Success.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Friday morning was cold and windy and I had to put a fair amount of effort into keeping Khaleesi’s attention. I was not completely successful even as we walked my speed onto the open for competition trail past the starting line following 10 minutes of asking for a walk and getting a rough trot with some head tossing – she tried to make sure I understood all the action was heading toward the start and it was so wrong for us to be walking around ride camp in the wrong direction.

She kept asking to trot up the first road and for some of it I allowed as long as it was a controlled easy trot.

The first miles of the ride were mostly great footing or dirt roads and she settled into a nice trot and eagerly lead the small group we settled into as much as I’d allow.

April: if you are reading this I so enjoyed a few miles of trail with you and Brave ❤️ Khaleesi sends her greetings and I have some pictures for you. I need an email though…

Once we hit the first climb with embedded rocks she slowed down but at least kept walking and trotted when she was able. We fell back here but that was ok with me. At the top of the ridge is where things began to go wrong.

I couldn’t tell which way to go. I saw the pie plate that said “NO” but the way it was positioned on the tree I wasn’t completely certain which way it was prohibiting. I also saw a sign that was for the 30 mile ride.

I didn’t see any red/white ribbons. Then in looking around I did. And I headed that way. Khaleesi was slower than usual- it was rocky. But after about 10 minutes where I was mostly focused on navigating the footing it bothered me that the ribbons seemed to be on the left. I know the ride meeting said they attempted to keep the ribbons on the right.

😚

I stopped pulled up the map from my phone. Khaleesi was attempting to turn me around and I wasn’t certain if that was good or bad…. once I had a good look at the map I realized indeed I had gone the wrong way on the ridge and was heading on the 30 mile trail back to ride camp. 😬

I allowed Khaleesi to turn around and we immediately picked up some forward motion.

Back at the intersection I looked more closely for the right trail and found it though I can see how I’d missed it the first time and Khaleesi picked up more momentum.

This I write in such detail because later it gave me a clue to a question I wrested with.

Onward we went. I knew I’d lost at least 20 valuable minutes and in these rough terrain rides I also know that was a big price to pay for me and this particular horse.

She seemed to have some good momentum again and the footing was not so bad. I had been watching her boots and was pleased to say they were all working so far.

It wasn’t very long before she started slowing down maneuvering the embedded rocks. And then progress became even slower. She began to eat the grass on the pretty ridge trail and it was hard to keep her moving.

I couldn’t sort out exactly why this was happening. Because I couldn’t see a physical reason for the reluctance I began to question it she was communicating to me as plainly as she could:

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ride all these miles. I’d rather just eat grass. We can stay up here all day as far as I’m concerned.

A question that had crossed my mind but hadn’t surfaced seriously came nagging to mind.

Is this the wrong sport?

I did not ask is the the wrong horse. Of that I have no question. This horse is my partner- the sport or activity may have to change but as much as I like to ride endurance and all the challenges with it- this horse comes first

Does she hate this and I keep pushing it on her? Am I ruining the relationship I’ve built by doing this sport? How much say do I give a horse in choosing what work she does? What if she just wants to eat grass all day (?) that’s not a job.

It seems unlikely with the time lost on the detour combined with this lollygagging on the ridge that I will make the time I need to finish the day. And quite honestly I do not want to ride the grueling middle 25 mile loop at a snail pace wondering if I’d be faster walking it myself and left the horse in camp! No matter what, I believed we were done at the first loop.

I heard the inner voices start.

Failure… Selfish…. Stubborn…

Then the drag riders showed up behind me.

They were friends of mine (Roberta and Jennifer) and I was grateful for the company. I explained why I was here poking along and we rode a little together.

Jennifer noticed the bottom of my boot seemed wrong though all of us thought the top part looked fine- I got off immediately and checked. The entire front right boot was gone but it was hard to tell because the glue pattern left and the black boot same as black hoof looked like it was still there from a distance.

(You can see it’s a little hard to tell what you’re looking at on trail- especially in motion)

This explained a lot – and I have absolutely no idea how long she’d gone barefoot on that hoof. I had been certain even until she asked that the boot was there.

I strapped on the replacement boot and we were on our way. However this was the worst of the rocky trail and it was still slow going. I wasn’t sure if any damage had been done in the time with no boot so I allowed her to pick her way through. I never pushed her to go a speed beyond what she offered. Which was a moderate walk.

[photo credit Becky Pearman]

She did better but not moving as fast as I’d need in order to continue. As we got onto the gravel road into the vet check she would volunteer to pick up a trot and I’d feel she wasn’t quite even and she’d drop back to walk. Because it was only a mile or less I hopped off and walked in with her.

We had taken over 4 hours to go the 20 miles (detour included) which truly wasn’t devastating but I knew already she was compromised.

The vets checked her over. Heart rate 40 (good), great hydration and good gut sounds. All healthy- except the trot out. I knew it from the first steps – she was off.

Sometimes vets will give you a chance to sort out a problem if it’s minor. She could have been uneven due to different boots on the front feet for instance- but it didn’t matter I wasn’t planning to go on and they knew it so we made it simple and they went ahead and pulled her as lame.

We all assumed a minor bruise from unprotected foot.

All in all the rough 20 miles wasn’t a bad training ride- also the camp excitement was good testing for our continuing connection. It was good to catch up with friends… and I let her know with complete certainty that SHE was a winner! She’d carried me through the loop, done her best, and I was only pleased.

[heading in good spirits to the ambulance trailer: photo credit Becky Pearman]

But deep down the questions still linger: will her feet always be a problem? Is this not working? What else can I do? Does it need a better answer or do I let it go and not push her to do something she’ll never genetically be able to do well?

This is when the detour came back to mind.

I don’t believe anything is wasted in this life if you’re paying attention. I believe things have reasons even if we don’t always understand them at the time. Sometimes we do get answers in the here and now.

It is in part because of the way she chose to move out onto the trail instead of back to ridecamp (she’s ridden the 30 trail twice and would know that trail – plus the general direction – I will give that to her as an intelligent equine. At that spot where the trails join, ride camp would have been significantly closer than vet check) brought me to believe at least for now, she does not hate endurance riding, I do however believe she hates the rough rocky trails that some of the OD rides are famous for.

So why are her feet such a problem?

The X-rays last year didn’t show a thin sole issue. I’ve put a year into rebuilding them without shoes and nails- so better blood flow. She’s doing well nutritionally and looks fantastic otherwise better than before with skin and coat and mane health.

Enter treatment vet Dr. Bob.

As is customary the treatment vet takes a look over all pulled horses – I am grateful to the endurance community for this detail among other strengths endurance has as a sport… and he brought out the hoof testers to see if we could find a sore spot or bruise.

He cranked on the hoof best he could yet no reaction from her. Then he said to me-

your mare has really nice feet. They are hard and look great. The feet seem fine. Let’s try the legs.

Nice feet? Hard, no sensitivity?

In palpating the legs he found a slight reaction around a tendon higher up around the middle of the leg. He could feel no heat and no swelling, and a very small reaction but enough to think there was something bothering her.

Likely how she was moving on trail to protect her feet angled her hoof and pulled something just enough to make it uncomfortable.

We put an ice boot on and gave butte for anti inflammatory preventative to keep any swelling at bay and he said he thought she would be just fine in a few days at the most.

One more thing I’m grateful for is this mare is not stoic- she communicates especially if she knows you’re listening. It does make it harder sometimes because you can’t get by with much- but in times like this I’m glad she communicated instead of stoically allowing me to continue and cause worse damage. Some horse do this… they’ll do what you ask of them regardless until they are too hurt to go on and often long term sometimes irreversible damage is done. Not this mare. She will let me know if anything is not at full capacity. Occasionally I think maybe too much communication!

So… I thought some more. Maybe I’m mis-hearing her communication about the rocks.

Maybe it’s not as much hoof sensitivity as I’d assumed. Maybe it’s combined with how much she hates the unbalance and stumbling over those jagged rocks and maybe it’s also her tendons and muscles in her legs.

One of my goals this year has been to walk her barefoot on paved surfaces. I’ve begun to but not done the miles and miles I’d like to work up to. Maybe the hard surface work will continue to harden her tendons and ligaments. Maybe her feet are improving- but not ready for the OD trails… maybe she’ll never want to ride those courses just because … well … for a horse that many miles of brutal rocky trails frankly sucks.

A look at the left boot skin I removed in camp. It was on pretty good and I had to loosen it with a screwdriver. I may try them again. I like the concept and like the closer hoof fit, but I’d considered trying to paint them red so they were more visible and I’d take that more seriously the next time. I had a plan B but hadn’t anticipated seriously that I would know when it was time to put it into effect. 😫

Maybe if I stick with this sport (which at the moment I am inclined to do) I will need to adjust the rides I choose – which is a little sad because I love my OD family – but maybe not best for her. And the horse has to come first. I decided that years ago.

I may try to aim for rides like Biltmore, Big South Fork and Foxcatcher and see how she does on those. They are all farther away from home, but fewer more carefully selected rides at least may help me see if she does better and seems to thrive there or not at all.

Admittedly the ride home and the late night dark voices at least until a desperately needed shower spoke to me of my failings… failing my horse, failing myself, not being good enough- me or my horse… something is wrong with me… look at all the other people who sail through these rides… but at least after the shower I was able to decide that… No. I don’t give up that easily. My journey is unique and it’s my own. If it’s not right for her I am ok with leaving endurance but it’s not time to decide that now. I will remember that I’m a work in progress – so is my horse, and things will look different in the morning.

They do indeed.

Today in reflection I remember the lesson of what success means and it is not a ride completion.

My horse cares not about mileage records or placings. And I remember it’s how my horse sees me that matters more than looking like a failure with a lameness pull to human eyes (myself included).

True Success means:

  • I honored my horse and put her needs first.
  • I saw what good strides we have made in connection – how well she went through vetting in, how she works with me so much better than she ever has before.
  • The rear Scoot Boots (strap on not glued) for through the 20 miles perfectly and no rubbing! The spare I strapped on finished the loop with no issues as well.
  • She got good vet scores and is strong and healthy.
  • I made it through the trip without injury to her or me.
  • I learned things (about glue on boots, about my horse, that I may need to reconsider which rides she’ll enjoy more)
  • I got to work on my personal “Love Is” project: Patience when waiting for a ride back and volunteering to wait longer so another horse/rider could go first… in kindness I spent a few minutes early in the ride helping a stranger on the trail knowing that I don’t have much time to spare. And this week has been love does not envy which I don’t normally struggle so much with. I got to see some of that emerge as honestly I did envy some of the riders and horses who had an easier day.

Coming home with a happy horse and sitting in the grass writing this blog with her munching lazily around me, it’s nice to remember what success really looks like.

Sometimes it looks like coming home with more miles on our record, someday it may even be with a top ten finish, maybe someday it might mean changing our activity to something that suits our team better but building us into a team with a solid relationship that can only be truly tested when things are at stake is what matters most to me and that success I can be proud of no matter what the outcomes look like to humans.

Odds are

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Well today is load up to my favorite ride of the season and anniversary of sorts as it was my endurance event as well.

The Old Dominion No Frills 55.

Last weekend I spent two hot days (high of 80 on Friday) riding with my endurance friend Sally and a friend of hers. With the exception of losing a boot strap in some branches K and I bulldozed through – everything was great.

The boot- at a walk- stayed on with no strap and that’s how I navigated the worst of the rocky terrain we had to manage. When the footing got better and we moved into a trot it finally came off so I pulled a hind onto the front and left one back hoof bare for the last couple miles of wooded footing.

Scoot Boots are still in the success category.

And for boot advance to level 2 so to speak I’ve gone ahead and tried the Scoot Skins on the front with equilox glue. I did the glue yesterday prepared with a million how-to videos and some personal coaching from Karen N whose been doing a fair amount of boot gluing and had lots of good advice.

In the end due to my inexperience and the damp humid weather I give the boots about a 40% chance of making it through one loop tomorrow. In fact I half expect to find at least one missing when I go to load her up this morning!

Things I’m suspect of after giving it a go:

  • Not sure I used enough glue. But was trying to be careful no glue would get underneath the hoof which could be devastating over 55 Miles (imagine a hard pebble in your shoe for an entire marathon)
  • Not sure I really kept the hoof still enough for long enough to fully cure (this is 6-8 minutes and I wanted her to be weight bearing on the boot so she was standing still however even slight shifts in weight I cringed).
  • Not sure our humid warm temps allowed the glue to dry properly. Two hours after gluing I’d kept her up around the barn in the sun eating grass – the exposed glue still felt a bit tacky to the touch.
  • Not happy about the wet low places in the field and not being able to keep her feet as dry as possible- she doesn’t take well to being stalled and I refuse to restrict her movement and grazing the night before we leave for a big ride. Her overall needs outweigh boot security here.

All that being said it’s not something I can get regular practice on because I don’t want to have glue on her hooves more often than setting a boot for rides. The glue is probably better than nail holes and I prefer a boot to a metal shoe for many reasons, but it would be like having fake nails on constantly. The glue chemicals will eventually deteriorate the quality of the hoof wall which also needs to breathe.

Thus I decided to give it a try and my plan B is pretty good. I will improve over time- or I may decide the strap on Boots are really the best option and work well.


09:00 at the barn.

I arrived to collect K and load the truck though I’d stalled at home longer than planned due to sleet and snow flurries that had me uninspired to hurry off.

The boots were magically both still on even in the spongy wet mud field I found her in.

She came to the fence and I rubbed her and she relaxed but when I went to halter she stepped backward then away from me. She proceeded to gallop laps around the field bucking at the mustang and zinging past me (not close enough for me to be concerned). She would stop and square up with me, pause and then spin, buck and take off again.

This lasted about 10 minutes as I admired her athleticism and tried not to be horrified at the image of her Boots flying into the air or a pulled tendon in the mud. There wasn’t anything I could do to stop it except stand quietly and watch her go.

Often she’d run toward and stop right at the electric fence and stare intently over to the 2/3 of ‘her field’ with more lush grass now unavailable to her. I knew what she was asking.

I can’t. It’s not good for you. It’s not like anyone can see your ribs… you can’t eat cake all day. It’s spring. You’ll get sick.

Take down the fence.

We are going on a ride this weekend. Come in with me.

Cantering, trotting, spinning and some haul ass full out head down running commence.

She looks good at least. I can see she’s not lame. The boots seem to be good…

Finally she squared up again and took a couple steps in. And waited. And I walked up to her without her running off and leaving me again. Calm. She was ready.

Sheesh. So much for a calm morning. Or being careful about the hoof boots. However… they made it through that whole show and that says something.

I wondered what she was communicating to me besides take the fence down. (Not happening) does she not want to go. She’s not stupid- I think they know more than we give credit for.

Was it a sort of test: how will you react if I run the field around you like a whirling dervish? Will you get mad or frustrated? (I did not. I just waited).

When she did come with me it was as my partner. Right at my shoulder.

And it surprised me how easily and quickly she got on the trailer after all that.

Well who knows.


15:00 in Base camp (Star Tannery VA)

Camp set up easy, trailer converted to my apartment with hammock hung. Khaleesi cleaned her area of all grass quickly 😁

It’s windy and cold.

Boots are still hanging in there and we went through vet in with all A’s. Body condition of 5 (we often get a 6 as she’s not a skinny Arab) and her heart rate was 40 which is good.

It’s windy and cold.


21:50 hunkered down in hammock

It’s windy and cold out there.

Start time tomorrow is 7am and should be about 30 degrees. And windy.

But.

No sleet or rain forecasted so that is the silver lining (it always sleet or freezing rains on this ride).

So tomorrow we ride!

Refined through the fire. 

April 26, 2017

Where to begin?

There’s been a lag in my blogging because I’ve been too busy doing to catch up with writing.
Let me try to sum it up.

Since my last blog post:

  • my mother came to visit.
  • We hosted a two-day private horsemanship type clinic together with friends (horsemanship seems the closest tag… it was about everything from riding to energy work to nutrition to training to equine communication to life lessons… all jam packed into two intense days).
  • My mom spent some time with fabulous Faygo as the plan is to send her to Reno this summer.
  • Then after dropping the clinician and my mom at the airport I came home and packed and left for the No Frills 55 which we rode on Saturday.
  • With a day to unpack and recover I’ve spent two days digging out of that hole from work duties and teaching my violin students.

Now to update my blog as best I can considering how much material I have and how little time and space I have to write this week.

First mom’s visit.


I am so grateful for the time we had together to share horsey-life. We got some beautiful riding in my favorite spots including Hidden Valley and The Big Lonely. 


She and Faygo had fantastic connection right from the start- and there must be horses somewhere in our blood because for starting later in life even than I have- she has great intuition and a great connection to them. I felt they were well matched right away and as the week went on even more strongly so. By the time she left I wished she could put Faygo on the plane with her and take her sooner. When people ask “are you sad for her to go” I can only say:

No! not even a little. Of course I’ll miss her- she’s an amazing horse and my first love… but when you see something so right and the situation so great for her, that is the only thing that really matters. It makes my heart happy to know she’ll be with my mom and Shine.


Second the clinic.

I can’t even begin. Life changing is an understatement so I’ll start by saying that it was a special time with women who are very important in my life and horses that connect us all. 


Dee from Simple Equine Teaching guides the humans to be able to think like a horse does because horses cannot think like a human. Seems easy enough- but my experience is that most people who try to see the world from the horse’s perspective mostly end up thinking “as if the horse thought like a human” and that’s where things go wrong. In order to see from the horse’s perspective first you have to notice how they communicate and enter that space. No matter what it sounds like from the outside- I’ve seen it. I’ve seen things change. Seeing is believing for me.
It’s the kind of clinic that even though looking back the least amount of time was probably spent with me and Khaleesi within the total group, I learned a ton from being part of everyone else’s process.
I don’t just want to know how to connect with my horse- I want to learn how horses think and communicate period- so watching very basic things between my mom and Faygo… and standing at the top of a very large field while Carrington learned to connect to her lead horse in a herd was invaluable for me. I learned much about working with Wild Heart and what that process will continue to look like and how Susan and I compliment each other with her… and had a blast with the time I did spend with Khaleesi.

Spending some time with the girls at the Big Lonely before the clinic.

The funniest must be when I went to collect my horse from the home field on day one- she would be transported to The Big Lonely (site of the clinic) after working with Wild Heart. My fantastic horse that comes to me and puts her head in the rope halter 95% of the time knew Dee was there and put on quite a spectacular show! 

As I stood inside the barn with the thought to collect her while they were wrapping up with Heart I got this welling up in my heart: I’m going to get my horse now… my friend… my sidekick… my second in command…

I kid you not: as I stood up in the barn hardly able to contain my excitement and anticipation to work with my partner I looked out the barn window and watched as she went from standing in the closest corner watching the barn to a full gallop down the fenceline to the farthest point of the field. Doubt if you want to but it was as obvious to me as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow: she felt my energy and ran with it.

I went out to the field and she came barreling back toward the gate. It had been raining on and off and the field was soggy. She showed off her full acrobatic repertoire. Bucking, rearing, jumping and running with sliding muddy stops. At one point before I stepped inside the field she did just the right amount of twist to send a shower of mud particles cartoon-like in their perfection showering right on top of me.

Brava! Yes… you are fantastic… I’m coming in to get you now…

Yes. She dared me. Come in to get me! WHEEEEEEEEEE!

If she truly wanted to evade she had acres of field to leave me for but instead she played with me and danced showing off her skills and then standing still enough for me to get close, offer a hand then twist and buck and run off again.
K: You need to up your game today! Dee is here… I know it!
Me: Show off. Come in and work with me. I promise it will be fun!
K: I will… but you have to say the secret code first!
Me: Come on… you know I don’t know the secret code.
K: I know… but Dee does! You might figure it out here… I’ll give you clues. 

True enough Dee finally came outside as the game went on and laughed: I love this mare… she is having so much fun with you!

After a couple suggestions revealing her equine code of the day, true to her word K stood still and dipped her head into the halter and we left the field together and into the trailer heading for the Big Lonely as if nothing was different than usual. She wasn’t worked up or hot or distracted- she had her fun and was mine again. 

 As the rain kept coming on and off we rode in the indoor arena there and talked about diagonals and signals of riding that are just a little different than the things I’ve heard around me for years.

I brought up my experimentation with riding in the halter and she thought a moment before suggesting that it’s ok with the right equipment but not ideal… what we need to set our sights on is to ride in a neck rope. After all when doing 50 – 100 miles on the trail, getting everything off her face would be best. 

Not today…. But we’ll get there.

Of course we will. I have no doubt.

The No Frills 55.

Becky Pearman Photography

After dropping my mom and Dee at the airport Friday morning and not being sure my truck was ready at the shop I was completely unsure if I’d be attending my favorite ride this year. I have been learning that all of life is beyond my control and that it is OK. I am learning the strength in flexibility and how to pay more attention to the doors that open around me. If my truck wasn’t running it didn’t matter how ready my horse was- the No Frills wouldn’t happen for us this year.

But my truck did get finished thanks Jay Ford and Casey and team and then I truly did have to make the call: do I go or not go?

I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and hadn’t had much time at home. I had plenty to catch up on. This 55 on the other hand was a true test of green to 100’s current conditioning program and her feet. It was my last chance until June to see if we were on the right track. After a brief discussion with Ed (who was working over the weekend anyway) I decided to go.

I packed in an hour, loaded my horse and hit the road. I didn’t put my usual ton of thought or preparation. I threw some things into a cooler, a bag and a few plastic bins. As long as I had horse and saddle I should be fine. The biggest things I forgot were: sleeping bag, GPS and heart rate monitor. I was able to borrow a blanket from great friends Amy and Ricky and Amy even leant me a HRM but I couldn’t make it work. Didn’t matter. This ride there was no data- and that was for the best.

I woke up at 4:30am in my trailer hammock to pouring rain and figured I’d made the wrong call. I should have stayed home. Too late. I’m here, I drove. I paid. I’m riding.
Thankfully the Muddy Creek Rain Coat Ed got me a couple birthdays ago created a climate bubble. I was never cold and never wet. In fact it ended up being quite a pleasant ride despite the high of 48 and cold rain. 

Misty cold rain held all day- yep. Rocks here too

The weather was ever in Khaleesi’s favor. It kept her cool through a very tough ride, and it softened up some of the hard pack easing some of the concussion of 55 miles.

I went out of camp last knowing the only way we would make it through sound was to let her pick her way through the rocky trail at her pace. I had no way of knowing our average speed thank God because it seemed too slow to finish, but I didn’t care. My horse came first and I would not make the same mistake I made at 2016 Iron Mountain. I would listen to her and allow her to navigate as she was able. If we went overtime so be it. This time I would listen. I would make it up to her. I would be better.

We met up with Roger in the first loop and the two of us never left the last positions for the entire 11 hours we were out on trail. Khaleesi crept through the rocks and trotted whenever she could. We didn’t hurry and we didn’t tarry. By the last vet check we were alone after about 10 minutes into our hold while the volunteers began cleaning up- no one was even close to our last places in line. Didn’t matter- my horse looked amazing.

Final vet check before the finish at mile 43

The final 10 miles to camp we rode alone and the footing was normally hard pack but the relentless 10 hours of rain had softened it up just enough and she trotted and cantered that stretch like we’d just left the barn. 

The road follows a stream; she dragged me in a few times to drink her fill and she would pick at the lush early grasses from time to time but overall she ran home with energy to spare.

We all but cantered excitedly down into the final vetting in camp and once I pulled her tack she pulsed at 60 then had a cardiac recovery of 48 bpm. Fantastic! I’ve never seen her look so good after a ride and her feet held without a sign of lameness.


What a good lesson for me. The No Frills is hands down one of the toughest rides for both the 30 and the 55- thankfully in April we never had the heat & humidity the June OD ride does, and the June ride has more elevation gain to worry about, but this ride has the worst rocks of all three and intense relentless trails.

Looking good back at camp

As Roger reminded me: You close your eyes at night and see rocks after this ride. Grass & rocks, mud & rocks, big rocks and small rocks; embedded trail rocks and loose gullies of rocks. Rocks everywhere you turn.

Rock trail

Something else Roger said that gave me a smile. He said Khaleesi moves so beautifully- like she floats down the trail but you can see her put that hind end motor underneath herself with great power. That’s what I want. Power and ease.

I have a long way to go as a rider to help make her job as easy as possible, but I have come such a long way from my first LD on her with my legs flying around and being tossed into the air feeling like I’d gone through a washing machine for 30 miles. 

Overall this past year has been a challenging one on many levels. Often uncomfortable, but it’s the challenges that up your game and make you better if you let them. It’s the fire that refines. 

With many lessons sloshing around the think tank I will enjoy a moment of positive growth. Here after this 55 I think we both looked and felt the best after a big ride yet! I am refreshed from some time with my amazing mom, and my horse and I  are on the right track and have many more years and miles to tweak and improve. 

Becky Pearman Photography

Time. Truth. Heart.

Plan B

Monday, April 25, 2016

Here is my No Frills 2016 recap.

We arrived at a decent time on the second day which meant the primary camp was full and we were in the suburbs. The walk to everything is farther- but the flip side was we had a little more space to spread out. The electric fence was great and we had a decent sized field for the girls. 

  
When I did walk through main camp it was like downtown Manhattan! Generators, portioned off campsites where sometimes 3 horses were in small areas for one campsite. At the ride meeting I learned this was one of the biggest turnouts for the No Frills in recent years. 

This is Faygo’s last ride for now. Susan has gotten quite an introduction to endurance and been a great training partner. She isn’t ‘done’ but the warmer the weather the less likely it is for Faygo to do well and my focus is Khaleesi and it’s hard to really do that when both girls are running. 

  
 Thus Susan brought two daughters (Jess and Kathleen) and Kathleen brought her boyfriend Charlie to help us crew. It’s wonderful to have a team. Last year I rode crewless and it’s do-able, but help is really really nice. 

Unfortunately for Susan and the crew, No Frills doesn’t have the space for all teams to put crew at the vet check, thus they have official volunteers only and I suggested a while back if they are coming they are going to need to sign up as volunteers for all in order to help mom. 

They were great volunteers and I am really thankful that they had the spirit of not only helping us, but spending their entire day (half in the rain) helping put on a great ride and helping many riders through. I am really proud to call them part of team green! Thanks to Jess, Kathleen & Charlie!

  
Somehow (maybe it was the new fencing, maybe I’m just finally getting used to this) I slept better than usual but woke up on and off the the sound of rain on my trailer roof. 

At 5am I lay in my hammock wondering if I just stayed cocooned a little longer would it stop? Later my friend Roger (who rode in the 55 with a 7am start) said “I heard that cold rain and honestly thought about not getting up! I’ve never come to a race and scratched but the thought crossed my mind!”

I wouldn’t say I ever seriously considered that…. But not getting out of my dry warm cocoon was a teeny bit tempting. 

It was a good thing I had to pee so badly. That does it every time. And once you’re up….. Time to get moving. 

 

rainy morning in the suburb camp

 
I threw on my muddy creek rain coat and got to work on coffee (first thing first). 

  
Thanks to Ed I am pretty well prepared for rain. My crew bag is a dry bag and my rain coat puts me in a dry bubble from head to toe, my pop up is regulatly waterproof sprayed. I also have a layer in almost every weight I could imagine to stay warm or not too warm. 

He’s been a good sport about my obsession with endurance riding. As I tell Susan from time to time- this isn’t a sport you can dabble in. It takes miles of training riding and my mind is always clicking around what I need to improve next. Then there are the monthly race weekends with prep and unpacking on either side. 

When I got home I found he had opened a bottle of wine I was curious to try – when I asked how it was he said it was good, and he even signed the cork (which he doesn’t do often) for our wall. I dug it out of the cup we keep them in before they are glued on the cork wall… This is what I found:

  

Back to Saturday

Right as we had to get serious about tacking the rain decreased to spittle. Horses were still wet, but at least our gear wasn’t. 

We are getting the hang of race morning and Susan was good on her own this time- knowing what to expect. Our ‘crew’ of course had been gone for 2 hours now already seeing the first 55 mile riders coming through the vet check. We were on our own in camp. Mental note next time leave one of the 3 in camp to help us in and out!

  

We headed toward check in and warmed up around ‘town’. The plan going in was that I would challenge Khaleesi and ride out in the first wave and stay well ahead of Susan and Faygo who would hang back 10 minutes to leave as a turtle group. I believed we had gotten our tweaks down since leatherwood and looked forward to riding our own ride today moving out and seeing how she would do when pushed into some of that untapped potential I believed she had. 

For Susan- her goal was to ride Faygo conservatively so she could finish with a healthy horse in the back of the pack and to stay clear of Khaleesi and me because it’s tough to separate Faygo. Once you do it she is fine, but Susan didn’t need to go through that more than once in a day. 

If we were both successful we wouldn’t see each other again until I cheered her at the finish line. 

When the course opened we separated, Susan went back through camp and I headed out with the riders. Khaleesi was happy, forward and moving great. We were off. 

The beginning of the ride was beautiful. There was mist from the morning rain and we kept a good pace although the first part of the ride is where the biggest climb is. 

some of the rocky trails in the first loop

My ride photo came from this loop. Thanks Becky Pearman once again for a cool photo!

  

My very favorite part of the day was in the first hour when we were cantering up and down dirt ridge roads and you could hardly see in front of you – the riders were like shadows ahead. That was a neat moment for me – we were riding alone for a few minutes there and just us, a team of two. 

  
   
 
Not long after we came upon a rider down, someone holding horses and I believe it was all ok but the group asked if I would wait to pass until they sorted out. I (tentatively) said I would and wasn’t long until I heard a familiar voice in a group approaching.

Jaime?

It was Susan and Faygo. This was not good.

I had no idea what the rider we were waiting for was doing but I said to the group- I really need to move along here (she was not hurt and her horse was in control) and I passed by hoping that we might still get some distance and I might have moved off in time. 

It was too late. I heard Faygo calling from behind. I slowed and they caught up again. This was not at all what I had planned. 

Susan had left camp right after me with a group of riders who were probably more mid-pack than turtle, and she had ridden the first leg too fast with them thinking it was ok (it can happen easily when you are with a group- also it was a cold morning and Faygo had convinced Susan she could do it) but I looked at Faygo with years of knowing that horse who was breathing like a dragon and thought about how fast I had taken those hills on a healthy fit horse and was at a loss. 

This was not good

We tried one more time to separate and Susan promised to hold her back and walk a while but now she would be alone – at least for a time – because the riders she had been with were moving along. 

I pushed Khaleesi on. She was also confused now. Early on she was forward and eager, now she heard Faygo calling and kept slowing down. I was fighting, Susan was fighting. This was not a way to continue for long. 

I had to think fast but options were not good and I couldn’t make a call. One thing I did know was I couldn’t leave Susan to fight with Faygo alone back on the trail, and I couldn’t drive my horse forward while my mind was with Susan. 

We pulled over and she caught back up, fighting to hold Faygo back as she promised but now wasting energy in the struggle Faygo was even worse than before and hot and breathing hard. 

Susan was sorry- of course she didn’t do it intentionally and she didn’t have the experience to see what I saw. I wasn’t mad at her but I was frustrated that we were all now pulled into Faygo’s ride again when I wanted to finally ride Khaleesi’s ride. This was too early in the ride for this to happen. 

But it was. Now what?

First we had to get off and hand walk. Faygo would never chill out with a rider on her at this point. I’ve seen her like this- she’s been worked up and hot and heavey breathing hard and it was not going to be easy to get her down and the only way to slow her up at this point is to get off and lead her. 

This was not good for any of us. 

I was still trying to formulate what to do. 

We needed a plan B. And fast. 

Susan was part of the team, she had been there for me in the rain and snow and freezing wind and I brought her here and couldn’t strand her. I had to give up my hopes for a strong finish and take care of her and both my horses. 

I honestly didn’t know if Faygo would recover well enough to get through vetting with this kind of first loop, especially because we had just wasted time and we’re now hand walking if we picked up the pace to what we needed to get through she might get pulled. 

Then what? 

If she gets trailered back to camp alone, she’s left to manage a herd separated horse in camp with no one more experienced to help her. Faygo CAN be separated but the circumstances were not the ones that will make that easy. I could deal with her, Susan would not fare as well.  

Meanwhile as I was mulling over any new ways we could pull off a last separation wondering if I could salvage the original plan I suggested we get back on the horses. It was wet and now sweaty and my originally tight girth was just loose enough that when I put my right foot in the stirrup I vaulted up and my saddle pushed down. As I tried to stabilize Khaleesi turned in a circle with her saddle slipping (not dangerously underneath her, just enough that I was unstable) and I heard two pops from my leg as the muscle pulled twice before I could hop off. Ouch. It hurt but I could walk- and i did walk a bit more to see how bad it was. Then I fixed my saddle and climbed on.

If I needed a message that did it. 

Switch gears Jaime. You have a new job today. Get all 4 of you to the finish line healthy in time. That is plan B.

We had a very slow 10 mile first loop into the vet check. I honestly thought the drag riders might catch us. I had my job cut out for us. And my leg hurt. I was not in good spirits. 

But we did get into the vet check. Khaleesi pulsed down immediately (in fact the P&R volunteer said ok, this one is sleeping) but it took Faygo a good 6 minutes. I couldn’t leave here at the pulse box to go take care of Khaleesi as Faygo would never pulse down left alone. Then we had to pull Faygo’s saddle to get pulse – this was only a 10 minute gait & go and I didn’t even get out of the pulse box in 10 minutes. We still had to re-tack Faygo. 

waiting for Faygo to pulse down

The vet check was a soupy mud mess and this ride was not going well. We lost 20 minutes at least in that stop. We really couldn’t afford those minutes. 

Thankfully our crew members were able to come over and help us. Both horses dove into the hay and food they provided with some apples and water and we electolyted Faygo. I didn’t dose Khaleesi as it was only 10 miles and she hasn’t worked very hard.  I decided to bring them on trail and use them if I needed a little later. 

We headed into the 13 mile second loop that includes the 7th ring of hell (or valley of the shadow of death) and I calculated how we could get Faygo through to finish in time with much time lost early on. 

This course is hard. Having the knowledge of it from last year is the only way I was able to make it work. The weather was perfect – very cool- for Faygo and we got serious right away. 

As soon as we hit the grassy roads I pushed us into a canter. We are going to run this section. It’s open and not too much climb. Faygo is fast and we are going to push her because I know that soon we will be stuck at a fast walk as we finish climbing the mountain then we will descend into the rockiest technical riding I have ever done. 

We need to make up speed right now. Don’t let her slow down until the single track a few miles ahead.

So we ran.   

Once we hit the single track climb we walked. Faygo was working hard but she was ok. I knew she could come out on the other side cooled down from the walking in the valley. (The ring of hell part). But I also knew Faygo is able to navigate that section faster than most horses there. 

That is her strength. I was counting on it. As for Khaleesi, I would have ridden her a little differently. She doesn’t like the rocks as much, but this ride she would have to keep up- and that would help us too. 

single track climb

It was exactly as I thought and we easily passed a handful of riders navigating that section of trail. It isn’t the ring of hell or valley of the shadow of death because it’s not beautiful. In fact it is, it’s just hard riding. I was grateful for our pads. 

I took pictures this year:  

 

a good couple of miles like this
 
 
I don’t have good pictures of the rock faces you have to scale up – those I was riding two handed and with the best balance I could give her to help as she scrambled up them
 
 
Roger kept teasing we would all see rocks in our sleep tonight!
 
 
these are the embedded into the dirt ones – they dont move as you slip around them
  
not as easy to see but the mud is a layer over fist sized loose rocks
 

When we came out the other side Faygo had been pulling Susan into water holes and drinking like a camel (great!) Khaleesi was still sleeping (that’s our joke now). Her heart rate was rarely above 110 which is fantastic (even in the trotting and cantering). 

Faygo was breathing easy and cool after gliding through the rocks in the valley. 

  
We hit the grassy roads again and my plan was to run those again to make up time and we did. These all out cantering miles on the grass roads encouraging the horses to give everything they had were some of the highlights of the ride. 

The road goes back to single track woods a mile from the vet check where we would have a 45 minute hold. 

We needed to pulse Faygo down faster this time so I stopped us at the start of the single track and I electolyted both horses (Khaleesi’s first, Faygo’s second) and we began our slow walk in to cool down. About 1/10 of a mile in we got off and hand walked. I told Susan to breathe deeply and think peaceful thoughts. 

We arrived quietly, dropped saddles and walked to pulse. Khaleesi was immediately in at 60 (64 is the required) and Faygo was about 71. Not terrible. About 2 minutes later she made pulse (so much better than the first loop!) and we headed to go through the control vet.

Both horses were great. Khaleesi got a B on impulsion but they all agreed it was more likely my limpy leg run to trot her out that had her confused. Both horses passed and had decent hydration and gut sounds.  

  

 
They spent the hold eating voraciously and my favorite part was that Khaleesi kept turning over her water with her front foot and Charlie was such a good sport to get her another bucket even though I assured him it was ok- she’s not drinking it! She had his number and he refilled it at least 3 times before he believed me that it was a losing battle.

notice the water bucket

Our out time was 2:32 which meant we had at least 90 minutes (finish time 4:15) to get the last 9 miles to finish. The last loop is the easiest- packed gravel road and mostly downhill. We were now looking good and I was confident we could complete. Even if we ended up under the wire and Faygo didn’t pulse in time I was sure Khaleesi would.

We tacked up, electrolyted once more and were out the gate at 2:33 to tackle the third loop. 

My leg was tight and I was not feeling balanced in the saddle (all day, but stiffer after the 45 minute hold) and trotting this road for miles slightly downhill was not easy – it was ok for me, I wasn’t in pain – but I know I was off, tight and not bearing weight equally on the right side and had hoped I wouldn’t cause problems for K. Every once in a while if I changed diagonals she would slow up and turn her head as if to ask What are you doing? That doesn’t feel right.

I wasn’t sure if I should still change, or just use the one that felt easier. 

God told me (in the end with a muscle pull) to stay with my team and he provided us cool weather all afternoon. I had to put my long sleeve shirt on for the last loop and tha kept Faygo able to gait in a good speed without trouble. 

We kept that metronome 7-8mph going as much as possible. The only time we stopped was when Faygo dragged us into the stream we were alongside for a drink (which she did at least 3 times). She was taking care of herself well.

 

waiting for faygo ar a stream
 
I knew where camp was on my GPS and when we were a mile or so out with lots of time to spare I knew we had done it- both horses in great shape, and Faygo even pulling ahead to gait through the wooded trail after almost 30 miles of hard riding. 

 

these stats aren’t official- it includes the 20 minutes lost at vet check 1 and part of our 45 minute hold
 
I felt so proud of our team and the motto to finish is to win never meant more to me than when we walked to the finish line at 3:30 with 45 minutes to spare on a hard ride that I believed we may not complete. 

For an LD you don’t officially finish until pulse to 60. We pulled saddles and walked to the pulse box. We were not in any hurry and Khaleesi pulsed officially at 3:42. Faygo just a few minutes later. 

I think our official time might be about 5:51. ** for curiosity sake I looked up last years’ ride time and it was exactly 5:51… How funny is that?!

Khaleesi passed the vet check as if asleep again. She had a pulse in the low 50s to start and after trot out her CRI test went down to 40. (That is phenomenal). I worked on my bum trot out and she had great impulsion and attitude. All As for both horses. 

We did it together!

  
I heard from a drag rider who rode both days that the trails on Saturday were in worse condition than Friday and it made for a harder ride. From the rides I’ve done in the last year I can say the No Frills has to be one of the most challenging I’ve seen- of course I love it. 

I really like being in Old Dominion territory. I think that organization does the best at putting on great rides with great volunteer structure and for a No Frills ride they provide a lot to help each rider. The rides are challenging and you really feel good about finishing healthy!

  
After returning to camp and feeding them a mess of wet beet pulp, grain, apples and carrots, I did a back check. I was sure I would find some soreness from my bum riding all day- we also did a fair amount more cantering that I had planned. She had tiny ticklish reactions in a spot but no dipping or soreness. No dry spots. Her lower back was also not tight. 

  
  
  

 
I had been unsure of what to do about Biltmore if we didn’t push this ride harder, but the things I’d worried about were all in good shape. After talking to my mentor we are moving ahead with our plan to ride our first 50 in two weeks. It’s time. 

We have learned a lot in the LD (learning distance) and we may do more LDs in the future depending on the circumstances, but for now it’s time to take the step and try. 

This ride may not have been the one I planned, but I am grateful now that I was forced into the one we had. We helped each other through a hard ride and Susan got a strong completion under her belt with a horse who really needs to be managed well. Kudos to her for completing this ride! 

Speaking of that horse, Faygo is all heart. She may be held back by physical limitations but take that away and she would make a monster of an endurance horse. She is fast, agile and willing and would die before she quit. In some ways it breaks my heart that she is limited physically because she (even weeks away from turning 18) is not ready to retire to occasional trail use. Her story is far from over but it’s a little unclear what exactly to do with her from here. That doesn’t bother me- things become clear as they need to. 

  
As for Khaleesi, she has a career ahead of her and shows a lot of promise. She has a great mind and good physical traits to build on. I am working on staying the course to build her gradually for a decade team horse who loves her job and stays sound and healthy. 

  
We stayed overnight on Saturday and as my leg was lame I appreciated the slower pack up and some down time. Most retired early and as I was walked to the bathroom at main camp before bed I ran into Sherry who suggested I come out to the bonfire – I didn’t know there was one and though tired and considering bed, I accepted and brought a beer down to relax. 

  
It was nice to have some time without the blur of activity with some of the new friends I’ve made. We shared bourbon and moonshine. 

It’s also nice to know I’m not the only one who can’t stop mulling over the details – what went right and what can be improved. Everyone else is also talking about their pull and what they learned- asking each other for thoughts on better management… Laughing about some things, groaning over the rocks… the rain… the sloppy mud at the vet check…

We crept off to bed one at a time and I slept well again though it was colder under a clear sky. 

I thanked the stars that I didn’t get what I wanted…

But if you try sometimes… You might find… You get what you need. 

  

Anniversary… Of sorts. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Last year the Old Dominion No Frills ride was my first taste of the endurance community. 

  
The low was 35, it drizzled all night and I slept in my open trailer – cocooned in my hammock with 5 layers including a hat and scarf to keep from freezing. 

This year it is my 6th ride and it is drizzling again, but with a low of 55 and I’m tucked into an upgraded trailer and it’s too hot to get into my sleeping bag yet. 

Last year I was all alone and didn’t know a soul and was thankful to Pascale for helping me sort out the details of my first base camp. 

This year I am surrounded by a team green-to-100 crew of Susan, her two duaughters (Jessica and Kathleen) and Kathleen’s boyfriend Charlie. 

We drove through the rain to get here- then got a long afternoon break to set up camp. 

  
Both horses vetted in perfectly- well except that Faygo had someone crossed the electric fence at home yesterday and ate all the good grass she wanted. Not truly a problem but herbody condition score was a ‘6’ which is still well in healthy range but I had to wonder if a day on the whole pasture gave her that little grass belly look.

Body condition score is 1-10 with 1 being emaciated and near death and 10 being super obese. 5 is the middle and a good score- but it depends on the horse and breed. A lean muscled Arabian might score a 4 and still be healthy but a well built stock horse could be at peak in a 6. 

Either way – whatever number you assign her, she is in exactly the condition I’d like to see her in. She’s not an Arab and will never have that anorexic look. 

Khaleesi got a ‘5’ but by a different vet. 

  
As I enjoy the rain on my roof I get ready to get some sleep before A leisurely start time of 9am- the vet check is too small at this ride to overlap so the 55 riders leave at 7am. That gives them a 2 hour head start to get in and out before the first wave of 30 mile riders. 

It’s nice to get some extra morning time, and we are looking at a cool day tomorrow- but the normal drawback to a later start is dealing with higher temperatures in the afternoon. 

  
It’s nice to be back at what has become one of my favorite rides!

T-minus

Last few days before the No Frills, April 2016

What do we do the week of the ride?

Ride… A little.

Take a leg stretching leisurely 5 mile ride on Tuesday with no goals except to enjoy the horse-human relationship. No speed work, no mountain climbing, we used our horsemanship open to and close a lot of farm gates (mounted) and explored some open woods that could mean a new route someday. 

  
We meandered through trees, got stuck in some random ancient fencing (trust building!) and took a few fun canters and jumped some downed logs in the trail. We rode under 2 hours and did the ‘F’ word – according to a friend of mine. 

That is F-U-N. 

Groom…

  
We had some fun leisurely grooming which involved the clippers. I got a decent trace on Khaleesi (it’s not professional groomer looking but will help her stay cool) and though Faygo is not a fan still, we got a little Frankenstein cut on her sides. Considering a year ago I had to sedate her to get the clippers anywhere near her- this is actually a pretty big accomplishment. She isn’t as easygoing as Khaleesi but we got a few good swipes that will help her cool.

  
She can tolerate a couple minutes and then she gets antsy which leads to highly unhappy which would eventually lead to melt-down if we allowed the process to continue but we stop when we’re ahead and she realizes she didn’t die and I didn’t hurt her. 

Packing and tack/brush cleaning!

  
My favorite thing about using biothhane tack is how easy it is to clean. Yes. I ran it through the dishwasher! I love that! Halters and pads in washing machine and no leather to oil. 

  
Packing gets easier each ride as I start to leave things in tubs unless I need them!

  
My running checklist gets updated each ride with new tweaks to the system. 

  

Open up some more pasture

The girls get some extra grass before the ride. Not all of it (now I’m terrified of too much change right before an event) but I gave them some of that sweet grass the electric fence has been protecting. They were on it like flies on horse poo!

  
 

my helpers
 

Mix up some electrolytes 

We have a new recipe and are using enduramax. It combines better in the blender so this is the new night before travel routine. Hopefully they will like the recipe and it will help them have a successful day!

  
As promised after Leatherwood I have also cut up some carrots and apples for quick snacking and will carry some on the trail along with a handful of alfalfa cubes. I won’t feed bulk alfalfa hay but I think the cubes can be a good quick treat. 

  
Sleep?

And last of all I am hoping for the last true sleep I’ll get in the next couple days since I can’t sleep soundly in camp – at least not before the ride. I’m still up later than I’d wanted with last prep due to working all day but now it’s as done as it can be before throwing ice in the cooler and the last bag on the truck. 

So a few minutes in the hot tub and a last cup of water (yes… No bourbon tonight for me) and a moment to take in the full moon and I will to my best to get some rest.