Sunday, May 01, 2005

High Hopes for a 100 - Patti Ristree

High Hopes for a 100

by Patti Ristree

Although the numbers in 100 mile rides have declined during the last several years, I've discovered my own growing desire to ride one. For any voyage of this magnitude, you need a guide, so I recruited a few of my endurance heroes to help me as mentors. Some are legendary, some are eloquent; all strike me as having a good dose of common sense, horsemanship and sense of humor in equal measure. Through a series of EN articles, I plan to share their
advice and the tale of my journey in hopes that it will benefit others and inspire them to join us.

If I can aspire to ride a 100 mile ride, trust me, virtually anyone can.

Like lots of endurance riders, I came to distance riding from another discipline--dressage. My ambition to ride a 100-miler is relatively new. In fact, I can recall announcing loudly some years ago that I couldn't imagine riding 100 miles unless I was being chased.

Famous last words and all that.

However, I met and married a man with aspirations of distance riding. I crewed and conditioned alongside him and did a handful of competitive trail rides. You can imagine the jaws dropping amongst my DQ (dressage queen) friends when I suggested that I might try riding my dressage prospect 50 miles.

We went for it anyway.

After several 50 mile rides, endurance friends began commenting on my horse, Breezewood Nevarre ('Ned'). "Now that's a 100 mile horse!"

Strangely, not a single person pointed an admiring finger my way or commented that I might be a 100 mile rider. I'm pushing 40, and firmly lingering on the 'heavy end' of the middleweight division. I am living proof that spandex is a privilege, not a right.

Ned, on the other hand, is 16+ hands, solid, straight, a lovely and athletic mover and, metabolically, a powerhouse. He is a 10-year-old Arabian-Trakehner cross and did his first 50 at Elk Valley (Pennsylvania) in 2001, one week after a recognized dressage show. He has never had a soundness issue to date and has earned himself a bunch of vet cards with nothing but As.

Thankfully, Ned has also developed a strong sense of self-preservation after jumping off a trail and down a steep slope as a green 5-year-old. One leap. (I mentioned that he was athletic, right?) He has humbled me repeatedly and inspires me to become a fitter person, and a better rider.

So what makes me think my horse and I might be ready for this heady trip?

Let's see what my mentors have had to say on the topic:

"It has always been my opinion it takes three seasons to make a 100 mile horse if you want that horse to be going as a teenager." (Mary Coleman)

Check. Got that.

Over the past six years, Ned and I have accrued over 1000 competitive and endurance miles. Before you get any ideas that I'm leading the pack, however, please realize that I'm the "Matron of the Middle of the Pack" and "Queen of the Conservatives," far more inclined to pull my horse than push him. Bottom line: I'm a conservative rider and a worrywart.

And trust me, this boy was so naughty as an adolescent that he's required to be around competing as a teenager.

"I think that with very few exceptions a horse that can do multidays and come through them in good shape (mentally as well as physically) can do a 100. . . . Doing multidays tells you a lot about your horse that you wouldn't know by only doing one-day rides, even if they are 100s." (Karen Chaton)

Ned and I have never done a multiday endurance ride. This is something we will add to our 2005 spring schedule. Early spring ride schedules are tough when you live near Buffalo. But perhaps Jan Stevens' new FITS series in Florida? Chicken Chase in Indiana?

"You and your horse need to be able to do 50 mile rides in seven hours or less and not be exhausted at the end of the ride, still feel able to go back out. If you're making 50 in seven hours but are completely hammered at the end, how are you going to do 50 more?

"I'm not saying 'not feel tired.' There is a different psychology in riding a 100 than a 50. As you approach the 50-mile vet check you are thinking of it as only a vet check, not the end. Of course, you're also pacing for 100 miles (that is, riding more slowly). So you don't feel the same as you would if you were finishing a 50.

"Something about being focused on the miles to go makes a real difference." (Joe Long)

Phew. We're okay on this one.

While we're middle-of-the-packers, we've also completed a 50 as fast as five hours and change. A couple of tougher rides, including one in the heat this year, took significantly longer. And neither of us is typically 'tapped' following a 50.

I remember Flesherton (Ontario) in 2003. I rode the last loop alone, and Ned seemed to be dragging. "Oh no!" I thought. "I broke him." Then he smelled camp, his internal GPS kicked in, his odometer said 48 miles. Don't know what it was, but I was managing a near runaway until the finish line. He does this to me consistently at every ride. Always plenty of fuel left in the tank.

"I was the one who had the mental block against doing a 100. I simply couldn't imagine doing that to my horse. I was afraid he'd hate me. As it turned out, Kaboot acted as if going 100 miles was the most natural thing in the world. At the 90 mile mark he was unsaddled, standing at the trailer on his picket line eating, but when I put the saddle on and put my foot in the stirrup he just automatically headed towards the outgate. I finally believed all those people who told me that the horse "comes back" after sundown (they do!) and that I could do it if they could. (I did!)" (Angie McGhee)

This quote comes from the self-proclaimed "least common denominator," "representative of the non-superhuman masses," "most average of average" Angie McGhee. She may not know it, but that self-description is a tremendous inspiration in itself because I know I'm no superwoman.
Her fear is my own. Do I dare ask this of my treasured horse?

"I'd like to tell you that I came up with the rigorous training program and stuck to it and kept logs and knew everything there is to know about my horse's fitness.

"However, if I did I'd be lying. I conditioned and rode just like I did for 50s.

"Mainly we did it because I really wanted to do it. Everyone said, 'Doing a 100 is mostly mental,' and I used to think 'yeah, right.'

"Well, your horse does need some amount of conditioning, I'll grant you that. But you have to really want to do one. All the conditioning in the world doesn't get you back on the horse at 10:00 p.m. with 40 more miles to go. Desire, however, will do strange things to us all.

"So, if you feel like your horse is physically okay to do one then you just have to decide that it's a serious goal of yours. And then you'll make it happen." (Tina Hicks)

While I'm naturally a bit nervous about the prospect, I really do want to do a 100 mile ride. In fact, it's been on my list of personal goals for nearly a year now.

And now for the big question--why? Why would someone want to add that extra 50 miles to an already long and tiring day?

"There is something so magical about being out at night after being on the trail all day on a long 100 with miles left to go. The night may be the best part of a 100 and I've tried to say it in some of my posts and ride stories.

"Sure, it's tough and you're tired, but thinking about the night times during a 100 still summons emotion from my heart. Perhaps others just want it to be over, but . . . for me, it doesn't last nearly long enough.

"Those memories are stamped on my mind forever." (Tom Noll)

Now it's sounding like it might be fun.

"There is kind of a 'zone' that you get into in the dark with your horse on a 100, where time becomes elastic and loses all meaning, and you are just out there together in this private existence. Words cannot express . . ." (Heidi Smith)

I had the privilege of riding Ned in the pitch dark for the last five miles or so of the Moonlight in Vermont ride in 2003. It was my first time riding in the dark, and I was unaccustomed to trusting my boy to pick his way from glowstick to glowstick, but as the miles went on I found myself giggling in some sort of idyllic trance. It was wonderful.

Care to join me?

Reprinted with permission from the January 2005 issue of Endurance News, official publication of the American Endurance Ride Conference,, 866-271-2372.

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