Friday, March 24, 2006

Heart of the Hills Ride - Dawn Carrie

2006 Heart of the Hills

by Dawn in East Texas

If you missed this ride in the Texas Hill Country this past weekend, you missed a good one. Not only were the trails fun, well-marked, pretty, and a nice mix of technical sections and places to move out, but the severe weather predicted for the weekend didn't hit till Sunday night. Kudos to ride manager Chirs Godsey, her volunteers, and the vets.

My husband Ross and I headed over Friday morning. I planned to ride the 50 both days on my 7 yr old Arabian gelding Little Bear TC, and Ross planned to ride the LD both days on his 12 yr old Paso Fino gelding Diamante de Zeta. If Diamante did well, Ross planned to try their first 50 at Meanwhile Back at the Ranch next month. But we all know how "plans" has to ride one loop at a time and see how it goes. After all, "Murphy" rides endurance, too!

It was cool and breezy when we arrived around 2:30 Friday afternoon. We set up camp, put hay and beet pulp in front of the horses, and got everything organized while the horses chowed down. At first it looked to be a small ride, but then people started pouring in later in the day, which was nice to see. We waited till the vet line went down, then vetted the horses in uneventfully. Since we're from East Texas (no rocks) and this was a rocky ride, Ross had the Equi-build pour-in pads in all four of Diamante's feet. I had Equi-build in Bear's rear feet, and planned to use Easy Boot Epics on the front. Before it got dark, Ross and I did the Karen Chaton vet wrap trick and then put the Epics on Bear. Didn't want to have to do that in the morning when neither of us were awake! The vet wrap worked great...we didn't have any rubbing. These boots have the old style gaitors, but we had cut off the edges that had rubbed him in the past. Poor Bear...he had bright blue vet wr ap "socks" and red biothane tack...he clashed. Last thing we did before going to bed was to listen to our little NOAA weather radio. It called for a 30% chance of rain on Saturday, high temp of 79, and 50% rain Sat. night. Sunday, 70% chance of thunderstorms, some severe. Oh well, we'll worry about Sunday when it gets here. Saturday doesn't sound too bad.

We got up at 5:30 Saturday morning and I ate my usual breakfast of a boiled egg, yogurt smoothie, and a chocolate Ensure, along with a cup of coffee. It was misting lightly when I went out to tack up. Got Bear tacked up, but when I tried to mount, he was fidgeting and dancing all over...he knew it was game day. Ross held him more or less in one spot and I got on. I checked in with the number taker, then trotted and walked Bear around to warm him up. It was coolish, and misting more heavily now, but not really cold. We would be doing four 12.5 mile loops. We'd have a pulse down and trot out after the first loop, and would have our first hold (1 hour) after the second loop. There would be a 45 min. hold after the 3rd loop. I really prefer rides like this with fewer, but longer, holds. The pulse down/trot out was in camp, so that anyone who wanted to give their horse a hold could do so. And the pulse down requirement would separate any less fit horses tha t were being pulled along by other horses. Nice way to do it.

We headed out on a controlled start at 7 am, going at a walk. Well, that was the intent. Bear was jigging, cantering in place, jogging was going to be one of those days. We went down the entrance road, then turned off down a fenceline. Once we got past a rocky little dropoff that the horses had to step down, trail was opened up, and folks began to move out. Bear's little brain flew out his ear and was gone. He became a raving lunatic, which I knew would happen. After a few hundred yards the trail made a sharp right away from the fence. I went straight for about 40 feet and we practiced our "airs above the ground" while everyone went on and I gave them time to get out of sight. I saw a couple of riders waaayyyy back up the fenceline, but decided to go on. Bear fussed and fumed and threw a hissy fit for about 3/4 mile, then began to settle down and listen to me. He's a delightful horse to ride alone, or in front if we're with others. Rig ht now I'm working on him listening to me and our pacing. Later we'll worry about adding in other horses in front of us. We trotted along, and I kept him down to about an 8-9 mph trot, tops. Whenever we came to an extra rocky section or a steep uphill, or a downhill, we walked. This was not a popular decision with Bear, but he eventually started slowing down on his own when he saw a 'walk spot" coming up. By now the mist had turned into a moderate drizzle that was blowing pretty hard. Still not that bad. Yeah, I was all wet, but I wasn't cold.

We trotted along several miles in the blowing drizzle, and eventually saw the ride photographer in a yellow slicker up on a slope. Bear saw him too and veered away...he could be dangerous. Don't know if he got any good pics or not...forgot to check. Bear peed 4 times on this loop. One thing about the boy...between his good drinking in camp and all the soaked beet pulp, he starts each ride practically sloshing. The trail looped around up and down hills, sometimes following jeep roads on ridgetops, then jumping off to have us pick our way down a slope. This first loop was pretty easy...Chris wisely kept us off the more technical sections while everyone was on fresh, spastic horses. My plan was to do the first loop in about 2 hours. I planned to go slow, since I had hopes of doing both days. I'm generally pretty good at pacing, but next thing I knew, there was camp. I hopped off and led Bear in the last few hundred yards. He was down right away, so we immediately P&Red, 14 minutes sooner than my planned time. I had to admit, *I* needed to pee, so was glad to be back in camp! Bear had been too fidgetty the two times I'd stopped to try and make a pit stop on trail. I'd been worried I'd have trouble getting back on him with my bad knee, so had just held it. We trotted out, got the ok wave, and headed to our trailer. I got my pit stop and an Ensure, Bear got some carrots and peed (again), I elyted him, and we headed back out on the blue loop after about 10-15 minutes. It was still blowing drizzle.

The blue loop is the most difficult, mostly due to a long section of very steep, rocky fenceline (a mile or so) that is downhill. It's right near the start. I led Bear down a couple of the steepest sections, but he was being a pill, so I stayed on for the rest. We finally got down that section, then came to a very pretty creek that had a little water in it. This creek has a sheer rocky bluff above it, and is really nice. After a water stop, we headed up the worst climb of the ride...a straight up, gravelly bulldozer trail. Bear powered up it and we trotted off on some nice trail. We came to some new trail Chris and Co. had found. It was very rocky and ledgy and technical, and very pretty. I liked it. We picked our way through it, then hit a road and trotted back to camp. No Bear, that's not the end of the loop...we keep going through camp. I finally got him out of camp and on we went. Back down to the front of the ranch, then back north up over some rocky ridges and through some valleys. We passed some deer stands (this privately owned cattle ranch is also a hunting lease), and then down along the east fenceline. We were riding through typical Texas Hill Country vegetation...Ashe Juniper (locally called "cedar") on the ridges and slopes, oaks on the slopes and in the ravines, various shrubs (agarita, etc.) scattered among the junipers and oaks, and several specis of hardwoods in the ravines along the creeks (most of which were dry now). There were several species of hardy native bunchgrasses that the horses really liked munching. Oh, and did I mention that there are rocks? We don't have those in East Texas. We arrived back in camp a couple minutes after 11. Bear drank well and pulsed down immediately, and vetted through in great shape. The drizzle had let up quite a bit, although it was still cloudy and breezy. He had hay, beet pulp, and alfalfa to choose from, and a big tub of water...wha t more could a horse want? Me, I had to pee again , then grabbed a yogurt smoothie and went over to see what time Ross had gone out on his second loop of the LD. Turned out he had left about 10 minutes before I came in. I went back and grazed my way through the fridge and cupboards (another Ensure, more yogurt, a grilled sausage, a granola bar...I was hungry). Gave Bear some carrots, and I mixed up some Gookinade (elyte drink for me). Refilled my camelbak, and sat down for a few minutes before our out time.

We headed out a few minutes big deal, I'm in no hurry. This loop would also pass back through camp. We headed back down the entrance road to the front of the ranch. Most of it was downhill on hard gravel road, so we just walked, then moved out at a trot when we got to the level ground. In no time, maybe 30 minutes, we'd done this short keyhole and were coming back to camp on the same road the blue trail had used. Bear knew where he was...surely *this* time the idiot woman would stay in camp. Nope, made him continue on past our trailer and keep going. I asked the number taker if I was last (wanting turtle!). She said no, there was at least one or more riders who had not even gone out on the keyhole yet. Bummer. Thought I might need a tow truck to get Bear out of camp this time. LOL But we made it, and after sulking for about 1/2 mile, he shook it off and perked up. He really does like going down the trail, he just has trouble leavi ng "home." This loop went to the far north end of the ranch to the separate pasture where the cattle were sequestered for the ride weekend. We had to open and close gates when entering and leaving this section. Not long before entering the cattle pasture I caught up to Carol Kight and Debbie Quinn. I tried to ease up and let them go on ahead, but my calm horse was gone and the lunatic was back. I fussed with him part of the way through the cattle pasture, then pulled up and let them go on. The airs above the ground began again. We were spending more time in the air than an Olympic ski jumper. Ok, enough of that...I turned him around and headed back up the trail the way we'd come for a bit, then turned back around and continued on. That worked...they'd gotten far enough ahead that I didn't catch them the rest of the loop. Once we left the cattle pasture, it was only a couple of miles back to camp. I nearly caught up to Carol and Debbie...we all P&Red about the same time. Bear was down right away again. He again vetted through well.

Ross and Diamante were back at the trailer...they'd completed the LD in great shape, in spite of Diamante being a fire-breathing maniac. Ross made me a turkey sandwich, and Bear dove into the hay and beet pulp for most of our 45 minute hold. The hold passed quickly. Ross elyted Bear for me, I waited a few extra minutes to give Debbie and Carol time to get ahead of me, then headed out for our last loop. This loop would follow part of the nasty steep downhill fenceline the blue loop had used, and would also include the steep bulldozer trail up out of the creek. We got those nasties out of the way early in the loop, and the rest seemed to pass quickly. We stopped for some grass breaks, as Bear was now very hungry, and continued our pattern of walking the downhills and steep uphills, which we had been doing all day. I ended up catching Carol and Debbie, and after chatting a bit, I went on ahead of them. No need to try for turtle now, since there were people still behind me. ; And it was easier to pass them than try to stay far enough behind them to ensure that Bear forgot about them. We entered the cattle pasture again, but only briefly this time. I caught up to Kim Reeves on her QH mare Stubby and Debbie Stewart. We talked a bit, and I ended up going on pass them for the same reason. The last loop always seems to go quickly, and this one was no exception. Almost before I knew it, we were on the road leading to the finish line. We crossed the line at a blistering walk at 5:22 pm, for a ride time of 8:37 (if my math is right). Bear again pulsed down right away, and vetted through in great shape as Ross trotted him out for me. Vet Carter Hounsel made my day when he told his vet secretary, "That's what you want to see...see how good he looks?" Back to the trailer, food and drink for Bear, pee break for me.

On day 1, 34 started the 50, and 28 completed. We ended up 20th, I think. There were 44 in the LD, and 38 completed. Ross and Diamante were right in the middle...19th. Chris treated everyone to a delicious BBQ brisket dinner. I'm bad...I don't remember who won the 50 or got BC the first day.

Day 2...

Having completed the first day, and with Bear looking so good, I figured we'd definitely go on day 2, if he still looked good in the morning. I toyed with dropping down to the LD, being paranoid of overdoing it with him. But then I realized that if we finished the LD and he still had plenty of gas left, I'd be kicking myself for not entering the 50. And besides...I could pull him from the 50 at any point if I decided he was too tired. Ross and Diamante were going to do the LD again.

We listened to the weather radio not much chance of rain over night, 30 or 40% chance Sunday, and the severe stuff due to hit Sunday night. Nice of it to hold off. Sunday morning we were up at 5:30 again, same breakfast, same light drizzle. I had Ross trot Bear out, and he looked great. I brushed him off, then approached him with the saddle. The look on his face clearly said, "And you intend to put that WHERE?!?" Yep, first time he'd gone out two days in a row. We tacked up, then I took him down to the vets to trot out, as requested for horses going out again the second day. He got a thumbs up from the vet, so we headed to the start. Only 10 riders in the 50 today. It was now heavy drizzle and blowing...where have I seen this before?

We had the same controlled start. This time Bear walked (mostly). When the group started trotting, I again pulled off and let them go on. Two riders (Eron Howell and Donna Murphy) were holding way back, so I went on. The loops and holds were the same as yesterday. Bear felt good, not as much of a lunatic as the day before, but not tired feeling either. We trotted and walked the first loop, trying to go a little slower than the first day. I left an hour and 38 minutes on the table the first day, and planned to use them. He wanted grass, so we took some grazing breaks. We finished the first loop in about 2 hours this day, pulsed down right away, and trotted out. Got a wave from the vet, so we headed back to the trailer for a few minutes. Bear ate while I made a pit stop, drank an Ensure, and ate a snack. I elyted him, and off we went on the blue loop.

We negotiated the nasty downhill section and the steep uphill dozer trail. Bear was still moving out well, and eating grass here and there. Eron and Donna caught up with us on this loop. We rode together very briefly, but then Bear had to pee, and I told them to go on. They were trotting just a bit faster than I wanted Bear to go, and I was going to be very anal about my ride plan in order to complete. We don't have hills in East Texas, and I had never asked Bear for two 50s in a row. This was going to be a big effort for him, and I wanted to ride my own ride without worrying about whether I was slowing someone else down. They went on, Bear fussed a bit, but then settled down. We continued walking the downhills and steep uphills, and taking grass breaks. We made it back to camp and P&Red at 11:38, about 35 min. later than the day before. So far, so good. Bear vetted through ok, but had a B on muscle tone. Hmmm...

He ate like a pig during the hour hold, going back and forth between water, beet pulp, and hay. We stayed a few extra minutes, then headed out on the orange loop, which had the keyhole back through camp. As we headed down the entrance road, we passed Ross, followed by a couple of other LDers (one of whom's horse was very lame) trotting up the road. Diamante and Bear saw each other, and little love hearts popped out everywhere. LOL Diamante was on a mission, and didn't slow. Bear, however, slowed and tried to turn...I kept him going, and even though he was sulky, he continued on. We stopped at a water tank, he drank well, then we continued on. Since I would have ridden down the entrance road at a walk anyhow, I got off and led him down. We got to the bottom, I hopped back on, and we finished the rest of the keyhole. As we passed through camp, Ross and Diamante were at the trailer, and the two horses called to each other. I finally got Bear out of camp, and w e finished the orange loop, P&Ring at about 3:15. Bear again vetted through fine, and his muscle tone had improved to an A (same vet). Going slower and more walking on this loop may have helped. more loop...we might make it!!! Bear again ate well. Ross had finished 9th in the LD and stood for BC just to get the vet score on Diamante, who looked like he hadn't done a thing all weekend. He's definitely ready for a 50. After our 45 minute hold, we headed out. Or rather, tried to. We got as far as the timer table, and Bear could hear Diamante calling, and refused to go farther. I had to hop off and lead him out of camp. Once out, however, he headed off down the trail. We had 3 hours to do 12.5 miles. I planned to use most of it...Bear was getting tired. We eased along, jogging and slow trotting some sections, walking lots, and taking lots of grass breaks. We did the steep rocky downhill, with me leading Bear the whole way. Then we came to that long, steep uphill dozer trail. Bear had carried my butt up that thing 3 times this weekend, and he was now getting tired. It kills my knee to climb hills. I won dered if he'd tail me...he'd never done that. I hopped off, pointed him at the hill, and clucked at him...he started walking, I grabbed his tail, and walked along, still clucking. He was confused, but kept going...I gradually exerted more and more pressure on his tail. As he started up the hill, I let him start pulling me. He looked back a few times, but then just put his head down and powered up the hill, pulling me along. Good boy!!! We made it to the top in great shape.

We eased along the rest of the loop. Lots of grass breaks and walking. Next think I knew, we were at the steep rocky downhill road leading to the finish line road. I got off and led him down it, then started leading him up the finish line road. My knee started giving out, so I got back on and rode at a walk up the road. We'd made it. He again pulsed down right away. Final vet check...he felt good...would he pass? YES! He trotted out great, although tired, and looked good. My flatland horse had done 100 miles in two days in the rugged Texas Hill Country. I was proud of him!

Day 2, 9 out of 10 50s completed. Four were two-day horses...Hank Copeland won the 50 on Bearcat, a two-day horse, and got BC. Kim Reeves and Debbie Stewart also rode their horses both days. I don't know the stats on the LD, but Ross said that about 20 started. Diamante, doing his second day, received second highest vet score, second only to the LD BC horse. Ross was very proud of him. A 50 is definitely in the works for them at Meanwhile next month, if nothing happens to Diamante between now and then.

It was a great ride...the weather held off (Sunday's drizzle quit mid-morning, and it was nice the rest of the day). Severe weather (severe thunderstorms with rain, hail, and possible tornadoes) was on the way for Sunday night, however, so we pulled out around 9 pm, getting hom at 2 am. We hated hauling the horses that soon after the ride, especially Bear, but figured it was better than leaving them out in the storms. About 1 1/2 hours after we left, the radio said that there was a tornado warning for the county where camp was and the adjacent county, so we figured we'd made the right choice.

Looking forward to the next ride...Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, April 15!

Dawn in East Texas

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