Monday, August 15, 2011

Leatherwood 2011

Leatherwood Endurance Race, 2011

My first thought of the overall impression of the ride, now that I am home and can look back on it, is: Wow, What a Ride!

I, like most of us worry and obsess over every little detail, and then we do something totally stupid, which of course makes us worry all the more… This weekend, Noways gave me two things to worry over. First he turned his nose up at the water I brought from home, which is also the water I use to put in his slurry mix, which he also sniffed at like I was trying to poison him. Fortunately, he liked the Leatherwood water, so we managed, but getting water into an endurance horse is paramount, and I immediately thought he looked dehydrated.  Then I discovered that although he had been shod only two weeks earlier, a heel nail was loose and sticking out just right to cut him up if not removed.  The rider farrier didn’t show up until after dark, so I worried and worried, since I had no way of removing it. Joe S. volunteered to do it, but he was saved just in time when Jeff P. showed up. Thanks guys!

Vickie C. and her horse Boo, shared the ride with us, which made it much easier all round. It is a beautiful drive, but long (7 ½ hours) and lots of climbs with a heavy load. Traffic was heavy and we had a couple of white knuckle moments, but we survived. Poor Vickie held onto the door and did some quiet whimpers every time we started down a steep grade…

Both horses checked in with all A’s and good to go. We were excited and looking forward to the day’s ride. We decided to go ahead and put up my Pop up tent close to the Vet Check, just in case it was sunny and hot, even though we planned to take the horses back the short walk to the trailer for the hold times. The ride meeting was informative and the Southern Hospitality was over flowing…What a great welcome, since neither of us had done this ride before. We had dinner at their restaurant, Saddlebrook. The Hillbilly Taco was wonderful! We were ready!

I slept well, Vickie did not… got the horses their morning feed and got ourselves ready. Nice morning, but it was going to be a warm day, unlike the cold front that had entered KY the day we left. Hmmm.

Noways was good to tack up like always, but his eyes get really big with all the goings on and he of course knows what we are about. When I mounted, I got that wonderful feeling of a good day about to start! Love that feeling… Boo was a little fussy, but generally behaving.

When Nancy announced ‘the trail is open’, we followed the control vehicle out to the trail, and started to climb up a gravel road. Noways, as always started to maneuver his way to the front. That boy has the track engrained in his brain; fortunately, he does let me have some control over how fast he does this. It wasn’t long before a small group of us pulled away. I generally rode with Tom H. most of this loop of 22 miles. I knew there would be lots of elevation changes, but boy so many! Noways is a good hill horse, but really, enough is enough (ha, ha), we did have some good going along the side of some pavement, then some two tracks. Noways favorite gait is the canter, so we got to do that in these areas. It was hot when we slowed down, but Ride Management had lots of water out for us. Unfortunately, Noways does not drink on the first loop, no matter how long it is. He is in race mode and doesn’t want to be distracted by drinking…but, I did get him sponged a couple of times.

Tom H. and I finished this loop in two hours and two minutes.  Whew! Noways was down (pulse) when we walked in, but was informed that we needed to remove tack. Hmmm. Never had to do that before, but it took only a minute or so, so no problem. But, this allowed Tom H. to get into the pulse box at the same time, so I wasn’t able to make time on him here. Noways checked out with all A’s and we headed back to the trailer for a short rest. He still didn’t like his beet-pulp/grain mixture even with local water, but he ate his hay well and had drunk well at the tent. I downed some orange slices and saddled up again. This is where I made a stupid mistake. My woolback pad tends to slip over to the right and I obsess over getting it straight when I lift that heavy saddle up. Horse is tall, saddle is heavy, and gets heavier every time I lift it up there…What I didn’t do was to check the electrode that goes under the pad.

Vickie got in about the time we were to leave, and she was iffy on going back out, because Boo was off in one of his fronts ~ what a bummer.

Off we go again, and although we had the same out times, Tom H. made his move to get out of camp and loose me. Boy was he flying down those little techy trails! And, Noways converted to race brain making me have to use my whoa muscles to get him to watch where he was going for goodness sakes…I knew I could catch him, if only Noways would be patient…but, patience is not one of Noways abilities. This was to be the shortest, (12 or so miles) but the toughest loop, and was it ever! Up, down, up down, with hardly a break. One rider said after the ride, he was sure he would see God at the top of those climbs.  OH yes!

Noways saddle pad was slipping under his saddle and off to the right, arrgh, then I noticed his pulse was 84 no matter what he was doing. The electrode was under there somewhere, I prayed it was right side up so as not to cause any pain. Noways seldom tells me if anything is wrong, the only thing on his mind is GOING!  Tom had to dismount to straighten his pad earlier. Those climbs had our saddles going forward and back like a sled.  Still, we completed this loop in 1 hr. and 11 min. Still together ~

This time I did pulse down before Tom H., but only by one minute! Now the race was on! Vickie had been pulled and was there to help cool and maneuver that saddle that now weighs a ton…

Again we did well at the Vet Check, with only a couple of B’s, recoveries were still excellent. And the wondering electrode didn’t bother him…whew… He was drinking and eating, yes!

For this loop, I switched to my very old an trusty saddle pad, and off we go again for the final loop of 16 miles, which they said was easier going with plenty of flat to move out on if you had enough horse left. HA! There were still plenty of hills, hard climbs, and one was right out of camp. This is where I heard then saw Tom and his horse closing the one minute gap down below, so I asked Noways to hustle and he did…we never saw Tom again, although we both could occasionally hear him. The volunteer at one of the cross sections was surprised to see me, and asked about Tom. (Many wonderful volunteers BTW!!). I told him he was sure to be right behind me… When I made the little TOUGH loop and returned to the volunteer, I asked how far behind me Tom was, wondering what the answer would be. He said, “Oh 10 min. or so, but he said he wasn’t going to try and catch you.” Oh sure…LOL. I hadn’t ridden with Tom before, but he didn’t strike me as one to settle for second without making me work for it. Yet, I also knew by the way he rode the first two loops, he would do what was best for his horse.

Now it was getting hot, and Noways was hot, the climbs were getting brutal I was ready to be done. If I was younger, I would get off and tail up those final climbs, but alas Noways has to carry my old body every step. But, camp wasn’t too far away and if we could keep up the pace we could win this thing… although I fully expected to hear Tom and his beautiful horse come galloping up at the final stretch for a race off.  We never heard him, so slowed a bit. Other than his bout of race brain going out on the second loop, Noways was a dream to ride, then he saw the black culverts, which he had crossed at least three times that day and spooked hard. I lost both stirrups but Noways jumped back under me for a save. Then we heard Nancy and her helpers cheering when they heard us coming, so we cantered across the finish line… What an uplifting sound that is!
WOW, what a ride!!
Total ride time, 5 hr, 2 min.!!

I am so sorry Vickie did not get to finish such a gorgeous but challenging ride, but boy I was glad she was there to help me though the Vet Check and then to take charge of Noways while waiting for the BC judging. Then again for doing the presentation and trot out. Not only because my legs were done for, but it is so nice to watch your horse along with the Vets. I am so amazed by what our horses do for us and still look so good.

Oh, I have to mention the delightful homemade ice-cream…oh man was that good after that ride! Wet, cold, sweet, perfect!

We headed back to the trailer for a shower, rest and food. Turned on the AC and chilled for a while. While I rested, I listened to Noways chewing on his hay…I love that sound.

Before the awards and ride meeting, we ate hot dogs and hamburgers, and watched some movies that Dr. Ottis has taken over the years of some endurance rides, all the while discussing the ride of the day.

Ride management had gathered all kinds of award goodies, and again shared the southern hospitality with us all. This challenging ride had a 91% finish! So most of us were happy…

I of course knew I had the 1st place finish, but to also win the Best Condition and the High Vet score was just overwhelming. I still get teary eyes thinking of it. All the credit goes to my wonderful horse, Noways who is giving me the opportunity to live the dream!

It is impossible to thank everyone that made this ride so successful, so I will just say a big THANK YOU to Mike Everett and his dream team! The Endurance Family is the BEST!

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