Early registration and deposit for the Fort Valley 50 next Friday in mail: check.
Last 26 mile ride to be sure my girl is still holding up: check.
Tack cleaning and pre-packing started: check check.
At the moment I am on target to head out in less than a week for the last ride of the season and the first ride for us since early June.
The last long (26 mile) ride was postponed later than I’d planned but at least it was rescheduled for a beautiful fall day and I was able to relay the ride between two friends (each did half) for company. My trusted endurance buddy Susan rode the morning 13 with Levi who is healthy, sound and also doing great now barefoot in boots! (For the record it wasn’t THAT long ago that I passed on the sentiment I’d believed based on my experience: that horse will never be able to go barefoot…… he used to tear hoof up just living in the pasture if he wasn’t shoed… live and learn!)
Then Claudia met me for the afternoon 13 with her lovely mare Willow. Willow is gaining miles and fitness and won ‘miss suitability’ in a local multi-day high mileage ride last year. I am pleased to say I think she’ll make it out to an LD next season and I suspect Claudia might be an endurance rider at heart ❤️she may come to the dark side sooner than one might think…
Willow finished the afternoon still strong with plenty of horse left. I have no doubt she could have made the whole 26 if Claudia hadn’t been tied up with work in the morning.
Fall riding is my favorite- everything about fall is my favorite actually!
It was good to see Khaleesi finish the 26 with plenty of horse left as well. The mare is pretty fit for a minimal riding summer and I believe ready to come back finally for a slow 50.
So the mare is good to go….
…however my hoof protection plan is going to need some supernatural intervention!
I am heading into another technical rough & rocky Old Dominion ride like the one that cost me a metal shoe in mile 4 last June… this time with hoof boots. 😬 And I’m not even glueing them on.
Any number of experienced people whose opinion I trust completely would unquestionably tell me to come up with a better plan for success.
They aren’t wrong.
But this is where I am – so I’ll go with it.
We do the best we can- and either get a miracle or a lesson. Those are the kind of adventures I hope define my life.
Though my plan is against the odds, I have at least a few things going for me.
First I’ve heard Karen Chaton talk (she has an endurance blog and co-hosts the endurance day podcast at horses in the morning) and she rides many endurance rides including Tevis with her boots successfully and not glued. I’m hoping to have some of her luck.
Second, one benefit to ‘strap on’ boots is that as long as I have spares I can put a boot back on and go- no need for farrier and hopefully (no nails and no glue) still have an intact hoof!
I have a bucketful of magic boots coming along on this trip! Third and hopefully the most important: my front Scoot Boots have a solid training track record.
They have stayed on for over 100 training miles at this point and though I have occasionally lost one it’s been obvious (a mud sink, a rock slide) and I knew it immediately and they are quick to replace. Even those moments are rare and my Scoots just survived the full 26 mile ride with 100% success. I’m not expecting to get 50 rough miles without having to hop off and replace a boot- but my hope is that it will be rare and these Scoots will hold up to the terrain.
My rear boots are unfortunately still in ‘beta’ testing mode and this is because the slims took so long to release I haven’t had the time I need to play with options over miles.
The slims fit great on her bare hoof but I’m using sole padding and wrapping mostly due to the extreme nature of the mileage and terrain.
I used the thinnest sole padding and a pretty thick collar wrap on the 26 mile ride and they stayed on perfectly – however at the end of the day there was a very slight spot on the side of the coronet on the back half of the hoof that had rubbed. It wasn’t sensitive for her and I don’t think it is a true problem (completely normal by the next day) but it’s enough to make me pull the padded endurance gaiters off the slims and do a much thinner vet-wrap & tape modification for the collar.
I won’t have the ability to try it out over miles before ride day but I will put them on to see how they’re fitting.
I may be better in a regular size 2 with a more padded collar to help keep the foot snug without being too tight. I could have a thicker pad in a regular size 2 as well. I’ll have this option available in my kit as well if I begin to see rubbing at the band over the 50.
Last- before the slims came I was having decent luck with my old renegades on the hind feet. They stayed on pretty reliably but they won’t hold a pad which isn’t preferable. (I have learned through this process that using a boot without a pad keeps the hoof from being able to be supported fully on giving surfaces like grass, soft trail or mud. The 1000 pound horse sinks into these surfaces enough to distribute the weight/pressure over more of the hoof. If the boot doesn’t allow this over a ride it’s in essence like staying on a hard surface (concrete, hard pack, asphalt) the entire ride with all the pressure/impact on the outside contact surfaces only (hoof wall and laminae). It’s harder on their joints and their feet this way). It’s true that the hinds seem to tolerate this better than the front feet- but I want my horse to power from her hinds not pull heavy on her front legs so getting padding back there so she is comfortable seems like the best practice if possible.
Regardless I have 3 possible hind boot scenarios if one or two fail.
The other part of the plan is to ride alone. I may need to stop and deal with a boot and I don’t want to feel pressure of holding anyone up as I do what I need to do- conversely there may be places I can make up time that may be different from needs other horses have (this has happened to me on past rides where K was super slow on rocky places but had plenty in the tank to canter on the good footing- but the team we’d hooked up with ‘didn’t canter’ … it ended up ok but made me nervous with the clock...)
One thing I have begun to notice is that Khaleesi is moving through rocky sections easier than ever before since I’ve been riding her! It’s been so subtle a change over time I almost didn’t notice until this week when she kept moving in places she used to slow WAY down to navigate rocky sections. This is huge. It will be interesting to see how she does on a really rocky trail compared to metal shoes and pads at the No Frills ride in April.
The more I learn the more it makes sense that we saw some evidence of impact damage in X-rays last winter in the right foot (coffin bone) – foremost I’m naturally super-right sided and likely weighted to that side more heavily over time- but secondly I was either in metal shoes, then with impact pads that wouldn’t have allowed surfaces to help support the hoof- or boots without pads which also didn’t really support the whole hoof over hard riding.
I’ve been working as constantly as I can to on getting more balanced OUT of the saddle to help me get more balanced IN the saddle to minimize one-sided damage I’m causing in my horse.
I’ve asked my fantastic gym coach to forgo some of the muscle building work for balance and feel exercises. He’s always trying to understand what I’m doing and work on new routines to help me improve what I’m lacking. Since I have somewhat odd requests, he does research each week to come up with new ways to help me improve.
Now hopefully the hoof solutions will lessen impact and make a difference as well.
Yet after the 26 miles I think I found I am the one in worse riding shape! You can jog, squat and work out but nothing duplicates spending an entire day in the saddle. My legs were tired and my body stiff from that ‘easy’ ride as I haven’t been out on the trail long distances this year.
Hopefully I’ll hold up as well as my horse!
A betting person would be smart to pick another team this ride- but I’ll take my long odds, my barefoot horse in strap on boots and a little prayer to the staring line and see what we can do!
One thing I love is finding ways everything is a gift- even the things you didn’t think you wanted. If you change perspective and turn them around enough you can see the beauty- but sometimes it takes a little squinting through tears!
I am back from the OD safely and have taken one of the few best showers of my life now able to relax finally and boy it feels good!
Though I tried not to think negatively and ‘curse’ us- I wasn’t convinced I would finish the OD100 sound and healthy the first go at it. The completion rate is usually close to half- and to even enter the 100 usually (hopefully!) means you’re a smart rider with a dependable horse who has some solid experiece, so half those riders pulled out of the race are top endurance competitors.
Everything has to go right for this to work. And then you still need a little luck to make it through.
Khaleesi and I began with all the hopes you can carry and within about 3 miles something felt off. I asked Amy to let some riders pass us and watch me trot.
Something’s not right….
Yep you’d better check. I think you lost a shoe!
I got off and sure enough. Front Left. Gone. Hoof tore up pretty good. Damn rain this spring. This is not a good way to start.
Now what.. ok. Boot. Vet wrap. We are prepared for everything including this.
I wrapped the hoof and put on the Scoot boot. And crossed my fingers. We had A. Long. Way. To. Go.
We start moving again and she’s a little off but better. Frills takes a nice trot pace and K follows without much trouble. In short time she feels better and we’re moving along well. The boot is doing its job. And it’s staying on.
How will we get through. It’s a long day and I’m now feeling worried. I decide there to ride the trail in front of me on the horse I’m on. Stay present and don’t think of what’s to come or what’s happened. Be. Here. Now.
We climb the ridge and Khaleesi does her thing- the mountains – she leads Frills at a nice power walk up the first big climb to the ridge. I relax. Amy is terrified of tie up. I’m terrified of lameness. We both try to enjoy the lovely perfect morning with pretty Laurel and nice views. The horses walk the ridge where it’s rocky and grab bites of grass while waking. Eat and chew. Feeling good.
We came out to the water tanks in good spirits. Electrolyted. Began to head down the mountain- all downhill into Bird Haven. We got this.
Heading into Bird Haven we caught up with a couple riders at the stream crossing and all the horses have been here before. They were not gong to stop and relax in the stream. They wanted breakfast. And they were not happy to wait while the two horses they just caught got there first.
We trotted into the hold faster than I would have on my own in order not to choose a fight right there over it (counterproductive) and my heart rate was up at 135 coming to the In-Timer.
Not what I’d normally do.
Crew is waiting and ready!
Let’s get her in the shade, tack off and hope we don’t take too long to pulse.
By the time Ricky came over with the hand-held as Frills had pulsed we’d just gotten her saddle off and started some water. She needs to come down to 64. From 135. Fast.
Go. She’s at 58.
I’m surprised. That was fast.
We walk slowly to P&R and breathe deep. Cross fingers.
Me: Good Morning. She should be ok. She was just at 58.
Pulse taker: Well she’s not now.
Inner voice: Shoot did we walk too fast- is she looking for Frills?
Pulse taker: She’s at 54 now.
We walk to the vet. She does fine, trot out with the boot she’s sound. The boot is working. CRI was 48/48.
I’m very happy. Despite losing a shoe early on the first vet check seems like a good sign.
We go back to eat, drink and get ready for a long afternoon stretch before we see crew again. Pam and Susan are fantastic help!
Pam is good with K and listens to her when she asks to eat more grass and walk around a little and susan is on top of everything and even makes 3 trips (running) back to the truck for this and that including a second extra boot now for the rest of the day.
We have a hard loop with a severe climb into Laurel Run with no crew accesss then a tough stretch on to Bucktail. Probably over 7 hours before we catch up with them again.
I make the decision to stick with the boot. There isn’t a lot of hoof left to nail into and I don’t want to chance loosing that shoe and tearing up a hoof more that already grows slowly. One day’s goal isn’t worth losing all that hoof. Maybe the experience today is going to be in seeing how good these boots really are.
But I decided to add a pad to make them more protective. We’re heading into some rough territory. It could only help.
We left the check together and within a mile I was feeling something wrong. I looked at the shoes- they were on… the boot however was not.
Go on ahead. I’m going back for it. I’ll catch up!
Are you sure?
I turned back and was certain it couldn’t be far. It was at least a half mile. I got off to hand jog her.
I should have FIRST put the extra boot on- then rode back to get the spare.
I found the boot and pad. The pad had changed the fit enough to cause it to come off for the first time since I bought them.
I put the boot on without the pad to see how that would work. It was working from the whole first loop- maybe that was enough.
We had good gravel road to canter on and possibly catch up to Amy. She could do this in her sleep. We train for this. And it’s early in the day.
She didn’t. She cantered a little then trotted and little then walked. I compromised on a solid trot. Catching up was not vital. I could ride this ride alone if I had to and it might be better for us.
Maybe that’s what the day is about. Taking this on alone. That doesn’t worry me.
Heart rate wasn’t right. As we trotted up the gravel road she hung around 150bpm. Should have been 120 or so.
That’s an indicator.
I tried changing diagonals – she wasn’t comfortable. Ok. You’re not doing well with that foot. One last thing I can adjust. I will vetwrap the pad to the hoof before putting the shoe on. That’s how I should have done it in the first place.
We went on and got off the gravel road into the woods. Let’s see if she comes around and feels more comfortable.
She’d walk and then trot and then walk and then stumble a little- trip- trot.
Walk trot walk trip trot walk trot walk trot trip.
Is this going to sort out? Am I being paranoid? Am I causing this by over-obsessing?
She paused on trail.
I thought about it: I know where we are headed and the rocks are only going to get worse and worse. The next two loops are brutal. For a horse going in 100%.
Do I want to chance it and have to bail 7 miles into this loop making it harder to get out? Do I want to obsess and worry my way through the next 80 miles? Do I want to push my horse to try even though her foot hurts?
Of course not….
The drag riders caught me paused in thought on the trail. I told them I was done today and they got me the number (I had some service) for Duane back at Bird Haven and they held the ‘ambulance’ trailer for me.
We walked most of the 2.5 miles back and trotted some of the good footing as I was curious how bad it was. It wasn’t bad- mostly she was pretty sound but occasionally a mis-step. When I switched my diagonal though it was worse and I knew something was there.
She passed the vet check and the vet at Bird haven gave her a ‘Rider Option’ code because she was considered sound officially. There was again a rare mis-step and we all agreed it was likely a sore spot or minor bruise was the culprit. The time I rode unprotected probably she was ok until she hit a rock then was off and I noticed but the damage was there even if it was slight.
Let me be clear for those who haven’t been to an endurance event: just because the vet officially cleared her doesn’t mean she didn’t agree that pulling out was the right call. We all believed it would have gotten worse. It just means right then it wasn’t bad enough to call her grade 3 lame.
Drinking back at camp waking to the trailer. Done for the day!
You don’t take on the Beast of the East with a hoof bruise! Well… at least I don’t.
I don’t want to get through- I want to do it so my horse is good with the process. I made a promise that I would never (again) put my goals ahead of my horse and what fits into that promise even adjusts over time. This sport asks a lot of a horse. I don’t want to shove it onto her, break her down mentally and physically and then tell her later as she’s recovering in the pasture: see that wasn’t so bad right? We’ll do it again next month.
I think the vets are amazing. And they do everything they can to ensure the riders and horses can do their best. But I think they stay on the side of allowing the riders to make the call regarding what is best for the horse until it’s severe enough to force a pull. Depending on your relationship and personality they may give advice- and they’ll always tell you if they think you’re headed for trouble. But I’ve scribed enough to see humans glaze right over as long as they get their rider card back.
I think it needs to be that way because their job isn’t to be a rider’s conscious – when they pull it isn’t a matter of opinion: at that point the horse cannot continue.
One thing I took from this ride experience is the confirmation to me that the relationship I’ve created with my horse is way wayway too important to force her into a situation that she is hurting or struggling and I insist she continue anyway because it’s not life threatening, career-ending, or it will heal up and not cause long term damage and the vet passed me through.
I want to have a crew that knows me enough to tell me I’m riding my horse too hard or her back hurts or her eyes are getting dull or she’s not eating or drinking enough. It can be hard not to do everything possible to push through when you’re in the middle of it.
I know I have that crew!
I also want to consider how my crewing stops work from my horse’s perspective and not just my own human needs. I’ve learned that she is a smart mare and if I at least listen to what she is saying I can get more information to help me excel. That’s her job- to be my co-pilot. If I’m a good leader I will want to hear what she has to say. If she wants more grass than beet pulp and that means taking a little walk to graze in vet check that is ok. If she wants to eat everyone else’s food that is not ok. It’s not that she’s in control- but I will try my best to hear her and then determine if I can give her what she’s asking for.
I believe in the long run over her decade-plus-team career this will build into a horse that doesn’t just put her head down and do her job, but pushes herself to carry me faster, farther and with the great heart of a mare more willingly than otherwise.
And because she isn’t a Arab bred from the womb to excel in this sport it’s all the more important to use every angle at my disposal to succeed with her.
That is what this sport means to me.
And this ride where I made the call to hear her as she told me she wasn’t feeling right to continue into the rough mountains – that is a sacrifice for the goal but a huge gift to her.
I will always remember last year’s Iron Mountain ride where I didn’t listen because I thought she was not giving her all. She was alone and didn’t want to leave camp… she could move along faster… we train at home we’re ready! But the rocks there hurt her feet and was significant. It was significant mentally, emotionally and physically.
She leaned that day I would force her into something she couldn’t handle. She learned if she didn’t perform even when in pain I would get emotional (frustrated… oh that embarrassing scene alone in the woods). I caused physical damage to her hooves that I think she is still paying for over time trying to get stronger feet and the impact damage from the x-rays.
Saturday when I turned her around was very significant.
She learned that I can be trusted. That I will take care of her. That I will not push her into a situation she can’t thrive and perform.
Like Buck says:
Always make a winner out of your horse so she can make a winner out of you.
That is a gift.
The opportunity to prove myself and my dedication to my horse. You can’t do that when the stakes are low. It’s only a sacrifice when you give something up. And I know she knows.
She may not have completely understood what it meant to enter the 100 but she knew my energy had been different. She felt it in our tack and warm up ride the evening before. She was a coiled spring ready to perform. She was proud and prancing and happy. She was different. I felt it in every step. Not out of control- just strong.
Without question she knew this was a significant event. And as I turned her around I told her how proud I was of her and rubbed her neck and said I knew she did her best and I will work on getting her feet stronger to support the rest of her.
I cried a little too for the disappointment I felt because it was honest. Yet I knew in my heart it was a gift to both of us. This day would be one more invaluable link in our relationship and the years of preparation for the day we do cross the 100 finish line strong and healthy!
This year has taught me valuable life lessons and I am blesssed to be in a place where I believe that it’s not good and bad but truth and love. Reality is a gift.
Everything is a gift.
Here are some more of the positive things that came from pulling out of the race after riding the first 20 miles:
* Because it was early enough, I made it back to camp in time to jump in and crew for Amy!
* I got to see all the vet checks from the road. What they look like, how the set up and parking is like. What other riders and crews are doing and what works.
* My awesome crew got to experience crewing this 100 with Ricky helping Amy so no pressure to get me through but to help, watch and learn…
* they are already thinking of ways to improve on my gear and packing systems that would make the day more efficient for them (awesome!!) and have said they will help me try again!
* I did all the mental, emotional and physical prep for the ride and will be more efficient next year with better understanding what is coming.
* A 20 mile trail ride instead of 50-100 miles will mean I get more saddle time this summer as she won’t be on a 3-week recovery break.
* I have more compassion and empathy for others who try and don’t succeed at something important to them.
My mentor Lynne said always buy the ride photo. It goes into a photo journal and you can look back at your progress. So I bought my photo from the first loop and wrote this on the back for future reference:
My good friend Sarah upon getting the text that I didn’t make it through sent this wonderful quote:
Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; It strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.
5:30am start on Saturday means an early morning- in fact 5:30 am start means I’m on my horse by 5:15 (ideally but it hardly ever works that way for me) so probably getting up by 4am to make sure we are adequately dosed with coffee.
As for Khaleesi, I will offer a light meal of wet beet pulp with minimal coolstance added as soon as possible to 4am with salt and her supplements. Her job is to have been eating and drinking all night and she usually takes it pretty seriously so she doesn’t need a heavy meal right before start. I also plan to dose her with a plain salt mix right before I climb aboard to encourage early drinking.
You will be amazed at how anticlimactic the start of an endurance ride is. But you’ll want to see it anyway- maybe you can remember to get video of us coming through at hopefully a very moderate trot.
The first loop into BIRDHAVEN isn’t terrible for terrain with one major climb and I hope to be in around 8-8:15. Last year on the 50 it took me just around 2:30 so maybe a year later she’ll be a touch more confident and faster. Your job this day is to get us in and out as efficiently as possible. If we waste 5 minutes at every vet check trying to pulse or cool down or not being in the saddle by our out time that is a lost 30 minutes to our finish time and depending on the day could mean we complete or not.
This means be ready to pull tack basically as I’m getting off the saddle and if it’s hot have COLD water already sponging her neck, sides and underside with a scraper practically while we are walking in. Cooling down means quicker to pulse. She can drink but don’t want her eating until she’s down to 64bpm because digesting creates heat and can keep the heart from dropping Gut sounds are vital however so someone needs to have a flake of hay and/or carrots as we walk or in line for the vet.
It’s a 45 minute hold. You will be shocked at how fast 45 minutes is especially in comparison to how SLOW 2 minutes is when you are sitting in the saddle waiting for your out time to come. Bird haven is the main check as it’s first in and last out- and it will be set up since Thursday as another friend riding the 50 will be using it as his crewing spot when he rides Friday. So you shouldn’t have to do a lot in the AM to get ready!
Main things at Bird Haven after getting vetted through: feed the beast- mostly grass if there’s any left- so someone may need to walk her around to find some, hydration hay which should be available to her at every check and already hydrated (I guess that’s obvious), beet pulp is also ok and coolstance can be mixed into it.
I’m not sure if we’ll need her waterproof sheet as we may be getting some rain in the morning if forecasts stay accurate- it’s hard to know at that time of day if we’ll be keeping her from getting a chill or trying to cool her down. Be ready for both. If it’s not raining per mentor’s instructions wet her chest and neck before we ride off and NEVER EVER let me forget to Elyte her, and be sure I have an extra syringe to go in my pack as well.
After Bird Haven I ride 16 miles to LAUREL RUN this has a massive demoralizing climb and could be one of the slower MPH loops I do all day. I’ve done this stretch of trail in the 50 last year and hiked a lot of the climb on foot because it’s that steep and if she’s walking, I’m walking… no sense in making her carry me up the mountain if we can’t pick up speed. I think this loop took me almost 4 hours last year. It was later in the day for the 50 and it was a very hot day, a year less conditioning under her hooves, so I hope to make slightly better time- but never know.
LAUREL RUN is crew-less in the AM. They take care of us there because space is at a premium and you won’t be there. I am considering sending up a bag with elytes the night before- I want to be sure I’m dosing enough and don’t know if I want to carry enough for over 6 hours of trail because I won’t see you until Bucktail. This is another 45 minute hold. The legal range for us to be there is like 10:30 – 1:45pm (meaning if i didn’t get OUT of there by 1:45pm they’re sending me home in the trailer cause I’m overtime!). Since you can’t come here you get a morning break! This is when you’ll want to be sure we have plenty of ice because we have 15 miles to get to…..
BUCKTAIL. This is mid-afternoon. The check opens around 1pm and stays open till about 4pm so it’s the heat of the day and I’ve heard there are some climbs… I have no idea at the moment when we’ll get there because now i’m in uncharted territory! I hope we can somehow stay in communication occasionally or you can check in with officials to find out when we got to and left laurel run if we can’t text or call. If I make it to Bucktail I’ll want a yummy lunch (which i’ll have to figure out!) and watermelon and cold drinks. Well be spending a lot of time icing and scraping K so she goes back on trail with a totally cool core temp. You will think it’s overkill.
It isn’t. This is also a 45 minute hold. Then we do 7 miles to…
WAITES RUN – gate and go. This means only 10 minutes after reaching pulse. where the vets want to see the horse trot by after you give them a snack. It’s open like 2-7pm… I believe you will be able to crew this for us- they should have water tanks and you SHOULD only need to get us fresh drinks for our packs and e-lytes for the horses and hay or beet pulp whatever she seems to be eating. (maybe carrots and apples if she’s not being snotty about them.)
Note here: those who’ve gone before me say DROP TACK immediately. It’s not required but not doing it almost always costed them time in the past. Many riders take more than the 10 minutes required and we will hope not to if possible… Make sure you have a sponge and sweat scraper and some ice water ready in case it takes time to cool her. I will take extra elytes but will NOT elyte before leaving this check – it is the only one I will wait until water because there’s an immediate climb and she won’t have much chance for water for a while. Then 12 miles to
LITTLE SLUICE – this is what they call “hospitality” and you will not be there.. there is no vet check or hold, they just provide us with water (horses), usually some hay or carrots… and take our number to be sure we’re still ok… I’ll electrolyte for sure… you should be able to get information of our position because in 4 more miles we’ll see you at:
BIG 92… if i make it here we are at mile 70 and i will probably be exhausted or ecstatic because that’s the farthest I’ve ever ridden by many miles and it’s hard to believe I’ll see big 92!!!! 😳) this check is open from 5-10:30pm… I can’t imagine I’ll be there at 5 but I sure hope it’s not 10pm either! I’ll want dinner… if we’re lucky something warm from the store or restaurant you were able to get earlier! hot and fatty like a cornbread grilled cheese…. or fried chicken… maybe a burger… and probably bourbon… (ok, kidding on the bourbon… well… maybe just a shot… ;-)) This is a 40 minute hold and vet check. Pray my horse hasn’t lost a shoe or is lame (don’t read that out loud and curse us though)… this ride is hard- they don’t call it the Beat of the East for nothing. After I take a 5 minute nap and eat something hearty… and my horse eats and drinks like a monster we hope… passing the check with all As!! we have only 8 miles to get back to…….
LAUREL RUN the second time! (on the way home baby!) this check can be crewed at night because enough (other!?) riders have been pulled in the day (and the other riders have spread out) – not so many people in the confined space. Open about 7pm – 1am my guess is this is the late night stop for me… could be midnight??
These night checks will not need ice- more likely my fleece or waterproof to keep her from getting chilled… rump rug? you’ll have access to all of them depending on the weather. It’s a 30 minute hold which will probably feel like a time warp and I can’t imagine what I’ll want then besides alleve and a bed. Note: whatever I say to you put me back on my horse if she’s still not lame! I’ve come almost 80 miles at this point and should be able to do 20 more … in the dark… in just about any state. It’s only 14 more miles back to…..
BIRD HAVEN!!!! almost home! I’ll be cold and tired and either grouchy or out of my head. If grouchy please forgive me in advance I don’t mean anything personally. My sentances may not be coherent. Hopefully I’m at least not throwing up at this point. Just feed me something warm (probably some kind of soup) make sure I have warm dry clothes on (fresh if it’s cold and raining – my worst nightmare) and ignore me… this is only 20 minutes if all goes well and i have no idea when I’ll get here at this point sometime between 2am and 4am? There is just over 6 miles back to camp from here… so once again if my horse is healthyand you think i need to go to a hospital…PUT ME ON THE HORSE. I have plenty of vet wrap that should cover just about any injury or pain i’ve sustained… alleve is probably good to have on hand. I’ll make sure to bring a bottle- enough to share should you find anyone else needs it too!
One of you may need to trot out my horse for me at this point if my legs are failing me… REMEMBER! always jog fast- minor issues like being tired from riding 90 miles can look like lameness if you go too slow- but NEVER EVER EVER let the lead rope get tight as it WILL look like lameness when her head is pulled even if she’s completely fine. She gets graded on “attitude and impulsion” both and they matter- so unless she’s seriously exhausted and can’t go on pull up your energy and get exciting so she wants to run with you which she always is skeptical of even on the vet-in when she’s not tired (why do i have to run to that stupid cone?) if she looks reluctant that will lower her grade. we’ll have to practice some trot outs.. this is kind of important actually… also Lynne says there’s a direction you should always turn… there was a reason… i’ll have to ask her… ok… so now we hopefully get to…
FINISH LINE – back at camp. Now is when you need to have the bourbon… or even better would be a good peaty scotch… but i don’t think my budget is going to allow that with all the crap i’ve had to pick up just in case… If i actually make it to the finish line on a horse I will be crazy happy even though it could be 5am meaning I’ve been up over 24 hours and maybe a little delirious as well.
This is where the kid gloves come out- it’s her first 100 and we’ll both be tired. I am slightly terrified of muscle cramping here. My vet says the best medicine here is prevention and good electrolyting through the entire day is key on never having her deficient so her mucles are able to function at their best and stay strong. My mentor’s finsh line advice is NOT to get off her when we cross the finish line but stay on and walk slowly toward the vet area leaving tack on- have a rup rug ready for me at the finish as it’s a little walk from there to vet and if we use it – it goes on GENTLY but without being sneaky. Any jump or spook can take a tired muscle and give it a pull that will get us pulled. I want to see her heart rate down as we slowly walk to vet and once it is we’ll drop tack right there and keep moving nice and slow-like into the final vetting. Have her fleece ready. The goal is to get in and out of that final vet as quickly as possible with a capital C (Completion).
We will hopefully vet through- but if she gets pulled at the finish for lameness or whatever please remind me that we still did something amazing, and it happens to the best of riders/horses and it’s only our first try…
Next i’ll be looking for some help with taking care of K- lots of hay, coolstance, beet pulp, apples, carrots- she gets whatever she wants and at some point during the day, depending on our camp set up, i’d like to consider moving K’s electric fence so she has new grass after the ride… i might be able to set up two pens at once depending on my supplies. The second one can be smaller as she won’t move as much and we’ll be there less than a whole day- but fresh clean grass is good!! Also getting K’s legs poulticed (possibly wrapped) and possibly ice soaking her feet with epsom and ice water to help alleviate any bruising/soreness she may develop. Brandon suggested finding the farrier if possible the next day to make sure her shoes are still on tight and ask them to check nails and/or clinches and leave them on if they are on good to protect her feet in the rest period to come. I may need to be reminded or helped with this too!
I’ll hopefully get some sleep- a few hours or so, and I think there’s a brunch and awards thing too on Sunday. I plan to go home later on in the afternoon and could use a hand i’m sure cleaning up camp and packing in!
No matter what happens I am so grateful to have friends who are willing to help me get through this big day and support me on my journey! We will have a great adventure!
Less than a month to go till June 10 when I tack up for a 5:30am start at the OD100. My brain is ticking along and lists are getting made and checked off.
Thankfully riding and conditioning assignments are light in this time window because the amount of mental energy going into logistics is taking up more space than I’d have imagined.
As for riding I took a trail marking and clearing ride with some friends and rediscovered a great trail I haven’t used in years with beautiful views and decent climbing.
We ended the ride with a deep river hole where my capall uisce got some water time. She really isn’t so into swimming (yet) but she loves to roll in or stand deep in the river – she laid down (with me and saddle) but I stayed on and convinced her not to roll and instead we wandered around the depths that came up past her belly and had my shoes and pants soaked to the knee. It was worth it- we were too far from the trailer to really untack and commit to water play- but just the deep wading was magical in its own right.
No photos- I left my phone safely on the bank!
Scoot Boots are still at 100% success. And still no rubs or issues with use and still the easiest boot I’ve ever used.
Now for the checklists…
Send in registration form & coggins:
Check… with appropriate Wonder Woman stamp!
Order necessary tack type stuff:
Salomon Speedcross… great eBay deal! saw Karen ride the OD cavalry in them last year and she says they’re great so I’m hoping they show up asap so I can get them broken in and tried out! My Ariats are fine but showing a little extra wear and they aren’t so great for hiking the mountain- considering I plan to do a fair amount of getting off her during the toughest climbs, descents or any place we both need a break I need a shoe that will feel good on trail as well as in stirrups.
New helmet (Ovation light & breathable)
New chaps (Dublin neoprene webbing) also cooler and lightweight thanks Lynne for the recommendation.
New summer tights- might need a dry clean extra pair to freshen up mid ride!
Official sponge leash (to replace the too long jerry rigged old reins I was using)
Biothane stirrup leathers to use my heavier duty real leathers as a back up… remembering a story that Kristen had a stirrup leather fail without a handy replacement. She struggled through riding I think with bailing twine? I just remember it wasn’t fun and she didn’t feel great afterword.
Hydration hay! (We learned Khaleesi loves it last year after she ate all of the Stone’s horses’ stash. Thankfully they didn’t love it and now I finally remembered to buy her own!)
E-lyte dosing syringes with caps! (My current ones don’t have caps means I have to waste time pulling up individual doses when I need them!)
Extra sweat scrapers & sponges
Check… check check check…mostly thanks to Ed’s Riding Warehouse Christmas gift card!
Handy suggestions tips and tricks:
Glow sticks (after dark)
Mini flashlight (emergency use only)
Life proof phone case – another amazing eBay deal
Mini extra charge for phone will I have time for photos??
Date syrup & CMPK (adds to elytes for extra calcium and potassium) also sometimes the syrup can help encourage the gut and eating after a tough loop.
Vetwrap!!! For a million things
Hoofboots and a spare set of shaped shoes from our last set- I have my Scoot Boots for a lost shoe but I’m also borrowing a one size up spare from a team member who isn’t riding the OD for the potential sprung or loose shoe. Great mentor advice- a sprung shoe can be worse if you aren’t able to pull it on the trail. On a 100 the chance of a nail getting work down, or a tired mid-step pulls or bends a shoe- take the vetwrap and wrap the shoe as tight as possible- cover with one size larger boot until fixable in the next hold.
Zip ties (to affix the Scoot boots directly to saddle as well as a million other things)
Dramamine & Aleve … I’ve heard other riders lighting after dark can make one nauseasus… and the Aleve… for everything else!
Wish list that looks will have to wait:
Smaller size narrow (new!!) Scoot boots for hind feet (for now the front size with vetwrap will get us to a hold and I’ll have renegades that fit or a new old shoe put on… should be fine for a temporary spare tire)
Extra Phoenix Rising saddle pad. Seems this pad gives the best support to the saddle. I’d love a second one in case of rain or extreme sweating but one PR with a toklat coolback for the hottest parts of the day will be ok.
Reflective neck collar from Taylored Tack (love the idea of not having a halter on all the time but not necessary)
Aside from this I have a yard in full on spring mode which is lovely except the weeds grow even better than the flowers most of the time so I try to get some time keeping the jungle at bay… and it’s end of school seasons both for my college and K-12 students so I’m teaching a lot and planning final concerts as well.
Tonight I fed the girls and spent a few minutes scratching summer bug bites and itchy spots. All three mares seemed to be grateful for the non-agenda time and especially the itchy scratches.
Khaleesi looks good. Shiny coat and good weight – nice muscling on rich grass but not too heavy either.
She’s doing a good job resting and fueling up while I stock up on supplies!
Back to song lyrics again. Sometimes I just can’t get them out of my head and this one has stuck since my last ride a couple days ago.
One month till our first 100 and the assignment from my endurance vet is basically do no harm.
People have begun to ask if we’ve amped up our training and conditioning routine to prepare. Much like the anticlimactic announcement last post, the answer is no. Actually we’re amping down.
Ride twice a week, you cannot gain fitness and Khaleesi has a good base which is why you’re ready for this. Try to get at least a ride or two in starting before 6am to get used to an early start time but don’t ride long – just a warm up then put her away. Also get in a ride on the hottest humid day you can in the next month. Don’t do high miles- definitely stay under 20… under 15 is good too) and save her feet by searching out good footing. Don’t push for super fast rides either. Just keep her juices flowing and keep her limber.
Seems easy enough.
This is also riding Faygo can handle! So Susan and I are enjoying some data-free fun riding with good footing and no goals. All that work of long rides, speed work, hill climbing and technical rock navigation is now paying off with some relaxed fun time.
When we went to the field on Wednesday with our human chit chat about nothing all that important susan and I had to stop and take notice. Khaleesi was running that herd all over the place.
This is unusual.
She was saying something.
She wasn’t exactly running them ‘off’ but she was running them around. Doing some of her acrobatics and dancing for us as well.
We stopped and watched from outside the gate:
What do you think she’s saying?
Yep. Definitely something.
Eventually things calmed down and I walked in to get my horse. She didn’t come immediately but it wasn’t long before she walked up and put her head in the halter. We headed for the barn.
That’s when I noticed:
I think she was telling me she lost a shoe.
Sure enough. Right front. That foot. The troubled one.
We’ll have to go look for it later. Don’t want anyone getting hurt stepping on the nails.
Thankfully I have my scoot boots! The only boot I feel confident now that I won’t lose on trail.
Now I wonder if she was trying to tell me where it was……
I don’t put much past these animals anymore with what’s possible. The level of communication is pretty amazing if we would only let them know we are paying attention.
We booted up, loaded up and drove barely a mile to an easy spot to hit the grassy soft roads that are the most fun to ride and it’s always more fun to only be heading home the entire ride.
I rode the short 2 hours in my bareback pad and new (knotty girlz) custom measured stiff red halter with my (also new) treeline lead just tied at the bottom loops. I have really come to love the feeling of her movement in the pad and how much fun it is to ride her halter only (I think she likes it too) though I do not believe a bareback pad is great to overuse or use on long distances because it doesn’t distribute my weight like my saddle does and there isn’t anything to protect it from pressing on her withers and upper spine. Shorter rides here and there though I think are ok.
Dream ride. Lovely cool sunny day, the trails were perfect, soft but not slippery, the horses were engaged and forward, we walked, trotted, and did some wonderful cantering along the way as it suited us.
Khaleesi was happy and seemed to be feeling fantastic. She was strong and I often felt her lifting her back underneath me which I love- that she’s using her body properly and engaging her motor underneath. She was in good spirits as was Faygo.
We came into the barn, hardly a sweat and turned them out then walked the field for the lost shoe- Susan found it… was it right where Khaleesi had been running the horses around earlier? Hmmmm.
With a call into my farrier we decided to boot the foot until the end of the month when he will shoe for the OD. No sense adding nail holes two weeks out, and we aren’t going to shoe for the 100 a month early either.
Apparently this foot needs some breathing space. I still believe everything has its purpose. Even if I never truly understand what it is. And if she turns up lame and we have to pull out- then it wasn’t our year.
But for now she seems fine and the boot is staying put. Have I mentioned how much I ❤️ Scoot Boots?? And they are coming out with a narrow fit boot too! They may just be a good answer to this winter’s hoof puzzle.
Meanwhile I’m working on my ace-crew, picking up anything I need for the long ride… I have shoes (for me) en route… extra leathers (just in case Kristen G!!)… capped e-lyte syringes… a new sponge leash… extra sweat scrapers… a new (lighterweight) helmet (mine is 5 years old and I’ve been meaning to replace it… we’ve hit enough tree limbs that it’s time)… mesh half chaps… and an extra pair of cooling tights as well… just things I’ve needed and been dragging my feet on.
Tomorrow we have a ride planned with Amy and Frills to be sure the mares can pace together alright.
Birds flying high… you know what I mean…
Warm sun in the sky…. you know what I mean……
And we’re feeling good….
For the moment…. I’ll take it.
Though note to my 100 crew: you may need to remind me how much I love this around mile 70 when I’m tired, it’s dark… and hopefully not a cold night rain soaking me and making muddy trails. Just a thought 😘
Just over two years ago as an avid trail rider I decided to take on the ambitious goal of a single-day 100 mile ride. I can’t tell you exactly what possessed me to decide this, but something inspired me and I think I said it out loud at a dinner party before I’d even really thought it through as if it were just a random conversation topic.
I suppose the ambitious part comes from the fact that at the time I had a basically feral unbroke 4 year old I planned to do this with. And I’ve never trained a horse before.
With over two years of preparation and many blogs of various topics, the 100 seems an elusive ‘loch ness’ or ‘Sasquatch’… my Everest … it’s not something one stumbles upon randomly. It would be planned for months at least… a year maybe once I think we’re ready?
As in… my imagined announcement would be (cue adventure music):
Hello! I plan to get through this 3rd season with Khaleesi doing multiple 50 mile rides … maybe try a multi-day (2 days of 50 miles) toward the fall and in 2018 we will climb Everest… we will dive for Nessie… we will enter our first 100!!! Stay tuned this entire year as I work toward the climactic event my entire blog is based on.
But instead today is May 7 and here is the real life version:
Ah-hem… um. I just printed out the paperwork for the OD100 on June 10- about a month from now. So… I guess we’re doing it.
Up till now there have been months and more of the type A for anal careful planning, the tweaking of equipment and saddle fit and shoe program and nutrition and electrolytes, the best rating of speed at events, gear, tack, shaving, rump rugs and raincoats… not to mention working on my own fitness, balance and riding… figuring out food I’ll eat and staying hydrated- big and little mistakes along the way… finally it’s coming all in place and in March this little bird says:
Want to start the 100 with me at OD this year? I want to take it slow to finish and would love the company.
(That sums up my initial reaction) then to look around and say um… who? Me? And Khaleesi? 100? This year?
Then there’s the odd cosmic coincidence that I camped at both our 50s for the season next to Dale (who I call Mr. just do it) and he happened to have an OD100 map handy in March: here’s the OD100 map, do you want one… Don’t think so hard about it- just go for it. It’s very do-able.
In March I told Amy- ok ok, if she gets clean through No Frills 55 then we’ll talk.
Considering she had lameness and hoof issues in late winter a good part of me figured we may not make it through No Frills sound. I truly half expected a lameness pull. It is about the hardest technical rocky ride I’ve ever been on.
Then we had about the best ride ever at No Frills and Khaleesi looked the best I’d seen her after any ride. I felt good too. The vets said she looked great (one of them being our vet Kelly who also vets and rides endurance). The mare didn’t even look tired.
Hm. Now I have to actually think about this.
I sometimes have a tendency to take on more than other reasonable sane people. I often don’t see obstacles and limits but the cool big goal. My husband calls it overconfidence on a good day… occasionally if he’s not so generous it turns into reckless and thoughtless of those around me who are left to pick up the pieces…. (really… I hope that doesn’t happen too often!!)
I try hard to curb that part of my general personality so here is when I look for some outside rational input.
I sent a note to my mentor Lynne. She has lots of successful 100s under her saddle and is taking her horse to Tevis this year. She will have good advice. If she laughs at me I’ll know it’s a crazy hair brained idea.
Inside my head: We can’t be ready for this…. can we?
Lynne: Well….. my first reaction was it might be a little soon… However Kelly (my vet and a friend of Lynne) made a point to tell me how good Khaleesi looked at No Frills and what a good job you did taking care of her that day. I think she called your horse a rock star. Honestly… I think you should talk to her, she’ll be perfectly honest with you and has seen your horse more this spring than I have… but I can’t think of why you wouldn’t go for it. Even if you made it 70 or 80 miles that’s an accomplishment. I’ve certainly started that ride and been pulled in years past. You guys have a good shot- and you are very in tune with your horse. You aren’t going to hurt her. You will pull out of you feel it’s not going well for her. That’s the most important thing.
Ok. I’ll check with Kelly. She also has solid 100 mile experience and she knows my horse. Maybe she’ll laugh at us! If so we’ll just do the 50 and keep working on a good base for next season.
Kelly: oh yeah! She is totally ready! Go for it- I think it’s a great idea.
Then one more last ditch reach out to another endurance vet that knows us: am I completely nuts to do this?
Answer: it’s about time!
Ok. So. Yes! Yes- we’ll do it!
So… the K and I are officially signing up to the Beast of the East… the Old Dominion 100. The goal. Green to 100 and all.
I do think we have a shot, however the completion rates are from 45-60% depending on factors (the biggest being heat and humidity) so even the best odds are tough. But make it or not I will learn a lot, and looking forward to the challenge!
It was the Old Dominion (I had never heard of Tevis) that first captured my imagination of riding 100 miles through an article in a local electrical co-op magazine.
The ride is nicknamed the Beast of the East and of the riders I’ve met (a very limited sampling) who’ve ridden both rides – most have said the OD 100 is a tougher ride to get a horse through than its more famous cousin the historical Western States Ride (Tevis). Recently I saw the OD 100 called on an endurance site: probably the toughest endurance ride in North America.
I am in no position to argue this point though I hope to be able to someday.
Regardless, the OD began my endurance journey and though I am not ready to take my horse to any 100 mile ride yet, the OD also has 50 and a 25 mile distances available. I volunteered for the OD 100 last June and went through the whole 24 hour period as a vet scribe (learned a ton), was able to ride the 25 last fall, and this year after completing our first 55 mile at Biltmore I registered Khaleesi and I for the OD 50.
Knowing full well what I was taking on I set about preparing the best I could for this ride taking everything I learned from my LD rides, everything I’d read about endurance riding, everything I could glean from my mentor, and the things I picked up on my first 55. It was a tough 50 to take on so early in her career and I also have the distinction of riding one of the small percentage of non-Arabs (Arabs are somewhat more genetically inclined toward the sport and win most of the major awards. They tend to cool more naturally and are built to sustain long miles at a fast speed without breaking down) but it is what it is. I just hoped we could keep our roll of completing each ride we start intact a while longer.
Spoiler alert: we did complete successfully!
Out of 69 riders to start only 39 completed. Khaleesi and I placed 21 and had a ride time of 9hours and 24 minutes. Including vet holds we were on the trail almost 11 1/2 hours.
We were basically mid-pack of those who finished and only had 30 minutes to spare. This means almost half of the riders who finished came in the last 30 minutes allowed in the 12 hours given to finish.
I am convinced looking back that the only way we were successful in our first attempt during a hard day at the Beast of the East was a million small things that went right either by plan, preparation or just plain luck.
#1- get the best farrier. Period.
If I had to choose one thing that probably had the biggest impact on finishing this ride it is my farrier. If I could afford it I would give him a raise.
Actually I could afford it if I walked the trail the next day with a pack mule to pick up all the random hoof boots and used twisted horseshoes (if they were worth anything). If the hoof boots weren’t so mangled and chewed up I could sell them on hoof boot exchange.
I am not anti hoof boot by the way, whatever works for you is good but only if it WORKS. There were many moments in the 9+ hours on trails that I thought it was amazing that any horse came through this ride sound. I was giving the odds pretty high that I would be taken down to a stone bruise or mystery lameness as we scrambled along the loose large rocks heading downhill about 6.5 mph picking up speed whenever we were safely (isn’t that a relative term) able.
But this point doesn’t end with the obvious catastrophic loss of a shoe on the ridge that can end your day in lameness and failure. It’s not just about how he shapes the shoes exactly to custom fit each hoof and then sets and nails them to not come off until he pulls them off… my farrier is responsible for how my horse moves on ride day and every training ride leading up to it. He has to understand her movement and her balance and all the angles and science involved including things you can’t see with the naked eye (structure inside the hoof and leg). How he shapes her foot based on her unique body structure and how long her “toe” is, how high her “heel”is all determine how efficient she can move like having the best and most comfortable running shoes for a marathon. It affects if she can trot out at a good speed all day or if she gets more tired and worn out from the extra effort involved in carrying herself (and me) on feet that are not quite angled right.
To top it off you haven’t a moment to waste on this ride and if you do lose a shoe it takes up precious time having the ride farrier get your spare tire on. My farrier sends me to each ride with our last shoes already custom shaped to each hoof. At least if we do lose a shoe we are ready with one ready to go and it will match the one lost. #2 training.
I do not underestimate this component for one second. All the time I invest in slowing down my communication to train her mind often with more priority than her body has served us well.
This is a fundamental bedrock that often doesn’t ‘feel’ as important when I’m doing it as the ride miles but it might be more so.
Many think that any time spent with your horse builds a relationship but this is not true. In fact spending time doing counterproductive things does the opposite and it takes knowledge and experience to know the difference with each horse – it’s not a motorcycle and it’s not a dog- in fact it’s not a human either. Your horse has a unique language and working from the ground up (literally) is key. I am glad for all the help I’ve gotten to learn this from people who do understand.
I see riders who are ok with- or even like and prefer- a horse that just wants to run. Saddle up the dragon and get someone to hold him while they climb on… Then hold on… Conversations with people asking about bits that will give them enough control to feel safer and who talk about blisters on their hands from trying to hold their horse from running away down the trail. What a fast horse.My horse eats up the trail.
I hear instead: I don’t truly have connection to my horse’s mind and am not the leader as soon as other horses are around.
Of course a whole lot of riders in this sport, especially successful ones, have a close partnership with their horse and are true leaders. They have finesse and are not dragging their horse around (or being drug) they do it without force and anger and those are the people I notice and watch.
We aren’t perfect. Our partnership is on a good start but it takes time. We will work on this until we die.
#3 the right conditioning.
I am lucky- this ride is close to home and I don’t have to go far to find similar terrain but the OD is famous for two things: mountain climbs and rocks.
I took some time after we rested up from Biltmore to climb some of the steepest mountain trails I had and did it in the hottest part of the day as well. We often have to scramble along rocky trails though it’s hard to find riding as rough for as long as the OD dishes out- in general we try to avoid that because it isn’t really that fun!
I also conditioned myself. I’ve been in the gym and doing strength training to become as fit as I can be. I need to float above my horse gracefully to make it easy on her, but the worst climb is two miles straight up the mountain and since we cannot go any faster than a walk I got off to save her energy and hoofed it myself leading her by hand.
#4 chose your mentors and crew wisely.
I am beginning to see a wide variety in style and priorities in the endurance community. I am grateful for the group of mentors and crew help I’ve found and that they work well with my goals and values.
This weekend I don’t believe we had equine deaths but it is not uncommon to see this for various reasons. This sport pushes humans and horses to the edges of what they are capable of and it can be easy to lose sight of what is really at stake. Your horses life, well being, future career and your own safety.
Looking at a mentor’s rider record can be helpful (do they end up pulled more than complete? are they often in the top 5 and have 4 or 5 horses listed in as many years? are they solid completion riders with one horse for many miles?) but then it’s helpful to see them with their horse and hear what others have noticed? what do the vets think? (they know it from the horse’s perspective!).
My farrier who I admire recommended I seek out Lynne and I’ve never regretted asking for her help. She is a smart, solid, conservative and experienced rider who often finishes in the top 10. I don’t hear her say how fast her horse is but instead she talks about how well he is doing. Big difference. Lynne did not ride the 100 this weekend on a horse that has been in the top 5 at every ride this season because the horse just “wasn’t himself” earlier in the week. She put her horse ahead of her goals because it is a tough ride to start with any doubt. I admire her for that. She volunteered her time instead. Double admire her for that.
Who you get advice and input from makes a big difference in the direction you will be headed. Choose wisely and if you see something that doesn’t work for you seek out other input.
#5 get there early.
In previous rides work precluded me from arriving more than the day before. This year because volunteers were desperately needed I decided to go on Thursday afternoon so I could have time to volunteer on Friday for vet-in.
This ended up being a more important decision than the thought I put into it.
First, even coming two days before the event I ended up with one of only about 10 spots left on the creek side against the tree line. This means shade until almost noon and it’s just a little cooler all the time by the creek. Anyone arriving Friday- even early would be across from us in the direct sun field.
Second, research shows that even a brief trailer ride (a couple hours) dehydrates a horse significantly. Because of the heat over this weekend getting into camp an extra day gave her time to drink and eat and not begin the ride slightly dehydrated.
Third, I was not hurried at all… in fact on Thursday evening I even had some downtime. That helps my mental state in a variety of ways. #6 attend the ride meeting.
… and pay attention!
I sometimes hear people skip the ride meeting because they’ve ridden X years here and they heard the trail is the same….
You never know what useful information or a marking change you might learn about- or trail tips including where they couldn’t get water to and where they could. What is available at the “no crew” vet check? The 45 minutes spent hearing things over you already know is not wasted if understanding a ribbon change or new issue with the trail helps you ride smarter.
#7 while out there…
Ride smart. Pay attention. I ranked ahead of more than a few people who “should” have finished ahead of me but they added an extra 2-5 miles due to an accidental detour.
Ride your own ride (so cliché in our sport but always true). I rode with many people for a while but I will not commit to “buddy” with anyone anymore. I occasionally had to ask to pass a friend and move on down rocky slopes that we had a faster groove and if someone is flying along at a trot Khaleesi just doesn’t have efficiently I refuse to try to keep up (thankfully she is ok with that). Those decisions made a huge difference for us.
Never ever tarry. Every second adds up to precious minutes. Some riders crossed literally in the seconds that meant complete or overtime.
When to get off. I rode with a nice and experienced rider at Big South Fork last fall there aren’t a ton of hills there but one or two that are steep. She cantered Leroy up the hill until he slowed on his own and she immediately jumped off. I asked her if everything was ok and she said of course: it’s easier for them to canter up the hill until they are tired. Then they must walk. But if we are walking, then I walk too. It saves my horse.
When we hit the start of the massive mountain climb I was still with Pascale and I heard that riders voice in my head as I jumped off and started hiking. Pascale did the same. It was two brutal miles of hiking straight up the mountain in the mid-day heat. After getting back on at the top we passed at least a few riders whose horses were still struggling even after it had leveled out.
Eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty (from Karen Chaton). At the Biltmore I learned this endurance rider cannot live on PB&J alone. Easy to pack no need for refrigeration and can be smashed- I couldn’t eat another one at some point in the day.
For this ride I packed a mini-soft cooler to be able to bring hydrating and sweet watermelon, a lunchmeat wrap, hopefully colder water for later in the day… I had salt and vinegar chips (I hear salty is also good for you), I had snack mixes and dried coconut. I ate at every vet check and though at home I can eat while riding (a granola bar etc) I find I’m too focused at a ride to eat in between loops so I just make sure I eat well at every vet check. I drank less water early in the morning but went through almost all my drinks each loop after the first. I mix it up with one straight water and one gatorade, vitamin water or other coconut or tea based hydrating sports drink (I cut them with water because they are too much for me straight). If I don’t ‘feel’ thirsty at least the flavored drinks are interesting enough to take a drink here and there.
Get your horse to eat on trail. I don’t know if we have this completely figured out but my rule is grab any bite you can without interfering with our pace. If we are stuck walking (like we were some of the roughest sections) then grab a mouthful here and there. If I saw a nice patch of grass I was able to walk her right into it and she would dig in. Then we’d keep on to the next spot.
We didn’t have any time to waste but keeping something in her gut was also important. It’s a fine line. We did ok with this.
#8 things I learned about heat riding.
Clip. The ride was forecasted to be hot and ended up being on the hottest day of the year so far (high of 95F). I know I needed every chance of cooling down so I did a partial clip a few days before. I’m new to clipping and yes- it’s not beautiful but it got the job done
Sponge. Most riders carry one but earlier this season it really wasn’t necessary for us so I hadn’t. This spring I saw a sponge for sale when ordering my cooling sleeves and threw one in the order again without a lot of thought. I used it at every water stop to help cool my horse and sometimes sponged my own arms to help my cooling sleeves **product placement note: I picked up the Kerrits cooling sleeves recently and love them. They definitely make my arms cooler and are better than sunscreen. Highly recommended.
Electolyte. I have read strong riders in the West who quote research that electrolying does not actually help. I’ve wondered but I will continue with electrolyted on races and harder training rides. I do not however e-lyte before the ride (when she hasn’t begun sweating) right now and I don’t do it the night before. My understanding is that until they lose the salts in sweat the balance is right and they don’t load extra. I also don’t want to annoy her the night before and possibly affect her eating and drinking. I doubled up on my electrolytes during this hot race however. We use enduromax and I mix with yogurt, molasses and some applesauce. She seems to like it enough not to fight me.
Ice and cool your horse… more. Special thanks to Kate Lawrence who taught me about the importance of core temperature. At the crew-less Laurel Run check I looked for some help (I didn’t send a crew bag and needed a sweat scraper). Kate who was a volunteer saw me and took me on for the entire hold and was one of the many things that went right for me that enabled us to finish strong.
Before we could pulse we went into the shade and sponged ice water all over Khaleesi. Once we got her pulse time (just a few minutes) she told me not to vet yet. We had 30 minutes technically to make it over to the vet and just because her outside temperature had cooled and her heart rate was “legal” didn’t mean she was ideal. It was so hot that horses were pulsing in the pulse box then walking up in the sun to vet and their CRIs were going back up into the 80s and vets were having to hold rider cards to be sure the horse was fit to continue. She didn’t want that to happen to us so we continued to ice down K for another 2-3 minutes past when she’d pulsed. Then she sent me around in the shade (not directly) to the vet area and told me to wait in the shade for the vet.
The trot out at Laurel Run is not friendly. It runs you in the full sun down a rocky dirt hill and back up. I was certain at this point after the monster rocks (and small rocks, and embedded rocks, and bouldering) in the second loop- then the rocks up and down the trot out that I’d hear “I think she’s off a little on…”
But no. Dr. Bob said she was spot on and looked great. Her CRI was solid at 64 and we met Kate at our saddle where she had a bucket for me to sit down, a sandwich, a water and a cold gatorade, hay and feed for Khaleesi and more ice water that she continued to sponge onto my horse in the shade for 15 more minutes.
I would not have thought to do this but what she did for me was get down into the core temperature of my horse on this 95F afternoon so that when we left Laurel Run we were back at 100%. Horses who just did what they needed to meet criteria may have been heading back on the trail only 50% cooled down and we still had 20 hot miles to go.
We were fresh to run, and that’s what we had to do for the next 12 miles. We were now on relentless gravel roads that would take us down back into Bird Haven. Still, the relentless gravel was welcome compared to the boulders and rocks and the ridge climb that got us up there. As we left the vet check Kate reminded me to keep moving at all costs- the breeze will help and never let her stop in sunny areas. If you have to walk- only do so in the shade. Because of Kate- we never had to walk- not for the next 12 miles. But we did pass a rider or two who wasn’t so lucky.
The third loop was our fastest overall with an average speed of only 6.7mph.
We made it into the last Bird Haven to find Ricky and Amy ready for us.
They have been a godsend to run into and are wonderful friends. For someone so young Amy has many years in the sport and knows every hack possible. She also learns quickly and after Biltmore when my 3-way rigging had her wondering what was going on- she resaddled Khaleesi perfectly while I was in the bathroom like she’d been doing it all her life.
As I’m still dismounting they have her saddle coming off practically underneath me and are dousing her with cool water and have the heart rate monitor started to see how long until we can pulse. Thankfully K does drop pulse “like a stone” and it never takes more than a minute to walk her over to the P&R box.
We went through Vet Check 3 with no trouble and an even better recovery than VC2 (60/56). She had all As at this point in the ride except her cap refill (hydration in the gums) was a B-. She was not showing any other signs of dehydration (skin tenting was an A) and I knew she was drinking well so Dr. Art suggested because of the heat the blood goes to the capillaries in the gums last and it’s more likely a sign of her being hot than dehydrated. Her gut sounds were +/- on each side so considering she was trying to eat everything in sight (a good sign) she was sent on her way.
Amy and Ricky took her, did some more sponging as I sat down to eat my snacks and refilled cool water into my pack. This hold is only 30 minutes before the last 6 miles into camp so there isn’t much time to relax. She looked fantastic. The benefit of an out and back ride is that she was more familiar with the area and was heading home to camp since Laurel Run so she didn’t have that mental crash where she ground to a halt like at Biltmore. She’d also done 55 before so maybe wasn’t so shocked to still be out at mile 44.
Leaving the vet checks is always hardest for us. She pulls the turn around and wants to go back (even at Laurel Run!! when I was trying to head her “home” she wanted to go back and visit with Kate who had cool water and never ending feed bowl!). She tried to circle a few times but after a little discussion we headed out and she got with the program.
The last 6 miles is not hard but has rocky sections that slowed her down. We had plenty of time (90 minutes to complete what we should do in an hour or less) so if she asked to slow in the rocks I let her even though part of my brain was also headed home and wanted her to keep flying through. I could just imagine getting this far and then a stone bruise putting her off at the final check and getting pulled at the finish line (how disappointing that would be!). So since finishing at 6:15 or 6:44 is really the same (complete) I tried to use my head instead of my fast racing heart.
We still passed 6 riders in that last section for various reasons to cross the finish line at 6:12pm.
I was incredibly proud of my horse. At that moment all the tiny details that went right for us to bring us strong across the finish when so many weren’t so lucky flashed through my mind.
Every minute we didn’t wait at a water crossing she wasn’t interested in… every time we asked to pass a friend who wasn’t moving through the rocks as well… and the relationship we had to leave new buddies behind for various reasons and move out in front or alone… everything added up to get us through.
It’s humbling and also exciting when things go right. You prepare the best you can and then you hope. I know one day we will not be so fortunate, and I hope on the day we can’t start due to a heel bruise or the day we have to pull for some reason we jump back in and give as much back to those in the same position this weekend who gave to us.
But for today we celebrate. We conquered the (half) Beast of the East on our first try on one of the tougher days in recent years.
Two days later my horse looks good. She is a little slow and a little stiff maybe, but after poulticing and wrapping her joints are in better shape (less puffy and fluid) than after Biltmore. Her back is perfect- I asked the vets to really check (not just the routine spine press) and not a twitch or a flinch. She is loving the wide tree Phoneix Rising saddle and after that 50 miles I can say it’s her saddle for now.
And best of all, we are still friends.
I felt pretty good though tired- better than I’d felt at Biltmore. The next day was ok once I got moving but I crashed hard in the afternoon like I had a hangover and slept from 5pm-7am. Monday I felt good enough to help put up 400 bales of hay and unload to some friends.
I want to be sure to thank those who all made the day a success. Dianne Conolly and all the OD board and volunteers. The entire vet staff who support and encourage us and help us care for our equine partners.
Lynne Gilbert my ‘official’ mentor as well as Ricky and Amy Stone crew extraordinaire! Kate Lawrence and Nathan Payne for the extra help when I needed a hand.