I had originally planned to do No Frills and chase the OD Triple Crown this year, but as the days turned into weeks, this goal seemed more and more unrealistic. The truth is, we have no mountains around here, and I’m not in a position to really trailer out very far these days. Also my boyfriend was unable to get the 21st/22nd off from work to watch our son. Fortunately, he was able to get the 7th/8th off so I could attend Foxcatcher.
This was a very bittersweet ride for me, full of extreme highs and lows. I knew going in that this would likely be our last endurance ride for a while. Don’t get me wrong – I love the sport of distance riding every bit as much as I thought I would. It has literally been a dream of mine for years. But I am currently dealing with a lot of pressure from my boyfriend, who is not happy with the amount of time I am spending away from home (be it conditioning or overnight while at rides). When it comes down to it, he doesn’t understand the need to trailer out to longer trails, or the reason I need to ride for hours on end. Personally there is nothing I love more than losing myself in the woods on a good horse, but anything can lose it’s appeal when you are constantly being pressured with a deadline/timeline. My last away conditioning ride before Foxcatcher (other than the beach) was to Staunton River State Park and although Pearl and I did enjoy playing in the lake, I found I was so incredibly stressed by the timeline that had been implemented, that it pretty much sapped all the fun from the day. I really found myself questioning if this was all worth it. Why can’t I be like a normal person and show locally for a few hours on a single day and be done with it? I’m still trying to sort it all out.
Incidentally there was another ride in South Carolina the same weekend as Foxcatcher, but I had my reasons for heading north instead. For starters, I am not a fan of sand or heat. And although it wasn’t particularly hot that weekend, I have mainly been eyeing Northeast Region rides due to the fact that I’m riding a heavily-muscled non-Arab, and going north to cooler areas for rides just makes sense to me. Also, we don’t really train in sand and the landscape appeared to be quite similar to where we currently condition. Last but not least, I am simply acquainted with a lot more NE region riders (don’t know how that happened but it did!)
We left home at 8am Thursday morning, hoping to make it to ride camp between 2-3pm. As it turned out, traffic was INSANE in D.C. and Baltimore and we didn’t pull in until 4:05pm! I was SUPER stressed at that point because Pearl had refused to drink the entire drive, and I was worried about hydration and stiffness.
(Note, scroll over gallery photos to see individual captions!)
With 30 minutes left to register & vet in, we headed up toward the big white tent in the center of ride camp. I was looking for water, but ended up getting pulled into vetting. Literally. A scribe approached me, told me they would be closing up shop soon and said she would hold my horse while I went and got my ride card. In the end, Pearl vetted in fine with a HR of 48, a body score of 5 and a B on gut sounds (she vetted in at Blackwater Swamp Stomp with a B on gut sounds too so I wasn’t overly concerned).
I was relieved when Pearl drank deeply and dug into her supper at the trailer. I ultimately decided not to ride her that evening, but I grazed her and hand walked her around camp 3 times before turning in that night. I briefly considered hacking her around bareback but to be honest I don’t really ride this mare bareback anymore. Not in strange places, and not since her vision loss. She is good 99% of the time but every now and then she will hear something that startles her and, y’all, this mare can SPOOK. I call it teleporting, lol.
The ride meeting was brief and to the point. Tack could be left on if we so desired (due to the cool temperatures) and we were riding the yellow loop first, and pink second. Both were 12.5 miles. The biggest announcement was that the start time for the LD had been pushed back from 7am to 8am.
The ride meeting was interrupted once by 4 loose horses and because they had come from the general direction of my own trailer, I had to jog back down there to make sure everything was ok with Pearl. She was just standing at the trailer, her face stuffed with hay, looking back over her shoulder as if to say, ‘Hullo…what’s going on?’ As I was walking back up I heard someone hollering because apparently 3 of the loose horses had been in the same pen and escaped together. This lady was shouting at the owners to separate them, siting the recent events at the ride in Texas. I couldn’t help but pull a face. I understand everyone is all hot regarding this issue right now, but this seemed a bit melodramatic. I don’t think these particular horses were owned/ridden by regular endurance riders and having someone go off on them at their first ride couldn’t have made a good impression.
After the meeting we were served dinner – lasagna, salad and bread. They had a vegetarian lasagna option and I tried a bite of that as well and it was delicious. I need the recipe!
At that point, I heard cries of “Loose horse!” again, and heard it announced that there were 3 more loose horses. I was fairly sure this didn’t include Pearl (it didn’t) but decided to sit in the truck and finish my dinner. I have no strong feelings/opinions about electric pens at rides, but I have to admit I was infinitely glad I’d opted to tie overnight. Someday I’d like to have a pen or hi-tie (probably not with my current trailer though), but for now tying is what works for us. I would probably have a heart attack if Pearl ever got loose. She’s not the easiest horse in the world to catch!
After dinner, I decided to set up our crew area. Some people have little wagons or used their vehicles to transport their stuff. I figured I needed the exercise and carried everything up there. Then realized it had probably not been the wisest choice as I’d been dealing with a wrenched back the previous week. I started to feel it again after toting several 5 gallon buckets of water to the crew area!
I made sure everything was ready for the next morning, electrolyted Pearl, and crawled into “bed” (aka the backseat of my truck). It was supposed to get down to 36 degrees (I think) so I had my sleeping bag, and down comforter as well. I hadn’t expected to be very comfortable, as I was a little chilled when I dozed off, but I awoke later to realize I was deliciously warm and as comfortable as one could be sleeping in the narrow backseat of a double cab all night. I sat up a couple times to make sure Pearl was still where she was supposed to be, but otherwise slept very well.
I awoke at 4:55am and checked my phone for the time – only to realize that it was about to die, despite having been plugged in all night. I panicked momentarily then, as I use my phone for GPS. Without it I wasn’t entirely sure of the way home. However I CAN read paper maps and I was pretty certain I remembered the way back to a truck stop where I could probably find some (plus I was pretty sure I could find someone in ride camp willing to help me plot a route home if needed). However I REALLY wanted to run Endomondo during the ride itself and of course, take pictures and video so I fiddled with my charger until it finally appeared to be working. At that point it was something like 5:18, so I decided to just get up and go looking for coffee. Because of the later start time, ride camp was very quiet. I got some coffee (it was good coffee too!) and a donut and headed back to the trailer.
I literally had so much time to kill that morning I was practically sitting around or doing random little things to kill time. That never happens to me! I made sure I had everything I needed for my crew area, and prepared electrolytes etc. About 7:25, I decided to go ahead and tack up. The sun was up and already warming things significantly as we checked in and headed to the start, which was located in an open field across the road.
Pearl decided at this point that she was a rodeo pony. When I wouldn’t let her go faster than a little mincing trot due to the crowded start area, she started leaping in the air and bucking wildly. I can’t say that I was surprised – she hadn’t been ridden in almost 2 weeks! Fortunately our new saddle has been working out famously (for BOTH of us) and I was not unseated. I just laughed at her. Silly mare! (I actually had at least 3 or 4 people come up to me and comment on this later in the day – I didn’t realize we’d attracted so much attention LOL!)
I had heard horror stories about the start at Foxcatcher, but personally I didn’t find it too bad. We let the fastest front runners go (about 10 riders maybe) and just kind of fell in with the next group – still ahead of the majority of the field. I was very proud of Pearl in that she didn’t try to immediately buddy up with anyone, nor did she fight me. She let other horses pass us without acting out, but also passed quite a few others without issue. My GPS called out each mile as we completed it – we were doing about 6mph or better the entire time.
As soon as we were moving down the trails, I was SO glad we had chosen this ride! The terrain was very similar to what we train on at home – down to the gravel roads and rolling hills which reminded me of Umstead ( and the open fields made me think of the prison farm near our barn where we ride regularly!) Plus it had some super cool bridges (including one that went high over a road! 8-0) and the skeleton of a grand old stone house in the woods, and of course the famous “tunnels” that go under the roads. (Incidentally when we got to the first tunnel, we were completely alone! I wasn’t sure how Pearl would react but she just walked right on through it like she did it everyday.) I really wish I had gotten a lot more photos/video but we were moving quite quickly and I had my phone in my saddlebags. My new phone is a IPhone 6 Plus and that thing is HUGE! The photo quality is awesome but it’s not always convenient to pull out and snap pics on impulse.
In the end I took only 2 videos. Here is the one from the first loop. If you can believe it, she is TROTTING in this clip. When the mare decides to long trot, she can really fly! We were also completely on our own at this point.
I can’t describe how much fun I had this entire ride. It was like nothing else I’ve ever done! Pearl was drinking well, and taking care of herself. She would volunteer to trot the majority of the time – whenever I felt her tiring I would half halt and ask her to come back down to a walk. Most of the time she would oblige and continue to walk for a while before picking up a trot again of her own accord. However if she insisted on fighting me, I usually just let it go.
I am learning not to micromanage too much. Some horses need to be very carefully managed, but I don’t think Pearl is one of them. She would trot nicely on a completely loose rein the majority of the time, not even attempting to keep up with other horses that flew past us. If you don’t appreciate this, clearly you’ve never ridden Crazy! 😉
During the first loop we also ran into the official photographer. And this time, I was determined to get my damn ride photo! 😉
Toward the end of the ride we sort of fell in with 3 riders we’d been leapfrogging the entire time. We rode the last 3ish miles with them and had a great time getting to know everyone.
The only time I had any trouble with Pearl at all that day was when I dismounted near the camp and decided to walk her in. I let them go ahead of us and for some reason she lost her sh*t. She hadn’t cared at all before, but I pretty much skied the last part of the trail as she dragged me into ride camp.
I opted to remove all her tack (being that we had ridden so fast) before vetting in. It took me FOREVER to take her heart rate, because I simply couldn’t hear it! Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. The girls taking pulse at the vet check also had to check 3 times because no one could hear her! It was kind of odd.
Pearl’s CRI was 52/56. I was a little concerned that she was still a B on gut sounds (but figured this was probably due to our fast pace). The one thing that did worry me was that she got B’s on cap. refill and mucus membranes. I worried the entire hold that she wasn’t drinking enough. I was so distracted I almost forgot to eat something myself. I finally settled on the cashews I’d thrown in my bag. I was craving salty apparently. Pearl didn’t touch her barn hay, but did eat her grain and the chopped hay I’d set up for her. She finally drank out of one of the buckets, but not quite as much as I would’ve liked.
Our out time was 10:37, and I think it was 10:39 that I mounted back up. We headed back across the road to start the pink loop. I met a couple riders who were having trouble getting their horses to move out for some reason, so Pearl and I led them for a little bit before we were overtaken by a couple others who were going faster. We decided to pick up the pace then as well, so fell in behind our new friends who we would end up spending the entire loop with.
The lady, Jodie, was riding a TB/Appaloosa cross. I learned that she typically does Eventing, but incorporates LDs for cross training. This was her 4th ride and her horse’s first. Our companion, Skip, was a very seasoned endurance rider on a green horse. He told me his gelding was 4 years old and I believe he was an OTTB. Pearl decided that that point that she was in looooove with Skip’s horse, and she was determined to keep up with them, come hell or high water. I briefly considered slowing down because they were riding pretty fast, but was satisfied that Pearl tanked up at the first few water crossings we encountered and she didn’t seem to be having trouble keeping up.
Halfway through the second loop I pulled a first when I was able to electrolyte Pearl from the saddle. I don’t know why this makes me so proud, but it does lol.
We completed the second loop in record time. In fact we were passing so many riders, I began to think we might be at the head of the pack. I really got confused when Skip said something about top ten on the trail (I couldn’t really hear him because of the wind), and then I overheard him say something about it again to his crew once we reached ride camp. I started to get excited (prematurely) and texted my boyfriend and told him I wasn’t sure but I thought we had possibly top tened or at least top teened.
However, I forgot all about placing as I turned my attention to Pearl. I was worried sick that I was “that girl” – the one who’d let her horse get caught up with the front runners and gone entirely too fast. I was terrified that we had ridden the whole way only to get pulled at the finish. Pearl’s HR was 75 upon arrival in base camp. I started sponging and scraping her, occasionally misting her with the spray bottle of water/rubbing alcohol I’d also prepared (this is also a first for me and something that needs to be further explored and perfected). 10 minutes later her pulse was at 60. I kept sponging and scraping her, but couldn’t get her to drink. We had 30 minutes to pulse down. At 19 minutes her pulse was still hanging around 60. The place where we were crewing was in direct sunlight and warm, but the vet check was cold because the wind was blowing directly through it. I decided to go up and attempt to vet out, because it was clear she didn’t want to drink just yet.
I held my breath as her initial pulse was taken. She was still at 60. I took her to the vets and they noted a tiny sore at the corner of her mouth. I had noticed it halfway through the ride at the first hold, and I was unsure if it was actually from the bit or not because she actually had very little contact with the bit all day, but I will probably be getting bit guards for her in the future – provided they fit.
I trotted her out, and her CRI was 56/56, which made me very happy. However the one thing that confused me was that the 2 things she had gotten B’s on at the first hold she was now given A’s and the A’s she had initially received turned into B’s (jugular refill/skin tenting). However she was passed and we completed!
As soon as we walked back to our crewing area, Pearl drank and I electrolyted her again a short while later. I went to collect our completion award (a cute little tote bag) and learned we had placed 27th out of 73 starters. So definitely nowhere near top ten, but still not bad at all. As I left from the trailer after collecting my completion award, I ran into one of the 3 riders I’d spent time with on the first loop. She asked how we fared, and I told her we completed. She then told me how much fun she’d had riding with me and how wonderful Pearl was and gave me a big hug! Seriously – everyone was SO nice at this ride! Despite driving up alone, the entire time I was in ride camp, I felt like I was among friends – even if I didn’t know everyone. If that makes any sense.
I decided to unhook my truck to go get my stuff from the crew area, because I didn’t think my back would hold out. Pearl was happy to rest by the trailer. Once I got things situated, I decided to lie down in the backseat of the truck again. The sun was warm and I was feeling sleepy. I also had a sore throat and a headache, and I was pretty sure I was getting sick.
And that’s kind of when my day went to hell. I had just dozed off when my phone started beeping. My boyfriend was texting me. He said he was exhausted – our baby wouldn’t stop fussing and he couldn’t take it anymore and when was I coming home?
Um, hello? Dude, I’m in northern effing Maryland! At any rate, I ended up calling both my parents and asking them to please take the baby for a while to give my boyfriend a respite (my Dad wasn’t home but my Mom was able to take him). Then I walked Pearl around the camp (and visited with a couple people, which significantly calmed me down) before I slowly started packing.
(Yes, I’m the crazy chick who lays down in the grass beside her horse while she grazes).
I had intended to spend the night and leave out at 3-4am Sunday morning in hopes of avoiding any traffic. But now I was worried about what was happening at home. At 8:30pm I hooked the trailer back up, and we ended up pulling out at 9pm. I apologized profusely to Pearl, but knowing that she’d had 8 hours of rest (and probably wouldn’t lay down until she was home in her own stall) made me feel a little better.
The most interesting part of the drive home came when my GPS decided to avoid all tolls and rerouted me right through the slums of downtown Baltimore, lol. I was at once horrified and intrigued. The roads were full of potholes and crappy as hell. The apartment buildings were old and looked rather horrifying. Junkies were begging in the street, walking directly between moving cars. My phone was playing Shamrock Tunes….it felt like a scene straight out of Gangs of New York or something.
Then we crossed a huge bridge over the river and suddenly we were in the business side of the city. Skyscrapers and lights everywhere. I’ve never been in a big city – and certainly never at night. I was completely fascinated, and wished someone else were driving so I could take it all in.
The rest of the drive was uneventful. I stopped once at a rest area to pee and check on Pearl. I listened to my audio book – “The Beast’s Garden” – and popped caffeine pills to stay awake. By 4am, we were home and Pearl was happy to be in her own stall (it’s the only place I’ve ever actually ever seen her lie down).
I got about 2-3 hrs of sleep when I got home, then took over caring for the baby. Because there’s no one quite like Mommy. 😉
The strangest part of this ride, I will say, was the reactions I received on Facebook. I was posting semi-regularly to my personal page as I had cell service the whole time – mostly for Ashley’s sake since she couldn’t come with this time. I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting the comments I received from two local (to me) SE region endurance riders.
Both these ladies live only 30 minutes from me, but have never been overly friendly. I have met one of them once – the other I know by name only. However since I got serious about endurance this year, they have never once offered to condition with me, and never commented or so much as ‘liked’ any of my posts. It is what it is. Personally I’ll probably continue to go North for rides, even if it means a farther drive.
As for Foxcatcher, I had a BLAST! I’m still a little concerned about all the B’s we received but I am already strategizing on how to do better next time. And my little mare proved me so so so wrong, by demonstrating she has speed AND staying power beyond what I ever imagined! I will definitely be back next year – hopefully by then we will be tackling the 50!