This post has been sitting as a draft for quite some time. It details a ride that actually took place back in September, but I somehow never got around to finishing it up and publishing it (I think mainly because I was having trouble getting the videos to upload). But anyways, better late than never right? Without further ado, I present our Biltmore summer adventure!
In early September (?), I took Pokey to the mountains to visit his old owner. It was a nice, if fairly uneventful visit. We rode less than a mile at Moses Cone before calling it quits. Pokey had just been shod the day before and was uncharacteristically sore. He has never had the greatest hooves in the world, and this year has really been a struggle. I finally broke down and bought him an expensive hoof supplement, which he will probably be on the rest of his life. His hooves have also been dry and cracked so hoof oil is in order, and of course venice turpentine – applied daily (or as often as I remember) to his soles. (Note: As of November my brother took a new approach to shoeing Pokey and added pads on his fronts as well. This has resulted in a completely different horse! Although his toes are still cracked, he is now sounder than I have EVER seen him!)
For various reasons, the fall endurance ride at the Biltmore benefiting Hope for Horses was cancelled. The Biltmore had been on my radar as a possible first LD this spring (I just don’t know when to give up apparently), but then Pokey injured himself and I found out I was pregnant so all my plans went up in smoke. However, the Biltmore spring 2017 wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities (yet). So when I heard that there was going to be an open “trail ride” benefiting Hope for Horses in September, I was all over it. Here was my chance to check out the trails, without any pressure from anyone to go a certain distance or speed. I was stoked! But as the date drew closer, things began to look sketchy. I was quite sick up until 2 days before the event, and the previous weekend a 5 mile solo ride on Pearl produced round ligament pains so sharp, it had me almost doubled over in the saddle in pain. But I am nothing if not stubborn (my boyfriend will attest to this), and the day before the Biltmore ride, I announced that I was indeed planning to go after all. My strategy for avoiding pain? Take a different horse!
I hadn’t experienced any soreness after riding Pokey, which made some sense. After all he is a bigger horse with a bigger stride. My main concern was that he hadn’t been really ridden at all recently. In, like, MONTHS. But the event organizers promised a variety of trails – ranging from 5 to 13 miles. Surely we could manage an easy ride under 10 miles right?
Fast forward to Saturday morning. I got up at 6:30, because I wanted to see my boyfriend before I left (he gets off work at 7am) and also because I hadn’t slept more than 6 hours for the past 3 nights straight. However when I sat down with my coffee at 6:45, I started looking at the trail maps, and quickly realized I hadn’t really thought things through. It is a 3 hr drive to the Biltmore, which would put my arrival time at at least 11am. I figured I needed an hour to register and tack up, and we were supposed to be off the trails by 4pm. Which for a 9 mile ride (we figured we would do the blue loop since the trailhead was right at the edge of the parking lot), meant we would have to average at least 2.5 mph. This of course was completely doable, but also meant we were on a somewhat tight schedule. We HAD to be on the road by 8am and my horse hadn’t even had his breakfast yet!
So naturally the moment my boyfriend came in the door, I rushed him and informed him that we needed to get going NOW. We took both vehicles to the barn, where I fetched Pokey and fed him, then we scooted on over to CS to hook up the trailer. As soon as we pulled up to the barn with the trailer in tow, Pokey sensed something was up and naturally deigned to finish his feed, so I scooped it up and dumped it in the trailer manger so he could finish the rest on the way. Fortunately I had loaded everything in the trailer except water the night before, so after filling a 7 gallon container we were ready to go (water was promised at the ride, but I always bring some just in case).
It wasn’t until about an hour into my drive that I realized I’d forgotten to pack any water for myself. And I really did not want to stop.
It was an unventful trip down. I always still get a little nervous hauling Pokey anywhere after our accident this summer, but our truck has 4 brand-new all terrain tires, and the trailer has pretty decent tires itself (though I plan to replace them all in the spring because I’m paranoid about those things now).
On the drive there, I pulled up my Horse Radio Network app and was pleasantly surprised to find the new Endurance Day episode had just aired, so I pulled out my wireless speaker and spent the first 2 hrs or so of the drive immersed in tales of the Mongol Derby. We found the entrance to the West Range trails without any problem (much to my relief) and were directed to a parking space.
Fortunately for us the main parking area had filled up so we were allowed to pull farther down the hill and park in the grass alongside one other trailer. The ladies there were already tacking up their tall, gaited horses. The older lady greeted me, and asked me where I was from. We struck up an interesting conversation then because they were from the same western NC mountain town where my boyfriend’s mother has her vacation house. She then asked if I wanted to ride with them, and I hesitated. I like making new friends, but had been looking forward to doing my own thing, and I also wasn’t sure that little old Pokey would be able to keep up with their 16h Walkers. Fortunately her companion “saved” me by speaking up and voicing her opinion that her own horse probably wouldn’t get along with a stranger, which I thought was a tad rude but I was perfectly ok with it. I assured the other lady that we were quite ok with riding alone, and that I didn’t want them having to wait on me.
As it turned out, it was a very good thing we were alone. Straight out of the gate, Pokey was on his absolute WORST behavior, and nothing I did seemed to help. First, he refused to get off the trailer. My trailer divider swings over to turn a 2 horse into a single horse slant, and thus all horses I have had in there have been able to turn around and walk out. Pokey turned around just fine, but then planted his feet and refused to move. He was saying, plain as day, “This is NOT home, I DON’T know this place, I’m NOT getting off here and YOU can’t make me!”
I tried coaxing him, tugging on his lead rope for close to 5 minutes to no avail. When our neighbors walked away for a minute, I resorted to cursing at him under my breath, and that’s when he took a flying leap out of the trailer – nearly landing on top of me.
“Well EFF you too!” He seemed to say. I sighed, tethered him to the trailer and went to register.
I eyed the concessions as I passed the tent, remembering that I’d forgotten to bring water. I’d register, then grab some before heading back to the trailer. I got in what seemed to be a line to register. Things were moving quite slowly, as they had just run out of liability waivers and had sent someone to print more. Someone else finally put a fresh stack of sign-up forms on the table, but the line still wasn’t moving.
A tall man walked up and stood momentarily beside me, looking right and then left. One of the ladies in front of me moved on…but before I could so much as blink, the man stepped directly in front of me. He grabbed a form, and leaned over to fill it out on the pspot. My jaw dropped. Was he seriously in THAT big of a hurry that he found it necessary to cut line in front of the pregnant lady? I shook my head, but bit my tongue and didn’t say anything. No one else even seemed to notice. A moment later, another lady walked up and also stood off to my right. I kind of turned to block her and made it clear via my body language that I was (somewhat impatiently at this point), waiting in line.
At this point I’d been standing there about 10 minutes, and I could see Pokey down at the trailer going crazy. I turned back around just in time to see the man glance over at the lady, hand over his paper and move out of the way. But – again – before I could even open my mouth, she dodged in front of me and took his place, taking not just one, but two sign-up forms and proceeding to fill them out top of the rest. At that point I almost lost it. What the hell was wrong with people? I waited to see if one of the volunteers would say something, but no one did (they were too busy fussing about the liability waivers) so I finally stepped foward and said loudly to the woman, “Excuse me – I need one too.” She glanced over at me, and said “I’m sorry” before moving a couple inches to the left. Her tone wasn’t apologetic at all, but at least she was no longer in the way.
I quickly filled out the sign-up form and liability waiver before stomping back towards the trailer, where Pokey had proceeded to paw a hole in the ground. I kid you not. I should’ve taken a picture of it. It was a good 2 inches deep, and about 2 feet wide. Just grrreaaat. I realized at that point that I’d forgotten to get water, but I didn’t want Pokey standing there any longer than was absolutely necessary. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him behave quite so badly.
I could barely get him tacked up, as he kept swinging his butt right and left, running me over and pawing incessantly. He almost stepped on my hands several times while I was trying to his hoof boots on, and I was unable to get his saddlebags on at all (in all fairness my cantle stowaway bags don’t fit all that well on my Stubben saddle to begin with). I finally just gave up. I can’t remember if I put splint boots on him – I think I may have borrowed Pearl’s and slapped them on the front but because I don’t have a pic of him all tacked up, I’m not sure.
While we were tacking up, our neighbors with the gaited horses passed us twice. The first time they looked like they were headed up to the blue loop trailhead. A few minutes I saw them headed down the yellow access road. Then they came back up it again. I’m not sure if they knew where they were headed, or where they wanted to ride. I had originally thought to ride the blue loop (9.5 miles), because it started right out of the parking lot and I really didn’t have time to get lost. But I noticed most people were heading down the access road to the majority of other trails – not to mention the volunteers had recommended the green loop as being the one with the “views”.
Unfortunately I didn’t think to check the map again until mounted, which I paid for in the long run. Basically, from what I could see the green trail was only slightly longer at 10.3 miles. I was a little leery of going longer, but figured if things weren’t going well we could always turn around and backtrack. I tucked the map away and looked up to see some endurance riders passing us on our right. Their Arabians were surprisingly tall and moved out with grace in their steel shoes over the gravel. Meanwhile Pokey was surprisingly ouchy (even with his Easyboots on over his shoes, much to my chagrin) and chose to veer off on the grassy shoulder. He pranced a little as the Arabs passed us but allowed them to pull away from us without fussing. The one guy turned around and gave us a weird look. As if he was amused at the little Quarter Horse attempting to keep up with their elitist desert horses.
“Let them go buddy,” I told him. “Don’t even think you can keep up with them!” As if he understood me, Pokey quit prancing and dropped back to a walk. The Arabs, meanwhile, picked up a trot and almost immediately vanished over the hill. We never saw them again.
Once we got off the gravel and onto the grass, Pokey moved a lot easier and picked up a trot of his own accord. I allowed im to move out a little before asking him to come back down to a walk. I didn’t want him wearing himself out int he first few miles of the ride. As we neared the end of the access road, I spotted a group of riders standing in a group holding their horses, and realized that something was wrong. As we drew closer, I was able to see there was a couple teenage girls sitting back to back on the ground, being assisted by none other than the man and woman who had cut line in front of me. The girls were red-faced and scared, but appeared to be alright. The one woman had a walkie, and was communicating with someone back at “base”. As we approached I inquired, “Is everyone ok?” The man looked at me and nodded. So I kept right on going. I certainly do hope everyone walked away without injury – still the devil on my shoulder was just slightly satisfied that the people who were so rude encountered a little bump in their day. Because karma. Just sayin’.
As we continued on our way, we encountered a truck coming down the trail with the “Biltmore” logo on the side. The lady leaned out the window and called out as they passed, “Thank you for being here!” It kind of made my day.
We encountered our first water tank and I was pleased that Pokey took a few swallows, after having refused water back at the trailer (I did not e-lyte him that day, perhaps next time I will). We rode on and a group coming the opposite way pointed out the Biltmore mansion. Even from a distance, I was awed by it’s size and grandeur.
As we continued, the trail dipped into the forest and we gradually drew closer to the horses in front of us. Once we caught up, I had Pokey hang back a few feet because nobody wants someone riding up their butts. As we reached a bend in the trail, they abruptly pulled up, and turned around. It was so sudden I almost rode right into them.
“Do you see any trail markers?” They asked me.
“Yes, there’s one right here and one just ahead.” I pointed them out. They turned to continue, but seemed hesitant. It was at that point that the big chestnut horse in the back started acting up, jumping and prancing sideways in order to look back at Pokey, who had picked up on his excitement and started prancing himself.
“Maybe I should pass,” I suggested. “They might be quieter without my guy jigging behind them.” They stopped to let me pass, and as we tiptoed past them, I realized it was my neighbors and their big gaited horses from back at the trailer. The funny thing is, the one who seemed concerned about her horse and his behavior did just fine. It was the other lady’s horse who ended up acting out!
Pokey was raring to go, and I let him slowly pull ahead to give the ladies their space. At one point I realized it was quiet behind me, and looking back over my shoulder I realized they had turned around and were going back up the trail. I never saw them again. We continued on our merry way, all alone now. We didn’t see anybody else for some time. Oddly enough, I was having the time of my life. I do enjoy riding with others, but having done so all year it was a treat to be able to move out and really ride our own ride.
Another group was approaching as we were, and I waved at them to go first as I wanted to give Pokey all the time in the world to drink. The other horses crowded the tank and the women riding them inquired as to whether I’d lost my group. I informed them I was riding alone and they seemed surprised. I guess not a lot of people do that? Then one of the horses went to paw. He accurately calculated the higher of the water tank and in so doing got a front foot through his reins. It was a good thing he stood still and didn’t panic, because even though I pointed it out and urge his rider to immediately unbuckle her English style reins, it took a few seconds for anyone to react. Fortunately no one was hurt, and we bid them good day before Pokey got his turn at the trough.
I was pleased that Pokey drank again – more than a few swallows this time – and curiously eyed a number of passing horses (and shared the tank briefly). After drinking, he started trying to paw but of course he is a small horse and couldn’t get his foot up that high (nor would I want him to). I briefly wished I had a scoop – like western endurance riders carry. I didn’t even have my sponge, so I hoped off him and cupping my hands, literally splashed him the way little kids do at the pool. He realllly liked that! He stopped pawing and just stood there with his lips curled into a satisfied sort of grimace. I had to laugh. He is Mr Personality, that’s for sure!
I walked down the trail a little ways before remounting. We passed a few more riders before coming to another fork in the teail. On the left the orange loop veered away and on the right the green trail dropped farther into the forest. I hesitated once again. Should I attempt the orange trail in hopes that it would be shorter? I finally decided to stick to the green trail. I knew it ended up following the river, which I predicted would provide us with shade if nothing else.
I usually listen to music when I ride, but my phone battery is sh*t, and I knew it wouldn’t last any longer than 90 minutes if I started streaming anything. I wanted to make sure I was able to keep track of my mileage and time, and also able to reach the outside world if needed. When we reached the river, I pulled up Endomondo and decided to check the GPS map. It was at that point I realized something was wrong. We were supposed to be 3/4 of the way through the loop but it was showing us only at the halfway point!
I dug out the map, flipped it over and went over the legend again – more carefully this time. And sh*t! As it turned out, I had accidentally mixed up my loops and confused the orange trail with the green one. The green loop was actually 11.9 miles! We needed to hustle!
We continued alongside the river, trotting wherever the footing seemed decent. Pokey had his happy ears pricked forward the whole time. He really seemed to be enjoying himself.
We passed a trio of riders resting by the river, including a huge Fresian also in red tack. I did some math and figured if we could hit 10 miles by 3pm, that would give us an hour to complete the last 2 miles. That could be accomplished easily. I wanted our last hour to be our slowest, especially given we were going much farther than originally intended!
At 2:59 exactly, we hit 10 miles, and I was pleased. I could feel that Pokey was tiring a little. This was certainly the fartherest I had ever attempted to ride him. I did get off and lead for a short time, but started feeling so hot and dizzy about 15 minutes in, I was forced to remount. It was at that point I remembered that I had not drank anything all day. Oops.
At this point, I was paying much closer attention to the gps and the map and had begun to actively worry. We HAD to be off the trails by 4pm, yet at nearly 12 miles we were nowhere near the finish! It was at that point the pain also started. I guess dismounting and walking had triggered something, because I started having extremely painful lower abdomenal cramps. Basically contractions. I had no idea how much farther we actually had to ride (as the map was obviously off what Endomondo was indicating), and Pokey was fading fast. He was giving it his all, but in the last 4 miles, we encountered the steepest hills of our entire ride. More than once he stopped dead in his tracks, looking back at me and requesting plain as day that I get off and walk for a while please. But I was barely managing to stay upright in the saddle at that point, and I knew if I dismounted I wouldn’t be able to get back on.
I started talking to him, blabbing like a crazy person. I apologized to him profusely, and encouraged him as best I could.”Just a little farther. We’re almost done,” I told him. But I wasn’t sure if we really were.
Then, at 3:55 exactly we reached the access road leading to the horse trailers, and I nearly cried. And at 4pm exactly, this was our view…
Somehow, some way we’d made it.
Had this been a real endurance ride, we would’ve been over time. We didn’t make it back to our trailer until a couple minutes after 4, nonetheless I was so proud of us. Well, mostly Pokey! In the end, HE was the one who took care of us both, and made sure we BOTH made it back safely.
Back at the trailer, he sucked up a whole bucket of water and I gave him a mash of Fiberplus. I had forgotten my electrolytes (of course!) and I didn’t want to give him salt and make him too thirsty on the trailer ride home but I was pleased that his skin tenting and gums looked great. I rubbed down all four of his legs with liniment cream and bandaged his front with his Legacy boots to prevent stocking up on the trip back. I gave him a bath (thanking heavens for all the water I’d brought because the water tank up the hill had already been removed!) I checked his back for sore spots and found none (hooray for our fluffy half pad and 20 yr old Stubben saddle!).
We loaded up and were one of the last 3 trailers to head out. The organizers waved and thanked us (I got the feeling they were more glad to see us go than they had been to see us come lol). I stopped at a gas station at the first opportunity, and went inside to buy some water and iced tea (and use the facilities). The pumps were so crowded we had to park in a neighboring lot and I wondered what was going on (I didn’t find out until the next day about the statewide gas shortage). After downing close to a gallon of water, I felt significantly better. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
I worried when we arrived home, and Pokey only ate half his dinner mash. So much so that my boyfriend took pity on me and offered to go out at midnight and check him again for me. He came back with pictures proving Pokey had finished his mash and was hanging out along the fenceline with the neighboring horses. I wrapped Pokey’s legs when he came in the next day, and to my satisfaction, he never stocked up or seemed any worse for wear other than being just slightly stiff behind (no one else was able to see it, but I know this horse better than all of them lol).
Seriously y’all. My old horse is a BEAST! He conquered that trail. I couldn’t be more proud of him!