NOTE: This post was written up just a few days before we attempted back to back Intro rides at Broxton Bridge. It didn’t get posted for whatever reason, but contains too much good material to discard! I have our official “ride story” coming up shortly!

When I first decided that 2017 was THE year, I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. One of the very first things I did was sit down and formulate a plan. Of course, you know what they say about best laid plans. Still, I think I’ve done a fairly good job of sticking as close to it as possible, given the circumstances.

My goal was simple, with the LD in March being the end game. Broxton in SC is the halfway point.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t have a competitive streak. That’s ok, right? If you know me you know the welfare of my horse will ALWAYS be number one. But as much as I try to chastise her and beat her down, that ugly little zealous side of me rears her head occasionally. If I’m to get all philosophical, I daresay it stems from being pegged the black sheep of the family. I’m forever trying to prove myself and my worth, and that there is a method to my madness and I’m not just some crazy person who has few ambitions in life beyond her horses (so what if it’s true – shut up!) For this reason I also empathize with Justice. Here is a horse that competed for years to the best of his ability, ultimately only to be rehomed when he didn’t measure up to his owner’s expectations. Oh, did I mention she’s going to be at the March ride? Um, yeah. Just found out. And suddenly this went from a simple ride to a competition.

Oh damn. I said the C-word didn’t I?

All kidding aside, I would probably be a little crushed if she placed higher/better than me. I hate to say it, but it’s the truth. OF COURSE my ultimate goal is to complete, and leave with a sound happy horse. But beyond that I’ve got something to prove. That J’s still got it. That he’s worth something. That I’M worth something. That all this time and blood, sweat and tears weren’t in vain. Because life is hard. Money is tight right now. With me not working (except at the barn)…emotionally I’m a wreck as I alternate between feelings of extreme guilt for spending $$ on anything other than the bare essentials (even if it is money I’ve scrimped and saved), and (occasionally) euphoria as I recognize that this longtime dream of mine might be in the verge of actually coming true.

And so this past week I’ve been operating in panic mode. We’re at that halfway point now, with Broxton in just 5 days! Are we ready? Kinda. Sorta. Maybe? I definitely haven’t gotten to ride as much as I’d hoped. Initially I was shooting for 3x a week, with at least one of those being at least 8 miles in an hour and a half. Looking back – yeah, that didn’t happen. Endomondo logged a total of 36.11 miles for the entire month (granted it may be missing a couple, but it’s pretty dang close). One week I rode once, one I rode 3x and last week I actually rode 4x (although to be fair one of those was 20 minutes bareback in the arena).

On Sunday the 15th, Ashley and I loaded up the horses and made the 1 1/2 hr drive down to the Moss Foundation in Southern Pines. This is a favorite of local endurance riders, being that the footing is similar to Sandhills and Broxton (or so I’ve heard). Sure enough we ran into groups all day – pretty little dainty Arabs in (somewhat) colorful biothane tack. I’m telling you, these dainty desert horses make Justice look like The Hulk.

My personal goal was to ride conservatively but get some good miles in. I didn’t anticipate a 5mph pace, being that we had Thunder in tow, but I was hoping to log at least 10 miles.

The parking area was close to full when we arrived. We racked up and I shows Ashley how to take Thundy’s heart rate. Justice himself was at 36. After mounting, we stopped to grab a “trail map” but quickly realized it wasn’t going to do us any good (basically it only shows the park boundaries – there are literally too many trails to map). This is my second time at MF and I seriously don’t know how anyone rides there without a gps. I know Endomondo saved our butts both times we’ve been there!

From the start both horses were raring to go! Ashley recently switched Thunder over to bitless (don’t ask me to explain her setup because I couldn’t tell you) and Thundy was super strong. I would ask Justice to trot and the next thing I knew Thunder would whooosh past us at a gallop, which in turn caused J to practically canter in place. I was concerned that one or both of the horses might pull something in the sand, so I tried to maintain a slower pace than J and I are typically used to. But inevitably, I would ask for a trot again and Thunder would take off…and the race was on!

We did gallop in a couple spots where I deemed the footing ok. Otherwise I tried desperately to maintain some semblance of control over the situation. To be clear, J was never out of control. He got upset when Thunder raced ahead and would basically gallop in place in protest (I had to laugh at that) …however I was concerned that Ashley might not be able to stop Thunder so I was reluctant to let them get too far ahead.

A few miles into the ride, I called a break and suggested we check the horses’ heart rates since we had been traveling at a pretty good clip for a few minutes. Justice was right at 68, which I’m discovering is typical for him. When I checked Thunder my jaw dropped – that damn pony was at 53!

I jokingly kidded with Ashley that I wasn’t sure he was even alive. Being that she had already admitted to me that she had spent very little time conditioning him, I was very impressed.

At one point we reached a spot where a creek flowed across the trail. There was a group of riders in the water already, so we halted and waited courteously for them to finish. Once they moved on we allowed our horses to drink and paw. They were both sweaty at this point and Thunder started trying to drop and roll. I was so busy laughing at him and Ashley I forgot to watch Justice. Suddenly he dropped under me and I was tossed into the cold clear water (dunking my phone in the process)! I jumped up, roaring with laughter. It’s been a long time since a horse has managed to pull that one off on me! Ashley asked several times if I wanted to go back to the truck and change into dry clothes but it really was warm out (upper 60’s?) and I didn’t want anything to cut into our ride time.

About 5 miles in, Thunder ran out of steam. About the same time we got turned around and I was forced to admit I hadn’t a clue as to where we were. I pulled out my phone to refer to the gps, and realized my battery was at 6% (despite being on airplane mode the entire time!) I did start to worry then. I figured we could probably use Ashley’s phone if worst came to worst but I really preferred to see us in familiar territory before my own died.

Luckily we were literally a few turns away from an area I remembered and so we made it back to the trailers with no problems. My phone was malfunctioning due to the dunk it took, so the gps suddenly cut off before the end, but it’s safe to say we rode 6.5 (ish) miles. Our average speed (before the gps died) was 3.6 mph.

After 5 miles, Thunder was DONE, while I still had plenty of horse beneath me. On the bright side, this appeared to make Ashley realize that it would be necessary to split it up for the actual rides. She said as much to me and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved. On the one hand I’m not the kind of person to abandon her companion, but I have been convinced from the beginning that J and I need to ride our own ride. Knowing that Ashley was fine with this was a weight off my shoulders for sure!

I took a ton of video of this trip and posted it to Facebook (herein lies a shameless plug for the FB page I created. Although I don’t link to this blog there – this blog is more personal).  I like the way it turned out, however it completely killed all space on my phone and I couldn’t get it to upload in HD quality so I don’t know that I’ll be doing this again.

On the way home from the Moss Foundation, my truck started to sputter and lose power. It actually threatened to stall a couple times, although it never did. By some miracle we managed to make to make it home, and to the mechanic the following morning. $616 later (yeah you read that right) The Superbeast returned home with a new sensor, fuel filter, and glow plug.

We managed to squeeze in 2 more conditioning rides. I took Justice to Bryan Park one day so ended up riding 6.7 miles bareback. At 4.5 mph. I thought I would be soooo sore the next day, but surprisingly I was not. The very next day Ashley and I trailered to NE park. There we logged 6.6 miles at roughly 3.7 mph. Ashley was happy with it, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad concerned. Are we ready? Truly? We will know soon enough…