I'd like to thank Tom and Kathy for a very smooth introduction to Endurance riding.
As some of you may recall, my horse (Zephyr) is a 7yo RMH/Arab. We have done several CTRs - two 25s (Hidden Brook and the Northeast Morab) and the Acadia 50. Pine Tree was my first Endurance ride. I wasn't sure I should stay in the 50, because Zephyr and I haven't trained much in the heat, but I decided to go for it because I'd made arrangements with a couple of women who also wanted to ride really slow.
I hooked up with my ride partners, Margaret Farnham and Lory Walsh, and we rode out after the front runners had already left. The start was much different than I've gotten used to - I'm accustomed to leaving two at a time, and being passed occasionally. Zephyr was jazzed, and tried to gallop, but I held him to a slow (bouncy!) canter to match the horses trotting around us down the two-track. Eventually the pack spread out a bit, but we ended up playing leapfrog with some other folks for a while. The three of us had decided to go faster than our intended average speed while the air was cool, so the pace, for me, was fast.
Zephyr was eager and happy, as was I. The first 15 miles went pretty quick. At some point, Margaret and I stopped to water the horses at a crew area, and Lory went on without us. When we arrived at the first hold, which was 30 minutes, I suddenly realized that I had no idea where my stuff was. I had no crew, so I'd put my hold bag in Irving McNaughton's truck and promptly forgotten what it looked like. I finally found it - Terry (sp?) saw me panicking and muttering, and asked me if she had my things! I said yes and she showed me where they were. It was then that I realized several things. One: it is extremely difficult to unsaddle a horse while you are holding it, especially if you have a breastplate and a heart monitor (which you're not used to using). Two: Once the girth is undone on one side, the horse will be perfectly happy to unsaddle ITSELF by dumping the entire thing off the other side onto the ground, in his effort to reach his neighbor's beet pulp. Three: Heart monitors are a pain in the butt to deal with when you're trying to extricate a horse from its tack while it is trying to eat his neighbor's beet pulp.
Finally, I untangled his legs and removed his bridle. He had his rope halter underneath, so I unclipped my sponge-on-a-leash (note to self: include extra un-leashed sponge in the hold bag) and dunked it in my neighbor's sponging water. Hey, it was the only water around. :p He'd been pulsing around 64 when I rode in, so I headed over to do my P&Rs. He pulsed in at 48, and his CRIs were 48/48. He got all A's. I returned to my stuff, gave him some beet pulp (which he didn't eat) and some carrots, which he sucked down like... well, like carrots, actually. I reset his front left Easy Boot (he's barefoot and booted all around) because it was twisting slightly. Before I knew it, it was time to saddle up. Needless to say, it was even harder to do than unsaddling had been - ended up begging someone to hold him for me. Margaret and I rode out about 6 minutes after my out-time (9 minutes after hers). Zephyr, who has never been unsaddled at a hold, was exceedingly confused. He told me in no uncertain terms that he was very unhappy at this nasty turn of events! We walked for a while, while I waited for his heart rate to normalize again.
The second 15 miles went a bit slower, and it wasn't just because Zephyr had slowed down. The time took longer to pass. I was getting hungry, since I hadn't had any time to eat at the hold, so I ate a granola bar out of my saddle pack. At some point, we reached a crew area and there was only one crew person left. Yes, that's right, Irving's crew person, Terry, was the last one there. (For those of you who don't know Irving - he usually finishes last.) She let our horses have some water, and we were about to ride off when Margaret looked back and spotted Irving coming over the hill towards us. We agreed to continue on, but at a walk so Irving could catch up. When he did, we proceeded to walk/trot to the next hold. When we trotted, we picked a medium pace because Irving's horse doesn't trot as big as either Zephyr or Promise. Irving, as some of you are lucky enough to know, is an absolute riot. Between him and Margaret, on the sections that we walked, I heard enough Endurance history to confuse me for months. (I'm new enough that I've never heard of 80% of the people or rides they mentioned. There was a lot of smiling and nodding on my part!)
We walked into the second hold, at the same location as the first, to find only a few other horses. One was just leaving, one had been pulled, and one was being treated. I unsaddled him a bit more gracefully this time (as in, the saddle landed where I put it, not where he dumped it), sponged him once, and went for P&Rs. He was at 48 again. CRIs were 52/48. A's on everything again, too. Margaret and I moved our stuff into some shade and I was thrilled to be able to tie Zephyr to a tree while I sponged him, used the Porta-Potty, and then ate the sandwich I'd somehow thought to put in my hold cooler with my 4 extra water bottles. Since I still had 4 full bottles, I stuck the last 2 into the middle pouch on my saddle pack. The first two loops had been drier than I'd expected, and I planned to use the extra two bottles to wet him down now and then.
We got back on the trail about 6 minutes late, again. I don't know how that happened, honestly, because the tree had made it easier to handle everything. Irving had waited an extra 12 minutes for us - his out time was 3 minutes before Margaret's, and 6 minutes before mine... and we left 6 minutes after my out time. He gave me a lecture at some point during that third loop, about how if my horse was pulsing down as we went through the "in" gate (he was) I should go straight to P&R before removing the saddle.
I had a "holy shit" moment when he told me that.
I said, you mean I can pulse in with the saddle on, and remove it between P&Rs and vet? He said sure. Wow. That would have been nice to know! Lessons learned... and learned well!!!!
The third loop repeated a portion of the second loop, and HAD to have been more than 15 miles. You know when you're in your car, and you drive the same route twice, and it seems faster the second time? Well, it doesn't work that way on horseback. At least not when you're doing your first 50. Part of the reason, though, was that Zephyr was not going along in the normal pulse range. It was higher than it should have been, even accounting for the heat, so we were walking a lot. And honestly, the other two horses didn't want to trot any more than Zephyr did. Margaret wanted to keep Promise's gut moving (he hadn't been eating at the holds) so we stopped and grazed a lot. Irving started complaining that we had to pick up the pace because he wanted to be at the last hold by 3:30pm. We picked up that nice easy trot again. At some point, we came upon 3 people walking their horses. Two of them were 30-milers who were overtime and who were taking a grass break. The other was Pam, a 50-miler who was just getting back on her Kentucky Mountain Horse. She had been leaving the second hold as we arrived. We ended up riding with Pam for the last 5 miles of this loop; unfortunately for Irving, Pam's horse had 3 speeds... walk, fast, and hell-bent-for-leather. Irving ended up cantering a lot... at least I assume he did... I don't know for certain because Zephyr was happily shoving his nose up Pam's gelding's butt. Oh well, at least he wasn't poking along anymore! All four horses had found new energy that no one knew they had.
When we arrived back at the fairgrounds for our last (20 min) hold, I went right over to the buckets I'd set next to the barn earlier. There was a row of people standing along the half-wall of the barn, leaning on the wall and looking out. I sponged Zephyr quickly and looked at my HRM. It said 60, but I didn't know if that was its last reading before I moved out of range, or the current one reading. I hoped it was current, and went right to P&Rs. He squeaked in with a 64 after a moment or two. He got B's on gait, impulsion, and attitude, and A's on the rest. CRI of 64/60. We went back to the buckets, and some of the people in the barn talked to me as I sponged him. Don't remember what we talked about. One of the guys noticed Zephyr wasn't drinking while I sponged, so he came out of the barn and held a bucket up for him to drink from. He made a joke about how at this stage in the game, even horses didn't want to have to do anything for themselves. ;) I hadn't removed the bridle because it was such a short hold, and the guy mentioned that Zephyr wasn't able to drink very well with the bit in his mouth. I looked closer, and sure enough, even though he was sucking hard, he wasn't getting much down his throat. My helper pulled his bridle off and Zephyr stuck his whole head in the bucket and drank about 3 gallons. Good boy. The peanut gallery (I mean that in a nice way!) asked if I'd been e-lyting him, and I said yes I had been, but that at the first hold I hadn't because he hadn't been drinking. They suggested that I e-lyte him now that he'd had a good drink. I couldn't, because the other syringe was in my hold bag. "Where is your hold bag?" "In Irving's truck." "Well, I will hold your horse. Go get the syringe - you have to e-lyte him now." (Gotcha, yes sir, will do!!) When I got back, the helpful guy had walked Zephyr out of the commotion and was feeding him some hay. Hey y'all, whoever you were, THANKS!! Later, I'd tried to find the guy who'd been so helpful, but couldn't. If you're reading this, please consider yourself thanked thricefold. :)
Zephyr was pretty bummed about having to ride out again on the last 5 miles, but since his saddle hadn't been removed this time, I think he kind of expected it. His pulse was still higher than usual, and I was kind of worried. He was hanging over 100 even when we were walking. Which we did a lot of on this loop, by the way! I hoped he was just tired and hot... I squirted water on his neck whenever he dried off, but eventually the bottles came up empty even though I had stopped drinking, myself, in order to leave the water for him.
When we rode back onto the fairgrounds' property, I made sure I wasn't last. I didn't want the turtle award! I think it was Pam, then me, then Margaret (all close together) and finally Irving about 50 feet behind.
I noticed that Margaret and Irving stopped and sponged at the barn, without removing their saddles, but I knew I had a better chance of getting Zephyr under 60 if he was nekkid. So with Steph in tow (friend who had finished the 30 with her hubby Bill), I headed up to my trailer (pulse of about 80 at this point) and stripped him down. It was then that I saw it. The strap of his right hind Easy Boot had slipped up over his heel, and rubbed him raw!! I took the rest of the boots off first, then tried to get that last one off, but Bill ended up having to cut the strap with surgical scissors. As soon as the boots were off, Steph checked his pulse with a handheld and he had dropped to 44 or so. I rinsed his heel off with cool water, grabbed him and headed for P&Rs.
His pulse was nice and low, and he got all A's except for B's on guts and skin tenting. The CRI was good - 52/52 I think? He was perfectly sound.
I took him back to the trailer, set him up with hay, water, and beet pulp, and quickly grabbed some dinner to bring to the awards, which were in 10 minutes.
Somehow, I ended up with the Turtle Award after all. (For those who were there, THAT'S why I looked so confused... I'd been told that the Turtle Award went to the last person across the finish line, and so I had made sure I wasn't last!) But that's OK, it's a very nice turtle statue that someday when I have a garden, I will be happy to display there.
Again - thanks to Tom and Kathy for a great first experience; and thanks to everyone who answered my questions or helped me out. :) Y'all are a great bunch of folks... one of the reasons I chose this sport.
Sharon Kenney & Zephyr's Elegant Gift