and still come in sound!
Ironically my biggest fear to start the day was the boots would not stay on.
Another win for Scoot Boots as not ONCE did I have to fix a boot in 50 miles. Not a twist, not a strap undone, not a mud suck. I was amazed myself!! (hind Boots stayed on all 50 miles with no issue and the pulling of the fronts I believe we’re not a boot issue as much as a scar tissue creating a rub on only the left that is abnormal for my experience.)
The biggest problem I truly faced that day was the heat and humidity. In retrospect going barefoot slowed me down in the final 10 miles and that may have saved us metabolic concerns.
Sometimes speed bumps and unexpected issues are given to help guide us toward the better direction.
More than once I considered giving up… calling someone or bailing with a shortcut back to camp and accepting this wasn’t going to work for her.
We walked anything too hard and gravel and trotting the wooded paths and grass at first she seemed to protest being barefoot but gradually she picked up confidence and was trotting beautifully on soft ground.
A pair of riders caught us on a gravel road and we rode together for some miles giving Khaleesi a mental jolt of having some company. She perked up more and began trotting faster again as we kept watch on the clock but riding as safely as we could.
Still as the evening approached and the worst of the heat gone after longer trot and canter intervals she would pant again, hot and tired yet willing to continue.
Finally we reached the water stop at mile 49. One more mile to go!
We had 22 minutes on the clock. The pair of riders we had hooked up with drank and then began out toward the finish while Khaleesi drank and stood quietly breathing hard watching them walk on and told me she absolutely was not going on yet.
I waited a moment and asked
Can we go? We’re really close girl…
No– she’d drop her head to the water and pretend to drink but she was buying time.
I waited again.
Can we go?
Two more times no. Not yet.
Less than 20 minutes on the clock.
We are so close to stop now.
Finally I insisted- we must at least walk. We are not going to stop and die here. Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other girl. You can do it.
We began to walk the last mile toward home.
Thankfully as she picked up a slow trot we rounded up to the estate view hill that means the last drop down to the lagoon and then the finish one more group of 4 riders came from behind. As they approached Khaleesi began to perk up.
Newly motivated she began to trot faster and the steep hill I would usually walk down she took on a like a mountain goat hind underneath and front end light as I did everything I could to stay out of her way and balance quietly down the hill. Now it was just across the street down the wildflower path and the grass runway to the finish line.
All of us picked up speed and Khaleesi felt like she had this morning fresh and forward – on wings like eagles – as we rounded into the cornfield and cantered the last 1/8 of a mile riding on pure joy together.
We crossed the line with 2 minutes left on the clock and my horse’s spirit completely recovered as she dove into the grass to eat while I waited for my official finish time slip.
The finish is a mile from camp and I slung the rope over my shoulder loosely as we walked side by side together. As far as I could tell she was perfectly sound and though hot she was alert and walking out with good energy and bright eyes.
No matter what my horse had done the miles- now it was up to the vet to see if we’d get them on the human record.
After a 20 minute walk back to camp we took off the saddle and did a little sponging then walked straight to vet. I hadn’t even thought to check her pulse first.
She was right at 64 so we headed to trot. Moment of truth. I ran fast as I could and turned her to the right to keep weight off her left front. And then ran her as fast as I could back. And prayed.
She looks great. Nice job!
Relief flooded through me as he checked hydration, gut sounds, back soreness and muscle tension. She passed it all with As and we had officially completed the ride.
She was healthy, sound and in good spirits and looked fantastic overall.
I felt so proud of her and inspired by the magnificence of horses. I was glad I made the trip, faced the fears, keep trying through some doubts… cantering strong into the finish line high on the joy of making it through a challenging day was exhilarating and triumphant – even if we did come in completely last.
We got to the starting line, we tried our best, and out of 68 to start in our division only 50 finished successfully. That is something!
I still stand by the fact that doing difficult things that take work, dedication, focus and are risky at times can result in learning what you are capable of, seeing what your horse is capable of as you press into the limits of possibility, and grow us together as well.
(Photo Becky Pearman)
I have pondered recently how some people seem to believe that pushing limits and struggling through things means it must not be right, not meant to be, or a sign one should turn back.
The concept of emotional fitness.
Bob Goff tells a story of renting a plane to fly to a work engagement that was farther than he wanted to drive but close enough to fly himself as he had a pilots license. He would cross a few mountain ranges and charted his course to take off, get high enough to fly over the mountains and the drop back down and land safely without drama to his destination.
Upon landing he overheard some Air Force pilots who had just flown the same territory chosen because of the mountain ranges. They instead charted courses that took them lower and flew through the canyons because it challenged them to be better pilots. They didn’t choose the safe route- they chose the challenge. They were deepening skills before the emergency situation called for them.
We work on physical fitness and certainly mental fitness- but what do we do to improve our emotional fitness.
In conversations with friends over this question most of the answers came in the form of what to do when emotional trials come, but no one really seemed to consider how to work a little each day on improving emotional fitness before you are faced with a traumatic event.
If we live as best we can always choosing the higher, smoother route above the difficulties of challenging friendships that are good for us in the long run (a harsh word from a friend is worth more than the kiss of an enemy) or uncomfortable but real conversations, or keeping the peace at the expense of being real with others, choosing forgiveness when it’s undeserved, not always choosing the easy path or the happy one if a more difficult one that will pay off in deeper relationships or more strength are the longer term payout.
If we don’t face our own fears on smaller levels we will have a much harder time facing them when devastating things beyond our control enter our airspace.
It’s a concept I’ve come to think of as trying to live wholehearted. For the joys and for the sorrows- the mountains and the valleys.
A song I love by For King and Country echos often in my heart: