Ofcourse, in the wake of the Tevis completion, this little ride story pales in comparison, but for those of you that have been most patient and waiting to hear how the ride went here goes.
To begin with, Maggie and I both had some first-evers with this ride, some of which was bittersweet for me, as I had hoped to have my first AERC sanctioned ride completion atop of JB. But I rode the horse I had and she has impressed me. This was Maggie's first ever limited distance, first exposure to an endurance ride period and the first time we have ever ridden this far.
I am still bubbling with the excitement and the sweet feeling of accomplishing a long sought after goal. I had a lot of reservations about riding Maggie in this ride, given the distance. I felt she was prepared for a 25 , but when the ride changed to a 35, I just wasn’t sure. Simply put, we had not had the time to condition for a 35 miler. Another strike against us was that we had not had the opportunity to condition in any sort of heat. Our spring has been rainy and cold. The weather for the weekend of the ride was predicted to be in the 80’s, some of the first heat we've really seen. I decided, after much consideration, that we would try for it and take it mile by mile. I knew I could easily get her through the first 16.5 miles. If worse came to worse , I could rider option at the halfway point.
We set out at 7:00 a.m. My first goal was to avoid the “pack” and keep her mind with me instead of getting race brain. At 6:35 I walked her away from camp and Cassidy, Toms gelding and her half brother. After about 10 minutes of hand walking and letting her look around , I managed to climb on. My calm mare was suddenly kidnapped, only to be replaced by a horse I barely recognized. She was calling out, filled with nervous tension at all the activity, and although I had nothing to do with it, (sorry to say) displayed some beautiful piaffe steps. At one point, she lapsed into full mare temper tantrum mode when she insisted on wanting to turn around and go back down below to her safe haven (camp). When I insisted she stay with me, she let out a couple of healthy bucks. I managed to shut things down before it got too out of control but it seemed that the stage was set for a rough start.
I let the pack head out and found a spot not quite last, but about 4th from last and with plenty of room for ourselves. Maggie settled in a bit and started to relax. We managed to walk quietly along the creek and made our way to the cattle path through a wooded area without any difficulties. The start had to be a controlled start because we had to also weave our way through a bunch of cattle corrals and a section of the ranch yard before heading out across 2 miles of hay field. Things were going along nicely.
As we approached the end of the wooded area and about to embark across the cattle pens, I could hear the heavy breathing of a horse coming up quickly behind me. I glanced over my left shoulder to see a rider approaching on my left. He proceeded to slide in next to me, even though the trail was really only set up to handle single file. He was crowding me and Maggie and she was not happy with it. I politely asked him to give us a bit more room as my mare may kick( not really but it was a good excuse to get him to BACK OFF!) He backed off some, but continued talking , sharing that he was on a green horse and this was only her 2nd LD. His horse was beginning to creep up on us again so I stopped and asked him to go on by. I could see that he was going to travel a lot faster than Maggie and I . Luckily he walked on ahead and out of sight. I was glad to be rid of him. Maggie was a little upset that she got left but not overly reactive about it.
We popped out of the cattle path and headed toward the cattle corrals, where the bulls were being held..... when I looked up to see who?? My irritating friend who I was beginning to wonder if he was going to be a problem for us for the remainder of the ride. This time he had pulled off to the side and was waiting for me... He called out to me to ask if I would go first through the cattle pens, as his horse was unsure of it. Muttering not so nice things under my breath, Maggie and I went on ahead and walked through without any problems, trying to just get by and mostly ignore the fly (which is what he was reminding me of). I was hoping he would just stay behind me at this point because we had one more little obstacle get through, a partially exposed drainage culvert. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to babysit anyone else’s horse because I had my hands full with Maggie. I knew there would be no relaxing on this ride with her. I was going to have a full time job. The culvert was no doubt going to be a bit tricky but Maggie is not afraid of climbing things, so I was hoping it would be fine. She stopped, looked at it and then kind of hopped over it without much problem. I no sooner got over it and the fly started buzzing again, asking me to wait. I did, reluctantly... only to find out that he had already taken his horse down here twice to look at this obstacle the night before…so he said...
He continued to attach himself to me as I made my way out across the field, and continued babbling on about his horse. At this point, I was thoroughly irritated and wanting him to just go away . We began our 2 miles across the hayfield and he continued to ride next to me as he asked me numerous questions about the area, the trails, and all sorts of other things I wasn’t interested in talking to him about. Pretty soon, he picked up a trot and blasted away, yelling “ Well, have a good ride!”. I didn’t respond but was more than relieved to be rid of him. Guess he only needed me as a crutch to get his horse through the tough spots... gee , thanks a lot buddy.
Maggie on the other hand, was now sent into a mental meltdown since she realized she was suddenly left alone. She began tossing her head and having another temper tantrum until she frantically spun around to see the 3 horses that were still coming behind us. Had I let her, she would have hit a dead run in their direction, back towards where we just came from and the comfort of a herd. When she started to amp up and began doing her best impression of High Ho Silver, I decided to get off and hand walk her until I could get her out of the pasture. Pretty soon the 3 riders caught up to us and one of them happened to be a friend who was planning a slow ride. She offered to ride along with me , which was actually a relief because she had a fairly experienced horse. The other two riders she was riding with went on ahead. We were now dead last in the pack.
Maggie spent the next several miles fighting me to go faster, and several of those miles were a long steady uphill climb. I finally got to an area where it was open enough and we decided it would be best to let both horses blow off some energy, especially Maggie, who needed to stretch her legs . We cruised for a few miles in that pace, and my frineds horse, Max, really paced almost perfect with Maggie, who after about 3 miles started to settle in, eventually offering a nice steady trot, instead of the super fast road trot. After that, she was great and by the time we hit about 12 miles, she was much more relaxed and listening well. For the next several miles, we trotted where we could and walked all the uphills. She didn’t drink at any of the water stops (every 5 miles) but we had to cross a small creek about quarter mile from vet check. She took several big gulps at that point, which I was thrilled about. By the time we hit the vet check at 16.5 miles, she was beginning to feel a bit tired but certainly not out of gas. It took us 4 hrs and 15 minutes to get to vet check, an excruciatingly slow pace. This was partially due to Maggie's weak spot, trotting uphill, forcing us to walk all uphills to keep her heart rate from sky rocketing, and partially because we thought we took a wrong turn and backtracked for about a mile and a half, only to realize we were right to begin with.. grrrrrr. That little detour added an extra 45 minutes by the time it was all said and done. All I can say is lesson learned there, don’t listen to someone who is panicking that we are off trail when there are flags and your gut tells you we are correct. But, I digress. I was quite happy to have arrived at vet check, my momentary bliss was interrupted by the fly that I had started out with. As I walked in, he made a remark something to the effect of a comment about me finally making it in. I ignored him.. thinking what a little "ish" he was..
Once into vet check, it took Maggie a little longer to pulse to criteria because it was very congested and chaotic. The PR person kept saying she was right on but then she would jump up to 16 or 17 in last three beats. I moved off into a quieter spot away from the commotion and Maggie pulsed down to 15. She went through vet check and was given all A’s. Since the vet check was out of ride camp, Tom met me there with food for both Maggie and I , refilled water bottles and encouragement. Maggie didn’t eat her beet pulp at all but picked at her hay. Her appetite wasn’t what it should have been and I began to waiver on whether I should continue. On the other hand, Maggie was drinking well and took several good gulps of water while in our hold. I debated during the hold whether to rider option given her energy level but she perked up significantly in the last 20 minutes of the hold, ate some of her hay and I decided I was going to try to finish. She had A's on everything afterall and I knew that the ride back would be mostly downhill or flat with only two hills to climb. I could get off and hand walk her for that if needed.
So back out we went, to finish what we set out to do. For the first mile or so , Maggie felt fairly low energy but her ears were up and after only a short distance of walking, she perked up and offered to jog. We were alone , and at the back of the pack. My riding partner got out a few minutes ahead of me because her horse pulsed down quicker. She was nice enough to ask me if I wanted her to wait, but I told her I would go it alone on the way back and I would see her back in ride camp. I let Maggie pick her pace and we traveled along at the nicest little easy jog. I was thoroughly enjoying having the trail to ourselves. I kept a close eye on her heart rate and she stayed in well below 120. We traveled this way for several miles. When she wanted to walk, we walked. When she wanted to jog, we jogged. Going back, she drank at every water stop and she got thoroughly sponged down, as the temps were now climbing. A few 50 milers passed me and I was leap frogging another set of riders, who got offcourse apparently. Maggie and I even stopped a couple of time so she could get a few mouthfuls of grass along the way. Before I knew it we only had 5 miles left and suddenly, she must have figured it out because she got her second wind.
We crossed the finish line in 3 hrs from leaving the hold, cutting off an hour of what it took us to get to vet check. We repeated the earlier episode of her not pulsing down to criteria, again the same situation. As soon as I got her in the shade and away from the crowd, she pulsed down. We got all A’s in the final vet check other than her gut sounds were a little quiet, which I expected, given the fact that she had not eaten well at the halfway point.
I took away a lot of lessons learned about my horse from this ride. I rode my own ride, I took care of my horse, and I finished, with a healthy, happy (tired but happy) horse and that , my friends, is all that matters.