Monday, September 19, 2011

Hillbilly Shuffle - Cindy Stafford

September 18 2011

Just got back from HIllbilly Shuffle held in Black MO on the Ozark Trail.  Many thanks to the Coles for putting on this ride, and for all the helpful volunteers - I'm sure its not fun to be sitting in the rain all day!  And thanks to the nice hosts at Brushy Creek Campground - always so friendly.
I rode my 6 yr old horse Hula (DB Hula Mayya), this was her 2nd LD.  Her first was this same ride last year when it was the Ozark Trail ride.  She's not in great condition, not a pudge ball but not ready for fast miles.  I"ve been scared to do another LD with her without a 'babysitter' :) to keep her steady.  Last year I rode with my friend Paula and her steady gelding Ibn Desert Dhellal and they kept a nice pace for us the whole ride.  I thought this ride might be OK since it's single track and technical (lots of rocks!) and so might keep her focused on the trail rather than getting race brain.  Turned out Paula could ride with us on this one after all, since she her horses had just done 50's the weekend before, so she was going to ride a borrowed horse from the barn where we board (Desert Bred Arabians) who hadn't done any long distance work yet, so the plan was a nice conservative ride.  Her borrowed horse, DB Fatima (Bernie), was fit, but had never seen a hill since only being ridden around the trails where she lives - nice flat floodplains in IL.
Friday was lovely - nice cool sunny day, we got a couple hr pre-ride in.  Both did well.
Saturday the forecast was a chance of a T Storm in the afternoon.  They were wrong.  It started raining early in the AM, the rest of the day was periods of drizzle, then heavy showers off and on.    Plan was I was going to lead on Hula, poor little Bernie is just a spooky little girl,she would've ping ponged the entire 25 miles if she led.  I wanted to be back of the pack, my one concern was having riders come up from behind , last year that got hula pretty revved up and she threw some bucks and I didn't want her to get swept up with other horses with the trail being so technical and me losing control.
So we started out a couple minutes behind the crowd...she settled in very nicely, kept up a nice trot, slowed for the downgrades and hills if I asked.  Was riding with a loose rein - very nice!  The trail is very nice - Barry Cole and Back Country Horsemen and Paul Sidio and I'm sure miriads of others have worked hard this past year to repair all the damage from the downed trees from the storm a couple years back.  While you are riding in the Ozark Hills, it's not steep climbs.  The trail stays on the hllsides and is very undulating, some rocky spots, other areas where you can move out.  At various points the Ozark Trail crosses gravel roads and county roads - they all look alike after a while.  The course is you go up a trail from the campground to get onto a gravel road that hooks you up with a crossing of the Ozark Trail.  The LD"s were to follow red/white/blue ribbons 10 miles south on the trail, 30 min vet hold at Sutton Bluff, come back - cross the gravel road that takes you back to Brushy Creek, and then follow red/white ribbons 2.5 miles north on the OT, turn around at a creek and come back, then hit that magic gravel road and hook back up with the Brushy Creek trail to come back in.  This is important later :).
At about mile 7 we caught up with Ivan from Springfield (didn't get his last name - sorry Ivan!) who was enjoying his first LD on his grey gelding.  We all rode together to the first vet hold at Sutton Bluff.   To get there, the trail crosses a paved road where we needed to go down a long hill about 3/4 mile to a spot on large creek.  The road had just been paved and the rain had just started to fall harder when we got there, making it especially slick if your horse had shoes.  So we got off and handwalked to the vet hold - I was worried about sharing the road with traffic since there were no shoulders and blind hills and curves, but luckily nothing came along.  crossed a bridge into the hold.
30 minute hold   - horses ate and drank at the creek, no probs, all A's.  Still raining....
Got back on to head back up the long hilll up the road, got to the bridge, horses suddenly noticed the bridge when we were on their backs - of course!  didn't want to try and work thru the prob with the rain and slick pavement, got off again and this time handwalked UPPPPP the hill on the paved road.  ugh - I was not in shape to be doing this :).  Plus I have a tall horse and short legs - tough for me to mount without a step, was worried how to get back on.
Halfway up the hill, found a place to mount, got back on, Paula still handwalked Bernie.
Got to the trail, Paula got back on.  Just as we were heading back down the trail, I could feel Hula get a little excited about heading back toward home, those 10 miles hadn't phased her.  Then we heard traffic coming behind us on the road.  Very LOUD screeching motor bikes and a semi it sounded like.  Horses got very wiggy but we wre keeping things at a walk and relaxed mostly, Hula was getting a little jiggy but she was listening for the most part with me bending her head left and right.  UNTIL...two riders caught up to us from behind - very nice very polite ladies, but poor Hula had a little meltdown and started crowhopping.  The ladies passed nicely, but Hula still was jiggy,crowhopping.  I was trying to keep her at a relaxed walk, I was afraid if I let her go, I would lose all control while she tried chasing the other horses, and we were on the narrowest part of the trail, rain was falling the heaviest it had all day, and we were heading toward steady downhills back into a little valley.  I just didn't want to be on a bucking horse pitching down a hill and coming off. 
I thought I should just walk back to the vet hold and RO....  Paula suggested just handwalking Hula for a while until she settled down, so I tried that.  Bad part was this was the narrowest part of the trail with the steepest hillside - or it just seemed that way because I was walking it :~P.  Hula kept trying to get in front of me, so I kept fighting to keep her back while we tried to share this teeny tiny trail, stumbling over rocks, in the rain, up and down the hills...seemed like I walked FOREVER!, but it was probably only a half mile or so.  Finally though I could handle getting back on, but unfortunately the RM's Linda and Barry Cole hadn't left mounting blocks scattered throughout the trail for us.  Sheesh!    Tried getting on from a boulder, but every time I'd get my foot in the stirrup, Hula would swing her butt around.  Bernie was too nervous to stand still which complicated things.  Finally found some wonderful downed trees (there's a good part to that storm damage!) and it took a while but finally managed to get back in the saddle.  Whew!
Hula finally got a brain back, and we just kept it a nice, but still a bit excited and tense, walk for a bit.  I was still too nervous to try much trotting, afraid I'd lose control of her.  Paula, bless her heart, was very patient and didn't get fed up with us while the race clock kept ticking away as we walked, in the rain, in the cold.   
After some time walking, started some trotting spots again, mostly on the uphills to keep her steady, and started feeling more confident again.  But lots of thoughts went thru my head during that period handwalking my horse - why am I doing this silly sport?  I'm not having fun - this is miserable.  I hate being scared...this is dangerous...this isn't the horse for me, I need a quiet horse who doesn't buck...I just need to sell her to someone that likes a little onriness....I should stick with pleasure riding so I'm not riding in this much I missed riding my 16 yr old 'perfect' horse with the bad joints in endurance...I couldn't wait to get back to camp and call it a day.  
But around mile 15, things were looking better, the rain was petering off again, I got my loose reined horse back, we were back by ourselves on the trail.
Mile 20 - crossed the Brushy Creek gravel road to head north on our 5 mile out and back following the red and white ribbons .  Hula balked just a moment wanting to head back to Brushy Creek there, but a couple of little squeezes she willingly passed it to head north to follow those red and white ribbons.  Those 5 miles were lovely, nice steady trotting, passed some LD's as they were headed back.  Got to the creek at Hwy J, horses drank.  We turned around to head back and we were doing good on time.  Should get back with some time to spare. 
Trotted a couple miles, got to a gravel road and Paula said this is where we turn left to go back.  Hula pulled at me to go straight ahead to stay on the trail and balked when I tried to make her go left "toward camp" ahem.  We thought - silly horse!  She wants to still do more miles!  Horse are so confused - they don't know where they're going.  So we nudged nudged nudged and started trotting up the road to find the Brushy Creek Trail.  And trotted.  And trotted.  Saw the big pile of dead trees on the side of the road from that morning.  Still trotted.  No ribbons...lots of trail crossings, but no ribbons.  Where did we miss them?  Did they fall down in the rain?  Horses kept wanting to stop to eat grass....talked about it for a while, then trotted all theway back to the OT crossing.  Still couldn't find the Brushy Creek trail back to camp...Then Paula noticed the trail crossing, the ribbons that would have been taking you back to Sutton Bluff, well they were still red and white...not red white and blue as the north trail had been marked.  We hadn't hit the Brushy Creek road yet - ARGH!  Now we were way behind the clock.  Got back on the OT (Sorry Hula!  You were right!), trotted another 1/2 mile, saw the pie plate for 1 mile to finish, and kept trotting trotting.  FINALLY hit the Brushy Creek road, turned left - trotted, found our RIBBONS - yea!  Followed them back to the Brushy Creek trail and down down down the hill back to the finish line with 10 minutes to spare! 
PHEW!  We survived :). 
Horses vetted in good, pulsed in around 48 I think, mostly A's, rain had stopped, I was soooo glad to be done!  and Hula was too :).
So that's my long ride story from an inexperienced LD'er. I know this isn't an inkling of what the 'real' riders do at Tevis and OD and Big Horn, but I am proud of Hula for leading for 25 miles on a loose rein for 20 of those.  There were a lot of pulls I heard in the 50 and a couple in the LD's, so very happy that we finished with healthy sound horses :). 
And very proud of little Bernie - for a horse that's never done any long trail rides and has never seen a hill, she kept up like a champ.  Paula called her a little mountain goat, just glided up and down those hills.
Thanks again for all who helped put on this ride - it was a challenge!
Cindy and DB Hula Mayya
(and Zoey the 16 yr old arthritic mare who's very happy she's figured out how to avoid going with Cindy on these silly rides)

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