Sunday, November 18, 2007

Don Bowen and Willy, The Flying Horse

Don Bowen's Virginia City Story

It’s with mixed feelings I send this, my VC story.

As many know, I have been applying for jobs elsewhere to move up in the food chain. I was working the Zaca fire and got a call to be interviewed, did so on the fire, and was also notified I got the new job while still on the fire.

Virginia City was an escape for the stress of the impending move and the unexpected passing of my father. He had fallen at his home and never regained consciousness. He was a decorated Viet Nam War Veteran with 22 years of service in the US Navy.

On Wednesday night after work my son, Darren, and I loaded up Willy, the flying horse, and headed North up the 395 to Bishop for the night. The plan was to make it to the fairgrounds for the night. We had already made the last minute calls to Dave and Connie so they knew we were coming. The next morning we were back on the 395 heading towards VC. We arrived Base Camp in time to catch Dave before he went out to mark trail. Darren and I helped with some of the Base Camp set-up then later joined the Ride Management for Dinner.

On Friday I took Willy out for five mile warm and later vetted him in. The vets thought he was off, which he is if I don’t trot him out fast enough, but after explaining who this horse was and that he was the survivor of a 500’ fall, all was fine and we were sent on our way. Also on Friday the Bowman family, Jonathan, Melody and their kids parked next to us. Since this was Darren’s first time crewing and the Bowman’s were next to us this would work out good for us. This would be Jonathan’s new horse’s first 100 and Willy’s last 100 with me. So Jonathan and I agreed on a pace and strategy for the ride. The next morning we started out towards the back and began our plan keeping a steady pace while letting the horses eat and drink along the way. The highlight of the morning was seeing the Wild Horses along the way. Before the first vet check we had the long down hill that gave us our opportunity to get off and run for a while. It paid off because the horses looked great at the vet check. You could tell Melody had schooled Darren on what needed to be done and expected. We headed out from the vet check to the canyon. We didn’t make much time here due to footing. Being a heavy weight and sketchy footing makes me nervous, I’ve walked and rode with Dave Rabe enough through sections like this that I had no problem getting off through this section. When we got to Washo Lake I new the next part would be the hardest for the horses and me. So we stayed a little longer, okay, a lot longer to let the horses eat and drink. My plan was to tail up as much of the climb on the SOB’s as possible while not losing too much time. I managed to tail most of it and had a better horse at the next vet check for it.

When we passed the next vet check I had a big sigh of relief because this is where Whyatt ended our ride a couple of years ago. We headed out the next loop with a group of riders, Dave Rabe being one of them. As we where making the climb I asked Dave if he thought we were making good time. Dave said “if we could make to the top before 7 PM we would have enough daylight to make good time to the next vet check. We never really knew what place we where in and didn’t really care. We had saved our horses all day and now that the night was coming our horses felt fresh.

We passed the next vet check with the horses looking great and after the hour hold we where back on the trail. This time we picked up one of our team members, Vicki Giles riding Robin Hood. The horses worked great together so we got to the last vet check at a faster pace than during the day.

I had promised Willy after the Big Horn that VC would be our last hundred together. So I was honored to finish Willy’s last 100 with Vicki on Robin Hood, and Jonathan on Monty. We left the Cottonwoods with well-fed horses and hot soup in our bellies. The horses knew we where on our way home so the time seemed to fly by. When we got to the finish line Darren was waiting with blankets in hand with and food water for man and beast. The horses walked on loose lead to Base Camp and finished sound.

One of the keys to our success in this completion was a well-run ride by management and their volunteers. Next was a well-worked plan with great crew that was there when we needed them and when we didn’t. This was Willy’s seventh 100 and for the horse who shouldn’t be here, he sure looked great the next day, and thank goodness I have my Advantage saddle. You’ll still see me on the flying horse just not on a 100.

Okay, so next month we close one chapter in lives and begin a new one. I’ve become a good beginner horseman in this chapter and look forward to becoming an even better horseman in the next chapter. More to come on the move………………….

Don Bowen and Willy, The Flying Hors

Hallelujah 100---My first !!!!

Well here it goes. My first one day 100 mile endurance ride!

It was a quite interesting few weeks prior to the 100. First, I could
*NOT* sleep! Every night when I would lay down for bed, I would lay
awake for hours!!! I could just not fall asleep! I would think about
every possible thing that could go wrong and what if this and what
about that, etc. I was going INSANE!

I also kept thinking that Rika was *off* and I kept thinking she was
lame. Had the vet come out and he said she was fine. Ok. So perhaps I
have gone ***INSANE***.

Ok. So the day came for me to leave at 3:30 a.m. with my uncle to
meet Wendy by 5 a.m. to head down for South Carolina. We arrive in
ample time with Wendy arriving shortly after. We load Rika in the
trailer with Danza and move all my stuff into Wendy's new diesel
truck which she ADORES.

We arrive in South Carolina some time in the afternoon. Plenty of
time to set up camp and get the horses all settled in on their Hi-
ties. Luckily, Becke Grams saved us a spot next to her which was
great. Becke is the woman who sold Rika to me. She assured me that
Rika and I were **READY** for the distance. She was a great
confidence builder.

The following day we register for the ride, set up vet check area,
vet the horses and take the horses out for a short spin. All seemed
fresh and more than ready for the 100. Unexpectedly, Danza begins to
sniff the ground with wendy on top. He tried to ROLL! OMG It was
extremely funny! Luckily she hopped off as he began the act and made
him stop before he got the saddle and her new wool pad completely
full of sand. I wish I had my camera!

Ok so back to camp. Visit Running bear. Becke hops on her computer
checking emails. I was going to bring my computer so I could do
schoolwork as I go to an online charter school. But, I figured I
would be quite busy and too psyched to even think about school! Which
was most certainly true!

We attend the ride meeting and I get to visit with Angie and Josie
McGhee. Got to say hi to Jody. They were rubbing it in that they were
at a ride and that she was at *HOME*. Angie kept telling me to go to
bed, but I told her I wouldn't be falling asleep anyway. So Josie and
I talked for a while. I got to meet her horse Cade. I also helped
them set up their pop up canopy at the vet check. I get back to the
tent and fall asleep about 11 pm.


Get up and feed the horses. I get dressed and make sure I have
everything set up at the vet check. Before I knew it we were in the
saddle and following behind a 4 wheeler! YEEEHAW! Here we go.

We were moving at a pretty fast pace and right before the train track
crossing, our group decides to let a bunch of folks past and then we
will proceed down the trail. It began to get light out and we could
see! YEAH! A few miles from coming in to camp for the fly by some of
our group had to take a potty break. It was at this point where Susan
lost her horse. She let go of the reins and he continued on down the
trail with out her!! Becke went after him. There was nothing more we
could do so we continued after about 10 minutes of hanging out to
proceed to camp. Luckily, her horse was caught not much later and
returned to her by Josie. Susan caught back up with us on the 2nd

We come into camp after 10 miles and let the horses eat and cool off
a little bit. This was not a mandatory vet check but a fly by. We
spent probably a good 10-15 minutes resting here. Then we went out
again on another 10 miles.

Return to camp for a 50 minute vet check. Rika is eating really good.
All A's on her card and we're set to go. I was worried about the 25
mile mark because her 2 pulls this season were both at the first
check doing less than 25 miles. So I felt if we made it past this
point I could stop worring so much. (NOT)

We're out again after a nice long hold. Rika is feeling great. Next
time we come in and we're at the 40 mile mark! YEAH. Some of the sand
is getting very deep with so many horses going through. I believe
there was about 120-140 horses on trail that day between all the
distances! That's a lot of horses!!!!

It's getting quite hot as well. It was sunny and in the 80's. It's a
good thing I clipped Rika. I'm sure it helped her cope with the heat.

Next thing we're at 50 miles! It didn't really feel like we had done
anything. We did the first 50 in about 6 1/2 hrs. That's pretty good
especially since we're going another 50 miles. We wanted to conserve
the horses and keep em' fresh all day. It worked out very well. I
never remember a time any of the horses getting tired. It was a group
of 5 and we stayed together the whole day. From 6:30 a.m. to nearly 1
a.m. the following morning!

I believe we got to the 75 mile mark before it was dark. I had to go
for a recheck at this point :( Otis said he thinks he saw somthing in
the hind end. OH NO. I was so SAD at this point. So I gave her some
elytes and massaged. Went back. I got Angie McGhee to trot her out
for me so I could watch. I'm watching and I thought she looked
completely fine! YEAH! Otis quickly handed the card and I was sooo
thrilled! Ok. 25 miles more to go! We can do this thing rika! Next
loop felt pretty long. Got back in at the 90 mile mark. I couldn't
believe it! 90 miles!!!! Horses vetting through.
Eating/drinking/peeing/pooping. All is well!!!

Getting in the saddle for that last 10 mile loop was HARD! At this
point I was getting tired. It's exactly what I was told by other
riders. You have a different mindset when going 100 miles. I know I
did. I didn't get tired until that last loop and I just wanted to get
done!! We trotted out of camp in the dark on the road to complete
that 100 miles! WAHOO! Rika was not tired. On the last loop, she
didn't really want to lead. All day, she was taking her turn bringing
up the lead and then would zoom up and lead our pack for a while. She
had a great time. It was so nice to see camp coming across the finish
line at 12:53 a.m.! I could not stop smiling!

All day, Becke's trail husband "Dick" crewed for us and met us at the
5 mile mark of every loop. He would have been out there more for us
but that was the only spot he was allowed. He met us the whole 100
miles with water/grain/snacks and jugs to dump water on the horse's
necks. He was truly a savior! Angie and Josie also helped me
througout the day which was great. Josie rode the 50 and then crewed
for me when she was done! HOW NICE :) They were both there for the
finsh. THANKS!

And I did the whole ride on eating pretzels, chocolate pudding,
Quaker chewy granola bars, Kool Aid Gelz, Propel and water. I felt
awesome the whole day!

All 5 of us got our completions that we wanted! Horses did great! I
never knew horses could have so much energy and would do so much for
us! I have a whole new respect for these amazing animals and will
never *EVER* doubt my horse again.

Before we went to bed I had a nice hot bowl of chicken soup and then
finally fell asleep. I woke up the next morning with a smile still on
my face!

Kyle and Rika Pony

Thursday, November 08, 2007

2007 Fire Story - Nancy Reed

Don Huston asked me about how we fared in the fires. This simple question opened my memory and out flowed the following story. I hope you will enjoy it. Yes, this is a true story.

We evacuated on Monday mourning at about 1:30 am as the Coronado Hills fire was cresting the Frank’s Peak to the north of our ranch. This fire was in the hills between Elfin Forest and south eastern San Marcos. I never received a reverse 911 call; a hysterical neighbor called instead. We were prepared with trailer and RV restocked from a CTR that Saturday. We also had dog leashes, cat carriers and personal bags packed.

We were able to get all animals and humans off the property in about 20 minutes. Our horses, Lyric and Jazzi, loaded in less than 4 minutes. My 2 boarders (who do not have trailers) were hand walked ahead of the RV by my daughter to a neighbors 5 acre denuded pasture were they were evacuated later that morning.

We (daughter Danielle, sister Bridgit, 2 cats, 2 dogs and our 2 horses) made our way to the Del Mar fairgrounds amid the I-5 freeway construction and vicious winds. These winds were clocked at up to 80 mph! Once off the freeway we found a long line already waiting to get into Del Mar. It snaked out of sight under the freeway with every kind of rig imaginable. It took about an hour to get from the off ramp to leading Jazzi and Lyric into stalls in Barn “I”. As we inched forward in the line up I was impressed by the courtesy exhibited by the other evacuees; room was made to ensure safe turning, lines merged together without incident.

The scene in Del Mar was both frightening and comforting. The air was thick with acrid smoke and ash. Over head lights gave a ghostly light illuminating a circus of horses, humans, dogs, zebras, goats, alpacas, lamas and even caged birds all seeking refuge into the thousands of stalls Trailer and barn doors became lethal weapons as the wind continued to lash out as if in some mindless rage. Neighs of fright and comfort reverberated up and down the barn isles. Yet Lyric and Jazzi calmly unloaded and walked without hesitation into strange stalls. Their neighs were added to the calipee of sounds as more and more trailers poured into the barn isles. We were safe, we made it without an injury or mishap; prayers answered.

Around me I saw several hysterical owners who were forced to leave horses behind due to lack of trailer space. Still others quickly unloaded determined to rescue beloved equines left in the path of the fires. Many did not have horse supplies, buckets, hay bags, hay, etc. Most of us became the other set of hands, holding doors, filling buckets anything to help our equine comrades in the mist of the biggest evacuation in the history of the state. By 8 am that morning Del Mar was full with over 2,500 animals housed in its barns.

We stayed in Del Mar for 4 nights. All in all it was a good experience. Within 12 hours of our arrival a feed store was set up with stall deliveries. Not only did local restaurants deliver meals, but pet stores donated cat and dog food and supplies. Soap, tooth brushes and all kinds of personal care items were also donated. Even Home Depot donated hundreds of their orange buckets for watering and feeding the horses. The barn isles became little communities ensuring whatever was needed was covered. Feed, water and exercise schedules were posted on each door with owner and animal information. Several horses took great pride in removing and or rendering these useless with slobber, feed or bedding. By day 3 organized teams of volunteers made rounds; watering, feeding, cleaning and walking.

Us humans found refuge in the “Elfin RV” with the AC and AM radio. We had the radio on non stop almost the entire time keeping us updated on the fires that still raged. By some lucky happenstance of events, Elfin Forest was spared this time. The Coronado Hills fire was put out in mere hours due to the sharp work of our unit from Elfin Forest and San Marcos Fire. On Tuesday and Wednesday Del Dios to the south east and Rancho Santa Fe to the southwest took the brunt of it. Our fire department was stretched thin having sent units to both Del Dios and Rancho. As the eastern flank of the fire ran up the Del Dios ridge with the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve as its next meal, the northern ridges of Rancho Cielo were set with back fires to stop the fires advance into southwestern Elfin Forest and Paint Mountain. By grace and these back fires the south western flank of the fire was stopped in the creek bed below the Bridges at the western base of Paint Mountain.

To the east the fire continued to burn, marching closer to our valley and the eastern slope of Paint Mountain. To get to us the fire had to burn through the top of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve and the new Olivenhain reservoir before it could reach Paint Mountain to the west and the Elfin Forest Valley. Elfin Forest Fire had hand crews on the top of the ridge on the west side of the Olivenhain reservoir, waiting to fight the monster. As the flames crested the ridge it swallowed the new Lake Hodges overlook picnic area and continued on. Unknown to most, Elfin Forest had a secret weapon, a local who was a San Diego Fire Helicopter pilot. The secret weapon was in Del Dios making water drops and keeping and eye on the fires northwest flank. As the fire took the overlook he went into action. Somehow, he herded the fire into the reservoir, starving it of fuel. With only one spot fire on the western side of the water, the fires advance was stopped and Elfin Forest was saved! Today our valley and most of the Reserve is ride able. We have a few downed trees here and there, but we escaped, this time.

Nancy Reed
Lazy J Ranch
Elfin Forest, CA

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Susan's Skymont Story

Susan Sites
My 9 y.o. TWH, Bird, & I have been conditioning several months for this ride (since late last winter) & before that we had a base of six years of frequent, mountainous trail riding (we rode year round, rarely missed a weekend riding, & often rode every 3-4 days in the summertime). When we started really conditioning for this ride, we mixed up some longer, slower trail rides (15-27 miles) with shorter, faster ones (5-15), riding as much as our schedules would allow. We have a place close by where we rode often with a good loop on a gentle hill. We could run laps on this hill, then turn & climb an almost-vertical hill to the top of a ridge then back around to the loop & repeat. We had one place where we could really stretch out with better footing & we did many rides there where we would ride a fast loop, come back to the trailer, change tack & ride out again so he’d learn the it’s-not-over-till-it’s-over lesson. I never did more than two loops like that though (about 15-20 miles worth, total).

My horse is one of those ridiculously “easy keepers” who can ride & ride & ride & ride & still looks pudgy to me. Stores fat in all these weird places & feels squishy when he shouldn’t. So even though he didn’t look like a lean-mean fighting machine, I thought maybe that’s the best he can look!? Oh, by the way, he’s also gorgeous. I know I’m making him sound ugly & he’s not. He looks good, but when you stand him next to a cut, buff racehorse, he’s going to look fat. But I digress.

Later in the summer, I tried to get the only endurance rider I know in my area to ride with me to see how I was doing, but her horse was down so I was left to my own resources. I bought & read The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition. I read articles and ridecamp. I learned that heart & lungs condition first, then muscles, then bone & tendon. Bought a stethoscope to practice C.R.I.’s & pushing the heart up into brief anaerobics. But what’s my gauge for the muscles, the bones & tendons? I read that it takes two years to develop the bones for endurance, but wouldn’t 6 years of mountainous trail riding count toward some of that? Or does it have to be 2 years worth of a certain kind of conditioning?

The amount of information out there is overwhelming, & it makes you feel like you can never be ready to do it. I kept flip flopping wildly back & forth from thinking we were no where near ready to thinking that maybe we were as ready as we’d ever be. I finally decided that if I didn’t just do it, I was never going to & I’d end up sitting in my house reading down into a rabbit hole. So, I entered the Skymont ride to find out what’s what. I entered the 50 because I know that we can go 25. What I want to know is how much farther than that we can go. It would be really nice to win. I mean, this is the “to finish is to win” sport, so we want to “win” even if we don’t win in first place. But if we don’t win at all, at least we’ll get an idea of where we are in our conditioning.

We drove up the day before. We only live 2 hrs away. I had my brother-in-law Mike with me who had been training with us riding his 6 yr old Quarter/Arab cross. We’ve had almost the exact same conditioning work. Very different animals, but we’ve worked around their differences so that we can ride together ok. I had taught Bird to trot & his big trot was about the same pace as Ender’s canter, so along we would go. We even practiced riding & splitting up in case we couldn’t ride the race together all the way.

Anyway, we get to the ridecamp, set up tents & go out on a short loosening up ride about 5-6 miles of the last of the blue loop. Better footing than anywhere we normally ride. Way better. This was going to be nice. Back to camp & the vet in. Not understanding the purpose of the trot-out, Bird thought it best to show the vet all of his gaits plus any gaits he had ever seen or read about. Thankfully, I had Otis Schmitt & he just shook his head at this display & said that there were a lot of them, but they were all straight! We were cleared to ride.

We fed the horses & left for the ride meeting. We have no crew yet. They’re planning to arrive by 1st vet check, so we have to leave the horses alone tied to the trailer while we go to the meeting. Now I almost can’t stand to be out of sight of my horse much less leave him alone in the dark in a strange place for 2 hours! I was sick to get back to camp. About the only things I remembered from the meeting were the cautions that Sat. would be the 1st day of hunting season & the ride property was surrounded by hunting land & they were going to have spotters on the perimeter trying to keep hunters from coming into our area & the one about how we had better not get lost & go off trail at the risk of severe injury to our horse because of old barbed wire all over the place! If I wasn’t sick before, I was sick now.

Somehow, I also got the sneaking suspicion that there could be moonshiners tucked away in the nooks & crannies of these hills. I live close enough to know that this is not as surprising as you might imagine if you aren’t “from around here.” Before the race, I had worried about getting into a wreck & separating from my horse, but now there was no chance of that. If I was in a wreck, I was staying with my horse even if I ended up hanging under his belly with his legs thundering around me! I was already going to have nightmares about my black horse tearing through the woods getting shot at by hunters & bootleggers while dragging 10 feet of barbed wire through some hillbilly’s still.

We “stalled” our horses in the trailer because we weren’t going to spring for corral panels on our first ride & we had never high line tied. We figured that they’d be just as likely to bang on the trailer if they were standing tied next to it as they would be in it & this way they’d be safer & could move around a bit. Well anyway, they were noisy. To their credit, they didn’t just stand there making gratuitous noises banging & pawing, but it was still annoying that every move they made was audible & I felt sorry for our neighbors. At the sound of the 5:00 wake-up horn, I bounded out of bed, got the horses out & tied & watered & eating hay. We were going to avoid feeding a lot of grain on race day, so we fed hay, a few handfuls of sweet feed & carrots & apples & our electrolyte cookies. Beet pulp soaked with apple juice was offered & turned down. It was cold, somewhere in the mid thirties I guess. Our neighbors were not growling at us over our noisy trailered horses, not even when I interrupted their pre-race preparations to ask a silly electrolyte question, thank you Angie! As a matter of fact, everyone we met was as nice as could be, the riders, management, volunteers, farrier (especially the farrier), vets, camp dogs, you name it. Nice as could be. Apparently even behind our backs, according to our crew.

The Start loomed like a dark, scary cloud over my head. Crowds are not my thing, especially crowds on horseback. I was too nervous to eat. I just wanted to make it through the start & get out there to ride my ride & find out what I came here to find out. We checked in with the timer & warmed up back out of the way where we could see the start & sneak out when we felt comfortable. We watched the start & it was calm & controlled so (huge sigh of relief) we set out just a couple of minutes after 7:00.

It was chilly & the horses were feeling great & loving the footing & there’s race energy in the air, but Bird wasn’t getting too carried away. We were doing about as well as I could have hoped. I tried to use a group of people ahead of me as a block to keep him from moving out too fast in the beginning & we clicked along. We finished the 1st 12 ½ mile loop in 1 hr, 44 minutes. We were close to last; I think the timer said there were 7 behind us, so I felt good. We were turtling, right? That’s good, right? Well, we felt good anyway. The trail was beautiful; the horses perfect & happy. We were calling them “racehorses” to boost their egos. After all, it may be the only day they ever get to be racehorses, so they needed to milk it.

At camp, our crew had arrived & my nephew met me coming in, handed me a pimento cheese sandwich & took my horse. God bless him. It was great to have a crew. There were so many little things going on & so little time. If you don’t have a crew, you’ll need about 10 long arms & an organized mind, & the latter may be the bigger feat. I know that I didn’t think clearly all weekend, because one of the big side things I wanted to accomplish was to get one of Angie McGhee’s books & I talked to her twice & still forgot to ask her! The horses had pulses in the 40’s & all A’s on the vet cards. They were pooping, peeing, & eating, same drill as this morning, hay, carrots, apples, little sweet feed, even some of the beet pulp. Not drinking yet, so we stashed our electrolyte cookies for the road to feed when they started drinking. My concerns about racing Bird in shoes that were only 3 days old were fading away to memory.

2nd loop was a bit slower. Ender had been a little off in his first trot out & we thought it could have something to do with him being “springy” on the 1st loop (he gets like that when he’s behind Bird ever since he learned that he was entered in an endurance “race!”), so we switched positions. Still no problems out on the trail, two good horses under us, powering on, but adding in some more walking. We did lose the trail a few times, but recovered quickly. The trail was marked extremely well, but with lots of fast weaving in & out of trees, it only took one blinding ray of sunshine to miss a turn & you’d be off course, sweating the barbed wire hazards.

We finished that 12 ½ mi. loop in 2 hours. Now, if you’re watching the math, you’ll notice that we’re not flying down the trail here. But, it is the fastest we’ve ever done that distance. We’ve ridden that distance (25+ miles) & we’ve ridden that fast 5-9 m.p.h., but we’ve never ridden a whole 25 miles at 7 m.p.h. So, at the ½ way mark, we’ve already done more than we’ve ever done before & I’m proud of my horse.

In the 2nd vet check, I’m not completely thrilled with the trot-out, but the way Bird is flipping channels on the remote, I don’t know how anyone can tell anything about him. Shifting gaits about every 3rd step. He doesn’t do that at home when we practice trotting out, by the way. But, he’s still in the 40’s & all A’s except for one A- in the gut. I realize that if we had taken the safe route & entered the 25, we would have finished with flying colors, so I’m happy to know that.

The vet did a C.R.I. at that check which I didn’t realize he was doing until the very end of it & I was standing there just talking to someone not helping Bird at all, not even looking at him. I thought it was bad (for the ½ way point). It was 42/48. I was concerned about it, but maybe it would have been better if I had been paying attention (I can drop Bird’s pulse 3 beats just by touching him on the mouth) & the vet said it was fine. I wanted to talk more to the vet about how we were doing because I knew that my real challenge was about to begin, but he was very busy with all of the 25 mile finishers coming in. I told him that my horse still had plenty of forward motion, but he was getting slightly tired already. He said that was normal, that he should finish the ride slightly tired or it would indicate that I wasn’t doing enough miles. I said, “But we’re only ½ way.” Then he told his helper to give me my completion. He had thought all along that I was one of the finishing 25’ers. My number “2” may have looked like the letter “Z.” She told him that I was a 50. He said that Bird was “cruising.” So off we went.

I was really stressed leaving out on that 3rd loop, but Mike reminded me that they would have stopped me if I wasn’t ok to go. Bird had finally taken a good drink in that 2nd hold too, so all systems were a go. But I knew that it was going to be tough to get him moving, especially since he really gave it his all on the 1st 2 loops. Joe’s advice from the new rider meeting was ringing in my ears, “At this point, your horse will have lost a whole lot of respect for you.” From Bird’s point of view, what possible need could we have to go back out & do it all over again? Sure enough, he was sluggish, even stopping here & there. As far as he was concerned, we were still close enough to camp for me to change my mind & he wanted to give me a chance to do that.

We pushed through that rough beginning & got moving on the 3rd loop. After a few miles into it, things really improved & we were cruising along, no worries. Good forward horse, at least when his GPS told him we were turned toward camp (love that equine GPS – saves me a bunch of money!). When we passed the ride photographer, Linda Toups, I told her that the next time I saw her I was going to strike a pose standing up in the stirrups pulling my underwear down since I seemed to be doing a lot of that!

Then the trouble started. It started very, very subtly. I normally switch leads & diagonals back & forth during rides to keep the horse from getting one-sided. Now, when I tried to pick up the left diagonal at the trot, it was awkward (I don’t know if I’m saying that right, it would be the diagonal when you’re rising with the left front leg, whatever that one is called). I was having to step down in my stirrups to push myself up into the post instead of riding his movement up. It’s the right rear leg I should be getting impulsion from at that point, right? If I had connected dots, I would have known at that moment: my horse is going off & he’s going off in the right rear. In any event, I wasn’t sure what was going on because I know that the rider can get lop-sided too, so was it me or was it Bird? I should have realized that it wasn’t me since I didn’t have an ache in my whole body. I was feeling great, like I could ride a hundred miles. Anyway, all that pushing off was hollowing his back out & making things worse, so I stopped posting on that side.

While this is happening, the weather also seems to be getting chillier. The wind is picking up & I feel like whenever we slow down, the muscles are cooling & that’s not good, so we try to keep moving out. I’m trapped between wanting to slow down because he might be getting tired & needing to speed up to keep from getting cold & sore. I had been so eager to get rid of that rump rug after the 1st loop because it was getting on my nerves, but I wished I had it back now. When we got to the lake, we stopped to offer water. We only stopped for a couple of minutes. They needed to drink, but the stopping wasn’t good either. Not long after we got back on trail, I felt like he was more off. I tried to press on a bit, maybe warm back up, but it wasn’t long before I decided that that wasn’t going to work. We were done. & we were 3 or 4 miles out of camp. I got off & walked. I was so very proud of my horse & told him so, but I had a hard time looking at him because his eyes were so big & innocent & there was a ring of white salt around them from his effort & I had asked him for more than he could do & he was looking at me & I had put him here. It was a long, hard walk.

Before the race, I had imagined getting pulled & this is how it went: we came into the 2nd or 3rd vet check kind of tired & the vet told us that Bird was fit to continue, but that there was a very good chance that at the next check, he wouldn’t pass, wouldn’t get a completion anyway, so I’d have to decide whether to keep going or not & then I would decide not to & we would quit while we were ahead. I always assumed that my decision not to continue would happen at the vet check. In camp. Well, that’s not how it happened. & this is where I can maybe be a cautionary tale for someone. Things may not go exactly as you plan, so plan for the other ways, too. Pack Kleenex.

We plodded on into camp. My ache-less body now a thing of the past because my knees are screaming from that hike. The trail I had thought was on the milder side of technical was a whole lot more tricky when you got down there on it! I didn’t even notice the time. I think it was 3 hours or so on that loop. We’re done. Who cares. We come in & head straight for a vet. Ender was already in & not ok either, waiting to go for his 2nd check. The vet check is a blur to me. I wasn’t paying much attention except to hear that it was muscular in his right rear leg. Ender’s problem was exactly the same, right rear. Weird. The vet does say that everything else is A-ok, they’re not even dehydrated. Apparently, his muscles just fatigued out. He said that I could give Bute if I wanted, but I didn’t because he didn’t suggest it, he only said that I could when I asked him about it. I decided to wait & see & give it to him the next day if he wasn’t better. He never needed the Bute, but I did apply liniment that night & the next day. Ender was the exact same.

So our conditioning was only enough to make it 35 miles. Now I know. Looking back, my feeling is that our conditioning was more weighted like we were entering a mountain bike trial & instead we entered a street bike race. My nephew said that our horses’ bodies compared to the others looked like the difference between hikers & runners (notwithstanding the difference in breeds). I think that maybe our conditioning didn't have enough extended periods of speed. We may be reaching those speeds in training, but we’re not holding them long enough. I’m also unsure about the race day feeding plan. Bird seemed ravenous afterwards. He’s always a big fan of food, but he was Hungry. If you don’t want to feed a lot of grain, but your horse won’t eat the beet pulp, do you go ahead & feed the grain so that at least he’ll have the energy source? I fed Bermuda & Orchard grass hays. Should I have started him on some alfalfa before the race so he would have had that as another option? I wish I had done that. Bird loves alfalfa. I should have bumped him up to a performance feed before the race, too, instead of his usual 10% sweet feed.

Anyway, we’d really like to give it another try next year. So, if anyone out there has any helpful advice, I’d love to hear it. Anything about what to add to our conditioning program, or especially any ways to test the horse to know where he stands along the way. We were lucky on Saturday to meet a super nice experienced rider, Cindy Bell, who just happens to live close to me at least part of the year & she invited us to condition with her next year, so that should help a lot! I know that she had lots of helpful comments after the race & maybe if I can talk to her when I’m not worn out & brain dead, I’ll retain more of it. If anyone else out there can help me, please do. I would especially like to hear more people tell me that since we weren’t pushing our horses hard & the trail was not difficult, that I probably didn’t damage my horse’s bones by riding him until his muscles gave out. The vets didn’t seem to think it was a big deal at all, but pushing my horse’s athletic abilities is a new experience for me & I want so much to do right by him & never ever harm him in any way whatsoever!

I imagine a lot people will read to the part where I say that Bird is a Tn Walker, stop, circle that part in red ink, & yell, “Hey Susan, I found your problem!” That’s what the ride farrier said. Bird is one of those heavy-bodied horses, & he doesn’t have his capillaries right under the skin all convenient-like, either. But I’m not expecting him to win in first place or anything, I just want to win, to win in any place would be alright by me. If I wanted to be competitive, I could go out & buy an Arab. But then it wouldn’t be Bird. & we’re a team. I love him. Why would I want to do this with anyone else? So, I’d especially like to hear tips from riders of the heavy bodies because that’s what I’ll be riding. We won’t be entering 100’s, but completing a 50 would be nice.

Thanks Larry & June & Gary, for putting on this ride & making it a pleasant experience even when it was such a gruelling one at the same time. I won’t soon forget it.

Susan (& Bird)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Billeous Blessing

Posted by horsewoman under B&B doings, Horsing Around, Reflections
The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears — Arabian proverb

There is a passion in the horse that is part of his spirit. The horse is born to love us without conditions attached . Horses and humans are on a parallel journey to help each other. It is by understanding this that we start to unravel our own mystery and potential.

As a long time ultrarunner and and recent discovery and passion for all things equene, the desire and leap to do endurance riding hardly surprising. Alas, to find a suitable equine partner for the challenging, daunting adventures ahead. I’d originally wanted to use my TB mare Picken since we’ve become equine soulmates. Her age and overall constitution dont really lend itself to it and while her heart would be in it, I feared it might compromise her long term well being.

Aha.. the hunt was on. What I was looking for was the “endurance version of Etched”, my show horse… a “been there done that horse.. knows and loves their job and can teach me.” By the grace of G-d and the super supportive endurance community, I was led to long time endurance horse trainers and competitors at The Lost Juniper Ranch in Idaho… Long story short, our Billy a 10 year old Arabian fit the description.

In a series of what I can only dub as “g-dincidences”, and kindness of these folks, the purchase of our Billeous (so nicknamed by his former owner):) was uncharactistically swfit and smooth (hmmm much like his Arabian constitution methinks). He arrived early this afternoon ; courtesy of the owners of the ranch.

Needless to say I was terribly excited to meet Billeous and we did my customary kiss on the nose and said a shehecheyanu A sweet fellow, fairly non plussed by his 5 hour + journey, seemed to take in his new surroundings and new owner with relative calm. A much smaller horse at 14.3 hands, another plus for me being slightly height challenged… Picken and Alle both are almost 16 hands. Carol and Rick proceeded to show me the Specialized saddle that they’d custom fit for him. Awesome on his back and my tush both.. ! He’s out now in adjacent corrals getting used to his new equine family.

So as the good folks in Idaho bid farewell to Billeous, so he and I begin our endurance and life journey here in Montana I am once again reminded of the circle of life. Those of us who spend time with our horses tend to devote lots o’ energy in understanding what the horse is feeling, “saying” and determining what makes our equine partner happy. What we sometimes forget is to use our time with horses to look inside ourselves and ask that same question … As we start our journey together, I can only imagine the lessons my Billeous will teach me about myself. Welcome home , Billeous

Trot on friends, trot on.

Read also: The Billeous Farewell