Well, the ride I was not sure I even wanted to attempt (due to it being a night ride) has turned out to be the most fun and challenging rides I have done thus far! We distance riders in Texas are a creative lot, and when it gets too doggone hot outside to ride during the day...someone decides to put on a Moonlight endurance ride at the LBJ Grasslands and I being a sucker for a challenge...rushed to send in an entry!
I have not been able to do much competing this year, with my new job and not having the time off so I jumped at the chance to do a ride this close to home...even if it meant doing something I'd never done before...riding at night voluntarily. I say voluntarily because I have been "caught out" after dark once or twice when we misjudged sunset and ridden a half mile or so in the dark...but not 25 of them...and certainly not at endurance pace!
When I first mentioned the idea to my husband, he was sure I'd really lost it this time, but he agreed to come camping with me during the full moon weekend in May up at the LBJ Grasslands. I met up with a couple of other CT region riders Linda and Jonni, who were both wanting to get in some night riding practice as part of their Tevis preparations. That weekend we rode 20 miles, but at a pretty slow pace and with a full moon and NO clouds in sight so it was like daylight at 11pm!
Fast forward to July, and as the ride drew closer I doubted my sanity for entering as even though I'd had that one successful intentional night ride with Linda and Jonni, I'd still never really ridden at night "in competition" where keeping on time mattered and where I had a horse who knew it was "game day". But I figured I could at least muddle through as my friend Anita was going to ride as well and we'd get each other through it right?
Anita was able to get off early on Friday, and headed straight up to the Grasslands as our biggest fear was not being able to get a camping spot with shade since trees are at a premium up there when there's an endurance ride and we did not want our horses (or us) sitting around in the sun all day Saturday until vet check and ride meeting and ultimately the ride. She got a great spot and by the time I got off work and got up there it was about 9pm. That's when we commenced the game of "Tracey can't back a trailer" which we played for about 30 minutes until I successfully trimmed the trees near the edges of the campsite with my truck but finally got backed in straight enough to unload Amira who was not finding this game very fun. Anita had already set up camp (what a friend) so we just relaxed and then went to bed and attempted to sleep in 88 degree heat...with only 1 little battery operated fan between us in the tent...and we vowed that in the morning we'd get our neighbor Connie from Missouri (who we'd been chatting with) to look over the horses long enough to run into Decatur and get MORE FANS!!!
We awoke to a nice cool morning on Saturday and decided to go out for a short ride. I always like to do a "head check" ride before a CTR or endurance ride to see where Amira's head is mentally and she was a good girl, ready and willing to move out but not chargey as she can sometimes be.
After our ride, we headed into town for those fans and ice for ourselves and a couple of neighbors. When we returned it was noon and they were just beginning to vet in horses so we brushed up our girls and headed over to vet in where we were met by the most pleasant vet scribe, Alanna Sommer whom we both knew from doing CTR. She'd come to work P&R's but during check-in was working as a scribe for the vets.
After check in we shopped at Stablegear Tack (they have the coolest stuff) and visited with some other riders we knew, and some we'd just met, and hung out in the shade of our campsite until the ride meeting at 5pm. After ride meeting we headed back to eat our dinner (the horses ate while we were at the meeting) and then we started getting ready to ride out at 8pm. And because this WAS a PAJAMA PARTY after all, both Anita and myself rode in our PJ's, mine were purple with Panda Bears and hers were blue with the Pillsbury Dough boy.
Unlike what I'd done at the previous to 25's I'd ridden we decided to time out with pack (I'd gone out last before) and see how the girls did. I was nervous Amira would get "race head" but she didn't. She was eager to trot but was responsive and easy to rate, and Tiny was the same way for Anita so we headed out at a pretty brisk pace and maintained it for most of the first loop on the white trail. Because we started at 8pm we still had an hour of daylight and were a little more than half way through when it was fully dark.
As we were riding we thought often about Jonni riding the Tevis and we wondered where she was at that particular time. It was kind of cool to know we were out riding under the same moon as the Tevis riders...although their challenge made ours pale by comparison, I still felt a kindred spirit.
Somewhere about the 10 mile mark according to my GPS, Amira took a pretty bad stumble and seemed like she might be a bit "off" so I told Anita to go on and I was gonna walk her a bit to see if she walked it off as she often does and would catch up if she was okay or just walk on in if she was not.
After a couple minutes her walk seemed normal again and she was asking to trot so I let her, but Anita and Tiny were too far ahead at that point...so we ended up riding alone...in the dark...can you say CREEPY??? Here is where I thought my worst fears were coming true...I was truly scared and second guessing Amira...who was seeing just fine and unlike me...not scared. Seeing how calm she was finally made me calm down and know I could trust her and we kept up that same 6mph pace on our own for the rest of the white loop. We arrived in the vet check just a minute after Anita so we were pretty close to catching her and that meant we could ride out on the second loop together.
We got our in times and offered the horses water, Tiny drank up, but Amira did not which bothered me a bit, but she did not seem dehydrated. They were both at criteria so we went on into the pulse box and were met by Alanna's smiling face again. I mentioned to the vet about her stumble and not drinking but she was still an A- in hydration and he did not see any problems at the trot out so we were good to continue after our hold.
Anita's mare Tiny seemed a bit tired, so we planned on taking the 2nd loop on the red trail slower as we were still doing great on time. Well, about a mile into the 2nd loop Tiny got her 2nd wind and was ready to move out again...so that we did...which made Amira happy as she never agreed to the "slower pace" thing. The 2nd loop went with out a hitch other than that Amira still would not drink at the lake, so I hoped she'd drink when we got back to camp. We timed in and went to offer water and FINALLY Amira was ready to drink, and drink, and drink and drink! By the time she was done drinking we knew they were pulsed down so we went on into the box to see Alanna one last time (she did Anita's pulse, someone else did mine) and then to vet out for our completions and both horses vetted out fine. Amira got a B on gut sounds as she did not eat much on trail, but this is normal for her and all else was A's.
We headed back to camp, tended to our girls and then collapsed into our chairs with our neighbor Connie and drank a beer before falling into bed after 2am...only to wake up at 7 to feed horses and be ready for awards at 8am! We felt like we'd not really been to bed when it was time to get up again.
Ride Manager Maria Wallis and her crew did an awesome job on this ride! Maria mentioned at ride meeting that there'd not been a moonlight ride in Texas for a few years, but this ride in the middle of a blazing July started somewhere around 90 riders I think. so it looks like moonlight endurance is here to stay in Texas!
I was exhausted but I had such a great time I did not really notice until after I got home and got a hot shower. Of course the very first thing I did when I got home was log on to the Tevis website so see how Jonni fared and I squealed with delight when I saw she'd completed. She has been a tremendous mentor to me in this past year and I could not be prouder of her accomplishment and that is one ride story I and just dying to read as Jonni is a great story-teller to start with...and now she has a truly great story to tell and I can't wait to hear every bit of it.
I was so impressed with how well Amira did on this ride...this is the hardest and fastest I have ridden her yet and she seemed to enjoy it more than any other ride. We rode 49 minutes faster than our last 25 (Bluebonnet in April) and this was IN THE DARK!! She was responsive and easy to rate speed wise and not concerned when we were passed or had riders come up behind us. And those ears stayed up and perky the whole way, always seeming to be eager to see what was around the next corner...even when we were riding alone and I was tentative she was strong and despite their size difference she and Anita's mare Tiny (who lives up to her name...she's a little mare, but a dynamo) really paced well together.
So, while I don't see Tevis in our future just yet I do see a 50 mile ride sometime next year and will most definitely do the Moon Me Moonlight ride and Pajama Party again...but next year I will be doing 50 miles and loving every minute of it!
Tracey Smith & Amira