Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Robin Hood - Mustang Story - Michele Roush Shaw D.V.M.

It`s 4 AM, Sunday morning, August 26, and I am experiencing the defining moment of my life. I am in Vermont, aboard the Mustang, Robin Hood, owned by Dr. Philip Ottinger. Unfortunately, Phil can`t be here to share the moment, but I have other support: my husband, crew, and team officials. Hood and I cross the finish line, I jump off, and promptly burst into tears. We`ve just completed the 100 mile course of the 2001 Pan American Endurance Championship.

It was a long time in coming, and involved tremendous dedication from all parties. Robin Hood had been selected for the 1999 Pan Am, with a different rider, but I had had to withdraw two months prior to the race because of an abcess in his neck and ensuing medical problems. I started riding Robin Hood in December of 1999, and though I really didn`t know if he could make a comeback, and though he was the first Mustang I`d dealt with, Phil kept encouraging me and telling me how to relate to him. At the time, I had no idea of the depth of the horse I had under me.

For the next year and a half, making it to and competing in the Pan Am race became my focus. It was a long process of bringing Robin Hood back to fitness after his metobolic problems, while at the same time learning the differences between dealing with Mustangs versus other breeds. I had come to endurance riding from a background of three day eventing, so was more accustomed to "hotter" breeds, such as thoroughbreds and Arabians. I quickly got used to Hood`s dependability, but it took me a bit longer and a few mistakes to finally understand some of the metabolic issues Phil had been warning me about. We ultimately got to the point that we could relatively easily "top ten" the 50 milers, and I started looking to the 100 milers for our qualifying races. My husband was very good to put up with all of my idiosyncrasies during this time. I was adamant about not doing anything that would distract from or potentially jeopardize Hood`s training schedule. (Yes...the word "anal" does come to mind!)

The final few months leading to the Pan Am race, including the day we were officially selected to the Pacific North squad, saw us on the Pony Express trail. During the months of June and July, 2001, about 60 riders, including my husband and myself, rode 50 miles a day, 5 days a week, for eight weeks, completing the entire original Pony Express route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Virginia City, Nevada. Not all of us rode every single day, but we and our horses were there for the entire trip. It was quite an adventure, and I wouldn`t have missed it, bit it did have an impact on Hood`s condition for Pam Am. Robin Hood has a very upright lower leg and hoof conformation, and it can be rather tricky to shoe him correctly. Normally, he goes in Sneakers (Eqithotics, Inc.) put on by Kirk Adkins, but with two months on the trail, I had to have a local Wyoming farrier shoe him midway through to California. His angles got a little off, and Hood wound up getting sore in his heels. I had to send him home to Kirk in mid July, and so could not complete the final stages of his conditioning. Instead of peaking for Pan Am, he was standing in a stall resting his feet. Robin Hood is a horse who does his best when he`s worked every day.

Eventually, Kirk got Hood sound enough to be ridden again, so we set off for Vermont two weeks before the race. My husband, my dog, Robin Hood, and I in our two horse gooseneck with living quarters. We made it almost to Salt Lake City (home is Sacramento, California area) before the first breakdown. Yes. First of many. I won`t go into the details, but suffice it to say that on that trip back East, we had three major truck breakdowns, and in between, we borrowed a truck from a friend in Park City, Utah, returned that truck and picked up ours, spent the night in the yard of a friendly rancher, got to know a very nice man named Francis who is the caretaker for the Sidney, Nebraska fairgrounds, got more intimately familiar with roadside rest stops than anyone should ever have to, and learned of every Ford truck dealer and diesel mechanic between Ogallala, Nebraska, and Davenport, Iowa. Throughout it all, the Mustang was a trouper - took it all in stride even while wondering how many times we were going to practice getting in and out of the trailer, and enjoyed quite a bit of that lush Midwestern brome grass that grows along every road.

We finally did arrive in Vermont, actually back on schedule thanks to a couple of all-night drives, and I had one week to not only let Hood recover from the journey, but also try to salvage some sort of conditioning regiment to get his muscles active again. It was not to be. This time, I was thwarted by a mysterious hind leg lameness that appeared out of nowhere. The Western veterinary medicine diagnostics indicated a fetlock problem, while the acupuncturist argued that it was in the hock. You cannot even begin to imagine the state of agitation to which this reduced me! We had worked so hard and come so far to do this, and now we might not even be able to start. We poured as much Adequan and Legand into him as we could, and I gave him even more time off. It worked. Five days later, we started the 2001 Pan American Championship at five in the morning.

It was a good race, but all the problems we`de had coming into it took their toll. Robin Hood was tired by mile 50, sore in his heels by mile 60, and my mile 70, I came o the conclusion that he had done enough for me. It was time to quit. We came to a spot where our support crew could meet us, and I told them what was going on, and that I had decided to pull from the race. Meanwhile, Robin Hood was happily munching away on as much food as he could stuff into his mouth. Before making my withdrawal official, the assistant team chef d`equipe, Terry Benedetti, and I watched while my husband trotted Hood for one final assessment. He looked good - seemed to have gotten a second wind. I decided to press on to the next veterinary checkpoint. After all, it was the Pan Ams, and one doesn`t quit lightly from something like that!

Hood seemed to have sensed what was going on, and he buoyed my spirits for that next leg. It was almost as if he was saying to me, "Come on - we can do this!" Throughout that next (and last) 25 miles, we alternately carried each other. I hiked beside Robin Hood for most of the distance, and we walked together in the dark. From sunset until the time we finished, in the dark of very early morning, we were by ourselves on the trail. There were times when I would give in to doubts that we could do it in the time allowed. That`s when he would carry me along, his footsteps sounding like a metronome in the night, proceeding ever onward. I know horses fairly well, have ridden hundreds of them, and have about 5000 lifetime endurance competition miles, but I have never before experienced anything like that journey with that Mustang. I wasn`t just dragging a horse over a 100 mile course. I was competing beside a courageous and understanding soul and partner. We both chose to give it all we had, and that result was incredible fulfillment at the personal level. No - we did not win the race, but I know I had the best horse there!

I wrote this in part to share my experience, but also because I want you to know about Mustangs. They aren`t just backyard pets and pleasure horses. If you gain the trust and respect of a Mustang, that horse will rise to whatever occasion you ask. There is a depth of spirit and wisdom in them that can give you a true partner in whatever equine activity you wish to persue.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Angies PAC Story - Angie McGhee

Wow, where to start? This time last year I had very little thoughts of nominating, then last December I got an e-mail from Jaye Perry asking me if I was going to nominate or not. I hem-hawed around and Jaye being Jaye took that as the answer he wanted, "Yes!" Being scooped up by Jaye is like being a mailbag hanging on a hook that gets nabbed by a train passing by at 60mph. The next thing I knew it was full steam ahead and no looking back.

USA-East was trying out a new selection procedure this year that would be based solely on head to head whining about politics, etc. Just get on your horse, go to 2 out of 4 rides and the horses with the most points when the dust dies get to go. The procedure wasn`t perfect, but I think everyone liked the direction it`s taking us and now just wants to refine it.

How does a teacher take 8 days off the second week of school? helps to teach Art instead of Algebra...and it also helps to tell the principal it will just be five first, then at the last minute change it to 8. :-P The school secretary was panicking about how to put the leave down and we put it down as "sick leave". Unfortunately, while I was gone the local newspaper ran a 1/2 page story about us and the first paragraph said "Local school teacher vacations in least she *took* vacation, it`s actually serious business". Well no, actually I took sick leave. Let`s hope the people in the home office didn`t see that.

We were looking at 24 hours of hauling with a horse who`d never been in the trailer over 9 so Jaye arranged for us to overnight at Val`s in Virginia. We hauled all night and got there at 5 AM. I`ve never been to the Old Dominion so waking at the site of it was exciting. Got to admit though, it looks a lot like home. Several other PAC participants were there and the excitement was building. As irritable as I was when I was trying to leave home I don`t know how Val stood us all showing up at the last minute but you`d have thought they had all the time in the world. Larry had Bill and me dying laughing with stories and made sure we went up to see his really cool treehouse he built in the woods. They not only tolerated us parking in their driveway, they had us all in for dinner! I think Larry is the president of the unofficial AERC foreign embassy. He seems to really enjoy bringing young people from other countries over to work for them for awhile and make friends. I suggested that they just design themselves a flag and declare their farm a country in itself. They have enough top horses and riders to send out a team capable of winning the WEC all by themselves.

There were momentos of World Championships tacked up on the fronts of Pierez and Fire & Gold`s stalls and I couldn`t believe they left those in the barn rather than the house. Found later that the house was too full of bronze awards to waste space on things like ribbons. It was an inspirational start to our first International Competition. I`ll warn you all, she`s got a field full of fit looking worldbeaters in the wings. You guys who can`t find large Arabs?? Blame 4`11" Val, she`s hoarding them. >g<

There were lots of discussions on what would be the best way to haul up. I stuck to my usual "get him out every three hours" and from what I heard was practically the only one to get him out at all on the way to VT from VA which took us 13 hours. I think the other horses had been on long hauls more often and probably drank, etc. better in the trailer. Kaboot was great, unloading in McDonald`s parking lots and busy truckstops without flicking an ear. I did come up with a new trick. Since it`s not always possible to backup to grass to unload I started laying down a piece of carpet for him to hop down onto to avoid slips and he liked it.

The USA-East team would be staying at Steve Rojek`s farm 2.5 miles from the GMHA from Sunday through Thursday morning when they had to be checked in at GMHA. The stalls at GMHA were tiny (10x10) so we were putting off going as long as possible. All the other teams were at a huge field with a beautiful view just down the road.

I had never been to Vermont, and I can tell you the Woodstock area was worth going back to. It`s BEAUTIFUL. I don`t know if wood doesn`t rot up north, or if it`s too cold for them to burn down, but there were soo many huge old barns in perfect condition, built next to gorgeous OLD homes. For example, Steve Rojek`s tin roofed rock home was built in 1761. There was a British KING in charge when it was built! His carriage barn was incredible, with at least 20 antique carriages and sleighs in a room with a huge fireplace and an old painting hanging over it. Noticed he had a few silver cups that I would have decorated my entire house around stacked here and there in the carriage house too. >sigh<

Woodstock is a ski town, which should tell you something about the terrain we rode on. Let`s just say about half the trail would have looked good with a lift going up it, and the other half with ski tracks going down. Sort of intimidating when someone says, "And then you`ll be down that way" and you look up at the roadsign which reads "Suicide Six" with an arrow pointing that way.

The USA-East squad probably had more veterinarians than any other squad. We had 6 official vets, plus one rider vet...would have been two had Nikki Young been there. Our vets were very concerned with the quality of our trot outs and wanted us trotting out for them bright and early Monday. So, we all trotted out...with horses who had been hauled 13-24 hours in the last two days... and the vets were gnashing their teeth. When you get 6 top vets together looking at horses trot, they`re bound to compete. Nobody wants to be the one who doesn`t see *something*...then add to that the fact that they are terribly nervous about their responsibility which is to pick 4 horses, of which three *have* to finish, to go for the team medals. I`d compare it to someone who has mortgaged their parents farm, which they still live in, without their take that $100,000 and bet on a trifecta which they *have* to win. I think that`s the sort of pressure our vets were putting on themselves.

Fortunately I went to the Jane Savoie clinic on positive thinking and didn`t fall over in a coma the first time they didn`t like my horse`s trot out. I figured if she could get to the Olympics with no horse, I could get through the Pan Ams with this one. USA-East had 18 slots on our team since we were the host team. Our altnernates included Steve Rojek (it was his home trail) Rita Swift & Cass (one of the top teams in the country) and Connie Walker (PAC individual gold last time out). Picture yourself as a major league coach with Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio and Reggie Jackson on your bench and you`ll know what they were thinking. >g<

Then things started happening. For those of you who hadn`t heard, Nikki Young`s great (and I do mean great) mare Breathless died in colic surgery several weeks back (not ride related). Then Lynn Gilbert`s horse Chagall was lame and didn`t come. Next Val`s horse Bearcat O`Reilly arrived with a cough and was taken off the grounds to quarentine. This put Rita, Steve and Connie on the team. Later in the week Cia Reis`s horse who looked great all week got his hind leg through a metal corral and tore it up. We lost Ceia and didn`t even have 18 horses any more. Debbie Bullie and Adriene Hewitt had qualified, but their horses weren`t up to competing this week either so they had come to crew. I think the vets relaxed some then, since the bench was now empty. The reserves were used up, it was now time to get what we had through the race.

I think I mentioned our vets liked trot outs. Our vets wanted *good* trot outs. Nice, energetic trot outs. They wanted everyone to come out twice a day and practice trot outs. There`s just one problem. Kaboot *loves* trot-outs. He gets faster and faster when you trot him out. Here he`d been gone from home for days...I`m sure he was confused when we just keep getting up in the morning and do more trot outs, but that was OK with him. He LOVED this new sport. He loves it because he can trot faster than I can, and he`s *winning*! The vets apparently had read Merryben`s post saying you never let the horse turn around you or he may take a bad step, so it was *imperative* that we keep up with the horses and stop them on a straight line. All I can tell you is that by Thursday I swear Kaboot was starting to crouch when I said, "Ready?" and he was taking off like it was out of the starting gates. I kept having to run faster and faster to keep up and had to do stretching exercises before my sprints. All this was under the supervision of just 4 of our vets, since Ann Stuart, our Chef de` whatever and Julie Bullock were in FEI meetings. Finally, Ann got to come to one of our trot out sessions to observe. After I returned from an "Out, 2 large circles to the left, 2 large circles to the right, and back" race, and was bent over wheezing with my hands on my knees Ann declared, "They`re not going to let you trot *that* fast! Can`t you slow him down?" >shriek<

Thursday morning it was time for the big move. We saddled up 18 horses at 6 AM, in full uniforms to ride them to GMHA. Think about it. What do you *think* our horses thought was going on? Yep...a semi controlled start. :-P As we lined up to ride out of camp Julie Bullock ran to her truck and cranked her stereo all the way up with a rap musician chanting, "Let`s start the commotion". We looked *good* in our uniforms and it was the coolest thing to hear the hoofbeats, have a prancing horse under you and be one of the team.

Thursday morning was the official "vet in" minus trot outs. The GMHA looked very festive with all the country`s flags draped around the arena. I got a French vet which made me feel quite worldly. With the fields where we`d been camping just a couple of miles away all the teams had chosen to ride over rather than haul. They had scheduled us to vet in at intervals, so as we drove back to Rojeks we would meet teams of riders in full colors riding along the back roads towards the venue. The sky was blue, the horses primed, the weather perfect, and those uniforms were beautiful. The award for prettiest goes to Pacific South, with lots of ties for 2nd. Their jackets are navy, red and bright yellow, and so is all their biothane. One cool thing they added was the rider`s record embroidered on back. It would tell how many PAC`s or WEC`s they`d participated in. I had to laugh when somebody referred to the Mountain region as "Those Aqua-people" Sounded like Atlantis had sent a team. >g<

Thursday morning was the official "vet in" minus trot outs. The GMHA looked very festive with all the country`s flags draped around the arena. I got a French vet which made me feel quite worldly. With the fields where we`d been camping just a couple of miles away all the teams had chosen to ride over rather than haul. They had scheduled us to vet in at intervals, so as we drove back to Rojeks we would meet teams of riders in full colors riding along the back roads towards the venue. The sky was blue, the horses primed, the weather perfect, and those uniforms were beautiful. The award for prettiest goes to Pacific South, with lots of ties for 2nd. Their jackets are navy, red and bright yellow, and so is all their biothane. One cool thing they added was the rider`s record embroidered on back. It would tell how many PAC`s or WEC`s they`d participated in. I had to laugh when somebody referred to the Mountain region as "Those Aqua-people" Sounded like Atlantis had sent a team. >g<

Now that the horses were in their 10x10 stalls it was time to start appreciating our crews who took turns making sure the horses didn`t spend much time in them. I was lucky enough to have a great crew. First I had Bill, who just for this week went through a total personality change and became proactive. No more dragging feet or going through the "oh that`s not necessary" routine. He worked hard begrudging none of it, and managed to take videos besides! I had also lined up Liz Szeliga (no I can`t pronounce that) from Mass. to help. Then I met Kathy Duggen who had planned to crew for Lynn Gilbert and was available. She had finished 3rd in the pre-ride and knew the trail. Other than the language barrier (she was from near Boston) she was the perfect addition to the crew. We dubbed her our "Native Guide" took Bill on a tour of all the vet checks and it took them 3 hours just to drive to them all.

Speaking of language barriers...that was one of the more amusing aspects of our team. There were people from Southern California who sounded pretty normal to me (even though my SE accent stood out to them) but the SE riders & NE riders all on the same squad had a heck of a time. For instance...they say "Hahbah" rather than Harbor, and "Lahbstah" instead of Lobster, so you figure they don`t use "R`s" but then they say "Idear" instead of "Idea", and "Canader" instead of "Canada" Bill was totally confused when Kathy Duggan urgently asked him if he got my "Cud". He had no idea what she wanted. She finally said, "Caarrrd" sort of saying the r in the back of her throat the way Bambi does when he`s trying to say "Birrrd". By the end of the ride we couldn`t get Kathy & Liz to quit saying "Dang far" (far means fire in this case).

The official trot outs were to be held Friday. We had all hoped until the last minute that Ceia`s horse would quit being sore and vet in but when our vets had their last team trot out that morning he was definitely off and she decided not to even try. We were all very disappointed for her. When I lined Kaboot up for that trot out I stopped and turned my official team cap backwards to allow for the speed and we did our windsprint. I sort of like our coach`s name for that out and back sprint which is a "suicide". I may refer to Kaboot`s trot outs as suicides from now on. The vets were satisfied. He stopped on a straight line, and they chuckled as I turned my hat back around.

Suddenly it was time for the big trot out event..and it was an event! Everyone was in full uniform. We had to go to a field where an official lady almost died of confusion when Bill forgot his penny. We entered the field and circled to the left, perfectly evenly spaced. Stopped, and had our first official pulse from Roger`s wands. It was 37 (he usually vets in at 44 so was quite calm) We walked on around and on the far side of the field there were maybe 10 vets evenly spaced checking horses out for a CRI. The line was constantly moving and every time a horse was officially passed the announcer would say something like, "Number 70 Angie McGhee on Kaboot Herlong has been cleared for competition". and their crew would sigh with relief. The vet checked Kaboot over, gave him all A`s except a B on anal tone which I found amusing. I forgot we weren`t supposed to speak to them and said, "Don`t worry, I`ve just removed so many ticks he`s not ticklish any more. Tomorrow morning you`ll be able to crack walnuts with it" Fortunately there was no reprimand. >g<

When I got ready to trot out I considered turning my hat around but figured I`d better play it straight. Kaboot was relaxed, but staring intently watching the others trot out and I could tell he couldn`t wait to race me. When the vet said "Trot him" he tried to jump out, but I pulled him back around, lined him up carefully with the proper cone they wanted me to trot around and tried to very nonchalantly say, "Trot". Ha! Off we went, wide open and picking up speed. I sprinted as hard as I could, but had to keep letting the rope play out farther so he wouldn`t have to circle back on me. I felt the muscles on my thighs getting pulled (strained) and was grateful when we got to the far end and I managed to stop him on a straight line. There were titters in the crowd as I carefully turned him and lined him back up hoping he`d be calmer on the way back. Double ha. He went even faster, I lost my hat and really did hurt the fronts of my thighs running so hard. He came to a nice straight stop for the vet as if saying, "What do you think of *that?" and the vet broke his no speaking rule and said, "You plan to RIDE this horse tomorrow? He got an A+ on impulsion and a notation, "Base wide" next to it. He trots *really* wide in the rear and the faster he trots the wider it gets.

Next came the official weigh and I was 164.5 I figured that`s a nice place to be...safely above the minimum (156 now) but not enough to feel guilty.

The ceremony later that day was nice...and short. Nice to have officials who realize that 90 primed horse aren`t going to stand still for long. They wisely held off all the "thank yous" etc. until Sunday when 90 horses were very willing to stand quietly. The locals put on a demonstration of the Morgan horses that was very nice. They had carriages, hunt seat, a farmer dragging a log, anything you could imagine a Morgan doing. I felt bad because the official pictures were being taken while we had our uniforms on and we had to miss some of it.

So now it`s Saturday morning. If felt good to finally get down to business after a week on the road. You peel away all the extra hoopla and get down to the main event and it`s just an endurance ride, the kind you`re used to and you`re ready to *ride*! Rode around for 25 minutes or so warming him up, then they ordered *everyone* into the arena. Picture a dark show arena with 90 primed horses jigging around in it! Whew! Then they opened the gate on the far side and the course was open. They started us with a "controlled start" I thought following a golf cart, but by the speed of it I think it was probably a really quiet motocross motorcycle. We trotted along in the dark for probably 15 minutes or so, with Kaboot weaving in and out of traffic until he found a place he was happy and he settled in. After another 15 minutes it started to get light enough to see who was around me and I realized that I was riding with six other USA-East horses, and nobody else. The horses had found each other. >g< All day long teams were riding together and I wondered how much of it was the rider`s ideas and how much of it was the horse`s. There was only one time that Kaboot hooked up with a non-USA-East horse and it was an Australian. It surprised me until I realized he had leased Lois McAfee`s horse Leggs who had been stabled at our field all week.

The trail was tough, with lots of climbs, but the weather was so incredibly great that my horse really didn`t care. I`d heard some other regions had considered it humid earlier in the week, while those of us from the South had put away all our tank tops and were wearing sleeves. Then Saturday it turned COOL and clear with no humidity at all that I could feel. There was even a breeze. I`m sure it hurt Melissa Crains chance for the gold, but it was still hard to wish *for* humidity.

The trails at GMHA are permanently marked with wooden arrows. The strange thing was that sometimes they were on the left, and sometimes on the right. Sometimes they were far apart. I was scared that after dark I would pass one on the left while searching with a flashlight on the right, but it all worked out. Gotta admit that when I went all the way down a mountain without a marker between top and bottom though that without 2 horses with me I`d have been worrying about turning back. There was plenty to turn you at the turns, but nothing to stop you if you got past the turn. All in all it worked out fine but I managed to worry.

The first 50 miles was a blur. The trail was so EASY for RIDERS, but not for horses. You had to remind yourself how hard they were working. The only problems I had were with all the steep downhills I spent too much time standing and started having shin splint trouble on my left leg. By 40 miles it was the worst I`d ever felt with shooting hot pain. At the vet check I taped it up with duct tape, and took some kind of 12 hour anti-inflamatory sample a doctor had given me and a couple of 400mg Tylenol. Amazingly enough I had no more problems. I`ll add a note here...there was talk at a meeting with FEI about banning drugs FOR RIDERS. Whew! Wanna talk about controversial!!! One popular drug was Benadryl. There were bees on the trail and lots of riders got stung. I got it once. We had been asked to fill out a form before the ride telling what drugs we carried, or took. I`m sure this will be a hot topic eventually.

The biggest difference in this ride and any other I have done was that the people in the town not only knew what we were doing...they cared! From the time we hit the trail at 5 AM we would hear cheers from people as we passed houses. There were water buckets *everywhere*. There were huge tubs in front yards with sponge buckets next to them. There were picnicking families in lawn chairs who applauded as you went by. There were kids holding up signs that read, "One mile to vet check, "Go USA-East". As if that wasn`t enough, they had hospitality stations where you`d round a bend and there would be 30 people carrying jugs of water to pour on your horse, offering you orange slices, tea, Gatorade, carrots for the horses... I mentioned to a fellow rider, "I should give electrolytes now" and a lady said, "You need electrolytes? I honestly think they had them. I said, "No, I`ve got my own" and she said, "Here, give them to me". I just handed them down, she dosed him, refilled the syringe with water and rinsed his mouth out, then handed the syringe back. Talk about service!! Met the same lady later in the day and she did it for me again.

About electrolytes. I used my home mades and gave them on the hour as usual...and a strange thing happened. My horse kept peeing... often! I remember Karen Chaton saying he horse peed 5 times during 50 miles and how extreme that sounded. Kaboot peed 5 times the last 20 miles!! I honestly think maybe he didn`t need the electrolytes much since it was so cool, and he was just drinking water and peeing them right back out. His urine was as clear as water.

Metabolically, it seemed to me that this ride was very easy on the horses. I guess the hills slowed them down so it was the muscles that were affected first. The grass was sooo lush compared to our area, and water was so plentiful. There were plenty of muscle sore horses the day after this race, but I didn`t see any that looked "drawn".

They told us the trail was 40% woods trails and 60% of the hard packed dirt roads. I guess it was, but it didn`t seem like it. It seemed like we got to spend plenty of time in the woods and they were gorgeous...tall spruce, beautiful stands of the white birch, views out over blue hill after hill. They had names for their hills...I know one was "Heartbreak Hill" and the others were equally descriptive, but my horse didn`t seem to mind them and my shins didn`t mind when we had to walk up the really steep ones.

We had vet checks often. Far more often than in most 100`s and it made the day go by fast. The longest stretch without a check was 19 miles and there was a trot-through 1/2 way through that. Some were as short as 9, 10, 12, and even 4 miles. I liked it and I think it`s one of the reasons the completion rate was high. People didn`t lose time if they wanted to let their horses eat like you do on 22 mile loops.

Our first vet check was at 13 miles. Just before we got there we hit some bees. Suddenly we emerged at an indoor arena (somebody said it was Charles Bronson`s farm) and people sort of swarmed us to help. Kaboot got very upset and silly and was still 89 when his traveling buddy, Mary Yeager`s Snickers was 43. Mary was trying to wait on me but accidentally crossed the line where you had to go on forward and vet through. It was for the best. Once everyone gave up on my horse coming down he dropped. Val noticed he was stomping a rear foot and that was the first time it hit me that he may have been stung. The rest of the vet checks went fine. We almost always lost time in the vet checks because Kaboot doesn`t relax, but I guess that`s a trade out because the nice relaxed horses don`t give you that enthusiastic trot-out. (yes he was still racing me) After the 86 mile vet trot out Dane Frazier said to me, "Have you been riding this horse at all?" At 96 miles the vet who I hadn`t seen before leaned over to his secretary as we trotted and said, "I guess this is that base-wide horse everybody`s been talking about". Nina Barnett said, "Nobody`s going to pull that horse because when he`s trotting away from you all you see is how wide he is, and when he`s coming back you just want to get the hell out of the way!" >g<

At about 75 miles Mary Kornwolf, Kathy Shank and I hooked up and our vets told us to just ease them on in and *finish*. There really wasn`t any reason for us to hurry since we had no part in the team thing, and nothing but completion was up for grabs. The people by the roads were still out there applauding, even though it was late evening, and some were starting to cook supper. (I guess that`s called Dinner in VT). As we rode up a long hill the smell of grilled chicken filled the air and we saw some people in their backyards grilling. I called out, "That`s cruel torturing us like that" and he called back, "Want some?" Mary took him seriously and said, "yeah!" and trotted Shiloh right up to their grill to get a chicken breast. >g< She yelled to us, "It`s good!" and caught back up and split it three ways. Vermonters are the best!

The best hospitality station to me was at the top of a long hill where about six kids under the age of 9 were out at the road in front of their house. They had a huge trough filled with water, and several sponge buckets surrounding it. There were about 3 little kids maybe 6 years old hustling around a field pulling handfuls of grass then running back to pile them by the water trough where they had a big pile already. One little boy had a hose and would politely ask if you`d like your horse misted. They were so efficient, and seemed to know exactly what we needed. I had tears in my eyes it was so sweet.

At 86 miles we lost Mary when Shiloh trotted lame. Considering that he`d popped a splint earlier in the week it was a testament to her care that she got him that far. Our team also lost Kathy Brunjes and Ali Darkness in what was the one bit of injustice all week. A vet said he had limped during his trot out. Our vets said he stumbled. There was no room to argue the vet pulled Ali. There was a rule that any horse pulled from this ride *had* to go to the treatment barn for further evaluation. Ali was hauled to the treatment barn where he was trotted on a straight line, and in circles both directions where they declared him officially *not* lame. Poor Kathy. The next morning he was the best looking horse I saw prancing around.

Kathy`s job had been to ride with Brenda Baird one of our team members. Brenda had two very important reasons to *have* to finish the ride. First, because she was one of 3 team members left, and 2nd for a little known reason. Nikki Young`s mom had snuck and taken a lock of Breathless`s tail after she`d died, and sent it to the PAC. Her instructions were for one of the team members to carry it, and if they got pulled pass it on to another to make sure that at least a part of Breathless did the 100 miles. There wasn`t a dry eye in the house when we learned about the plan and Brenda had been chosen to do the job.

At 96 miles we all breathed a sigh of relief. I`d had enough of wondering if I was going to road founder and just decided to enjoy the walk in. We met a truck that was rehanging glow sticks which apparently ONE bad apple had removed. Out of all the fantastic people in Vermont, it`s such a shame that such a jerk lived in such a crucial spot. Word was that "He didn`t want horses going by his house at that time of night". There were also rumors somebody was throwing firecrackers at the horses...more on that later. We had no problems, but Karen Clark and Becky Harris who left the 96 mile check in 10 & 11 place (I think) were put off course and lost several positions.

Now...a GREAT story on the firecrackers. I got this from Rita Swift at the post ride party.

Rita said she was riding along and heard some firecrackers, then came around the curve and there were these guys. She said, "What are you guys doing?" and they said, "Oh we`re just shooting off some fireworks, but we`ll wait until you`re gone on by". Rita said, "Well boys, you know this horse has been 97 miles and he`s getting a little tired. Why don`t you just set them off now?" They said, "What?" She said, "Why don`t you just set them off NOW". "They said, "We`ve got some pretty big stuff here, M-80s and all" So Rita said, "Just a second then" and she tucked her flashlight under her arm and took the reins up short and looked back at them and said, "Give me all you`ve got" She said when they set those things off Cass took off like a bat out of hell and almost ran over Stagg who was just around the bend. >g<

We finished at 12:38 PM. I think 40th out of 90 There was a crowd at the finish line. Kaboot did his big trot out and we got cheers. I was especially proud when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Angie, Christy Janzen, that was an incredible trot out" :-))

Unlike most rides there was a rule that said the horses had to pass a metabolic re-check 2 hours after finishing. Someone had to be there when they did it. It was after 1AM when we got to the barn so I told my crew to go on. They had been up 24 hours and were beat. Bill went off to try to call our daughters and I got an army blanket and went to sleep on the ground in front of Kaboot`s stall door. The next thing I knew some vets woke me up to check him. I was a little disoriented, and thought Bill had left me. I`ll bet they thought I was a grouch. They passed him and I found Bill asleep in the truck. FINALLY I was sure I`d completed.

I didn`t have to walk in the finishing ceremony. I got my completion award (a nice crystal what-not with the ride, etc, engraved on it) and I can look at my ride photos and have nothing but happy thoughts. :-)) Thanks to USET for footing so many bills, and all the USA-East support people for guidance. Thanks to Zilco for the beautiful tack. I highly recommend to any of you who have the urge to try this out. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Angie McGhee & Kaboot