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) ;)