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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Endurance Trifecta Unite!

This past weekend the Randolph County Regional Riding Club in West Virginia held their annual Ride Between the Rivers AERC endurance ride.

Liz would be riding her friend Jen's horse, Prince, in the 50 miler and sponsoring Jen's daughter, K, on the ride as well. Mike would be riding Q in the 50 in his own endurance debut, and Liz asked me if I would like to ride Griffin on his first official AERC distance ride ever.

I gasped when she offered and of course I accepted. It was a huge, huge honor to have Liz ask me to ride her baby on his first big adventure in the sport of endurance.

Liz was also able to come up with a horse for Dom to ride at this race, a gorgeous chestnut 5-year old National Show Horse (Arabian/Saddlebred cross) named Magic Man on his third LD ever. Magic Man is owned by one of the ride vets, Dr. Bob.

The second the three of us realized we would all be meeting up at a ride again, we started celebrating the re-encounter of the Endurance Trifecta. Yes Beka, it's official: you named our team!

I took Thursday off from work so Charles and I could drive down to Elkins. We arrived in the late afternoon at Liz's house.  She was finishing up getting some of her things ready and Charles and I had realized we were missing some stuff that we would need for camping. She told us to go ahead to Walmart and get what we needed. We ran over to Walmart to get ice, batteries, ibuprofen and some extra snacks, and once back at Liz's, we helped her get the last odds and ends into the truck, tossed together a quick salad to take to the potluck that night, and drove over to the barn so we could get Griffin and Q ready.

Mike met us at the barn with his truck. The trailer got hitched, all the tack, feed and gear got loaded, horses got in the trailer uneventfully, and onwards we continued towards the Ride Between the Rivers ridecamp.

Photo by D
The goal was to try to secure a spot close to the vet check so Charles wouldn't have to walk far on his bum knee when crewing for us. Liz was able to get a spot right next to the start/finish line which was a short walk from both the vet check and the area where meals would be served.

We put up the electric corral and got the horses all settled in before walking down to the Randolph County Regional Riding Club section. They had their own area right next to the river. Since they were hosting this ride, this was also the area where meals would be served on Friday and Saturday for event participants.

On this day, Thursday, everything was still getting set up for everyone's arrival the next day. We were introduced to Liz's friends from the riding club, hung out and talked and afterwards had an amazing dinner.

Dinner on the way
Charles loves taking awkward photos of people eating.
It's something he gets from his dad...
This one is for Ashley. :)
Don't get between a hungry endurance rider and her food!
Jen, the ride manager (and the owner of Prince, the Arabian gelding Liz would be riding on Saturday) needed help getting rider packets ready so Liz and I volunteered to help. With the 3 of us working on the packets, we had them ready to go in less than an hour. We then walked down to our campsite to set up our tents.

The forecast was iffy for the entire weekend with about 40% chance of rain every day. It was supposed to rain Thursday evening so Charles and I put up Kathy's canopy over our tent to help keep our things extra dry in case the forecast turned out to be true. We had a blue tarp that we used as a sort of footprint under the tent to keep the floor of the tent from taking in water.

Setting up camp using our cars' headlights for illumination
As it turned out it did not rain. However, Charles's knee currently keeps him from being able to sleep on his side. Which means he snores. I'm a terribly light sleeper; I get through the night at home thanks to an older Honeywell air filter that doubles as a white noise machine. Since the Honeywell is electric, it stayed home.

By 5:00 am I gave up on sleeping in the tent and moved to the car, where I promptly zonked out and slept until 9:30 am to discover Liz and Mike already up and about. I woke up Charles and the four of us wandered down to the riding club area for breakfast.

Breakfast was amazing: an assortment of skillets of scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon that you could combine on a tortilla to create a breakfast burrito. There were several varieties of fresh fruit to choose from as sides. Delicious! Afterwards we got Q's and Griffin's boot situation sorted out: Q's boots are about a size too large for Griffin, but I had had a feeling that Lily's boots would work on him. After some trimming and fitting, I decided on my 135 x 125 Vipers on his fronts and Q's old outgrown size 0 Rennies on his hinds.

Griffin gets a pedicure to ensure boot fit. Liz is holding the hammer needed to get my Gloves on his front feet.
I later decided I preferred the fit of the Vipers.

Q says, "Mmmmm hoof trimmings"
She's weird.

Griffin says, "I approve of these Vipers."
Pouty ponies
"But we were enjoying our 2 week vacay!"
After we were happy with our boot situation, we tacked up: Liz has been to RBTR several times now and is very familiar with the trails. One of the loops was changing this year, but she wanted to show me parts of the loops that would be the same for this ride. The goal was also to get both horses out and moving since neither Griffin nor Q had been ridden in 2 weeks.

We took the yellow loop and rode out to the river, which you cross about a mile into this particular loop. The water was shallow and crystal clear. Beautiful!

That little beach on the other side to the right of the photo is the opposite shore where the trail continues.
We continued on for a ways afterwards, up to the first climb. The trails of RBTR are mostly double track ATV trails, which means that there are some pretty large mud puddles that can be unexpectedly deep. As in horse chest deep. I am not exaggerating. Liz warned me to always always go around them if the option existed. The only puddles that would not have an option to go around them would be the ones that would be safe to go through.

We turned around at this point to cross over to the very first section of the blue loop, which basically took you down a long gravel road. On this road Liz pointed out that one of Griffin's hind boots had twisted slightly. He was still moving fine on it and this was a short ride, so I let it be for the time being. We then turned around and rode down the long hill back into ridecamp. Both horses had behaved superbly: not a single spook from Q, and no opinions whatsoever from the G-man. Liz untacked Q and put her back in the corral while I tooled around on Griffin in the field directly next to the electric corral. Griffin wasn't really in the mood to pay attention and started screaming at every single horse in sight. He even tried to go after another horse that trotted past us several yards away on their way back into camp from the trails. I was a little surprised by this behavior as Q was right there also, and especially because Griffin has proven time and again to be a pretty mature horse for his young age. Especially when it comes to going out solo at the barn. He's never been a herd bound kind of horse.

Returning from our ride, crossing through the meadow back to ridecamp.
Griffin kinda sorta listening
I finally got him to trot a circle without screaming for anyone. Then I let him walk over to the corral where I untacked him. I was concerned about the hind Rennie that had twisted slightly after less than 2 miles on trail and decided to try my size 0.5 Gloves on Griffin's hinds. They fit a titch loosely, but nothing that couldn't be solved with a little Vetrap.

Liz needed to run back into Elkins for a couple of things. Charles wanted to get more ice and I wanted batteries for my camera, so we all piled into my car and drove the 30 minutes into town. We stopped by Liz's house, the barn, Walmart and then swung by El Gran Sabor to pick up some cachapas for lunch. On the way, Liz called Dom to see where her and Mike were at. They were hoping to arrive sometime after 6:00 pm. Yessss!

The whole excursion took about 2 hours; we were back in camp by 3:00 pm.

Going over to vet in
We picked up our registration packets, vetted the horses in, and tacked up again. This time Mike would be riding Q, Liz would be on Prince, and K, the junior rider whom Liz was sponsoring, would be accompanying us on her horse Vinny.

Jen, Prince's owner and K's mom, wanted her horses to be ridden 6 miles. Liz only wanted Q to do about 3 miles. She let me decide what to do with Griffin, and I chose to do only 3 miles on him. Mike and I would just turn around early.

I was the last one to be ready and Charles ended up bringing Griffin to me: the others had tacked up and mounted up, leaving Griffin alone by the trailer, which normally would not have been a problem. Charles said he had absolutely freaked out and had sat back multiple times, trying to break free. Charles had run over to undo the quick release knot on his lead rope to bring him up to be with the other horses. My husband is a really laid back kind of guy who normally thinks horse shenanigans are quite funny and he was exposed to some of the major theatrics of Rhythm and Lily herself. I was disturbed to see how freaked out he was. He told me 3 times to please be careful.

Thankfully, Griffin would be stellar for this mini adventure. The four of us headed out onto the same loop that Liz and I had done that morning: the yellow loop. Liz and K took turns leading with Griffin and me. Griffin did great in the front or in the back and we alternately trotted and cantered up the trail. We went farther than we had that morning. After a fairly steep climb, I checked in with Liz about distance as she had the only working GPS in the group: it had indeed been about 1.5 miles of riding by then, so Mike and I turned around to head back to camp, completing the 3 miles for Griffin and Q. Liz and K continued on their way.

Mike had a small boot snafu after cantering one of the inclines.
One handsome gray horse <3
Liz and K got back to camp about 30 minutes after Mike and I had finished untacking the horses. We set up the tent that Liz had brought for Dom and her Mike, then made our way back down to the riding club area where the ride meeting would be held in an hour or so.

Bonnie and Clyde, D's mastiffs, sleeping while the food was cooking.
We hung out until Liz somehow saw Dom's car arrive waaaay off in the distance. She hopped on one of the ATVs and took off to meet them.

It was awesome to see Dom and Mike again. I'm getting spoiled...now I really want the 6 of us to always be at endurance rides!

Endurance Trifecta!
The ride meeting
Charles and I sat down for the ride meeting while Dom, her Mike and Liz stood chatting. Liz's Mike was helping to get dinner ready.

I took some notes about the trail: we were warned that there were a LOT of mud puddles. The ones that were safe to go through would have no option around them; the ones that were not safe to go through would either have room to go around them,or there would be an altogether alternate route around them. The trail would be heavily marked; only pay attention to ribbons on the right side of the trail as sometimes the trail would be marked on both sides. Double ribbons marked a turn but it wouldn't necessarily be on the right: it might be on the left instead. The 30s would be doing first the blue trail, which was supposed to be 13 miles in length, and then the yellow trail which was supposed to be 17. I cringed about having the second loop be longer but oh well. The 50's would be doing the yellow trail first and third, the blue trail second. All vet checks would have a 45 minute hold; we'd have 30 minutes for the horses to pulse down to parameter. Pulse parameter was 64 bpm for all vet checks. 

And then it was time for dinner: a whole roasted pig! Roasted pig is the traditional Christmas dinner for both Puerto Ricans and Cubans. The last time I'd had roasted pig was a couple of Christmases ago with Charles's parents (they are Cuban) in Florida.

Like I was saying about endurance riders and food...
We stuffed ourselves!
Afterwards we took the horses out for some hand grazing while we socialized. Dom and I let Griffin and Magic Man meet and were thrilled when the two baby horses really seemed to like one another. Dom had been instructed to just enjoy the ride on Magic Man and the same pretty much went for me with Griffin. We decided we would try to ride together as long as possible but we would ride our own ride based on each horse's individual pace. I was honestly thinking Magic Man would outstride Griffin by far with his long legs and extra hand of height.

Charles snagged this awesome photo of Liz, Dom and I hand grazing the horses.
We fed the horses, packed up our saddle bags for the next day, and Liz and I wrapped Griffin's and Q's hinds for a snugger fit on their Gloves. Like with Lily for the OD, I decided to use my Easycare Mueller tape instead of Vetrap, since the boots fit well enough but I wanted to make sure they'd stick. I can't rave enough about that tape. One roll has lasted me through 2 rides and I still have enough left over to wrap two more hooves. It's a thin tape that feels like fabric but it STICKS; it doesn't slide down like Vetrap will sometimes do. If you have Gloves that fit properly but sometimes come off on longer rides with mud/water, BUY THIS TAPE. It's made specifically to enhance the fit of Easyboots and is the same price as a roll of Vetrap. You're welcome.

 At this point Charles had been walking around from one group of people to the next always followed by Kenai, who takes very seriously his job as Charles's shadow. Charles had pretty much been on his feet all day and I could tell his knee was sore. We ended up all having to yell at him to just sit down already because he wanted to be in the midst of things. I set up a chair for him under Liz's canopy and we soon all joined him, chatting, laughing and probably keeping up other riders...until we realized it was 10:00 pm. We would be getting a wake-up call at 5:00 am the next morning so we all hit the sack.

5:00 am came quicker than expected. I got up, got dressed in my riding clothes for the day and went to see if Mike and Liz needed help. They seemed to have everything under control but the horses hadn't had their mashes yet so I was able to help them with that: I set up some TC Senior in pans for both Griffin and Q, added a scoop of water to each, and let them soak.

I then wandered down to the registration van, where there was coffee and snacks for breakfast, and snagged some for Charles as well as myself. Dom and Mike were up and about by then too and they went to check on Dr. Bob and Magic Man.

K on the chestnut with green tack, Vinny, and Liz on Prince.
We all regrouped to watch Liz, Mike and K start their ride at 6:30 am. They headed out right behind the front runners in a smooth and uneventful start.

Riding up to the start line.
That's Mike on Q bringing up the rear.
Photo by Mike Turner
Dom disappeared to go get Magic Man while I tacked up Griffin with all of his tack except his bridle and put him back in the corral. He was distraught about Q leaving and he screamed and screamed and even threw in a few bucks. Yup: that's why I let him go back in the corral with tack on. I didn't want him acting up by the trailer like he had on the previous afternoon and risk him getting hurt. He eventually settled down enough to start eating hay, at which time I pulled him back out, put his bridle on, and swung up as Dom came up on Magic Man.

The two babies really hit it off. Magic Man adored Griffin and Griffin patiently let the tall chestnut lip at his face.
Endurance Trifecta secret hand sign
Photo by Mike Turner
Magic Man: "I love you I love you I love you!"
Photo by Mike Turner

Griffin: "Okay, okay! I get it: you love me!"
Magic Man: "Can I pleeeease touch you some more?"
Dom wasn't the only one that fell in love with the tall chestnut gelding. He was an absolute clown. I loved his goofy, outgoing personality!
The two horses were quite calm as all of the 30 mile riders milled about. Griffin showed an interest in eating so I let him graze while we waited for our start time of 7:30 am.

There was some excitement when the trail was opened for us: one horse basically galloped backwards from the start in protest at not being allowed to surge forward at whatever speed he wanted, while another had the Bucking Fit from Hell:

Yes, the guy stuck it.
Charles snagged this photo of the action. He said he's going to show people this photo when he's asked what happened to his knee. He says it's a much more exciting story than saying he got hit by a tree...lol
We hung back and waited for the excitement to end, telling our horses to please not get any ideas. Griffin and Magic Man ended up being way better behaved than a lot of the more mature horses at the start! Once all the front runners were gone, we decided to leave with the middle of the pack.

Magic Man started out at his expectedly huge trot. Griffin trotted out after him, much calmer than I expected. Griffin has been known to protest and buck when other horses get in front of him.

Dom's Mike took this stunning photo of us as we took the hill out of camp.
As we made it to the bottom of the hill, a lot of the horses in front of us broke into a canter. Griffin twisted in the air once but I had a short rein on him so it didn't turn into a buck at all. I let him break into a canter as Magic Man surged up the hill in front of us and Griffin did this GORGEOUS uber-collected canter with a ton of knee and hock action as we tackled the hill. It almost felt like we were galloping in place. He obediently came back down to an extended trot at the top of the hill.

We trotted off down the long gravel road of the blue loop. Horses and riders passed us on our left, both at trot and canter. Griffin gave them the one-eye, one-ear look and tossed his head once or twice but he trotted on nicely. I praised him, rubbing his neck and telling him what a good boy he was. I was very impressed with his behavior at the start. Like I said: when he wants to, Griffin can be more mature than horses twice his age.

I saw when Magic Man, who'd been doing a normal trot about 3 horse lengths in front of us, suddenly turned on his engine. What had been straight hock and leg movement prior suddenly opened up in a churning, propelling round movement, and I could see his stifles flare out to the sides with each forward stride as he overtracked in a beautiful extended Saddlebred trot that must've been over 12 mph.

I figured that was the last we would see of Dom and Magic Man and snagged this photo of them flying ahead.
That speck was Dom and Magic Man :)
Soon we came upon a long downhill and Dom brought Magic Man down to a walk. I knew Griffin could handle this downward grade at a trot NBD so we continued trotting and we caught up!

Griffin had been tentative the day before on gravel even with his boots. Today, he strode out big and confident down the road with his boots, now knowing his feet wouldn't hurt.

As it would turn out, after this the two horses would have no problem keeping up with each other. I actually got to ride this whole loop with Dom herself, something which back when I first started reading her blog was not something that I ever dreamed would happen in real life! Blogland is something amazing, let me tell you. Again: NONE of this entire adventure would have happened if it hadn't been for this blog.

We made a sharp right to turn onto the trail itself and that's when we started climbing.

The footing was gnarly and I wasn't sure if this was a ride I would have wanted to attempt on either of my two without a lot more hill training. Lots of rocks and mud during this section as we wound up and down a single track trail through the forest. Griffin slipped a couple of times on some of the shorter inclines and I decided to ignore my instinct to micromanage him and let him do his job. He did so beautifully when I left him to his own devices, giving him rein while holding on to his mohawk.

The first big hill we came upon took our breath away. We were riding downhill in a section of mature forest so we could clearly see the mountain up ahead as it rose vertically from a narrow valley. The trail went up up up the face of the mountain in what was probably an 80 degree incline. Liz had mentioned this hill: it was a little longer but less steep than the big hill she trains her two on, so I knew Griffin wouldn't have a problem with the incline, but the footing looked slick: it was quite muddy. Dom and I both laughed nervously when we saw it.

The horses tackled it like it was just another day in the park for them. We needn't have worried.

There was a steep downhill on the other side of that mountain, where a group of riders blasted past us despite our requests for them to wait. I don't think they heard us. Thankfully our two babies were fine with it but it was quite irritating nonetheless. Shortly after, another pair of riders came up behind us. We gave them the option of passing but they were happy to wait for the trail to widen. They stayed at a respectful distance until the trail switchbacked; we were able to step to the side to give them room. They thanked us and wished us a good ride, and Dom thanked them for waiting. They said, "Of course! We all want to be safe."

I love this sport. The people that barreled past us were the one exception the entire day. Everybody else was so kind and thoughtful, and everybody took the time to wish others a great ride. You just don't see that in any of the other equestrian sports.

Not long afterwards, we came upon the first group of spotters. We gave them our numbers. Or letters, rather: the 30s had letters assigned to them. Dom was R and I was B. We looked at one another, "We're R&B!" we exclaimed. This would be the ongoing joke throughout this loop that NONE of the spotters would get. I thought it was hilarious: Dom was riding the Saddlebred cross which in theory could have been gaited, and her letter was R for "Rhythm" and my color is blue (though Griffin's color is really neon green) and I was B for "Blues"! See? Isn't that awesome?

Across the way from the spotters was a 5' tall wall of shale rock that the guys warned us a lot of the horses had had problems with. Dom turned on her helmet cam and we pointed the horses at the rock. They carefully picked their way up again like this was just another walk in the park for them, and one of the spotters said that that was the most graceful attempt they had seen all day.

Go mountain ponies!

More climbing and more trotting and eventually the trail leveled out as we came to the top of a ridgeline. There were SO MANY mud puddles. We would trot and then slow to a walk to go around them. By this point we were all getting tired of the constant stop and go. I heard Dom groan as we slowed to skirt around yet another giant mud pit, "I'll be happy if I never see another puddle after today!"

"Puddles are to this ride like rocks are to the OD!" I said. I was truly getting tired of constantly having to turn around to check Griffin's boots. Thankfully, we had absolutely NO boot snafus! I still credit the Mueller tape for the great job the Gloves did. The Vipers also performed beautifully with no help from accessories!

It looked like maybe this section was being used for logging? Lots of downed and cut trees. It looked like we were riding through the devastated rainforest in FernGully.
(Yes, I'm old! I loved the Batty Rap. I still remember the lyrics...)
Approaching yet another puddle up ahead. Note Dom studying the best way to go around it.
We would later be riding on that opposite ridgeline looking at this one!
This, my friends, is one of the mud puddles. Photo by Dom.
We are NOT kidding about them!
Griffin was SUCH a good boy about them: he never once even thought about rolling in them. He drank from one or two of them and the rest of the time would just put his head down to let the water splash on his face. :)

As we came onto a clearing in the trail, Magic Man was acting a little "up" and we couldn't figure out why. I then noticed that his saddle pad had almost completely slipped to one side: the girth hadn't been threaded through the girth loop on the one side. Dom dismounted to correct it and I took this opportunity to take a potty break. This allowed Griffin to grab a snack and I was able to get a good look at his boots. Yes, they were all in place! 

Magic Man was very antsy when Dom went to get back on him. I held his reins, giving Dom enough time to swing into the saddle. Griffin was a good boy for me to mount up but I managed to flop onto the saddle like I'd never gotten on a horse before.

"Well that was graceful," I said.
"I saw nothing!" Dom responded. We burst out laughing.

We eventually came to a T in the trail. Directly in front of us was forest. The trail went both left and right, with two equally steep hills in each side. Dom and I looked at one and the other, and saw that the ribbons marked the hill on the right. It was pure rock and mud up another 80 degree incline.

"Oh boy..." we gulped.

We pointed the horses at it and they scrambled up, Magic Man in the lead with Griffin soon climbing abreast of him. Again: NBD for either of them.

The trail soon led us onto a long gravel road. Magic Man had a small moment where he was afraid of a pickup truck that had rails for an ATV. Griffin took the lead and stayed in the lead for a good portion of this section.

Both horses seemed to get a second wind and picked up a trot, ears pricked happily.

Trotting down the gravel road!
I honestly was hoping at this point that we were getting close to base camp, based on the horses attitudes. We had no idea how far we had come so far as neither Dom nor I had GPS. None of my GPS apps worked without signal. This loop was supposed to be 13 miles and we'd been on trail for 2 hours already. I was guesstimating our trot to be at about 7mph and our walk at 3mph...so maybe our average pace was around 5mph? So I figured it couldn't be that much longer. 

It was a relief to not have to worry about puddles here and just trot on freely in an attempt to make up for lost time. 

"I'm thinking about something but I don't want to jinx it," I said to Dom as she trotted next to me.
"Uh-oh...is it puddles?" she asked.
"That's exactly what I was thinking too!"

The ribbons eventually took us around another sharp turn to the left, where we came upon another spotter. 
"R&B!" we exclaimed.
"Wait...you're R?"looking at Dom. Marks her off on the list, then looks at me. "And you're what?"
"I'm B."

Like I said, no one got it.

Dom asked the spotter if we were the last ones. We hadn't seen other riders for miles and miles and miles. She said there were only 3 other riders behind us.

They would catch up to us and pass us about a mile later. At this time I really started to worry about making time. Griffin and Magic Man took turns leading and every time Griffin was in the lead, he'd take off at a trot that was probably close to 10mph in an attempt to overtake the three horses in front of us. It was an effort to get him to maintain the trot and not just break into the canter. I ended up bridging my reins and getting up into a half seat. This kept a steady contact on the bit, prevented my shoulders from feeling like they were being ripped out, and meant I didn't have to post at light speed. Griffin was completely unfazed by the puddles, plowing through and around them at my request without missing a beat. Magic Man followed suit without issue as well. I heard Dom say to him, "Oh NOW you don't need to walk around the puddles?"

My favorite part of this loop was when the river itself became the trail! The water was shallow and crystal clear, with the sun shining down through the trees, dappling the river bottom. We splashed through, Griffin stretching down to let the water wet his face, and we smiled for the ride photographer.

Photo by Becky Pearman, the ride photographer.
Isn't Griffin gorgeous?
We caught up to the three horses who'd passed us on the other side of the river. They offered to let us pass but we chose to stay behind so they could pull us along. They would get ahead of us, out of sight, and we'd eventually catch up to them again. 

There were some gargantuan mud puddles on the trail and the three riders stopped to let their horses drink. The women offered to let us pass again but we chose to wait so their horses could finish drinking (this is proper endurance etiquette. If you ride past a horse that's drinking, you're going to break that horse's concentration and he will most likely forget to continue drinking) I took this opportunity to ask the women if any of them had GPS. One of them did: we were 14 miles into the trail, with about half a mile left to the river crossing and it was just a mile back to camp after that.

Relief. But wait...wasn't this supposed to be the shorter loop? Dom and I shrugged. We were just happy to know we were almost done.

Before we knew it, we were arriving at the last river crossing. We splashed through and I told Dom that we really were almost back at base camp. 

The two horses trotted along side by side, ears pricked happily. We burst out laughing when we realized that Magic Man was trying to drift over to Griffin to touch him. Such a goofy guy! I loved him! Dom kept remarking how much he reminded her of Ozzy. I was so happy she'd had the opportunity to ride such a great horse!

And then we were trotting over the hill that would take us to the meadow back into camp. Dom asked Magic Man to canter when she saw her Mike ready with the camera. Griffin and I trotted on and then I dismounted and loosened his girth to hand walk him back into camp.

Dom went over to Magic Man's station by the vet check area and I went to ours where Charles helped me untack and sponge down Griffin. The little man looked good to me; he wasn't even breathing hard. He drank water when offered and I took him down to the vet check as Magic Man met parameter. He was already down. Griffin however was not: his pulse was still at 72. So I walked him back to our tent, where Charles and I got to work sponging and scraping. Within 10 minutes Griffin was down to 60, so back we went to the check. 

He vetted with all As and a CRI of 60/56 but our out time was a good 16 minutes behind Dom's. Booooo... Dom was upset about not being able to wait for me, but I told her it was way too long to wait and it was not fair to her fitter horse to hold him back. That's just part of the game. We figured we could catch up later and I also figured with the number of 50s coming and going, I'd be able to tag along behind someone else on the way out. 

Charles held Griffin for me to let him eat his mash and hay. He took great care of himself just like he had on trail, and I managed to eat half of my pasta in the meantime. The hold was 45 minutes.

I tacked up again 20 minutes before our out time, but left Griffin's bridle off so he could continue eating. We saw Dom off, I took a bathroom break, and then sponged and scraped Griffin down one more time before slipping his bridle on and mounting up: it was getting hot and I wanted him to start out cool.

Two riders left between Dom and myself, a good 5 minutes before I had to leave. Finally it was our turn. No other riders were coming behind us and it felt silly to stand around waiting to see if anyone would, just so we could follow them out. I guess it would have been a good decision, but I was so worried about making time by this point. We had 2.5 hours to finish this loop and be back in camp if we wanted to be able to pulse down without going over.

We walked out through the start line, Griffin screaming with every other step. I urged him into a trot and he reluctantly obliged, zig-zagging across the trail as we made our way across the meadow towards the yellow trail.

At the entrance to the yellow trail, which I will remind you Griffin had taken TWICE the day before, he slammed on the brakes and tried to spin around. He was very worried about the entrance to the trail. I have no idea why; there was nothing there and it looked no different from the previous afternoon. After struggling for a good 5 minutes, he finally got on the trail and we trotted on. Praise! I figured that once on the familiar trail, Griffin would be absolutely fine. I would be mistaken.

We made it onto the gravel road that would take us to the river. About halfway down, I saw a group of 3 riders trotting along in our direction. Griffin screamed just as I recognized the trio as Liz, Mike and K. Q whinnied back at Griffin. It was good to see them but then Liz said, "I was hoping this wouldn't happen!" It actually took me a minute to realize why: the second they had passed, Griffin lost his mind. Backing, spinning, turning, screaming. I could NOT get him to go forwards away from home. Two more riders came up just as I had finally gotten Griffin to slow down somewhat. They were kind enough to stop and ask, "What would you like us to do?" They were willing to wait but I gave them permission to pass; they didn't need to lose time from their ride because of us. I think I may have forgotten to thank them for being so considerate, which is a pity because it was such a sweet gesture from them and I truly appreciated it. Of course, Griffin wigged out after these two horses were also gone, but nowhere near as bad as when he saw Q.

I finally got him sorted out and listening to me again. It took a good 10 minutes of arguing. Frustrated and now dreading coming across other horses, which was unavoidable on this two lane trail, I got him going into an easy canter for the remainder of the gravel road. He pricked his ears happily and strode out. More praise. The thought crossed my mind that maybe we'd be able to catch up with Dom after all.

As we arrived at the banks of the river, Griffin whinnied again: there were three horses and their riders chillin out in the river, well off to the side of the route competitors were taking through the water.

Griffin went into the water quite willingly...then immediately tried to go towards the group of horses and riders. He was not happy when I informed him that we were not socializing: he again tried to turn around towards home in protest. More spinning ensued.

I finally convinced him forwards was easier and he did a lovely passage through the river, trotting up the far bank out of the water. Praise again.

We continued on the trail at a trot. We passed the first spotter, I told her my letter and onwards we went. 

Griffin hesitated at a small creek that flowed across the path, but only for a second. We continued on as the trail started to rise, still maintaining the trot effortlessly. We skirted around the first large mud puddle uneventfully.

At the beginning of the first sustained climb of this loop there was another very large puddle that took up most of the width of the trail. On one side was mountain soaring above the trail, on the other was a 3' strip of grass with a several hundred foot drop on the other side. You could see the river far, far below between the trees. We had gone by this puddle twice on the previous day as well.

You could go around the puddle but the side closest to the mountain was pretty torn up so I chose the other option closest to the cliff edge which was less travelled. Remember: Griffin was wearing boots. I wanted to prevent them getting sucked off by the mud. 

Griffin, however, wanted to go through the middle of the puddle. When I told him, "Please no," he said, "Well I'm going home then." And proceeded to turn hard to the right to turn back down the trail. I brought him back around to face the puddle but he wasn't having it. He'd turn around, I'd bring him back to face the puddle, he'd turn around again. We ended up spinning around and around like a top, and suddenly I realized that by turning to the right, Griffin was unknowingly bringing us closer and closer to the edge of the cliff. I managed to get him back on the center of the trail but now he refused to go through the puddle at all and would not stand still long enough to let me dismount. More spinning as again he tried to turn towards home and I kept trying to bring him back to face the puddle. I tried turning him to the left and he almost lost his balance: Griffin continued to be convinced that he must turn to the right and the right only, which again brought us right next to the cliff edge. And then I realized that if he turned one more time, we'd both be falling over the edge. He had not even realized that at that moment he was facing home; he was too focused on doing the opposite of what I was asking him to do in typical Stubborn Griffin fashion. I managed to pull him into a one rein stop with his head to the left. He was leaning all of his weight to the right and I was leaning all of my weight to the left and we were at an impasse. I considered just allowing myself to fall to the left, but I was afraid Griffin would still try to turn to the right in the process and slide off the cliff edge. Or I could just dismount while maintaining the one-rein stop, keeping his balance off to prevent him from finishing the spin. I swung my right foot out of the stirrup to dismount...and Griffin said, "Oh! I can stand still if you're going to get off!" And he straightened out helpfully underneath me. Goofy horse.

So I did not get off. I stayed on and Griffin just stood quietly, and I rewarded his willingness to just stand with an instant loose rein. By this point we had lost another 10 minutes at this puddle. We would never catch up to Dom. And we were dead last: if we continued struggling at every single obstacle on trail, we would be so over time it wouldn't even be funny. We'd already lost 30 minutes of the 2.5 hrs we had to complete this 14 mile loop...and we'd only covered 2 miles! The other problem of being dead last was that there was no hope that someone from the 30 would overtake us and thus allow us to follow them up the trail. I had no idea where the 50s were at with their loops. I figured the ones on their last loop would be coming this way for their last loop but I hadn't seen any of them since we left camp.

I considered my options:
a) Try to continue IF we could get through this damn puddle. I could hand walk him around it but he is perfectly capable of going through these puddles US under ordinary circumstances. He'd done this particular puddle NBD the day before. Twice. And I was not going to reward every refusal on trail with a dismount. Once or twice is fine, but not every single time. I'd made that mistake with Lily a long time ago and I wasn't going to do that to Liz. 

b) We could turn around now. We could call it a day while the going was still good. Before either of us got hurt. I could ride out his antics as long as we weren't falling into holes or over cliffs but he had just proven that he was too focused on arguing to pay attention to the terrain, which could put both of us in danger, especially given the fact that this was neither the first nor the last mud puddle we would see on this day. Rumor had it that on this loop there was a giant mud puddle with a sink hole in which one of the riders' horses had already sunken in to his chest. I needed Griffin to be able to listen if we were going to encounter obstacles like that, but so far his behavior had escalated at each obstacle. And let's not forget that always spinning to the right like he was insisting on doing so far was just begging for a soft tissue injury on his right hind. 

I chose b. We were facing home already so I just asked him to walk on. We would go home, yes, but we would do so at a walk all the way back. No hurrying home. 

Onwards we went at a relaxed walk on a loose rein, all the way back to the river. No riders passed us going in either direction so the little man remained perfectly calm.

As we came to the big river crossing, we saw another rider coming through the water, headed our way. Griffin whinnied at them...and then spun around to go back up the trail. "Griffin! We're going home!" I told him as I urged him back towards the water. 

"You're going home little horse! Keep going!" the other rider said to him, as she rode up past us.

The little man realized what he was doing and finally plunged into the water. He drank as he walked through. We trotted up the far bank then continued at a walk on a loose rein all the way back to the meadow. 

Once in the meadow, I dismounted to avoid any issues in case Griffin decided to misbehave once we were within sight of camp. He behaved  himself but continued to scream once he saw all the other horses. 

Charles rushed over to meet me when he saw we were back. That's the moment when I burst into tears. I felt like I had failed Liz in taking her little gray horse on his first distance adventure.

Liz was still there with her Mike, K and Dom's Mike with the horses, and she also rushed over when she realized we were back. I was able to summarize what had happened. She gave me a big hug and said, "As long as you and Griffin are fine, that's all that matters." She was so relieved we were okay. She'd actually been expecting us to show up a lot sooner. She knows how much of a pill Griffin can be when he decides to be opinionated. I explained that I wanted to rider option and she was absolutely fine with it: better that than get pulled by a vet later or to go overtime.

I realized then that there was somewhat of a commotion going on with Prince, the gelding Liz had been riding. He had passed the vet check earlier with flying colors but was not acting right nor eating afterwards and Jen had called one of the vets over to look at him. It turned out Prince had a cramp in one of his hind legs. Liz and Jen agreed that the best thing for the horse was to pull then. He had a 100 mile ride coming up in a few weeks and Jen wanted to make sure he'd be sound for it.

So Liz would not be continuing her ride either. :/

In the meantime, Griffin had been eating grass while all of this was happening. Charles and I untacked him, offered water, and I walked him over to the vet check. Even if you pull (aka quit) you still have to have the horse checked.

I explained to the vet that we were pulling as a rider option and not because anything was physically wrong with Griffin, and she took a look at the G-man. Griffin trotted out well but I was surprised to hear he had a high CRI: 60/64. We had walked all the way back to camp. It had been nearly a 2 mile walk. The vet took a long time listening to his gut. "Was he eating and drinking on the trail?" she asked. "Oh yes." I said. He'd been eating and drinking just now too. She listened some more. "He looks good but his gut sounds are rather quiet on his right side. Just get him eating right away and keep an eye on him."

Okay, so this made me feel REALLY relieved that we'd called it a day when we did! It could have been bad if we'd decided to continue. 

I parked Griffin in front of a buffet of mash, carrots, and hay next to one of the water buckets. He started out lackadaisically picking at the food, which was unlike his earlier enthusiasm...until he got to the carrots. Those he cleaned up. And then he parked out and he urinated for a very long time.  He dug into his mash after that. 

So then I wondered: was the high CRI and poor gut sounds because he needed to pee really badly? Was that part of the reason why he had acted out so strongly on trail, because he was uncomfortable? Would he have held his need to urinate while on the trail for the remainder of the ride if we'd had a buddy all the way? Would he have colicked because of it or developed some other issue? I couldn't remember if Liz had ever mentioned him peeing while on trail in the blog. Liz saw him urinate in the present and commented on how Q isn't good about urinating at rides either, but it doesn't affect her recoveries.

We discussed everything that had happened with Griffin. He is a superstar at home riding on his own and on the rail trail. He has led and followed with other horses and has been fine, and he has never been herdbound before. He was more than capable of physically handling the terrain and obstacles that this ride presented. I felt like he could have safely kept a faster pace in the first loop if he'd been an older horse and we'd been aiming at placing. Liz has done a fabulous job training and conditioning him. He'd just never been presented before with having to leave a new place by himself and having to leave other horses behind. We had expected some sort of baby issues, of course, given Griffin's Opinions, but we had both thought that he would be more than capable of handling these circumstances given the preparation he had received previously. Some horses can translocate "riding at home alone" to "riding away from home alone" just fine. Some of them need that specific experience away from home to develop more confidence in themselves. Griffin seems to be of the latter sort. The big note here is that, while Griffin was arguing and not paying attention to the footing, he never ever did anything mean. He didn't rear, he didn't buck, he didn't try to unseat me. Liz has done a fabulous job at getting him over the US naughtiness that he initially presented her. Here he simply said, "I cannot." And given his age and experience level, that is absolutely fine. He just needs a little more time and mileage in new places. Would he have been better with Liz riding him? Liz wasn't 100% sure of that and we won't know until she rides him at an LD herself. 

Mike got Q ready with Liz's help and him and K rode out of camp: in a pretty funny turn of events, now it would be Mike sponsoring K on his first endurance ride ever. As they were leaving, Mike asked K, "So have you heard of Sesame Street?"
"Ok then. Well, I'll teach you ALL about Sesame Street for the ENTIRE next two hours!"
K groaned loudly and we all burst out laughing as they rode off.

Griffin finished his mash and got put away in the corral, where he screamed for Q a couple of times then got down to business rolling. He very carefully rolled on one side (Liz ran over and disconnected the electric fence, just in case he got tangled in the fence), got up, shook off, then lay down and rolled on the other side. Silly silly baby. 

This photo and the next by Liz
Gah! Cutest gray horse ever. Even when he's naughty!
Liz and I sat down in the shade of the EZ-up with Dom's Mike and Charles and cracked some beers open. Time to relax.

Griffin followed suit as well. Next time we looked over at him, he was lying flat out on his side...

Photo by Liz

He was like a toddler that had exhausted himself after a tantrum. I think it was around then that I finally breathed a sigh of relief and stopped obsessively looking over towards him to make sure he was okay. 

Dom returned on Magic Man about 2 hours after she had left. We all met her at the finish line, cheering, "YOU DID 30 MILES HOW DO YOU FEEL?!!"

Dom and Magic Man return victorious
Charles had wanted me to pretend that I'd passed Dom somewhere along the trail. Mike warned me that she would be very upset when she learned that Griffin and I hadn't completed. The thing was, even if I really pretended to have finished, she'd hear about it at Awards when I didn't get my completion.

I tried though, "Where were you?" I asked. "I've been here for HOURS!"

"So you DID pass me!" Dom exclaimed, explaining that she had missed a turn on the trail and gone on for about a mile or two before realizing she was on the wrong track.

I couldn't continue pretending then. I gave her a hug and told her, "We had to turn around. Griffin got a bad case of baby brain and it got too dangerous." 

Yup, Dom was upset, and then I really felt awful. :( She had ridden her own ride and had done wonderfully; she did what she needed to do. We had known that that would probably happen at some point during the day. Griffin had just had a No Good, Very Bad Day that could have been truly terrible and horrible if we'd continued. Sometimes things happen for a reason.

I was just happy that one of the Trifecta had finished her race!

We all went with her to help untack and cool down Magic Man. Magic Man, however, is the kind of horse that gets excited about attention and he wasn't pulsing down. We ended up having to take a step back to let Dr. Bob, Dom and their crew do their thing. We all thought that they would make the Top Ten.

Finally Magic Man came down and was taken to the vet check. Dom had to convince him to stand still so he could be ausculted:

And he passed with flying colors! Not in the Top Ten after all but they did finish 16th out of 31 starters!

We then sat down by the finish line to wait for Mike and K to return. They got back a full hour after the time Liz had been calculating. 

Liz's Mike cantering in on Q.
We all got to work untacking and cooling down both Q and Vinny. Vinny pulsed down faster than Q and went off to the vet check. Dom had the brilliant idea of putting ice against Q's udder, which Q didn't seem to mind at all (to everyone's surprise) and she finally pulsed down. The pretty bay mare was walked back to the vet check where she also passed with flying colors. Mike completed his very first endurance ride ever! Congratulations Mike!

Photo by Mike Turner
Q was turned out with Griffin (to his relief) and we all changed clothes and walked down to the swimming hole behind the riding club camping area. Because yeah: being at Ride Between the RIVERS means there is access to a pretty kick-ass swimming hole. 

The water was icy and the afternoon weather was starting to cool down, but it was lovely to go for a dip in the river. We all hung out for a while in the water, watching some of the other locals that had been at the ride swimming and playing in the water. A couple of dogs were also in the water. My favorite was the Rottie that simply swam around and around and around in circles, never tiring and occasionally making the water splash in front of her face so she could playfully snap at the splash. She paddled away tirelessly the entire time we were in the river, which was close to an hour! This ride is very dog and family friendly: packs of kids and dogs running around ridecamp in a sort of organized chaos.

I would have had a ball as a kid at this ride...
I looked up to see ominous clouds rolling in and told Liz we should probably head back to camp: we had left all of our tack drying out in the sun and it looked like it was about to start raining any second.

It started drizzling just as we got back to our campsite. We rushed to get everything put away, changed into dry clothes, and then sat under the EZ-Up, talking and laughing until it was time for dinner and awards.

The rain let up just long enough to enjoy the spaghetti dinner that ride management had prepared for us. Yet again the food was amazing. Completion awards were beer mugs with the ride logo, name and date, filled with beer! Awards for Top Ten, Best Condition and Turtles included iron work by the farriers, electrolytes, horse treats and gift cards by Mountain Khakis (which Liz got for this ride).

Mist on the mountains in between spells of rain
A huge bonfire was started next to an area that would be the designated spot for dancing for the live bluegrass music that would be playing shortly. The weather, however, had other plans. One of the ladies at the registration desk warned us that she had just gotten a flash flood warning on her phone. We headed back to our campsite to tidy up and make sure that nothing was touching the inside walls of our tents.

We stayed up for a while longer, choosing to stay dry under the EZ-Up until the worst of the storms had passed through. No flooding as we were on higher ground, but there was quite a bit of thunder and lightning. We were all beat and were soon in bed by 10:00 pm.

I woke up sometime around 7:00 am to the sound of trucks and trailers driving by on their way home. There was a light mist of rain, so I got up to start picking up and putting away things. Charles joined me and soon Dom and her Mike were also helping us pack everything.

By the time Liz and her Mike woke up, half of the campsite had been put away. Liz had the brilliant idea of packing up, dropping the horses off at the barn, and continuing on to the Bob Evans in Elkins for breakfast. We loved this idea and had the EZ-Ups, tents, corral and horses put away in no time at all.

We dropped the horses off at the barn, unloaded the trailer, and arrived at Bob Evans by 10:00 am.

We may have gotten one of everything; we were starving. It was a wonderful breakfast where the talk and laughter continued. Dom even did a reenactment of what is now her OD Original Chocolate Milk Face:

Liz wrote down directions on Dom's leftovers box that would take us back to 81.

Dom and her Mike decided they would just follow us on the way out since we've been to Elkins more often than they have. We all hugged our good-byes, hoping that we would all meet again sooner rather than later.

Dom and Mike followed us to the nearest gas station as we all needed to tank up. Before leaving, Charles told them, "If you see me stop the car and throw the GPS into the woods, that means we're lost." Dom and Mike burst out laughing!

Thank God for Liz's directions because the GPS did indeed try to get us lost! By this time we realized it actually was not that hard to get out of Elkins once you're familiar with the route. The route Liz gave us took us through Canaan Valley where she works ski patrol in the winter, which Dom and Mike had not seen yet.

It was a beautiful drive back into civilization that only took us 3.5 hours thanks to the absolute lack of traffic. Charles and I went straight to the barn to drop off Kathy's canopy and my tack, and check on the mares. They were absolutely fine and both came over to greet me. We then went home to unpack and hang things out to finish drying in the late afternoon sun.

It was a wonderful trip with some of my favorite people on earth, and one that will stay with me for a long time.

Now if you haven't done so already, go read Dom's version here, Liz's version here, and Liz's recap here


  1. You guys really do have the most fun!

  2. Hehe love that y'all have so much fun together!

    1. It would be so perfect if we all lived in the same state!

  3. I laughed and cried reading this entry. I do feel better after reading your version of what happened. Also, knowing which part of the trail you were talking about when Griffin wouldn't stop spinning left me with my heart in my throat... even though I knew you guys wound up ok. That was NOT a good spot for a melt down. Yikes!

    I guffawed about R&B. I'm so sad nobody seemed to get it. I thought it was perfect. Haha.

    Some day we'll all ride together. And Beka better be there when we do!

    1. I know: that was not a good spot at all! What was most frustrating was that it was all familiar territory. He'd been there the day before. Baby horses...

      R&B was totally perfect!

      And yes, Beka needs to come hang out next time we all meet up at a ride! Maybe even crew? :)

  4. Also, I loved all your behind the scenes photos. Especially, "Magic. I really need you to hold still for FIVE SECONDS. Ok.. thirty seconds... but let's start with five..."

    1. I was so excited when I got that photo! Hahaha...

  5. I think you made a good call with Griffin. With baby brain, it's always hard to say, but safety first. Love reading all three stories about the ride. I was waiting for yours :)

    1. Thanks Allison! And yes, it's been terrific reading everybody's perspectives on this adventure!

  6. OMG FernGully!!!! That was my favorite movie as a kid (well that and Lion King lol)!

    Sorry but the part about the mud puddles had me cracking up! It looks and sounds just like what we ride horses on here, but it's mainly (and intentionally) like that for mudding on the four wheelers (also fun). I don't think any of ours are chest deep although we have gotten four wheelers stuck before lol. Fun fun!

    I knew immediately what you meant when you said R&B! That's too funny that no one else got it.

    I hate when horses spin and won't let me dismount!!! It almost sets off this weird trapped, claustrophobic feeling in me (like carnival rides!). I'm glad he finally stopped spinning.... my heart was in my throat reading about how close you got to the cliff... *shudder*

    Does Griffin always stand up to roll on the other side? I don't remember if Liz has mentioned it. Chrome always gets up to roll on his other side. I wonder why some horses won't roll all the way over? He used to before he grew withers, but now he doesn't and the funny thing is his withers aren't that big. I sometimes think it's his weak stifles. Maybe he doesn't have enough pushing power to go all the way over. He also tends to roll uphill... dork! The snoring picture of Griffin is absolutely adorable!! Probably my favorite one in the whole post hehe.

    Congrats to Mike (and K) for completing their first ride!! I love the pictures of Mike galloping in and kissing Q. Especially the kissing Q one... awww!

    I'm sad you and Liz didn't get to finish, but I feel you made the right decision. It's the name of the game I guess and no one got hurt so I call it a success! Besides the gang got together again. :D It was a good first experience for Griffin too. He will get better with more experience. Sometimes baby brain just happens!

    Now off to read the story from the point of view of the other members of the Endurance Trifecta!

    1. Yup, these were four wheeler trails! All of the spotters were out on trail on four wheelers. So that is totally what caused the depth of those puddles!

      I'm not sure if Griffin always stands to roll on the other side. Liz was expecting him to flip over but he was right next to the fence when he was rolling, so we assumed that he was being smart about not getting tangled up. There are different explanations for horses not rolling all the way over. I've heard that it can be from them having back pain or needing a chiropractic adjustment. My two will both flip all the way over when rolling. But if Chrome tends to roll uphill, that might be why he won't roll all the way to his other side. Silly boy. :)

      Q adores Mike. You can totally tell in that picture!

      It was awesome for all of us to be able to get together again; best part of the entire weekend! :D

  7. Wow that's a busy weekend! Glad everyone made it through safely :-)

  8. You are the very best. I hope you know that. :-)

    I'm so thankful for everything you helped with and that you were so willing to do so.

    I loved reading about everything in more detail from your perspective. Next year little Grey should be in a better mental place.

    Thank you again for everything. <3

    1. I think he will be a great endurance horse! He did so incredibly awesome on that first loop, both mentally and physically. It really was no big deal to him. I had a blast riding him, and thank you thank you for choosing me to be the first to take him out on his first ride ever. You have no idea how much that meant to me; I know he's your baby and possibly your future heart horse. I was so touched.

      And we had SO MUCH FUN!!! All of it: the riding, getting to all of us meet up again, the hanging out, the environment, being in your home area. It was another magical ride and visit, truly. Thank you for all of the adventures that you continue to bring to our lives! <3

  9. Great ride story even if it didn't end the way you hoped. I love the fact that you stopped to listen when your horse said "no...I just can't" So many people just fight on, but sometimes you just have to pay attention and tell them that it is ok if they can't handle it and live to fight another day. I am definitely putting RBTR on my calendar for next year. The pictures are gorgeous.

    1. It was such a beautiful ride! The part where we rode in the river for a ways was so different and just spectacular. Glad you enjoyed the story and welcome to the blog! :)

  10. I suspect the higher pulse and lack of enthusiasm for eating after you pulled were probably just a result of Griffin getting all worked up, not because anything was really wrong. It sounds like you rode him as well as you could and he just wasn't ready to finish the ride. But he got great experience and Liz got feedback from a rider she trusts.

    1. Thanks Gail! In hindsight now, I honestly think the fact that he had to urinate was at play with the high CRI and poor gut sounds. He had not urinated aaaallll day despite drinking plenty of water. Not since 5:00 am when we woke up. It was around 1:00 pm when he urinated after the check. Just one more thing that he'll learn with more mileage and experience: if you gotta pee, just pee! :)

      All is well that ends well!