May 10 & 11, 2003
The Little Manistee Memorial Ride in Luther is a special ride for me...it is also the trail for Tin Cups Springs and I have done this trail at every ride that Jay and Becke Grams have had here since I started distance riding (about 350 miles total!). I love this trail and my horses love this trail and I have made some very special friends at this ride. And I make new ones every year! There are just no people in the world like distance people!!! Whether they ride endurance or comp, they know about "going the distance" and continue to make me feel welcome and support my efforts at passing it on!
In keeping with a typical Michigan spring weather pattern, we experienced one of those rides that went from a typical July day for heat and humidity (esp. humidity) on Saturday to typical April thunderstorms and pouring rain that night to typical October winds and blustery showers throughout the day on Sunday!
Since we had a good ride at White River, I decided to let Malik decide how the ride would go. We started out with the front runners and fell back to being a few minutes behind with a few others halfway through the first loop. It was cool and foggy but comfortable when we started at 7:00 a.m. but the humidity got uncomfortable as the sun came out and it got pretty muggy. Nelson soon took over custody of my sweatshirt! I opted to sweat it out in my sleeveless T-shirt (which my arms suffered for through the day from whipping branches, a few thorn trees, sunburn and such). We did the first loop (about 12 1/2 miles) in just under an hour and actually ended up coming in to the first check with the front runners. Malik was eager and excited and it took us 8 minutes to come down. That hurt. But he peed and had ALL A's and the vet was pleased so I was pleased. He ate like a pig but refused to drink...not unusual. He often doesn't drink until the halfway point. We were out with Gene and Shelley Dake from this check and I had the opportunity to ride behind them into the halfway check in camp. Gene and Shelley often ride together and they have a system that works...let's just say, when you have the chance at a ride to see them work and ride together, take notice and pay attention. You'll learn something!
Malik was still doing well at the halfway check, all A's again though not drinking. We had a 50 minute hold and took advantage of it. We were both feeling really good. The Dakes left out 3 minutes ahead of us. We left camp at an easy canter and alternated that with a strong working trot. He was feeling good but maybe not as motivated as before and he drank very little during the check. We passed some comp riders a couple of miles out. We were going a little slower than the first time on this loop. What concerned me was that he had started panting so hard....he often breathes hard and sometimes it's a mixture of scenting the air (maybe he knows exactly who is ahead of him and how far?) and working hard but this time, it was PANTING which he has never done. We took extra time to cool him with slosh bottles when Nelson and Mary (my MUCH older sister) met us at pit stops. He sipped a bit of water. After the first pit stop, I sensed he was needing to pee again (same dilemma last weekend!) and he continued to pant hard. He was moving fine at a trot and a canter so except for allowing the occasional "slow down and move a bit off the trail in case he has to pee" strategy, we continued to move along at a decent clip. He finally drank fairly well at a pit stop and I let Nelson electrolyte him there, too. About two miles from the vet check, he stopped on his own (not at my suggestion) and peed and peed and peed. He walked off a few steps, put his ears forward and to the tune of "Grandma's Feather Bed", we took off at a canter. I had a new horse! And yes, I SANG to my horse in an effort to motivate him...I figured if nothing else, he might just want to go faster to get away from it or get back to camp faster! Nelson met us once more at the road before the vet check and as he drove off after pitting us, Malik took off after the van at a full gallop. He was feeling good again. No more panting either. But we had lost too much time and were WAY behind the front runners. The Dakes had even made up the time and were within a couple of minutes of the front runners by this point. I talked to Dr. Steve Halstead at the vet check about the panting and not drinking as he usually does but he did an extra thorough check on him and Malik still had all As with the exception of a B+ for impulsion. His skin tenting was great and he recovered quickly at this check. MAJOR POINT OF INTEREST: I shudder to think what our ride might have been like if I hadn't used Susan's advice about tanking up on wet beet pulp and hay on the Thursday before the ride. Current research indicates that many horses start rides already dehydrated. I will NEVER, EVER sacrifice the extra time and effort it takes to feed him continuously all day long on Thursday with lots of beet pulp and wet hay as well along with his apples and carrots...I think this also starts getting him psyched up and prepared mentally...he is so used to the routine since this is our 4th season doing it this way! Read Susan's articles and take heed. Malik could have been in major trouble if he had been dehydrated. He never got below an A- on hydration during the ride. THANKS SUSAN!!
Anyway, he ate and drank like a pro at the 3rd check and this time, our view from our "spot" allowed us to see the riders a little ways over as they finished the 4 mile loop that comes around and behind the check on the way back to camp...he watched all the horses with much interest and when it was time to saddle up, he was itching to go out there and find those horses, he didn't care that we were an hour behind!! The last loop was awesome and I was very proud and happy to be a part of this team... I let Malik teach me again how to let him guide ME. Though I try to watch and warn him of tricky spots with rocks and roots, etc., I also sometimes simply let the reins lay loose in my hands and tell him to take me through it and there are some nasty tricky spots on this trail with deep, deep sand and some downhill with washouts and rocks and roots that in the past, I have always walked through. But when I ask him to be careful and get us through, he does....every ride I gain more and more confidence in my ability and in my horse. He is an amazing creature. We are now going faster and stronger than ever together. It's such a rush! He knows how to break into a canter at just the right place going downhill before he hits the bottom and we start going uphill...at first it scared the crap out of me but he is very adept at it and knows exactly what he's doing. I didn't teach him that though I read about it in one of Lew Hollander's books. In fact, in a couple of attempts at guiding (foolish human that I am), I was at fault for causing a fumble. In a couple of tricky spots in particular where the trail virtually diverges into two paths, he knew EXACTLY which direction to go in (I did, too though...I was just testing him!). And in trying to correct my posture during one of his cantering surges, I caused him to lose momentum and stumble a bit. He recovered in spite of his stupid human! He is an amazing horse. Sorry to keep repeating myself. I worry that I am not going to be able to ride him to his potential but I'm going to give it my best shot!!
Anyway, to make a long story short, we finished our ride in just over 5 hours and in 8th place (51 minutes behind Wendy Peterson who was first to finish and Linda Hamrick who was 2nd...Wendy gallantly came back to help Linda after Linda's horse spooked about two miles from the finish and she came off...aren't endurance riders wonderful??). I think our official time will be 5:14. I find that very respectable and am pleased with how our ride turned out. Malik vetted out with all As. In spite of being so far behind in time, we were only 10 points from Best Condition which went to Shelley Dake and Count Chaska. And they are pros with great vet scores...that's one thing I am always impressed by-the great vet scores both Gene and Shelley get with their horses and I aspire to that myself, not because I want Best Condition (well, yes, I do) but because high vet scores should be a top priority OVER fast times. Being able to combine the two takes some strategy and experience and KNOWING your horse and your TEAM. I continue to work on all of that.
I'd also like to mention that 5 riders braved this quirky Michigan weather and rode out in grey skies and gusty winds for the 25 mile Limited Distance ride on Sunday. Tom Peterson was first to pulse down and won Best Condition. A brand new rider (this is his first endurance format ride and second distance ride) named Scott something or other was 2nd. I made sure he got a GLDRA newsletter and schedule and some other distance riding information. Apparently SOMEBODY had been talking about me at Brighton because he already knew who I was (hmmm, who might that be, JEANIE MILLER????). But it's always fun meeting new riders and helping get them all fired up! I apologize that I can't for the life of me remember the other riders though I remember that Lauri Williams was 5th...the other two riders were juniors.
I LEARNED a lot at this ride...the panting scared me and I knew Malik had to pee. But he was not tired or overstressed and there is a difference. Had it been a vet I didn't know, I might have questioned my vet scores. But Steve has vetted Malik at rides every year since we started and even when we voiced concern and he double checked, Malik was fine and looked great. Steve doesn't tell you your horse is doing great if he isn't. I learned to also trust my own instinct and to let my horse guide me. I read a lot of ride stories and I know there are a lot of riders and horses out there with major issues to overcome both for themselves and their horses and I feel lucky to have Malik. We have a long journey ahead of us and boy, do I look forward to enjoying every minute!!
Speaking of journeys and life and all...Jenny did not ride this weekend. It was prom night. She could have gone out with friends and done typical teen activities for prom weekend but she actually SAID she would rather be there helping out. She volunteered as time keeper at the outcheck. She got dressed and ate a little bit at our potluck and we took pictures and oohed and aahed over her dress and her corsage...she cleans up pretty good!! :) The neat thing about it all was that she wasn't all caught up in looking perfect ("if they don't like how I look, they can kiss my ***" is what she said) and so though she was beautiful in her prom dress, her confidence and self assurance was what shone through and added the most to her beauty. I attribute a lot of that to this sport, her horse and the people she has come to know through it. And she was home by midnight, too.
Many thanks to the folks who came out and helped including Jenny, my sister, Mary and Nelson and Ridecamper KAREN Casemier who has never even done a ride yet but took a whole weekend and came out and put up with all of us...I, of course, in fine form, nodded when she introduced herself (thinking all along this is the new vet that one of our clients had told us about and realized I recognized the name from somewhere but not which person it should belong to!!) and basically, was I embarrassed later when I got it all figured out. And I kept trying to call her Susan. Duh! DIMR, right??? I hate to claim Distance Induced Mental Retardation, especially BEFORE the ride, but it's the only excuse I have!!! In any case, Becke Grams was very pleased with the volunteer help this year. She almost cancelled the ride but the volunteers saved the day!
We also welcomed out of state riders Wendy Mancini and Pat Oliva. I think they are BOTH ridecampers. It was a pleasure to meet both of them!
It was also great to see Shannon Weston at the ride...she is the one of the former managers of the Bear River Ride and helped me immensely last year when I took over the Wolverine. Her help was invaluable. I know she has had some major life changes this year but I am so relieved and happy that distance riding did not get left out of the equation. I'm trying to convince her to ride a couple of fifties with me on Max, Jenny's horse. Even though Malik and I had a good ride, it just isn't the same riding alone (whine, whine). And Max and Malik are a special team. We brought Mykal, Malik's half brother this weekend so Nelson could show off his driving horse...Malik was NOT impressed at this unwelcome interloper. He tolerated his presence (with about 6 feet of space between their pens) and mostly just turned his back to him after giving him the "look" that said "I'll come over there and kick your butt if you don't behave!". Malik and Max usually spend time scratching each other's withers and nipping at each other's faces...their favorite activities when they're not on the trail! I think Malik really missed that. I know a horse should be able to "go it alone" but I don't feel there is any shame in riding as a team...if it's more fun for the people, it has to be more fun for the horses!
And so ride season seems to have begun in earnest for us here in Michigan and God willing and the creek don't rise, we are hoping to make it to Grand Island with definite plans to do 50 miles (and an occasional fleeting notion that I really could and should do the 100). Actually, it's not the creek I have to worry about but the TRUCK and transportation issues that plague us every year. :) We are still waiting for the diagnosis from our mechanic and this weekend borrowed a friend's truck to haul to LMMR as it's only 30 or 40 minutes away. It all worked out and we are especially determined this year. I really feel this is Malik's year to shine, actually the first of many years, I hope. Yee ha!!! Here's to miles of smiles for everyone!!
Maggie and the awesome Mashallah AlMalik