Tuesday, August 30, 2011

VA Highlands 2011

VIRGINIA HIGHLANDS CHALLENGE 2011 ~ or the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...
(Photo: by Becky Pearman)

Once again we headed to the ride with excitement, because we do enjoy it so, and I hadn’t missed this ride yet. This would be their fourth year.  Good management, many great volunteers, and beautiful, challenging, well marked trails, great camp site right on the New River; what else could an endurance addict wish for?

Sometimes just getting there can be the most challenging though. A group of us like to travel together so as to make expenses a little easier to take, so first, Brenda was going with me, but had to cancel, then Vickie was going with me, but had to cancel, so that meant going it on my own… However, Mary Lynn and Greg were going, so we caravanned together. I’m always worried about a break-down, alone with the responsibility of the horses to add to the anxiety… But, as it turned out it wasn’t me with the break-down, but Mary Lynn and Greg. Thank goodness for USRider! There was nothing I could do but add to the confusion, so I went on and saved them a spot to park at ridecamp, for when they did arrive. I had spotty phone service but did make out the outcome of the trouble. They would have to stay at an abandoned Humane Society location for the night, (a corral for the horses), but would hopefully arrive the next day when the truck was fixed, ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$) so as to ride on Sat. instead of the planned Fri. ride.
Nikie & Don entertaining us at ride meeting...

Once again, I counted on the generosity of others, and Robby Doll (he is so nice!) agreed to take my crew gear to the away Vet Check, and Amy Whelan’s crew volunteered to help too.  So, after checking in, and getting Noways vetted in, all was set. Since I had an empty space in the trailer, I had decided to take, Paige’s horse, Titan to ride on the second day in the 30 miler. Two horses, one rider = lots of work…

I decided to tie Titan to the trailer for the day since he can be an escape artist in the elec. corral, and my charger didn’t seem to be working well. So he was all set with water and a big bag of hay when I started with the middle group of riders. The boys said good bye to each other, not so calmly, but all looked secure. So off we went.

Noways was a very good boy, just very ‘ready’ as usual. There is a nine mile climb once we cross the creek, but Noways is a good hill horse and we slowly passed some riders after we got passed the narrow switchbacks. Noways is not a patient horse, but he was obeying me nicely and I wasn’t using up too much of my whoa muscles yet. I actually don’t like riding in the front (unlike Noways) since I am so afraid of missing a turn, or taking the wrong one… so naturally there had been trail sabotage  and I did take a wrong turn. I later learned it is called the Snake Pit trail…excellent name… down we went along with another rider, Michelle from N.J.  Rocks on top of rocks and a steep downhill… didn’t remember this trail from the years before, but… finally, we decide we were wrong and turned to climb back out… I so hate to make my horse do extra work because of rider error… He is so willing and works so hard for me. I was feeling bad for him, and beating myself up to have made such an error in judgment already!

But, we do what we have to do and climb back out. We meet other riders coming down and tell them it is wrong, but later learned they went on and went all the way to the bottom before deciding we were right…L I’m guessing we lost a good 20 to 30 minutes here. Argh!

Back on the trail and it is good going, so we go. Got to the water trough, and meet Amy and Jennifer here. Noways is not interested in drinking, way too soon for him, so we go on. Michelle and I rode the first loop together as our horses paced well with each other. We pass a few horses, and then suddenly Noways told me he had pitched a shoe! Good grief, I ALWAYS loose a shoe on this ride. I had an excellent farrier shoe his fronts at the Leatherwood ride, after his win there, so I would be ready for VH. Therefore, expensive pad and handmade shoe was lost. I really, really hate to dismount and put boots on, because Noways hates it even more. Did I mention he is a bit impatient? Fortunately, sweet Michelle waits for me and it makes it slightly easier. As I dismounted, my foot hung in the stirrup, so I landed on my butt… what a pretty picture that was… A couple of riders pass us, so Noways isn’t standing still, but I finally manage it. Thanks so much, Michelle!

Got to the VC, and let the farrier know I’d be needing his services. Find Robby and he has everything set up for me. Gosh that is so nice! Got Noways unsaddled as he takes a good drink, finally, then cooled him, then off to the pulse box. He is good, so off to the Vet., he is good to go…boy it seems nearly every ride wants the trot out on a slight hill side. Trotting down is easy, but making my tired old legs get me back up is HARD! Then to the farrier. Get another shoe and pad on and he spent the rest of the hold eating. Noways is still a bit rived, so he is picky, but he gets some hay down between walking around. Robby holds him so I can get that darn heavy saddle back up on Noways. I notice that the front runners aren’t that far ahead of us, but I don’t see Michelle anywhere. We must have made some time at the pulse box, since we had lost even more time getting that boot on.

We go out alone this time, and I am able to get Noways to walk some of the long two mile climb on the gravel road. Near the top, he is finally listening to me. Whew! My GPS isn’t picking up properly because of the foliage so I spend a lot of time on this loop trying to figure out how far we have come… it seemed like a long loop…I was getting tired I guess. Lots of climbs and it is getting hot. We pass a couple of riders on this loop. Noways is sure he is headed back to camp and his buddy, so has his head up when we finally get back to the VC. The farrier asked if I am still shod. I nod yes, and then look down. NO! The other front shoe is off. He must have just done it, because he was going well, and the foot looked good. Sigh, again, I tell him ‘we would be back’.  Same routine, Noways is getting his appetite back and gets all A’s here. He looks great, and still has his head up, noticing all the bay horses, just in case Titan is one of them…

I had downed a Gu at the first VC and it gave me an awful stomach ache for most of the second loop, so I didn’t eat anything this time. Nina offered me some cold water while I held Noways for his shoe replacement. Boy was that good after drinking luke warm water all morning. She then added some tasteless electrolytes claiming it was the only ones that didn’t make her sick. Not bad and I drink most of it.

Off we go again for the trip home, same trail that we followed for the first loop, only backwards of course.  Again we are alone, and I manage to get Noways to settle down to a nice trot as we head back. Both of us feeling good this time, other than my helmet feels too hot, those electrolytes must be working!  We get to the open ‘rangeland’ and the some riders that had been behind us catch up at a canter, and there goes Noways race brain. I am able to hold him steady as we fall in behind the leader of the group…sigh. Now my tummy is suddenly not happy, not at all…

We go like this for a few miles and come back to the long gravel road that seems to go up and up forever. I usually trot and walk this but, the other horse is pushing it, and I have to use as much of my whoa muscles that I have left to get Noways to be patient… if he can only hold back, we can catch and maybe pass her on the downhill, to the finish. Noways is a good hill horse, but a fast horse on the down hills (if I can hold down my stomach contents)… We finally get to the top and the other two riders have caught us also. Noways sucks up the water, while I sponge. He lifts his head and knows exactly where we are! We still have some climbing to do, but it is on dirt trail, so I let him trot where he wants and walk where I think he needs to breathe. We are both hot, and I am sick. Again the other rider is with me and we pretty much ride together until we get to the downhill. Good gosh, Noways shoots forward and down we go. We pass some 30 milers and keep going, and going, trot, trot, trot, we are flying! His pulse has dropped down from the hard climb, and his ears are pointed to home! We pass a few of the 50 milers. It is hard to tell, since I am focused on keeping us up right and trying not to disturb anyone else’s ride. We get to the switchbacks (one horse trail) and catch up to some 30 milers walking the tricky trail. But, he picks it up and we get to the rocky creek…Noways wants nothing to do with drinking, so on we go and make it to the road back to camp. Some of this is one horse trail also, but some is two horse. The danger is the cliff sides, so we canter along (Noways favorite and most efficient gait), with other fifty milers right behind me. I am thinking we are first here, but really don’t know for sure, as I really don’t know some of the other riders. We finally get to the wider gravel road, and another rider calls out that she is coming up on the left. She does and asks, “Want to tie or run?” I actually don’t understand what she said until later…I’m too sick I guess, and all I can see is all the people standing at the finish. Now I ask Noways for some speed (all it takes is a little squeeze), and he shoots forward, head down and flying. He is an ex-race horse, so he knows how to do this well, even though it pretty much scares me to death. But, I have learned to trust him. All I am thinking at this point is, ‘please don’t let a dog or person step out in front of us’!

I would like to say that crossing the finish line like this is a thrill, but actually I am so tired and sick that I am just glad it is over. 

Noways looks for his buddy, Titan all day. I look for Nancy Gooch all day…J

The two riders’ right behind us are also racing in and appear to be on runaways…calling out to clear the trail. We hustle off to the ditch and they fly by…whew what a ride!

Nancy tells us we need to do a 10 min. CRI. I have already decided not to go for BC. We ran too hard and Noways is hot. I get us back to the trailer. Noways and Titan exchange greetings and I get the saddle off and start sponging. I don’t have my hand held heart monitor so am clueless to how his pulse is coming down. I just keep sponging and sponging. If I had had a crew here, I would have taken the time to put some ice in his sponge water, but I use what I’ve set out the night before and head to the vet check. Still sick… swallow hard. Noways is still breathing pretty good… that ten minutes goes fast when we need to walk back to the trailer, un-tack try to cool then walk to the vet check… The breeze is gone and it has gotten muggy… no help from Mother Nature.

Greg and Mary Lynn have just arrived. Glad to see they made it! But, can’t talk now…

CRI; Noways’ heart rate is still up, and he is a bit off at the trot out. Now I’m worried that we will be pulled at the end… We get back to the trailer and I take the time to put his foot and leg in a bucket of ice water. Discover he has a cut on his fetlock, a rock got us… and all three white legs have a good case of scratches going.  I continue to cool him while he eats some hay. I put an ice boot on and jump in the shower and try to get myself cool.  Still sick – get on dry cloths, and down some water.

Walk Noways, he is looking better. Cool some more. It is still so hot and muggy we are miserable, the breeze we had most of the day is gone now… So we walk then cool, then walk and cool. We trot. He looks sound now. So, more cooling and walking. If I could throw up, I’d feel better I’m sure…yuck, just got too hot I guess. I drink water as we walk hoping that will help. I have to look as good as possible at the trot out, so Noways will look his best. Still no heart monitor, I take his pulse under his jaw, seems to be around 60. Close, too close…

We head to the vet check for our final, I am worried. We trot and he is looking OK, but when he steps on a rock he takes a couple of bad steps. Oh no.  Then his CRI is 64/64… yuck, rode too fast for the conditions for sure. But we do get our completion and 1st place… barely. However, on retrospect I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I felt that I rode to his condition and training. He pulsed down in six minutes at both away VCs. His working heart rate was normal all day. A little less heat and mugginess in camp would have helped, and some cooler water on him (and shade) would have been much better than the luke warm water I had. I should have taken the time to put some ice in his cooling water. Aggressive crewing would have helped also, but it was only my single slow efforts ~ it was just the best I could do with what brain cells that were left in my head at the time. (not many)

Dr. Dwayne Burnett gave the top 15 finishers a dressing down at the awards meeting, so we were properly reprimanded…not a good feeling. Several were pulled…even the BC winner had a really low score…bummer all around. I didn’t see the other horses vet through, so have no comment. The lady that raced in with me said she didn’t walk her horse, just cooled, so he stiffened up and was pulled… that is the only one I talked to. The gal I rode with on the first loop finished 10th, and I know she was riding within her horse’s condition. He looked good, then at least.

I have to say though; a friend that rode in the 30 miler was pulled at the end for a high hanging heart rate. Her horse is in excellent condition. She never races, and takes great care of her horse, so I’m thinking (guessing) that the combination of a really tough trail and the humidity in camp was the kicker for most of us…

I was very proud of Noways. He is a wonderful horse. I continued to cool him back to normal, and iced his leg for the rest of the day, not sure if it was his leg or foot, but worrisome for sure. He was eating and drinking well, and happy to be back with his buddy. He trotted out sound that evening before bed, so I put some Green Gel on his legs and turned him back in his pen, and began to get ready for the next day’s ride on Titan.

I have ridden Titan on conditioning rides, but this would be the first competition for me on him. My granddaughter rides him most times on training and competitions. They get along great together, and I think he is a fun ride. However, he was a brat at his check-in, gosh; he has never acted so badly. Then I realized he was not happy because Noways was yelling his head off back at the trailer, and Paige and I usually checked in together, so this was a first for Titan…argh… I apologized, then took him back to the trailer for some ‘get real’ training… it didn’t take very long before he realized I was on the end of the lunge line…but it sure was hard on my sore ‘whoa’ muscles…ouch. After that he was an angel…J

Next morning, I felt pretty good. Just sore arms and shoulders, but good to go. Looked forward to a good ride on Titan. Noways was all set up tied to the trailer as he gets really upset when his buddy leaves. That is putting it mildly…

Titan is a good boy to mount and walk around to loosen up. We finally take off and right away I notice he isn’t going right. He is so different than Noways way of going, that at first I think I am just comparing the two. But, no when we hit rocks, he is off on the right front…oh no.  Mary Lynn and Greg are riding along with me and the horses are fresh to say the least. ML advises to wait and see if he warms out of it, so we continue on and he does get better when the ground softens up, but still gives occasionally on the rocks. We go up the switchback and he is gearing up. Still, I am questioning his soundness. I finally decide to pull up and go back, I didn’t want to risk an injury if something was seriously wrong. The trail was a bit wider here, so I wait until most of the riders were past me before leading him down again. He didn’t like the situation, but behaved as best he could. When I thought all the riders had passed us and Titan had settled down, I found a high spot to climb back on him. Titan is even taller than Noways, so getting on these two can be a struggle when they are being antsy… We did meet a couple more riders who were having boot troubles already…’been there’. I offer my roll of vet wrap to help fit the boot tighter. She takes it, but I can see it is going to be a long day for them…bummer. (They eventually give up and ride back to camp.) We only had a couple of training sessions going back because of his calling out for Noways…I hate that… He finally got so he would swell up to call out, flip back his ear to me, then think better of it and let out his breath..it was funny to see his mind work.

I had plenty to do in camp, so got busy and moved the horses to fresh grass, cleaned up all the horse’s pens, poulticed both of boys and generally cleaned up the trailer, and ate and ate…I am famished after a ride for at least two days… Then the wind picked up and I let down the awnings…where was this nice wind yesterday???

Amy and Jennifer were crewing for us today, so when they came back in I got our gear back to the general right location and got ready to crew for ML when she came in. Greg had gotten pulled at the VC, so he was being hauled back. Bad luck got him too; with a wound on Buzz’s fetlock…it is a tough trail… However, ML had left the VC in second place! Boy did she move up! Since LD has to be down to 60 bpm for a finish time, we got prepared for some serious crewing, knowing seconds count… In the mean time we enjoyed some wine that Amy had won for top tenning at the Biltmore 100 miler…nice!

A rider comes in for a solid first, then we wait and wait…did she keep up the pace? Did she back off? Are they OK? Then more riders come in, stopping at the water tank, then walking in, then finally, there is ML cantering in nice and relaxed…we motion for her to come on in to the water tank closer to our trailers and the VC. She does, we quickly get her off and strip the tack while Wiley drinks and drinks…we sponge all the while…then we slowly walk him to the VC with the heart monitor to his side. Sponging, sponging, heart rate going down, down. A bit more cooling and into the pulse box. Other horses are being checked too…  Wa Hoo he hits 60 and he is done!  Third place for Mary Lynn and her boy, Wiley!! She is very pleased, but tired to the bone…smiling though! Greg takes Wiley for his completion vet check, and he passes with only a bit of soreness on one loin. Well done!

The Virginia Highlands Challenge is a well run, big, frills ride. I love it! But, it certainly has its challenges and will grab you when you aren’t paying enough attention…

A big THANK YOU to all who make it so much fun for us riders. The list is huge!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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