I've just experienced my first year in endurance riding. It was a big year for me with a move from New Mexico to Ohio thrown in for good measure. I remember after the first LD of the Michigan shore-2-shore ride, Dr. Ray said something about me doing fairly well for someone who claimed not to know anything ... I tend to be pretty vocal about my lack of expertise in the sport. Well truth be told, I've still got SO much to learn, but it did make me realize what I do know and who I have to thank for that knowledge. So hats off to my good friend and endurance mentor Kathy Myers (aka firstname.lastname@example.org). Although I'm sure I would have made it into the endurance arena eventually; in say 5 years or so, I would have never gotten there as quickly as I did without Kathy. She taught me all the basics and then some. And she had the tremendous patience to accompany me every step of the way. In just a little over a years time she generously spent countless hours preparing me. Her trailer sat in my driveway for weeks while I worked on getting my horse Merlin to load. Then there were the training rides. She'd generally spend about four hours in driving time alone to pick Merlin and I up, accompany us on a ride, and then deliver us home again. When it was time for my first LD she couldn't be there but did lend me her truck so I could make it. When it was time for my first 50 she led the way and patiently let me waddle through the vet checks at my snails pace - I'd generally need an extra 30 minutes or so! There were lessons in easyboots, trail etiquette, and a zillion other things. In retrospect I learned so much from her, and ultimately would not have enjoyed this past year, if it had not been for all that she taught me.
What follows is a mix of appreciation and gratitude, along with a few anecdotal tips, newbie ramblings, and laughs on both of us. Please enjoy. And as for Kathy and her husband Pete, Blue the horse and Jasper the doggie, all back in New Mexico - we miss you terribly. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
CREWING (The Fine Art of Trailer Camping)
I met Kathy at work and we were basically insta-friends once we both found out we were interested in Endurance riding. I believe this happened within the first 5 minutes of conversation. Anyway, being very intimidated by all that this great challenge would involve, I decided that crewing for Kathy would be a great way for me to scope everything out. So in April of 2002 I tagged along with Kathy and her horse Blue to the Binns ranch just south of Socorro for the Indian Springs 50. Now the plan was to trailer camp and mind you I am not fond of camping. In fact my former Boy Scout husband has been trying to get me to go camping for eight years. He should have known all he had to do was bring a horse!
The first smart thing we did was park into the wind. The wind and sand probably only gusted to around 50 mph the next day so this was invaluable. Now Kathy's trailer was a handy little Circle J steel 2 horse slant bumper pull with a tack room. Quite nifty as all the partitions are collapsible. So you just bring a broom, sweep it out, and lay down a tarp. It's an open trailer so don't forget a second tarp in case it rains. Next fold in a cot and add a sleeping bag. All those handy tie rings make a great place to hang a lantern. Last but not least and my personal favorite, a 5 gallon bucket filled about 1/3 full with kitty litter for a midnight latrine. WahLah! You're snug as a bug in a rug. Never mind that you really won't be able to sleep because the horse tied to the trailer has to rattle his bucket every 5 minutes or so just to make sure it's empty
Now if you ever end up crewing for Kathy here are a few tips. Although she'll bring enough fancy fixins' to make Martha Stewart proud, the only thing she'll really eat is cold Kentucky Fried Chicken and Cherry Yogurt. So don't waste your time waving all the rest of the stuff under her nose. The one caveat is she does't really drink so just go ahead and plan on hooking her up to an IV once she quits foolin' with the horse.
TRAINING (Some Riding Skills Required)
Kathy, being my mentor and all was in charge of our training and conditioning. To fully appreciate this challenge a little background is required. I've been riding for about 5 years but I'm still pretty novice in a lot of ways. Plus Merlin is my first horse and although I'll credit my inexperience to much of his misbehavior he can still win the certified butt head award all by himself on occasion. Given all this, endurance riding is very very technical for me. There are things like SPEED and HILLS to contend with. And then there is Merlin, who'd just assume combine both!
I'll never forget my first ride out at Kathy's place in Cerrillos. Kathy has access to the most wonderful trails for endurance training. The down side of this is that there are lots of hills. Being completely terrified, I dictated that trotting was only allowed up hill - otherwise we would walk. As you can imagine it was slow going and even then SLOW DOWN was my word for the day. This is really where Kathy gets put up for Sainthood. She's very very patient with terrified newbies. I survived and slowly started to build a little confidence. Once I could contend with HILLS and SPEED a little better we had to work on Merlin's behavior with other horses. He's generally just fine as long as he's in front, however, if asked to take a secondary position all hell generally breaks loose. So Kathy enlisted her horse Blue to learn us better. Now this is where Blue gets put up for sainthood as he had to endure hours and hours of Merlin riding up his butt, biting his butt, and all manner of torture and wasn't even allowed to defend himself!
MY FIRST LD - (Proper Undergarments)
My first ride ever was Randy Eaton's cow tanks ride back in February. Now Kathy could not attend this ride but she tried mightily to cover all the bases for me. She did a pretty good job but there were a couple of things she either forgot to mention or I, being sooo smart, chose to ignore. So along with what to bring, what to feed, where to sponge, etc. etc. etc. she had a few tips on what to wear. Moisture wicking undies were on the list but then again her endurance checklist also has things like "dry socks" on it. Well that just doesn't make any sense so having ridden in nothing else but my tried and true cotton jockeys I didn't give it a second thought. Well in the end I have but one word of regret - OUUUCH!! My only other humble addition is a sports bra as again, I went with the usual. Having had the experience, let's just say that riding 25 miles with your bras straps around your shoulders does very little to enhance comfort or support.
We did complete though, even after a very rocky start. As it was my first ride I opted to start alone 15 minutes after everyone else. I knew I would have my hands full with Merlin and all his pent up energy. Even so, he has a huge trot and we caught up with everyone pretty quick. At that point we simply were not able to pass in a controlled manner. So as to not be a complete disruption, I got off and we walked for a while. It took about 15 miles but we were finally able to pass other horses in a calm controlled manner. Not to say that starting with him is still not a huge challenge, and sometimes I still have to get off and walk before he simply comes unglued, but we are making progress.
MY FIRST 50 - (Ride Till Ya Puke!)
Hey lets take our horses, go camp in the desert, get absolutely no sleep, get up a nervous wreck at an ungodly hour, and go ride 50 miles! Whose idea was this anyway!!
With an LD under my belt I was determined to make my first 50 before our impending move to Ohio. After all, Kathy would not be in Ohio! So in April of 2003 we were off to the Indian Springs Elevator CEI*** at the Binns Ranch once again - but this time I had a horse too! Finally I was going to do my first 50! I wish I could say I was excited but terrified would be a more apt description. Although my main goal was to complete, I really wanted to start with the group to avoid the stress added by our late start on the LD. I'd have never attempted this alone but Kathy and Blue were there and we'd practiced. So I bought a protective vest, really did not sleep a wink (made getting up fairly easy) and then in a complete state of exhaustion, managed to keep my breakfast down the next morning while I tacked up to ride.
Our preparation did pay off. The start was a breeze as Merlin was very familiar with what it meant to "assume the position" and let Blue lead the way. So in sum, Blue was my speed brake and Kathy took care of the navigation. All I had to do was ride! Along the way, as if it was not completely obvious, Kathy kept enthusiastically telling everyone it was my first 50. In the end her enthusiasm finally got to me. Once I woke up and made it through the third loop alive, I actually started to enjoy myself!
But let's talk about that third loop again. On this particular ride, the third loop was the kicker. We've all seen those cool endurance pictures of people running downhill with their horses, right? That being said did it ever cross my mind that I'd have to do this on my first endurance ride? Of course not! Somebody give me the elevation drop on that canyon - it must have been a thousand feet! Now I've hiked a few mountains and canyons but I've never hiked anything so steep with so little room for error. Not to mention the thousand pound horse behind me that wasn't near as distressed over the steepness of this trail as he was about catching up with Kathy and Blue. Love my Ariat Paddock boots but having no traction they were simply not cutting it! Much whimpering and whining ensued but I did finally make it down that canyon. Talk about being awake and really really FEELING ALIVE (phew)!
Third loop fun didn't end there though. Perhaps it was all the alive and awake feelings, recent beverage intake at lunch, or just my normal nervous bladder but I swear I had to pee every other mile. I'm sure many females can relate and woefully attest to the inconvenience of natures call when trying to be an endurance rider!! Kathy was a trooper though, and didn't bat an eye as I called for a 4th or 5th potty break and unceremoniously jumped off my horse and dropped my drawers. Unfortunately in so doing, I ended up with quite an uncomfortable collection of pine needles in my tights. Boy didn't that make riding comfy! Not to have suffered in vain though, I've since discovered Detrol-LA. TRY IT - IT WORKS!!
At the 40 mile point, it was my nervous stomach. Seems it had finally had enough so while Merlin was tanking up I puked. Not a huge deal, obviously a little gross but once it was out of my system I felt much better. Now Kathy, ever supportive, found this tremendously funny - something about a "Ride 'till ya puke" bumper sticker. Please reference her post on her experiences at the Tall Pines ride this year. Heh Heh. Who's laughing now!! Anyway we completed! I forget my time but who cares. What a wonderful mix of exhaustion and elation.
In my time since that first 50 my husband and I have moved to Ohio. I've entered and completed two more 50 mile endurance rides. Plus I even went and did a week of LDs in Michigans shore-2-shore ride all by myself J! The whole ride experience can be very hard, and at times you question why you put yourself through such abuse. But then you remember all those moments when you pop up over a hill and are suddenly surrounded by the most stunning views. It's just you and your horse and for a moment time stops and you can hear the angels sing. Therein lies the addiction at least for me. I'm just so thankful that I'm of sound enough mind and body to participate in this sport and that there are so many wonderful people like Kathy who will help get you through. Here's to another great year!