The first 50 mile ride for this horse & rider
By Holly R Corcoran
Almost Heaven … West Virginia… Well, that certainly wasn’t the trails or the parking, but it was my first 50 mile endurance ride. And the people, volunteers, ride manager (Jennifer Poling) and other riders were all very friendly and helpful! The weather was beautiful with low humidity and shaded trails.
On Saturday August 11th, my purebred Arabian mare, SEG Tornado Star (aka “Tora”) and I completed our first 50 mile endurance ride. I’d done several years of LD rides on my gelding, who unfortunately wasn’t able to elevate to a 50 mile ride. I purchased Tora in January from Spirit of Texas Arabians (who, as a side note, are wonderful people to deal with) and, although she had not done this type of work before, took to her new job with zeal. On our first LD ride at the Michaux in May we rode slowly. In fact I had to hold her back when she’d see a horse on the horizon and want to catch up. On our next 25 mile ride at Hickory Creek, I decided to allow her to increase her pace and she did wonderfully, finishing with great pulse rates and all A’s at the vet checks. I really felt she was ready for 50 miles, but unfortunately it would be new to both of us.
I have a rather hectic schedule. My daughter shows our horses on the Arabian circuit and so, to fit rides in between shows, is challenging at best, as well as finding a weekend here or there to stay home and get caught up on all the farm stuff. My choice of rides is governed mostly by the weekend it falls on and my availability. I noticed this ride in WVA advertised on the AERC website and, after talking to the ride manager to see if it was a do-able ride for first-timers, we scheduled to go. Mapquest claimed it should take only about 6 hours, with a trailer I knew it would be closer to seven, but eight hours later on Friday we arrived to glance down the hill into the parking and realize the my LQ three horse (with only one horse to the chagrin of the parking volunteer) was going to be a challenge to fit in the field amongst the other trailers. After realizing my trailer would bottom out in one spot, he directed me to another. None the less, I felt like the unwelcome stepchild parked in the middle of where several trailers would eventually need to exit. The volunteer assured a worried rider that, yes, they would get her out after her ride on Saturday. I wasn’t as concerned because I knew I was staying until Sunday. And to their credit, the volunteers were amazing, even backing trailers out for the faint of heart! Then I discovered it was their first time hosting this ride (won’t THAT be fun … their first ride and my first 50!) My anxiety started.
Well, we were parked … we put the fence up, settled the horse, got signed in, vetted her in and then took to the trails to get a lay of the land. As we headed out through the stream and a little mucky field, we hit the trail. I asked another rider in the opposite direction how the trails were and her response was “rocky.” Sure enough, as I progressed up the trail, it was indeed rather rocky. Tora seemed to have good solid feet. She had on shoes but no pads. So I figured, if she didn’t pull a ligament going through the mud or get a stone bruise on the rocks, she’d be fine! Needless to say my anxiety escalated!
I went to bed hoping I would actually get to sleep. I set my alarm and went to sleep. I awoke at one point and checked the time seeing that it was 3:58. My alarm rang at 4:30 and I got up. Funny, I didn’t hear anyone else moving about. I got dressed, put my contacts in my eyes and happened to look at my watch. What?! It was 1:45AM. Thinking my watch might be wrong, I checked my cellphone that claimed the same time. I guess I had changed the time while setting the alarm. I went back to bed and amazingly back to sleep until the real 4:30AM arrived.
The ride started at 6:15AM. The last two LD’s I’d done on Tora, she did not see the other horses start. At those rides, we’d waited until everyone else left and then took our time. I’d learned that once my gelding figured out what the start meant, he’d almost ran away with me on one of the starts and I did not want this to happen with Tora. On this ride there really wasn’t any place to hide, but thankfully we stayed away from the fast starters and left with the walkers. She was raring to go, but was very mannerly as we took our time and warmed up, trotting slowly up the trail. As I have mentioned “up the trail” a few times, let me clarify that in West Virginia, it really means UP. I’d admired the majestic mountains diving into one another like green waves as I drove out Route 68 and my truck was laboring up a 2000 foot climb for the sixth time.
Although I started last, I slowly passed a few other riders, one team being a mother and daughter pair on Morgans, bells jingling on the mom’s horse. Later at the middle of the second loop I would join them. I find that when I ride alone, the hardest part is finding a home. On the LD’s I don’t mind riding alone, which I did at Hickory Creek, but I was hoping to join up with someone here.
Tora was her normal “let’s go” self and my challenge was, again, like in our first LD, holding her back to hopefully pace her. The trails were really rocky and there were some significant climbs, but she was doing great. I rode her with a heart monitor and I was able to keep her at an aerobic rate pretty much throughout the entire ride, except for some of the steeper climbs. My strategy was to walk the hills and really rocky areas and make up time wherever I could. At around the middle of the ride we came to the first river crossing. I hadn’t had her in really deep water, but she was a sane trooper taking one step at a time. The water was up to my feet and as I looked across the river, thinking the shortest distance between two places was a straight line, I noticed a ribbon hanging from a branch diagonally across in the middle of the river and then up around a bend where the current was flowing in. Steadily we made our way to the bend only to round the corner and find the rest of the river to cross! Slowly we picked our way around the rocks to the other bank.
We made it through our first loop and at the vet check, my girl had a pulse of 48 and was all A’s. Whew, first one down, three more to go. Once I actually started riding and concentrating on the ride, my anxiety diminished. My daughter, Kelly (my crew) and I contemplated our next loop and expected arrival time.
I left on the second loop which was really rocky at the start but thankfully evened out to some ATV trails and roads where we could move out. Towards the end of the second loop, the mother and daughter team passed us. I found that following them provided company for Tora and they set a nice even pace. Amusingly, the little girl, whom I’m guessing was around 8 or 10 years old, was singing and chatting merrily to herself, the horse and her mom as they trotted down the trail. The horse she rode was definitely a steady-Eddy since she would often loop the reins over the pommel of the saddle, expressing herself broadly with both hands while on occasion snatching leaves from the trees as they trotted by. It was fun riding with this pair!
Coming into the second vet check I tried to hold Tora back by walking her in. As it turned out, she knew it was the way back into camp and her new found friends were continuing down the trail. She jigged the whole way to the point where I hopped off and hand walked her. I use that term loosely, since she continued to want to progress quickly down the waterfall of rocks. She’s a lot more nimble than I am on the stones, but we made it and again she was all A’s. We were now at the middle of the ride and at the half-way mark for time, which was basically a good thing, if we did not need to slow down due to fatigue.
We started the third loop and I knew the mother/daughter pair were out ahead of me, so we moved progressively and Tora eventually heard the bells ahead. This loop I learned their names were Shannon (mom) and Morgan (daughter). True to form, Morgan sang cheerfully along as her 26 year old mount trotted steadily down the trail. I admired her ease with her horse and found out it was her fourth season riding – holy cow!
Tora started to tire on this loop, which, by the way, I could tell she was wondering why we were even out again since she was normally done after two loops. Although she was tiring a bit, I was glad to see she was taking care of herself. She was diving into puddles for a drink as she needed it and snatching a bite of grass along the way. However, knowing she was feeling the miles, I thought she would really need buddies on the last loop, so I stuck right with Shannon and Morgan through the hold. Thankfully, although Tora’s pulse was a little higher, she was within the parameters and we passed with an overall A- (she got a B for attitude since she was a little reluctant to trot out). The vets were Art King and Nick Kohut (with treatment vet of Tracy Walker, DVM) and, as everyone knows, they are great vets and great resources!
The final loop. Oh my God, we made it this far! We were ready with our new found friends to head out for the final time. This time Shannon and Morgan were singing and I even pitched in with John Denver’s “Take me home, Country roads.” Well the singing and the companionship pulled Tora and I through the final loop, including that one really long climb that seemed to reach right up forever. But we chugged along and before we knew it, the FINISH was there! I was actually counting on the “turtle award” (if there was one), but completed 39th out of 41 finishers. Tora completed the ride with an overall A-, this time for skin-tone because she did no drink quite as well on this last loop. But as far as I was concerned she did WONDERFULLY! We finished our first 50 for both of us. I was so ecstatic!
Overall, although this was the first ride that Jennifer Poling had managed, I think she did a great job! The volunteers were wonderful. Everyone was so friendly. The vets were the finest. I have a big hearty THANK YOU to all! And amazingly enough, I could move the day after the ride even after an eight hour drive home. What a great sport! How fortunate I am to have this new partnership with such a great horse! LIFE IS GOOD! Hopefully, we’ll be attempting another 50 in New York in September!
Holly R Corcoran is a self-employed CPA and freelance writer in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Although she rode her family’s Morgan’s in her youth, she’s been raising and competing with Arabians for the past ten years. She is currently compiling a book of letters for women – for more information go to www.booksofletters.com.