by Christine Stewart Marks
Well, we’re back. I know you’ve been wanting to hear about the ride in Michigan, so I’ll give you the result and then a rather long recap in which I wax philosophical.
(That way, you can skip the long recap if you want to, y’know?)
Only three riders started the 50 mile. Only two completed. The third one was me. OK, now you can skip the recap.
--It is a long drive up there. We took nine hours from our 4am start at home to arriving in Hesperia. The good news is that we got there in time to rest and had gotten far enough north to avoid the dismal tropical weather plaguing Indiana before the real heat of the day. The bad news is that we were both tired, and never seemed to get caught up. I had not slept at all the night before (unsurprising), so I started in a bit of an energy hole. Naturally, I didn’t sleep that night, either. Too much going on.
--Thokkadis vetted in fine, and it was cooler up there than it had been, but the humidity was still hanging around. By the time I got up to feed her at 4am it was foggy (sigh). I noted at the time that she had not consumed as much water overnight as I had hoped, especially since she had been pre-loaded with electrolytes. I knew there was water available on the course, so, undaunted, we started at 6am. The two other riders were both determined to set speed records, at least to begin with, and bounced away on their tall, leggy Arabs, rarely to be glimpsed again. So Thokkadis was basically doing the ride by herself, which makes it a bit hard to stay motivated. At least, that was what I thought. So we tore through the first 2/3 of the first loop, slowing down for the deep sand, which was deeper than I remembered it. Of course, they have been having a drought in Hesperia, and dry sand gets deep fast. So we averaged a comfy 6mph for much of the first loop. Then she started to lose her motivation. She did not drink at any water stop, and I have learned that if she is thirsty, she will drink. If not, you can stand around and encourage her until you get thirsty yourself, to no avail.
Hmmmph. We came in at about 5.5mph, which is still ok. But then I messed around trying to take care of her. I cooled her down, walked her in to an immediate pulse down, but her guts were really quiet. This is not like Thokkadis, and I worried. “Take her back and feed her,” said Maureen (the friendly vet). I did. Gave her another wet mash and plenty of grass to graze. Apples. Electrolytes. Stuff. Did she drink? Nope. Her attitude was “Okay” but not as good as usual. I returned to the vet and asked for evaluation. Gut sounds were better, but still a B-minus. “Go on back out—it’s early yet” was the vet’s advice. So, resolving to slow down and let her gut catch up with the rest of her, I left 15 minutes late, having hung around in hopes that she would drink more. She trotted out of there like she meant business, so I knew she wasn’t in trouble. I meant to keep it that way.
Second loop—here’s where the academic exercise came in. OK, this trail was well marked. And I know, because I rode alone all day. But lesson one is this: never fuss with your tack unless you know for sure where you are and where you are going. We did the same loop as before, only backwards, and while I was trying to get a pesky snap hooked on my breast collar, fumbling around like an idiot, I missed a turn. I kept on going down the road. Let her graze grass along it and relax, hoping to stabilize her a bit more. Then I hear a 4-wheeler coming up behind me. “Hey, you missed a turn! Go back to the asphalt.” I claim sleep deprivation.
Well, *&)(*(#!!. Thokkadis and I turned around, found the turn, and off into the sandy woods we went. At last a water stop! This time, there was no debate. The electrolytes had finally kicked in and she drank. A lot. Thank heavens! We kept on going, but my slow-down and missing turn had cost us time we really didn’t have. As I looked at my elapsed time, I knew we were probably going to finish overtime. At that point, I could have pushed her. She drank again at another water stop. But that is not the way I do things. So instead, I helped pull ribbons as I rode. I finished the second loop at 4.5 mph. Slowed down again by sand and the desire to kick-start her guts, we happily moseyed into the vet stop and pulsed down immediately. By this time, it’s in the mid-80s and humidity still hanging around., though it’s better than it was in the foggy, foggy dew.
Vet and I had a confab. Her guts were much better—one quadrant still a little quiet, but I knew that would turn around soon. I still had time to finish IF I pushed her to 6mph. I still had one hold in there—tick-tock. I looked at Thokkadis and she looked at me. No-brainer. This horse is SO precious, and we are like one organism when we ride together. Risk heat issues and gut complications? Not THIS Viking.
She trotted out (rather perfunctorily) and I RO’d at 30 miles (actually 33 according to my tracker. Ha!).
We went back to camp, both took nice drinks, and settled in the shade. NOW the humidity is dropping…I can feel it. But we made the right choice. The two gazelle-like Arabians finished, but they were both really tired, too. It was not as easy a course as I thought it would be. Trying a 50 this early in the season is a gamble anyway; I expect all her really long attempts will be made in the fall. But it was worth a shot. Like mud, sand is not easy footing. And the shorter your legs are and the more strides/mile, the harder it is.
We will try this ride again in September.
SO. What did we learn in Michigan? A lot, but I’m as tired of typing as you are of reading. Until next time—“Marks the Red”.
PS: There is NO outcome worse than a horse requiring veterinary treatment. None. Not to me, there isn’t. And at my age (and hers), we are maybe more cautious than we have to be. But there it is! We had a good time riding, got a fabulous conditioning ride in, and gave it our best shot. It was a successful ride for everyone. --MTR