by Todd Hezeau
I know I I have not written on here in a long time but some have asked for a report of the National Championships at the Old Dominion so since I have minimally gotten back on Cr$pbook as a lurker, I figured I could oblige, so here it goes.
It was a tough ride! There ya go… just kidding.
We left on Monday and traveled over 2 days utilizing shorter days over a period of time rather than longer days of travel which the shorter travel times between destinations is better IMO. So we overnighted in Jackson TN the first night, Bulls Gap the second day, where I glued Wynd’s boots on the next morning inside the protection of the barn and arrived in camp on Wednesday late afternoon. Wynd traveled well and arriving Wednesday allowed her to rehydrate and eat.
On Thursday we were awoken early to the sound of Reveille playing on the PA that is set up all along the edge of ride camp which is a long pasture with a road down the middle at I think around 5a. Apparently it is tradition to play reveille before the ride start and then followed by what is called the “bubble” song, which sounds like a bad ring tone that you will never get out of your head once you hear it. We went back to sleep but got up around 8a because we were to travel to Cass WV to ride the Cass scenic railroad which is an old logging railroad that utilizes geared locomotives to pull and push you 11 miles to the third highest point in the Alegany mountains. Being a rail fan, (I secretly love trains, in particular geared locomotives), I was like a kid in a candy store and took many pictures and videos.
We barely made it in time as the drive across the mountains to get there was intimidating to say the least. Roads were steep and curvy and we got lost on the way back so we were late getting back to Wynd. She had plenty of hay and fortunately the folks watching her filled up her water. Thank you to Christo and his wife (the people whom put on the Alabama Yellowhammer ride and owners of Dinklemann Arabians) whom we befriended. Talked with them quite a bit and man, I could listen to him and his wife for hours!!!
Anyway, we awoke to Reveille again on Friday and again went back to sleep. We met Tim Worden and his wife, Lara, Thursday evening, whom I had been conversing with on FB getting information about the ride which was very helpful and we went out for a small trek Friday morning before vet in to get an idea of the ride and make sure all was well with tack and such. Eventually I went to fetch our rider card and vetted Wynd in around 3p where the vet said one quad of her guts were quiet which concerned me so I really watched her and checked them before we went to bed and they were loud and gurgling so she was good to go.
We finished getting things together since all the holds were out of camp and Kathy, my amazing crew person was doing all of the crewing task on her own! By herself! Lara said she would be happy to let Kathy follow her to the holds since Tim and I planned on riding together. It was interesting that they have the the PA lined up parallel to road in ride camp, we did not have to walk the distance, which we were pretty far away from the meeting tent, so we just stayed at the trailer and listened to the meeting from there! We went to bed about 8p and awoke to rain around midnight. I fed Wynd the evening meal, she had her rain sheet on as the temp was rather chilly that evening.
I awoke around 3:45a as ride start was 5:30a. I obviously was not paying attention or with my hearing didn’t comprehend, that start was at 5:30. I heard 5:15 so we were early to check in. Anyway, we tacked up in the rain and the ride commenced at 5:30. It was planned that Tim and I would ride together but he was late at the start so we started with everyone else. I did not wish to wait because from everything I learned about this ride, there is a lot of walking involved because of the rocks and time is everything so we just moved forward and did not wait.
We were with probably 8-10 other horses durning the start which went off down the road. It was raining, not hard but steady. We turned off into the woods about 1/2 mile down the road from the start. The trail was muddy in places and we eventually came to our first climb which is about a 1300’ elevation gain. It had some rocks, particularly along the ridge that we rode along once at the top which consisted of some thin, vertical rocks sticking out of the ground about 2 to 4 inches and although a few horses passed us trotting along this, I opted to walk her as she was tripping on them because of the fact they were hard to see.
We started our descent to the first vet check which was down a gravel road for most of the way, some of which was steep. We made it to Bird Haven and Kathy was there waiting on us. Mind you she was our only crew person throughout this entire ordeal. She crewed this ride by herself and without her Wynd and I would have never made it! Wynd vetted through without a hitch and ate well durning the hold. To show how hydrated we were, I had to stop and pee 3 times during that segment and she did also! She has learned that when I pee she can too!
That hold was 40 minutes and we left back out on time and went back up the road we came till it broke off into the woods. All this time I was wondering, “where are all the rocks?” All I have heard about this ride is how bad the rocks were and on that first segment I saw nothing worse than what we encounter on rides here in Texas or elsewhere.
Well, once we broke off the road and started our second climb, I was not disappointed in the rocks. They came in abundance and never ended after that. Yes, this ride has ROCKS and plenty of them. Lots of walking in the segment of the ride. Rocks were everywhere!
We eventually came to the 2nd VC at Laurel Run. This VC, crew was not allowed but the volunteers at this ride did not disappoint. There was feed and hay bountiful for the horses and they had water, P&B sandwiches, granola bars and plenty of other snacks for the riders! You were very much catered to. They had thought they lost my bag, of which I did not pack one for that hold, and the head volunteer was a bit upset that they lost it till I told him that I never had one sent.
Again, Wynd pulsed in quickly and ate great at this hold. It was 45 minutes and off we went down the road and back up the mountain and although this climb was steep it was pretty much all road and she trotted the relatively flat parts and walked the steep sections. When we got to the top of the climb she was ready to rock again.
We came to a trough and caught up to two other riders there of which we wound up getting stuck behind for a good while. The trail in this part was rocky but not terrible as there were places to move but nowhere to pass at it was very narrow and the ladies we were behind elected to walk the entire section. Finally came to a part where we could pass and pass she did. She lost a boot almost to the end of this segment combining into the 3rd VC and there was a bridge crossing a creek, which she does not like crossing but fortunately we had caught up to another rider and so long another horse goes across the bridge, she will, other wiser I have to hand walk her. The bridge was surprisingly slippery and she panicked a bit on the footing, which is where I think the boot came off, not the rocks… LOL.
Kathy was waiting for us again and someone we had been talking about the night before,Aubrey Hager, former central region rider, who helped Kathy and us while waiting her sister came in off of trail. I replaced her boot before we came into the P&R. Again, she vetted through pretty quick and had great scores and ate and drank well. On a side note, we had been having some issues with gut scores at some prior rides, so I did some research and had a recommendation of adding magnesium to her elytes, which we did at the 75 out at the Grasslands. Her appetite and gut scores dramatically improved so we utilized the same remedy at this ride with very good results.
Soothes hold was 50 minutes and we set out after we were released. From this point on the trail was a little easier with the big climbs out of the way but not the rocks so much.We had been lucky all day as themes had been low and they continued to be that way, never really getting out of the 70’s. I have heard that this ride can have some relatively high temps along with the high humidity that we were already experiencing.
This trail was no different in the case of the rocks. There were plenty to go around but there were sections of road and flat areas where you could move out and she did. We acquired another rider a little after leaving and rode with there and her horse for the rest of the ride. This lady had completed this ride 4 times now and although her horse was a yo-yo horse, meaning he would speed up and slow down, Wynd figured out real quick that she could keep her normal pace and not have to do the same thing. She is so smart!
This section would be particularly long from what I was told. We had a 10min gate and go where once your horse reached criteria, they would let you go 10 minutes. Both horses seemed ravenous and ate very well and as we were getting released to go, the ladies I was behind earlier had caught back up to us but never saw them again. Wynd and the other lady’s horse were eating everything at this point. Any grass they came to they would want to eat and move along.
I was told to get ready for the Mail Trail. How the hell anyone delivered mail up this trail is beyond me. I was also told that this was the trail they cleared rocks off of and I was assured by the lady we were riding with that this was a lot better than it has been in the past. That was nice. This trail was a NEFT trail, (Never ending f$cking trail) and every ride has one. It is also the point in the ride where you start questioning your sanity.
We made it to the Little Sluice courtesy stop, it’s not a hold but they have volunteers there that have water, snack, hay feed. We stopped for a bit and let the horses eat and drink. It was only 4 miles to the next hold, the Big92 VC.
Kathy and Aubrey were there waiting on us and had everything ready! Again, as it had been through the whole ride so far, she pulsed and vetted in quickly and ate just as well. This hold I believe was 40 minutes and we left on time with our guide person. The next hold was 7+ miles away and were 70+ miles through the ride and she was moving out very well, even with all the climbs and rocks and soon to be mud, Wynd felt great and was doing very well so far.
This section is about half road and half through the woods. The rocks seemed to diminish to an extent which made going easy but being dark we walked a bit more through the woods. We came to Laurel Run VC which was the 5th VC and a 30 minute hold. Kathy passed us earlier going down the road and meet us there and had some major help from the ever helpful volunteer named Ryan, whom helped us earlier in the day at the same VC. He was awesome, carrying everything from the truck to the hold and even parked the truck!
Again she ate and drank, but this time it was getting a chilly so I did not remove her saddle. The vet at the vet check was very impressed with her recoveries, 52/52 and this hold had a pretty steep incline in the trot out coming back to the vet. She was like that all day. He gave her a compliment.
So we were off after our time. Next VC was 13+ miles and was mostly road although we had some hills to climb with, you guessed it, rock! At this point it was dark and couldn’t really see anything as her glow sticks on her breast collar lit up the trail, we made it to Bird Haven and VC 6, the last hold, which was only 20 minutes.
Wynd had picked up the pace a bit as she knew we were headed back, especially in her walks as our guides horse was a bit of a slow walker so she led a little for periods of time. Left her saddle on for this VC as well and the vet gave her another compliment for 52/48 CRI. She ate and ate the either time we were there. We had 6 miles to go!!!!!
We left the hold across the pasture we entered and loped out of the VC! When the trail turned into the woods, we had to walk. The mud combined with the rocks made things a bit slow but she had a pretty go pace at a walk. We reached the road leading to camp and both horses took off at a fast trot and as we got to the lights we picked up a lope.
Now since this woman we were riding with lead pretty much the entire time we road together, I wasn’t going to go blow past her at the finish but Wynd had other ideas. We broke into a light lope and then she, without warning, bolted into a gallop with many people footing and cheering! I was not ready for that but I guess she was done… lol.100 miles of that terrain and she does that. Wow!
We walked down the vet check as Kathy went to get the wagon. I pulled her saddle and we walked to the vet. She was trying to eat everything. We got to the vet and she gave us another compliment on her CRI which was 48/48. Her P&R pulse was 40! She never had a CRI above 60 all day. Yes, she did a 100 miles.
She trotted out sound and all of her other parameters were great! We completed, 8th out of 32 starters! I cannot be any more proud of my little girl! She was strong all day, ate and drank well all day. She performed fabulously!
We brought her back to the trailer and took care of her legs and such and went to bed. We were exhausted. The next morning we awoke for BC showing. I made the mistake of not putting a heater on her and trotting her out in her collar which caused her head to be up in the air but she looked good. She flinched a bit when palpated near the knee on the LF and had a rub between her heel bulbs on the RF which she lost the boot on and reacted to that so her BC scores were not the greatest but I don’t care! She did fabulous.
I cannot convey the appreciation I have for Kathy and all she did for us. If it were not for her, we would have never completed this ride. She did everything by herself! Load, unload, reload again, Drive, unload, carry, lather, rinse, repeat as all of the VC’s were out of camp… She is the super crew and I am very luck to have someone even remotely willing to this for us! I did try and get her some help but, in the end was unable to secure anyone. She did have a bit of help from Audrey and I am extremely appreciative of that.
Since I have ridden the the big 3 now, of which I have only completed one and attempted another numerous times to no avail, which we shall be going back to kick it's ass, I have had time to think about It and I have rated them in order of difficulty. This is my opinion with the experiences I have had at each ride so take as you may.
Big Horn IMO is the most difficult It terms of climbs and sheer daunting remoteness. There is no one, other than maybe another rider, and I mean no one, between each of the holds and it is 20 miles between each hold. The elevation change is majorly drastic. When I did it the ride changed a bit but from the first hold to the second was a 4000'+ change. The canyons we had to climb were straight up and down with no switch backs.
OD would be #2. They are not kidding about the rocks at this ride, they are brutal. Lots of walking. You don't have the elevation like the other two but the climbs are long and add the rocks, well, there ya go. There was one rider I heard of that lost 3 shoes after the second section. We lost one glue on so I consider that pretty lucky. Look at the picture of her boot and the wear the rocks caused. And we were lucky with the temps as it never got out of the 60's. Maybe reached 70º. The humidity was in play though and from what I have been told, these temps are not the normal temps for this ride. I can imaging what it would be like if the temps were in the 90's with the humidity!
#3 unfortunately Is the ride in California. Yes, it can get hot, but with no humidity It is very tolerable and yes the canyons are a tough part of this ride but in all honesty, the toughest part of this ride is the logistics! So, mind you this is my opinion from the experience I had at all three rides!