Monday, June 12, 2006

OD 25 - Alyssa's First Ride - Alissa Cowan

Alissa Cowan

Some of you know some of this saga, as I told some of it after the NAEC
at Fair Hill in October. But here's my endurance history, from start to

About 2 and a half years ago Fair Hill International asked me if I could
run the North American Endurance Championship, to be held at Fair Hill
in October 2005. I, dummy that I am, said "sure!" Dummy, because I had
only vaguely heard about endurance, and that was only because Fair Hill
ran an endurance ride in October of 2003. Which I did not attend. So,
I read the rules, had help from some great local experienced endurance
riders, had an awesome trail queen (which was key, because I ALSO didn't
know the trails at Fair Hill at all), and somehow we managed to put on a
halfway decent ride (Foxcatcher endurance and LD in April of 2004). Did
we have glitches? Absolutely! Did I have fun! Absolutely! Did my
husband think I was insane? ABSOLUTELY!!

In May of 2004 I went to Biltmore to volunteer and to see how the "big
dogs" run an FEI ride, since my ride in October was going to be FEI.
That's where I really got hooked. Not so much hooked because of the
riders (although that year Stagg finished a billion hours before anyone
else, in a thunderstorm, and THAT was impressive). But more hooked
because of the people who ran the ride and volunteered and worked their
fingers to the bone for absolutely zero money. Most, like me, probably
PAID out of their own pockets to go volunteer there. And they were
cheerful, dedicated, and happy to teach a newbie like me.

These amazing wonderful people helped me all summer with the planning
for our Fair Hill ride in October 2004 (FEI, AERC 100, and AERC 50).
Anything weather-wise that could have gone wrong, did. So - we all got
together after that ride and did some planning and made some changes so
we could put on an outstanding ride in 2005, for the North American
Endurance Championship.

So that's my endurance history. Not all that impressive, right? And
then a couple months ago I was silly enough to get involved in a
discussion on Ride Camp, when a nice person from New York was saying
that she wasn't sure she should try endurance - didn't have the right
horse, right equipment, enough time to condition. And I responded that
I was in the same boat - my current mount is a TB/Percheron cross, I
have a flat as a pancake hunt seat saddle, and not much time after work
to ride. Have to ship to trails, etc, etc. SO - my friends Cate and
Ben emailed and said - "Silly! You don't need to ride your own horse.
Ride ours! We have this cool TWH (whom I had ridden some over the
winter on training rides), we have the equipment, we have the means to
take you with us to a ride. AND - we're going to the OD in June and the
horse is already entered and needs a rider."

Sounds simple, right? But to me this was kind of like me saying "hey, I
want to climb a mountain" and a friend saying "GREAT! We're doing
Everest next month - want to come?" I've BEEN to OD before as a crew
and as a volunteer. Both times I about died of heat exhaustion, both
times I saw how many horses pulled, and both times I got lost just
DRIVING to the vet checks, which are all in the middle of nowhere. How
was I supposed to ride there?

Somehow Cate convinced me this would be FUN, and that the 25 mile ride
at OD is actually not as treacherous as some of the trails we ride at
home. I rode Zach on one last training ride on Sunday before OD, got my
arms pulled out of my sockets for the first 5 miles, and then put him in
front and had a happy wonderful horse. Ah-ha! Light bulb moment for
Alissa. Horse likes the front, and horse REALLY likes to be close to
friend Buck. Who, fortunately, was going to be on the 25 mile ride as
well, ridden by Ben.

So off we go to OD. My first ride dinner as a competitor was awesome -
great burgers and sausage, and a gazillion dish to pass dishes. I was
stuffed. Ride briefing was short and sweet. Vet in went fairly well -
Zach was a pistol and tried to run me over, and the vet was a bit
confused by his gaited horse action on the circles (hey - and you CIRCLE
for an endurance vet-in? Never seen that before!). All too soon it was
7AM on Friday morning.

Zach was lovely on Friday morning as long as his head was planted on
Buck's hip. Otherwise I has a squealing, silly little TWH. Although
riding out a TWH antics are MUCH easier than riding out a TB/Perch
antics! Controlled start up the asphalt road, then then we were
climbing up an enormous mountain, with logs for erosion control and more
rocks than I have ever seen in my life. We were riding the whole time
with Bits (mustang) and Kristin. At one point up Rock Mountain I saw
and felt what I thought was a rock fly past my head, from Bits' foot.
Then I looked more closely and realized it was one of Bits' Easy Boots.
So, our fiery mounts all had to stop while we tracked down the Easy
Boot. Lots of horses had to pass us on a narrow trail. Kristin decided
that putting boot back on was more trouble than it was worth, so both
hind boots came off. And that little mustang went the rest of the ride
(including making her way back DOWN Rock Mountain) without taking a bad
step. Tough little sucker, that one is.

Our group was a bunch of rookies - all new to the OD, limited endurance
experience. We boogied when we could. We walked probably more than we
should have. We probably didn't stop to let horses eat as much as we
should have. We marveled at the enormous, beautiful houses we passed
(where do those people WORK??). We waved to friendly folks in the
little town we passed through. The nice bulldozer guys pointed us in
the right direction. We were having a grand old time. And about the
time we got to the river, which we had to cross to get to our hold at
the halfway point, Bits and Zack both stopped pulling our arms out.

Crossing the Shenandoah River is amazing. Look to the left and to the
right - amazing views of mountains in both directions. I was a little
worried about Zach. Actually, a little worried about me, as Zach has a
tendency to just stop, drop, and roll in the middle of a creek. He's
done it to me before. And I didn't want to ride in wet boots the whole
way home. But all worries were for naught. Zach was awesome. Poor Ben
did have to get off in the middle of the river, though - Buck managed to
step through his reins. Smart old horse stopped as soon as he did it.

Cate, our crew person, was whooping and hollering at us as we crossed
the river - she was so excited for us! And she got some great photos,
as well. We got to the hold a little later than we wanted. Pulsed down
and vetted in. Zach was a little quiet in his gut - needed to eat
more. Think I could get the little train stopped on the way home to eat
anything? No way. That little boy wanted to go HOME.

30 minute hold - enough time to use the porta-pot, grab a drink and a
granola bar, stuff Zach full of food and water, re-tack, and we were
back on our way. Re-traced our steps - back across the river, back
through the little town (wave to nice people), back past nice bulldozer
guys, back past all the new houses (wonder how much that one costs?).
All too soon back to Rock Mountain (I am sure it has a real name, but
Rock Mountain describes it well). Actually, the trail UP is lovely
footing this direction - all well maintained stone dust trails. So the
trail was lovely, just LONG LONG LONG. Then we crossed Skyline Drive
and looked at the watch - we had about an hour to make it down Rock
Mountain (the down on this direction was the yukky part) and then a mile
down the paved road to Ride Camp and home. We stopped for our sparkling
cider and for Henry to write our arrival times on our cards at about
12:30 - we still had 30 minutes to pulse in. Might take that long to
get these big old TWH's cooled down! Zach was actually good in about 10
minutes, but we waited for our buddy Buck (who is much bigger). Pulsed
in at 12:45. Our nice friend Art vetted us out. Still a quiet gut -
needs to eat and drink some more. No problem - he'd have til Sunday to
hang out at camp and eat and drink to his hearts content. But - we
finished! And Cate reported today that Zach looks awesome.

A congrats from Art. Later, a big hug from friend Dr. Nick. Julie
Bullock said "it's about time you rode one of these rides!" And nice
Tom Timmons, who was the head vet for NAEC, was dumbfounded when he
learned this was my first ride. "You managed an NAEC and you've NEVER
ridden a ride?"

So - here's what I learned:

1) Riding a little freight train really works the abs. Hmmm. Maybe I
should schedule with Cate to ride him three times a week...

2) One must ride MUCH FASTER on the trail than I had ever imagined to
finish within time. I thought we were hustling whenever we could, and
we pulsed down with 15 minutes to spare. Lesson for Alissa - practice
trotting (or gaiting) down hills - it's not as scary as I first
thought. So - who's smarter? The horse who Alissa thought was a
freight train, or Alissa who thought we were going WAY TOO FAST and
ended up finishing ride with 15 minutes to spare? Who knows - we'll
have to test it out again!

3) The OD has a LOT more gravel and paved roads than I would have ever
thought, on the 12 miles out and back from camp. Light bulb - perhaps
this is why they've been scouting out new trails?

4) Assigned camping spots are an EXCELLENT idea if you have a good
Parking Nazi. Might have to implement that one...

5) Always, when people asked me about endurance, I told them that I
loved managing rides because I loved the people. So when friends asked
me if I ever rode an endurance ride, my response was, with a look of
horror on my face: "Are you kidding? Those people are CRAZY!!!" I
have learned, from first hand experience, that all of you are, indeed,
crazy. But, still I love you.

The bug has bitten. Darn you all. I am looking for the next place to
ride. Seeing if Cate is going to another ride where Zach needs a
rider. And seeing if perhaps my big old TB/Perch cross can handle doing
a 12 mile CTR clinic. I'm not getting too crazy yet - I have to take
the big boy back home in August, and will pick up a new, yet to be
determined, horse. So my endurance adventures on a horse of my own will
depend on whatever I bring home with me in August. But, assuming the
new horse has half a brain, look for us to be out and riding some
endurance in Spring of 2007. Oh, boy. I can't believe I just said
that!! Darn you Ride Campers for talking me in to this insanity!

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