"It makes an enormous difference to the enjoyment of life if one is able to get out and stretch one's legs every day"
- Robert Falcon Scott
Sunday morning arrived and I was frozen, tired and sore. I cursed myself for having this stupid idea in the first place and put on as many layers as I could and still be able to function. I can't recall exactly what breakfast was, but it was something unhealthy and not filling. We broke camp, loaded the horses and went to base camp.
Surprisingly we got a great spot right next to the vetting area for the trailer and I began to get Gem ready. I also began to have a mild panic attack at this point. I could barely get Gem calm in an arena alone and had never gone down the trail solo before. I had a half hour before starting out on 25 miles alone. Was I that insane?
Eventually I got on and began to
ride in small circles as tense as possible warm her up. Remember that horse and rider equals 10 thing? Yeah, that went right out the window. She was tense, I was tense and it was going downhill fast.
|Who is more tense here?|
Then the best thing happened: a family group that I will call "the ladies" (a granddaughter, mother, and granddaughter) came over and asked if I would like to join them. Are you serious? YES! I most certainly would! Just having them around calmed me down which in turn calmed Gem down. I do believe I would have finished the ride on my own in the 6 hours allotted, but I doubt it would have been enjoyable. I honestly owe this completion to them.
The trail opened and off we went at a brisk trot. I had imagined a group of horses galloping to the trail head in a rush to get the lead. In reality, a few people headed out while everyone else waited to get some space and eventually the ride got underway. The first loop ended up being the exact trail the hubs and I rode the day before. The trail was double wide track winding through the woods with mostly sand and some rocks. There were rare flat stretches, but it was mostly up and down short, but steep hills. It was really interesting to see the pace they kept up over the various footings. Lesson #3 learned: quit being a wuss about footing.
|Heading out. See you in 12 miles!|
I quickly became aware of an issue that kept occurring throughout this ride: Gemmie trotted faster than their horses. I had no interest in yanking on her mouth for 25 miles to get her to do a slower unnatural pace.This put her up their butts making both rider and horse unhappy and she eventually got kicked. Knowing what I do now, I should have parted ways to allow her to ride at her own pace, but instead we kept with them and at some points we were able to get in front for a while which gave Gem a break.
We got to the turn around point and here is where the riders meeting really let me down. Apparently there was a bag of clothes pins on a tree and you had to grab one to prove that you didn't cheat and cut the trail short. If it wasn't for the ladies informing me of this small, but crucial fact I would have been disqualified and extremely angry. As it was, I had help and we were off again. Gem drank really well from the water trough both times and even stopped at a puddle to get a drink as well.
At some point on the way back she got annoyed with the deeper sand on the trail and began to hug the side by the woods. I generally allow her to choose her own footing, so I was okay with this. Lesson #4 learned: pay attention. I smacked right into a tree trunk, ok it was a limb but it felt like a tree trunk, right across my left ear. It felt like my ear had been ripped off. I felt it and noted some bleeding, but it was still attached and so I kept my mouth shut.
As we neared camp for the 50 minute hold I began to worry about her recovery. Lesson #5: at least have a basic understanding of your horses heart rate at baseline and with activity prior to doing a ride. I told the ladies to go on ahead of me if we didn't pulse down, but they said they would wait anyway. As it turned out Gem came off the trail at 48 bpm (64 bpm max limit). Gem thought I had lost my mind when I asked her to trot out for the vet. She had just gone 12 miles, wasn't that enough? Lesson #6: teach your horse to trot on the lead line before the ride. I eventually got a kinda trot kinda walk out of her which made the vet concerned that she was lame and she told me to try again at the end of the hold. I let Gem eat (which she didn't do), drink (which she did do) and nap while I failed to try to get myself to eat whatever garbage we had brought.
|Coming in from loop 1|
50 minutes later I took her back and she trotted and we were allowed to continue on. The granddaughters horse took a while to pulse down so the ladies had 4 minutes longer to wait and then we were off again.
|Heading back out on loop 2|
Loop 2 was very similar to loop 1 in terms of terrain and happenings. We continued to fight to keep off the horse in front of us and she kept drinking. For some unknown reason there were no clothes pins at the turn around point on this section. On the way back I got out in front and allowed Gem to just go and we were doing fine until mile 20. I went up in my post. She went down and to the left. I came down on my feet next to her looking very confused. She, on the other hand, was looking smug. The ladies were trying not to laugh. Apparently, they said, she had been timing it all along and hit it spot on. At this point I no longer felt sorry for dragging her through this and was very glad she had 5 miles to go. Served her right!
We came to the "2 miles to camp" sign and I decided to tell the ladies to go ahead without me. Gem had started to ask to walk some of the hills that they trotted and I wanted her to be sound and happy at the end. I also figured she was too tired to pull too much crap and it would be a good chance to get some solo miles in. And lastly I felt like I had intruded on their family ride enough and they deserved to finish without me. As I waited with Gem for them to get out of sight another lady passed us as well. This actually does matter in the end, so hang in there!
We survived those 2 miles just fine. We had some issues with her trying to canter when I just wanted to walk, but she didn't spook or try anything funny.
|One of my fav pics|
We came in to camp and stripped her tack as quickly as possible (stupid bridle!) and vetted in. She was at 50 bpm (60 bpm max) and actually trotted sorta better and.....we completed! We actually came in 8th place with a total time of 4 hrs 21 mins, ride time of 3 hrs 29 mins, which means we top 10ed. I didn't know at the time, but that is a big deal. Had we kept with the ladies I would have had a chance to be in the top 6, depending on how everyone pulsed down, and got a water bucket as a prize. I was still glad I did it that way and got my baseball hat as a completion prize which is my favorite hat to this day.
To end quickly, we stayed for the awards ceremony and then packed up and headed home healthy, happy and tired.
|A very tired Gemmie|
On a side note:
Apparently the hubs got bored on the second loop and decided to ride Pete bareback around camp. Pete was bored as well and took off bucking. People screamed that there was a loose horse in camp until they saw the hubs and then they laughed and got back to whatever it was they were doing. They are such a great team!