With thanks to all the kind people and equines who have helped me get this far, I will be forever grateful.
A Tough Beauty
Back in 2000 when I first learned about distance riding I never thought I could actually attempt one. Then in 2002, I found Ride Camp at www.endurance.net From the stories and information I began to think I could, maybe, one day ride a 25 mile limited distance ride. When I heard about the Malibu ride, I told myself someday, you might get to the Malibu ride.
Malibu has the well deserved reputation of being the toughest ride in our Pacific South region. I have been told if you can finish Malibu with a horse that still has some gas left in the tank you could then do Tevis. I learned that the footing is hard and rocky and the hills are mean. But that is what they say about my ‘hood! And so I began to think I could actually do Malibu.
And to that end I started a long journey that has been both joyous and heart breaking. At first I knew I was not fit to attempt Malibu as I was a green pea of a rider. I needed to learn everything from how to camp with my equine partner, how to drive a rig, what to bring, what to wear. I lost my first horse to a torn suspensory and then my husband in a motorcycle accident. I broke my tail bone. My right foot has been broken twice. I have a teenage daughter.
But with each set back I had the memories of my previous rides with vistas and tree covered paths most riders never get to tread. The beauty of the trail calmed my soul. The good people I met and the fun of the ride camp lifted my spirits. My knowledge increased as did my mileage. My daughter and I have ridden hundreds of miles together giving us a truly unique and wonderful bond. I now have a wonderful, honest horse that loves the trail. It looked like finally, after over 5 years of dreaming I was finally going to Malibu.
Then on April 16th, Lyric my daughter’s horse had a major rhabdomyolysis episode (tying-up) after a training ride. They were out. Danielle did not want to ride my horse, Jazzi. She wanted to stay home and sleep in. Then the week before the ride my rig needed hundreds of dollars of repair. And of course the price of gas just toped $4.00 a gallon. But Jazzi was ready and I was injury free. I had figured out her electrolyte issue with home made cookies. Was I really ready for Malibu? Was I ready to do it with out Danielle?
As I drove through LA on a Friday afternoon my heart pounded with fear and excitement. The drive was relativity easy and the ride camp was only a mile or two off the 101 freeway at the old Paramount Ranch were many movies were filmed. The ranch is now a part of the National Park system, both good and bad news. The park has saved the land from development and thus saved the trails. However the parks’ rules (No vending, no grazing just to name 2.) makes hosting a ride very difficult. Barbra and Lisa did a magnificent job as ride manager and secretary working within the stiff framework of the park.
Suzie, a Malibu resident and friend from NATRC rides greeted me when I arrived and hooked me up with Suzanne who boarded her horse, Dancer close to me in San Diego and wanted some one to ride with.
Jazzi and I rode the first 5 miles or so of the start/finish that Friday evening. It was beautiful! The terrain was a cross between Elfin Forest and Cuyamaca; the coast and the mountains. Jazzi was so pumped up I had to fight her to turn around and come back to camp.
In camp a moving memorial to the late ride vet Dr. Hewitt was held. Many funny stories were told and people were laughing so hard they were crying. Hugie as he was known was one of a kind, he is very much missed. My heart ached with my own loss and I was thankful Jazzi was still saddled up as I could ride some of the pain off and talk to Jerry. I asked him to watch over us and keep us safe.
After a dinner and the ride meeting it was time to finish packing 2 crew bags. With the unpredictable weather I had to put just about everything in the bag for vet check 1 and 3. If the fog rolled in it would be cold and damp requiring blankets for the horses. If it was hot sponging supplies would be needed. All too soon it was time to shower, set my phone alarm and get to bed.
Because of the neighbor’s request to keep the camp quiet coupled with a dead phone, I did not get up until 5:15 a.m.; 45 minutes before the start. This sent me scrambling to feed Jazzi, myself, dress, tack up and get to the start on time. As we headed out, Jazzi was more than a handful, dancing with small bucks added for punctuation. She wanted to go and go fast. We had been warned repeatedly to save our horses for later as the course was demanding. Thankfully Jazzi soon settled down with Dancer and Suzanne setting a good pace alternately trotting and walking as the terrain dictated.
In a matter of minutes we passed the old M.A.S.H. set now marked by a rusted out jeep. No signs of Hawkeye or Hot Lips were found. Someone had removed the turn markers for the first hill climb. But Suzanne had many training rides in Malibu and kept us on the correct trail. We turned left and started climbing the infamous Bulldog Hill. Up and up the side of a mountain on a rough, hard packed fire road we went. The road had deep gouges in places with loose rocks. We were surrounded by late spring flowers and thick chaparral. I saw several different kinds of sages I had never seen before with bloom spikes of shocking pink, deep purple or orange up to 3 feet in length.
The hill was never ending; it went on and on and on. I was told this hill was a 5,000 foot long climb. The horses were well matched and took turns leading and following. Jazzi’s heart rate monitor worked well and she was happy to continue climbing. I was starting to get really hungry as I had very little to eat. Luckily Suzanne had an energy bar we shared that got me to vet check one at 8 miles from the start.
Jazzi and Dancer pulsed in at vet check one in 3 or 4 minutes. The criteria was set low at 56 (beats per minute) to ensure the horses were fit to continue due to the tough terrain. Jazzi did not want water; she wanted food. She ate and ate and ate. Good thing as she only had a C on gut sounds, but was well hydrated and sound. I too needed to eat and found energy bars in my crew bag with my sunglasses. I made a tactical error when I swapped out my regular glasses for sunglasses. I should have kept my glasses in my pack with me.
The view from the vet check one was just magnificent with a deep green valley on one side and steep, craggy hills giving way the deep blue Pacific on the other. The valley view reminded me of the hills of the north shore of Kauai, so green and lush from the generous winter rains. However, this vet check was the origin of the huge Corral fire that marked the start of the disastrous Southern California fires of 2007. It was easy to see why one would be drawn to this wide spot on the road to party on a warm fall night. The scars from that fire were hardly visible, covered by new growth soon to be tinder dry in a few weeks, again to become potential fire fuel.
In 20 minutes we were off trotting down a beautiful single track trail into an oak and brush lined canyon with numerous small creek crossings. It was still cool and the horses were happy to continue on. However Jazzi started to stumble small at first, but worse as the morning continued. We also started to encounter other trail users, mountain bikers and hikers. Everyone was courteous and kind and all made room for us on the trail. Jazzi sniffed several hoping to find a treat and Dancer did not spook at any walking sticks.
On a steep downhill we were found by Lynne Glazer, photographer extraordinaire. She warned us the last part of the trail was bad with deep erosion gouges and lots of rock. At the bottom was a trail head with lots of horse water. Both horses drank deeply. Jazzi’s left hind shoe had started making noise just past Lynne. I found it loose and at Suzanne’s urging was able to get an easy boot over it. Suzanne called Suzie who was at the lunch stop to ensure the farrier would be available.
Off to what turned out to be the steepest and longest hill (mountain?) climb I have ever encountered. It made Bulldog seem like a pleasant dream. It just never ended. When you thought you surely were done you would round a corner and find it continued up with no end in sight. The footing was fine, a hard packed fire road with sections of rocks and ruts, nothing unusual, just steeper and longer than I could ever imagined. After what seemed like hours we reached the peak. The view was stunning. Framed by green mountain sides waves danced onto the famous Zuma Beach and a bit of fog hugged the horizon. To our left was a large ranch entry named “Buzzard’s Roost Ranch.” To our right we found large water buckets filled with horse water. Both horses drank well and we let them rest a while and nibble on the dry grasses. Jazzi ate her electrolyte cookie happily and asked for another one. With one dose per cookie I had to say no.
Now it was time for the longest, steepest down hill I have ever done. First Suzanne and Jazzi had to water the roadside, together. Then we encountered a large group of students working their way up the hill. They had water and were happy to be out sweating on the side of a mountain, “working on their six packs” they laughed as they pointed to their fat free mid sections. Suzanne and I had a really good belly laugh at them (pun intended).
Soon it was apparent to me Jazzi was tripping worse and worse. Her easy boot stayed on, but it did not hold the ground like a steel shoe. She was slipping and sliding and tripping all at the same time. I was starting to get frightened Jazzi would fall and we would go off the mountain side.
Suzy Kelly galloped by us going home from the lunch stop. We were stunned at her horses’ amazing athletic condition. Was that horse a one in a thousand or did Suzy have some secrete sause? Maybe Suzy had a fool proof conditioning program. Whatever she does, Suzy Kelly’s Cayenne Kate is one hell of an athlete. Unfortunately, they had gotten off course early in the ride and were given a completion only. Bummer.
The last leg of the down hill into the one hour lunch break was a steep single track. About 100 yards into it was a large dark spot that turned out to be soft. Jazzi went down almost to her knees and grunted as she righted herself. I was so scared I started to cry as I heard my daughter’s voice telling me not to leave her an orphan. About a half a mile further down Jazzi tripped again. She again almost went to her knees. I started dreading the ride back to camp knowing most of the earlier up hills would now be down hills that would have to be trotted to finish in time. The dread just grew and grew.
True to his word the farrier, Ed Spitzer was waiting for us with his grandson and work truck. First we pulsed down within several minutes and a few sponges of water. I was feeling really beat up and Lynne Glazer was so kind and held Jazzi while she ate and had 2 back shoes replaced. I found some food and drank water, Gatorade and more water at Lynne’s motherly advice.
Jazzi ate and ate and ate. She drank well too and ate her electrolyte cookie happily. She vetted out fine, sound and strong. Then the vet told me if I had any thing that made me feel my horse would not make it back I needed to pull now as the ride back to camp was just as brutal as the first part. Tears of relief flooded my eyes, I did not have to finish. Jazzi’s tripping was horrible and I knew she would hurt herself or me if we continued. It was better to pull now and not get stuck were they could not trailer us out. I saw my daughter’s smiling face in my mind and knew it was the right thing to do.
Suzanne understood, but Dancer did not. She had a time of it getting him to go, but they did in fact finish and claimed the turtle prize with 6 minutes to spare. She was very frank with me, “You would have been so miserable. I had to trot everything, all the down hills. It was the right thing for you to do, even if I had to get after Dancer.”
As we waited for the trailer to take us back to camp Jazzi’s back dried out. Once dry, new hair loss and a small raised area just behind her left wither became apparent. Her back was very sore to the touch. I was thankful to know the reason for her tripping, but mad at my self for not discovering it earlier on our training rides. I felt horrible and responsible for the pain Jazzi suffered. Lucky for me Jazzi is a kind and forgiving horse who has always tried to please me. I am grateful to be owned by such a sweet and honest mare.
Of the 47 starters in the 55, 11 were pulled. Most of the pulls were for lameness, two had metabolic issue, but no treatment was needed. The 25 milers had similar statistics. I have an appointment for Jazzi with a saddle fitter. I am happy to report Jazzi did very will with the electrolyte cookies, no strange sweat patterns. I will never leave my glasses in my crew bag again. I will get a wind up alarm clock for the RV and use it. Breakfast for the rider is as important as breakfast for the horse.
Every ride has taught me things. I am thankful for the lessons of Malibu; I will be a better rider because of it. Am I sad I did not finish? No, some days are like that. Life is not all cherries and ice cream. I am grateful Jazzi was not injured. I am thankful the vet sensed I had a problem and gave me permission to pull. Will I attempt Malibu next year? Maybe, if the Gods find it in their hearts to let me try again, I may do just that.
Lazy J Ranch
In loving memory Jerry Gradisher, 1961-2006
Elfin Forest, CA