Warning: this is going to be looooong, but hopefully not boring
Saturday night at 7pm: The hubs heads off with the truck to the barn. He hooks it all up, fills the hay bags and the BO suggests he brings Gem in (she thinks I am insane, by the way) to the barn to make life even easier in the morning. He does this and grabs grain for her breakfast and stashes it in the trailer for me. He then proceeds to run the 10+ miles back home. I think he is insane
Saturday night at 8:30pm: Hero has a breakthrough "episode" even on his new high power medication. I spend the night alternating between sobbing, trying to comfort him and shoving miscellaneous pills down his throat.
Saturday night at 10pm: Hubs returns, Hero eventually calms down and I get to sleep around 1am.
4:30 am Sunday the cell phone alarm goes off. I groan in despair as 3.5 hours is just not enough sleep. I mumble some expletives, roll back over and bury my head in the covers debating on bailing. But I didn't want to ruin my new friendship with S by texting her that early saying I wasn't going, so I drag my sorry butt out of bed and get dressed: of course in true endurance geek style I put on my matching red and black top and riding tights.
The barn yard is still dark at just after 5 am as I pull in, but the early morning air is warm and the moon is bright. What a peaceful way to start the day! Gem pokes her head out of the stall to see what I am up to now. I wasn't born yesterday (but was in fact born 32 years ago to the day :) so I grab her breakfast first and tempt her with luscious grain while I stealthily groom her out hoping she won't notice what I am up to. Gemmie is taking forever to eat her breakfast, so to not waste time I pack up some things, fill the 7 gallon water jug (best move of the day!) and then hover over her while she licks the bowl clean. On the trailer she goes without a pause and off we go to find S's house in the dark.
The day starts out great though as I find that my favorite cd is in the truck and I blast happy music (Zac Brown Band) into the early morning air. I miss the left onto S's street, drats. Oh well, I am still on time so I just go a little farther down, turn around in the CVS parking lot and go back.
I pull in just as it starts becoming light outside and it is 6:30 am on the dot. We are waiting for her junior rider, M, to show up and it turns out she over slept her alarm. In the meantime the hubs wakes W up at 6:05 am, is told "go away" by our lovely 16 month old, gets him dressed anyway and pulls into S's drive around 7 am. M shows up around 7:15am and we get everyone loaded onto S's three horse trailer in good time and head off to Biltmore :)
|Isn't she looking stunning?|
S is on her lovely Arab mare and M is on an Arab/Saddlebred cross mare. She is exceptionally well trained and a great horse for a 16 year old just beginning to ride. I see a great future for those two.
We head to the out timer, but S's mare is all worked up and there is a line of people waiting. We head off in the other direction to waste a little time and see whose horse has their head screwed on right this morning.
Eventually the line clears up and we head back to the timer tent.
|Look! Gemmie can be out in front!|
|That mare has some loooong legs on her|
The trail the keeps to the side of the most lush pasture I have ever seen outside of the bluegrass fields of Kentucky. I am trying to take pictures without slowing the group down. I usually put my phone into my small riding tights pocket, but my shirt also has a pocket and I decide to use that. Well, as I am fiddling with it I drop it, crack the screen a bit and have to stop everyone to get off and grab it again. Oops.
Gemmie is settling down into the group and then we see some horses ahead of us. She is usually so mild mannered and lazy, but when we are out on a ride and she sees someone ahead of her, watch out!!! She locked onto them and all she wanted to do was get past them. Fortunately, S's mare is the exact same way, so we chuckled and worked on passing at a reasonable rate. It was a lot of fun!!
|So much temptation to eat!!|
S got back on and we were off again through the grass. The footing was actually pretty nice for most of the trail.
Eventually we make a turn out of the pasture and into the woods. We pick up a nice trot and just fly. S is in the front and her mare has legs that just never seem to end. Her natural trotting pace is pretty fast and we cover the ground. Poor Gem just can't trot that fast and keep up. She switches in and out of a canter and I let her. As long as the overall speed doesn't change I don't mind if she switches up the gait she uses to get there. It is a lovely rolling hill type of trail. Nothing steep and not rooty or rocky at all. Her bare feet can handle this all day.
What is super nice is that we change up our position a lot. S leads a good bit, but her mare enjoys being out front the most. M gets a chance to lead as well and so do we. Gem doesn't like to lead all that much. Her favorite spot is beside the lead horse and just slightly back. This way she gets a good view of the trail but really isn't in charge of the safety of everyone. I actually also prefer to ride side by side on a double track trail as it allows for easier conversation and you don't have to worry about getting kicked or sudden stops in front of you.
At one point early on we are really moving it with no sign of a break in sight. S is out front and the hills just keep coming. Poor Gem is starting to lag farther and farther behind. I tell her at the next hilltop we will walk for a bit. When we reach it S slows down anyway so I don't have to ask and we walk for a little while. I think at this point we have past everyone else on the trails.
I had overheard someone at the start saying the trail was 8 miles. There is a halfway stopping point with water. I look at my watch and we have gone 5 miles already. Hmmm..where is the break? The sun has come out and the horses are very, very sweaty. The riders are too and nobody thought to bring water!
We reach a slightly less than ideal puddle on the trail and all three mares stop. Gem guzzles down the water!!!! I am sooo thrilled. On all the conditioning rides to date she passed up the water and I was worried she wasn't drinking. But I needn't have worried. She takes care of herself really well and will drink when she is thirsty.
Right after the mud puddle we come out of the woods and across the 3 minute hold. There is a fresh water trough and the horses gets down to drinking again. We all opt for water and then ask if we could scoop some water onto the horses. I think they all really appreciated it a lot.
3 minutes later and we are back up and moving out. The trail takes us along an (thankfully) cow free pasture and the ground is very uneven. We decide it is best to walk this part which gives the horses a breather as well.
Back along this pasture, into the woods once more and then we pop out onto the rolling greens hills again. We follow along the vineyards and are treated to the most beautiful views. I really love riding here!!
We keep going. And going. And going. Gem still has fuel left in her tank and has been perfecting her grab a mouthful of grass and walk maneuver. I don't mind it at all. She needs to fuel and needs to keep something in her belly. I ma getting a little curious though. If the trail was really 8 miles we should be closing in to the parking lot again. My watch says 9 miles. There was a lot of open ground so it probable didn't drop a while lot, but 9 mile sis probably closer to 9.5 or so. Hmmm...did we miss a turn?
Hmmm...maybe I am not cut out for endurance. If I can't make it through a hunter pace without internally complaining about the distance, how on earth will I make it through 50 miles? S is up ahead. She has done numerous 50s, 75s and even 100 mile rides. This is probably a walk in the park for her. She mentioned potentially going out for a second run after lunch.
Just then S turns around and says "not that I'm not having fun because this is a gorgeous day, but are we ever going to be finished??? Where is camp!"
Ha!! It isn't just me!!!!!!
But then Gem starts to walk really, really slow. She starts trying to stop all the time. She starts asking to go back. This typically occurs when she knows we are close to being done. I don't know why. You would think she would be happy to be off the trail. But this gives me hope that we are close. It also manages to make me begin to worry that all the gravel has made her lame and that she is never going to be able to finish 50 miles if 10 miles hurts her. Should I have put shoes on her? Boots? Am I killing my mare??
And then at 10.85 miles we comes across and pass the finish timer. We are done.
We walk back to the trailer and untack. There is no water on the grounds and I am so very glad I remembered the 7 gallon jug. I offer to each horse, but they all refuse. I then pour some one each to help cool them out and wash off the sweat. They get hay bags and we go get lunch.
|W decides he wants to sit on the trailer like the rest of us|
A friend of S's walks by her with Arab gelding and she asks if she is going to go out again. I have no interest in doing another 11 miles (Garmin says 10.85 which is probably closer to 11.5 or 12) and thankfully S says no. This was a hard enough ride for her mare.
It was a fabulous ride. The girls emptied about 6 gallons or so of water before we left, loaded up fine and by the time we left Gem was dry and pawing at the ground again. S remarked that she could definitely go 50 miles probably sooner than fall if we kept this up. It makes me very hopeful for September.
We left and headed back to S's house where the hubs split off and took W home while I unloaded all my crap from S's trailer and into mine. Gem wasn't thrilled with getting on yet another trailer, but got on with minimal aggravation and we headed home. An hour later she was out in her pasture and I was on the bed at home groaning about how tired I was and how we still needed to figure out dinner.
It was a blast and I can't wait until the 50 in September!!!
Up next: gear review, Gem and my own review, garmin data, and plans for the future!!!!