Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fort Valley 2012 - Flora Hillman

October 30 2012

The weather was spectacular, the scenery gorgeous, and the trail (as always) a challenge. As Head In/Out Timer for both days, I kept asking riders how they liked the trail, and they all gushed over how beautiful the mountains were, how colorful the trees were, and how much fun they were having. Big smiles on all - 30s and 50s, all weekend. The trail can really kick one's backside, but that makes the triumph of riding it all the bigger in terms of the grins we got as riders timed in and out....and finished.

Average about 50 riders on Friday,  close to 100 on Saturday.   Friday temps in low to mid 70s - and cool/humid in morning. Horses came off trail and those we saw around us at the crew tents dove into the water buckets right away. Top ten horses looked great all day long. Pulls on Friday were a few lameness (lost shoes or boots) mostly, I think only two metabolic (tie-up)  Horses that were treated were both experienced horses (one was a 100 mile horse that passed the vet check, but later owner observed NQR symptoms and returned horse to vets), and the one horse that ended up being transported to Morven Park was reported as doing fine, but still taking in lots of fluid, and was expected to stay on for a day or so. Unusual seasonal warmth and high humidity in the air were contributors.

Saturday was significantly cooler, overcast with with a short period of rain showers mid morning as 50s were coming in from their first loop. Morning was cool, afternoon warmer (high 60s), but then breezes picked up by late afternoon with temps dropping into the low 60s, and jackets made a reappearance.  Times for the front runners were faster, but about average for the middle of the pack. Again, lots of huge smiles and riders simply glowing about how beautiful the trail scenery was - one rider described a section of trail as  "this long tunnel of golden leaves all above and around you as you rode along - it was magical!" The photographer (Becky Pearman) showed us some raw shots from the trail, and we were in awe at how spectacular the background was for the rider photos. I was told that a  change of trail this year on the final loop took away a particularly rocky stretch - a change I'm sure many riders appreciated as that stretch had been a bane to riders and trail markers for years (including moi during the many years I competed in this ride).

We had several juniors in the Sat 30 (hooray!!), and a number of newbies in both distances on both days. We passed around smiles and jellybeans freely as we made sure that everyone  felt comfortable, understood the protocol, knew which way to turn going out of ridecamp for whatever loop they were doing (most common question asked "do I go this way??"), and most importantly cheered riders coming in and going out on the trail.  ALL the ride-and-tie riders got huge applause (practically standing ovations) and cheers as they came in and went out. It was great fun, and especially nice for the nearby landowners who stopped in to watch and chat, particularly one landowner and her little granddaughter who visited the ridecamp to see the horses and activity close up and personal. Tons of new "endurance" puppies of all breeds to coo and cuddle over, too. The OD rides are very dog-friendly, and all the canines in attendance had well behaved humans on their leads.

This is one of the most popular fall rides, not the least for the  lovely ridecamp in a spacious flat field on the valley, but also for the mouthwatering dinners prepared by RM Claire Godwin's culinary husband Pete who (with a staff of ever smiling volunteers) can whip up soups and dinners that would rival a 4 star restaurant...and have the entire ridecamp come running to the food lineup as dinner and the ride meeting got underway. They even had big screen set up for showing (horsey) movies each night after dinner - "War Horse" on Thursday night had me sitting in the audience (I'd read the book, hadn't seen the movie).

Don't know who won the Asgard Arabian raffle horse drawing on Saturday night (I have my ticket!!) as I had to leave by sunset, but the winner will be announced on the OD website. Stunning chestnut horse that exhibited a lot of Crabbet features (as breeder Tom Sayvetz explained to me). Whoever wins this horse (and I know a lot of people were walking around with pocketfulls of tickets) will get a wonderful endurance prospect.

Again, massive kudos to RM Claire Godwin and her enthusiastic, fun (ever growing) staff of volunteers for putting together yet another outstanding Fort Valley weekend of rides. If you come next year, look for me as the Head In/Out Timer again.  This annual long-running OD autumn ride is WAY too much fun to miss, either as rider, crew, or  volunteer.

Final results and link to photographer's photos will be on the OD website  ( this coming week.

Fort Valley 2012 - Nancy Sluys

October 31 2012

Had a great weekend at Fort Valley ride in Virginia. Starting a new horse in the 30 on Friday and taking my old buddy Blue around the 50 mile course on Saturday. The weather precluding Hurricane Sandy was unseasonably warm on Friday causing  difficulty for some horses whose winter coats were growing so Tari and I just mosied along at a reasonable pace.

   I received Tari (Desert Stahar), a 12 yr old (at that time) Arabian mare,  2 1/2 years ago from a friend who was experiencing a life crisis and had to re-home her. Since then she has had her ups and downs starting with a case of mild laminitis from the change in pasture. We got through that and began conditioning. Last year she finished the 50 at JD's ride but in January was pulled for lameness in Florida. The sand was a bit too much for her. She also had a mysterious metabolic issue early in the summer which we discovered was a magnesium deficiency which we corrected. With all this in mind we decided the 30 miler would be a good test on these tough trails.  

The trail was beautiful and tough and Tari and I were having a great time checking out the scenery and taking lots of pictures. She had no problem completing the ride and looked like she hadn't done a thing at the end and the next day. I was sure proud of my little mare who I have dubbed my "Calgon take me away" horse due to her easy way of going and excellent past training. She is just so easy to ride, a real pleasure!! I  enjoyed the last loop which had been changed from the years before. Instead of doing a slow, extremely rocky loop called the "Drunken Sailor Trail" we were treated to a trip through the beautiful countryside and surrounding farms on a dirt road. It was a delight!

  Saturday was much cooler and included an occasional drizzle of rain, perfect weather for my old guy (22) Blue who has already grown quite a hair coat. He hadn't done a 50 in a year and 8 months although he did a few LDs earlier in the year and lots of casual trail riding. I really wanted to ride the tough 2nd loop which I did not get to see the day before on the 30 which is why we opted for the 50. We hit the trail on the first loop and Blue felt fantastic and really moved along, although faster than I had planned. He is pretty set in his ways and I could not convince him into a more sensible pace. He recovered quickly at the first VC so I wasn't too worried about it. After leaving the first hold I made a really stupid mistake by taking a right turn at the top of the mountain instead of the other side and did about a mile of extra trail putting me behind all the horses who had been behind me leaving the vet check. We found ourselves by ourselves which always makes Blue lose a bit of motivation. At our now slower pace I was again able to take in the gorgeous scenery and get some more pictures and videos taken as we trotted easily down the dirt road along the Shenandoah River. Leaving the river we began the long arduous climb up the infamous Indian Graves Trail. Gradual at first the trail climbs for 3-4 miles becoming ever steeper as it went along. The last several hundred yards are truly brutal with the last bit a leap up some rock faces dubbed the Cougar Rock of the east! Blue started the climb easily but soon began to slow as his breathing became labored. He has recently recovered from a respiratory infection and that was taking it's toll. As the trail became steeper I got off and hiked the last mile or so until the rock faces where I remounted so Blue could carry me over. It took us an extremely long time to climb that mountain although except for having to stop repeatedly to breath Blue handled it just fine. By the time we got to the vet check I realized that we would be finishing the 3rd loop in the dark. Blue passed his check with As although his CRI was a few beats high for my liking indicating to be that he was showing some fatague. After giving it some thought and realizing that Blue had nothing to prove I decided to call it a day and passed on the 3rd loop. We had had a fantastic day and we both felt good, I know he would have done that 3rd loop for me but it seemed like the right thing not to ask him to do it. It was the first time I have pulled from a ride with a horse that could could have continued on but I felt fine about it, after all Blue had given me a huge effort getting up Indian Graves and that was all I felt I could ask that day, we were satisfied!

Happy Trails, Nancy Sluys