Most of the other riders had a great time at this ride, and I'll get to my wet blanket experiences later on below. But for now, instead of diving straight into the crumminess - I'll take a few minutes to write about a few of the nicer things that were experienced at the ride. It's best to start with the pleasantries:
Also on Friday night (and Saturday night too) I met Lisa Andersen and had the chance to talk with her for quite a while. Lisa is in the red sweatshirt in the photo above, and is the other half of "Max 'the mule man' Merlich's" endurance team. Max's molly mule Guadalupe is in the photo above collared to the trailer. (I was really impressed that Guadalupe highlines with only a neck collar amidst a sea of commotion and activity going on throughout the day in camp.) Most everybody else's horses had a strato-fortress of panelling to keep them secured - mine included.
Max piloted Guadalupe on her first 75 mile ride on Saturday. Lisa's big gelding Dunne is in the corral to the right. He is a stout big-bodied TB x QH crossbred that has accumulated over 3000 miles in endurance. Lisa also uses him in dressage and jumping. They had Max's younger up-and-coming john mule Ramone at the ride as well. It was fun to see the mules and talk to Lisa.
And we met up with Monica, who became our riding partner for the rest of the way. I had planned to go very slowly (almost to a crawl) due to Ox recovering from his tendon injury. My plan was finish with a sound horse, which actually did happen - (thank god)! And Danny wasn't too sure of the water crossings and had lost a boot along the way, so we rode with Monica to help with fording the swift flowing creeks and to travel at the same pace.
We made very good riding partners because we helped each other out. When I was feeling overly anxious and depressed towards the end of the ride, Monica would pick me up with the hint of: "I think that I might hear the highway through the trees", or "this stream looks very familiar".... It was good. I honestly needed her to be there and ride with me at this one, and the feeling was mutual - vice versa. She needed me to be her riding partner as well, because Danny was less than thrilled with the first creek crossing and the water wasn't going to get any smaller the further down the trail that we went. The option of just turning around and taking a shortcut back into camp came up more than once - which I balked at the idea of. So both of us made a good working team and pulled each other through the hard spots, which helped us both finish the ride. Alas, "to finish is to win..."
And that brings me to the ugly depressing list of why this ride wasn't very much fun for me. To spare the poor readers of this rag-tag blog unnecessary torturous rantings from my part, I'll just list my bah-humbugs as short and sweetly as possible.
1. So, I'm writing this entry today. I shouldn't be sitting here at home writing this, as my time was planned to be spent in the saddle doing another LD25. But alas, here I am writing instead. Tommy and Octopelle got into a dominance fighting match in camp on Friday night. They had a separation fence in between the two port-a-pens for their own little kingdoms, but they both decided that it wasn't far enough apart. (The irony of the matter is that they share pens next to each other at home and have never had so much as a mini-squabble...) Luckily the boxing match between the two happened when Craig and I were eating our dinner 15 feet away. I jumped up to throw the halter on Tommy, but the damage had already been done. He kicked the dividing panel and capped up a puffy bulge on his hock. I promptly wrapped the ice bandages and vetwrap tape onto it to curb the swelling, in hopes that it would be down by the next night. But at the Saturday night pre-ride vet check the head veterinarian had hesitations about sending us out the next day. His exact words were "don't push it". So we opted not to stress the hock injury out any further, and sunday's ride for #X6 was not-to-be.
2. The start of saturday's ride was an interesting one. When you give a horse 2 1/2 weeks off to recover from an injury, with only a bit of light minor slow riding for 1/2 a week in between to keep him in somewhat "okay" shape during that time - be prepared for an adventure. Octopelle and I started behind most of the front-runners, and I wanted to keep him to a "slow" jogging pace for the first 10 miles of the ride. My goal was to have a sound horse by the end of the loop. I knew if he seen the front guys go, he would've wanted to tag along at a blistering pace - too fast - enough to make him lame again. So we walked out of the front fence in camp fairly nicely, and then onto the trail. Ox is a smart horse - and he's done enough endurance rides to know what the deal is, so the rocket burners proceeded to morph into the "on" position within a matter of minutes. Pretty soon I had a fight on my hands with him going down the trail. He was covinced that he could do a 14 mph trot, while I was trying to bring him back down to around a 6 mph jog. Worse than that, since he hadn't been worked very hard in quite awhile, he was snorty and everything was a hot spooky monster. My normally level-headed reliable endurance mount was high on "trail dust crack", and suddenly the forrest squirrels were weilding small horse-slashing machetes....
But after about 8 miles down the trail my nice level-headed good boy came back. It was a good lesson on what becomes of a working class joe when they've had too much time off from their competition job.
3. Hoof boots.....oh the damned hoof boots. One of the most stressful parts of the ride. I thought that my usually dependable Renegade boots would do the trick, (and they generally are pretty reliable). But not this time. I had more problems with them at this ride than I've ever had before. They usually stay put and don't cause problems, but that wasn't the case this time. Both the fronts and backs kept turning sideways on his feet. Then they would pop off when we started to trot for awhile. I was getting really disgusted with getting off and fixing the damned boots every 2-3 miles. It slowed us down so much, that there was no way that we would ever make the end of the ride by the cut-off time. By the time we got into the vet check at 19 miles, I was lividly pissed off with the boots. One boot came off and disappeared in the rapid flowing creek on the way to the check, and the right hind boot had twisted sideways and caused a big rub on his heel, making him slightly gimpy when we trotted out at the check. I decided right then and there - I was done with boots. The barefoot movement isn't worth it. I've given the experiment 3 years, and in that time I've had to deal with more stinking boot malfunctions than I ever want to have to deal with for the rest of my life. It's just not going to work anymore.
So at the check, I pulled all the boots off (because they were rubbing him and making him sore) and Dr. Jen gave us the go-ahead to baby along his gimpy rub back into camp for a "completion". Another 6 miles.... or so we thought...
4. Another lesson at endurance rides is to be at least "somewhat" prepared to go farther than what is written on the ride sheet. Monica and I started on what we thought would be our last little 6 mile loop back into camp. I had yanked all of Ox's boots off because I thought we weren't going to be out on the trail for much longer. It was only 6 miles after all..... at a walk. Eh......wrong!
The trail had been diverted due to high water in the creeks - so what started out as a 6 mile loop ended up as a 13 mile loop. That might not seem very long to most folks, but when you're doing your level damnest to try and keep a horse sound and pamper him back into camp - it's a long stressful voyage back. At about 10 miles I knew this was way too long to be a 6 mile loop. We hadn't known about the trail diversion when we left the vet check. The trail just seemed to drag on forever and ever and ever, and I was mumbling every curse word under my breath.... To make matters worse, we had to go over stretches of shaley horrible roads with Ox barefootin' it. I had to take my pick between making him thoroughly lame with the stupid hoofboots rubbing, or risk having him stone bruised by the rocks. He gimped over them very carefully and I got off and walked beside him on and off for around 2 miles. Which ended up making me minimally lame...as my own boots started creating blisters on my heels. Now I know how my horse felt...
5. The final insult (lesson), is to remember to keep your vet card handy. In my haste and determination to make it ever-so-carefully back into camp with a horse that might still be able to walk.... I realized that when I was shuffling through my front pack for a powerbar, (by this time it was around 6:00 p.m. and I felt like I was about to starve to death...) I started to panic a little because I couldn't find my vet card. Monica had lost her's in a creek somewhere along the way, so both of us were just trying like hell to get back into camp and take our lumps when we got there. I'm usually obsessively attentive to the cards, as I know that if I lose them I'm totally screwed. I realized that mine was missing about 4 miles from where we rolled into camp. All I could think about was, at least I'm getting back in camp. At that point, I didn't even care if I had the card or not. It was 7:30 p.m. and I was not having fun. I was fed-up and just wanted to be done. The whole ride was a miserable experience, and one that I was very glad was over at that point.
Of course, as you roll into camp everybody wonders if you're okay and what the hell took you so long. Well folks, the day was no picnic.... Monica and I heard all kinds of comments, most of them good like, "You made it! Wahoo!", which was nice. But then there's always the ones that really boost you're morale, like "We thought we'd have to send a search party out after you guys", and my personal favorite - "the last 75 miler came in half an hour ago." Yeah, great...thanks.
But there was a silver lining to the ending... we did make it.
At the finish line, Dr. Jen was back in camp. She walked up to me and said, "You forgot something at the check", and handed me my vet card. I almost cried. Thank god after all that babying and teetering back into camp, it was worth it. My card wasn't lost, someone had it. (But at the same time, I felt really bad for Monica because she really did lose her vet card somewhere....) So the only hurdle left was to do the trot out at the final check in camp. I was really dreading this. I envisioned all of those rocks we went over trying to get back into camp and wondering if he was stone bruised enough to be lame at the trot - and I didn't know if the rub on the right hind was still bothering him very much or not either. So, with a huge lump in my throat and burning fear deep down in my gut, we gave it one last motating trotting try...
And Ox made it, bless his heart. I think that he wanted to be done with this damned miserable ride just as bad as I did. He had a slight hitch in his stride, but it wasn't enough to keep him from completing. And oh yeah - that's another thing - since the trail was diverted due to water, we had a pardon on the time. It was a bonus silver lining! Both Monica and I were incredibly (grossly) overtime to the point of no return - so it was really nice that despite so many troubles we were still eligible for the ride to "count" as a completion. Which was REALLY nice.
6. Ending note.... So, sufice it to say I do not want another ride to go the way that this one did. I learned many new lessons. I'm going to take some extra measures to make sure that this type of experience doesn't happen again. This ride wasn't enjoyable, and I want to make sure that the future ones have a whole lot more fun factor to them. I want my prior top tenning competition horse to make a full recovery and come back to his former glory with me being a happy rider in the saddle. But it's going to take some more time. And my preparation program will undergo some major new changes very soon... you can count on that.