Monday, October 23, 2006

Mary Howell's AERC NC 50 2006

by Mary Howell

Last year, Darryl Downs, Fran Williams and I rode together on the pre-ride
NC 50 course and I thought the winning time of 7:23 was a pretty decent,
given all those rocks and climbs. This year's top finishers, many of whom
had never seen the trail before, tore almost 2 HOURS off that time!!

I certainly felt as if I was part of a championship, which pulled out of me
& Shiloh out one of the best performances of our career. My experience
wouldn't have been possible at all for me if it weren't for longtime friends
Becky, Bob and Jennifer Supinger, who have been boarding Shiloh, brought him
to the ride, shared their warm trailer and did an exceptional job crewing.

Loop1 (23 miles): At the start, Roxi from Iowa said she saw me and Shiloh
gallop off into the darkness and was inspired to follow, catching up before
the first bridge; we zoomed that first nine miles, slowing only for the 6
concrete bridges on the climb up to Moreland Gap. After just 45 minutes, we
came into the 9 mile pulse&go. Her horse pulsed about 2 minutes faster than
Shi & she was out of sight after that.

I'll never forget zooming along the rocky, uneven ATV trail along the top of
the ridge in pitch black darkness, with the downward-pointing handle of the
Big Dipper showing the way. I didn't have any lights on board but was
fortunate to be riding just in front of Ruth Ann Everett from North
Carolina, whose headlamp provided a reassuring beacon.

Dawn broke as we descended the ridge, with a spectacular view of the sunrise
on our right as Ruth Ann and I galloped the remaining miles of gravel road
into the first hold. One of my favorite vets, Otis Schmidt, vetted Shiloh
through with a CRI of 60/60. Shiloh's pulse time was 7:10, nearly an hour
fast than I'd told my crew to expect. They hadn't arrived yet, but their
friend Mike Condon, a volunteer, helped me out immeasurably, carrying my
saddle to a safe spot and borrowing grain, hay and a blanket from kind
others (thank you Peggy!) When Bob and Jennifer arrived to crew, ride
staffer Bonnie Snodgrass brought us the sad news that Becky had been
involved in a multi-horse incident at the start and had to pull at the
pulse&go because Electik had scrapes all over his body.

Loop 2 (15 miles) Ruth Ann and I left out together on Loop 2 and kept a
steady pace climbing Veach Gap. We were passed by Ed Kidd of Tennessee and
two others, but opted to play it safe on the rocks. Ride photographer Genie
Stewart-Spiers had hiked a whole hour to reach the top of the ridge, which
provided the perfect fall colors as backdrop for the ride photos. Ruth Ann's
horse was a bit shy of the camera so Shiloh took over the lead as we passed
by. On that loop, I enjoyed having a chance to talk to her about horses and
other things; she admired the scenery and explained that her horses train on
the steep Leatherwood Trails but that the amount of rocks was a surprise.

Descending Milford Gap, Amy Cieri of Pennsylvania caught up to us and shared
more about the train wreck at the start. She and John Crandell had a tough
time catching the loose horses, removing their loose saddles and securing
the horses to trees, but she was able to make up about a half hour time
difference to catch up to us.

No sooner did Shiloh reach the flat road along the Shenandoah River than he
broke out in a flat out gallop - Amy's horse Ruby not only kept up, but
passed us coming up the steep grade near Indian Grave. Wow, what an
exhilarating feeling to be able to go that fast after negotiating all those
rocks and climbs. At the hold, another one of my favorite vets, Duane
Barnett, vetted Shiloh through. His fatigue was starting to show a bit with
a 60/64 CRI. He gobbled all the grass he could and had a chance to roll
while we chatted with Sperryville native Eve Bargmann, who reminded me of
the technical trail on the 3rd loop. I decided to keep the size 2 EZ boots
over front shoes that Shiloh had been wearing all day - he could never have
gone as fast over those loose rocks and stayed sound without them.

Loop 3 (11 miles): As I worked up the steep rocky climb to Hebron Gap on the
first part of the second loop, Shiloh was ravenously hungry and wanting to
take his time. I let him walk at his own pace and grab some random clumps of
grass. By the time we crested the ridge, he got his second wind and we
caught up to the others. As we neared the road crossing at Camp Roosevelt
just a half mile form the last hold, the sense of urgency increased and our
group of 5 (Amy, Ruth Ann, me, and two heavyweight division riders) zoomed
down the rocky and muddy trail into Hickory Lane.

I am a defender of having this hold. If you've ever ridden Hebron Gap, those
11 miles take most riders over 2 hours, and there's no water on trail. It's
humane to give your horse a chance to recharge before a final raceoff. As it
so happened, Shiloh lost an EZ boot about 1/4 mile from the hold and then
took a few minutes longer to pulse down than Ruth and Amy's horses. Although
his CRI was 60/52, Vet Amy Worrell saw something a bit off on the trot out
and felt an increased pulse in that right front leg, so we set his leg in a
bucket of ice water during the brief hold. I'm sure that break helped ensure
his completion - but he was angry to be left behind!

As Shiloh saw Amy Cieri's horse Ruby gallop out, Bob and Jennifer had their
hands full trying to reattach his bridle and dose him with electrolytes. He
had a competitive gleam in his eye and he wanted to race after them! But it
was another few minutes before our out time of 12:20, so we cantered
steadily in, crossing the line at 12:24 and 56 seconds.

Heat vet Art King said Shiloh looked fine & he had a 10 minute CRI of 60/60.
Even though me & my tack were only 153 lbs, I presented for BC an hour later
just to learn how he was doing. Although his metabolics were still fine, Art
saw a big difference downward in Shiloh's quality of movement, and
encouraged us to cut out the pads from the front shoes. I think Shi was just
tired and sore like me! BTW, Amy Cieri's horse was padded too but remarkably
Ruth Ann's horse, the first-to-finish FW, didn't have any pads on at all
and still stayed sound!

By midafternoon several horses were being treated and Michigan State vet
students was also taking blood samples and blood pressure readings (with the
cuff mounted around the upper part of the horse's tail) as part of a study.
Since Shiloh was already getting blood drawn for the study, I told vet Joy
that Shiloh could serve as the 5th (random) horse for the AERC drug testing.

I can't match Flora's poetic description of the ride scenery, but our
spectacular surroundings were as much a part of what set this event apart as
the competition itself. The 2006 AERC NC was a wonderful opportunity for me
to meet and talking with riders from other parts of the country. I hope they
all make it home safely and gain newfound appreciation for our Old Dominion
Trails and the staff and volunteers who made this event possible.

- Mary Howell

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