The trail wound up, up, up a little canyon. And when I say trail, I really mean road. Gravelly, gravelly road. But Arya had boots on her tough feet, so we clip clopped along. We trotted on the flat parts, and on on a lot of the uphills. A couple times, I had to ask Holly to slow down as Arya was panting. She pointed out that if we were going to complete, we really did need to keep up a faster pace. I know, I know. So I gave Arya a walk break until her breathing was under control, then asked for more trotting.
A few times, Holly and Graham got ahead of us, and I figured that would urge Arya to go faster, but no...as long as her buddies are in sight, she doesn't really worry that they're pulling away from her. This is good in a way, but means it's up to me to keep urging her faster when she doesn't want to go faster. Ugh.
We wound around the side of a hill, got water in a little meadow-like area near a former apple orchard, and had our pictures taken by the ride photographer. I realized a few minutes after the photographer that I had a huge smudge on the front of my shirt--I have no idea from where, but quite visible in the photos. I'm waiting for the digital photos to be available so I can try to photoshop it out.
|Holly (on Ace) ahead of me...|
|...Graham (on Emma) behind me|
|The view to our left|
As the trail wound around into some blessed shade, I started to feel like Arya was off a little--her head was bobbing fairly regularly (I've learned if it only bobs every few strides, it's likely because she's trying to snag a bite to eat or rub her head on her leg to itch it). So I started to pay attention, and then she took a REALLY bad step--her hind end kind of sank out from under me. Then she took a few okay, but not perfect, steps, so I asked Graham (who was behind me) to watch her trot for a minute. He (or Holly--I forget which) realized that her boot was no longer exactly on her HOOF, per se. I hopped off, and sure enough, the boot was around her pastern, where there's normally a strap, but not this particular part of it, and there was no boot on her hoof.
Somehow, her hoof had gotten between the two plastic parts--one should be UNDER her hoof and around the toe, and the other should be BEHIND her heel, and both pieces have velcro straps that fasten around the front. However, her hoof had gotten between these two pieces somehow, and it was around her ankle. Backward--if I'd been able to pull it off and down onto her hoof again, it would have been backwards. I seriously have no idea how she did it. I tried and tried to pull it down off her hoof, but it wouldn't budge. Holly tried. Graham tried. I looked for the pocket knife I swore I'd put into my pommel pack (turns out I DID, but in a different pocket). Graham finally pulled out his pocket knife and tried unscrewing a screw that the cable seemed to go around. However, there was apparently a post for it to pivot around other than just the screw--he removed the screw and the cable still wouldn't budge. So then he started sawing at the cable. It took FOREVER, and destroyed his knife, but eventually the cable broke and we were able to get the boot off her. I strapped it to my saddle and put the loose parts in my pack.
I mounted up, and realized I should probably pull off the other boot so she wasn't uneven, and strapped THAT one to my saddle, too. We'd lost probably 30 minutes to this whole hassle at this point, and I felt terrible. It meant we'd either have to REALLY hurry, or that we'd possibly go over time. Arya was already holding the group back with her slower pace, so I tried to convince Graham that he and Holly should go on without me, riding at a pace they thought could get them the completion, and Arya and I would follow behind at our own pace. We'd try to do the miles, but possibly not in enough time.
(You have six hours, start to finish, to ride the 25 miles, but the clock keeps ticking during the mid-ride vet check and hold time. Sometimes that hold is 60 minutes, so you have to ride a 5 mph pace (6 hours - 1 hour hold = 5 hours to ride 25 miles). This ride had only a 45 minute hold, so a 4.76 mph pace would do. However, we'd just lost at least 30 minutes. We were 3.61 miles into a ride and were one hour into our six hours, so we had to ride the remaining mileage at a 5.05 mph pace. Totally doable, but pushing it for Arya--we'd never actually kept up that pace in a training ride, due to stopping for longer than really necessary, or walking more than we should.)
So we started trotting, downhill. This is not Arya's forte, but she seemed even more reluctant than usual. She kept slowing to a walk, and I'd have to urge her on again. Then we got to a flat part, and she STILL only wanted to walk. Uh oh. She was complaining about the gravel, basically. Now that she was barefoot, she just couldn't take it. And the trail seemed to be nothing but gravel road forever and ever. So I decided that for Arya's sake, we needed to turn around. Actually, at first I planned to follow Holly and Graham at a distance and still complete the loop, but slowly, though I think I told them I was turning around. :-) But when they got out of sight, Arya freaked out, plus I started to realize this was going to be a LONG, rocky ride, and it wasn't fair to her to try to do 12 1/2 miles of it barefoot, even if we walked the whole thing. (And boy was that the right decision--we did end up turning around, and averaged 2 mph the whole way back because she was so ouchy.)
So yeah, Arya kind of spazzed out a little when the other two horses got out of sight. So if she doesn't care when they're pulling away but IN sight, I guess she'd still eventually catch up to them when they got out of sight, but that's not good--fast/slow/fast/slow is much harder on her than just keeping up a steady pace would be. Anyway, she wanted to catch up and wouldn't take no for an answer, so I dismounted and hand-walked her a ways while texting Shar to fill her in. Then once Arya had calmed down, I mounted back up again and rode the rest of the way back to camp.
|The view after I turned around|
I thought about having a good cry about not only not completing, but turning around SO early in the ride, but I wasn't upset enough to cry. Stuff happens, and it was the right thing to do for my horse. And you know what? I think those hills showed us that we're not really ready yet. Arya needs more conditioning for hilly rides. So we've got six weeks until our next ride to work on that.
When we got back to camp, the pulsers wanted to check her pulse, but I told them it wasn't necessary, as we were pulling "rider option." So...in endurance (even in the 10-mile intro rides), there are vet checks. There's a vet check before you even begin, to make sure the horse is ready for what's about to be asked of it. There's a vet check at the end of the ride to make sure the horse is "fit to continue" and you didn't ride it into the ground and eke out every last ounce of energy it had, and for rides 25 miles or more, there's at least one vet check (more for more miles of course) in the middle. At each check, the vet is looking for good hydration, mobile guts (horses are VERY prone to having their entire digestive system go wonky if you so much as look at them funny, let alone trot them for miles and miles), sound feet and legs, and overall health and well-being (such as making sure it's not coming down with an infectious disease or hasn't developed sores from the tack during the ride). If at any point before, during, or after the ride, the vet thinks the horse is not "fit to continue" for any reason, they can pull the horse, disqualifying it from the ride. If the vet pulls the horse, it will be noted in the record as lame (horse's gait was off, could be something wrong with the hoof or leg, could be as simple as having stepped on a rock wrong during the ride or could end up being something more serious), metabolic (something to do with hydration or digestion or muscle cramping, etc.), or "surface factors" which means wounds or sores on the horse, especially caused by tack and only going to be exacerbated by riding. Vets have plenty of discretion. They can note that something's not right, hold onto your vet card, and ask you to come back toward the end of the hold if they think there's something that will be better after a little rest and food and water. If there's an issue with tack, they might ask if you can mitigate it (such as if the bit was rubbing and you can ride the rest of the way bitless), but ultimately it's their job to protect the horse.
Anyway, so if a vet pulls you, it goes in your record as such. You can also be disqualified for going off course, or going over the time limit, etc. But there's one more way to end your race without a completion--rider option. This means that you, the rider, chose to end your eligibility for completion. You can specify a reason--"RO Lame" means you are worried your horse is becoming lame, or will be if you continue riding, and "RO Metabolic" means you're worried about the metabolic issues as above for a vet pull, but it's not yet bad enough for a vet to pull you. You can also simply RO, if you just plain don't want to continue--they'll never disqualify a rider whose horse is fit to continue, so if the rider's not fit to continue, they have to make the decision themselves. :-) Any of these things go in your record and show that you started a race but didn't finish it, but to riders, the reason really matters. It's both your record as a rider AND your horse's record (which future potential purchasers interested in pursuing endurance WILL look up). So in order to keep people from pulling out of a race as a rider option, making it look like THEIR choice, when the horse was in no way "fit to continue," you can't pull out as a rider option without getting checked out by the vet.
So all that explanation to say that while Arya and I didn't have to pulse in with the pulsers (we could have, and she would've passed, I'm sure--it was hot, but we'd been walking VERY slowly), we did have to get checked out by the vet (who also took her pulse--it's not like I got away without having her pulsed at all). She listened to her heart and gut sounds, checked her hydration, and I believe she got scored just fine on all of those. But she said she did trot "ouchy." Not enough for a vet pull--if we'd wanted to continue (though by that point we'd have had to start over since we retraced our steps), she would have advised against it, and advised for booting all four feet (and now I only had three operational boots), but she wouldn't have pulled us from the competition at that point. So I got to call it an RO, but it's still not a completion. :-(
So I settled in at camp, got Arya untacked and cooled off a bit with some sponging, and settled in munching hay. Except for the ouchy feet, she'd pretty much had a break by walking back so slowly, so she didn't need much care.
Surprisingly but not really, since we'd gone so slowly, it didn't take long for Holly and Graham to make it back to camp, too. The two mares (Arya and Emma, who Graham was riding, are pasture mates and BFFs. Seriously, is there a female equivalent of a bro-mance? 'cause they've got it) made it very clear they were back--they'd missed each other and bellowed their greetings to each other when Emma returned to camp.
I was all ready to help "crew" for them (take care of the horses so they could take care of themselves, or whatever would be helpful) so they could get back on the trail as refreshed as possible after their 45-minute hold, but they had also decided to "rider option." In their cases, neither horse was lame or metabolic, so they get a pure "RO" (as if they'd just decided for their own sake not to continue), I believe, but I was still very disappointed on their behalf, and felt terrible for whatever part I might have played by holding them up so much. They said it wasn't my fault at all--they'd wasted another hour due to taking a wrong trail (ribbons mark the way, and there were ribbons that went up a steep hill then just stopped--apparently by vandals, but possibly the volunteers who marked the trails started going the wrong way and didn't UN-mark the trail when they turned around). They went up and down the hill a few times looking for where they missed the turn. Anyway, so they felt they didn't have enough time to finish the second loop, plus Holly felt like her horse wasn't quite feeling like himself, though there wasn't anything specific to point to, so they both decided to pull, too. :-(
Shar was so disappointed for us as well, and felt bad as our mentor, but of course it had nothing to do with her or her mentoring. Stuff happens. It probably didn't help that it was such a warm day, too--nearly 80 degrees for the first time this year.
So we all took care of our horses, then waited for Shar's other friend to get back with her horse so we could take all the ponies home and settle them in. She was the only one out of the four of us to complete that day, which was especially awesome since she literally showed up five minutes before the ride time! (You can start as late as you want, and people often do start a few minutes late to let the front-runners get out ahead, but the clock starts at the appointed time, whether you start riding then or not, so the time limit ends at the same time for everyone, too, regardless when you start.)
Since I hadn't ridden nearly as long as planned, I wasn't ridiculously tired, so I did go home instead of spending the night at Shar's, but between hanging out at her place until nearly dark then still needing dinner, it was a late night. And I had decided to go ahead and volunteer at the Saturday ride, so I set my alarm again, though not quite as early this time.
I showed up at ride camp (this time without a horse) bright and early, and as per usual, the volunteers sat around until the first riders were headed in for their first vet check. Holly and I volunteered as pulsers all day. For this ride, the pulse criteria was 60 for all distances and all vet checks (vets can choose criteria at their discretion), which meant that a rider's hold time didn't start until the horse's heart rate was measured to be 60 beats per minute or lower (and you want your hold time to start as soon as possible so you can leave as soon as possible and keep moving, because the clock keeps ticking through all of this). All horses also had to "pulse down" to 60 within 30 minutes of crossing the finish line, and for the 25-mile riders (limited distance, or LD), they weren't considered finished until they pulsed down to 60, regardless of when they crossed the finish line (so yes, someone could come across the finish line first, but not place first officially).
This is all very official, and can be stressful in a ride with a lot of riders (or a lot of rude riders, or even just riders who've been riding a long time and just want to be DONE already, and you're supposed to count for at least 15 seconds, but they're rushing you and their horse doesn't hold still, and you know their heart rate is faster than one per second because you can hear the heart going faster than the second hand on your watch, but they want to know EXACTLY how many beats per minute and you can't do the math fast enough)... But luckily this ride had a relatively low turnout, and relatively low-key riders, so it wasn't very stressful at all. The most critical one was probably when Holly was pulsing someone (and Holly is an experienced vet tech, so even though she's a newbie to volunteering at a ride, she is NOT a newbie to counting heartbeats and multiplying by 4) and pulsed the horse as being higher than 60, so therefore not "down" yet. (I forget the number, but unlike me, she was able to provide the rider with one on the spot.) The rider had a heart rate monitor on their horse, and said it showed lower than 60 (I forget the number, but again, there was a specific number mentioned). Yes, well, HRMs are known to be fairly inaccurate (see my story about that! showed nearly 300 when she was walking slowly on the flat after a good rest, and 60 when chugging up a hill panting), so we'll go with the actual heartbeat we can hear and a watch, as per the AERC guidelines. I think the rider asked for someone else to check, or maybe Holly just wanted someone else to check, so I came over, and the horse's heart rate was right about 60 and falling when I listened, and was dropped below 60 so I counted it for 15 seconds then gave her the go-ahead. I probably should've been more defensive of Holly and explained that it certainly HAD been higher, but the rider just wanted to leave, so I didn't really explain. Sorry, Holly!
We never really had more riders in than pulsers available (even if more riders did come in together, usually a few of them knew they wouldn't be "down" yet and headed straight for the water to let the horse drink and to cool him/her off, so we never got backed up, really), and had long stretches with no riders at all, so it was fun to shoot the breeze with endurance riders, and when we were done pulsing a batch of horses, we were able to help them cool their horses off if they wanted the help.
Though it did get "exciting" for a while when we got a few reports from a few different riders that one of the relative newbies from the intro ride (12 miles) had gotten lost and wandered onto the 25-mile loop, and was a LONG way from the main camp. She was apparently much closer to the "out check" (the vet check away from the main camp), so people were directing her there, but no one knew for sure whether she'd actually made it there. Eventually it was determined that she had been picked up by a friend, but I am still kinda worried to this day because no one was POSITIVE that it was her who had been picked up. Yikes! Hopefully all is well, though--obviously if she never turned up anywhere, someone would have missed her and tracker her down. Right?
Anyway, I should've taken way more pictures, but didn't really think about it much, since when horses were there, we were busy, and when we were bored, there were no horses. But I did take this photo: A longtime, high-mileage endurance rider, Ron Sproat (over 10,000 recorded miles riding in competitions of 50 miles or more, so just imagine how many miles he's actually ridden overall!) was riding a mare, so his teammate and trainer to his horses "made" him wear pink, put pink tack on the horse, and even painted a sparkly heart on the horse's butt. Ha! He took it all in stride, and sported the pink shirt long after the riding was over for the day.
The only other photo I took all day was of the last rider to cross the finish line. It was getting closer and closer to the maximum allotted time for the 50-mile ride, and this rider wasn't back yet. People who knew her and the horse she was riding knew she'd take a while, but hoped she'd finish in time. We discussed whether it was allowed to "fudge" the time just a little so she'd get the completion even if she crossed the finish line a little too late. How late would be too late, and WERE managers allowed discretion? If we were to abide strictly by the rules, she had to finish when the official ride clock said 6:30. (Minutes count, but seconds don't, so technically 6:30:59 would count as being 6:30, we were pretty sure.) At 6:27, she came into view on the hillside. We all whooped and hollered, and she whooped back. Her horse was cantering back into camp! A little bit out from the finish line, she hopped off and jogged in on foot, leading her horse:
She crossed the finish line at 6:30 plus a few seconds, so no need to debate whether there was a fudge factor after all--she MADE it! Well, like all the others, the horse had to pulse down to 60 within 30 minutes, but unless a horse is in a lot of stress and SHOULD be pulled (and attended to) anyway, that should be totally doable. But she whipped the saddle off so fast she shoved it to the ground before the rest of us even realized what she was doing, then started POURING water over him. No need to conserve the water at the only stock tank there at the pulsing area, since she was the last one through, and while there was also no need to obey the "no sponging directly from drinking water" rule, either, she was pouring bucket after bucket over him anyway, rather than worrying about sponging. :-)
I stood in a big mud puddle to take his pulse. He was still a bit over 60, but there was still plenty of time. She kept pouring, and I kept checking between pours. Finally, he was under 60 bpm. I advised her to wait a minute just to be sure his heartrate didn't go back up after the pouring stopped but before he got to the vet, but she headed straight to the vet. I actually don't know for sure, but am assuming he passed the check and she got her completion (results take a while to show up online and I didn't go back there for the awards the next morning--I'd had enough sun and wind in the two days I'd been there already and didn't need to make it three).
So that was a thrilling end to a day that was mostly boring punctuated by relatively calm moments of mild excitement. :-)
Graham and Holly came back to Shar's with me, where I was house-sitting, and helped me feed the critters, then we chatted for a while before heading to bed. I opened the window so I could hopefully hear the horses, though the crickets drowned them out (I have train tracks right outside my window at my house, so I only sleep with it open when my AC is broken), fell asleep quickly and slept like a ROCK. I woke up at 6 because the dogs were hungry, fed them (and used the bathroom) then went right back to sleep for another few hours. I woke up at nearly 9:00 and they were long gone, back to the ride camp for a THIRD day, for Holly to ride in a trail event. I need to ask her how it was--I was strongly considering going, but was just exhausted already, plus worried the trails would be just as rocky (though they were supposedly going to be different trails than the one used up to that point).
Sunday morning, I was so exhausted it took me a while to get moving, but I was pretty glad I hadn't gone to the ride for a third day. I still had to clean out Shar's trailer from Friday, so I did that, took myself out to breakfast, and went home, where I napped with my kitty who had missed me very much, vegged for a few hours, then went to bed early even though I'd napped. (Kitty was excited for even more cuddles so soon.)
It's Monday now, and I still feel like I haven't fully re-hydrated from the weekend, and could probably still use a bit more sleep, but am mostly recovered. Whew!
Short-term goals--evaluate boots vs. nail-on shoes with rubber soles vs. regular metal nail-on shoes, make a decision, and get her shod well before the next endurance ride if that's what I decide; work on conditioning--just plain trotting to get my thighs in better shape, plus walking and trotting up and down hills for Arya's fitness; also hiking/wogging for my thighs' sake while not tiring Arya out too much. And try to take more pictures at the next ride, especially if I end up doing any volunteering again.