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!