Well...there you have it. Gem was almost a rock star, minus that whole bucking-throwing-me-in-the-dirt thing, for the entire trip up and back. Me? I had mental issues, but fortunately I worked through them and managed to have a great time and make some new friends. Would I do it all again? You bet!!!
I didn't completely follow the golden rule of not trying anything new on race day. Sometimes it just doesn't work out that way, but all in all I am very, very pleased with how things worked out. Some things do need tweaking for the future, so here is my list of what went well versus what didn't.
Things That Worked
The absolute best thing I did all day was use Body Glide on Gem. In the past, I have battled girth rubbing and someone suggested I try it. I had never tried it before and thought it couldn't hurt, so I lathered up her armpits and the front edge of her girth area before the ride and at every hold. 50 miles later - not a single rub, sore spot or lost hair. Yippee!!!!
A sports bra. I'm not particularly well endowed and I've always gotten away with just my usual bra for rides, but for some reason I grabbed the sports bra before leaving home. In as much as you can love a vice grip on your chest, I liked the feel of it during the ride and will not go sans sports bra again.
The Camelbak was perfect for me and since I had the fleece vest and then a higher collared long sleeve shirt for the entire ride, I had no chafing issues. I drank the entire 2 L bladder the first loop and then split the next 2 L on the last two. I was never thirsty and I completely avoided the post ride headache I typically get.
Nature Valley Chocolate Pretzel granola bars were a life saver out on trail. I shoved one in my Camelbak and made myself eat it at the 2 hour mark each loop. It had just enough sugar and salt to go down easy and perk me back up, plus it was satisfying enough to last until camp. I will have to remember to bring these along again.
Gem's saddle, girth (cleaned and much softer), Reinsman pad and halter/bridle.
I am always amazed at Gem's hooves and this ride was no different. It was rocky with those palm sized rocks that fit perfectly for a sole bruise and yet 50 miles later she didn't have a single off step, chip or crack. In fact her feet looked as though I has just trimmed them to perfection. Ssshhh....don't let on that I don't ever trim or rasp her...ever...last time the farrier was out was in February.
My Irideon tights got destroyed after Biltmore and I waited entirely too long to replace them. In fact, the exact model I had was a special addition for Rolex that year and are no longer available, so I picked the Issential line and went for it. They arrived the day before I left and the first time I wore them was for the ride. They fit well and were super comfortable for those hours in the saddle.
Gem gobbled down her grain all day which is the reason it gets on the "worked" list. I'm just happy she ate anything since in the past she refused.
My eating was pretty much the best yet too. I ate the shaved rotisserie chicken breast which was easy to eat one handed, sat light in the stomach and provided needed protein. The granola bars count here too. I drank a ton of water (see above) on the trail and supplemented with Coconut Water at the holds for elytes and sugar. I was never hungry feeling, but also never felt tired and full.
Things That Didn't
My reins. The reins came with the halter/bridle and are a lovely nylon webbing in black and red. They provide a great grip and I have never had her pull the reins out of my hands. Unfortunately, they created a massive blister that extends from the distal to middle joint of the ring finger on both hands. It hurt badly enough that I stopped at the Running Bear trailer to buy a set of biothane reins at the first hold. She only had rubber reins (looked more painful than mine) or biothane reins with nylon webbing, so neither would work.
Snaffle bit. Gem is definitely getting herself a Kimberwicke over the winter.
Her grain goes in this category too because while she ate it all hungrily, it was dry and didn't help the hydration issues we had. I was so pleased she ate anything that I happily let her go, but now that I know she will eat I am going to slowly get her used to some mashes.
I've never had an issue with her hydration before, but even though she drank a ton that first loop we were behind the 8 ball, so to speak, beginning with the first loop. I bought new elytes after the second loop, but by then it was too late. I think I will return to the Finish Line brand I used up north and had worked really well. Also, in the future I will bring a tube along with me to use on those longer loops if she decides to fall behind. I don't want that salty mixture sitting on an empty stomach though, so will probably only use it on trail if I know there are plenty of opportunities for grass.
Things I'm On The Fence About
Crew spot. I made the decision to walk back to camp for several reasons. One it would be easier for me to get things done if she was in her pen and I had two free hands. Two I would have complete access to everything I brought with me, so I could easily change things up if needed. Three she tends to be a royal PITA at crewing when there are a lot of horses around. She walks all over the place and tears down the tent and pays more attention to everything else and less to things like eating, drinking and resting. This crew area was much less frantic and she might actually have settled down well. The downside to going back to camp was the 12 minutes it ate up each hold walking back and forth. It made her move more and rest less, so in the end I really don't know what I should do. If I had crew I would lean more towards staying fi she looked content and chilled, but when I fly solo it is hard to hold her and get anything else done (like eat, pee or refill my camelback bladder)
Overall, I am thrilled with her and the ride. She gained strength throughout the day, pulsed in amazingly well and even behaved at the trot outs. Her feet were like concrete and without steel we actually slipped less than most out there. I think our conditioning was adequate for the task and those trails were not beginner friendly in any sense of the word I have ever known.
I would recommend the ride to anyone though. The ride staff was amazing and once I stopped to smell the roses, the trails were superb. She most likely will hold it again next fall and even hinted at a possible spring ride. Get your entry in early though - camping is very limited.