Sometime during the night I had a wild dream. I dreamt we were running behind for check-in that morning. Finally it was 7:29 and we had one minute left so Ashley was went running up the hill to check us in while I saddled the horses. As I was struggling with her crazy saddle, she returned with A, who was volunteering and whom we had first met at Broxton. A told us because we didn’t check in before 7:30 (start time), that we were automatically scratched/eliminated. I begged her to let us continue – even if off the books, even if only to ride the first loop. But A said no, we needed to leave.

I woke with a start, almost hyperventilating. The dream felt that real! I sat up and checked on the horses, then looked at my phone. 1:30am. Seriously? It felt like I’d been asleep all night! (Side note here: I’d been suffering from insomnia for days before the ride. And it had nothing to do with my 3 month old son, who has been sleeping like a rock lately.)

At 2am I decided I really really really needed to visit the porta-potty. This is probably TMI but of COURSE my first endurance ride had to fall at that the same time as my monthly visitor. And since I just had a baby only 3 months ago, my flow has been extra heavy. So anyway. There was THAT.
As I walked through ride camp in the dark, I gazed up at the sky. The stars leaped out at me, looking extra bright and sparkly. I’m not sure if it is was because our location was so remote or if it was just really that cold. Probably both! A shooting star flashed over the trees and I instinctively breathed a wish, ‘I just wish I could finish…’ I immediately felt guilty and added, ‘…with a healthy, happy horse.’ Cuz that’s all that matters anyway.

I ran into the RM, who was keeping their fire barrels stoked. This was greatly appreciated, as I stood around by one of them a good 5 or 10 minutes attempting to drown in it’s warmth.

Finally I went back down the hill and climbed back in the truck. Sadly I never really warmed back up again that night. I would get warm enough to doze off but not enough to fall back asleep. Plus the bench seat was really small, and I’m not a tiny person so I felt like I was falling off it half the night.

I did finally fall back asleep right before our alarms went off. Ashley’s went off at 5am – it was very quiet and after she shut it off she didn’t move so I almost didn’t realize what time it was. But mine beeped 7 minutes later and I was immediately awake. I spent about 90 seconds anticipating and dreading the cold before getting out of the truck. I checked the horses (who still had plenty of hay) and headed up to the portajohns. Even though it was very early, ride camp was already alive and teeming with activity.

When I returned, I heard Ashley tapping on the window of the truck. I opened the door and she said, “I’m afraid to get out. I’m so cold!” I told her to start the truck and warm up, while I fed the horses. Honestly I was impressed. If I’ve learned anything about Ashley after 2 years of riding and camping together, it’s A) She doesn’t do cold, B) Early mornings are the enemy, and C) Never skip breakfast. Yet here she was, in sub-zero temperatures at ungodly o’clock in the morning!

Over time, I’ve developed a propensity for being organized (somewhat) and calculating things to the enth degree. I had studied Saiph’s posts about Electrolyting with her mares, and had developed a plan. I had already prepared some electrolytes the night before – I dosed Pearl and set about mixing some more. I wanted to electrolyte her before the ride start, halfway through the first loop, and again at the hold. It seemed somewhat aggressive to me, but my understanding is that you often need to be really proactive with non-Arabs, and in my experience Pearl is NOT good about drinking in cold weather.

I was relieved to see Pearl had drank her water, and eaten some of her hay overnight, and she downed all of the Fiberplus/Safechoice mix I offered (I gave her a fair amount as it is a complete feed and the only thing she was really interested in). I wanted to be tacked up by 7am, giving me 30 minutes to warm up. She is clipped and more sensitive to cold than my other horses – I worried that she would start shivering as soon as I removed her blankets. So I kept the grooming to a minimum, kept her fleece cooler draped over her as much as possible.

Meanwhile Ashley had finally emerged from the truck. My attempts at starting my camp stove failed, even though I had gotten it working again previously at home. So she pulled out the propane tank and burner she had brought, and I set about heating water for a midday mash. I had brought Fiberplus, Alfalfa Pellets, and Beet pulp. I set the last two aside to soak in hot water so they would be available in a couple hours at our hold. Meanwhile Ashley had retrieved the breakfast she’d brought. My mind was going a million miles a minute and I didn’t want to eat. I managed to down maybe 5 bites of overnight oatmeal Ashley handed me – mostly just to please her. Don’t get me wrong. I looooove food. But when I get extremely, completely focused on something, it is hard for me to eat.

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Ashley fixing breakfast. Bad angle. Makes it look like we’re eating horse sh*t 😉

 

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I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be needing the sponge that day. I took it anyway. Better to be safe than sorry.
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Before leaving for the ride, I posted on Facebook about this ride “card holder”. I’d bought it on clearance at Walmart waaaay back when I first became interested in Endurance (at least 5+ years ago!) As time went by, I didn’t think I’d ever get to use it and I contemplated throwing it out more than once. But on this day…I finally put it to good use!
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Pearl says, “Um. What are we doing? You are aware it’s 7am and 26 degrees right?!”

For some reason, Ashley is much faster at tacking up than I, and even though I started before her, she had Thunder ready in next to no time. We headed up toward the check-in right around 7:07am. Ashley stopped to warm up at the fire barrels but I wanted to keep the horses moving. I took Thunder for her and walked toward the tent by the trailhead. I checked us both in, and headed back toward one of the water tanks. There, Pearl stopped and drank and drank and drank. I was soooo happy. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders.

We had to go back up to the hill to the trailer at that point, because Ashley’s homemade duck tape reins had snapped (don’t ask), and she needed to get the reins off her spare bridle. While she did that, I rode circles around the trailer, alternating walking and slow jogging in order to get Pearl limber and loosened up. I was beginning to be afraid we would miss the ride start but with 5 minutes to spare, Ashley got the new reins secured on Thunder, and I made the last minute decision to ditch the rump rug.

Once back up the hill, I stopped briefly by the manager’s/food tent. I think I was tightening my girth or something, but ultimately I missed hearing the trails declared open. Suddenly everyone had all but vanished, and Ashley was telling me it was time to go.

We walked past the official start and down the hill to the creek. SM and SK were right in front of us. A couple riders passed, and SK’s mare spooked at one of them. I heard her call out to the other rider, “Please WALK past us!”

At that point Ashley and Thunder decided it was time to go, and they veered left to pass as well. I called out, “Passing on your left – at a WALK,” hoping Ashley would get the hint and slow down a little, as I had no desire to piss anyone off. But she didn’t hear me and continued slow trotting. I reined Pearl in and she jigged excitedly, trying to keep up with Thunder. I offered a weak smile. Well, we MEANT to walk anyway!

Once we had left them behind and were out in the open, we allowed our horses to go. Thunder of course, started long trotting and then galloping. I was not having it however, and kept Pearl at a moderate trot. I am very easy to get along with most of the time, but I will ultimately ALWAYS do what I feel is best for MY horse. I am very stubborn about that. Thunder kept pulling farther and farther away from us and Pearl was worried about them, flipping her head and protesting. But she never got out of control (and, I’m sorry to say, her worst behavior was still better than the majority of my first intro ride with Justice!)

Eventually Thunder realized we were no longer on his heels and he stopped, looking back over his shoulder. Ashley also realized they had left us and they came trotting back. “Is everything ok?”

“Yes. We just aren’t ready to go that fast yet.”

We continued at a trot for a good 10 minutes or so. We slowed briefly to walk a pebbly patch (both our horses were 100% barefoot) and walked beside a field still smouldering and steaming from the previous night’s burn. Then we came to an area where the trail ran along the gravel road. I could see the horse in front of us trotting down the middle of the road. But even with four shoes, I would not have attempted that. Fortunately there was a little strip of grass on the side. I was concerned that there was a few good-sized rocks in the grass, no doubt scattered by passing cars. But they didn’t seem to bother Pearl. Then came a section where there the grass thinned, and we had to walk.

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Photos really don’t begin to show how pretty it was! There was still frost covering the fields in sparkling silver, and the sun was a beautiful shimmering gold.

The trail turned left shortly, cutting across to skirt the edge of an open field. The horses flew along, with a few intermittent walking breaks (usually initiated by me and Pearl). I was keeping a close eye on Endomondo and figured as long as we maintained a 5.5mph average, we would be fine. I didn’t want to push my luck and go much faster than that, because I knew Pearl was not in the best shape.

And then we missed a turn. It abruptly veered left off into the woods, and we continued trotting the edge of the pasture. But fortunately it was scarcely a minute before I noticed. So we backtracked and easily found the little single track twisting off into the woods. Ironically this turned out to be my favorite part of the trail. Imho no one but a madman would’ve trotted it (and I quickly regretted all the walk breaks we had taken earlier!) I tried to get a video, but my phone malfunctioned and I didn’t get it. So I made a second attempt on a (slightly less scenic) part of the trail.

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You can’t really tell from the photo how steeply the ground falls away.

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Pearl led through this entire section.

We went up and down a couple steep “hills” and then suddenly emerged out out in the open after about 10 minutes of walking. I felt like we were really behind at that point, so we assumed a trot once more, on the side of the gravel road again. I saw SK and SM emerge from the trees behind us shortly before the ribbons led us off the road and we picked up a slow canter.

It was about this time that things went horribly awry. The trail veered of sharply to the right at the edge of a plowed field. I shouted “RIGHT!” to Ashley, who was leading (but perhaps not paying as close attention to the ribbons as myself). She tried to slow Thunder, who as usual just opened his mouth and ran through the bit. So she pulled him hard to the right. The best way I can describe what happened next is that his head went right, but his feet went left – and he took a nose dive into the fresh dirt – throwing Ashley off over his head.

By the time Thunder leaped up, Pearl and I were right beside him. I grabbed his reins, but I think he was so surprised by what had just happened he wouldn’t have gone anywhere anyway. I was really concerned about Ashley, but after a couple seconds she stood up and said she was fine.

I’m going to say something here. I love my friend and I was scared to death there for a couple moments. This quickly absolved into a feeling of something akin to irritation. I used to own Thunder, and gave him to Ashley a few years back. I can appreciate that she wants to be as gentle with him as possible but I have told her time and time again that he is one of the most hard mouthed animals I have ever owned and she NEEDS a bit with leverage AND a curb chain for him! 4 years later, she has finally put him in a bit (after the incident at Broxton), but still avoids the chin strap. He is 100% her horse and she can obviously do whatever she wants with him, but it is a little frustrating to have to worry about her safety, when I KNOW what he needs to keep him from running off!

I suppose she can say the same thing about me and Pearl – she is a big barefoot advocate and I just put 4 shoes on Pearl this week. But I don’t believe shoes are going to harm the horse or myself, and I seriously worry sometimes about her and Thunder’s safety as this is the the second time he has gone down with her at speed now.

Ok, Rant over.

As I talked to Ashley and made sure no bones were broken, SK and SM caught up to us. They checked to make sure we were ok, before continuing. Ashley mounted back up and we trailed them for a while.

Shortly afterwards, we ran into spotters, who warned us the ride photographer was just ahead. I stopped to allow SK and SM, and Ashley to go ahead of me in order to ensure the photographer time to get a photo of everyone. (I used to be a pro equine photographer and photographed Hunter Paces, so I can appreciate how hard it is to get photos of everyone when they are all bunched up!) After putting a bit of space between us, I allowed Pearl to hurry after them and grinned widely. The one thing I really really really wanted from this ride was a photo of me and Pearl together – and Pearl takes great photos!

I will say one thing  – I LOVED this trail! I get bored easily if the route isn’t scenic, but this ride didn’t disappoint. It was marked quite well to boot, so I never really worried about getting lost.

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Not gonna lie, I let Thunder and Ashley lead most of the way, while I kept a close eye on ribbons. Pearl was doing well, but preferred to have her boyfriend in front of her where she could keep a close eye on him.

At one point we came to an area where the trail went right through a section of the swamp. It was SO cool! I pulled out my phone to take a video – only to find out later that it had somehow screwed up and only recorded 2 seconds. I was pretty bummed about that. It was one of the more fantastic and unique water crossings I have done!

About 7 miles in, the horses seemed to hit a wall. We hadn’t seen anyone else in some time, and Pearl and Thunder had decided this was stooopid and we were all crazy. So we walked…and walked….and walked. And (this never happens) I suddenly had to pee something fierce so I jumped off and dragged Pearl away from Thunder into the woods. Just as we were coming back to Ashley and Thunder a group of riders passed and our ponies found their motivation again. We quickly caught up to and passed them, and kept going. I noted to Ashley that our average speed now had dropped to 5.2mph, and we should probably pick up the pace.

We also had another water crossing, albeit much smaller than the first. I forget when Pearl first drank, but she did so like a champ ALL DAY LONG. I did dose her again at 7 miles.

I don’t know why but this loop seemed to last forever. It may have been because we were alone a good part of it, or maybe because we were going pretty dang slow. At any rate, around 9 or 10 miles, things started to pick up.

A 50 mile rider, dressed in pink, appeared out of nowhere from behind. She wasn’t friendly and didn’t speak, and Pearl startled as she came up on us, so I pulled over to let her pass. Thunder began cantering and she overtook them too. Almost immediately after that, we found ourselves on a single track through the woods. Our ponies desperately wanted to keep up with her horse, and out of nowhere a group of front runner 50’s appeared and gathered in a line behind us. Suddenly we were at the head of a fast moving group, following the lady in pink. She would trot most of the way but occasionally screech to a halt without warning, causing a sort of pileup behind her. I started hollering “Whoa!” every time we slowed – not only to Pearl (who couldn’t see when they would stop and crashed into Thunder the first time), but to warn the riders behind us.

At the same time, it was a blessing we ended up with this group because I’m afraid had we been alone we would’ve walked even more and this last minute push really saved us. When we emerged from the woods we pulled aside to let the 50 milers go ahead of us. The trail led back into the woods again and Pearl was in the lead. She did NOT want to trot (and I didn’t really blame her).

So we walked again. After a little bit, I decided to get off and lead to give her even more of a respite. We walked probably most of the last mile before I mounted back up and we trotted the last little bit out of the woods and up the hill to ride camp.

We gave our numbers and got our in-times, before heading across the field to the trailer.

I had asked Ashley the previous night if she wanted to set up anything at the vetting/crewing area and she said no. She suggested if we got our in-times, and walked back to the trailer to pull tack, and then back to the vet-in area that our horses would be down and we would be good to go. This sounded agreeable at the time so I went along with it.

Looking back, it was definitely a mistake. We were parked on the far side of ride camp and Pearl was already down by the time we got to the trailer. Then we made the long trek back only to discover a mess at the vet-in. They had 50 milers, LD’s and ride & ties all trying to vet at the same time and it was nothing short of chaos. We presented our ride cards and received our out times but because there was so much traffic, we waited in line a LONG time. Add to that, it was in the shade and temperatures were still probably in the 30’s. I was PISSED (mostly with myself, but also at nobody in particular because my horse was having to stand around like this).

Turns out the head vet and volunteers were also annoyed and stressed out. I heard one lady say that because they hadn’t staggered the LD’s and the 50’s by more than a 1/2 hr it was causing a pileup. I know nothing, so I can’t comment on that.

Then the horse in front of me was lame and got pulled after a lengthy examination. It didn’t make me feel any better. Fortunately Pearl had her fleece rump rug on the whole time, but I was irritated that she wasn’t able to eat. However she had dragged me over to someone’s sponge water and drank deeply out of it prior to vetting so I wasn’t worried about hydration!

FINALLY it was our turn! I got the head vet – I think her name was Julia or Julie. Pearl’s heart rate was 40. She didn’t want to trot out for the first few steps, but after I woke her up, she did fine. She was 100% sound. The vet noted her CRI was 40/44, and said Pearl looked great, and we were good to go.

I accepted back from the scribe and started to walk away. I glanced down at it as we walked away and stopped so quickly Pearl crashed into me. I turned back to the vet but she was already examining another horse.

I VERY CLEARLY heard the vet say Pearl’s second heart rate was 44, but for some reason the scribe had written 48. Ashley was still getting vetted by our friends from Broxton, so I headed her way. As they finished up, I asked the young vet (I don’t know her name!) if she minded answering a question for me. I showed her my ride card and told her what had happened. I told her we had been cleared but asked if I should go back and get it fixed. (I honestly was hoping she would retake our CRI right then and there!) She glanced at the huge line of horses and said not to worry about it.

Still it irked me. I know that anything over a 4bpm increase can result in a ride card being held and I was worried about how this would affect us at the end. Plus I just didn’t like looking at it, knowing her real CRI was 40/44! But, everything else was great. Everything was all A’s – INCLUDING gut sounds, which she had only gotten a B on at check-in!

Ashley asked me if I still planned to rider option. I said I didn’t know. At the moment I just wanted to go back up to the trailer and see if Pearl would eat. We were only 20 minutes from our out time at that point, and I was not in the best of moods.

After making the long walk back to the trailer, I was happy to see Pearl dig into the alfalfa pellets I’d soaked. She wasn’t eating fast, but she was eating. She also ate the Fiberplus I offered.

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Tack off was optional at the hold. We didn’t remove ours because we were worried about our horses getting chilled.

Of course that point I had to use the portajohn AGAIN (thank you Friend!) and trekked across the field yet again (I got a lot of exercise that weekend!). While I was up there I discovered the tables were full of food again – mostly snack foods like cookies and cornbread and the like. I snagged a piece of cornbread and two cookies before heading back to the trailer. (I probably wouldn’t have eaten anything otherwise!)

I checked Pearl  – she was still eating and looked good. I could tell Ashley really wanted us to continue with them, and I didn’t have any real good reason to rider option. Plus I really wanted to keep going too.

I finally decided that we were going back out. If Pearl got too tired, I’d turn around and go back, or slow down and let Ashley and Thunder go ahead.

Ashley called time, noting we had one minute until our out time! Oops! I rushed to retack Pearl, giving her a syringe of electrolytes and sticking another in my little “saddlebag”. I remounted and she perked up, stepping out eagerly as we walked back toward the trailhead. She wasn’t at all hesitant to leave the trailer – in fact she was leading! I just hoped I was making the right decision in attempting this second loop. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt my horse…

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

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