May 12, 2014

Clemson Ride and Tie Story

There are only 2 good reasons to get out of a comfortable bed at 4:30 on a Saturday morning: W needing me and a horseback event. But even so, when the alarm goes off that early you second guess your life choices.

Organization is key in this game. Friday night I had pulled Gemmie into a stall to avoid trying to catch her in the predawn light and even hooked up the trailer and brought it back home with me. All tack was prepared in advance and ready to go. All I had to do was feed Gem her breakfast, load her up and head out. It took 30 minutes total and was well worth the effort Friday night.

Ready to hit the road!

I was the first to arrive at the start and unloaded Gem for her to settle in. Others quickly arrived and we all made our way to the overnight camp for the ride meeting. Apparently you have to be a member of the RnT association to ride, so I am now a proud member!! We were told the 8 mile course is closer to 9 miles (most people were saying it was 8.75 miles as they came into camp at the end) and was marked with red and black striped ribbons. Unfortunately, the ride manager wasn't the one who marked the trail and had never been on them so beyond that she couldn't make much comment. All the markers were supposedly on the right, but once on the trail I quickly realized they were hung on both sides.  3 ribbons together meant a turn was coming up.

Gemmie vetted in at 36 bpm (wahooo!!!) and trotted sound, so we were told to tack up and get ready! S and I chatted on strategy a bit and decided on sharing a helmet, adding a cantle bag to the saddle for human water and keeping the same stirrup length. I would start on Gem and ride out 5 minutes. After that we would go 3 minutes farther once we passed the runner.

It was a shot gun start downhill to the bridge of doom with all runners and riders for the 8 and 15 mile events at once. We headed downhill and I was wishing I was on foot. S was apparently wishing she was on Gem, so next time (yep, there will be a next time :) we will do that. It was crowded as we entered the single track trails through the woods and I was paranoid I would run over some runner, but we passed 2 runners quickly and settled in behind the lead horses. Gemmie was being strong trying to pass everyone, but she was enjoying it.

5 minutes goes by awfully fast and I was soon finding myself looking to tie. We had crossed the road twice and by now I had realized the ribbons were helter skelter a bit, but easily noticed. I jumped off and picked a suitable tree not too far from the trail, but far enough to avoid Gemmie straddling it and getting in the way. I chose wrong. The tree had no branches to prevent the rope from just falling down to the bottom. And apparently it had been involved in a fire because my hands and the rope turned black and sooty quickly. Oops. I switched trees and a runner passed me going down the trail. I unclipped the reins and stuffed them into the cantle bag to prevent them flipping over her head and getting destroyed and I headed off in a mild panic about how Gem would behave. And I had wasted 3 minutes in the process. Not good.

About 1/4 mile down the trail I realized I was the worst partner ever and had kept the helmet on my head. I debated turning around, but worried it would just waste way too much time. I went back and forth on it, but figured S should be closing in on me with all my wasted tie time and I would hand it to her as she passed.

I ended up running 12 minutes that first time. No clue about any other section as I didn't care to keep track. But I was feeling good out there on my feet!! I really didn't realize how much I missed running. S came up behind me and I gave her the helmet. She hadn't realized I stuffed the reins in the cantle bag, so she just rode with the tie rope. It was pretty short, but serviceable so we ended up just doing that for the entire ride. Gem was behaving herself and they went on down the trail. I told her to go 5 minutes more.

I caught up to them as she was getting off to tie, so we just handed off  and I got up and on and headed off. I went 3 minutes and tied and this time I was a little better at it. Not great, but a little better. The time flew by when I was on Gem and always seemed too short. But the longer I was out there the more I was seraching for Gem around every corner and wondering why I was on my feet so much!

The next time S passed me she was getting Gem moving pretty good and I asked for 3 minutes. We communicated pretty good throughout with this and if one of us was working up a steep hill we just asked for a shorter time.

S was much better at tying than I was. She picked great trees with branches and just looped the rope around the branching point. Gem was being a good girl and didn't pull back or fight the rope at all, so we could use smaller trees without concern. We were in dead last, so I stopped caring so much if Gem was too close to the trail. If she ended up in the trail she wouldn't be in anyone's way. She also quickly caught on to the idea of resting during these breaks. I would come up on her and she would be half asleep.

It was always sooo good to see her again!

Eventually we came across another group in our division. Two young girls on a huge Arab gelding who was barely in control. They looked half scared and more than half miserable with the ordeal. They couldn't tie him, so they just stuck together and handed off. But they also couldn't control him to allow someone to pass and so as I came up on them on the ground he swung his butt into me and I was very unhappy. They moved over and I passed and eventually Gem did too. That was the last we passed them and we went the last 3 miles or so without seeing them again.

We handed off instead of tying one more time. S was just passing me on Gem as we came to a horse water stop and it was as good a time as any to change it up. Gem refused to drink which concerned me a tad because she was drenched in sweat and breathing hard. I lingered a while, but didn't want to leave my partner on her feet while we hung out at the water stop, so after a bit I got back on and headed out to catch her.

Unfortunately, my tack was not agreeing with S at all. The stirrup leathers were pinching her right calf and she was getting a wicked bruise. I felt awful about it. Tack is such a personal preference thing, but it never pinched or rubbed me so I didn't think of it. Other than that she was getting along super well with Gemmiecakes and we were making fairly decent time. And we weren't in last place anymore!!

At around mile 6 1/2 or so my legs began to protest. Not too shabby for not having run at all in 18 months. I had been going a bit too fast for my conditioning level, but running on the trail is just too much fun. It was interesting to note though that I felt much better on the ground than on Gem. I was too fatigued to have my normal balance on her. S made a comment in a similar fashion as well around this point.

I think we tied off two more times and we both knew we had to be nearing in on the end. I tied Gemmie one last time and looked at my watch. I knew it was a bit off as it was 1/2 a mile short by the half way point. It was reading 8 miles, so we had to be within a 1/2 mile of the finish. I took off at a speedy hiking pace. My legs wouldn't run too much anymore so I allowed them to speed hike the up hills and forced a slow jog for flats and a run for downs. I came to a Y in the trail. I looked left and saw a bunch of in your face red and black ribbons. And hoof prints. I hadn't seen anything to say a turn was coming up and the trail more naturally went left versus right. I went left.

My brain was still functioning enough to note that the trail was familiar. I crossed the road twice and then saw the 1 mile marker. Hmmm...but my brain wasn't working well enough to stop and think about the trail as I knew it from conditioning. I just kept following the ribbons which were plentiful. After a while I started to worry. S and Gem should have passed me by then. S had been fairly close when I tied and I was moving slowly. She should have come up on me. I didn't have the trail map with me which was a mistake, but I stink at reading maps anyway.

The hubby called my cell phone (I was smart enough to keep it on and with me) and informed me that S and Gem were happily waiting for me at the end. Huh? She never passed me! Oh crap. I tried to get out of him where I went wrong, but he was of no use having not been on the trail. I did manage to figure out I made a left where I should have made a right somewhere close to where I left Gem. But I didn't realize how far I had gone since I left her and he didn't say anything about not crossing the road.

Disheartened and tired I turned back around and forced myself into a run. I knew the girls had been behind us and didn't want my screw up to put us back in last place. As I crossed the road I saw the girls coming my way. They also made the wrong turn (it wasn't just me!!) and I told them we had to go back. At the second road crossing I made a right and the girls followed me but it was pretty clear this was wrong as well. There were no ribbons and no hoof prints. I called the hubby again and told him I was standing directly after the road looking at a Y. Should I go right? But there were no ribbons right and a bunch left. He said he didn't know. I was frustrated. Thankfully S got on the phone and asked me what I saw. I told her. She said to go back across the road. I never should have crossed it. I went back and found my error. Unfortunately, the girls had decided to stay their original course and didn't come back. I had been 1/4 mile from the end when I tied Gem. Darn! :(

But I made it back and had a round of applause from everyone waiting for me to finish :) I had added about 1 1/2 miles on to it too. Ick. The father of one of the girls was worried and asked where they were. I told them where they had gone and he went out after them.

How did I make this mistake?? It is simple and complicated. Obviously S and the others didn't make the same mistake so there were ribbons that I just didn't see off to the right. But I also wasn't the only one to make it either. Here is the best I can do to explain it:

Picture a lollipop. The trail starts at the beginning of the stick and then hits the candy. You travel around the candy and then eventually 8 miles later come back to the stick. When you do you come to an intersection where you can turn right and go back to camp. Or, like me, turn left and begin all over again. You will see hoof prints going in your direction and ribbons because you have already done this section in this direction.

In reality, it wasn't shaped quite so perfectly and I hadn't barely glanced at the map in advance to note this shape.  Even going back and knowing my mistake I didn't see any three clumped ribbons to mark a turn coming up. And the ribbons to the right were not as easily visible as to the left.

Gem looked amazing as always at the end. Like she barely did any work at all. She even cantered off into her pasture when I got her home. We vetted in with a 48 bpm pulse. A little higher than I would have thought given all the time she had to rest while I farted around getting lost. S said she enjoyed it more than she thought she would and I think I may get her to go again :)

Doesn't look like she did anything at all
We collected our completion awards, but they were out of small t-shirts so I will have to wait for it in the mail.

Completion award
It was a ton of fun and very tiring. I would have been happier had I not screwed up, but oh well. Live and learn.

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