As we rode out of base camp to start on our second loop, Ashley announced we were 9 minutes past our out time, and that got the wheels turning. I had heard that an average 5.5mph pace was enough to finish an LD, but now we had 10 minutes carved into that. I did some quick calculations and realized (with some horror), that we needed to be finished by 1:30 pm – which meant that we needed to average something like 6.2 mph to complete!
For some this is no big deal. But you gotta remember, we ride LITTLE ponies! Like, little little ponies. (Thunder is 13.2h on a good day and Pearl is maaaybe 13h if she stands on her tippy toes!). Little legs = shorter strides. Meaning our small horses have to work twice as hard as your larger horses to maintain the same pace. Um…shit.
Just from my conditioning rides, I had figured out that roughly 50% trotting leads to an average of 4.5mph. We managed to average 5.5mph on the first loop (barely) with about 75% trotting (and a few canters thrown in). You catch my drift? We were gonna have to FLY to make it through this second loop!
Of course, while I was making all these calculations, we took a wrong turn. Or, rather, the trail took a turn we did not see. Almost immediately I called it, but Ashley thought we should ride a little farther just to be sure. We rode back a little ways, didn’t see any ribbons and stopped, befuddled. It was at that point, we ran into Dom and Dodie who were headed the same way. They hadn’t seen a turn off either. Maybe there were more ribbons farther up? They decided to check it out and we tagged along until they also decided that we must have missed something.
We backtracked and ran into yet another group. We informed them that there were no ribbons ahead and everyone turned around and backtracked. Sure enough, there was another sharp turn single track into the woods that everyone had missed!
At that point our ponies fell in behind Dodie and Dom and kept pace with them for a few miles. A couple of times they decided to walk, would wait until the other horses were just out of sight, and then break into a rapid trot to catch up again. I recognized Dom almost immediately, but I wasn’t sure if she had any clue who I was. I knew Dodie from Facebook but didn’t realize who she was or connect her with her blog until a couple days after the ride. At any rate, we had a blast riding with them! They were moving out pretty good and were great about communicating when they were slowing down, etc. Our ponies pretty much thought we were crazy at this point, so it really helped for them to have someone to follow!
Then, to my surprise, Thunder fell back for a while and Pearl took over. Dodie and Dom had bells on their horses, and Pearl LOVED that. Seriously. She can see ok when things are up close to her, but beyond 10 ft in front of her she clearly struggles to make out details. So not having to constantly watch for the horse in front of her (rather she LISTENED to them) really helped!
I would’ve liked to ride with them for longer, but they were moving at a much faster pace than our horses could maintain, so when M and her Belgian and several other riders caught up to us, we decided to fall back and ride with them. We passed Pat Olivia, who was having some trouble with hip pain I believe. I stopped and asked if everyone was ok and if they needed help. She said she was just going to slow down and probably going to go over time (I asked about her later when we got back to ride camp and was told that they turned around and went back).
The second loop was the same distance as the first, but for some reason it SEEMED so much shorter! We had a great time riding with M and T and S for a while, but eventually fell behind. I told Ashley at that point that I was pretty sure there was no one behind us, and we were turtling. I could tell she wasn’t too pleased. I felt bad, because if she had left me and gone ahead with Thunder they probably could’ve placed much higher. I wasn’t afraid to voice when I thought Pearl needed a break and when we were going to be walking. We were keeping a close eye on Endomondo, and Ashley started calling out the mileage. 9 miles, 10.
We dismounted and jogged the horses through a single track in the woods. Pearl was tired and didn’t want to trot, so Ashley and Thunder squeezed past us and assumed the lead. After what seemed like forever we emerged in an open field and remounted. Fortunately the ponies seemed to realize we were headed “home” and got their second wind. And as we picked up the pace we caught up with S and M and T again! At this point we were two miles from the finish line, but it was already after 1pm. As we passed S/M/T we called time and they picked up the pace to fall in behind us. I guess they hadn’t realized how close we were to going over time!
Pearl screeched to a halt at one point to drink deeply from a muddy puddle. I had elyted her (a little over half a dose) halfway through the second loop, and she drank at nearly every opportunity. I was just so proud of her!
At 1:15, we had one mile to go. Everyone was hustling. We were desperate to complete. Not finish. THAT was happening anyway. But we hadn’t ridden these horses 26 miles to NOT get our completion dammit!
Knowing we had to go back up the hill (yet again!) to untack, we urged the horses into a canter. Now, I know you aren’t supposed to come into the finish hot. Especially in LDs, because you haven’t completed until you’ve pulsed down. But at this point, we didn’t have much choice. It was cool enough that I wasn’t worried so much about heart rates dropping.
A group of three of us – Thunder/Ashley, Pearl/me and S on her (Rocky Mountain?) horse flew up the road at a gallop. I don’t know how Pearl still had it in her. She must’ve been exhausted. But she flattened her ears and dug in. The wind stung my eyes and I barely noticed the photographer as we flew past her. I can honestly say it was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.
As we raced toward the in-timer, a man and a couple other folks started laughing and clapped. I heard him call, “Now THAT’S how you finish a race!” I started grinning then, from ear to ear – and then laughing as I pulled up and handed off our ride card.
“That was so much FUN!” I squealed.
We still had to remove tack before pulsing in. We walked the horses briskly up the hill and dumped saddles and bridles on the ground. I grabbed a sponge and splashed Pearl’s sweaty chest and shoulders with cold water, scraping it off with my hand as we started heading back toward the vet area. Ashley noted we had 7 minutes. I started jogging Pearl up the hill. I stopped to allow her to drink her fill from one of the water barrels, then followed Ashley into the vet check.
I had mentioned to Ashley a couple of times that I kinda wanted to turtle. But when we got to the vetting area, M was still trying to get her Belgian to pulse down. So I handed over my ride card and got in line next to Ashley.
We hadn’t even taken our ponies’ heart rates yet, but fortunately I thought to grab my stethoscope back at the trailer. Ashley held both Pearl and Thunder so I could listen. They were both at 48. Awesome.
We got Julie, the head vet again while Ashley went back to Kelly. She noted Pearl’s heart rate, then asked us to trot out. It was there I had a little scare. I couldn’t get Pearl to trot at first. Finally I yanked her halter pretty hard and she jumped into a trot so fast she nearly knocked me over. As we turned and trotted back, I heard something behind us and Pearl started, trotting faster for a couple of steps and turning her head slightly to the side. As we walked back to the vet, I noticed she had a funny look on her face. My heart skipped a beat.
“Okay,” she said, and slowly walked around to Pearl’s left side. She looked at her hard for a second before waving her hand in front of Pearl’s eye.
Busted. “She is blind in that eye,” I told her.
“I thought so,” she said. “The way she was trotting sideways – that’s common in horses that are blind in one eye. Maybe you should trot her out leading on the other side. But she looks good!”
I started breathing again. Whew!
“How old is she?” She asked me.
“Pearl is 19,” I told her.
“Well this is the best job in the world for her. It will prolong her life. I can tell by her crest that she used to be a real fatty – and she’s already lost a lot of weight!”
I beamed at the unexpected compliment.
“Yeah, she’s my girl. She’s so much fun to ride!”
“I bet. I used to ride a POA as a kid…” There was no one in line behind us so we stood by and listened to her story about the POA she had ridden as a kid. Then she called Kelly over to talk. She asked me if I would mind trotting Pearl out again so she could show Kelly how she had deduced Pearl’s blindness.
Naturally Pearl thought we were all crazy at this point, but she obliged. And of course, this time she trotted out perfectly straight! (It’s just my personal opinion but I think the only reason she trotted crooked the one time was because she was trying to see something behind her. We technically trotted out 4 times that weekend and only once did she do anything of the sort).
In the end, I didn’t get a good look at the ride card, but I THINK her final CRI was 48/52. Not bad! Thunder’s numbers, of course, trumped ours all weekend but I wasn’t surprised. He was in much better shape! (His final CRI was 48/48)
We trudged back up the hill and the horses dug into their feed. Pearl drank some more water (yay!) and I ultimately decided not to electrolyte her again. I was also able to get her to roll and thus relieve some of the itchiness a sweaty coat will bring (double yay!)
Afterwards I literally laid flat out on the ground and dozed off in the sun. Our two neighbors were 50 milers who were still out on the trail, so nobody was around. Ashley immediately began packing but I didn’t feel like it. The sun was so warm, and I was tired.
Ironically the only part of me that hurt was my hips. I never really got sore from the ride, or experienced that “hit by a bus” feeling that I did after my first intro at Broxton with Justice.
At some point we wandered back up the hill and ended up with more food. Lucky for us the porta-potties were right behind the food tent (which was nearby one of the fire barrels/benches). As we passed by one of the guys told us that they had plenty of bbq left after feeding all the volunteers, and would we like some? Um, hellz yeah. You don’t have to ask me twice!
One thing I’ve learned about Ashley. Once we are done with a ride, we are D-O-N-E. She is ready to head back home ASAP! As with any relationship, friendship involves compromise. This was where we butted heads a little. She was ready to leave shortly after our mandatory 2 hr hold was up. I was happy with being home before midnight. It’s a 3 hr drive. Um, yeah.
In fact I’m pretty sure I heard her tell her husband that she thought we would be on the road between 4 and 5. When I informed her that I wanted to stay at least 4 hrs until 6pm, I could tell she wasn’t pleased. In fact she was completely packed and ready to go within an hour after completing. Stubborn biotch that I am (insert evil cackle) I stood my ground and REFUSED to pack ANYTHING until 5:30pm. I think it about drove her batty, but I didn’t back down.
Finally as the sun sank toward the horizon, we headed home (I think it may have been about 10 til 6 actually lol).
The drive home was uneventful (except when a state trooper put on his lights to pass us and Ashley thought she was getting pulled over lol). I forget what time we arrived back home exactly but I know as soon as I did I fell into bed and slept deeply.
I was very excited to see our ride photos, and kept constantly checking the facebook event page to see when they would be posted (I was so looking forward to them in fact, that I contacted Sarah over a month BEFORE the ride to make sure they would have a photographer there!) Unfortunately, when they were finally posted, there were none of me and Pearl. I was crushed. There were a lot of other riders missing photos too and the photographer kept “finding” images that she had somehow missed posting so I held out hope for a while that there might actually be some that got overlooked. I tried commenting on her post, as well as messaging her directly to ask if she could look for us but never got a reply. As a last ditch effort I even posted directly on the event page, but nothing. I understand it was her first time doing this, and the images she got of others WERE very nice but I was extremely disappointed that there were none of us as I probably would’ve bought them all (ironically she got 2 good ones of Ashley and I know for a fact Ashley didn’t buy any lol). If it wasn’t for Dom I wouldn’t have any photos at all from our ride (THANK YOU DOM!!!)
Overall we finished 25th (tying with Thunder and one other) out of 30ish starters (and 4 pulls/rider options). I was thrilled. My little pony who had a 1/100 shot of finishing this ride had actually COMPLETED and she WASN’T last!
What’s next? Originally we planned to head to No Frills and attempt to tackle the OD Triple Crown. But, plans change. I’ll get into all that in my next post!