Okay, better late than never right? I intended to write up this ride story MUCH sooner, but that darn job got in the way and being as both my horses and me like to eat (too much for some of us) the ride story had to wait.
Amira and I recently completed our first 50 mile at the Bluebonnet Classic last weekend up in Decatur. This was a VERY SPECIAL ride for us for several reasons. Last year the Bluebonnet was the first limited distance ride I'd completed (have done 2 years of CTR prior though) and so I guess it was well fitting that this year it was my first "REAL" endurance ride!
I have struggled quite a bit this past year with heat and fatigue getting to me on rides and my first attempt at a 50 mile ride was actually Easter Weekend at the Meanwhile Back at the Ranch ride. Mid-way through the 3rd loop I just got so nauseous I knew there was NO WAY I could complete the ride. I was truly heartbroken as I felt like I'd let my horse down (Amira was still raring to go) and also let down my friends and family who were there to support me and cheer me on. Other endurance riders told me your first 50 was a special experience and I certainly did not feel special that day. In fact I even contemplated not trying again, but I have some good friends who told it like it is and told me I could do it - BUT I was going to have to make some changes and start taking care of the RIDER as well as the horse.
So, after much thought and prayer I sent in my entry to Bluebonnet for the 50 - almost expecting to change my mind at the last minute and just do 25 instead. I pulled into camp Friday morning and parked next to my friend Robin (also riding the 50) and some other friends Patsy and Kalinda I knew from CTR who were riding the 25. After getting camp set up Robin and I decided to go out for a short "head check" ride to see how our horses were feeling. We rode the yellow trail and it was H-O-T and those nagging fears came back - would I be able to handle 50 miles in this on Saturday? I did not want to have to pull again and seriously contemplated just doing the 25 - but Robin told me we'd be fine and I reluctantly stayed with the 50.
At ride meeting that night we got the welcome news that because it was going to be hot and humid ride management had made the decision to start the 50's at 6:30 instead of 7am. I know that does not sound like much - but in Texas when it's hot that 30 minutes was a godsend as we could get as many miles under our belt as possible before it got too hot. There was lots of green grass in camp so after the meeting we took our horses out to walk and graze and we planned our strategy for Saturday. Robin and I planned to start together, but if the horses did not pace well we'd split up so as not to interfere with each others rides.
We went to bed and I attempted to get some sleep that night but I NEVER sleep well the night before a ride and this was no exception. Saturday morning was rudely announced by my cell phone alarm clock much sooner than I'd hoped so I stumbled to life and fed and tacked up and the next thing I know we are mounted and heading out on the silver trail. Silver is 25 miles and my heart skipped a beat when I heard that was our first loop - that's a long loop, but the good news is when you reach the first vet check - you are halfway done! I just hoped I'd make it that long.
The start went well, Amira can sometimes be goofy and get race head but this day she was all business and took out at a nice strong extended trot and we even loped quite a bit early on. Sometimes she's bucky if you lope her too soon but today she was all business all the way around and feeling good. Robin and I took turns leading and the mares Amira and Syrena seemed to be pacing very well together. We were making excellent time and I was feeling better about the ride as every mile went by. About 5 miles from the end of Silver Robin and I were definitely ready for our hold but our mares were still feeling strong and Robin asked how I was doing and I said I felt great. She said "see, you're going to finish this time" and that made me feel so proud - NO WAY could I pull now! We finished the first loop in just over 3 hours - and both horse and rider teams looking and feeling great.
That feeling almost ended though at the first vet check. Both horses pulsed down fast and we were in line at the vet check but when it was my turn to trot out a rider in the lane to my left trotted her horse across both her lane AND mine and it threw me and Amira off a bit. When I got back to the vet he said he wanted to see her trot in a minute and my heart sank - oh no, I was going to get pulled after just one loop. Fortune was smiling on me though, as the second trot out went just fine and the vet agreed that it must have been all the commotion that made Amira falter as she looked sound and fine now. Back at the trailer for our hold I fed Amira some soaked alfalfa cubes (she hates beet pulp) and hay while I ate and re-charged and got ready for the next loop. That hour flew by and before I knew it we were mounted up and ready to head out on the blue loop.
Now, I must confess the blue loop at the Grasslands is possibly the most boring trail I have ever ridden - also there is NO SHADE so I was a bit nervous. We started out the loop at a good trot and also continued to add in some loping to break things up and keep a good pace. About halfway though the blue loop though Amira started getting really tired and wanting to slow down. She's such a good girl she lets you know when she needs to slow down, unlike my older mare who'd run until she dropped if you would allow it.
We stopped at a stock tank and she was drinking well and eating well.she just did not want to move out as fast as before - the heat was slowing us both down. There was another lady Lori (forgot her last name but she's from Amarillo and was great to ride with) who'd been riding with us and she was starting to slow from the heat a bit too.
I finally told Robin to go on ahead as her mare Syrena is super fit and was just still wanting to go, go go - I did not want to slow her down. Because of my previous struggles and because she's a great friend and riding buddy, Robin was hesitant to leave me as she wanted to make sure I was feeling okay and would be able to finish. I assured her that I was hot, but feeling fine as I'd been taking my succeed elyte caps and drinking LOTS of water and propel and that I would finish - but I had to slow it down as Amira would not finish if we kept up that pace. She and Syrena finally trotted off and they looked strong as ever. I knew they'd do well.
Lori and I stayed together the rest of the blue loop, as our horses paced well together and she was such a joy to talk to. She'd been away from 50's for a few years, but had lots of experience and I hope I did not pick her brain too much but I enjoyed riding with her and FINALLY that never ending blue loop lead us back to camp.
Lori said she'd planned to take a few extra minutes at the hold, but I told her I'd not be moving lightning fast on the last loop so I am sure she'd catch up with me and I'd love to ride with her again.
As we were vetting in Robin and Syrena were headed out on their last loop - still looking strong as ever.I know you'll see them riding 100's soon.
My legs were jelly, but some how I was able to run straight enough and Amira made it through the second vet check just fine - the slowed pace had actually helped her as her gut sounds often are slow and get a b or sometimes c during a ride, but this time the vet said they were clearly an A as she eaten a lot on trail and you could just stand there and hear her gut! This time we only had a 30 minute hold and I barely had time to pee and re-load fresh water bottles and it was time to go!
Our last loop was red and just a 10.5 mile loop, and also mine and Amira's favorite of all the loops at the Grasslands. This was a good thing as I knew Amira was tired, but she knew this trail better than any other and that would motivate her to get back to camp! She did not seem to agree that we needed to leave camp to start red though and it took some convincing to get her across the tank dam and out on the trail. Once out there she got to business and seemed to have a bit of a second wind and we trotted and loped a bit, slowing to walk and rest when she felt she needed to. I was riding alone the first 5 miles of the red loop and it was about then I realized we were really going to finish this thing and it brought tears to my eyes.
Somewhere around this time we met up with another rider Carla from Missouri. She was riding her friends horse and it was her first 50 too (Carla's not the horse) and like myself she was getting tired from the heat. We rode together for a while and talked as at this point in the day the human interaction was a lot of what kept me going and before long Lori and her mare Spoof had caught up with us and the three of us finished red together.
Amira and I were both really tired, but it was amazing how the horse that barely wanted to trot was suddenly willing to pick up a trot and even canter when she saw the meadow approaching on red where the finish line used to be. We slowed to a trot as we got closer to the finish line, so it was not exactly a high speed race to the finish but neither myself nor Lori or Carla cared about placings - we just wanted to finish.
As we came into camp my heart soared as several of my CTR buddies and endurance friends were there cheering me on as we came in. My friend Anita was not able enter the ride but she even drop up to be there (and brought cold Smirnoff ice - what a friend) and I felt so proud, but I WOULD NOT allow anyone to congratulate us on finishing until we'd vetted out - said we had one final hurdle and then they could say Congrats!
Amira passed the vet check just fine, her gut was back to a B but all else was in good shape and while she was tired, she was certainly fit to continue and it was then I allowed folks to Congratulate me and admitted to myself we'd done it - was a long hard road to get there, but man it felt good. And, what I'd learned about taking care of myself worked too as I really felt pretty good and I'd expected to be just wiped out - I was tired, but still walking! And, those silly 50's are addicting! I am already jonesing for my next one!
So, in the end, what they say is true - your first 50 is special - it was so neat how many folks I did not even know congratulated me at the awards. We certainly did not turn in a blazing time (9 and ? hrs I think) but we finished and TO FINISH IS TO WIN, so we won big time! A lot of people really supported me in this and while I was late to write up my ride story, I made sure and let them know immediately how much I appreciated all their support.
We'll see ya'll on the trail tackling our next 50 very soon!
Tracey Smith and Amira