"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fort Valley 50 Endurance Ride: Team Q Story

This past Friday, Charles and I packed up the car and drove to Fort Valley, VA, to crew for Liz at her first 50 on Q (4th 50 for herself). Liz said she had the Best Crew Ever because she had an ER registered nurse (Charles), a licensed vet tech (myself) and an engineer (Hannah, a childhood friend of Liz's who came with her from WV). We all hoped that Liz would need NONE of our special skills, but it's nice to know you have all of that on hand when you're on a 50-mile endurance ride in the mountains!

I think we all took enough photos that the story can be told pretty much through pictures.

Just some of what we brought along. The stuff to the far right of the photo didn't come along, and neither did all of those utensils behind the disposable plates. I'd been packing all week. Kathy from the barn was nice enough to lend me a cooler and water jug that, ironically, would end up keeping all of our food and water from freezing!
Charles got home a little late from work. We left the house at 10:00 am, detoured to the barn to pick up my safety vest, then grabbed breakfast through a Mickey D's drive-through, and made a stop at Target, where we debated lantern vs headlamps. We ended up choosing lanterns, and by 11:30 were FINALLY on our way.
The drive south to Fort Valley was gorgeous. The phone pictures don't do all the colors justice.
Turn onto Fort Valley Road. This is where we first caught up to this trailer.
It was a huge help being behind them because as we were driving through the George Washington National Forest, we lost phone reception and thus our GPS! We just followed this trailer to camp, since they seemed to be headed in the right direction anyway.
As it turns out, this was Kathryn with her Asgard Arabian, Epic. They ended up camping right next to us!
So beautiful!

I stopped the car to get this one. There was no one coming in either direction.

A 360-degree view of ride camp.
We drove in and just continued following the horse trailer in front of us to the back of the field, looking for Liz's dark gray 2-horse steel trailer and her truck. The phones had lost signal before we received Liz's text saying she was parked in the back. Thankfully, her small dark trailer was easy to find in an ocean of huge white horse trailers.

Our view.

Liz was just finishing getting herself, Q and Hannah all settled in. We parked on the other side of Q's pen and got to work setting up the tent. Between the four of us, we had it up in 5 minutes.

Q, completely relaxed in a new place. It's awesome how chill she is when away from home!

My fleece PJ quarter sheet fits Q!

Unpacking. I was carrying the Thermo Manager Stable Blanket that we'd use as a cooler on Q. I'd also brought along Lily's midweight waterproof turnout. Initially I'd been afraid it would be too warm, but when I saw Q's coat (not too wooly bear yet), I knew it would be just right!

Walking over to the pre-ride vet check.


Liz decided to get a pre-ride weight on Q while we waited. She was 942 lbs.

In line for the vet check.

See that big smile on Liz's face? Q's heart rate was 40!

One very happy Liz!

The vet comes around Q's other side to listen to gut sounds. They listen on both sides.

Next in line to trot out.

Q was slow when trotting away from the vet, but finally woke up trotting back!

All A's! Liz received a lot of compliments from the vets on her little mare.

We went back to camp and chilled for awhile.
Everyone wanted Charles's beef jerky...

Q enjoying her buffet as we walk away to go shopping! Taylored Tack and Running Bear both had booths at the ride, and there was also the OD Yard Sale. Liz bought a sponge with leash, I purchased an electric blue Quick Bridle (a headstall that clips onto your rope halter) and matching reins and girth loop, and Hannah got herself a $40 endurance saddle at the yard sale!

Afterwards, Liz got Q ready for a spin. It was a good thing she did this: she discovered she had forgotten her really nice Toklat Woolback pad at home! Thankfully Kathryn, who was parked next to us and who also uses an Ansur saddle, had a whole collection of extra pads. She let Liz borrow an Equipedic pad that would end up being the perfect substitute. Q's hinds needed a touch-up trim so the size 0 Rennies would fit, but Liz couldn't do it with her sore elbow. Thankfully someone else on the crew could trim feet, sans stand: moi. :) Q's hinds' flares got taken care of and the boots went on.

Liz hopped on to make sure that Q's head really was screwed on straight. She was fine, so I got to give the Ansur a whirl.
I'd never sat in any kind of treeless saddle. At one point I had considered them, back when I was trying to figure out the best saddle for Lily. I had looked at Ansurs and Bob Marshalls but never gotten around to sitting in one after reading that they're not ideal for horses with high withers.
Liz's Ansur is super comfortable. It really feels like you're riding bareback. The problem: it really feels like you're riding bareback. I accidentally took a too-sharp turn on Q at the trot and felt myself lose my balance (I stayed on; I don't think anyone noticed?). Liz has a Velcro butt, seriously.

Liz hopped on again afterwards and did some more trotting...

...and cantering...

....and galloping! :)

Q got untacked and electrolyted. She did not enjoy it, not even with all the apple sauce Liz added to try to make it better-tasting.

We hung out, waiting for the meeting in the early evening.
And the temperature started to drop...

Kenai being a good boy.

Kenai really wanted one of the biscuits Liz was snacking on.

Mary left to get Shiloh, her 22 year old Quarab (her decade horse; for 10 years he competed in everything from LDs to 100s!) who would be doing the LD with another rider. Upon Mary's return, Liz and I held Sienna and Gryphon while their pen was enlarged to fit Shiloh.

Liz enjoying Q's return to her normal quieter self!
Mary and Hunter, the junior rider who would be riding Sienna, got ready for a short trail ride and Liz tacked up Q to go along.

Charles enjoying his favorite job: babysitting Kenai. 
Kenai ADORES Charles!

Q being a sassypants...

...a prancy sassypants.


Dark bays look good in blaze orange.
Just sayin'. :)

Liz quite literally rode off into the sunset to meet Mary and Hunter.

Liz, Mary and Hunter returned just in time for dinner.
Charles took this one of all the riders and crews getting ready to eat.
Dinner was AMAZING: lasagna with salad and rolls, piping hot coffee or hot chocolate, pumpkin pie and apple pie.
We stuffed ourselves.

And there was a FIRE!!!
Charles, the former Boy Scout and Sea Scout, was so excited about this! Lol

Hannah, Liz and me trying very hard not to freeze while leaning forward to listen to the ride manager.
The meeting seemed to last forever. They gave awards for Friday's rides (only 4 pulls out of approximately 50 riders! That's pretty amazing, especially considering how damn rocky that trail was), talked about the Asgard Arabian raffle, and went over the trail for the 30, the 50, and the Intro Ride. They went into great detail about the Intro Ride and where they would meet at noon the next day. I pricked my ears, as I was hoping to see Gail and Nimo. I had Charles, Hannah, and Liz on the lookout for any Friesian-type horses!

We had been taking guesses as to the temperature. We pretty much RAN to our cars after the meeting to thaw and change clothes. This was the temperature per my car at 9:00 pm. (As you can see, it was so cold that the tire pressure monitor signal went on. The tires were fine; it turned off the minute we were back in 50-degree weather upon our return home!) I wasn't exactly comforted by this, as the forecast was saying 30 degrees would be the lowest temp for the night, and we all know that doesn't happen before 3 am. It was a long, long time before the coldest moment of the night, so Charles and I figured the forecast would be wrong.
We swapped out the Thermo Manager on Q for the midweight waterproof blanket. She was the warmest of any of us that night!

Charles by the light of our little lamp.
We attempted to sleep in the tent while Liz and Hannah slept on cots inside the trailer. Initially we were warm in the 20-degree-rated sleeping bags. I ended up peeling off layers, curling up in the sleeping bag with a long-sleeve microfiber shirt and my fleece riding tights (they are my warmest pants). And then Charles decided to get something from the car...and couldn't find the keys ANYWHERE. We had a major freakout moment where we thought he'd locked the keys in the trunk of the car. Thankfully I have ToyoGuard. Charles was on the phone with them, on hold, when I suddenly found the keys under the sleeping bags, wedged between the two sleeping pads. OMG, thank GOD!!!
We kinda sorta fell asleep after that. I dozed off to the sound of Q crunching her hay outside. I woke up shivering from a very vivid dream where Liz, Hannah, Charles and I were sitting outside waiting for the ride to start, soaked under a freezing rain. I woke with a start. It was midnight and the cold was seeping straight through the sleeping bag as if it weren't there. I put all of my layers right back on again and woke up Charles to let him know I was moving to the car and see if he wanted to come too. He said he wasn't that cold (I was the one sleeping closest to the tent door), but would join me if it became unbearable. I turned the car on, blasting the heater while I moved the sleeping bag into the backseat of the car, put my 3-in-one jacket on over the sleeping bag, and got myself settled in. Once I had thawed, I turned off the car and snuggled up into the sleeping bag, with my head covered up by my second quilted jacket (the black one in the photos above). 

I woke up at 5:30 to the tune of the Reverie. Liz wasn't planning on waking up till 6:30 am, so I rolled over and slept on and off for another hour, waking up occasionally to the tunes of other riders' alarms. 
At 6:15, I gave up and peeked out from under my jacket. I knew me being in the car would cause condensation to form on the windows. I didn't quite expect it to form a thick layer of frost INSIDE THE CAR. But it did! That frost in the photo above? Inside the car. I turned the car on so I could blast the heater before waking Charles up - he was still in the tent...

...and discovered that this was the temp. Like I suspected.
Liz, how much does your crew love thee? Let us count the ways... :)

I discovered Liz and Hannah awake in Liz's truck. Liz came over when she realized I was awake in the car, and we exchanged stories of our nights sleeping in the freezing cold! Liz and Hannah had made it until 2:30 am before giving up and moving to the truck. (They are seriously hard-core for lasting that long.) I woke up Charles once the car was warmed up, and he joined me in the front seat, putting all of his layers back on. Once we were outside and moving, helping Liz get ready, the cold was bearable. I trimmed Q's neck and chest with Liz's clippers - she had gotten very sweaty during the previous day's short ride, and we figured this would help her cool down and pulse down faster.
Liz had some amazing chocolate chip muffins that she shared; we all ate while helping her get ready. In the photo above, Liz rides off into the sunrise with Mary and Hunter on the chestnuts, trotting over a field of frost.


This rider is a master at Matching All The Things.

The Arabian on the right had turquoise streaks in his mane to match his breastplate and rider's shirt.

This helmet!!!! She had spikes on her helmet!!!! I took like 10 photos of this girl, trying to capture the damn spikes and they don't really show up in any of the photos. 
Coolest Helmet Award hands-down.
(We hung out at the start line watching all the riders while waiting for Liz)

We had started to think we'd missed Liz start, when they called hers, Mary's and Hunter's numbers.
They showed up a few seconds after that.

You can kind of see my clip job on Q's neck and chest in this photo.

And she's off!

You can't tell, but this was the one, single Paso Fino in the entire ride. I was grinning like an idiot when I saw him!

Coldest Crew Ever aka The Popsicrew according to Charles. :)
At the tent where food had been served the night before, they had this awesome turbine-like heater. We went to stand in front of it for awhile after Liz had left.

This says it all!

The sunrise was beautiful, though.

The sun started to slowly melt this icy world with its touch.

We made coffee on the propane stove.

The world was beautiful at that time of the morning.
I think it will be a long time before Charles and I stop being fascinated by everything that comes with living in cold weather.

Waiting for the milk to finish heating up...

Ride camp at dawn. So pretty!!!

Charles enjoying his coffee.

I took a photo of my feet because I couldn't feel them! Lol. They thawed out before long. 
You really have to keep moving when it's that cold.

Kenai enjoying being lazy.
It was about another hour before he was willing to come out of Liz's truck to go for a walk.

You can quite literally see here how the sun melted the frost: the grass in this truck's shadow was still covered in ice!

And she's back! We scrambled to get Q untacked while Hannah and Liz sponged down her legs and I threw the Thermo Manager on her.

Q trots out. Her pulses were 44/44, with an A- on gut sounds and A+ on everything else. 
Yesss! We then took her back to camp, where she feasted on the buffet I had laid out for her an hour prior: hay, alfalfa, grain, carrots and treats, and fresh water. We then made sure Liz had everything she needed and her GPS was on. Hannah was the best of us at keeping track of time while Liz and Q were in the 45-minute holds.

Ready to leave.
Liz had a big scare on a rocky part of the trail when a runaway mini from a nearby farm spooked the hell out of the horses. She stayed on, but she was scared there for a minute. She wore my protective vest after that. It's nice that her and I wear the same sizes, and so do our horses!

And they're off again!

The Paso Fino, Duke, taking a break.

Charles keeps warm in his "hobo tent"

Back from the gnarly second loop.

Liz checks in.

Q was starting to look tired. Pulses were 60/60, despite Liz having walked her on foot up the biggest hill on the entire trail. There had been issues with the hind Renegades so they got swapped out while Q was eating at camp. I wrapped her hinds with Vetrap and yanked on Liz's Easyboot Gloves, giving her time to eat a quick lunch.
Liz had changed nothing about her attire, but she was chafing regardless and couldn't find her Desitin anywhere. For whatever reason, I'd seen our tube of it at home while packing our emergency first aid kit and had grabbed it at the last second. I'm sure glad I did! We got Liz back on the trail in time to meet up with Mary and Hunter. No photos taken, as this was the hold when we were busiest.

Charles and Kenai relax.

Liz had mentioned we should walk down to the finish line to see the front runners come in. We tried to catch them but were late to the party. As it turns out, we didn't miss anything. The front runners had not come running in dramatically as we'd expected. It was still about an hour more before we expected Liz to be back, so we entertained ourselves. :)

Very pretty view returning back to camp from the finish line.

Liz made it back at the expected time. We met her halfway from the finish line with alfalfa and carrots for Q after discovering that someone had stolen the water bucket we'd left set up! We untacked and blanketed Q, and Liz got water from Mary.
Here she is with Q at her final vet check. 

Q trots out one last time. She finished with pulses at 52/52, a B for capillary refill time, and As on everything else!
Liz coaxed her onto the scale afterwards: Q weighed 884 lbs after finishing 50 miles.

Q's awesome card.

Check it out!

Wrapping Q's legs with Lily's No-Bows that I'd brought along after fetching some Sore No More gelotion for Liz from Running Bear.

Team Q! 
Liz and Q did fabulously, and it was a special privilege to be a part of this milestone in their endurance experience.
We had a fantastic time, despite the cold. It was certainly an adventure for us crewing, and I loved what I saw of this sport that I've wanted to try out since I was a kid! It was great being able to experience first from the sidelines; I think it would have been overwhelming to try to ride it without first having observed how things flow. 

Liz and Hannah on the way to a hot jambalaya dinner. A lot of people had left, but Liz had a tough 3+ hour drive over the mountains that would have been hard for Q to do after completing 50 miles. So she stayed the second night for her horse's benefit. This is the kind of thing that an endurance rider does: the horse always comes first.
Charles and I had packed up during the day, and we left once Q and Liz were settled in. Liz and Hannah would be taking advantage of the tent and second set of sleeping bags to keep warm that night.
As a side note, Charles said he'd always wanted to camp in snow, but after our Friday night in 23-degree weather, he was definitely crossing that one off of the bucket list! He was excited to have had this experience.

We had seen a Cracker Barrel as we were pulling off of I-66 on the way to Fort Valley. I hadn't seen one since leaving FL. You bet our stinky selves stopped there for dinner. Mmmm chicken dumplings with mac n' cheese, corn, biscuits and cornbread! And this horse husband definitely earned it. What other non-horsey guy willingly comes along on a trip like this to freeze his butt off in a tent and hang out around horses, just because it's what is significant other wants to do? Not many. But not only does Charles do it willingly, he always manages to have a good time and tries his hardest to learn. Why? Because it's what I love. I could not ask for a more dedicated guy. I love you, Charles!

On Sunday, Lily modelling her new electric blue bridle and reins.

Now I just need the matching breastplate...
Must match all the things!! :)

Now go read Liz's post on her experience riding her first 50 on her own horse. :D Her side of the story is a lot more exciting, there's gorgeous photos and VIDEO of the ride itself, and there's a lot more photos of us actually working. Lol


  1. So, next time, zip the sleeping bags together, get naked (or in underwear anyway) climb in and pile the rest of the blankets, jackets and clothes over the top. You will stay nice and toasty warm, even in weather that cold. (I am experienced, having camped in below zero weather just for fun). And you get to snuggle your naked husband. What more could you ask for? Well, you could also add Kenai to the tent. He would help raise the temp inside for the night. And maybe sleep on your feet. That's always helpful.

    I'm bummed you all are so far away, since it sounds like a great time and I'm thinking Ashke might be ready to try a LD or 25 here in the next year or so.

    1. Lol! We thought about this! We did try zipping the two sleeping bags together but they were mummy bags so it was not going to work. Booo... Liz got to snuggle with Kenai in the truck. :) We need a dog. Haha...

      It would be great if you could come join us! It's a pity we're all on opposite sides of the country!

  2. Love the photos! So glad Liz had such a phenomenal crew! Some day we'll all get together at a ride. The endurance world will never be the same <3

  3. Love all the photos! I have always wondered what it would be like to crew - looks like y'all had an great time!