May 31, 2016

"And That's Better Than A Sticker On Your Car...?" - My Dad

Looking back it was all pretty cliche: I was 18 years old, had a friend dating a tattoo artist and it was the late 1990s. Guess what I got? I still love the idea behind the tattoo, but the execution wasn't that great and 16 years of mostly forgetting it was even there haven't been very kind to the ink. It is faded and a little blurry these days.

For many years I have wanted an "adult" tattoo. Something I felt passionate about, researched well and shelled out the cash to make it come alive. I've had idea here and there, but nothing stuck. Then I completed 100 miles on Gem in 18 hours on a hilly and rocky course.

The 100 miles we covered that day weren't the hard ones. Those were fun and quitting wasn't an option. I've always believed that the actual competition miles were the easiest part of the entire sport. The 6 years leading up to those 100 miles were the ones that counted. The countless nights leaving the barn in tears early on, the times I ate dirt and got back on to finish the ride, the knots in my stomach as I slowly pushed the envelope past my comfort zone in all aspects. The first time I hitched up the trailer, loaded Gem, drove to the trail head and rode all by myself. The decisions on nutrition, health care, and foot care. The trials through numerous saddles that didn't work out. The tack changes, the clothing changes. The maturity I gained through all of it peaked when I found myself crossing the finish line in the dark 100 miles and 21 hours after tacking up the first time that day.

Gem has never been an easy horse, but I didn't need an easy horse. I needed a horse that would make me really grow up. A horse that would make me earn it. And earn it I did.

When reality sunk back in, I knew that I had found my "adult" tattoo. I took some time looking up various ideas and techniques, compiling a folder on my desktop filled with pictures of various tattoos. Once I finally narrowed it down in style, I started looking for a tattoo artist who could do it. I was fully prepared to drive to Atlanta if needed or wait and save up more money to get it done right. My biggest fear with it was getting another tattoo that I loved in theory, but was only meh about in execution.

It turned out that there was a shop around the corner from my work that had amazing reviews and great artists. I made an appointment for a consultation and headed over one day after work to discuss things. The artist I wanted was booked out two weeks, but I was happy to wait for an opening. I booked it for Memorial Day and patiently waited for the day to come.

Yesterday came and I went to the shop with nervous anticipation. I fiddled with the placement for a bit. I wanted it in a place that I could easily see it, but was out of sight from the public. The original intention was to have it on my right rib cage way up by my breast, but when I put the stencil there and looked down I couldn't see it. That wouldn't do. So I moved it down and then up front more, so that when I looked straight down I could see it in all its glory.

The tattoo took just over 2 hours to do although some of that was me peeking and him double checking that he was doing exactly what I wanted. It turned out perfectly. I am 100% thrilled with it in every aspect.

Of course, I can't take pictures worth a darn so these don't do it the justice it deserves. Anyway...

This was taken right after. Some of the yellow pigment isn't easily seen with the red hue of the tortured skin underneath. This morning the yellow is much brighter and it should look even better as it heals more. 

So the size is better appreciated

Dusty had though I was going with my original placement up high and more on the side under my breast.  This placement allows me to look down and see it. 

He took the line drawing off my ride photo from Biltmore. I didn't want a portrait of Gem for various reasons, but he brought her to life for me through the use of color and it looks like she is on fire. I adore it.

May 27, 2016

What's Next??

This question has been posed to me several times by several friends. Honestly, I don't know the answer. There are things I'd love to do, but don't have the time or money and there are things others think I should do, but I don't have the same opinion on.

In general, I'd like to try to stick with the longer distance for as long as Gem is enjoying it. 100s make sense for us right now. Gem was the most relaxed and enjoyable than any other distance and was stronger after 50 miles than she had been on any prior ride. I can realistically make one spring and one fall ride, so doing a 100 each time won't over tax Gem and will provide maximum riding fun at each outing.

I personally believe, and I am aware that I am in the minority on this, that each horse has a limited number of miles to them and that while Gem was enjoying herself on the ride, she could care less about completions, miles attained or any awards. She likes to eat grass, be in the sunshine and have room to roam about. If she never makes it to another endurance ride, she won't be losing any sleep over it. All that to say that I am very protective of her legs and the rides I sign up for are with a purpose and not to just add more miles on.

There is a small part of me that wants to try a 25 for the win. Or even a 50 for the win. I hold Gem back a lot at rides in fear of running her down, but after her CRIs and all As throughout the entire 100, a bit of me is interested to see what she would do given the chance to just go at one of the shorter distances. See if she can blast through a 50 and still finish strong.

But then I think how awful I would feel if she came up lame or with a metabolic issue and that keeps that beast of a thought down.

Another, bigger part of me wants to try to qualify for FEI status on her. Ah...the big bad FEI word!! I won't get into it here, but Biltmore was my first real world experience with FEI riders in the US and I was surprised at how different it was than what everyone would have you believe. We are super close to qualifying for a 1* at the moment and it would only take a bit of planning to solidify it. The SE has a ton of FEI rides too and a lot of them coincide with AERC 100s, so I will be there either way. Waiting past this season would kill off our chances, so it is a now or never thing on her.

The one solid plan I have is to complete the R&T Championship ride in October. I finally wrangled up a partner for it and it is being held at Biltmore. Theresa is a more accomplished endurance rider than I am and is also a runner, so it should be a lot of fun and I want that shiny belt buckle.

Beyond that, I would like to head to Broxton the beginning of November for another 100. Gem doesn't like sand and would rather have 100 miles of paved road, so I am a bit worried about it. It has a lot of hard pack sand, but areas of softer, deep sand as well. I hope to trailer over there at some point this summer to see what it is really like before I commit to a 100 there. If I don't do that 100, then I am out of realistically reachable 100s until Biltmore again next spring which is sad, so lets hope the sand isn't too bad.

The summer will be spent having fun, trying to stay cool and maintain a basic level of conditioning to not hamper us when we go to peak again for the two fall rides I hope to hit (R&T being 30 miles will be a great conditioning ride for a 100 a month later). Now that Gem has shoes on her, I also want to head up to the NC mountains this summer to beat the heat. I've never taken Gem to ride on mountain trails before, so I am pretty excited about that.

May 25, 2016

Six Month Goal Check

Seriously? Is the year almost half over already? Time really does fly.

2016 was the first year I have ever set any goals. I'm just not a to do list, goal setting type of person. Since I actually decided to set some for us this year, I figured a half way check would be nice. To be honest, I don't even fully remember all my goals, so this may be interesting.

Here is what I laid out back in December:

Goals for 2016:

1.) Finish up the 2015-2016 hunter pace series and earn the Supporter Award. All rides do not have to be on Gem, but I do have to personally attend them all. 

Big fail on this one. I was doing really well until I missed one due to an out of town funeral. That put me out of it anyway, but to put the nail in the coffin there was a ride at Biltmore the weekend after the endurance ride there. Pete can't handle that much grave and rock with no conditioning and having already missed one, it didn't seem worth the risk. The last one of the season is Memorial weekend and we won't be making that one either. 

2.) Multi Day Endurance ride in the Spring. Can be either two 50s or a 50 and 25. Currently aiming for a ride early April in Jasper, FL.

I did the Bilmore 100 instead and consider this a win.

3.) Help manage an ultramarathon alongside Dusty to coincide with the Ride Between the Rivers Endurance Ride. Dusty was approached about this idea when we were there this summer and we are both super excited. Gem will likely stay home unless someone wants me to bring her along to ride her in the endurance ride.

Uncertain at the moment and not looking good. We both really want to do this, but can't find insurance to cover the runners and all the other dual events out there are either not responding to us or have not had runner insurance which is not something we are comfortable doing. We have one last hope out there.

4.) Get Haley to her first endurance ride. I'm already making excuses for this one, but she can only attend in the summer and summer rides just don't happen down here. The only viable option would be the Moonlight Sandhills ride, but I think it may conflict with the RBTR ultra/endurance ride. 

Big old fail on this one. Once I moved Gem, I really lost touch with her. She ended up leaving the old barn as well over drama, but has no trailer and Gem is 40 minute sin the wrong direction to pick her up.
5 and 6 are fall specific, so those can't be determined yet. 

7.) Figure out her hoof protection situation once and for all. The April ride and the November Broxton ride will help me test things out. I won't ask her to do a 100 barefoot, but I know the trails are friendly in case something were to fail.

Score!!! NGs on front, steel on back are working great for the moment. Will continue to assess and evaluate at each trim cycle. 

8.) Get the trailer organized. This has been a work in progress for over a year now and just needs to be completed before I rip my hair out. Trying to ease all stress that I can before next January. 

Success!!! Dusty finished up a few things the week before Biltmore. I only have one more minor thing I want to do before I call it complete. 

9.) Complete an Equathon. This is kind of a sorta goal in that if it works in the schedule and helps Gem's conditioning then great, but if not it isn't a big deal. 

Not yet. Probably won't happen. 

10.) Continue to improve my fitness. I've started to run again and will be adding in some weights and spin classes as able throughout the year. 


11.) Dressage lessons. I would love to start taking some dressage to help Gem improve in her movement and make things more efficient for her. I can't afford both lessons and the paces, so this will have to wait until the summer. 

Nope and I don't care. All action shots of Gem showed a beautiful heel first landing and full extension with a relaxed and happy mare. With all As and a happy, sound horse after a difficult ride, I have zero interest in changing anything at the moment. 

Overall not horrible. Doing the 100 earlier than originally planned changed a lot of my focus this year, but all in all I think things have been going well. I really wish things had panned out better for the Hunter Pace series and had I done a spring 50 instead I would have still made it. The 100 was more important to me though. Bring on the next 6 months!!!

May 23, 2016

The Trot Out

Trotting out for the vet is an integral part of this crazy thing we call endurance. Like any skill, it is one that can be taught and Gem has come a long way from her shuffling gait of the past.

While there is no rule against someone else trotting your horse out for you, I have always internally judged those who don't do it themselves. I'm not sure why, but for some reason it always felt a little wrong for the rider to not jog the 100 ft down and back.

Of course, since I never had anyone around to do it for me, it was never an option anyway.

Two weeks post 100 and into her pasture rest period. Wondering why we aren't having fun on the trail anymore
That was until Biltmore. I had planned to do all my own trot outs unless my energy was such that I was impeding Gem's ability to trot out well and had warned Liz of this in advance. I had figured I might need her at the last two holds, but then I came in off the 3rd loop extremely overheated to the point of being dizzy and I didn't want to hold Gem up by taking the time to strip 4 layers and guzzle ice cold fluid. I asked Liz if she would mind taking Gem to the vet and, being super crew, she didn't mind at all.

Once I was cooler by about 15 degrees, seriously why on earth did I wear 3 shirts and a heavy winter vest??, I wandered over to the vetting area and I watched as the vet examined Gem and then watched the trot out.

And I will fully admit that I was hooked on having someone else do it and it had nothing to do with me being lazy or not being able to jog the 100 ft down and back.

For starters, I actually got to watch my mare trot. I never get to do this even at home. I'm the only one who handles or rides Gem, so I never get to see what she looks like. When performing the trot out, you need to move out and stay focused on forward motion to get the horse moving freely beside you. You don't really get a chance to watch them move.

Two weeks post 100. She looks amazing and the shine is undeniable. I can't get over how shiny she is!! She was galloping around her pasture having fun. 
Standing back by the vet, I could actually watch Gem move and it was great. I could see for myself that she wasn't lame. That she was happy and moving freely. I didn't have to wonder if she was hiding a lameness. I could see for myself that she was dong just fine. Likewise, if she did have a lameness, I would have been able to see that as well.

I also got to actually talk to the vet for the first time ever. I mean like a real, interesting and educational talk. You don't get a lot of time in the vetting area. You need to move along to allow others through and to take advantage of the rest for your horse and yourself. With someone else holding and trotting, I could actually take 3 minutes and discuss Gem, her behavior, her ability and her personality with the vet.

I loved it so much that I had Liz do it for my for the remainder of the ride. I went over with her each time and watched, took a picture and chatted with the vet and learned a lot.

Pete is also looking really good. Shiny and happy on his Triple Crown Lite. He has lost some weight which is nice. Dusty commented that Pete looks like a couch potato using dieting to control his weight whereas Gem looks like an athlete. That is one heck of a compliment from the hubby who typically calls Gem my boring brown horse. 

For future rides when I am back to being solo, I will be back to doing it all myself and that is fine. I am capable of trotting my horse out, but the luxury of having someone else do it isn't so much for my own stamina and physical capability, but for the education it gives me watching her move and talking with the vet. If I ever have crew again, I will take full advantage of letting them do it.

May 19, 2016

What Worked and What Didn''t Work: 100 Mile Edition

I've been delaying this post for a couple of reasons: 1) I'm not sure that it doesn't bore the crap out of everyone to read and 2) mostly everything worked.

In the end it is nice to have a list for myself to refer back to, so here it goes. In general I keep my life to the KISS principal which translates in my horse life to going with things that provide a benefit and leaving all extraneous crap behind.



~ All her regular tack worked fantastically: advantage saddle with amidale stirrups, Thinline full sheepskin endurance saddle pad, red mohair cinch, Toklat fleece breast collar. She had all As n back score the entire time and no rubs or swelling to be seen. A week out and she didn't have any flaking skin to tattle tale on rubbing.

~ NGs on front, steel on back. I wish they made the NGs in a rear profile, but they don't. These worked amazing no matter the footing: pavement, gravel, pine needles, rocks, clay, grass. She never slipped and the mile upon miles upon miles of gravel didn't make her hesitate a single step. Gem has always preferred rock hard surfaces to softer ones (I am thinking this is due to an old left hip injury) and happily trotted and cantered choosing the gravel roads over the grassy shoulder every time. I have yet to encounter deep mud or water crossings in the NGs, so the jury is still out on that type of footing.

~ Body Glide. She was lathered it in at every single hold. It went between her armpits and along the front edge of her girth.


~ My usual suspects also worked well: Irideon Issentials tights, running shoes, Just Chaps half chaps, Tipperary helmet which I have come to adore.

~ Camelbak: I am counting this as worked solely because I love my pack and it was a fluke to get a hole in the bladder. It holds my phone and ride card as well as carrots for Gem, her bit and still has a large back pocket to hold numerous things. I drink well from it when I remember to use it and I can't imagine long distance riding without having it.

~ New for this ride was a cell phone case that I wore around my lower leg by my knee. This 50% worked because while it did safely hold my phone when I switched to Liz's hydration pack that lacked an accessible side pocket, it was a bit of a PIA to get it in and out of the holder while on the move. In the dark I was fearful of dropping my phone as I tried to get it in the case.


~ Beginning Wednesday before the ride (so 3 total days) she got a scoop of Grand Vite total vitamin and mineral supplement in her feed once a day which is half the recommended daily dose when in hard work. She already gets a complete feed at the recommended daily volume, so I didn't want to overdose her on anything. Half dosing seemed to work well.

~ Also beginning three days out she got a dry mixture of regular table salt and lite salt at a 1:1 ratio, 1 ounce once daily. Again, the recommendation is for 2 ounces a day, but I felt better cutting it in half. I will say that she drank more pre ride in camp than I have ever seen her before and I was really, really pleased.

~ I continued her normal ration of Triple Crown Complete leading up to the ride. I adore this feed.

~ On ride morning she got fed at 3 am because that was when I was awake. Had I gotten up at 5 am, she would have been fed then. I don't get up in the middle of the night to feed.

~ Throughout the ride she was offered her regular ration of Triple Crown complete made into a mash at all holds. She does get picky about how moist it is on ride day and it was too wet the first time, so she ignored it. I think one other time it had dried out in the heat before we got to it (a reason I don't pre mix anything in advance. Mare won't eat it if it is not fresh during a ride) and she ignored that too, but otherwise she ate as she pleased. I don't get too upset if she only eats half her grain during the ride because she gets offered a ton of it. As long as she is eating grass and hay, I'm happy.

~ Speaking of hay, she had timothy available dry the entire weekend but seemed to not really like it much. She also had a bale of soaked alfalfa. I doled it out in small flakes throughout the days leading up to the ride and then she had free choice during. I don't mind her eating her fill of alfalfa during the ride. It provides a good source of calcium and protein and she has never had an issue with it. I know some people limit it, but for her I think it is super helpful to have the added calcium and protein to prevent cramping and things like thumps.

~ I love Perfect balance electrolyte paste during rides. Since Gem doesn't always finish her mash, I worry too much about adding it to her feed. She may not get enough of it if she walks away from her mash and again I don't care how much grain she consumes during a ride. She was given a single dose the morning of and at every hold except for the 3rd one where she was given 2 doses going into the hottest part of the ride. She had great hydration scores all day.

~Carrots. These are Gem's all time favorite treat, but Liz suggested I shove them in my pack and ride with them. It didn't take long for Gem to learn to bend to take them from me in the saddle and I think it played a major role in her great gut sounds throughout the second half of the ride.


~ I think I ate better at this ride than any before it. Fruit was a blessing and the watermelon and mandarin oranges (the ones in the little cups filled with syrup) hit the spot when I was both over heated and running out of energy.

~ Bacon was amazing. Simply amazing.

~ I always pack hard cheese and hard pepperoni (the real stuff, not the fake pizza slice type). Easy to eat, adds salt and protein.

~ Peanut M&Ms played a role somewhere along the way.

~ I drank a lot of water during the loops which settled my stomach when I was getting nauseous and cold sweet tea helped in the holds.

THINGS THAT DIDN'T WORK:  Going to lump them all together since there weren't many.

~ The side pull was useless when I tried to use it at the start of the second loop. I never dropped the bit again, but I believe she would have been fine from the 3rd loop on. She doesn't eat or drink any differently with the bit in or out, so it really makes no difference. I like the thought of going bitless if possible and will try again on later loops in the future.

~ Glow sticks. I got the cheap dollar store ones and they were worthless. Seriously, they provided maybe a spot of light directly under her neck but it wasn't enough to see by or be useful. The two I rode with in the dark didn't even use them. I like the idea of them in case Gem and I get separated. She will at least be lit up and easier to spot, but they aren't helpful when riding at all.

~ My camelbak bladder which decided to get not one but two holes in it and leak after the second loop. Not fun.

~ Wearing way too many clothes when it got hot out. I seriously overheated and should have listened to Liz when I went out for the 3rd loop and she told me to ditch some clothing.

That should cover it. All in all there really isn't much I would change from the ride. More appropriate human attire, add a second bladder in case of failures (I had meant to do this but ran out of both time and money before the ride), and not lose my head lamp on the first loop. Other than that we both came through feeling great and I recovered in record time after a long ride.

May 13, 2016

The Aftermath

It was after 4 am by the time I crawled back into my sleeping bag, 25 hours after I had last left it. I laid awake waiting for the feeling of posting to fade until my eyes were too heavy to fight it and I drifted off. The ride meeting would be at 8:30 am, but Wyatt was with me and he never sleeps in past 7. Sure enough at 7 am he was up and so was I.

The next morning
Surprisingly, I felt great when I finally convinced my stiff body to move. My lower back was stiff, but not painful. The balls of my feet were achy. The only place that hurt was across the tops of my shoulders which is always painful after spending hours in the saddle holding back my dragon. Could I get back on and ride some more? If I had to, yes.

We wandered over to breakfast, scarfed down some food and waited for the ride meeting to begin. They started with the LDs, moved to the 55s, the 75s and finally it was our turn. I was barely awake in my chair when they called my name 3rd from the end with a ride time of 18:02. I was elated, but too tired to show much emotion at all.

From there we packed everything up and headed for home by 11 am.

Gemmie looked amazing the next morning. In fact, she looked like she had gained some weight during her ride. I had gotten a starting weight which I no longer remember, something in the 900s, but forgot to get one at the end and by the time the ride meeting was over, the scale was packed away. At 3 am it was more important to get Gem in her pen and fed than getting a weight. Plus the thought never even crossed my mind.

I wish I had gotten a post ride weight on her, but she was looking good afterward. 

When I pulled into the barn and let Gem back out with Pete, he came over to say hello and she squealed and lashed a front leg out at him. She always comes back from a ride with an inflated ego.

Physically I was completely recovered by Wednesday and even felt like doing my normally scheduled run although work took precedence instead. Mentally though I was pretty much in a fog until Thursday. Currently, I feel like i am finally running on all cylinders once again.

Here is the thing though: I'm hooked. I'm out in lala land 90% of the time dreaming of my next 100, wishing I was on her right now tackling the trail. I have a whole other post about the things I learned in 100 miles, but for now all I can say is that I am 100% different than I was a week ago. This may wear off in time, but this accomplishment on this mare who was borderline dangerous 6 years ago and nearly cut her hoof off 10 months ago, has had such an influence on me. Gem is getting the next 4 weeks completely off without any work whatsoever. She gets to rest, relax and eat, eat, eat.

Me? I'm wishing I had another 100 to do this weekend. And the one after that. And the one after that. In fact, if I could just permanently stay in the saddle on the trail for the rest of my life I would be perfectly happy (well, only if Wyatt was along with me). My brain only stops the constant buzz of thoughts, stresses and concerns when I am on my horse and having 23 hours of pure blissful brain silence was simply amazing.

There's nothing 100 miles won't cure

May 11, 2016

Biltmore 100: May 7, 2016

I have a new motto in life. I began saying it in jest about two weeks out from Biltmore when Gem was acting crazy, but I will continue to use it more seriously for the rest of my life. It has deep meaning to me and has helped to ground me in many ways over the last month.

"It's nothing a hundred miles won't cure"

Sleep was hard to come by Friday night and I finally gave up on the idea just shy of 3 am and crawled out of the warmth of the sleeping bag, kissed Wyatt on the cheek and headed out into the dark, cold morning. I had 3 hours to kill before ride start, but the knots of nervous anticipation in my stomach wouldn't let me settle on any one task. I was thankful when the clock finally read 5 am and I roused Dusty from his own cocoon of sleep to help watch over Gem and make sure she didn't roll and break all her tack to pieces while Liz, super crew extraordinaire, went to check us in.

I'm pretty sure the words "I hate ride start" spewed out of my mouth a dozen or more times as the group of us hand walked Gem down to the starting line. Liz probably wanted to slap my helmeted head at that point, but waited until the 5th loop to do so instead. Regardless, the trail was eventually proclaimed open and I mounted up to head off in a small pocket behind the front runners who were already out of sight.

 LOOP 1: 14.5 miles, orange.

The only picture I took the entire first loop. This was taken on foot the day before as I walked Einstein
The start heads down a trail I would see pieces of a lot that day. The "river road" is a gravel trail that follows the French Broad River and orange took us upstream past camp a ways before making a sharp left turn into the woods.

Gem was in beast mode and just wanted to go. She was kept to a dull roar as we half trotted and half pranced down the lane passing horses along the way. I was tense and nervous and introduced myself to those I passed warning them all that it was my first 100. We passed a nice couple of ladies who were also doing their first 100 and I tried to tuck Gem in behind them, but she was having none of it and we blew past and into the woods.

It was at the perfect time too. Gem was just starting to lose patience with my death grip on the reins and had begun to flip her head back in forth in a very clear pissed off mare gesture. The trail went up, up and up some more into the woods.

Thankfully, right around that time we came across a lovely woman going for her third attempt and Gem decided that they were worthy of her company. As we climbed the hill, the two previous ladies fell in behind us and by the top we had caught up to a larger group in front of us as well.

The trail climbed, dipped back down and traversed ridge lines staying predominantly in the woods along gravel strewn trails and down access roads. At some point I realized that I was actually having fun. Gem was moving along steadily and with flare and hadn't spooked once. I looked at my Garmin and it read 5 miles. A record. It usually takes 10 miles for me to have fun.

At some point, and the loop is pretty fuzzy due to nerves, the ladies behind me moved on ahead never to be seen again. I hope they got their completion. I stuck with the group we were with as we powered along through the woods at a good clip.

Sooner than I had planned by about a half an hour, we popped up along the back side of crewing and headed in. I jumped off Gem once crewing was in sight, loosened her girth and dropped the bit. I also remembered to text Liz and let her know.

The first hold was a bit frazzled as Liz and I learned our ways around each other and Gem. Liz grabbed my in time slip so I could head straight to dropping tack and sponging. We came in at 7:59 am, so the loop took us 1 hour 59 minutes from the time the trail was called open.

**Slight aside: Dusty was being helpful and recharged my Garmin halfway through the ride. Unfortunately something went hay wire when he did this and the loops won't upload. We will figure it out, but until then all times will be taken off the ride card and speed based on the in and out times.**

It was a cool morning, but Gem had covered the 14.5 miles at an overall 7.5 mph and was sweaty. Three minutes after arriving, we headed to the vet where Gem had a CRI of 40/40 and received all As. The vet asked me if I even rode her on that loop. She looked like I had just pulled her out of her pen for the day.

We headed back to my trailer for the 50 minute hold and Dusty and Liz got to work on feeding, electrolyting and babying Gem while I sat down and ate some donuts. I was very nauseous coming off the loop and had barely touched the water in my camelbak. Dusty topped it off again and I changed out of my fleece riding pants and into my tights for the remainder of the day.

Gem eating during the first hold. It was cold enough that I wanted her cooler on her the entire time. 

LOOP 2: 20 miles, black access to green

Gem had settled down pretty well during the first loop, so I made the decision to drop the bit. Liz was smart enough to shove it in the camelbak so I would have it just in case. I headed out alone down the gravel drive behind crewing and hit the river road once again only this time the trail took us downstream.

It wasn't long until my companion for the second half of the first loop came up behind us. We crossed through a field of lush grass and over a new horse bridge to head into the woods. The black trail is a mix of woods and gravel roads as it leads you to a concrete bridge giving access to the west range of the estate. It was just the two of us for the first 3 miles as we made our way to the water troughs and spotters at the bridge.

Once we reached the water trough, Gem dove her entire head up to her eyes into the trough. I have never seen her do this before. She tanked up deeply. Gem is the most polite horse at communal troughs and food stations. She never pushes anyone away and I have never seen her make an angry face at another horse. She just takes her turn, drinks until she is full and then moves away.

There was a big pile up at the bridge crossing and at this point we all stuck together. I got to be introduced to some pretty "famous" riders in our region and was in the company of some really spectacular riders. The 10 of us kept together as we left the black trail and picked up green on the other side of the bridge.

I had been dodging a rising sense of nausea since the hold. I believed it to be due to a slight dehydration and forced myself to drink frequently from the camelbak. By the time we crossed the bridge, the bladder was half empty and my stomach was settled.

At the back of a long line of horses

Two horses up was Steve Rojeck, famous for competing over 200 one hundred mile races and being the nicest person on the planet. 
Green is a lovely trail winding through the woods, along fields of lush grasses and past old farm buildings. We went past cows grazing, sheep playing with their new lambs and saw herds of deer galloping among the trees. The footing remained mostly gravel with some sections of dirt floor in the woods.

Unfortunately, we were going fast. Faster than I had planned and faster than I was comfortable maintaining for the long haul. Try as I might I could not contain the fire breathing monster that was Gem on this early part of the loop. She was determined to keep up with the front runners and we had already cantered nearly the entire first loop and had just cantered 5 more miles of this one. She was blowing right through my side pull and was not tuned in to me at all.

When we reached a water trough roughly 5-7 miles in, I pulled over, got off and shoved the bit in her mouth while allowing the others to move out away from us. We would do the rest alone and in a more sedate mind frame.

How lovely to live in that house?

Lots of gravel roads and room to move out
Gem was extremely unhappy with this plan. She listened to the bit, but was furious and stressed. She continued to move out at 9 mph as before as she tried her best to catch everyone else. I was no longer having any fun.

My brain raced at all the ways we were going to get pulled. We were going too fast. Way too fast. Finally, around mile 10 we caught up to four of the original group at a water trough. The leader was a wonderful high mileage rider with a ton of experience and one of the nicest people I have encountered on the trails. I made a decision. I could either continue to fight Gem for 10 more miles and hit camp with a stressed out and unhappy mare or I could just let her go. We might get pulled for gong too fast, but at least we wouldn't get pulled for metabolics in a horse with blown ulcers and a mental breakdown.

When we all left the water trough, I tucked in behind and let go. I started having fun again.

Back in with the group of 4 ahead of us
Gem was happy to be in the back for quite a ways and then something just snapped. She wanted to lead. The ladies were more than happy to give their horses a mental break from the job and I was happy to see something other than a horse butt in front of me.

Eventually green ended back on black and we made our way across the bridge again. Gem was not brave enough to lead across the bridge and from that point back to camp she remained behind the others.

Angry that she wasn't in the lead anymore, but not wanting to go in front either. Its hard being half insane. 

This bridge can give horses a lot of trouble in crossing, but Gem marched across it trying to continue to trot when all I wanted was a walk. 
Back on black, we took a slightly longer route back than we did going out and this took us past the Biltmore Estate.

The Biltmore Estate. I would pass it four more times during the ride, but those were all at night.

From there it was a short jaunt to camp. Way back at 14 miles, I had texted Liz that we were coming in much faster than the predicted 4 hours. In fact, we hit camp at 2 hours 48 minutes for a 20 mile loop. Liz hadn't gotten the text, having taken advantage of a long reprieve to nap, so when I hit crewing she wasn't there yet. I texted her that Gem was in and hot. As luck would have it, my two friends riding in the 30 LD and sharing my crew spot were in for their hold and Sheree was quick to help sponge and scrape Gem. Liz came running into crew and helped finish the job.

Gem vetted in after 3 minutes in crewing with a CRI of 56/48 and mostly all As. The vet said she didn't run after me with enough spark so gave her a B for impulsion and attitude. I was fine with that and took her over to camp. Liz and Dusty went to it with Gem as I downed half a stick of real, hard pepperoni and a block of cheese to get salt and protein in me. I followed this with an entire can of Mt. Dew.

Hold #2

LOOP 3: 17.4 miles, blue

Once again it was time to tack up and head out. Gem was feeling just as fresh as ever. I believe we left the hold 2-3 minutes late and this short amount of time left us completely alone for the loop.

Blue starts off behind crewing but before it reaches the river road, turns to the right by the horse barns and heads up into the woods. Blue has some wicked elevation gains to it and was the hardest for the two of us.

This trail led to and from crewing for the first three loops. We got to know it really well. 

My favorite type of trail. Twisting and turning through the woods.
Gem was in no mood to fly at this point and I let her walk it out. We crept along at an astonishing 2.5 mph pace while I began to recall not peeing during the hold and regretting that immensely. By 2 miles in, Gem was still acting like she was about to die and couldn't possibly put one foot in front of the other any longer. It was around 1245 or 1 pm at this point and the day was heating up quickly.

Then we hit the hill from hell. This gravel hill never ended. It just kept going up and up and up. I would see a bend and what appeared to be the top, but once we reached it all I could see was more hill to climb.

Starting to go up

Still going up
About a quarter of the way up, I felt a cold wet sensation in my nether regions. I had a split second panic attack that I had in fact, at age 34, peed my pants. It took a few moments to realize that my butt was also soaking wet and it was coming from the camelbak. Phew.

I stopped Gem and pulled it off to take a look. It had been refilled at the hold and I assumed the cap wasn't on right as it can be tricky. Nope. Everything looked good except there was freezing cold water everywhere. A few more minutes of climbing later and I couldn't take the freezing water any more so I dismounted to empty the bladder completely. Since I was on the ground, I took the time to pee as well and then hand walked Gem the rest of the 1 1/2 miles up the damn hill.

Gem was very much not happy at this point
It was a real low point of the day. As we trudged along at a snails pace, I texted Dusty to let him know my issues. Gem was acting half dead and I was certain that my decision to let her run fast the first two loops was coming back to bite me. I swore to her that I would RO at the hold if she was still punky and if we ever made it.

At the top of the hill, I got back on and prepared for a slow, arduous walk along the remaining 14 miles of that loop with a big old pull at the end. Gem, however, wasn't ready to cash in the chips just yet and surprised me by jumping into a lovely 6 mph trot that ate away the miles.

As we were cruising along the lovely dirt footing, thankful to be rid of the gravel for a spell, it dawned on me that we were almost 40 miles in and Gem had not spooked a single time. She hadn't even taken notice of the sticks, logs, cows, sheep and deer we had passed on the trail. This was the most pleasant ride I had ever had on her. Apparently Gem just needs a 34 mile canter warm up before all rides.

We continued on solo, making good time now that she was no longer feeling sorry for herself and I no longer had a constant trickle of ice water down my butt crack. She laid down some lovely 8 and 9 mph miles as we climbed the hills and dodged along the ravines until blue eventually dumped us back onto the river road way upstream of where orange cut off. As we made the 90 degree left hand turn to on the river road, a couple of ladies doing the 55 came along behind us. I told them that they were welcome to pass us at any point, but they were happy to have someone else in the lead and Gem was not in the mood to be passed at this point.

Going under the interstate
We finished the remaining 10 or so miles in the lead at a wonderful 8 mph pace. Gem was bold, brave and having the time of her life. It offset the ridiculously slow initial miles nicely and we ended up coming into crew just shy of 3 hours after we had left.

I had texted Liz early on that I was majorly overheating. I had dressed completely inappropriately in three shirts and a vest and that coupled with my lack of water for 3 hours had led me to be extremely overheated. My face was bright red and I was light headed. She brought ice cold tea for me and agreed to trot Gem out for the vet.

Three minutes after arriving, Liz took Gem over to the vet where she had a CRI of 48/42 after 52 miles. It was really interesting to get to watch her trot out. I had never had anyone do that for me before and while Liz jogged Gem down the lane and back I had a chance to talk to the vet who was my favorite of the entire ride. I told him about my concerns with the early fast pace and why I had decided to let her go. He agreed with me 100% and told me that you have to ride the horse you have that day. Holding them back that much is just as bad as running them into the ground. He thought I was riding very smart and that made me ridiculously happy. He gave her As down the line and we headed off to the hold where I shoved my face with watermelon and mandarin oranges to get sugar and water in me. I was sleepy tired at this point, but felt great otherwise. I had no pain anywhere and had no thoughts of quitting.

Liz fond two holes in the bladder of my camelbak which had caused the leak and graciously offered to let me use hers for the rest of the ride. She really was super crew.

LOOP 4: 17.7 miles, red

At 4:09 pm Gemmie and I headed out on the notoriously hard red loop. Ride management had warned everyone at the briefing that they put this loop when they do to make the 100 even harder. It is the most technical of all the loops.

Red starts off like the rest of the loops behind crewing but makes a right instead of a left immediately and avoids the long gravel stretch. I immediately fell in love with the loop and told Gem that it was just like our conditioning trails back home: single track and winding through the woods.

Favorite trail type

She started off characteristically sluggish and I let her walk it out until she was ready to trot around mile 1.5 or 2. She was then ready to give me her wonderful extended trot again even solo and was still being bold and brave. Unfortunately, the footing was awful. While the gravel was absent there were large hoof eating rocks and roots everywhere that created slow going for the overly cautious likes of me.

Wonderful trail at a great time of the day

We picked our way along the trail moving out when possible and the endurance motto of "never hurry, never tarry" ran through my mind a million times. Riding smart is the key to success in this sport and having banked a lot of time early in the ride, there was no need to rush it now and risk a lameness over gnarly trail.

We came to a very steep downhill section and I got off to hand walk Gem down it and give her a break. Liz had stuffed carrots in the pack and I spent the time hand feeding Gemmie as we walked down the hill in the late afternoon heat.

Hand walking the mare. The bit remained in for the rest of the ride after her refusal to listen in the second loop
Heading down the open trail making time when possible
Hills, hills, lots of hills

Gem was starving by this point too. She had eaten her hay and grain well throughout, but she was ravenous. Any blade of grass was cause for an immediate slamming of the brakes and a quick snatch. She couldn't get enough grass in her and I texted Liz to bring her nicker doodles to crew to shove in her face. She texted back a surprised "are you here already?" to which I replied no way, but wanted to give her a heads up.

Red dumps out on the same river road and just as I was turning back on the gravel road, two ladies on beautiful greys came up behind us and over took us. They were also doing the 100, the first for the junior rider but one of many for her sponsor. They were from Canada and were in the FEI division. Gem paced extremely well with their two horses and was happy to have company once again so we tucked in behind them.

We were going slower than I wanted to at this point, below 6 mph, and had I been alone I would have pushed her a bit more to get moving. As it was, the ladies ahead were taking it slowly and would walk all the up and down hills in the woods while making up time by moving out on the flats. Gem wasn't too thrilled with the walking and would have preferred to trot the entire time, but her stomach won out and she used this time to smartly stop and devour all the ferns and wood grasses while the ladies walked and then trot to catch up.

At one point I did mention that I would be passing soon to move out faster and they responded by moving out as well so we could all stay together for the loop.

I was much better at texting updates to Liz and Dusty by this point in the ride. I gave a half way warning and then a 2 miles out warning which seemed to work really well. I also texted Dusty half way out one simple word: BACON. I had been really good at keeping my hydration up thus far, but felt like I needed more salt in me. The salt and protein from my favorite food would fit the bill nicely back in camp.

Once back in camp, we moved through the process of sponging and stripping tack quickly and Liz once again trotted Gem for me while I talked to the vet and watched. Gem's CRI was 48/48 and she once again had all As except for a B on skin tenting which I didn't care much about given the fact that she dunked her entire head into every single trough we came across. This red loop was pretty barren of water. No natural water on the trail and they only had two troughs out on the entire 17 mile loop with the last one being at mile 10.

This hold was only 40 minutes and it went by fast. Liz had gotten my message that Gem was craving grass and had spent the time completely moving my pen to make it very big and very full of fresh grass. It was amazing to see and Gem appreciated it greatly. It would be the last time I would see Dusty since it would be past bedtime when I came in next. Liz added glow sticks to my breast collar and let me borrow her head lamp as well which she taped to my helmet. I had worn mine at the start since it was dark, but hadn't taped it on. I have no clue when it happened, but when I came into the first hold it was gone.

I regretted sitting down, but the bacon was delicious and I dragged myself out of the chair and made the walk back down to the trail head. I didn't know if I would ride with anyone on this next loop and I was more than a little terrified of riding in the dark, but there wasn't much else to do. Gem looked just as fresh as she had that morning and had all As and amazing CRIs. In fact, at some point in the day, I believe after the second loop when we went near warp speed, Liz started calling Gem a FREAK. Everyone was highly impressed with my mare. I couldn't quit due to a little fear.

LOOP 5: 15.5 miles, white river

I mounted back up at 8:12 pm and it was already getting pretty dark. I couldn't see anyone else getting ready to head out and so, with a major knot in my stomach, I asked Gem to walk out down the backside of crewing. White started the same way as all the other loops, but went straight out onto the river road and downstream.

I was on the main river road, trotting along nicely at 8 mph (yup, she was still happily chugging along at an effortless 8 mph this late in the game) when I caught back up to the two greys once again. They had left a few minutes before us and I had never been so relieved to see another rider in my life. I asked them if I could ride with them, explaining that I had never ridden in the dark before and that I was beyond terrified of the prospect. They were happy to have me along and off we went.

I can't tell you many details about this loop. It got dark. And then it got even darker. Thankfully, ride management kept us to the main river road which glowed eerily white in the darkening night. It was gravel and straight and flat and we made haste while we could.

I recall a guy catching up to us on his white horse at some point along this stretch and he was equally as happy for the company. He had been turtle all day long and hadn't ridden with anyone. The four of us made our way and eventually passed the Biltmore house before heading into the heavy woods.

If it had been dark on the open road, it was pitch black inside the woods. I hung on, told Gem she was my eye sight because I couldn't see anything and was thankful for the glowing white horses in front of me.

The loop seemed to never end and we stayed in the woods for what felt like an eternity. All I could remember as we neared crew once again was the yawning depth of the dark woods and the fact that this night was a new moon. The sky was not providing any light for us.

Liz met me with Gem's cooler, feed, treats and hay. The hold was only 30 minutes and we would be spending it in the crew area that was nearly deserted. Gem vetted in with a CRI of 54/48 and had all As across the board. The vet remained impressed with her.

Vetting in the dark.
Jesse, the guy who joined us, had the same out time as I did, 11:55 pm, but we couldn't see the other two anywhere. Liz tried to get me to eat, but I had lost my appetite at that point. I managed some oranges while trying not to think about having to go back out into the increasingly dark night.

When the out time came near, we wandered over to the out timer. One lady was present, but said she couldn't release us and needed to find the lady who could. She had 1 minute. When the other lady was located and we were allowed off, Liz helped hold Gem and somehow managed to whack me upside the head with the metal end of my reins. Since my brain was already firing on only a few neurons, it didn't make much of a difference but did provide entertainment for those standing around watching, Thank god for helmets.

LOOP 6: 14.1 miles, white river

Jesse was right beside me in crewing and we left very near to each other to repeat the same loop we had just done. Neither of us knew where the two ladies went and we kept looking through crewing as we walked back to the river road.

Dessia quickly caught up to us a few minutes later. Unfortunately, her junior rider had been pulled for a sore back and cramp at the hold and it was now the three of us.

My mind was calmer this time around having not died the first loop in the dark and I was able to concentrate on the glow stick markers and the surroundings a bit more. We were travelling at 2 mph and had 6 hours to complete the 14 miles. At this rate we would be OT and my addled brain, which had stopped functioning around mile 74, started to race and I got grumpy for the first time all day.

I remarked to my riding companions that we needed to move. They responded that we had plenty of time and that it was too dangerous to move out in the pitch black woods. I replied that we only had 6 hours and that our current pace would put us solidly over time.

Poor Jesse and Dessia were doing their best to calm me down. They had both completed this ride before and remembered the white river loop accurately. The first half was in the woods and was hilly, but the second half was all on open gravel road where you could easily make time. I didn't remember it that way. I remembered deep, dark woods.

I eventually shut up realizing that I had no choice. While Gem had still yet to spook on this ride and was actually braver in the dark than she ever was in the light, I was not. The thought of leaving my companions to head out faster alone was not appealing and so I took a deep breath, trusted my new friends and went with it.

The woods were even darker this time through and we made a few piloting errors trying to find the way between the glow sticks. Dessia's horse was sore on the down hills and so she was dismounting and hand walking down all slopes. I got off a few times, but felt it better to stay on Gem than add the stress of getting on and off multiple times. At one point we all realized at the exact same time that there were no glow sticks anymore and hadn't been for a while. We turned around and quickly found the turn we had missed and the fallen glow stick that was ground into the dirt and near impossible to see.

Once we hit the open road, we moved out again. Gem was happy to be trotting once again and even asked to canter, but I wasn't having any of that. She knew exactly where she was and where this trail led and wanted to be back in camp NOW. She even charged ahead and led for a long while making quick work of the gravel road heading home.

Three miles from the finish I began to get some serious vertigo. The world began to spin as I sat in the dark, not being able to see anything but the glow of the white horse in front of me. The other two did not use glow sticks on their horses and while I did, they didn't help in any way. I began to drink more water hoping that would help. If we were trotting or cantering, I was fine, but walking or standing still to try to figure out where we were was bad.

And then there it was. The finish line. None of us wanted to race in. We knew we were towards the end by attrition of all the others being pulled and there was no need to get anyone hurt at mile 99. Once the white tent and bright lights of the finish came into view all my vertigo left. We had done it. We had gone 100 miles and Gem was still pulling my arms out and crossing the finish at a 9 mph trot.

Liz met me at the finish as planned. The finish is 1.2 miles away from vetting and you have 20 minutes to cover that distance. The original plan had been to hand walk Gem in, but after talking with my new friends they said that was a bad idea. It was better to continue riding at a trot/walk cycle to keep them fresh and loose than get off and allow them to tighten up. I took their advice and we trotted the last mile in.

With a mixture of pure joy and longing for my bed, I watched as Liz trotted Gem out for me one last time. After 100 miles and 23 hours of work (18+ hours for actual ride time, can't recall the exact time) Gem vetted in with a CRI of 48/48 and all As across the board with perfect gut sounds in all quadrants. The vet was amazed. Liz called her a freak and I fought back tears of joy.

I'm so proud of her vet card! 

Last vetting
Gem walked the final steps back to her pen and was set up with water, hay, grain and her red light weight blanket for the night. After she was settled I crawled into the tent and fought the nagging feeling that I was still trotting away down the trail until sleep overcame me.

All photos taken and collage made by Liz

May 4, 2016

Ready Or Not.... has come time to leave.

In general, I am really happy with everything I have done with Gem up to this point. I missed two rides that I had really wanted to get in: one for the funeral and then one when we walked the entire thing because of her attitude. If we don't finish, I'm not going to blame it on missing two rides. Two rides shouldn't make that big of an impact and if they do, then I didn't do a good job overall anyway.

The original plan was the leave Thursday after dropping Wyatt off at school and arrive in camp around 10:30 am. Then Sunday they posted that 280+ riders would be in attendance and I went into super stressed out mode texting back and forth with another friend who is going up to do the LD on Saturday.

Camp is beautiful and large enough to house that many rigs, but it is long and if you get stuck in the back field you won't make it back to your rig at the holds. Gem does way better back in her pen at holds than in a very busy and hectic crew area, so the plan is to head back if able. Able = less than 10 minute walk. I made the last minute decision to leave Wednesday morning instead and get to camp as it opened around 12. That is one benefit of being your own boss. You can do things like that.

I spent Sunday packing up the truck with all the camping gear and made note of the little things I still needed to get such as batteries. Tuesday night I went grocery shopping and packed all my camping and riding clothes which just leaves grabbing the food at home and then the grain and hay and horse at the barn.

I've also been obsessively watching the weather forecast which has stayed dry the entire time for the ride. At the end of last week the weather was looking just about as perfect as it could get at 70 degrees. By this morning it was looking more like 80 degrees and I am hoping it doesn't heat up beyond that. Either way it should be cooler than it has been leading up to the ride since it has been hovering in the upper 80s and low 90s with high humidity. The rain all week this week has helped to kick the pollen off the trees and lower humidity, both great things.

And so with that we are off.... I will see you all on the back side of this ride one way or another.

May 2, 2016

The NGs Come Off

Made really big so you can see Pete's face

Farrier was slated to come out Friday afternoon to replace all four shoes. It was earlier than normal, only about 5 weeks, but she needed all new ones for the ride coming up.

Friday was one of the hottest days all week, if not the hottest, coming in around 91 or so degrees. When I pulled in both horses were grazing near the drive entrance as I waved my hand out my window and yelled a hello to Gemmie. Both horses raced me to the gate and by the look on Pete's adorable face you can see what his thoughts on the temperature was.

I grabbed Gem and took her up to the jump field to get some hand jogging practice in. She used to be a real brat at dragging her feet and making herself look nearly lame, but we have worked on it quit a bit. I wanted to do a refresher and she did remarkably well. Farrier texted me backing me up an hour due to a really busy day, so I let her hand graze for a while and then took her into the barn. BO has told me in the past that I am free to use the stalls whenever I want and since they all have a personal fan, I put Gem in the large stall, threw a flake of hay in and turned the fan on. She stood in front of it and munched her hay. Pete was none too pleased being left out alone, so he got to come in too.

Pete living the high life

Farrier finally texted me that he was 5 minutes out and so I grabbed Gem and put her in the cross ties. Guys, she is looking so healthy and fit right now. A little extra pudge to get her through a ride, but otherwise sleek and happy. I didn't grab a picture of her, so you will just have to take my word for it.

He got to work prying off the NGs on her fronts. I asked if they were able to be reused and he said that typically they can be reset a second time with nails only depending on the amount of wear. Mine showed some wear, but still had a lot of life in them, but I wanted a new set.

When he pulled off the front left shoe and put it on the ground, my stomach dropped to the floor and my heart raced. It looked like he had ripped off half her frog with it and the stench was awful. I made a comment and he looked back over his shoulder and laughed at my expression.

Shoe on far left all cleaned up and ready for use straight nailed. Packing in the center which made me think half her foot came off. Not yet cleaned up shoe on the right. 

Apparently that was just the packing. Phew! I knew he had put packing in, but had visioned it just filling the hole and didn't realize it also sank into the frog and surrounding grooves. Heart attack averted. The stench he said is typical and doesn't change much if you use the copper packing although this time he did end up using that instead of plain packing. Not sure why beyond the fact that that was what he had readily on hand.

He cleaned the hoof up and it looked really good. The frog has even started to expand some which is what I want. Farrier says that he has never seen a frog not respond and expand in these shoes and that he loves them for that reason. In his opinion they are better than being barefoot for that one specific reason. I can tell you that in my N=1 experiment, her frogs have responded better to the NG than barefoot.

All cleaned up and looking really nice. 
He then pried off the front right and the hind steels and got to work in the extreme heat and humidity. The application of these shoes is a royal pain and I am really glad I don't have to do it myself. I don't mind paying him to do it one bit.

In the end he cleaned up her old NGs by removing the old side wall clips and any extra glue he found. He gave them to me to hold onto saying that if I run into trouble on the ride he can straight nail these ones on to save me money since they have so much life still in them.

I am really liking the shoes. A lot. I need to speak with him about straight nailing them and not using packing for when we aren't in race mode. He charges $260 for all 4 (front NGs, glued and nailed with packing and hot shod with steel on the back) and I can't afford to do that year round. No way. If he is willing to straight nail them and then re use the shoes then I should be able to afford to keep her in them. I can then have the extra security of the glue and packing for an actual race and eat the extra cost a few times a year versus every 6-8 weeks.