Broxton Bridge, Day 2 (January 28th, 2017). I woke up several times during the night, shivering. My sleeping bag is only rated for 40 degrees, and I have heard that women’s bodies tend to run about 10 degrees colder than men (I can’t comment as to the validity of this statement but I can believe it). Finally about 2am, I retrieved the queen-size comforter I’d brought from home and pulled it over my head. Within minutes I was warm, and drifted off to sleep.

I awoke at exactly 5 minutes til 7, just in time to see the 100 milers go out. (We were fortunate to have a clear view of the main trailhead from the truck.) It was a large group, hot on the heels of the all-terrain vehicle that led them out. I’d never seen anything like it before, and felt a rush of excitement.

The horses still had plenty of hay, (although Justice had murdered his hay net the previous evening so his was on the ground), and they were happy to dive right into their grain.

We pulled out the camp stove to make ourselves a quick breakfast as well, but although it had worked perfectly the night before, something was off and it seemed to be putting out barely any heat. After 40 minutes we finally got water warm enough to make oatmeal, and it took us almost another 45 minutes to heat up a couple precooked sausages. Meanwhile I struggled with electrolytes. I had brought applesauce, perform n win, lite salt and tums but hadn’t bothered to mix them beforehand. And apparently the tums (which typically dissolve overnight), weren’t crushed enough and got stuck in the mouth of the syringe. Long story short, I ended up getting more stuff on me than actually into my horse. Lesson learned!

I allotted myself about 20 minutes to tack up before we went to check in, but it turns out this wasn’t enough. I was able to tack up quick enough but neglected to make time to get everything tucked away and closed up etc. So we arrived at the check-in area about 4 minutes late (we weren’t the only ones however so I didn’t feel too bad). I’m not sure how punctual they usually are at these events, but the atmosphere was pretty laid back in this case.

Right before the ride start!
View of the check-in area.

My friend and I had said we wanted to ride out with the LDers, so we could experience how our horses reacted at the ride start. I had heard horror stories about J bucking at the start of past events, so I was prepared for the worst but when we headed out mid-pack, surrounded by other riders he only had a brief moment where he leaped sideways in excitement. And although he felt like a coiled spring, he was never out of control.

My friend and I had decided to split up and ride our own rides that day. My main concern initially was that Justice would drag her horse along, but this quickly morphed into concern that J would wear himself out and/or hurt himself. We had only trained at roughly 5.25 mph, but naturally everyone around us was going much faster than that. At one point I looked over and saw my friend and a couple other horses passing on a trail that ran parallel to us and I panicked, thinking we had taken a wrong turn. I backtracked, only to confirm we were in fact on the correct trail, and she must’ve gotten confused herself. I trotted a bit then, hoping to catch up to her, but other horses and deep mud slowed us down and we never did see her again.

For a brief time J and I followed a group on green horses who were riding somewhat conservatively but eventually for some reason or another I opted to let them pull away from us. I just couldn’t stop worrying that we were going too fast, and that J was going to end up with lameness or metabolic problems, or both.

Justice was less than thrilled with me at this point and REFUSED to walk, instead jigging practically in place when I insisted on slowing down. But the most annoying thing he did was constantly diving and yanking HARD on the reins (like a hard-mouthed child’s pony does for grass). He was literally trying to tear them through my hands and run off with me. I tried EVERYTHING to get him to stop. From a pulley rein, to circling and/or stopping and asking him to back every time he did it. All to no avail. By mile 5 the muscles in my arms were trembling, by mile 7 my ring fingers felt like they were broken and I had to revert to riding with a closed fist, and by mile 10 or 11 my hands were bright red and I was practically in tears.
At this point I was praying we were close to the end. Every muscle in my body hurt from holding this horse back, and I was mentally and emotionally spent. At one point an FEI rider came blasting past me. Justice nearly came unglued and I’d had enough. I leaped off him and removed the rein connectors on his Pelham bit (no small feat as the connectors had been on there for years and the leather was stiff as a board), opting to clip his reins directly to the curb part of the bit.

After remounting I was relieved to find this gave me some relief, although he still tried diving every now and again. A few miles from the end, we caught up to a lone rider who was moving rather slow. We tucked in behind her for a couple minutes, not really intending to stay there (I know it can be rude to latch onto another rider without their consent), but after a few minutes we struck up a conversation and ended up riding the rest of the loop together. She told me about her young horse (whom I was very inpressed with!) I expressed to her my disappointment in J’s behavior, given that he is an endurance veteran, and the fact that I was exhausted and not really having any fun. She encouraged me not to give up. In the back of my mind, I knew it gets better than this, but it was nice to have that encouragement at that particular moment. I wish I had gotten this lady’s name because honestly those last couple miles were what saved my ride, and kept it from being a complete washout. All I know is her number – 26.

We trotted the last couple miles back to ride camp, and although my legs felt like they might give out, I was in a much improved frame of mind by that point. My friend materialized almost out of nowhere, with hay for Justice and a blanket for his hindquarters. As it turned out, her first day was also rough. She had indeed taken a wrong turn and missed 5 miles of the loop, and her pony had basically run off with her the whole way. But with some help and encouragement from some of the folks crewing (shoutout to Peggy Clark & co!) and a borrowed bit from me, she ended up going back out that afternoon and making up those 5 miles.

At any rate, Justice ended up vetting out just fine (much to my relief). I was done in, and spent the rest of the day chilling by the truck, watching J and trying to stay warm (the predicted high was 60 or so but the wind was killer and I doubt it broke 55 all day).

That evening after walking the horses a few times (and letting them roll to their heart’s content), we joined the others for dinner.

By that time it was freezing, so while we waited for the awards ceremony to start, we huddled around the fire and struck up a conversation with some other riders. I’m telling you, compared to much of the horse world, endurance people are a breath of fresh air! Everyone was so welcoming and kind all weekend.

I personally only made it about halfway through the awards ceremony. At some point I realized I was shaking from the cold, and I excused myself to go back to the truck & warm up. I usually deal well with cold (having lived in Maine before NC) and I work outside at a stables year round. But I also know that if I get seriously chilled it is very hard for me to bring my internal body temperature back up, and I really didn’t want to get to that point. I didn’t think they were doing anything for the Intro riders anyway but as it turned out we weren’t forgotten and we got a completion award of a hay net, and they even made my friend get up and share her ride experience lol.

Overall if I were to describe the day in a word, it would be “exhausting”. Ultimately it was a good thing we signed up to ride both days. The experience wasn’t over just yet…