February 26, 2015

Night Riding

A dark trail under a starry sky. The sound of your breath melding with your horse's. The feel of power and grace underneath you as you place all your trust in their ability to carry you safely. Your eyes straining to look for obstacles or dangers ahead and the realization finally dawning on you that they can't. Following a ribbon of glow sticks hoping that you don't miss one.

I've been both dreaming of and dreading night riding for a while now. I really want to experience this magical moment with Gem as the night brings cooler temperatures and we move along covering an unseen trail. However, Gem is a spooking queen in the best of lighting on familiar trails. How will she be in the dark? Will we even make any forward momentum or just spook at everything?

Some people seem blessed with either private trails or at least ones that don't close. Around me all trails close at sunset which makes night riding a bit more difficult. My radar is set on a 2016 100 although which one is up for debate. I would truly love to do the Vermont 100, however logistics for 2016 seem to be falling apart on me. Its not being written off just yet, but I am keeping my options open. In order to do a 100, unless somehow Gemmie sprouts some wings, I will need to ride at night to complete it. I am thinking that my first night ride during a first 100 probably isn't the best idea although by that point in the ride she will be tired enough to maybe not see so many ghosts?

Enter a solution: KY Moonlight 50 on July 31. It was just posted today and I am beyond excited. The 50 begins at 5:30 pm on a full moon evening. Since my last two 50s have taken around 7 hours to complete, if we went a similar pace, we should finish somewhere around 2 am. Exciting!!! Since it is in July, I might even be able to drag Dusty and Wyatt along to camp with me.

I have some questions for you all if you wouldn't mind....

1) There will still be some hours of day light in the early part of the ride. It typically gets dark around 8ish that time of year, so that gives time to move out and cover some ground. How much slower, if at all, do you typically go at night on trail versus day?

2) Would it be beneficial to try a night ride, even if it is just playing in the fields at the barn, prior to going? There wouldn't be any light available at night on property. I guess I could go out and hang some glow sticks to work with.

3) Would doing the 50 at night be asking too much of Gem? They also have a 25 which starts at 6 pm. I'm not a 2 hour finisher, so I would still get some night riding, but not nearly as much as the 50. I'm not against 25s at all, but having moved up I would prefer not to go back down to a 25 unless there is a specific reason to.

I'm super excited about this ride. I absolutely can't wait. Even if we go so slow that we don't finish the 50, at least it would give me an idea of what I would be dealing with on the later miles of a 100 next summer.

February 24, 2015

Boarding and Endurance....Second Attempt

Well, crap... I seem to have not only published a half way finished post, but then deleted it once someone took the time to write out a lovely response. Sigh...I think I need a vacation. Anyway...here should be the finished post in a somewhat different format because I can't recall how I was originally writing it and I have added Saiphs comment as well that I pilfered from my email.

A question popped up on FB that is near to my own situation and so while I have limited endurance experience to speak of I feel like my vast experience with boarding in 3 different states in vastly differing barns allows me to spew out my own opinion on the subject. That and it continues to snow heavily in the SE where I moved specifically to avoid any more of this weather causing all my elderly patients to cancel their appointments today leaving me with nothing else to do.

Boarding and endurance. Does it work?

Why, yes, I believe it does.

This is actually a strange questions since pretty much every other equestrian discipline relies heavily on boarding/training barns. I think this is due to the sport lending itself towards the backyard enthusiast since training is not really a prerequisite and there are so very few actual trainers/training barns in the country.

That being said, I don't think it is much of a hindrance if you do need to or decide to board your horse instead of having the lovely beastie outside your front door. My one piece of advice is to learn how to prioritize and let things go.

The biggest difference in boarding, in my experience, is the lack of control you really have. Your horse is on someone else's property and therefor you must obey the rules they impose. Taking the time in advance to learn those rules, figure out what you can and can't live with, and what you are able to do yourself will save you a lot of headache and stress in the long term. Having a good understanding of your breaking points is really important.

Once you know exactly what you must have in place for a happy/sound/stress free existence, everything else can get tossed out the window. Well, with careful monitoring to make sure your happy/sound/stress free existence is staying that way.

Some things to ponder, keeping in mind how important these are to you:
  1. Turn Out
  2. Other Horses
  3. Nutrition
  4. Riding Availability
  5. The Extras

1) Turnout - this is my #1 priority with Gem. If there isn't actual real live grass like substance and a whole lotta room, it isn't going to work out for us. I can't ride as often as I'd like, so with plenty of room to graze at least I know she isn't losing her fitness super fast and I don't have to worry about her becoming stiff or stocking up standing in a stall all night. She is out 24/7 on 35 acres. Perfection.

2) Other Horses - Gem is lowish on the totem pole, so while I don't really mind her being out with others those others need to not be leaving gaping, bloody holes in her hide. I don't want to always worry if my mare will be sound when ride time comes up because she is getting in fights with her herd mates. She is out with 6 other mares. Not perfection. She is holding her own and very rarely shows up with a mark, so it is definitely livable. I carefully watch this however and if she ends up getting beat up this is high enough priority for me to move her.

3) Nutrition - this can be a real big stressor especially since endurance requires a pretty good understanding of general horse nutrition. I've had to do a lot of soul searching about nutrition at the current barn and my endurance goals. Gem is fed in the pasture with the 6 others which means I can't control her nutrition unless I can be out there at feeding time to pull her out and feed her separately. The barn feeds at 8 am and 4 pm when I am at work making this not possible. I don't particularly like her current grain and mass quantity, but so far she is doing ok on it. I do add vitamins to a nice mash after all my conditioning rides and I am looking into options for a different grain for these as well. This is just one of those items that I have had to learn to let go of. I can't change it and keep her where she is and unless there is a specific problem that I can relate to her grain intake I'm just learning to live with it.

4) Riding Availability - while needed for endurance conditioning, most participants have a trailer and so trail access on site isn't so big of a deal. Gem's barn has a small outdoor sand arena and about 2 miles of grassy tracks surrounding the property. It is enough to keep us busy on the weeknights when I am fighting daylight. I trailer out to real trails on the weekend. If you don't have access to a trailer or not enough time to get to the trails, then having more room to ride on property may be more important.

5) The Extras - things like a secure tack room, lights, lounge, bathroom, blanketing services, farrier etc... These used to mean a lot to me when I first began to board, but now mean pretty much nothing. When it comes to endurance the frills are pretty much just that - frills. You can get all your conditioning and competing done without any of these. I keep my tack in my trailer since I go out so much. I don't care about a lounge or bathroom and can put on and take off my own blankets on the very rare occasion Gem needs one. A farrier looks at Gem twice a year.

The last thing I want to mention is about the bond you build with your horse. The biggest downfall to boarding is the tendency to only stop by when it is time to work. While others have the built in necessity to feed, water and clean up around the place that gives the horse/rider time to be together in a more relaxed and playful manner, the boarder tends to go out with bridle and conditioning plan in hand. I am very guilty of this having such limited time to get to the barn and needed to use that time to maximize my conditioning. I noticed a big change in my relationship with Gem at Pow Wow when we spent so much time just relaxing together and her knowing I was the treat/food/hay/water dispenser. I really need to make a bigger effort to go out to just say hello more often and I would encourage anyone else who boards to do the same.

Now your own situation may allow you to figure out a partial care or self care situation where you do get complete control over a lot more things than I do. Figuring out how much control you really need to be successful will depend on your horse and your own personality, but I would encourage you to take along hard look at the reality and learn how to let go of the things that really don't matter.

February 13, 2015

Lessons Learned at Pow Wow

I did a lot of things differently for this 50 from the Barefoot Shine and Wine. Some of them went super fantastic and others went horribly wrong. 

My biggest concern for Gem was her hydration. At Barefoot I watched in dismay as each vet check reported worsening parameters. Her pulse and CRI stayed great throughout so nobody seemed overly concerned and we completed just fine, but still it was sub optimal and I wanted to be proactive about it. So what did I do differently? A lot really and it showed in her solid a's for every hydration parameter at every hold, even following a tough 25 mile first loop with no water available (besides the deep flooded creeks which I wasn't stopping at to allow drinking) until 14 miles in. 

  • During the drive I stopped to offer her a wet mash. I hadn't thought to do this before and she has historically never drank during trailering. The drive was just about 6 hours and I didn't want her going that long without drinking. I poured grain into her bucket and topped it off with water to just over the grain line. No time for it to really even soak, so she had to drink to get the grain. It worked and she emptied the entire bucket.
  • Different electrolytes in paste form in a syringe so I knew she was getting it even if she didn't eat well at the hold
  • Wet mashes at each hold. She gobbled it down at the first hold, ate half at the second and barely touched it at the end. She did finish the bucket over night. 
  • Stopped at every single opportunity on trail and let her drink until she stopped, but didn't let her play with the water. Drink or move on.  (I've always done this, but it is worth noting as it is part of my strategy)
  • Also gave her a feeding pan of soaked alfalfa which I keep filled and wet with about 3 inches of water at the bottom from the moment we got in camp. She emptied that thing several times and even drank the flavored water at the bottom. I only had access to a compressed bale and it was super dusty, but after soaking it I think it worked to my advantage. She loved the stuff and the smashed particles from the compression collected in the water at the bottom making it very, very tasty water.
  • Carrots. Lots and lots of very wet baby carrots. Loads of natural electrolytes, water and she loves them. I hand fed her a third of a bag at each hold.
  • Gem was offered her typical grain from our barn, It isn't the best and is locally milled. Too much molasses for my likings, but I don't have a choice here unless I want to pay for stall board and buy my own grain. Until a problem arises to make it a necessity, I can't really justify the added expense each month. Once the grass starts to grow again, she won't be getting any grain at all. Anyway...so each hold she got her usually grain. 
  • I offered her a bucket of wet mash at each hold.
  • She also got a bucket of the dry grain. I've been told that the saliva from chewing is needed to prevent ulcers, so I wanted to give her the choice to crunch away which she did the second loop and at the finish.
  • Carrots. See above.
  • Soaked alfalfa from a compressed bale. I will be buying compressed alfalfa for all my rides if I can find it. She loved it and it worked really well. She only ever gets alfalfa during a ride, but I start giving her GrandVite the week leading up to the ride. I've always mixed the powder in with some broken up alfalfa cubes and a little water to make it stick. It is a nice treat and she loves. It also lets her get used to alfalfa in small quantities.
  • Coastal hay. She barely touched it at all this time. It didn't look that great to be honest. We took it from the hay loft at the barn and its the first thing I've been disappointed with at this barn. 
  • My biggest goal was a completion (yay!!), but my second one was to ride my own ride. I've always been so timid out there that I get caught up with others and lose this part. I tried this at the beginning by starting after the first wave, but that didn't work. Once we fell I was alone in my own bubble for many miles it is was perfect. Granted we were on sandy open roads so she didn't have all the bare wood (sticks, logs, trees) to spook at as is her norm, but still I was able to rate her pretty well after those first 10 miles and felt really, really good about it.
  • We covered it with an average 6.8 mph pace per my garmin which was only a bit off from reality. I think we did a little over 7 mph in real life which is exactly where I want to be right now. I let her open it up and we spent a lot of our moving time hovering around 9-10 mph, but took breaks to walk, eat and drink so it lowered to around 7. While the winner finished in 4 hours 29 minutes, I think this pace is perfect for us right now and maybe for forever. 
Horse Attire
  • She started and finished in her advantage saddle with a mohair cinch, Thinline Endurance pad, and typical halter bridle. No rubs, no sore spots, and a perfectly even sweat pattern.
  • The Thinline does something weird. Maybe it is stiff to start our heats up and molds to her back I dont' know, but each ride it starts off looking fine then slips by around mile 2-3. Once I get off and fix it, it doesn't move again. Something I need to remind myself of.
  • Barefoot. This is interesting. She has gone over tons of rocky trails and did the last 50 bare on loads of rocks. Not a single chip. This was 39 miles of sandy roads and she did great as always hoof wise. However, when I looked closely at them the following day she had really worn them down. They are nearly squared off at her break over point and look odd for her. If more sand is in our future I may need to do some serious thinking. I don't think her bare tootsies would hold up well for a barefoot 100 in the sand. I think they would wear down too much. Will have to think on this one...
Rider Attire
  • Gloves. Wow did I love my new gloves. I've actually never ridden with gloves before and I was worried, but when it was only 16 degrees in the morning I was ready to risk it. Not only were my hands warm and toasty, but I had an excellent grip on those reins. Even with holding her back just like at Barefoot, I didn't have a single sore spot on my fingers and no blistering. I won't ever ride without them again or at least not for the first loop.
  • Camelbak. This keeps working out super well. I drank all 2L between the first two loops and stay very well hydrated without the need for a bottle or pack. I even used the back pack portion to shove my store covers in at the trot by. 
  • Running shoes. I continue to prefer these over typical riding boots/shoes and really wish I could have run some for Gem's sake. I will get into why I didn't in a bit. I probably should have worn my winter waterproof boots to being with and that would have save me a lot of problems down the line, but I didn't think of it. 
  • Stirrup Covers. I know. Nothing new on race day, but I didn't think adding comfy fleecy covers to the leathers would be an issue. Boy was I wrong. Either I did something wrong putting them on or I need to get used to them, but something was definitely off with my legs until I removed them. I felt trapped and my ankles were in a wonky position that made them scream in agony by mile 4. By then end my perennials were shot and I could barely walk. A week out and my left leg still isn't working normally. I used them to avoid getting rubs (which I ever had anyway)and ended up with a nasty friction burn to my right leg just below my knee.
All in all I am super happy with the ride and how Gem performed. My performance was not so great. I think it had a lot to do with how frozen I was to begin the ride, My feet were block of ice for 14 miles and I am pretty sure I held them in a weird place for that entire time. Couple that with new covers and a shorter stirrup (nothing new on race day, nothing new on race day) and I was just off. 

February 12, 2015

Camp Osborn Pow Wow 50 2/6/15: Ride Day :)

ACT 1 Scene 1

The setting: A quaint Boy Scout camp in a southern Georgia pine forest in early Spring. The morning dawns freezing cold with clear skies and the promise of warm sunshine as the day progresses. A mass of steaming horses is milling about a trail head awaiting the start of a race.

"Hold your horses (heheheh) Gem! We aren't going until everyone else clears out of camp. I can't feel my feet and would like not to die today" mumbles a nervous and excited rider named Sara. She is dressed in a million layers of fluffy clothing and dons bright red new gloves on her frozen hands. Between her gloved fingers rests a metal bit that she is trying to warm up before shoving into her horse's mouth.

"TRAILS OPEN!!" echoes across camp. Both Sara and Gem watch as the horde rushes off down the flat, sandy driveway.

Stupid human! Why am I still attached to the trailer? Doesn't she know everyone else has started.?We are already losing and we haven't even begun yet. Why does she even try to take charge in these matters? She is always screwing it up!" Gem gets very anxious as the other stream out of camp.
Waiting for a break in the crowd to head on out
"Ok big girl. Its our turn. Now, I want to trot very slowly out of the camp. Do you hear me? We have 50 miles to cover today and plenty of time to catch up later. They say this first set of trails in camp is really wet, full of holes and slippery. I don't want either of us getting hurt"

Sara mounts on up and immediately wishes she had her winter boots on as her feet are solid blocks of ice and are useless.

"You may trot. Slowly."

Wahhooo!! We are finally off! The others aren't that far ahead. If I gallop full out I can still catch them all!

"I said slowly"

Shut up and let me go!

"Goddamint Gemmie! I said slowly! Now I mean it. Fine, you can walk then instead and if you keep this up I will turn you around and make you walk all the way back to camp. Stupid Mare!!!!"

Hey wait! Others are coming up behind. Fine, I'll slow enough to let them catch up, then I will just fall behind them. Human always lets me do whatever once I get behind someone else.

"Everything going ok?" asks a nice married couple as they catch up and overtake the pair that are weaving down the lane in an intense argument over exactly what pace is acceptable leaving camp.

"Yeah, just trying to get her not to race. Mind if we fall in behind you for a bit?"

"Nope, come on! This is my gelding's first LD and my husband is doing a 50 on his seasoned gelding. Should be fun!"

 He he he...

The new group of three makes it down the lane safely and more importantly Sara stays in the saddle. They hit the woods and the real riding begins.

ACT 1 Scene 2

Setting: A twisting single track trail through the pine forest. The trail is soft and covered in pine needles with large holes throughout from the recent rain and onslaught of hooves that have gone before. Three horse and rider teams make their way along getting caught up in slow moving traffic and passing some while maintaining a steady pace down the trail.

"Gem, please slow down and get off that gelding's butt. I can't see the trail and there are holes everywhere."

There she goes again. Blah, blah, blah. Always so tense. Can't she just relax and enjoy the race?

Sara glances at her Garmin. "Argh! 12 mph is way too fast for us. We need to slow down and get away from this couple or we won't finish this thing. I'll look to join one of the slower moving groups as we pass by. I really wish I could feel my feet. I'm flopping around up here like a sack of potatoes and this can't be good for Gem. When is the sun going to warm up?"

The miles start to fly by and there is no signs of slowing in the near future. Up ahead is the first of three creek crossings.

"Water up ahead Gem. Take it easy. It's going to be cold and deep"

Don't worry I got this! Whoa!! This is deep...its coming up to my belly. Suck it in. Brrr! You should have warned me.

"Good girl Gem. Man, my feet just got soaked. Really should have worn my winter boots instead of running shoes. Oh well. My feet were already numb so this shouldn't change things much. What mile are we at?"

A while later....

"Next creek crossing is coming up Gemmie. Pay attention. This one is the deepest."

You are such a worrier, human. I've got this....oh wait a second. This isn't just deep. I can't reach the bottom! What am I going to do? I can't reach! I can't reach! I would have worn my wet suit if I knew I was going swimming today. Next time can we just go to the beach instead?

As the trio swim through the deepest creek, the wife brings her feet up and back to keep them dry. Unfortunately, this spooks her green horse and he starts to buck.

"AHHH!!!" shouts the wife as she holds on for dear life, but ends up splashing head first in the cold creek.

"Oh no! Are you ok?" Sara looks towards the bank and is relieved to see the gelding stop on shore and wait for his fallen, soggy rider to rejoin him.

"Well, if we are stopping, now is a good time to hop off and adjust my saddle. This new Thinline pad has the habit of loosening up in the early part of the ride and slipping. I hope fixing it now will solve the problem for the day or I may go back to the Reinsman at camp."

All three remount and head back out again covering the ground at a fast pace. Sara continues to worry.

Another two miles down and the trail opens up to a two lane track with the same wet, hole covered ground.

"AHHH!! Shit!! Gem are you ok?!?!!? Oh no, oh no, oh no...... Guys! We just fell in a hole at a fast trot. I'm stopping to make sure her legs are ok." Sara flies off her mare in a desperate panic. She looks over her front legs and doesn't see any marks or immediate swelling.

"Is she ok?"

"Yeah...she seems fine, but I'm going to hand walk her for a bit to be safe. Go on ahead and enjoy your ride. Get back to camp and get warm and dry!!"

The other two head off and Sara stays on the ground to walk Gem for a bit. She carefully watches her legs to make sure everything is still attached and moving fine.

"See Gem...I told you to slow down and pay attention to your feet. You could have gotten us both killed back there!!! I'm glad you are ok though. It looks like we are all alone now too which is great. Lets get going and take it a little slower, shall we?"

ACT 1 Scene 3
Setting: A woman and her mare all alone on a single track trail twisting through the woods nearing the 14 mile mark. The mare is moving fine. The rider is now beginning to feel her thawed out feet and is wishing they were numb again as the pain begins to set in from misused feet in awkward positions in the stirrups.

I'm doing all the work down here trotting the hooves right off my legs and she is complaining about pain up there. I don't care that your ankles are screaming in pain. I don't care that you decided to put new equipment on the saddle right before the ride plus shorten your right stirrup a hole. You know nothing new on race day. You're an idiot.

"I'm an idiot. Why on earth did I put new stirrup covers on and shorten my stirrup?? Nothing new on race day. Nothing new on race day. When is this loop over? I hurt. I need a break. Seriously, when will this end?!"

Georgia swamp
"Oh look! Here is the photographer. Look smart Gemmie. Smile!!"
Gem went through creeks over her belly, but balked at this bridge. Silly mare
Following the perfectly marked trail. You had to work to get lost here. 
"Ok..its been 14.2 miles. Here is camp. Gem....you aren't going to like this, but this is just a trot by. No hold. We have another 11.5 to go before we stop for a while. Please, just trot past the vet and I will let you rest for 10 minutes at the water trough."

Phew! We are at camp. I can't wait for my mash and hay and a nap and water and carrots...wait...why are you asking me to trot...no the trailers back that way! What are you doing up there?!? Have you lost your mind?!

"We fell in a hole about 5 mile back. I hand walked her about a half mile or so. She feels fine, but how does she look?"

"Good to go!" Yells back the head vet with a big thumbs up

ACT 1 Scene 4

Setting: A woman and her horse are arguing travelling sideways down the sandy driveway. One wants to keep going knowing there are 11 miles left on the loop. The other wants to go back and take a nap.

"Gemmie...I swear this is the right way. I didn't mess up. Just a while farther and then we can both take a break and I can fix my stirrup. I'm very glad I ripped those covers off my leathers at the trot by. My legs feel more free. These miles are much easier. Just flat, straight sandy roads. Nothing to worry about...."

Nothing to worry about, eh? What is that then??? 

"Oh My God Mare...its a trash can. These are houses we are going past. It must be trash collection day because each house has them out. Wow. If this continues this is going to be a very loooong 11 miles"

Cut to a wide angle view. Its a sand road with houses bordering each side. Its trash collection day and each driveway has a black trash can outside. Our fearless duo are making their way along the road doing their best to not get eaten by the black monsters.

"Oh Gem. Seriously? We are going to pass these about 8 times today, so just get used to them already. On the positive side, we are still all alone and you are doing 9-10 mph miles solo. That's pretty much unheard of for you. Way to go!!"

Ok..maybe they aren't going to eat me, but they sure look like they could. Ohhh...whats that up ahead? A big pile of...umm...what is this stuff?? It looks like hay and smells like hay but it tastes funny. At least the water in this tank is nice and cool

"That's peanut hay Gem. Don't you like it? You better tank up cuz it doesn't look like there is much in the way of grass around here. Just miles and miles of flat sand road"


"Look!! It is camp!! I told you we would make it back"

ACT 1 Scene 5

Setting: A quaint Boy Scout camp in a southern Georgia pine forest. Horses are coming and going in various stages of being tacked up, cooling out, eating and drinking. Our team is nearing the vetting area. With a quarter mile to go to camp, Sara hops down nearly collapsing as her ankles totally give out on her. She proceeded to half walk half limp Gem in to vetting. 

"Tack off Gem, then we can vet in and take a nap. No matter how this goes, I'm so very proud of you. 25 miles is an extremely long loop an the farthest we have gone in competition without a hold. You are the best!"

They head to the pulse booth and are very glad to see that there is no line.

"Pulse is 56!"

"Hmmm...thats unusually high for you Gem. Normally you are in then 40s coming off trail. I really hope your hydration parameters are fine and you aren't hurting from that fall. Let's head over to vetting and find out."

The head vet is one Sara has not met yet. She is very nice and attentive which relieves Sara since she is very worried about those front legs.

"How's it going out there? First loop, right? Hydration - All As. Gut sounds - B. Go trot."

"Please pay close attention to her fronts. We fell in a hole about mile 9. She has felt fine all along, but I just want to make sure." 

Trot...trot...trot...trot....stop..turn around....trot...trot...trot...trot

"Everything looks great! Enjoy the rest"

1st loop per Garmin. The bottom right was all the camp trails and the upper left was after the trot by. 
ACT 2 Scene 1

Setting: A familiar sandy driveway heading away from the security and comforts of camp. A horse and rider are slowly making their way down the road heading out to conquer more miles of trails. They are alone, but won't be for long.

"Same dirt roads my friend. Igor the trash cans Ignore the sewer drains. We've seen them before. keep trotting. Good girl. I feel so much more balanced now that my stirrup is shorter again, but man my ankles are trashed. I'm so sorry Gem that I am riding like crap today. I'll start yoga, I swear!"
39 total miles of this. 
Uhhuh...I've heard that one before. And I'll start going down the trail without spooking at anything or trying to dump you, Will see which happens first....

They make their way along alone and enjoying the solitude of the trail as the sun warms up the frosty day.

"You know Gem, I really needed this time. I miss my friend terribly and her memory is getting me through this. She would never give up or quit. She'd sing a silly song or say something goofy right about now. So let's sing."

Sara breaks out into a favorite song of her younger days and settles intone lovely rhythm as they cover the miles at a nice 8 mph trot. Eventually the solitude is broken...

"Hey there! My friend got pulled and my mare prefers company. Mind if we join you?"

"Umm...no. We are keeping a 7-8 mph pace, so if that works of you come on along. The trail is nice and wide so we can ride side by side easily. Gem has never kicked, but you never do know. Is your horse gaited?"

"Yup. She is a Paso."

Hmmm..what is that horse doing with its legs? Seems like odd movement. That is definitely not a trot. Can my legs do that?

"Trot Gem. Just like the last 30 miles. Just trot. Why are you moving funny? Are you tired of trotting? It is an awfully long straight stretch. Lets canter a bit to stretch you out."

The miles start to tick away...

Seriously....what is that horse doing? I don't like it. It is odd.

"Honestly horse. Trot. These stupid short strides are going to cause you to cramp. Um...can you either stay beside us or behind? Every time you get directly in front of us the mare slows down and acts weird. The trail is wide enough for us to go side by side. No need to be directly in front."


"No..I mean it. Stop going in front. Gem isn't acting right when you do that. If you wan tI can get her moving a bit and put some space between us."

"No. I'd rather ride with you This trail is soo boring. Not like last year when we stayed in camp more. I've never ridden out this way before. Too much roads for. And look now there is pavement. I hate pavement. So boring. So so boring"

Argh! This is not going well. 14.5 miles of this and my head will explode, thinks Sara as the miles wear on with negativity abounding from her new partner, I need to get back to my solitude and keep this ride fun. Speeding up didn't work. I'll let Gem walk. Oh good...she is walking too. Is it rude to tell her to go away? Ho would I even do that? I really hope she doesn't try to ride the last loop with me too. Hopefully we can part ways back at camp.

The miles tick on by...

ACT 2 Scene 2
Setting: 3 miles from camp and the pair of riders are moving down along the paved end of the loop which they covered at the end of loop 1 and will repeat in loop 3. Sara's nerves are a bit wracked from the negative company she has kept the last 2 hours and she is getting to her emotional breaking point. 

"Excuse me. I don't ride fast on pavement, but there is plenty of grassy shoulder to ride on. I'm going to cross over and let Gem ride over there. You stay here so that we can each move out as we want."
She agrees and then two minutes later she comes over and cuts them off again.

Some of the paved portion of the trail. Maybe 3-4 total miles of pavement each loop. 
Ok...this is not going well. I don't like this weirdly moving horse, I don't like these mail boxes, and I really don't like these storm drains. I'm hungry too. That peanut hay was nasty. When's camp?

"Ahhh!! Ok..calm down. Almost done. Let's move out and away Gem. Move I said. Move!" Sara loses her temper a smidgen and smacks the saddle's pommel with the excess reins to get her mare moving. Her companion glares at her and finally backs off giving them room to move out alone. 

Eventually they make it back to camp where Sara hops off a quarter mile out to hand walk in again. 

ACT 2 Scene 3
Setting: Back in camp at the crewing area our faithful team is dropping tack and headed over to the pulse box. They have 39 miles down and are hoping to get a good rest in. 

"Pulse 44! You get the lowest of the day so far."

"That's my Gem. She is always super low coming off trail. Good girl. I bet the last pulse was due to the extremely long first loop. Let's get vetted in and see how that goes."

She gets the same vet as before.

"You are moving right along, although a bit slow. This is your 2nd hold, right? Hydration - all A's. Gut sounds - B. Trot out!"

"Yeah, 2nd hold. Let's trot my mare"

Trot...trot...trot....stop...turn around...trot...trot...trot...

"All's good. Enjoy the hold!"

"Ok Gem, I will get you all tucked away and then I'm having a PB&J sandwich. I've been craving it for an hour and I can't wait!!!

Sara tucks Gem in to her pen with dry grain, wet mash, carrots, soaked alfalfa and a pile of dry coastal. She turns to the truck to make the sandwich she has been dreaming about for 9 miles.

"Bread...check! Jelly...check! Peanut butter....um...peanut butter? Shit. I left that at home. Nothing else sounds remotely enjoyable or even barely edible right now. I must have PB&J. Well..I do have a tin of honey roasted peanuts....let's see. Squeeze a ton of jelly on bread....add a handful of nuts...squish together...take a bite....Wow!! Thats really, really gross. But it beats nothing, so I'm eating it anyway."

2nd loop. All road riding, mostly sand but some pavement
ACT 3 Scene 1

Setting: Our tireless duo are heading back out along that same sandy driveway for the final time. They have to repeat the 11.2 miles from the second half of the first loop. They have 4.5 hours to do it in and Sara's spirits are soaring. The sun is shining, her mare is looking amazing and she knows they can at least finish. Completing is another beast, but she knows her mare can go the miles.

"Last time, I promise. Same trails we have been on. We are out alone again.Gem we can do this!"
The view we had for 39 miles
"Hey there!! You guys are looking good. Mind if I join you for a bit? This is my mare's first 50 and we just want to complete."

Sara looks over and sees a happy looking woman riding a lovely grey arab mare. 

"Sure thing. We are going about 7-8 mph and stopping to eat and drink when able. If you don;t mind, can we just ride side by side? The trail is wide enough."

"Sure thing"

The miles tick by and they maintain a steady pace with some as fast as 12 mph, but with very frequent stops to eat along the way. This woman spies all the best grasses that Sara didn't even see the first time around. 

The two women talk and laugh along the way and Sara is enjoying every minute of it.

"Crap, my Garmin just died only 2 miles from camp. I really need to upgrade to a better model."

"Do you want to race to the finish line? Its along the sandy road about a half mile from camp so that it is safe to. I know we aren't going to place or even turtle, but since we have been going sid by side we can race to get placings."

"Oh no thanks. Gem has worked hard enough. You go on ahead if you wish and finish before us. I really don't care about placings at all. I'm just thrilled to go the 50 miles in one piece and not fall off or hurt my horse" responds an elated Sara as they get nearer and nearer the finish line. 

Finally, they cross!

ACT 3 Scene 2

Setting: Back at camp of the final time. A tired and sore Sara leads a mare who looks like she went 50 miles, but could still go a few more over to the pulse box. 

"Pulse 44! Wow, you definitely get the award for lowest pulse."

"Thats my girl!!"

Sara heads over to vetting and gets a different vet. She has met him before at her first SE ride and really likes him. 

"So how did it go?"

"Really well. She fell early on, but has;t been a problem. It just takes her 10 miles to settle in. This is her second 50."

He palpates her back, checks her mouth and listens to her guts.

"You riding tomorrow?"

"Nope. Going to head home in the morning."

"You don't have a second horse? You should have a second horse. You'd do well and have a lot of fun."

"Thanks, but unless board drops down to free and they add a few more hours to my day, it won't be happening for a long time. For now it's just Gem and I and she isn't allowed to break."

"All A's across the board. You did fantastic with her today. Go trot."

Trot...trot...trot...stop...turn around...trot...trot...trot...

"Sound as can be! Congrats!!!"

3rd loop. All roads again.

February 8, 2015

Camp Osborn Pow Wow 50 2/6/15: Thursday

It was with a very heavy heart that I awoke at 0300 to pack up the remaining supplies and head to the barn to load Gem. I debated long and hard about not going to the ride following Christy's death and knowing her funeral would be on Saturday. Logistically getting to PA would be very difficult and honestly I wanted to mourn for her in my own way. A weekend spent chasing my dream seemed like a good way to celebrate the life of a woman who never let life get her down, who chased her own dreams and lived life to its fullest. A full day out in the woods to settle my heart and say good bye just seemed right.

In a surprising feat of planning I had actually looked up the directions in advance and saw that I had to go through Atlanta. Well, not really had to, I could add a half an hour and go through Greenwood to hit 75S, but I tried that when I met up for that long ride with the endurance peeps and had gotten horribly lost in downtown Greenwood. I opted to go the more direct route and lose a few hours of sleep.

Fortunately, the drive was pretty boring. Anytime I am hauling the trailer, I shoot for boring. It took just about 6 hours and 5 hours and 50 minutes of it were great. A little traffic through Atlanta, but nothing terrible and I didn't get lost once.

What happened to the last 10 minutes? Ah. Well....that was not so boring.

The ride flyer directions were simple: take GA-300 to Camp Osborn Rd right into camp. My TomTom disagreed and had me make a left on some random road about a mile before Camp Osbrn Rd. I should have stayed with the flyer directions, but my brain was half dead by then and I just made the left. I immediately saw the error as the road was a mushy, sloppy mess. What was probably once an easily passable dirt road had been rained on too much, too recently and was now a treacherous mess. But I was now committed since it was too narrow to turn the trailer around and either side was bordered by a nice water filled ditch. To make matters worse, about 100 yards in and around a bend was a one lane rickety wooden bridge spanning an overflowing swampy pond. I seriously worried that we would sink. Had I not been so darn scared, I would have snapped a picture for you.

I made it over the bridge and slogged along white knuckling the steering wheel. I had slipped the truck into 4wd, but had no clue if it should be 4H or 4L, so I alternated to see what the effect would be. Mental note: learn the difference.

About a half mile in and with over a mile to go before turning onto what would probably be another sloppy mess of a death trap, I saw an entrance to some saw mill or something. It looked wide enough to turn around in, so I took a deep breath and hoped nobody else was stupid enough to travel down this road and turned around. Of course that meant another trip across the one lane bridge. Once back onto GA-300, I turned the stupid TomTom off and threatened to throw it out the window.

Even with that we arrived in camp safely, if a little mud splattered, and looked around. Camp was in a lovely pine forest and was pretty empty. There were maybe 3-4 other trailers there and I must have looked really confused because someone came up on a 4-wheeler and asked if I had any clue where to park. I said no.

Ride Camp
The guy snagged me an awesome spot right next to both vetting and crewing. It was maybe a 30 second walk and it made me very, very happy. I know it shouldn't be a big deal where you park, but I like to get Gem back to camp for the holds and at Barefoot we wasted 12 minutes per hold just walking to and from vetting and camp. Thats a lot of time when you only have 50 to begin with. Anyway...

It was only 1030 and registration wasn't until 1200, so I had plenty of time. All the nerves that plagued me and ruined the experience at Barefoot were completely gone. I just went through the motions of setting up camp stress free and it all went extremely smoothly.

Gem all settled in with a big pile of hay that she ignored the entire weekend
To interject slightly:  It is so easy to forget how difficult everything seems the first time you do it. Barefoot was not only my first 50, but also my first solo camping trip, the first time I was responsible for absolutely everything, and it really stressed me out. Having done it once, this time was soo much easier and I was completely enjoying every second. Ask me a year from now and it will all seem ridiculous that it was even an issue at all which is why I think those who are super experienced have a hard time with newbies. Patience is a virtue that very few have and once you are past all the newbie nerves it is hard to fully put yourself in those shoes again. For them, setting up camp is like breathing, but for me the first time everything was a stressor. 

It all went so smoothly that I still had plenty of time before signing in, so I wandered over to Teddy at Running Bear. I had ordered some things before hand to pick up at the ride to save on shipping. It is awesome having a tack vendor at pretty much every ride. I picked up some lovely red gloves, black fleece stirrup leather covers, some elytes and a brand new red and black breast collar. This was all thanks to my Mum who had given me some cash for Xmas and told me to get horse stuff with it :)

After signing in, I had two or so hours to kill and took a much needed nap.

Gemmie vetted in all clear with a pulse of 36 and a weight of 938, perhaps 936,  my brain doesn't function very well anymore. Her hydration status was exceptionally important to me given the slow but steady downward spiral at Barefoot. All looked spot on, although it had at vetting before too. I had made some changes which I will go over in my wrap up post, but I will say that they made a big difference.

With even more time to kill, I introduced myself to my neighbors and had a lovely chat with the guy to my left. He had a very handsome mule who apparently is an Arab mule. I commented on how the mules at rides are the only ones smart enough to lay down and sleep while all the Arabs were running circles in their pens :) This mule was going for this 4,900th mile at this ride. Can you believe that?! What a great accomplishment.

Spoiler alert: he got it!!

So all in all Thursday was amazing. I had time to unwind from a lot of recent work related stress, got to catch my breath over the loss of a dear friend and soaked up some lovely sunshine. The stark difference from the day prior to my first 50 and this one couldn't be more glaring and in general I just felt way more at ease over everything. I even chatted it up with new people over dinner and made some new friends.

It was the perfect way to head into the next day.

February 3, 2015

Look To The Sky

Tonight you will see a bright new star shining down on us all.

This isn't an ordinary star. This star's shine casts away negativity. It blocks out all anger and hatred. The light it casts knows only love, laughter and happiness. This star holds no grudges. It forgives easily and spreads out to embrace all with its warmth.

There are optimists, pessimists and realists in this world. And then there was Chirsty. It is hard to write of her because nothing I type out does her justice. It either seems too inflated or dull to match the real life version that I loved so much. It wasn't that she always planned on the best happening or prepared for the worst. She just loved. Everything, every minute, everybody.

I have never known anyone else to forgive so easily, to forget slights as if they never happened and to never, ever hold a grudge. She made it her mission to make people laugh. To make them happy. She was silly and goofy and honestly didn't give a damn what anyone thought of her.

She took life as it came and turned it into what she wanted it to be. She didn't talk about or focus on money or status. She didn't worry about who had more or went better places. She just lived her life and loved every minute of it. If someone did something amazing, went someplace cool, made a ton of money or bought a fancy object, she felt genuinely happy for them and was the first to shout it to the world.

When she was first diagnosed with cancer, I remember thinking that there was no way it could win. Her spirit shined too bright. I sat there thinking that there was no way Christy wouldn't continue to live as brightly as always. I was right. She lived with her cancer as if it wasn't anything at all. She wore funny shirts and spent her energy giving everyone around her hope and strength. She fell in love with the man of her dreams and married him. She travelled. She got involved with raising awareness about colon cancer and was a beautiful model for the calendar. She loved, laughed and smiled through all the pain, fear and hurt. When her skin rebelled against the chemo and all her hair fell out she took it in stride. As she always did.

I am heart broken that my friend is no longer with me. That our journey together has come to an end for now. Like it has been from the beginning, she has led the way to the next chapter before me and I am left in her wake until it is my time to catch up. I know she struggled at the end and now her pain is eased, her fears no more and her fight over. But I still miss her. I still want to see that bright smile and hear her kind and funny words. It is ironic that the one person who could cheer so many up is the only person not around to do so any longer.

I am fortunate that I have so many wonderful memories to rely on. While I have only a very few pictures of our time spent together, my mind is filled with the images of a youth spent exploring our small town and laughing. Always, always laughing.

Goodbye my dear friend. I will think of you often and know that you are still here with me, reminding me to lighten up, forgive others and live my life to the fullest. Take care, rest easy and I will look for you in the night sky.

My favorite song and one that always has made me think of you:

I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

I love you Christy Joyce. Rest easy. No wait, give them Hell up there!!