Thursday, April 24, 2008

Our First Ride (Jen)

Well, Willow is now officially an Endurance horse! We completed our first ride in the Mars Sandhills Wildlife Management area here in Manitoba, this Saturday. We signed up for (and made it through) the limited distance, 25 mile ride. The first of the season here in Manitoba, and one of many we now plan on going to! I am hooked!

We had some great moments (and some not-so-great-kinda-embarrassing moments). Warning; this could take a while. I am normally long winded, and I'm still excited about it.

The morning started kind of slow. I didn't get to sleep until late (getting my trucker husband out of the house for his midnight load), and woke up a little late.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chicken Chase 2008 (April)

Chicken Chase is one of my favorite rides. It holds a special place in my memory because it was the first ride I did with Tanna back in 2003. We haven't missed a year since and I love the camping, the trails and the atmosphere. Bill is such a great host, allowing us to invade his pasture and his garage. Amy is so organized and the ride runs so smoothly. The trails are wonderful and challenging, especially the first day. I really feel like I accomplish something whenever I finish a ride on these trails. 40% of Tanna's endurance miles have come from these trails, so we're quite fond of them! :)

This year we headed out on Wednesday, as we usually do. We pulled in, parked in our usual spot and set up the metal corral panels for Tanna. There were about 6 or 8 other trailers there by nightfall. I saddled up and went for a 25 minute ride in the waning light. There was a pretty bright moon. Tanna was pretty alert, but did just fine. Our first night ride in the woods, such as it was.

On Thursday, I set up my vet check stuff (both checks on Friday were out checks) and prepared as much as I could. I decided I would sleep in an extra 30 minutes, since I was so well organized. Also, with my new Specialized saddle complete with Lost Juniper Ranch booties, all I had to do to saddle up was throw the saddle on and tighten the girth.

Tanna vetted in nicely with all As and a spring in his step.

The ride meeting was rather late at 8 PM, but it didn't take too long. The horses had to pulse down to 60 bpm before their hold time of 50 minutes began. Dr Mike Habel was the head vet, with Dr. Kevin Sloan and Dr. Maureen Fehrs assisting.

For the 55 milers: Loop 1 was 23 miles or so into the away vet check. Loop 2 was 13 miles back into the away check, including the Shaw Lake loop. Loop 3 was 17 miles back to camp. Some 48 riders started the 55 and 40 finished. Largest Friday 55 field for this ride. Start time was 7 AM.

This was the first year that Chicken Chase has offered an LD on Friday. Their first loop was 12 miles from base camp out to the vet check. Second loop was the same as the last loop of the 55. 17 miles back into camp. I believe 13 started. 9 or so completed. I think the other 4 were overtime. Start time was 8:30 AM. You should have heard the riders all happy that they could sleep in! :)

Bill Wilson, along with helpers including Dixie Brooks and Earl Baxter, spent a lot of time over the last few weeks cutting huge trees off the trail. This was very apparent along the entire trail. The trails were in great shape. I can only imagine how the ride would have gone if we'd had to detour around every one of those downed trees!!

At 5:30 on Friday morning, my multiple alarms roused me out of bed. I actually set 3, but only 2 went off. That's why I set multiples. ;) I usually get up 2 hours before the start, but decided to try something different and see if I could still get to the start on time. I gave Tanna his breakfast snack, dressed in my riding clothes and got my own breakfast. Then I took our brand new propane lantern out with me to begin working with Tanna. I can't believe we never got one of these lanterns before! It was really great to be able to see what I was doing.

While Daniel took my vet check bag to the outbound crewless truck (Daniel is the photographer, not crew), I saddled Tanna with his new Specialized saddle. We had used it for marking and unmarking trail at Trace Tribute, but this would be the maiden voyage in competition. I buckled the girth, put on crupper, breast collar and rump rug. I grabbed my sponge and found a good place to hang it. The weather was promising to be warm and I figured I would need the sponge later in the day.

Then I went to get on. Tanna hunched his back immediately and threatened to buck. He's a very good bucker and I don't ride the bucks well, so I heed his warnings. I waited a minute to see if he'd calm down, but every time I asked him to move forward he got more tense. I hopped off and lunged him around again, looking for anything out of place. He's particular about things being "in place." I saw nothing and attempted to mount again. I got the same reaction. Finally, I got off and walked him to the front, looking for Daniel who was taking pictures. I couldn't find him, so I tried getting on again. After what seemed like forever, he finally relaxed and moved forward. Later on, I figured out he must have objected to the sponge placement as I had never put the sponge on that saddle before.

"Trail's Open." I placed us about mid-pack during the controlled start down the pavement to the gravel trail. After the controlled start was over, we slowly moved forward in the pack until we were running about 15th or so. We tucked in behind friends Eva and Roger riding Trace horses and on we went. About half-way through the loop, alarm bells began ringing in my head. The pace was quite fast and I was hoping to ride again on Sunday. I began to pull back a little, but the pace was still fast.

We came into the vet check and Tanna took a few minutes to pulse down. He was hung at 64 or so. I didn't pull his saddle as he tends to cramp easily and the air was still cool. Tom Keith showed me a trick that dropped Tanna's pulse to below 60 and we went to the vet. Guts and a few other parameters were B, but he looked good. Back at our stuff, I became concerned as I noticed Tanna's back legs quivering. I made sure he was covered up. He ate and drank pretty well (for him at the first check). Near the end of our 50 minute hold, Daniel came around and I asked him to walk Tanna down to get some grass while I grabbed something to eat out of the truck camper.

Tanna was still quivering as we prepared to go back out on the next loop. I was mildly concerned, but I've seen him do this before due to adrenaline. I decided to go out on the next loop and if he still wasn't quite right when I got to the Shaw Lake loop, I'd bring him back to camp. I left the rump rug covering his hind quarters and we headed up the hill on our next loop.

A single rider was in front of us, but I held Tanna to a walk until I was sure they were a good ways ahead. I wanted Tanna to focus on me and the trail and we were going to go way slower on this loop. It is a tough loop with some good climbs, this was Tanna's first ride of the season, and we'd gone too fast on the first loop. All good reasons to take it easy. So we mosseyed on down the trail. When we got to the Shaw Lake loop turn-off, Diane Doll caught up with us. I let them go ahead again keeping Tanna to a walk until they were out of range. Tanna was doing fine at this point, so we tackled the Shaw Lake loop. We walked a lot, cantered the flats and I hopped off to walk up and down the longer stretches. Out of the Shaw Lake loop and down the trail to the next loopy loo called the Beginner Loop.

Tanna was not happy as we were only a mile from the vet check and he knew exactly where he was and how to get to the check. But I urged him across the road, took a right and headed around the loop. I was barely into the lolly pop when Angela caught up with me. She was the lone rider that had left the vet check ahead of me. She had turned the wrong direction into the Beginner Loop and had been turned back around when she met another rider. The pie plates into the loop were a little confusing. The pie plate indicating the right hand turn simply read "In." I read that as "into the lolly pop" and trucked right along. Angela had read that as "into camp" and had turned the opposite direction. Fortunately, she didn't lose too much time, but she did lose some time. We did the Beginner Loop quickly and were back headed for camp in no time.

This time at the vet check, I pulled his tack before taking him to the vet. His scores were about the same, but this time there was no problem with excess adrenaline. Tanna ate very well during the check and I was pleased. Other riders around us were packing up their gear to be sent back to base camp. At one point, Randy came with water asking if anybody needed any. I tossed my dirty water and he graciously filled my small bucket with fresh water. Which Tanna promptly drank out of.

We left out of the vet check a few minutes late, but we had a ton of time, so I wasn't concerned a bit. Just a little ways out, I picked up an easyboot and attached it to my saddle (which I discovered fell off later). Soon after, Angela caught up with me. I was surprised as I thought she'd left out before me, but apparently not. We rode the rest of the loop together. I still had a few uneasy moments when I felt we were going too fast. I did pull Tanna back a few times, but we always caught back up. I enjoyed riding with her and her mare and so did Tanna.

When we finally made the last climb up to the gravel road we'd started on, I held Tanna back to a moderate trot. He was not pleased about this and danced and snorted. I was happy he had the energy to be a pain, but kept him back. Angela crossed the finish line a couple lengths ahead of us. We finished around 4 PM for a ride time around 7 hours 15 minutes. Good for 15th place.

His gut sounds were a C at the finish. This is not a good thing. Bs are fairly normal for him, but C is not a good sign. However, his other parameters looked good. Pulse was 44 at the completion exam and he was eating everything in sight. Due to the fact that we went too fast the first loop and there wasn't much in the way of grass on trail, he did pretty well. Lessons to learn, though.

Later on that evening, I noticed that his sides were hot and sore right where the billets attach to the flap of the saddle (English rigging). My calves also had huge blisters on them. I had had trouble with pinching during the ride. Apparently, he had problems, too. I left his cooler on him to keep him warm and comfortable and walked him several times.

My completion award was a nice t-shirt with a cartoon by Angie McGhee. The shirt depicted a female rider carefully brushing her horse all over. A male rider with his back to the viewer stood by, saddled horse in hand, asking, "Are we brushing or riding?" A sign nearby identified the establishment as the Bill Wilson Hall of Fame 2007 School of Endurance Riding. The male rider looks suspiciously like Bill Wilson himself.

Sabbath was spent in restful bliss. Tanna's sides were better, so we decided to go again on Sunday. We had made some minor changes to the saddle that we hoped would help his sides. I was also planning on going a lot slower (ride my own ride) and to get off on the hills.

Sunday morning dawned cool, cloudy, windy and misty. It didn't change much through the day. I saddled up adding lots of body glide to my calves and show sheen to Tanna's sides. My plan for the day was negative splits, going slightly faster each loop. Tanna tends to do well with negative splits, but in order to do negative splits, I have to keep the pace well under control the first loop and I hoped Tanna would be calm down enough from having gone on Friday.

We started down the road, Tanna doing a big trot. After a couple miles, I was able to put him into a small pocket by himself. I fought with him to keep him to an 8.5 - 10 mph trot. The first several miles of this loop was flat along the ridge and I wanted to make up some time, but not blow him out on it. Several riders passed us, me allowing them to get ahead so we'd be back in a pocket. Some made comments about the way he was acting even though he'd gone on Friday. He was very forward and extremely frustrated that I wouldn't let him run all to pieces.

When we reached that first steep switchback, we were still by ourselves and I hopped off and skittered down the hill on foot. At the bottom, I hopped back on and we trotted and cantered to the next hill. Off I hopped and walked up the hill. We proceeded in this manner until we came in sight of a couple riders. I immediately backed off. I did not want Tanna with any other horses. He was easier to handle as long as he couldn't see another horse and since we were alone, I felt free to do my own thing.

During that loop, I was passed by Mike on his grey gelding and then Michelle caught me at a creek. She was concerned that she'd cut trail, but I told her I was going slow and as long as she'd seen the spotter twice she was in good shape. Off she went up the hill and I hopped off and walked. Dixie and Sue passed as I was preparing to remount. I was pretty sure we were at the back now. Whew. No more horses to pass us! I got Tanna to pee and then remounted and off we went. He was very forward, but controllable. I knew he was wasting energy being so foolish, but decided it was better than allowing him to blast up the hills. He'd gotten Bs on muscle tone on Friday and I didn't want to repeat that.

When we popped out on the pavement near camp, I had Tanna walk the quarter mile back to the timers. He wasn't acting too bad at that point. He was starting to relax. I had come in a little faster than my plan (but not too bad), so I was killing time to get my average down.

Tanna pulsed down ok and into the vet. I've been practicing his trot outs. I speed up until I'm running pretty fast at the end. Then I stop, turn Tanna around and go back to the vet the same way. He got good grades and I took him back to eat. He ate a decent amount of hay, grain and apples. The 40 minute hold seemed just about right as I prepared to go back out.

We headed out on the blue loop. This loop I had a small back pack I'd received from Tamra Schoech at Yellowhammer. I had it stuffed full of hay. My plan was to hand feed Tanna while walking the hills. Tanna wasn't interested during those first couple of hills, but no big surprise since he'd just eaten.

As we hiked up a switchback, we saw a pair of riders headed down the paved hill. They were actually 3 or 4 miles ahead of us as we still had an out and back section of trail to traverse. Fortunately, Tanna is very good at knowing he has to follow the trail to catch up, so I had no problem heading him in the right direction. We trotted and cantered the out and back gravel trail with the riders ahead of us passing going the other direction. I really enjoy that aspect of out and back trails, especially when the trail is wide and easy passing. Out to the turn-around and then back to the pavement. I normally would have dismounted, but decided I'd be safer on horseback and down the road we went.

When the road leveled out, we moved into a good trot and passed Dixie walking her horse. We kept trucking on and caught up with Mike and Sue about the time we moved off the road. We rode with them for a little bit, passed them, then they passed us. Tanna was pitching a huge fit, so I backed him off. We caught up with Roxanne and played leap frog with her for a bit before I finally decided we had to get back by ourselves again. Tanna smacked me hard in the face during a tantrum. Good thing it missed my nose! While Roxanne moved off down the trail, I electrolyted. That's fun from the saddle with a spinning horse. I was pretty proud of myself.

At this point, I began pulling hay from the backpack and feeding Tanna. He'd snake his head around and snatch a bite, then keep trotting on. Worked pretty well. When I was off, I would feed him, too. He ate about half what I'd brought, so I was pretty pleased. Definitely a successful experiment. Finally, we climbed onto the ridge with only a mile and a half to the vet check. I had him trot a decent speed, despite his insistence he wanted to go faster.

Into the vet check. I left the saddle on again. It was just chilly and I didn't want to risk a cramp. He was down quickly and trotted out nicely for the vets. He ate during the entire vet check until just a few minutes before heading out. Ted LaComette was really helpful this check. He gave me a diet Coke as I was pulsing in and followed that up with some peanut m&ms. Yummy. I got Daniel to trot Tanna out so I could see. Everything looked good to go for our last loop.

Ted gave me some m&ms for the road and I mounted up to head out. Tanna cantered briskly across the field to the pavement. We trotted to the gravel and off we went again. I wasn't holding him back this loop. If he wanted to go, we'd go. Except for 2 good climbs and the steeper downhills (which I got off and walked and ate m&ms), we trotted and cantered that loop. He wasn't a maniac this loop, so he did slow down and walk when he thought the footing was a little iffy. But I let him decide the speed. As we got closer and closer to the finish line, he got faster and faster. When we made the last turn down the homestretch, Tanna let loose with a full gallop and I let him. We were having a ball! I whooped loudly as we passed the finish line and let him canter to the pavement where I hopped off, completely happy with him and the fact that I'd held him back so that he'd have that much energy at the finish.

I hung around the vets waiting for my time to be recorded and letting Tanna eat grass. When I got my time on my card, I went to our vet check area and pulled his tack. I noticed his back was a little sore. Not too bad at that point, but not good. I threw his cooler on him and immediately went to the vets. I tossed his cooler and rump rug on Daniel (he didn't mind, they were warm!) while the vet checked him over. He completed, but the vet confirmed the back soreness and we discussed that and the new saddle I had used. Tanna's sides were also sore again. We have to work on the saddle to take care of those issues before our next ride. I replaced the cooler and went to take care of Tanna. I hoisted the saddle on his back over the cooler to take it back to the trailer.

After settling Tanna in his pen with plenty of carrots, apples and hay, I went back to get my vet check stuff and chat with the people there. I got another t-shirt with the Brushing or Riding cartoon (different color this time).

On the way home Monday, our water pump went out on our truck. Fortunately, Ted and Debra LaComette were behind us (barely) and we called them. They pulled over and then followed us to a repair shop in Portland, TN. They made sure we were safe and sound at the shop before continuing on their journey home. It's so nice to have good friends!!

I had a great time at Chicken Chase. It's one of my favorites ever. I love the trails, the ride management and the camp. I just can't say enough good things about the trail. They're challenging, but doable. Definitely not boring! I'm so proud of my horse for tackling those trails and coming through in such fine shape. The National Championships will be totally fun! Can't wait!

Nashville, TN

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Old Dominion No-Frills: Dessia Miller


Tierras de Al-Andalus: Steph & Merri

Trace Tribute - Endurancerider

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trace Tribute

The Trace Tribute Endurance ride was a week and a half ago. The weather did not cooperate too well and we got a lot of rain the days before the ride.

For those that don't know, I don't ride the Trace Tribute ride. I'm the Trail Designer. Which basically means I lay out the trail, make sure it's all marked and safe and unmark the trail after the ride (along with several volunteers).

Debra, Camille, and I rode Wednesday, putting putting up trail marker ribbons on about half of the first loop. I loaned out Serts, my non-endurance horse, to Angie, the TT ride manager to put out ribbons on 1/4 of the trail. And Roger finished marking the first loop with his horse.

Then Thursday it was raining...


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Endurance training and a Buck! - Tia Jones - Full Story

Monday, April 14, 2008

A few weeks ago, I decided I really want to ride in the Kenlyn Endurance Ride on April 26th. I think Z is near to ready and I had a buddy that wanted to do it with me. My buddy dropped out last week, worried that the excitement will be too much and be detrimental to what she and her horse have built. So, I was going to be the solo rider. No problem. I mentioned it to my personal trainer and she wanted IN! Now, I've got to have 2 horses ready and I think we're better off going for the 15 than the 25.

We did our first training ride yesterday and went for 13. I'm concerned about starting too fast, but my horses are not starting from ground zero. They will cover 7-8 mile rides 1-3 times/week. We took 3 horses (Z, Rain, Cowboy), taking 2 extras so Stoney could decide who she'd rather ride. She preferred a non-gaited ride so Rain will go along as my pony horse on training rides...


Monday, April 07, 2008

2008 Trace Tribute - Laura Peck

At long last, my daughter finally made it to her first ride.. No family emergencies, truck breakdowns, etc - this time!

I was a bit worried about the conditions at the Trace though.. I'm a local and fairly familiar with that eroded 'ol footpath.. Then having several inches of rain fall on friday - only made the footing more treacherous.. But, my horses are familiar with the trail, and I figured we could always take it slower than in our training rides..

Angie warned me that the parking area was a swamp. I pulled in at 5 am Sat morning, and only gravity got me to a reasonable parking spot! It's bad when a 4X4 duelly pulling just a small horse and pony gets stuck!... But we got in and unloaded..I decided against using my hoof boots, since I figured they'd just get sucked off. I've done up to 24 miles totally barefoot - I was a little concerned about going 30 miles barefoot.. But something told me it'd work out..

Found out about 'calvary' as I was filling out paperwork. Since Katie and I had no crew - heck, it only made sense to call ourselves calvary! We joined up with a gentleman named John - since he said his horse liked to lead and averages 8-10mph. Sounded like a good match for my two..

So off we went on Katie's first 30... The footing was horrid, my glasses soon got the appearance of Jockey goggles on a muddy race.. But Hope and Cherokee just gaited/cantered along without a second thought... About the 14 mile mark, we hit the second low and long wooden bridge. Hope and I were last in the group as we walked over it.. Then All of Hope's feet slid out from under us, she landed on me on her side, then proceeded to slide off the bridge. Fortunantly, we were only 3' above the swamp, and it was a soft landing in the mud for her. She Woa'd when I asked, and I slowly walked her up the trail - making sure nothing was broken on either of us. I took a double dose of my RA pain meds - then tried to leap on from a stump. (I ride bareback) ... My body was still a bit in shock, and I went right over her and hit my other side in the mud. Hope just looked at me like I was nuts. John asked if I needed a leg up. I tried again, and hung on this time.

We got to VC - and I asked the young Vet to really check her right side. Couldn't find anything.. And once she quit gaiting and trotted the 'trot out' - he called her good. (Did the same thing to my daughter's gaited pony. Guess if they didn't trot - they'd have been pulled.....) Then I found out that since I was calvary no one could help me doctor my hand, which had been sliced open on the bridge. So I searched my saddle bag, and found my emergency roll of vet wrap. I rinsed the hand in the trough, and wrapped it up.

Well, we ended up finishing 11th and 12th. The two horses looked better than I've ever had horses look after a ride! So the 'new' training method is working much better than my old one!

Well, we stayed for the awards ceremony, then got pulled out by the tractor. They set my truck on the gravel drive. Now, I had come in straight from the main road into the field, and didn't know my way back to the main road from this gravel drive.. (and I'm pretty directionless as it is...) So I turned right on the gravel road - since that was the direction to the Trace parkway... Well, when the road turned to grass - I figured I missed a turn somewhere. With just 12 inches on each side of my 24' trailer, and it being pitch black - I knew I needed a spotter to get this rig backed up the 1/2 mile.. So Katie and I walked back to ride camp.. Mr Marlow and his buddy came up and guided me out.. We even made that 90 degree turn - that I didn't figure my rig could make!!!

Got home around midnight. Dosed myself with painkillers all day Sunday.. Fortunantly, the Xrays today showed no major damage - though my doctor was quite impressed with the sheer amount of deep purple bruising covering my right leg.. Says I've got very dense bones!

So all-in-all - we finally beat Murphy's law - Katie's hooked on LDs... And I'll be A-ok in a couple of weeks....We'll be back - love Marlo's bar and buddies!

- Laura Peck

Chaperoning the Mighty Morgan! (Patti Stedman)

Hey folks.

It was an honor and a privilege for Ned to be the requisite "pitter patter of hooves" behind the Mighty Morgan, Hawk, for his final 50 miler at the Mary Lutz Memorial in New Jersey (a sort of opening-season ride here in the NE).

Mary Coleman and I got more than adequate whining in as we were reading the weekend forecast for New Jersey; it looked like we would be sitting in steady rain from our arrival on Friday, through Saturday's ride, and be packing up to head back to Mary's around the time that the weather began to clear on Sunday.

Over the winter, Mary told me she'd made this her plan for Hawk -- his final 50, and their 2008 ride for qualification for the Decade Team, and then time to retire him to parades and shows and play days, with a few LDs and CTRs thrown in here and there as he was able. She expressed some concern about having "someone out there with him" -- as nothing suits Hawk's ego better than having a horse BEHIND him on the trail. While it's not always easy to prep a horse for NJ during the late WNY winter, I volunteered up one of my horses. One of them would be Hawk's shadow for the day.

As winter wore on, we had a real scare with Ned, my 100 mile horse and friend and true character of an equine. A malignant melanoma that got removed with a pathology report that would leave you digging a large hole on the property. But so far, so good, no regrowth, no lymph node involvement, and so every conditioning ride has been precious, and the notion of sharing the trail with Hawk, with whom Ned has raced, pouted, traveled and camped over the years, well, as the commercial says, "priceless."

Despite the weather forecast.

I left my house Thursday, packing every piece of clothing I owned with any water resistant value, and an entire tack shop's stock of waterproof blankets and sheets for Ned. It was going to be a wet one.

Or maybe not.

As Mary and I crossed from PA to NJ on Friday morning, the rain turned to a drizzle, then to an occasional spit, and as we arrived in camp, no other drop of precipitation fell from the sky until long after we'd finished up on Saturday.

In fact, even as riders were calling Linda Carangia, the Ride Secretary, to switch from Saturday to Sunday's ride (which had a far better forecast), the skies were clearing and the air was crisper. It was the best NJ weather I'd experienced, either at Patti Pizzo's spring ride, or the NJTRA's fall ride.

Still, the trail is what it is -- 50 miles on a sand treadmill, Mary likes to call it. Sand and pine trees and, well, pine trees and sand. No elevation changes to speak of, no landmarks other than Hawkins Bridge, or sometimes a spot where someone dumped a body recently (with apologies to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and Tourism), just long trails and hard packs of sand, occasional softer sand, puddles and um, pine trees.

We were pretty cheerful heading out, grateful as could be that we weren't in goretex (but we were carrying it, no idiots we!), and Hawk and Ned headed out with the pack, power-trotting and letting everyone know that the Power Lifters in the sport were out there amongst the more traditional lithe and lean endurance machines. Hawk, as usual, had the look of eagles.

Soon enough, we dropped back, wanting to be sure we had plenty of horse left for the last loop. It was humid, and so we took the opportunity to use puddles to sponge, and forced the boys to take walk breaks between session of The Big Trot. Hawk was content to match Ned stride for stride, and the two boys, as they have in the past, nudged each other along a bit faster. No lack of ego in that pair.

Eighteen miles the first loop, and it went fast, and the skies were bright and clear and the humidity had dropped away as we arrived back to camp. Would we need to strip tack, sponge? Zoe, my friend, greeted us at the in-timer, so we stripped tack, checked pulses, and Hawk was down, so off to the pulse area we went, where the big boys were 40 and 48, I think. Guess we weren't pushing them too hard. :-)

We knew the next 20 mile loop would be a test. Twenty miles in the sand, is, well, a little demoralizing and a long time to be out there early in the season, and tho we love the three loop fifty, this is the price you pay. It typically means quite a long time without a significant meal, as there's nothing to graze on out in the Pine Barrens, and a trail that seems to never end. But the sun was shining, the boys felt strong, and at this point, I mostly kept Ned behind or beside Hawk, letting the chestnut set the pace for the day. We popped Aleve and Advil respectively, the flat miles taking their toll on our rested-over-winter bodies, particularly since both of us are accustomed to conditioning in mountainous terrain -- the boys got snacks and electrolytes. About four miles from camp, we reached Hawkins Bridge, a welcome landmark, where a couple of great guys were waiting with a trough of water, and Mary was thirsty. One of the guys offered a bottle of water, and I explained to him with great fanfare that he was providing water to one of the legendary pairs in our sport, and while he might not realize it now, he would be telling his grandchildren about this momentous occasion some day. I'm not sure he believed me because Mary was laughing awfully hard, and we were sort of trailing the pack, but I knew it was true.

In we came, the boys voracious, pulses down as we arrived again.

One more loop to go. Mary snuck a look at her cake, declared it "gorgeous" and I scolded her for trying to jinx her ride. I'd had to borrow a t-shirt as the day warmed up, as all I'd packed was layer after layer of clothing one would want to be wearing when it was cold and raining. Ah, New Jersey!

The last loop was a familiar one, and we were looking forward to it being over. Cocktails and celebrations and hot showers and laughter in camp -- we knew what awaited us, we just needed to "git 'er done." And that we did. We were behind two other horses on the trail, who we kept coming upon, we had plenty of horse we knew, but we stayed behind. Race for what would be sixteenth and seventeenth, or something like that? Nah. We backed off and enjoyed (?!) the last of those miles, celebrating with true glee as we hit the trail back to camp (finally!), high fiving as we crossed the finish (not too much elation, we knew we needed to vet the boys through). Mary teased me about "elevating" Ned to the 75, which I declined after much consideration and contemplation, explaining that sadly, there was no "elevator" option for this ride, as much as nothing would please me more than another 25 miles in the sand.

Mary insisted on combing out Hawk's tail before presenting him for his final vetting, though Zoe and I would allow only speed-combing, ever-aware that horses who turn 20 on Tuesday should not stand around at the finish of a 50 and postpone the final trot out until such time that their body reminds them that they are indeed hitting their second decade. Off to be vetted, where Hawk gained his much-anticipated completion, tears and hugs and pats all around, then back to his paddock where he ate and ate and then napped and napped (no doubt certain he was going out the next morning, as he had so many times in NJ before, sometimes three days in a row).

Showers and snacks and a walk for Ned and Hawk, where Hawk dragged Zoe around in true Hawk-fashion. And a celebration after dinner, complete with champagne and cake and giddy laughter and politically incorrect conversation and a speech from Mary, summing up her 5K AERC miles with Hawk and their 10 years competing together.

Then an even more tear-jerking celebration of the life of another Mary -- Mary Lutz, a USEF champion for international endurance, to whom the ride was dedicated-- who died on her 55th birthday while out celebrating the special day on her favorite horse -- no better way to go for those of us who love and live for horses.

Then overnight the rains came. Hawk pouted a bit, wondering if he'd be heading back out on the trail, and lept joyously into the rig behind Ned, not quite believing, I'm sure, that he was really done for the weekend. For a lifetime. He'd have headed back out on that trail, head high, attitude fully intact, fortified by the "pitter patter" of hooves behind him and the attitude that has made him such a remarkable horse in our sport.

But he didn't have to.

Congratulations Mary and Hawk! It has been a supreme honor and a privilege, and I look forward to regaling the tales (embellished of course) of hitting the trail with the Mighty Morgan and Mary, true legends, for many, many years.

Happy trails.

--Patti Stedman