BEEP BEEP BEEP! Your eyes meander open and you notice it is still very much dark outside. Your sleep muddled brain wonders why on earth you are waking up this early, but soon the synapses fire and you remember: it is ride day!! You throw the blanket back, call out a way too chipper good morning to your fellow riders and get dressed in a hurry. Time to get ready!
As you step out of the trailer, the cool crisp mountain morning air hits you. Crap, you forgot a light jacket, but never mind once you get moving you know you will warm up quickly. There is much to do this morning and only an hour to get it all done. First up: feed Gemmie. You mix up some grain, sweet feed and supplements with a pinch of salt added and hold the bucket while she eats. She knows something is up. The air is filled with sleepy people and excitement from the horses as the camp begins to wake up and get moving. She eats most of it, but leaves some behind. You remember to throw her an extra flake of hay and are happy to note one empty water bucket and one half full one from overnight. She is tanked up and ready to go today. You manage to shove a banana down your own gullet and drink more water to start the day.
She is a little amped up while tacking, but you get it done and mount on up to walk slowly to the start line. Your riding partners, M and S, mount up as well and you head off to the start line. S needs to adjust some tack, so she hops off and hand walks the rest of the way. Gemmie is all business underneath you and power walks to the start. Once there the energy of all those horses milling around waiting for the controlled start is just amazing. Gem is pacing up and down and so you head off to the back corner to get a little space. Once the trail is opened up, you head out and trot past the control judges/vets to make sure all is looking well and head down the first section of trail.
This first loop is 11.9 miles all on the blue trail. It begins by going alongside camp by the river and is a double wide part gravel part dirt road. S is hand walking her mare out of camp and M's mare is so well behaved - she is just a steady mare. A little ways down the road and Gem is getting really annoyed at the slow pace. She is pulling your arms out of their sockets and you begin to feel bad that you are ripping off her face. Eventually you yell back to S that either you have to move on without her or she needs to mount up and get going. She decides to mount up and Gem takes this to mean she can finally go!
The first 3 miles fly by in a blur. The pace is maddeningly fast and you worry that Gem won't last 25 miles doing it this way. She is still tugging at you badly and you are having to circle and fight her a lot. At mile 3 you remark again to your friends that if she doesn't settle in soon, you will have to go on ahead alone. Mile 4 brings a big steep uphill on single track and this finally calms Gem down. There are no horses up ahead visible anymore and she takes a spot behind S.
The blue loop is through a lot of forested trails mostly single track which is Gem's favorite. The morning continues to be overcast and cooler although you note that the humidity in the trees is climbing. There is a water trough up ahead, but nobody drinks. You know Gem well enough to know she won't bypass water when she is thirsty, so you don't worry about her at this point.
Thankfully, the trails are beautifully marked and there is little concern about getting lost on this loop. The trails become very muddy and there are huge puddles everywhere that make the going slower than you'd like. It gives Gem a chance to collect her thoughts though and things settle in nicely. You alternate between trotting and some walk breaks where the footing isn't so great. Everyone is having a good time and the miles fly by uneventfully.
The loop crosses its tracks again and you are back on the double wide gravel/dirt trail heading into camp. 3 miles to go and the horses know where they are heading. S's mare picks up a break neck trot pace and Gem begins to have a hard time keeping up. You look at your watch and it registers 4:30 min/mile pace. Gem is cantering to keep up, but isn't asking to slow or breathing all that hard. You ask S to walk the last 0.5 or 1 mile into camp to let her heart rate slow and she agrees. Once you are close to camp, the trail makes a hard right turn and runs into the backside of the starting area. The horses are not happy to turn away from camp when they are oh so close!
Just up ahead are the in timers, ready to take your number. Thankfully T and a new friend A are standing by ready to help out all they can. You jump of Gem and see the hubs and W waiting for you with a big grin. You yell a grand hello and march Gem over to your crew area to strip tack and sponge. That break neck entry into camp worked up a hardy sweat. T is amazing and helps sponge Gem down with ice water and scrape it off. You check her pulse and it is already down in the mid 40s (criteria is 64 bpm) so off to the vet you go. She vets in with a pulse of 40 and is a stubborn mule for the trot out away from the vet, but trots back on fire. He remarks that she almost looked lame going out she was trotting so badly, but made up for it on her return trip back. Darn mare! She gets mostly a's on her report card although her hydration status gets B+ and her gut sounds get a B. Not surprising since she didn't eat or drink the entire loop. The vet remarks that you aren't riding her hard enough and you should have come in way sooner on that loop. You just smile and nod and thank him for the compliment. You have 40 minutes until loop 2.
Back at the crewing area, M states that her mare's heart rate was really high coming in and she is 3 minutes behind you in out time. You are okay waiting 3 minutes, but the only thing you really care about is leaving on time. Gem is too concerned with everything going on around her in the crewing region and isn't eating or drinking so you make the decision to walk her back to camp and put her in her pen. It will eat up 14 minutes total of the hold there and back, but the decision is worth it in the end. She still doesn't eat much (just a few mouthfuls of hay) but you get her e-lytes in her and she downs an entire bucket of water plus takes a 10 minute nap. Perfect! Having her in her pen also gives you the ability to eat some nachos, drink some coconut water and go to the bathroom.
40 minutes flies by and you are soon trekking back to the crew area. Once there you tell your partners there are 5 minutes remaining and begin to tack back up. But then M heads off toward the bathroom and you are dismayed to leave the hold nearly 10 minutes late.
This second loop is 14 miles long and begins and ends on a black access road to cross the river and picks up a large yellow loop. Off down gravel road again we go, but Gem is more sensible this time. She is eager and willing, but not pulling finally. S is having some issues with wanting to leave camp, but finally everyone's horses get their head on straight and off we go. The first loop took about a half hour longer than you wanted plus you lost 10 minutes at the hold, so this loop needs a good pace. M is worried about her mare coming in too hot again, but you are sure if you avoid the break neck speeds and just go a steady pace she would be fine.
The footing isn't so great and you end up coming up on some highly people populated sections of trails that demand a walk. The time is ticking by and you have a long way to go yet. The sun has also decided to make an appearance now as well so you know this loop is going to get hot. Fortunately, there is a lot of water offered up for the horses and Gem doesn't miss a single one. She guzzles down at each and you are feeling better about her.
You eventually make your way over a cement bridge and back onto single track forest trails, some of which you recall from the hunter pace you did here. You see a plate marking 5 miles down and glance at your watch. It is getting late.
Gem is doing amazing under you and by mile 18 she begins to tune you out. The going is slow and sporadic. S's mare is getting foot sore and she is hugging the shoulder of the trail, but this region isn't maintained so she is having to avoid ditches, rocks and logs and such. Gem begins to get really ticked off with the start/stop pacing and just wants to go! Around this time you remark to S that Gem is really unhappy with the pacing. Either it needs to steady out or you need to depart.
The footing then improves some and off everyone goes. Gem keeps rushing to the front and is feeling strong and willing. M's horse is beginning to lag behind and tire and S's mare is hugging the rim again. You decide to stick with the group and finish together.
Finally you cross the cement bridge, leave the yellow loop behind and get back on the access trail with 3 miles and an hour to go. You keep nervously glancing at the watch to make sure you will complete in time. There is no way you are going this far with this much horse under you and not making the time!
Eventually camp comes into view and you make it back to the in timers with 30 minutes to spare. You dump tack and immediately vet in. Gem isn't even sweaty at all so you know she will be under pulse (60 bpm required). She vets in at 54 bpm, almost all A's with improved gut sounds and trots out sound. You get a completion!!!!
You head straight back to camp to put her in her pen. She stretches, drinks and munches some hay and is looking amazing. The hubby congratulates you and eventually everyone makes it back to camp with 3 completions. :)
You are so happy, a little tired, and very proud of your mare. She looks ready to go out for another loop and you know she has a 50 in her. Everyone eats lunch together and then you pack up camp to go home.
Your first thought: When can we do this again?!