This past weekend hubby Ross and I headed up to the Meanwhile Back at the Ranch ride, which is southwest of Fort Worth, TX. This is one of my favorite rides in Texas due to the variety of trails and the wildflower display. The trails were as fun as ever, although it seemed that the drought had tempered the wildflower display a bit. But my favorite flower at the ride, the purple downy paintbrush, was as showy as ever, so I was pretty happy. :)
I always enjoy the trails at this ride...they're a mix of open pastures, tight woods with fun twisty-turny single track that's a blast when ridden at mach 8 (LOL), and a neat tall rocky "mountain" (ok, remember, this *is* Texas here, so allow me some poetic license
Ross and I arrived around 2 pm and got camp set up for our two ponies. Rae Callaway got there around 3 or 3:30, and Lianne and Sharon arrived about 5 or so. We got all the horses settled in, and vetted everyone through. All of us would be riding, except Sharon, who came along for fun and to serve as our chef extraordinaire. I'm sure we were the only group in camp with a huge Weber grill.
This year the ride would extra special. Ross and his 12 year old Paso Fino gelding Diamante de Zeta would be doing their first 50, and we'd ride together. Lianne was just getting back into 50s, after work and some injuries (hers, not her horse's) had kept her out of riding for a year or so. We were all doing the 50 together. Rae was going to do the LD on her mare.
Lianne and Sharon slept in our trailer, so as to not wake Rae up when we all got up early for the 50. Ross did his usual 3 am feeding of the horses, so they'd have time to eat a good meal before the ride. We got up around 5 or so for the 6:30 start. Double checked on Rae at 6, to make sure she was awake for the LD start at 7:15. The three of us headed for the start, and Sharon wisely went back to sleep.
They had a controlled start this year for some reason...never had one before, and the start of the yellow trail is very innocuous. Oh well. My 7 year old gelding Bear did airs above the ground, cantering in place, etc. as we tried to walk along. Aren't they supposed to learn to conserve energy after doing consecutive days of 50s? He didn't learn anything from doing that last month...in fact, instead of fighting me for the first 15-20 miles of this ride, he pulled my arms off for most of the ride. Once they released the controlled start, we picked up a medium trot across the pastures and up the powerline to the base of the mountain (don't forget, poetic license here!). Ross hopped off to lead Diamante up the short but steep climb, and Lianne did the same for her horse Al, who was the least conditioned of the three horses. I told Bear he was going to have to carry me up, since my knee doesn't do well walking uphill. I offered Bear's tail to Lianne to help her up the hill...so Bear carried me and tailed Lianne. :) We made it to the top, and they mounted back up. We slow trotted and walked the rocky top of the mountain ridge. The views are really great from up there...this is one of my favorite parts of the ride. That's good , because we'd see it three times today. When we got to the steep decent, we all got off and led the horses down, all six of us slipping and sliding in the loose dirt and rocks.
At the bottom we mounted up and continued on at a nice trot, going through some woods on some neat single track. We alternated trotting with short walking breaks. We weren't out to break any speed records, just wanted to make sure everyone completed. All of the horses were doing well. We arrived at the "pens" which have a water tank and a spotter taking numbers. The horses weren't ready to drink yet, but we soaked them down using Lianne's collapsible scoop. We continued on across some pastures, up and down some short rocky hills, and into another patch of woods. This is called the "wild lot" and has lots of very tight, twisty-turny single track...our very fa vorite part of the ride. We normally like doing it at full speed (watch your knees!) but because we didn't want to overdo it on Al and Diamante, we kept it down to a more moderate trot this time. We passed Ted, who serves as a spotter, and continued on through more tight single track. Came out into nice shady woods, and knew we were nearing the end of the first (15 mile) loop. We had a trot by (everyone good), and headed out on the 10-mile red loop. This one went back around a lake, then into part of the "wild lot" again...more single track! Cool...
After leaving the wildlot behind, we headed across more pastures, up the entrance road to within sight of camp (sorry, horses, we're not going back!), and then turned into another pasture. We got to another nice water tank, and the horses drank some, and we soaked them down again. Lianne had been worried about Al, since he usually drinks before now. But he finally started drinking. We'd checked his hydration parameters, and all looked well, so we figured he knew what he needed. Bear was the last of the three to start drinking. But he always starts out so hydrated he's sloshing. I think he peed 5 or 6 times, nice and clear and lots of volume, in the first 25 miles. Once he does start drinking, he guzzles. The horses were taking advantage of the nice green grass that had come up from recent rains. Now up the mountain again...Ross and Lianne led up, with Bear tailing Lianne again. We admired the nice views from the top some more, led down the steep loose descent, and headed off into the woods and toward the pens again. Another chat with the spotter, the horses took advantage of the water tank, and we headed out on the last mile or so to camp and our first hold.
The horses were pulsed down immediately upon coming in. We gave them time to drink a few gallons each, then headed to the P&R box, and then to the vet area. We had about a 5-min wait to vet, as the only remaining vet, Carter, had to take his first pit stop of the day...poor guy!! Apparently a horse had returned to camp without its rider, and the other vet, Dennis, was putting it back together, as it had torn itself to shreds - probably went through a fence or two. This is the only down side to this ride (and is a major one) - there are always only two vets. I'd gladly pay another $5-10 in entry fees, if that's what it takes to hire a third vet. We didn't have a long wait, but I talked to some people who said there were over 30 horses in line earlier in the day, and one vet who was riding that day spent his entire hold helping vet horses through. Not fair to him .
We went back to the trailers for our one hour hold. Al and Diamante chowed down. Bear ate some, but not as well as I'd like. However, this was normal for him, so I was not unduly concerned. He needs to learn to eat better early in the ride instead of gawk or take a nap. Maybe doing all 3 days at the first half of Fort Stanton this summer will teach him something.
We headed back out on the 15 mile yellow loop again. Lianne decided to fall back, as she wanted Al to go slower. We were concerned about her completing, as we were already pacing to finish with little time left. But she was ok with not completing if that happened, and was smart enough to ride her own ride. Ross and I headed out, and Lianne followed a little bit later. Al has major separation anxiety issues. and we could hear him bellowing in the distance behind us.
After the first few miles, we were headed up the powerline ROW to the mountain again. Ross remembered that one of the water tanks on the red loop was only about 200 yards off the yellow loop. So, we turned off on the red loop where it joined the yellow, and headed to the water. The horses drank like camels. A huge koi (goldfish), nearly a foot long, was in the tank. It came up and was picking beet pulp shreds off the horses' muzzles as they drank.
We continued on, through the wildlot and single track again, and on to camp. Ross and I got off and led in the last 1/3 mile or so. Lianne had stopped well over a mile out to lead in. We were pulsed down and vetted through by the time she got in. Al was bellowing and spinning circles around Lianne, wanting his buddies. She was worried because he wouldn't pulse down. We looked at each other, and Ross headed over with Diamante to serve as a buddy. Al pu lsed down right away and made it through the P&R and vet check, with Diamante serving as his buddy. I headed back to camp and got stuff ready. Ross finally arrived, and the horses chowed down with gusto, took a short nap, then ate some more. This hold was 45 minutes, but we gave them extra time, since Ross and Diamante had lost part of it while serving as Al's buddy.
One more loop!!! We all three headed out together on the 10-mile blue loop. No mountain on this one...we just went over the saddle in the middle. I have not-so-fond memories of this loop...it was on the blue that my horse Chivas had stepped in a hole hidden in the grass and somersaulted with me in 2002, sending me to the ER with a broken eye socket. But Ted had filled that hole in long ago. Nothing to worry about today. We passed the pens and the spotter for the last time, zipped through some more single track in the wild lot, and headed for the finish line. Bear was still pulling to go faster, but I'd been keeping him slow (or at least trying to) for < SPAN class=correction id="">Diamante's and Al's sake. Diamante and Al were both doing great. We caught up to Pete Harper on his TWH at the start of this loop, and passed him. He'd catch us at water or grass stops, then we'd pull away again, as our horses were trotting faster than his mare wanted to go. He caught us for the last time at a water stop about a mile before the finish. His mare was huffing and puffing pretty good, and w asn't interested in drinking. The heat was taking its toll on everyone.
We started off toward the finish. I'd decided I wanted the turtle award, since Lianne had told me the prize was a massage! As we approached the line, I looked back to see if Pete was anywhere close...I'd wait to cross last if he was. He was a couple hundred yards behind. Ross and Lianne crossed the line, and I sat and waited for Pete to cross, circling behind him. Turtle was mine!!!
We walked into the vet check, and our three horses were down as we came in, but we gave them time to drink a few gallons each, then vetted through. Ross and Diamante had their first 50 miler under their belt, and Lianne and Al had also finished. Ross trotted Bear out for me to give my knee a break...he looked great. Whoo-hoo! And our pacing had been right on...we crossed the line at 6:10 pm, with only 20 minutes left on the clock.
At the awards meeting, Becky said that 66 riders started the 50, and 44 completed...2 out of 3. We were happy that all three in our group made it. Most pulls were metabolic or RO...first hot ride of the year, and it took its toll. She said no horses were treated with fluids, although several were colicky. We saw several pretty droopy horses being walked or else lying down in camp. In the LD, 52 started, and 42 completed. Rae pulled after one loop due to her back hurting. :(
Bear finished the ride looking and feeling great. I had been thinking about trying the 100 at Bluebonnet next month, but this hot ride is making me reconsider...it was pretty rough on me. I'll have to think about it. Maybe I'll get lucky and there will be a cool front. :)
Many thanks to Ted and Kim Reeves for hosting the ride on their ranch again. We had fun. :)
Dawn Carrie, East Texas