Monday, December 05, 2005

Magic's Story - Tom Paleczny

Tom Paleczny

I sat staring at the clouds and was hoping and praying the rain would come during the awards ceremony at the Coates Creek endurance ride July 31st. I wasn't looking forward to being called up in front of the many other riders that competed that day to accept my 6th place ribbon. My emotions were hard to contain and just thinking about the events of the day brought tears to my eyes. I had just completed the 50 mile ride with my horse Magic and when we crossed the finish line and vetted our completion I couldn't help but say a little prayer, do a "high five" in the air and give both my wife Lesley and my horse Magic a big hug of joy and thanks. After all, who would have imagined that he would be completing a grueling 50 mile ride in the heat of August; up some of the most impressive hills Ontario can throw at any endurance rider. All this! Twelve weeks after undergoing near death colic surgery!

When I got him back to the trailer and settled, I sat down and drifted back to that cold day in April when Lesley and I were faced with some very traumatic decisions to make. The day started off terribly as we drove through a blinding snowstorm on our way to compete at the Aprilfest 50 in the Dufferin forest. A few times we were questioning our sanity as to why any human would go to such length to ride 50 miles in this typical Ontario spring weather. The slush on the roads was so bad that it almost pulled you off into the ditch! Arriving at the ride site we were surprised to see so many courageous people preparing themselves and their horses for the ride.

My riding partner Alison Martin and her horse CH Sheylan were ready for pre-vetting so the four of us proceeded to the P&R area. The weather had changed and it actually became tolerable. We vetted through and everything was perfect...straight A's and Mag seemed excited to get going.

As we warmed up prior to the start I couldn't help but notice that Magic was feeling quite full of himself. He felt strong, fit and eager. Our plan for this day was to get through the first few miles without incident and then settle into a nice steady pace that would see us finish in and around six hours. My goal for the season was to prepare Magic for the Old Dominion 100 in Virginia.

The trails were in good shape considering the weather and it didn't take long for the horses to calm down and focus on the trail. The first few miles went by without incident and we settled into a good steady pace. Neither Ali nor I had any great expectation and both would be very happy to just complete the 50 miles. The horses seemed to be quite happy with the pace so we continued through the first loop.

Coming into the vet check, he pulsed down very quickly and vetted through straight A's and it wasn't long before we got back into the routine after the long winter. Alison and Sheylan vetted through and we were into our hold.

Heading back out onto the second of (4) four loops; both horses were running in great shape. We took advantage of the water stops and we timed ourselves at a minimum of six minutes and we made sure the heart rates were below 60 before heading down the trail. The horses didn't really seem that interested in the water and I think that was due to the cold temperature. Most of the time they would stick their heads up to the trough and take a bit of a sip. This was not unusual for Magic as he normally doesn't drink a lot in the first miles of the competition. Coming into the 2nd vet check, everything was great, even the weather was becoming a little nicer; I think I saw a bit of sun trying to break through. As in the first vet check, he pulsed down quickly and Art King vetted us through and again all A's. Ali and Shey came in behind me and vetted through with no problems; both horses looked great.

Back on trail for the third loop we picked up the pace a bit and the horses were fine with this adjustment in speed. I felt that he was being his typical self when he started his old habit of dropping his head down to ground level almost like a hound on a rabbit trail. He had started this early last year and we couldn't figure out what it was, he seemed to be spooking at the ground as we trotted down trail. I didn't pay a lot of attention to this because it was something he had done many times before; uncomfortable to post to but not a problem to worry about. We now know that this was a sign of something that was brewing inside his small intestine.

We came into the third vet check and again everything was fine; both horses vetted A's and they were eating and drinking normally. We headed out on the final loop and decided to maintain the pace from the third loop. The horses still felt great and he was still finding the stamina to spook at logs, down trees, water puddles, you know all those spooky horse monsters. He started dropping his head even more and it was becoming difficult to deal with. I kept checking everything to try and figure out what it was he was doing. Ali rode behind to see if she could identify any problems; but none were visible. Whatever it was it didn't affect his heart rates or attitude. There were no changes from the first loop other than the horses were more settled. The last five miles of the loop we could feel the horses tiring a bit so we slowed the pace and just enjoyed the moment.

Crossing the finish line I gave him his customary pat on the shoulder and whispered to him "good job"! As we walked over to the vetting area, we offered both horses water. He started to drink and he really tanked-up, I didn't think he would stop. After finishing their drink, we proceeded to the P&R area. He pulsed in at 52 and I was quite pleased and felt we did a great job. Art was finished with the horses ahead of us, so I walked over to him for my final vetting. Art vetted him through and found no problems, everything was fine. He trotted out good, his CRI was good 12/12, gut sounds were pluses in all four quadrants. I was very pleased, Magic finished the ride all A's!

I took him to the trailer, and got him un-tacked and settled. At this point there was nothing out of the ordinary; everything was fine. I was almost soaked to the skin so I went in the trailer to have a hot shower and change into some dry cloths. While in the trailer I could hear a horse pawing at the ground. I looked out and saw it was Magic and he had quite the hole started. My first thought was that he wanted to roll so I called out to Steve to get one of the girls to walk and graze him while I finished changing. At this point approximately an hour and a half had gone by since we completed the ride. I went out of the trailer and the girls told me that he wanted to roll and that he was pawing at the ground. Knowing him and how he loves to roll, I chuckled at the young girls holding him and explained - that's just Magic. Lesley has this uncanny ability of picking up on horse's issues and feelings. She immediately went over to him and looked him over - I could tell by the look on her face that something was terribly wrong. He had signs of a serious colic starting!

I had butterflies in my stomach as I walked him around the field while Lesley ran to get Stan and Art. Every time I stopped walking, he would paw the ground and start getting ready to lie down. In my mind I knew something terrible was wrong and I felt almost helpless. It seemed like eternity for Lesley to return with Stan and Art but it was a relief to see them walking towards me. I felt reassured by their presence and my mind started to think clearer as they examined him. The colic signs started to subside a bit and after they checked him it was confirmed that he had either a mild colic starting or some gas and now we were looking for an explanations as to why this might happen. Both Stan and Art felt that it could have been caused for a number of reason's but we felt one of the main reasons could have been the tanking up of cold water at the final vet check.

Luckily, fellow rider Laura Hayes from New York had some banamine in her trailer of which we gave him about three cc's and then continued the walking around the field. He did settle a bit so it was decided to load and head home.

We arrived home at about 9:00 pm and when we took him off the trailer I checked to see if he had past any manure but he hadn't. I took him into his small turn-out yard and as soon as I took off his halter he dropped to the ground, lay on his back and raised his legs in the air and started moaning. I was absolutely horrified when this happened and I knew we were in serious trouble. Lesley went in the house to call the vet and they decided that we would give him another three cc's of banamine and see if he would settle. We brought him into his stall in the barn, gave the banamine and this time it didn't settle him at all. I started walking him around outside and every time we stopped walking he would paw the ground and attempt to lie down.

At 11:30 pm another call was made to our vet and the need became an emergency! Our vet arrived at 12:00 am and upon tubing Mag, the nightmare got worse. When the tube was inserted completely it filled with reflux, we rushed to get an empty pail and the vet put the end of the tube in the pail and to our shock, it completely filled it. The vet had this look on his face and when I looked up at Lesley and she looked back, we knew that he was near death.

Lesley and I needed to make some quick decisions. The vet asked if surgery was an option; without it Magic would have to be put down. It was now 1:30 am when we loaded him and headed for the London Equine Hospital. By now both Lesley and I were running purely on adrenaline. LEH is about a 90 minute drive and I shouldn't admit to this but we pulled into the parking lot in 50 minutes. Thinking back I don't recall stopping at a stop sign or light the entire trip.

The London Equine Hospital staff are quite amazing people. When we pulled into the parking lot to the entrance behind the building, they were waiting with the doors open. I got Magic off the trailer and lead him into the clinic. He was immediately swarmed by the staff and in no time he had needles, bags and monitors hanging from every conceivable location in his stall. Once all the preliminary stuff was completed, he was given another 6 cc's of Banamine and the tube was again inserted into his belly. This time I expected reflux but was not prepared to watch as bucket after bucket was filled to the top. A total of six gallons was drained from his belly and I think even the vet and his assistants were amazed at the amount. An internal examination was next but there were no conclusive findings. One thing that puzzled the attending vet Dr. Kretzshmar was that Magic's pulse rate was very low. His heart rate was never above 50 and even at the worst of his illness it was at 46. Dr. Kretzschmar indicated that this was very unusual as most horses with the same condition are at about 115 - 120 BPM.

As I mentioned earlier the hospital staff are just the best. Everything they did to him they explained in detail why it was being done. When Dr. Kretzshmar had made his diagnosis he approached Lesley and I and his compassion was truly sincere. We were again faced with an agonizing decision. Dr. Kretzshmar explained in great detail the issues that he felt Magic had going on inside him. I don't think I heard a word he said and as he spoke our eyes welled up in tears - my horse was dieing and there was very little to be done to save the horse and companion that brought so much joy and fun into my life. I gasped as he explained that even with surgery, he at best had only a 10% chance of surviving and if he did survive he would be a pasture patient for the balance of his life. The three choices were given, and again he made sure we had everything we needed to make the right decision including the costs involved. He explained a full colic surgery; what it was; what could be the cause of the colic and the cost of that surgery. We asked that with the full colic surgery if they opened him up and things were bad, that he be put down on the table. He explained another option and that was to basically do exploratory surgery (autopsy on a live horse) and the costs involved. The final choice I did not want to hear - terminate Magic's life! I fell to pieces! Dr. Kretzshmar left Lesley and me to discuss the options. Our decision was to go ahead with the exploratory surgery with instructions to terminate his life if there were serious complications.

A funny thing happened when we went back into the clinic. Just when we thought the world was falling in around us, a light shines. He seemed to settle and he hadn't produced any reflux in almost an hour. I actually got a bit of a chuckle out of the staff when I joked that Magic understood what we were talking about earlier. Between Lesley, I and Dr. Kretzshmar, we decided to post pone the surgery and give him some time to see if this little light was actually a sign of recovery. Lesley and I were exhausted on our feet so we decided to head home to try and get some rest!

Sleep did not come, we were both now up over 32 hours. We were exhausted but our eyes would not close. My mind was so full of guilt and I kept trying to figure out what went wrong. I played the days events over and over again in my mind and questioned whether or not I over rode him at the ride. What did I do to cause him so much hurt?

Lesley and I were on pins and needles as we awaited word from the clinic. Every time the phone rang, we would jump. Finally at 9:00 am Dr. Desjardins called and he delivered some very bad news, Magic was no better and when the banamine wore off he would get very uncomfortable. They had him prepared for the exploratory surgery and they were just getting ready to take him into the OR. We decided that we would go ahead with the exploratory surgery but we confirmed with him that if there were any complications they would put him down on the table; he agreed.

I hung up the phone and started to bring Lesley up to speed on the conversation. In my mind I kept thinking; how can I put my companion through the suffering he must be going through? The words came out of my mouth but I did not hear them. I said to Lesley, we should just put him out of his pain and suffering. We knew from the vet that the likely hood that he would recover were slim to none. We both were very quiet for a moment, Lesley didn't have to say a word, and I knew her answer. I picked up the phone and dialed the number to the hospital. My eyes were wet and I must have dialed the wrong number, I wiped them and then tried again. This time I got the hospital and when I asked for Dr. Cote, the receptionist explained that she was in surgery. I told her who I was and why I was calling. She asked me to hold and when she came back to the line she put me through to Dr Desjardins. Before I could say a word to explain our wishes, he told me to hang on for 10 minutes as they had just opened him up.

In exactly 10 minute the call came, I noted a tone of excitement in Dr. Desjardins voice. He explained to me that they found the problem; fixed it; and in less than ten minutes, he was back in recovery and standing! The words were overwhelming and they echoed through my head! Whether it was the lack of sleep, the bad news, the roller coaster ride, I will never know but I could not hold back the excitement that built up inside me. I dropped the phone and fell to my knees; Magic was going to be okay! Or was he?

Just when you see a glimmer of hope in a bad situation all hope is dashed. Magic wasn't getting better. Dr. Cote the attending vet explained to me on Tuesday morning that it sometimes takes up to 48 hours for the electrical impulses to realize that there is no restriction and to start things working again. She told us that in some cases the impulses never come back and is fatal for the horse. It had been 24 hours post surgery and he was still producing reflux. I started to get concerned when at 32 hours nothing had changed. I got on the phone to Stan Alkemade to get his opinion and he felt that we should wait the full 48 hours before getting concerned.

As time past I got that sick feeling in my gut again. How could this be happening? It was now Wednesday morning and with no word from Dr Cote I knew things were no better. On my way to my office in Niagara Falls, I called the clinic to get an update. Dr. Cote sounded grave and I found myself in the terrible situation of making choices. Although Magic was responding earlier that evening, Dr. Cote was very concerned that another two gallons of reflux was expelled and she was asking how much time and money we want to spend if he was getting no better. It hadn't been a full 48 hours so we decided to give it the day and then assess his condition. Dr. Cote was in surgeries all day so another update wouldn't come until 7:30 pm Wednesday evening.

Lesley and I had tickets to Cavalia in Toronto Wednesday evening and there were no words spoken as we drove to the Distillery District of the Toronto Harbour front. Both of us were totally exhausted and now here we were making another tough decision. We arrived in Toronto in good time so we decided to have dinner before going to the show. My cell phone rings a lot as part of my job and every time it rang we both jumped. It was now 7:00 pm and we were counting down the minutes as we sat sipping on a drink. Our food came but trying to eat was hard, we were both so bewildered! The clocks ticked by 7:30 and still no call from Dr. Cote. Finally at 7:45 my phone rang, it was the London Equine Hospital. I froze; I just couldn't take any more bad news! I handed the phone to Lesley and asked if she could please take the call. It was loud in the restaurant so Lesley stepped around the corner. Seconds turned to minutes as I waited for Lesley to return, the suspense was killing me so I got up and went around the corner just as Lesley was hanging up.

I could tell by Lesley's smile that the news was good. The vets had a meeting after Dr. Cote spoke to me in the morning. They decided as a team to withdraw the tube from him and see if he would stop producing the reflux. The electrical impulses would either start to work again or they wouldn't and it would be over. Lesley told me that Dr. Cote told her that Magic had gone a full nine hours without the tube and there had not been any more reflux. He turned the corner to making a complete recovery.

Magic has had this issue coming on for a number of years and it got progressively more severe. Dr. Cote and Dr. Kretzshmar told us that had we not competed at the Aprilfest ride, we would most likely have found him dead in his paddock and that as long as he was moving forward down trail, things would continue to work. They also explained that with the six gallons of reflux in his belly it was lucky it did not rupture. I can't believe that he was trotting down trail with all that reflux sloshing around inside him. Dr. Ketzschmar figured that the reason he was trotting with his head and neck stretched towards the ground indicated that he basically had in human terms "severe heartburn" for a long time! He apparently had a small lesion on the lining of his small intestine that at some point became infected as debris adhered to its surface. Over time the opening of his stomach gradually stretched to enormous proportion as it tried to compensate for the build up of foreign matter. In-turn this caused the small intestine to enlarge and cause the electric impulses that work the system to weaken. Slowly the impulses would weaken to a point where it just shuts down thus the backing up of the system producing reflux.

I heard a little whinny as I came back from my thoughts; it was Magic standing looking at me over his corral line. It was as if he was saying to me - snap out of it and get me some food; I just carried you over fifty miles and there you sit daydreaming! I rose out of my chair and climbed over the line and gave him a hug! Yes, Magic is back! He is truly a survivor and a tough horse with a lot of heart. I will compete with Magic in many more competitions over the next years, but none will have the memories and significance of the day Magic and I completed the Coates Creek Endurance Ride.

Tom Paleczny

Reame's Magiciann

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Turkey Trot Tale - Nancy Reed

by Nancy Reed

My daughter Danielle will tell you this is her favorite ride to date. She
will also tell you this is the ride that she finally got to let Lyric really
trot, a lot. As a mother and daughter newbie team with 2 young horses I can
say I think we finally rode like endurance riders. And with that I can say,
proudly, all the miles of training finally paid off. And it could not have
happened without Tara, Craig and Danielle Walker-Nollner, showing us how it
is done. I will be forever grateful for their patience, kindness and good
humor both on and off the trail.

First a bit of background in an attempt to keep the players straight. The
scorecard: my daughter, Danielle Gradisher is 13 and rides Lyric, a 7 year
old tank of an Arab mare. Danielle Walker is 12 and has many endurance
miles under her belt and rides a new mare, Bella. Tara rides Boo, a
seasoned gelding. Her husband, Craig rides, a big gray gelding, Shaker. I
ride a 6-year-old half Arab, Jazzi who I have had for one year.

Danielle G. and I have had our fair share of troubles and difficulty on the
endurance learning curve. Lyric can be a very difficult horse and came to
us with behavior issues, saddle issues, bit issues, etc. Danielle G. is,
well, young and neither her nor I knew anything when I got the notion to be
an endurance rider. We were both new to horses and had to start from the
very beginning. I have had injuries too, broke the same foot 2 times in 3
years. I did not have a horse for some time and started Lyric until
Danielle felt safe to ride her. To date we have done more CTR than
endurance and only limited distance at that. I have made many newbie
mistakes such as mixing up CTR and endurance rules. If you look us up on
the AERC site, you will not be impressed. So, for what it is worth my ride
story comes from a newbie point of view. I have so much to learn. And in
that, I take great joy at the small accomplishments made by my daughter or
our horses.

Base camp for the Turkey Trot was a county park with stalls, grass, showers,
hook ups and a covered pavilion. It has one of the easiest access with no
dirt roads and an easy freeway drive. We arrived at base camp before noon
on Friday. Both horses vetted in with all A's except for Lyric who had a B
on gut sounds. What a pleasure to have Dr.Beasom who has the magic touch
with Lyric who in the past has been a total pill at any and all vet checks.
Dr. Beasom made it seem so easy; a little carrot, a little quick look at the
gums, no big deal.

Next, all five of us rode the start and the last few miles of the trail.
Danielle G. was testing a SR Enduro saddle as Lyric had grown out of her
Sharon Saare F tree. The saddle was beautiful, and it fit! Good sweat
pattern, no behavior issues due to pinching. Danielle G. loved it and the
seller agreed to let us use it the following day for the ride.
After a colorful ride meeting and a wonderful potluck dinner, it was early
to bed.
I did not sleep well as it lightly rained several times during the night. I
slept in the cab over section of our RV and the rain sounded like a
downpour. This brought out the worrywart gene I inherited from my
grandmother. I checked on the horses several times, they were very happy
with full hay bags and warm turnout blankets.

The trail was in the scenic Sweetwater River watershed within 10 miles of
the US-Mexico boarder. An amazing mixture of county, state, federal and
private landowners were all talked into giving permission for about 120
riders to trespass. This land is considered to be some of the last
remaining untouched functioning coastal echo systems in southern California.
Coastal chaparral, canyons, riparian, year round creek, a reservoir and even
some antique and not so antique trash made for never ending eye candy.
Rides like this is why I do this sport.

The trail was challenging with lots of hills, rocks, water crossings and an
emu ranch to boot. The footing was a mixture of fire/access roads, new and
established single track and some big granite gravel to spice it up. I had
my husband's Legend C Garmin GPS turned on most of the time and it provided
some interesting data. In the first 4 miles after a short descent we
climbed almost 500 feet, then descended an equal distance. For the next few
miles the trail was relatively flat with water crossings. From here the
climbing was tough, almost a thousand feet in a little over four miles. Our
horses worked hard keeping a steady working trot most of the time. They
were very wet, but due to the cool temperatures the horses were not

In no time we were in the vet check. The criteria was 56 and none of our
horses had any difficulty pulsing down. I remembered to loosen Jazzi's
cinch and not fight with her until after she pulsed down. Lyric was very
good, drinking and not getting upset with the volunteers and their strange
gadgets that they stuck in her side. Jazzi would not drink and was looking
for food, preferably alfalfa. Lots of grass hay was available but no
alfalfa. I was going to be safe from the alfalfa induced Jazzi monster. I
had packed some orchard grass pellets that both Jazzi and Lyric ate. Next
time I need to pack a pan to make a wet mash. The volunteers were wonderful
and so helpful. It was especially nice to have friends hold your horse for
you so you could answer nature's call. I ate a quick ham and dilly roll
sandwich and downed a Gatorade. All of the horses vetted through without a
problem. Lyric again got a B on gut sounds, Jazzi all A's.

Back out on the trail, it was still cool and windy. We had a problem
finding the beginning of the trail back to base camp. Jazzi was reluctant to
move out and I was starting to get upset with worry as she had not drank any
water the entire ride. But, my mental gymnastics were unnecessary as Jazzi
was fine; she just did not want to leave the vet check and all the food.

The trail home got pretty spectacular with a huge downhill down the face a
mountain on new single track. The GPS data is some 600 feet straight down
in 1 mile. Tara, Craig and Danielle G all dismounted and walked most of
this. Danielle W. and I rode it down without incident. The rest of the
ride was relatively flat when compared to the earlier hills. We made
excellent time and took turns leading and in the line up. Lyric got to
really trot out and my GPS clocked her at 14 MPH on the flat about 4 miles
from the finish. Danielle G. was glowing as her little horse out trotted

We made the finish at about 1pm and all five horses easily pulsed down.
Danielle W. came in ahead of Danielle G. by about 3 minutes. The volunteers attempted to put Danielle G in ahead of Danielle W., but Danielle G.
quickly corrected them. I was proud to be her mom and see her true
sportsmanship shine.

After a warm sponge bath, all the horses vetted out without issues. Jazzi
had finally drank at the finish and while being cleaned. Lyric's back was
in wonderful shape from the SR Enduro saddle. Beer and chips, showers and a
bit of a nap for us humans followed.

The dinner was the best I have ever had at a ride; pans and pans of
wonderful, spicy Mexican food. So much food, in fact, volunteers were
handing out quesadillas and taquitos to the hungry people waiting in line.
They served meat and cheese enchiladas, guacamole, carnitas, chili rellenos,
chips, salza, beans, rice and more. No one went away hungry!

Here is what I recall of our group's standings, Danielle W. came in first
junior and 15th overall followed by Tara, Craig, Danielle G. (second junior)
and myself. This is not official and just my recollection after a few beers. We made the ride in 4 hours, well under the allotted time (ride time
only, not including holds). Our horses had lots of gas at the end. Lyric
found a saddle that fit (what a relief) and I did was able to keep up with
the pace.

Much of this was due to the cool weather. I still have a drinking issue
with Jazzi. Jazzi also has developed a habit of loosing momentum after the
vet check. I am not sure how to deal with this. Jazzi has also become much
more sure-footed and self-assured on the trails. Lyric and Danielle G. are
really blossoming and coming into their own as a team.
Danielle W. and Bella are also becoming a team in spite of the short time
they have had each other. Tara and Craig are so seasoned and so
knowledgeable. They make it look so easy. I am so grateful they let us tag

Maybe Danielle, Lyric, Jazzi and I really can do this. Maybe we can become
real endurance riders after all. What a wonderful ride. I cannot thank
everyone enough for this wonderful experience!

Nancy Reed

Lazy J Ranch

Elfin Forest, CA

Bonita Easy Come, Easy Go Turkey Trot - Lee

A great big thank you to the Ride Manager and all the volunteers for putting on this wonderful ride. The trail was challenging with beautiful views in many areas. There was plenty of help at the checks and holds. The criteria was a 56 which many people were concerned about. It worked out well for me and Bravo and I didn't hear anyone that really had a problem meeting criteria. I do not believe that there were any horse's treated which was great given the large field of 75 horses in the 50 and 50 in the 25 (approximately).

The day after Thanksgiving we packed the trailer and headed to the San Diego area to do another 50 miler. Bravo was ready and I was happy to be away from home and work :)

We arrived early on Friday at the Sweetwater Camp Ground (even got a campsite with electric and water) WOOHOO ! The weather was not the best, but surely it would clear for ride day......well, almost. It was damp and cooler then we were used to and I was glad that I put the extra blankets on the bed and in the trailer for the horses.

We set up camp and I even took Bravo for a quick ride to see the area. He was not happy to leave Kaci behind but moved out smartly enough. He was feeling way too good !
We vetted in without incident and received our ride number and packet. Now just had to go to the ride meeting. The Manager, Dave, was quite the character. The ride map was just a tad confusing but I figured I just had to make it from point A to point B, and it was all there on the map - A, B, C, D, E, 1, 2, 3 and 4 (yes literally).

We tucked in for the night as the ride start was 6:30 a.m. I woke, as always, at 1, 2, 3, 4 and then 5 o'clock. Made a quick cup of tea and oatmeal for breakfast and started to tack up. Bravo was still relaxed - hmmmmm is he sick ?? Nah, just saving his energy for the start.

Since Dave was not riding, he lead Kaci to the finish to make it easier on both her and Bravo to separate. Bravo didn't blink and headed down the trail at a smart trot after I gave my number to the check in. After that is was all blowing and pulling, boy was he in a hurry. Things were going along okay until we tried to pass a chestnut that was really giving his rider fits. I asked to pass and when I did this horse started pitching a fit, Bravo took one look at that and said "oh yea, I can do that too"! EEEEKKKKKKK- lucky for him it only took a stern word to get that out of his system, PHEW !

This ride is posted as moderate but I would say it was slightly more to the difficult side. There wasn't much flat trail to make time on - there was lots of rolling hills and some really tough climbs and technical trail. That being said, I made the 13 miles to the first vet check right as scheduled in 1.5 hours, only getting rained on twice. The pulse criteria was 56 and even with the very high humidity, Bravo pulsed down in about 3 minutes. Things were looking good. Bravo didn't really drink at this stop but that is not unusual for him, even at home. He did eat really well. It was a 20 minute hold that seemed like 5 and we were off on the next loop.

The second vet check would be in the same place and Dave was set up to wait out our arrival. The next loop was 25 miles (with two 10 minute holds after pulsing down out on the trail). At the first hold I had just called for P&R when someone turned on a hose that was in a large bucket of water directly behind Bravo. The hose shot up and squirted poor unsuspecting Bravo right in the behind. He was so shocked he almost went over top of me. Needless to say, it took us an extra few minutes to pulse down after that !

Out for a 7-8 mile loop and then back to the same hold spot. This time it was uneventful. Bravo was drinking but not as well as I would have hoped. The humidity was causing him to sweat a lot more then I am accustomed to seeing and in hindsight I should have upped his electrolytes. We left then and the trail back to the vet check was a lot of climbing. We arrived in good time and were at the 38 mile mark. Bravo drank like a camel and buried his head in his food. I hated to disturb him so I covered him with a cooler and let him eat (something I don't usually do - note to self, don't deviate from what you know works). I usually get right in the vet line and vet through just in case the horse stiffens up at the hold. I can then take them back out and loosen them up on the trail. Bravo was so hungry he stood absolutely still for the entire 45 minutes and then I vetted. The vet says she may see something in his left hind - UH OH. I am freaked. I take him back to the truck and massage his leg. He acts like it is bothering him but Bravo can be a priss about being touched. I am torn - do I go back out or do I pull ????????????

The final loop is only 12 miles and I still have 5 1/2 hours to make it. I really don't feel there is much, if anything, wrong with Bravo then perhaps a slight tightness from standing still for so long after all the climbing we just did and being in weather a lot more humid and cooler then we are used to coming from Yuma. I make the decision to continue on (with David's urging), but I decide I will hand walk all the up and down hills and ride him only on the flat sections. I tell Dave not to be worried if it takes me a long time to reach the finish. But I am a paranoid person when it comes to my horse and if Bravo blinks wrong I second guess my decision many times over the time it takes to cover that last 12 mile loop.

I also think that perhaps my electrolyte protocol was off. I am not accustomed to dealing with the humidity. I did participate in the Pride Project so I know that my feeding/electrolytes are right on with this horse for our normal conditions. I decide to give a full dose of electrolytes before leaving the check (which would be a double dose of my usual amount) since he has been drinking nonstop the entire hour. And off we go.....

We get about one mile from camp to the first hill, I hop off and tail up, lead down - not too bad. Back on and off over the next 6 miles and then the killer last climb. I had to stop three times to catch my breath even with tailing. Sheesh that was a BIG hill. It really gives you an appreciation for what these magnificent creatures do for us when you are on foot doing it yourself. We crest the hill and there are two guys sitting at a picnic table (we are close to camp). They ask me if I just walked that entire hill and I couldn't answer for a minute until I caught my breath. When I said yes, they just shook their head ! So what goes up, must go down and very quickly too. I am crapwalking sideways over the erosion ruts when it happens, I lose my footing and skid down on my left side, into the erosion ditch. Bravo is sliding down with his hocks under him and he passes me by. It happens quickly but seems to be going by in slow motion. I have not lost my grip on the reins and as he passes I grab his tail and he pulls me back up on my feet. And yes, I have the bruises to prove it today.

At the bottom of the hill I mount up and we trot the remainder of the course. Everyone is waiting at the finish and are hooting and hollering. I make Bravo walk the slight incline up to the finish, even though he was excited to be done and wanted to trot.

The vet area was right there by the finish and I decide to pulse down and vet through, just in case there is a chance of him tightening up. So I cool him out with some sponging on the neck and check his heart rate - 56. We are at criteria. I pull the saddle right there, cover him with a cooler and go to vet through. I have Dave trot Bravo so I can see, and he looks fine. There is a line but I wait and walk him in circles until it is our time. We have the same vet as at the last check and I worry some more. She remembers us............. She checks his vitals, gut sounds, back, etc. - all As. Now the moment of truth, the trot out.

I know the minute I step off with the lead that he is fine - he surges ahead of me - tail flagging and I have tears in my eyes once again at the beautiful spirit of this horse of mine. I don't even get three steps and she says, YOUR FINE ! He received all As.

Was there a problem - maybe.
Should I have pulled him - maybe. But we are both endurance addicts, this horse and me. We live to ride the trails, sometimes fast and furious, sometime he takes care of me, and sometimes I take care of us. Partnership, pure and simple - no ego for where we place or what we win or don't win. In the end the horse doesn't know where he places, he only knows how he feels.

My best reward was seeing the sparkle in his eye when we returned to the trailer and he hollers up a storm to Kaci and the camp, telling them he is the WINNER (well in my eyes anyway) ;)


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lone Star I - Suzy Ticer

By Suzy Ticer

I have always said that someday in the future I would love to ride my husband's horse Toby. Well at the CT region Lone Star Ride my husband was not able to ride so I finally got my wish (I kept telling myself to remember what you wish for!). Previously, I had only ridden Toby at a very controlled trot or walk on a training ride near home. I did not think I could ride him any faster because he stops on his front legs while doing flying lead changes and if you are not ready for that you will be flying over his head and at age 47, I am very careful about avoiding any injuries. I have only been riding for about 5 years and doing LD rides for 2 years so I do not consider myself a great rider..

Toby is a 15.3 hand 10 year old Anglo-Arab who was born for endurance. He won BC in the LD at his first ride, Old Glory in 2003. He won 2nd place in the Region Limited Distance Best Condition in 2004. He has never finish out of the top ten in LD rides that he has completed and he placed 10th out of 90 horses in his first 50 mile ride at Bluebonnet this past year. He loves to go fast and if he can't go fast he really gets upset, will throw his head around and will stomp and prance like a child until he gets his way.

Lone Star is held the two days after Thanksgiving each year at the Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas. Thanksgiving is a very busy time at the park with lots of people enjoying the well marked permanent trails, the weather, and their favorite mode of transportation including bikes, horses, and their own two feet.

Thanksgiving day, we packed up and drove the two hours to the ride camp. After John, my husband; Nicole, our 21 year old daughter and I set up our camp, we registered and vetted in the horses. Debbie Allen, the ride manager gave every participant a really nice registration gift, a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Horse Lovers Soul." (If you haven't already read this book have plenty of tissues handy!) All participants were invited to the annual potluck dinner of turkey with all the usual side dishes and deserts. What better way to spend Thanksgiving then with your horses and your riding friends. Debbie then held the ride meeting and gave instructions about courses, hold times and finishing criteria. She reminded everyone that this is a technical trail with lots of rocks and hills and it could be very warm and humid during the ride. She asked that we take care of our horses and our selves and her goal was to not to have any horses or humans treated at the ride. The vets reminded everyone to electrolyte, electrolyte, electrolyte. It is November, but this is Texas!

Friday morning stared off with perfect weather for fall in Texas, low 60's with a forecast of clear skies and possible highs in the 80's by the afternoon. The seventeen 50 milers stared at 7:00 AM and the thirty-four 25s started at 8:00 AM. As I tacked up and mounted Toby, I told everyone that I was not smiling I actually had a grimace of terror that I was going to attempt to ride Toby for a full 25 miles all by myself! John told me that I had to finish in the top 10 to keep Toby's record or I would be walking home. I told him I would do my best just to stay on the horse!

The ride had a slow controlled start for about a mile or so. As soon as the trail was open, Toby took off at a fast trot through the trees. And that was the last time I saw any of the 25 milers until I got back to camp. I am used to riding by myself, but usually it is in the middle of the pack. Toby likes to go out fast at the beginning of the ride and John had told me not to try to hold him back because that's when I would get into trouble. We went about 2 or 3 miles through the trees and along a dry creek bed, then we hit a short stretch of road and a pasture where the park rangers had mowed a very wide trail. Toby just opened it up and off we went flying down the trail, wind whistling past my ears, my eyes watering from the speed, my hat flying off never to be seen again. What a rush! Toby only got smoother the faster we went! We made a brief stop at the first water tank, but Toby was not even interested. So off we go again following the orange course. Up hills, over rocks, crossing dry creek beds, around oak and cedar trees, I did not even have an opportunity to enjoy the great views, we were going so fast.

I lost my stirrups and bounced around on the saddle a couple of times, but I hung on and just kept right on going. I tried to slow him down as we approached a small hill with lots of rocks, but he has not having any of that and proceeded to do one of those awful stops of his. I was thrown forward in the saddle, I grabbed his mane, my left leg came over the saddle, leaving me hanging off the right side with one foot still in the stirrup and hanging onto the reins. Luckily Toby came to a complete stop and I fell the couple of feet to the ground. The only thing I could think of at the time was, "Well that wasn't so bad, and thank goodness no one saw me". Toby just stood there looking at me with an expression on his face that clearly said "What are you doing down there, get back in the saddle so that we can get back on the trail!" which we proceeded to do.

I finished the first loop of 12.3 miles in one hour and 20 minutes about 20 minutes before the next rider. We then had a one-hour hold so both Toby and I ate and loaded up on electrolytes, tacked back up and off we went following the yellow trail. I did have to change into a pair of jeans because I had blown the knee out of my tights during my unscheduled dismount.

I felt much more comfortable and relaxed with Toby after successfully completing the first loop and really enjoyed the rest of the ride. The rest of the park had woken up and were out on the trail by this time so we had to keep our eyes open for hikers, kids fishing in the creeks, parents with kids in strollers, bicycle riders and trail riders. Toby seemed to know that he had to slow down to a walk or slow trot when passing so I did not have do to much work. We did almost run over a mountain bike rider when we came around a blind corner, but Toby stopped on a dime and luckily no one was hurt. We passed lots of trail riders who graciously moved to the side of the trail when they saw us coming. We exchanged "Good Mornings, and what a beautiful day for a ride!" and continued down the well-marked trail.

Toby really showed me what an excellent endurance horse he was on the second loop which had a lot more rocks on the trail including one really good vertical cliff climb. Toby seemed to know just where to place his feet while still maintaining a very fast trot over rocks that other horses would have had to walk over, it was amazing. He read the trail ahead and decided how fast he had to go and I barely had to direct him around the curves, around and under trees, and over dry creek beds. He stopped almost automatically at any water, took a great big drink, splashed himself with water and off we went. He even seems to know the right direction on the trails. We came to a split in the trail, and I thought we should go left, but Toby said "No, Mom, we have to go right here!" and he was correct. I crossed the last large dry creek, and met up with about 7 or 8 trail riders coming the other way, we slowed down, passed them, then took off at a gallop just past the last rider. We again hit the large mowed pasture, and all Toby saw was open freeway. After nearly 20 miles, he just turned up the power and we flew the last couple of miles at full speed. We came to the road leading into camp, and I got off to walk him in the last half of a mile. I stripped the saddle off of him at our camp and vetted in.

We finished the second 13.7 mile loop in one hour and 25 minutes. I have never finished a ride in such a short time. Toby and I went back after 15 minutes and one hour to stand for BC. I even got a hug from the vet when I had completed the final vet check. Needless to say I was ecstatic at finishing the ride in one piece and getting my first 1st place finish. I had to tell everyone!! I was emotionally just flying! I had ridden Toby for 25 miles with no major mishaps, had come in first, and had a great time. Nicole said "Mom's gonna want a faster horse now!" and she was right!

I took Toby back to our camp and gave him a great big meal and hugged him for getting me through a great ride in one piece. Our camp was located near the finish line so I watched all the other 25 and 50 milers as they came into camp. We had plans to drive to Dallas on Saturday, so we took down our tent and packed everything up and waited for the award meeting.

Debbie thanked everyone at the award meeting for having a safe ride with no horses or humans having to be treated. As Debbie was announcing the names of those who had completed the ride successfully, I just kept thinking of what a wonderful day I had getting to ride a really great horse successfully, and winning a first place and first heavy weight rider. But what really made my day was when Debbie announced that Toby had also won Best Conditioned horse! Someone in the crowd jokingly said something about leaving some of the awards for the rest of the riders.

Well I finally got my chance to ride Toby and it was better than I expected! I learned I was a better rider then I had previously thought, Toby is the greatest horse ever (IMHO) and it's great coming in first. Now I can't wait to ride Toby again, maybe I'm even ready for a 50-mile ride!!

Suzy Ticer