October 31, 2016

I Rode My Horse...And Had FUN!

Not a whole lot to say, mostly just a picture dump. A lady who wants to get into endurance had contacted me last summer to get together. She had a gelding at the time and we had planned to meet up when he dumped her and she broke her arm. After recovering, she sold the gelding and started looking for a new partner that was better suited for her. Enter her new Egyptian Arab mare, Cami. Our schedules never lined up until this past weekend when we hit the trails together on a gorgeous morning. We met at Croft and had a wonderfully relaxing ride. We completed the 12 mile loop in 1 hour 40 minutes and both girls were hot at the end. It was 50F at the start at 82F at the finish. Poor Gem has so much hair that she was sweating before we even began. Hopefully winter decides to show up soon.

Getting ready to go. Zoe and Cami were parked behind us and Gem was not aware that we would have company yet. She looks so excited to be out conditioning solo, doesn't she?

I walked her over to meet Cami and Zoe and she got down to business grazing on the drought stricken remains of grass. We haven't had any rain in over 2 months and are 9 inches down this year. 

Cami was very interested in the campground that was full of screaming youngsters. Not sure what was going on, but the kids sounded like they were having a lot of fun. Made me really appreciate how Gem just goes with the flow and rarely fusses about anything any more. Well, other than trees and branches along side the trail that is. 

Rare selfie with my Gemmie cakes. She wasn't very patient with the process

It was a gorgeous start to the ride. 50F and sunny. We were the only ones there to begin with.

Gem even led a little ways! Mostly though we followed along behind Zoe and Cami which Gem was more than happy to do. She did get a little racy and competitive along the double wide stretch where we usually gallop and flew past them. 

The trails were in perfect condition. We had some walk breaks since the Mareface was breathing super hard after some of the larger hills. I guess that is what happens when you don't all month long and she wears her winter coat on a 80F day.

Proof that we did actually lead a little :) 

Every single horse walks faster than Gem. I've never ridden with another who didn't power along while Gem Eyored her way behind them. 

The river still had some water in it, but it is seriously low. Hoping for a lot of rain this winter. 

Heading back to the trailers. It was a really great ride full of speed, laughter and fun. I would ride with Zoe again anytime.

A hot and sweaty Gemmie at the very end. Cami had barely broken a sweat, but she was born and raised in GA and has the thinnest little coat even without being clipped. My poor yak.

Zoe and I discussed some endurance plans for the upcoming season. I am hoping to hit up McCauley Farms in FL the end of March for two days of 50s. I've been trying to hit that ride for 3 seasons now, so fingers crossed it happens this year. Anyway...as long as things pan out over the winter we will be heading down there together so she can ride her first 50 with me on Friday and then hang around and volunteer on Saturday to learn as much as she can. I am really, really excited to find someone I can go to rides with who rides similar to me. Riding with someone else is so much more fun than doing it all alone.


October 24, 2016

Saturday Night Lights

Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) hosts events nearly non stop from spring-fall. It was recently made more public when they hosted the American Eventing Championships with mixed reviews. One event they hold regularly is their Saturday Night Lights Grand Prix Jumping Extravaganza. Ok..I added the extravaganza part, but it really is quite the spectacle.

This past Saturday I gathered up the girls and we headed up for the free event for a girl's night out. One I desperately needed. We all piled into Sheree's car for the 45 minute trip up and arrived around 6:15 pm. Technically the festivities started at 5 pm, but we were not very interested in seeing the acrobats or the flame swallowers perform. We did miss some horse presentation that sounded interesting, but food beckoned us and we by passed the arena for the food vendors.

Our hope was to get some food from the old fashioned diner to take to our seats, but they informed us that they do not allow carry out during the Saturday events. Smart move for them, but bad for us. The wait for a table was 45 minutes. Instead we wandered around and each got what they wanted before meeting back at the main arena. I ended up with a delicious chicken salad wrap and veggie soup. No food pictures because they gross me out.

It was almost 7 pm and time for the jumping to begin when we found some seats and settled in. The night was blistery - 50 and windy and we hunkered down to watch the 40 competitors in the 5* event.

The jumps looked huge to me. They were 1.6 m (so just shy of 5 ft?) and the course was tight. Sorry, folks. Beyond that I have no other observations. I know next to nothing about the sport of show jumping.

There were things I noted that caught my attention:

1) Even though these horses were massive and putting in a huge effort, the specialty footing dampened all sound. You couldn't hear a single hoof beat and we were only 3 rows back.

2) The most common color of show coat was grey. My favorite though was a super dark navy with orange stitching up the back and sides. One rider rode in hunter green and while both her coat and the ear bonnet were very pretty they were not the same hunter green and it looked really off. My take home point: either match the color exactly or use something very different.

3) Ponytails were a flapping in the breeze. I've never seen a horse show where the ladies came out with hair in a pony tail that fluttered down their back. I suppose it is a safety thing with helmet fit and all, but it looked really distracting and not at all show like.

Crappy cell phone pic, but look at that pony tail just flapping around

4) Of the 40 horses who were in the original round then the 5 that returned for the jump off, not a single horse pooped in the arena. So that may be an odd observation, but seriously? Do they train these horses that they aren't allowed to poop during the competition? Someone suggested it was because it was a high stress situation, but when Gem gets stressed you can hear her farting and pooping from two counties over.

We all chatted and laughed through the first half of the competitors noting that while most were from the US, there were representatives from Ireland, Brazil, Germany and Canada as well. I actually noted two names that I recognized: McClain Ward and Jessica Springstein.

Jessica had a lovely stallion and rode clear, but McClain was unfortunate and had a rail down early on. In fact all but 5 had rails down and it was a pretty exciting course to watch. No falls, nobody hurt. There were a few crashes, but all in all the horses looked great and were happy to do their job.

After 20 horses went out, they called an intermission. That surprised me. Then I was even more surprised when the horse equivalent of zambonis came out to drag the arena that looked like nobody had even ridden on it. To keep the spectators happy, they held a concert. Lee Greenwood of country music fame came out and performed a few songs. I think he had also sung before we got there, but I am not certain. Then to make my jaw drop completely, they had people run out and do a t shirt toss like at a ball game.

Dragging the arena

Lee Greenwood
It was all a bit odd. I mean, it felt more like a hockey game instead of a $380,000 purse jumping show. I wonder what the competitors thought about it all or maybe this is common??

The remaining 20 horses then finished up the first round and only 5 total were clear. The rails were dropping like crazy Saturday night.

Jessica went first on her lovely horse and was clear and fast. The biggest take away I had from the jump off was how much fun those horses were having. The same horses who lumbered around the first course looking from a spectators point of view like they were barely even moving (although I know they were booking it) were now let loose to fly around the shortened course as if they had wings (or maybe they just really needed to poop and knew it was almost time that they could). After the final jump, those horses were noticeably proud of themselves. They arched their necks, let out more than a few happy bucks and pranced. It really was a sight to see and made me really happy to see how full of themselves these horses were having just completed this course.

The next 3 all had rails down and then the last rider came out and stole the show with a very fast and clear round.

It was a great experience. Like I said, I'm not a competitor so I have no clue how they feel about all the non horse hoopla attached to the show, but as a spectator it was a lot of fun. Up close and personal, we could all see the smiles or looks of frustration on the rider's faces as the cruised around. I would definitely go back to another one of these events and enjoy the night under the lights with some good friends.

October 17, 2016

Feeling the Blahs

This post today was supposed to be about having fun at the Tryon hunter Pace with a new friend. Instead I had a vomiting child and a migraine on the way and didn't go.  Truth be told though, I wasn't really looking forward to it at all. Nothing against my new friend. We have been trying to get our schedules lined up to ride together since last winter and I was looking forward to riding with her.

It is just that I have lost most of my interest in riding at all right now. Which is odd because typically fall is my favorite riding season: warm, sapphire blue skies, and dry. And I adore the paces.

So what's with the reluctance to tack up and ride?

I thought a lot about it this weekend as I bailed on even going to the barn at all and stayed home with my little man then went to a pumpkin patch. I think I finally figured it out. I'm disappointed and a little disheartened right now.

You see, the R&T was a crap ton of fun except not really. The first half was a blast. I felt great running and Gem was forward, happy and sane. Then the second half happened and every time I was on my horse all I wanted was to get back off and run instead. She was being a lunatic and it was not fun. I asked Theresa at one point if Gem was being a spooky asshat for her or if it was just me and she informed me that Gem was in fact acting the same way for her. Good to know it wasn't just me.

I guess I was just excepting something else. She didn't spook one single time during the 18+ hours I rode her in May. Not. One. Time. Not a shy, not a look, not a turn. Nothing. She was forward. She was game on. She was great. We rode alone for the entire middle part and she was a lot of fun.

So I suppose I was just expecting that instead of the ride I got. There are any number of reasons Gem was being so gosh darn awful: she was mad at the start and stop ride, she knew there wasn't another horse anywhere near us, she was angry that she didn't get her typical 50 minute break at the half way spot, she was thirsty and had no water available. I don't know if it was all, any or none of those things, but I do know that she hadn't been that awful to ride in a very long time.

It got me thinking about where we came from and where I'd like to be now and head to in the future. The very first time I rode Gem solo at Clemson was January 2014. I wanted to ride for an hour, so I rode out 30 minutes then turned back around and came back. How far did we make it? Care to guess??

I shit you not: 1.5 miles. In 1 hour of riding.

So yes, we have came a very long way from that first solo trail ride to where we are today. Its just that I've been privy to the good rides. The times when she is having fun, is game on and moving well. My tolerance for the crap she pulls - dirty stops, spins, ducking her shoulder - has diminished and after such a ride I have very little motivation to take the time away from my family to deal with it.

Part of me thinks it would be a good idea to find someone to part lease her on site. Get her more exercise and more rides for the times when I just can't get out to ride her. That way she is in more consistent conditioning/training.  But then I don't know who on earth would a) want to ride her and b) would be able to ride her the way she needs to be ridden to not undo all the hard work I've put in to get her to where she is today. She may be thick headed and stubborn, but she is sensitive and holds a grudge like none other. One misstep can undo a lot of effort.

Anyway....I'll go out and ride again some time. Maybe this weekend or the next. I'd like to return to some dressage lessons and focus on that through the winter and see if things don't improve next spring. My next endurance plans aren't until April when I'd like to finally make it to McCauley Farms for a multi day ride of two 50s and we have plenty of time to get our legs back under us before then. If I can convince Theresa to partner up again int he spring, I'd love to make some more R&T rides as well.

Until then Gem can enjoy being fat and healthy in her pasture as I take some deep breaths and garner up the motivation to hop on board the freight train again.

October 13, 2016

More About Me

Since I have no horse content to write about, I figured I would jump on the random facts blogger bandwagon. Life is chugging along nicely here: fall has decided to show up and temperatures are now in the upper 70s/low 80s with cool nights. Still no rain and everything is gross and dry. Wyatt blew out his ear drum Tuesday and we had to take a trip to urgent care for antibiotics. We are now beginning chiropractic care on him and hope it avoids a third set of tubes. Dusty and I are at a stalemate over the adoption of a kitten he has at the clinic. I will win eventually, it is just taking some time.

But on to the random facts....

Closed canoe slalom racing was my thing all through high school and college. In fact, I even made it to Nationals two years in a row, winning it the second time. I believe it was 1999, but may have been 2000. Women's closed canoe (C1W) racing is not an Olympic sport, but the mens is, so growing up in the sport there were not a lot of women entering. Most went into kayaking as that was an olympic sport. There were 4 of us who ended up at the same races, myself and a friend from my school a year ahead of me, and two older women from elsewhere. We all became friends and enjoyed seeing each other. Races were held every August-November and then again March-May. Our local slalom club, Slimy Pebble Whitewater Team, still hosts a race every August in Ohiopyle, PA.

One of the guys in closed canoe racing (C1) doing the circuit along with us was a little boy about 7ish years old. He was a cute blonde haired little boy named Casey filled with big dreams. He may have been a little younger than that even, but anyway he kicked my butt all the time (thankfully he was in the men's division!). And now? Casey represented the US at Rio in the Olympics in both C1 and C2. He has grown to be a handsome man and is a great competitor. 

That is me in my boat Fugly. National Championships in Southbend, IN. Somewhere between 1998 and 2000. Everything I had for racing was purple. I had wanted blue, but my friend already had all blue. 

Life Time Activities was my high school savior. This goes along with the last one. LTA was an outdoor group at school from 9th-12th grade. I joined in 9th grade with a friend who agreed to do so if I joined track with her. She quit both after the first year while I kept with both the entire 4. My high school years were spent hiking, canoeing, camping and caving. I was filthy dirty 90% of the time and made memories that will last until the day I die. I am still in touch with nearly everyone from the group and even though we all scattered, when we do get together every few years it is like we never parted. This group created SPWT and is how I got into slalom racing. 

Rome, Italy was my home for 5 months. I paid my way through college. Living at home and commuting allowed me to have fewer loans and my parents helped buy books, paid my car insurance and kept me fed. Basically I took out the loans for tuition and they helped with the rest. My school offered a new program for my spring semester junior year (would have been 2003) where I could go to Rome and only add the cost of room and board. No change in tuition. I signed up immediately. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane heading to Italy all by myself without knowing another soul. I could spend an entire post on this chapter in my life, so I think I will end this now. 

I've been to Italy, the isle of Capri, Ireland, Wales, Great Britain, France and Canada. My favorite was Wales and I would love to return one day. In Italy, my favorite was Pompeii. 

I studied Latin for 4 years and was horrible at it. Language is not my forte. I got As because I was good at memorizing and regurgitating, but it never sunk in. We used a series of books that followed a family living in Pompeii, who all then died in 12th grade when Mount Vesuvius erupted,  which made it really interesting. I was very excited to get to go to Pompeii in college. 

Physics is my arch nemesis. Undergrad required two semesters of physics for my Biology degree. I took physics for medical professions which was basically Physics 101 except all related to IV poles and such. I got an A (see above about memorizing and regurgitating). I then took physics 101 as my second semester. When I decided to go to podiatry school, I needed another semester so I took an online physics 101 which was accepted. So that is taking the same class 3 times at college level plus I took physics in 12th grade. All As across the board. And to this day I could not tell you one single thing about physics, how it works or why. My brain doesn't function like that apparently. 

Spring is my favorite time of the year. There is something about the regeneration of the earth, the warm breezes promising to make life a little easier again, the bright neon green of new grass and leaves, and the budding flowers that suddenly erupt over night that just get me to day dreaming and moving with a peppier spring in my step. Spring down here is absolutely gorgeous. Up north, fall was my favorite since spring tended to bring slushy rain and cold weather persisted until summer began. Fall is very nice here, but it is more of a cooling off and reprieve from the oppressive heat of summer with the threat of earlier nights and colder weather that winter brings. 

Beautiful blooming tree hated by almost everyone down here. They say it smells like semen. Not sure how everyone knows what that smells like... 

Reading is one of my favorite things to do. As far back as I can remember, I have always had a book in my hands. I spent my mornings and afternoons on the school bus reading. When I would arrive to a class early in college, I would bury my nose in a book. Currently, I am attempting to read through the list of the 100 best novels of the century and have a good chunk completed. Atlas Shrugged is one of my all time favorites followed by War and Peace. Lighter fare includes the Disc World series. My favorite genre is Historical Fiction though. 

I am not meant to own anything by Edgar Allan Poe. Twice in my life, I was lucky enough to stumble upon an antique collection of all the short stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. The first book was a massive single volume containing them all. I had it in undergrad and distinctly remember taking it with me to an early morning class. I never saw it again and must have left it behind when class was over. I asked the teacher and checked lost and found, but it was never seen again. The second time a wonderful first edition series of 10 smaller volumes was found hidden in a local antique book store. I was married by this time and snatched them up greedily. They had a revered spot on my bookcase and all was good until we moved to OH and acquired Bone. Having never had a large dog before, I wasn't aware of the reach they had. Plus Hero was an angle of a puppy and had never chewed up a single article that wasn't a toy. Anyway...one day I returned from class and found Bones laying among the torn remains of my lovely, apparently highly appetizing volumes of Edgar Allen Poe. 

From the internet. Mr. Poe himself. 

I hated the color red until Gem came along. This may actually surprise many of you since currently I am all things red. I never owned anything red growing up and refused to wear the color until 2009. I was shopping for tack the week I purchased Gem and found a red and black trail saddle pad that I liked. That basically spurred the rest of the collection and now half my wardrobe is red. 

Dual citizen Italian and US. My brother holds both and all it would take is getting some paperwork around and a trip to the local consulate and I would be the proud holder of my own Italian passport/citizenship.  How? My great grandfather came to the US from Italy and never became a US citizen. My grandfather was born on US soil and was therefor granted US citizenship, but still held his Italian. It carries on down the line from there. Not all countries allow you to hold dual citizenship, but thankfully Italy is one of them. I believe I will someday get my Italian citizenship recognized mainly because then Wyatt could which would mean he would have the ability to get free college education in the European Union. 

 Cheese. It is the one item of food that I could not do away with. It is featured in nearly every meal from adding it to hash browns or eggs in the morning to piling it on salads and sandwiches for lunch to grabbing a stick for snack to the many casseroles we double the volume in for dinner. 

I used to do Origami daily until my mom ruined it. I don't recall who did it, perhaps it was my brother or maybe myself, but someone got my mom a daily desk calendar that featured a new origami figure and some paper each day. I was in undergrad and living at home and each afternoon I would come home and my mom, dad and I would sit down at the kitchen table and try our best to make the figure. Some were super easy and fun and others were hard and frustrating. My mom is incredibly competitive and would make us line them up for judging on who "won". Mostly, she just liked to point out our flaws and laugh. It was a great time and good memories. 

I love art. I was fortunate to go to a large school where the arts were available at all times. Art was mandatory through 8th grade and then became an elective. I took art every chance I got and classes included: drawing, painting, sculpture, metal art works, and jewelry in high school. In undergrad I snuck in one art class and adored it. Currently, I am loving doing the zentangle challenges online in my bullet journal.

Zentangles for September
October. I've skipped a few that needed more concentration and will go back to do those later. 

While I don't wear any make up, ever, I do love to play with my hair. Not in a braid type of way because the only thing I can actually do is either down, half up or all the way up. I can't do a bun or french braid. Someday I should learn. But....I love to cut it, dye it and go straight or curly. It grows back. You can almost always cover up a bad dye job. Things I have done:

Super short, natural dark brown color

Super short from the front

Medium length straight

Medium length curly with red highlights

Full on blonde! I actually liked it until the roots grew in looking black and I knew I couldn't keep up with it

Slowly darkening the blonde, longer, straight

Completely natural. Curly and dark brown
Current. Ombre natural brown to blonde (though the poor lighting in my bathroom makes it hard to tell) and curly. Just about as long as it has ever been. 
You have never lived until you have gone frozen turkey bowling. Frozen lake. Bowling lane marked out. Bowling pins at the end. 5 lb frozen turkey. Nothing more needs said. 

One of my favorite days in WI

Well....that is only 16, but I believe that is enough. The remaining 9 will have to wait until some other time. 

October 6, 2016

R&T: What Worked and What Didn't

For ease of reading, I am going to break this into categories and then just use bullets. Not a whole lot to discuss, but I love recapping for future reference.

~ All tack worked well except the new ThinLine pad. They changed the ThinLine material on either side of the spine and it is more slick than prior. Her saddle kept creeping forward which was never an issue with the old pad. Sigh. Time to shop.

~ Conditioning could have been better, but she did just fine with mostly As and great recoveries.

~ Electrolytes. This was my biggest issue and I still am not sure what I should have done differently. She got her 1:1 mix of table salt and lite salt the day before and drank well. I didn't dose her with electrolytes in the morning before the race because it was cold and I knew there was little water out on trail. With a 15 mile first loop, she wouldn't really be wanting to drink until we reached camp anyway. She was perfectly fine the first loop with no issues.  She sweated heavily though, so I did dose her with her typical Perfect Balance syringe electrolytes at the half way mark as soon as we were done vetting. She had access to soaked alfalfa, fresh water, sponge water (salty) and her mash. She ate all her mash and drank her fresh water. We only sat for 10 minutes at the hold and then moved out again. After about 2 miles I knew she was thirsty. She was hunting water like crazy and would try to suck at the smallest of puddles left in the streams. I felt really, really bad for her. Gem takes excellent care of herself out on trail and if she was water hunting, she was very thirsty. They don't put much water out on this ride and the first water spot was about 10 miles into the 15 mile loop. She drank heavily.

In the end she still came through with great scores and recoveries, but she was more tired than I would expect the effort to produce. I think it was because she was so darn thirsty. I don't electrolyte on trail because I've always been of the mind that you don't electrolyte when water isn't available. Should I have not given her any at the half way mark when she didn't have the usual time to drink and stock up? I worried that if I didn't give her any she would have issues given how much she had sweated. I still don't know what I should have done and thankfully, to her than a cranky and thirsty mare, nothing untoward happened.
~ Steel shoes x 4. There were many times during the ride that I was happy to have shod her all around. Almost the entire blue loop was on a gravel access road and a lot of the good moving out spots on green were too. I would have had to slow her way down on those had she been barefoot.  I have yet another new farrier and she did amazing work, so hopefully we can finally settle on someone.

~ Tie rope. I copied Mel's (from Boots and Saddles for Mel), how to make a tie rope and I think it worked out pretty well. It was a bit time consuming to unclip it from both sides of her saddle then clip it to her, wrap around the tree and clip to itself, then deal with her reins and leave the helmet behind. Of course, then it had to be done backwards to get back on. I think I would prefer a rope halter with the one end always attached which would save a lot of effort, but still use the tie rope.

~ I could have used a lot more conditioning, but I knew I was lacking going in and I am very proud of the 10 miles I did manage to run. I only had so much time and had to split that between Gem and myself.

~ Shoes: I started in my Brooks Glycerines that I use for riding and they felt ok. I could feel every rock and root though and my feet were hurting, so at the half way point I changed into my Asics that I run in. They weren't much better, but just the change in shoes was great. If I do any more of these, I will be getting the trail shoes version.

~ Hydration. The Camelbak 2L lumbar pack got a new bladder since it leaked at Biltmore. Dusty had gotten me a vest that has two bottles, but I worried that I would need more water. I drank about 1 L per loop, so I could have gone with the bottles. And I should have because the Camelbak rubbed me absolutely raw on my lower back. There is a zipper there where the bladder goes in and while it has never been an issue riding, the motion of running created bleeding and abrasions.

~ Nutrition. Yeah...there was none. I'm not sure why I decided to go without anything at all, but I did and it was stupid. The Gu was a life saver during the second loop. I will never leave home without i tin the future. I also tried Theresa's Tailwind and may use that as well for future adventures.

~ Riding tights. I've never been able to ride in shorts. My legs don't like it. I wore my much adored Irideon Issential tights and didn't even know I had them on when running. I didn't overheat and I didn't rub anywhere.

~ I'd partner up with Theresa any time!! She was a rock star. She never complained or said anything negative the entire time, was amenable to pretty much anything and was just a general pleasure to share the trail with.

In fact, much to her dismay, I am trying to convince her to head up to Fort Valley at the end of the month with me. She needs to get a 50 in this season towards her decade and I am doing my best to convince her that the absolute best plan would be for her to ride the 50 Friday and then R&T with me Saturday :)

~ Theresa wanted to do 1 mile intervals to avoid having so many transitions, but I think those were much too long. We were the last to tie off at the beginning. Most horses were stashed between 1/2-3/4 of a mile out and while we hung on for the first 2-3 miles, we were then left in their dust. Shorter intervals allows you to run harder, catch the horse quicker and therefor catch the runner quicker once you get back on. I think I would shoot for no more than 3/4 mile intervals in the future.

I had an absolute blast at this ride. Ride camp atmosphere is the best of any horse related sport I have ever been to. Everyone is helpful, friendly and it feels much more like an ultra event than a horse one. I could easily see myself switching to R&T more and endurance less and less in the future.

October 2, 2016

East Coast Ride and Tie Championship: Long (30 mile) Course

Saturday morning dawned cold and foggy. It was beautifully perfect weather for what was about to start. Theresa and I sat around her camp table eating donuts and bagels trying to stay as warm as possible as the sun decided if it was going to rise while we tried to figure out a way to finish by 2 pm to avoid getting ourselves or Gem shot by a kid with a high powered rifle.

(All photos used with purchase and credit to Becky Pearman unless otherwise stated)

How on earth did we get to this point?

Let me back up several months to where it all began with a barely thought out hair brained idea.

Sometime in mid May I caught wind that the East Coast (EC) Ride and Tie (R&T) Championship was coming to Biltmore. The shiny belt buckle for completing the long course haunted my dreams. I wanted it. No, the raccoon in me needed it. But who would be stupid enough to partner with someone who could barely run? Dusty was the obvious choice: he could easily run the whole thing without me, but we didn't have anyone to watch Wyatt for us. Who else?

Then it hit me: Theresa. She is an accomplished trail runner, an endurance rider and just about the nicest person I have ever had the pleasure to meet. The shiny buckle captured her heart as well and she agreed to my insane plan of tackling the 30 mile course.

Time continued on and between the summer heat and Wyatt's therapy schedule I quickly realized that I could either get Gem or myself fit. I didn't have the time to do both.

The summer was mostly spent on myself: Gem sat getting fat and lazy while I put in two nights a week running on the treadmill and one day out in the neighborhood. When August hit I realized I was screwed. Gem hadn't been ridden much at all and I was still topping out at around 3.5-4 miles on my long runs. How was I possibly going to get us both through the 30?

I switched tactics and got two 15 mile rides on Gem (a third attempt was thwarted) and then plum ran out of time. She was as ready as I could get her.

In between all of this, the EC R&T changed venues to my beloved Clemson trails due to a double booked event at Biltmore.  Then the final blow hit: Clemson had also double booked the forest for that same day. Along with our R&T would be a high powered youth rifle hunt. The only day out of the entire year rifles are allowed in the forest and we would all be running and leaving our horses tied to the trees during it.

The RM spoke with the event coordinator and was told they would be taking a safety class in the morning then head out to hunt around 2 pm. She suggested we wear orange and get off the trails by 2. Since the ride started at 7:30 am, that gave us a ride time of 6 1/2 hours.  I had planned on a ride time of closer to 8 hours. Ah...crap.

New ride shirts were offered at an additional fee at the last second. They were perfect!! (Pic by me)
And that is how I found myself up before dawn on a cold morning, eating powdered donuts trying not to think about all the hilly, twisting miles that stood before me and a belt buckle.

 Both of us fatter than I'd like, but still a lovely shot during the vetting. Of note, the head vet came in from CA for this event.

Beautiful head shot captured during vetting on Friday. 
The morning was glorious though and thankfully the weather cooled off for us, so we didn't have to battle heat and distance and terrain all in one go. I knew Gem was under prepared, but could handle it specially since she would be getting breaks along the way. Theresa and I discussed strategy: she wanted 1 mile stretches to avoid tying as much. Honestly, I was just hoping to complete and was thrilled she was game to do this with how under prepared I was for running it. I mean, I did put in 9 miles a week, but it was 6 miles on a treadmill and 3 out in the hills in my neighborhood. Not really great prep for 15 miles of hills and roots. I told her I would go along with whatever she wanted.

Theresa trying out Gem on the way from the barn to start. Sporting her nifty pajamas to boot. 

Ride start. You will notice me hiding off the left trying not to die. 

Being super tense and leaning way forward helps in this case. Will I ever learn??
She started out on foot  as we careened down the hill and over the bridge to enter the red trail and begin our adventure. Gem was in a mood. She was on fire and not listening one bit. The first mile couldn't end fast enough. All I wanted was to get off her and run away, leaving her tied to regain some brain cell function until Theresa found her.

The first tie took me way too long. I couldn't find a tree I liked and when I finally did, I took forever to do it so that by the time I was running off, Theresa was in sight behind me. It took her about 1/2 mile to catch me and I called to her "see you in 1/2 mile!!" as they passed. Gem was staring me down and I swear she tried to run me over as she cantered on by.

My legs felt fantastic and I immediately fell in love with trail running. I went up, over and around everything spreading my arms out like an airplane as I made the turns. I was also grinning from ear to ear like a fool.

A half a mile later, I saw Gem tied to a tree looking for me. I said hello, asked her if she was listening any better now and hopped on. The answer: not really. She charged ahead in a barely controlled canter and we chased Theresa and the other horses down. There were 12 in the 30 and we were the last to tie (more on strategy and what did and didn't work in a later post) so she saw lots of horses passing her.

Always a beautiful site!! Photo by me. 
I caught up to Theresa in about 1/2 a mile or so and she wanted to go another mile, so I rode on and tied Gemmie. It took about half the previous time and soon I took off running. I was enjoying the feel of my legs moving me down the trail on a brisk morning in my favorite deep woods.

Theresa caught running
Finally having fun on Gem!

 We kept that up for the entire first 15 miles. We would exchange in mile increments as we went along although by the time we hit mile 4 or so we were left in everyone's dust. Gem settled down by the second time I mounted her and was more enjoyable from about mile 4 onwards. I don't think she will ever make the start of a ride easy for me, but it is getting quicker and quicker each outing.

Gem also caught back on to the game by the second time I tied her (third time tied for the day total). She would stand looking back for her runner, albeit impatiently and with some pawing, and then once mounted up she would turn her ears forward and charge hunting her runner down. She was ceaseless in her obsession at finding her runner and once spotted, she locked on and went full blown. After she caught up, she would slowly pass and then I swear she started looking into the trees. She knew she would be getting tied shortly. I was amazed at how she loved the game and how seriously she took. It made my heart sing.

Things were going really well until we made the turn from the red trail to blue at around mile 6 or so. It was a sharp right hand turn and there was a downed tree right afterward. Gem decided she didn't have to actually pick her feet up at all and just crashed over it face planting and sending me flying on the other side. Thankfully I landed on my feet and just got back on telling her to start paying attention. She had been so focused looking through the trees for Theresa, that she hadn't even noticed the log.

I was almost always smiling when on my own two feet

From there it was back to game on. We chased down Theresa, passed, tied and ran off. Eventually she would came hauling up behind me full bore and then pass to repeat again. It typically took them about 1/2-3/4 of a mile to catch me when I was on my feet and I would have them go about another 1/2 mile. At this point we were pretty close to running and riding 50:50. (Both photos below by me)

The trail looks so different when you are on your feet
Where is my horse?? Has it been a mile yet? No! Argh!

Blue isn't my favorite trail. It cuts through some recent logging sections and is hard to follow and pretty bare of shade. I was really glad we ran it in the morning. We hit the most exposed section around 9:30 am. I was on Gem at that point and was chasing Theresa down. I saw her zig zagging down the trail ahead of me and Gem locked on. We made a turn and she was out of sight. I figured the trail had just went around some more turns, but as we went I kept not seeing her. How fast could she be going?? We were putting in 10 mph miles at this point. Seriously, how fast could she go??

Just as I was cresting a hill and contemplating calling her on my phone I heard her scram my name from behind me. Huh?? Apparently she had stopped to pee and missed a turn. I hopped off and held Gem while she caught up and then took off running telling her I would see her in 1 mile.

Around that same time, I crashed.

Pretty sure I was about to die here. No longer having fun on my feet and was wishing Gem was closer. Photo: me
 I hadn't thought to pack any food or electrolytes with me. I never do on rides and while I had my 2L camelbak that was only filled with water and my body was screaming for more. I needed fuel. I needed elytes. And I had none. Not smart. Not smart at all.

We still had roughly 6-7 miles left, of which I would be running at least 3 and I was spent. I had already run 4 or 5 tough miles keeping up my hopeful sub 10 minute mile pace and my legs felt it. I didn't want to let Theresa down though, so I grabbed one of Gem's carrots from my pack and ate it while keeping my forward momentum as much as possible.

Not the most recommended trail food, but it worked in a pinch.  Photo: me

Eventually we came near the half way check. There is no mandatory hold for a R&T. It is just a gate and go where the runner and rider have to switch. Theresa and I agreed it would be best to have her ride in, so I could get Gem vetted and both of us fed allowing her to cover some miles slowly until we caught up to her.

Gem vetted in with her tack on (strange for me because I have always taken it off) and had a pulse of 52, all As and was allowed to continue. Dusty and Wyatt met us there and he held her while I shoveled food into my mouth. He yelled at me for not taking anything out on trail as he shoved stuff in my pack for later. 10 minutes later I headed out to find Theresa.

Gem was pissed. Thoroughly, completely and utterly the most pissed off I have ever seen her.

She had been gipped of her break and she knew it. At all prior events she would get a 40 minute (except at the end of the 100 but by then I think she didn't really care so much) break to nap, lazily eat and relax. She got 10 minutes and was back on the trail. She was not a happy camper.

She declared that she would then take her stolen break time out on trail and refused to move above a crawl for the first two miles. She crawled along at a 1.5-2 mph pace and anytime I did snap her into a trot she would spook so horrifically at absolutely nothing that I feared a second fall on tired legs. So I walked and worried about how far away Theresa was getting.

After the second mile, she snapped out of it and started to move again. I was relieved and annoyed at the same time. We did eventually catch up to Theresa, but it took us close to 5 miles to do it.

The second loop was my all time favorite of any trail I have ever ridden. Green rides out around Lake Hartwell with beautiful views and trails technical enough to be fun, but easy enough to fly over. I also ate a Gu at mile 18 and within 15 minutes had a second wind I didn't know was in there.

Gem began to use her tied periods to rest in the second half. I caught her full blown, eyes closed napping at one spot.  Photo: me
Gem continued her annoying spooky behavior throwing in some majorly impressive stops and turns for both Theresa and me. Theresa has a very spooky gelding (he is blind in one eye and has a good excuse), so she was used it riding a ping pong ball, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable. I missed my happy horse from the first loop.

Nothing super special happened the second loop. My legs were shot. I had to walk all the up hills, but forced myself to run the flats and downs at a more than slogging pace. I kept up sub 10 minute paces for the sections I ran, but was crawling up any incline. On a trail that is only ever up or down, that doesn't make for much running.

Curse words were exploding in my head as I approached this climb on foot. We were at mile 20ish with 10 more to go at this point and my legs just refused to run up anything. The mile marker where Theresa would ditch Gem was still 1/2 mile away as I began to trudge up the hill. Photo: me
Theresa on the other hand looked as fresh as when we began. I guess that's what conditioning does for you. I was so glad to have a partner who not only could, but didn't mind picking up my slack. I think she ran all but 4 miles of the entire second 15 mile loop.

But no!! My partner LOVED me!!! There was Gem waiting at the top and I still had 1/4 mile left to go before the true 1 mile mark for the switch. I nearly cried when I saw her. Of course I had to make it up the blasted hill still, but seeing your horse waiting for you takes the lead off your feet.  Photo: me
Soon enough, we came upon the 1 mile to camp mark. We had wanted to cross together, but I was on Gem and she was starting to fade. Gem was tired. More tired than I had ever felt her and also more tired than I thought the effort demanded (more on that later), and I really just wanted to get her to camp and vetted in. Theresa was ok with that and I took off with Gem who knew exactly where we were.

One final time past the photographer 
Running strong. I love her running form and need to learn this from her
Gem and I charged up the 30% grade hill to the finish at a canter and I hopped off immediately. Dusty helped me strip tack, sponge and then 2 minutes after crossing we headed to the vet. She pulsed at 44. Tired mare really wasn't all that tired. She was just pissed off and holding a grudge.

Heading to the final vetting. Theresa is still perky, but I feel ready for a nap
She vetted in great with a B in gut and anal tone, but all As elsewhere, nearly dragged me down the trotting lane and then earned my favorite comment ever from a vet at a check:

Dr. Nathan Hoyt was vetting and he is one of my favorite ride vets. He has a sense of humor, wants people to succeed but cares about the horse too. He went to do her CRI and just laughed saying "CRI...fine"

The scribe, RM and I all said in unison "Fine? Is that an official vet criteria?" and then laughed.

His response???

"When you trot your horse down and back after a 30 mile effort and you hear luuub......duuub.....luuuub......duuuub....you don't have to go all heroic to count it. If you want a number, say 40."

Vet card. I wasn't worried about the two Bs. There was little water on trail and no good grazing. Without the regular hold to stock up, she didn't have time to really fill her tank. Photo: me
So basically after 30 miles, being extremely under prepared with only two 15 mile rides period over the course of 4 months, with a hairy winter coat and highs in the mid 80s, Gemmie's end CRI was only 4 beats over her resting at vetting in.

What is the saying?? You need three things to make a good endurance horse: brains, legs and metabollics. Good luck getting all three at the same time.

Well, she has metabollics to spare and great legs, but she is for sure is missing out on the brains. She is extremely intelligent, but is annoyingly spooky and a little mean deep down inside.


I was extremely proud of my team of 3. Gem did well as usual. Theresa was a rock star and earned her MVP for the team. Without her, I would have been toast and I know it. I made it through somewhere between 10 and 13 miles and 2,538 miles of up and another 2, 538 miles of down over the 30 miles on my own two feet which is no joke when all your training was on a flat treadmill
and maxed out at 4 miles.

Pissed off Gemmie. Seriously, she was cranky the entire second loop. Wonderful shot of Theresa and me though.  I may print and frame this one. 
We finished in around 6 1/2 hours and were out of the woods before the rifles started going off all around us. We got turtle and a belt buckle. It was the single most demanding thing I have ever done, both mentally and physically and I still can't believe we did it.

Photobombed by the cutest little man ever.  Photo: me

Looking good after 30 miles and 6 1/2 hours without a real rest Photo me
And what all did we come home with?? Well, we got the following:

Ride shirt, mug for completing, RW 20% off coupon for entering and the turtle award! The RM came over to give us our loot because we needed to head out before the 6:30 pm dinner and awards to get back home. Theresa noted the lack of buckle and ran over to get it. She had not just suffered through 30 miles for no buckle!! Photo me

And then there it was....

This made every mile, every hill, every last second worth it. Photo: me