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

Monday, April 13, 2015

Foxcatcher 25 Mile Limited Distance Ride

AKA In Which Lily Decides She is a Cavalry Horse.

The famous Federico Caprilli showing correct jumping form over a massive fence at the Italian Cavalry School.
Photo from here.
And apparently my horse is the only athletically gifted dork in the world to ever do what she did on this ride, because I can't find a single photo on the internet of a horse doing a similar thing...this will just begin to give you an idea.

But you're going to have to wait for it! First things first. :)

Lily already completed two 50-mile rides last year: the Old Dominion 50 in June (you can read about it here, here, and here) and the Fort Valley 50 in October. We received our completions but Lily ran into some metabolic problems at both rides. They resolved at the OD before the finish and she recovered just fine, but she crashed and burned after her completion at Fort Valley, requiring a ginormous bolus of IV fluids and potassium chloride two hours after finishing to help her make a full recovery (she never colicked; she was just feeling shitty enough to not want to eat or drink after the ride, which meant that her heart rate was not coming down and she was super dehydrated. I was given the choice to wait and see or treat preemptively. I chose to treat). We turtled at both rides, finishing dead last at the OD and 33rd out of 39 at Fort Valley, and despite careful conditioning, conservative pacing, eating and drinking well, Lily still had a hard time with pulsing down.

At Fort Valley I had intense discussions with the two vets that treated Lily, who after hearing the details of the way I was managing her (it was perfectly appropriate overall) felt that this had to have been an electrolyting issue and gave me detailed instructions on how to prevent this kind of problem from reoccurring by doing some pretty big electrolyte protocol changes that would be better geared for our more humid East Coast climate.

So I decided to give LDs a whirl this year so I could experiment with electrolytes over a shorter distance and thus still set Lily up for success.

I've had my eye on Foxcatcher since we first moved to MD, when I started seriously toying with the idea of competing Lily over distance. Foxcatcher is actually in my state over the gorgeous rolling terrain of Fair Hill International, which also hosts a variety of equestrian competitions like horse trials, combined driving events, and 3-day events including a 3* CCI. The 3* CCI at Fair Hill is only one of three in the entire country. So you can imagine how awesome the grounds are on which this endurance ride is held.

I figured this would be a really good choice for Lily because it would be on the same type of terrain that she lives on: no need to do some of the super intense conditioning we did in preparation for mountain rides last year. I was beyond thrilled when Gail mentioned she was hoping to go to Foxcatcher for the LD as well: she was even willing to pick Lily up on the way to the ride so we could ride together!

We did one last conditioning ride the weekend before Foxcatcher, in which Gail trailered up to Frederick with Nimo and I took her on the loop that Charles and I had discovered. We did 11 miles in about 2.5 hours with some intense hills thrown throughout the route, and both horses came out of it looking fabulous. I did, however, finally decide to take more of Lily's hair off, since she still had more winter coat than I preferred for a ride that was supposed to be pretty warm.

During this conditioning ride, Gail told me of all of the horrors she had been hearing over the past few months  from more experienced endurance riders about Foxcatcher: the fact that people like to race because it is on easier terrain, that the start can be a huge clusterfuck of horses losing their minds, that someone always gets bucked off, that there are scary bridges, horrible tunnels, crazy footing, that the sloped terrain can cause soft tissue injuries, that horses slip at the start because the grass is slick in the morning, etc, etc, etc. One of the big problems is that the start of the ride is through rolling fields so your horse can see the next group of horses racing up ahead, which most of the time will make your horse want to take off. Basically everyone told her she was insane to be considering this ride so early in her endurance career and that she shouldn't do it. Gail wrote about all of this here.

I felt my stomach tie itself into a knot hearing all of these things. Gail's response to it? "Now I need to see this ride for myself."

You go, girl! Though I won't deny I was quite nervous after hearing all of this. A talk with Dom, who has done this ride multiple times, helped calm me down significantly.

The weather forecast for the ride was bonkers: rain, thunderstorms, warm days and cold nights. I obsessively checked the weather forecast 3 times a day for the entire week until it improved significantly by Wednesday: it was calling for an 80% chance of rain with a thunderstorm and a high of 77 on Friday before the ride, and a bright sunny day with a high of 66 on Saturday, the ride day.

I ordered some last-minute rain gear from Riding Warehouse and Charles and I stopped by Walmart to buy a canopy, figuring that if we prepared for rain, it would not happen.

I packed all sorts of summer clothes for the warm temps we were supposed to have...and then thought better of it and threw into the duffel some warm winter clothes. Just in case.

Lily got electrolyte-loaded for 7 days prior to the ride with a double dose of Perform n Win once a day. Of course it drizzled for the entire week leading up to the ride, with temperatures dropping into the 50's and 40's, so she ended up living in a sheet after I removed most of her hair!

Friday dawned damp and incredibly foggy, but no active rain like the forecast had said.

Normally you can see a mountain up ahead...
We arrived at the barn at 9:00 am to pack up Lily's grain, hay, alfalfa, coolers, sheet, blanket, and my tack. The weekend before the ride, Lily had decided that she did not like her Triple Crown Senior anymore, which led to me making a mad scramble to the Farmer's Co-Op in Frederick and picking up a bag of their Premium Excel, an oat and beet pulp-based textured feed with 10% fat. I introduced her to the new grain over the week leading up to Foxcatcher and she approved. I packed what was left of her Senior, her 10-10 Pellet (also from the Farmer's Coop, which I usually mix 50/50 with her Senior) and the Premium Excel. Picky Mare had a freaking buffet of food for this ride, which would ultimately be very handy indeed!

Lily somehow knew something was up. She was very excited as we were packing, which is unusual for her. I gave her a mash to keep her busy and a dose of electrolytes.

Gail arrived with trailer and Nimo in tow at 10:00 am sharp. Lily hasn't been in a straight load trailer in quite some time but it had never been a problem previously so I had no doubts that she would be fine. Lily trotted up to the open trailer then stopped when she realized it was a different setup from Kathy's slant load. She didn't want to self-load but I stepped on first and she followed without hesitation, especially after she recognized Nimo. The two horses touched noses and Lily promptly dug into the haynet I set up for her for the ride, which is highly unusual: normally she never eats on trailer rides, even with company. Since of course now Nimo was interested, Gail ended up setting up a haynet for him too. He too rarely eats on trailer rides.

Lily is 15.1 hh, Nimo is 17 hh!
It was a nice, uneventful ride up to the Fair Hill grounds in Elkton, MD.

Foggy all the way up to Elkton, which is right next to the Delaware state line.
We arrived on the first try and set up camp between two trees. I still haven't gotten around to purchasing an electric corral since Lily had been fine sharing Liz's corral with Q. I had decided I would hard tie her to the trailer and just walk her around camp more often for this occasion. I was discussing this with Liz a week before the ride, and she recommended using a high line. She sent me some awesome information on how to set it up and I got the materials together for it, hoping that we could at least park near one tree so I could do the setup between Gail's trailer (it is an extra-tall model) and the tree.

All you need for this kind of setup is:
1. 100 feet of 3/8" sturdy nylon rope (we bought ours at Walmart for $20)
2. Tree Saver straps
3. Swivel No Knot Highline Tie

One of the trees had a lot of prickly branches underneath it so I ultimately set up the highline between the trailer and one of the trees so Lily could have shade, be close enough to Nimo's corral to touch noses, and have room to lie down if she wished to. I put the No Knot on upside down so that she could move up and down the length of the high line, since she was the only horse attached to it. We set our tent up far enough to be out of horse range but close enough that we were only a few feet from rescuing Lily if necessary. This is the second time I throw her into a completely new setup for her with absolute faith that she would figure it out, and she proved me right once more.

If you have a klutzy horse you might not want to put them so close to a corral where they can get their legs stuck if they lie down. Or so close to a trailer. But this mare is not klutzy, has become very adaptable since we started participating in all of these crazy adventures, and has an incredible sense of self-preservation. I can pretty much count on her to take care of herself and not do stupid shit. She proved me right yet again. I had just tied her here while we finished getting our camp site ready. The rope would eventually be lengthened so she could eat from the ground with ease and lie down if she chose to. She figured out she could walk the entire length of the rope and turn in a circle but ultimately did not choose to lie down. She was super, super calm in camp though. The quietest I've seen her yet. I was really happy with this setup!
We loved our campsite and declared it the nicest spot in all of ride camp.

That's Charles's and my canopy over our tent on the right. Our truck was off to the left; you can see a corner of the tailgate next to the two bags on the ground.
Another view. You can see our tent behind Charles and Gail's awesome truck bed tent!

Gail with Nimo and Charles with Lily, allowing the horses to stretch their legs.
Despite all of the rain during the week, the ground was damp but not saturated. It wasn't even really muddy. There was no 77 degrees to be had, as it was more like 55 (!) but the thunderstorm and rain that had been predicted for this day never came at all. We were happy to deal with the chill if it meant we got to stay dry!

After getting camp set up, Gail and I went to pick up our registration packets and get the horses vetted in.

The vet check. They had marked the lanes with groud poles. Photo by Gail.

The vet and scribe looooved Lily and made comments about how pretty she is. :)

Love this photo. And you can see Gail and Nimo in the background, though the photo failed to catch the acrobatics Nimo did during his trot-out!

You can appreciate Nimo's height here. That's Charles next to him, and he's 6'1". Gail was bringing his blanket to cover him back up after the check.

Lily vetted in with all A's and a pulse of 40.

We let the horses eat hay and mashes before tacking up for a quick ride. Lily had a dose of elytes before heading out. We wanted to see the infamous start of this ride for ourselves before ride day.

Gail has a mounting block but this is an easier way of getting on Nimo.
Gail had been given directions for the start of the ride, including how to get to one of the tunnels we had been told about.

One of Fair Hill's tunnels of doom, as they had been described to Gail.
Photo was taken at the Chesapeake CTR in 2014 and is from Dodie Sable's blog www.newpromisefarms.com

Lily has been through tunnels like this before back when we used to ride at the Agricultural History Farm Park but Gail wanted to see how Nimo would react. It took us two tries (during which we saw the start of both the yellow loop and the pink look that we would be doing on the ride the next day - it took you through the cross-country field! - and the horses told us they REALLY liked this idea of trotting through open fields...Gail started half-joking that she was pretty sure Nimo would buck her off the following day because he felt so wired) but we finally found the tunnel and walked through it with Lily leading the way. Lily was a little hesitant but I praised every single cautious step she took through the tunnel and Nimo followed us without faltering. 

The ride was about half an hour total as the tunnel took us right back into ride camp, to our surprise. We weren't quite sure how that had happened but we simply rode back to our campsite and untacked the horses. They got fed more hay and the three of us walked down to the ride meeting. 

The meeting was held in a huge tent with tables; we just had to bring our own chairs. Propane heaters were placed throughout, which was a really wonderful detail! The explanations for the ride were simple; we were warned about things to watch out for, and were told who to ask if we had questions or ran into trouble. The 25-milers would be doing the yellow loop first, which was 15 miles, and then the pink loop, which was 10 miles.

The 50 milers had an additional 25-mile loop which was orange in color.
I was really glad I was doing the LD!

And then they fed us!

Buns, salad, meat or vegetarian lasagna, and a sort of peach cake for dessert. It was all amazing.
The awesome tent. Note all the jackets. It was pretty chilly out but nice and warm inside the tent.
Gail and I chatting after dinner.
Afterwards we headed back to our campsite to get settled in for the night. Lily got another mash and her last dose of elytes for the day, this time with added potassium chloride (I used NuSalt). My one complaint about this ride camp is that they only had one water station for the horses set up in the very center of camp, across  the way from the giant tent. Thankfully Charles and I had brought The Beast with us so we just loaded up all of the buckets into the truck bed, drove to the water station and filled all of the buckets for the night. It would have been a huuuuuge PITA if we'd only had the one truck hooked up to the horse trailer. 

Gail had gotten a propane heater for her tent. She brought it out and we set our chairs in a circle around it so we could stay warm while talking. 

Lily and Nimo are both in this photo. You can get an idea of the amount of fog there was that night! The light in the background was located next to the big tent.
At around 10:00 pm we gave the horses more hay and went to bed. Camp would serve breakfast at 5:00 am, so we initially planned to wake up around 5:20. 

Some of my wonderful readers suggested adding a reflective blanket to our air mattress so it would either reflect the cold of the mattress back to it or so that it would reflect our warmth back to us. We purchased reflective blankets just for this purpose and put them under the flannel sheets we use for camping. I had a fleece blanket and a thick comforter over that...

...and 2 hours later I realized I was still half awake because I was sooooo cold!! 

I cursed the fact that we had chosen to grab the blankets from Walmart's camping selection when we went to get our canopy...it literally was like very thin aluminum paper. (We will be upgrading to something more like this for the future!) And proceeded to put on most of the winter clothes I had brought for this ride. I fell asleep sometime after that and dreamed all night that I was shivering. I woke up 10 minutes before 5:00 am and decided to just get up. I couldn't take the cold anymore. I brushed my teeth, changed into the rest of my riding clothes for the day, made up a soupy mash for Lily, and wandered over to the big tent to see if breakfast was ready. It was: they had a large assortment of pastries, hot coffee, and tea for the riders. 

I went back to our campsite to check on Gail since by then it was 5:20 am. She was still in her tent but was awake. I asked her if she would like coffee. She started to mumble a sleepy no along with an explanation and then suddenly changed her mind halfway through the sentence and said, "Yes please" very clearly. I burst out laughing, elyted Lily, and went to get coffee for Gail and for me, and a chocolate donut for Charles. I ate a Fiber One breakfast strudel thinkgy because I honestly didn't have an appetite for more.

We tacked up slowly. Despite all of the nervousness leading up to this ride, I had been dead calm since we had arrived in ride camp. I was still in a very calm state of mind as we got ready. The trail opened at 7:00 am for both LDs and 50s. Charles walked down at 6:40 am to check us in (crew members or riders on foot are allowed to check in if they want to avoid the start craziness). By then Lily and Nimo were getting a little antsy. Gail and I mounted up at 6:55 am and both horses were a little prancy but settled as we walked one loop around camp to warm up. 

There was no craziness to be had at the start. Horses were either trotting out or walking just like at every other ride I've been to so far. Lily asked to trot when she saw the other horses leaving but didn't do anything else, and she came right back down to a walk when I asked her to. We circled around back and saw horses tacked up and still waiting at their trailers. This was the part where my stomach suddenly filled up with so many butterflies, I thought I might vomit. I told Gail as much. As we looped around and returned to the out gate, we finally headed out. It was 7:10 am. 

And we're off!
Groups of riders in front of us and behind us were all also walking as we went along the yellow loop, following the trail of small neon yellow flags staked into the ground that marked the way for us across a corner of the cross country field. Lily and Nimo had ears pricked and were looking around alertly but were happy to stay together. As we neared the first tree line, Gail said, "Okay, that was a total non-event!"

Me, "SHHHHHH! We still have to get across two fields! Don't say anything yet!"

We walked through the tree line and out onto the first field, then let the horses trot past the ride photographer on the top of the first hill. We slowed to a walk to go past two riders who had dismounted so they could hand-walk their horses until they calmed down, then picked up a trot again once we were past them. 

The trail took us over the tops of gorgeous grassy hills and into the woods. 

There was a bridge over a river as wide and shallow as the Catoctin close to our current barn. We followed a group of riders over it and onto a dirt FS road on the other side. The road was wide enough that we could ride side-by-side. Here Nimo switched into his extended trot, flicking his bare toes out with each stride, neck arched, ears pricked and looking so so happy. I laughed seeing him as Gail posted to the beat, grinning. Lily picked up her trot, lifting and extending as she powered along, and I realized she was matching Nimo stride for stride at the same time that Gail looked down at her and said, "Wow! She's really going!" "I had no idea she had this trot gear!" I exclaimed. Lily has never pulled off a true extended trot but she was doing it right at that second! My posting speed never changed; I was simply getting more air time. It was awesome!!

We caught up to the group of riders in front of us as we flew along the trail in tandem at that wonderful trot. I recognized Annie, the big Percheron mare that is a common site at LDs around this region, and Gail introduced her rider to me. They were riding with a man on a chestnut Arab and a woman on a pinto something that kind of looked like a TWH but didn't seem to be gaited. 

We all went through the first tunnel in this fashion and all 5 horses were rock stars, even when two horses that had caught up behind us bolted as they went through the tunnel and almost rammed into our group on the other side. It got a little hairy there for a second but both Lily and Nimo listened to Gail and me, the riders regained control of their horses after many apologies (the horse that spooked was doing his first endurance ride ever and was quite "up") and we all continued on our way.

We would end up riding with the group of three for the next several miles. It was good company, as they were constantly joking and talking lightheartedly. The pace was not an issue in the beginning, as they were alternately trotting, cantering and walking. And then the man spoke up and said, "We need to pick it up. We're going at 6 mph and we should be going at 6.5." 

They really picked it up. The problem would be that our horses then became bent on catching and passing this group of three, especially since we were riding through wide open fields where they could really pick up speed. Nimo continued flying along at his extended trot and Lily just switched to cantering so she could keep up. The pace was equivalent to her all-day canter, which is around 13 mph, so she wasn't struggling with the pace once she was at this gait and she was being excellent about switching leads periodically, but as we swept over mile after mile in this fashion, I started worrying about her ability to recover afterwards. She can canter up to a mile at a time at that pace but not for 6 consecutive miles! The other riders weren't stopping at water sources to drink, which made it impossible for us to try to convince our horses to even consider drinking in their eagerness to overtake these horses. We were able to get our two to slow down for short periods throughout but it never seemed enough: both Lily and Nimo were blowing pretty hard and I could tell Gail was starting to get as worried as I was. Our original plan had been to complete the first loop in 3 hours tops, with the goal to try to average 5.5 mph. Gail finally blurted, "We're halfway through this loop! We're 7 miles in!" I looked down at my watch. Yup: we had done 7 miles in an hour. Lily was listening to me but she had been doing a slow steady pull the entire time and I could feel the fatigue in my shoulders, abs and calves, as I had basically been in a half-seat that entire time (I WIN AT TWO POINT! Just saying. ;P )

We were finally able to slow down to a walk as we all negotiated a steep downhill to go back down into the woods. The three riders paused at a creek to offer their horses water and I took this opportunity to just steer Lily into the creek itself to get off the trail and away from the trio. Nimo and Gail followed. Lily continued on with her forward momentum, thinking that the ride continued through the water. We came up to a downed tree that had fallen across the creek, held up on our right by a 10' bank. The bank was even with my forehead. 

Unable to continue going forwards, I was able to get Lily to at least put her nose to the water but she didn't drink. Nimo had no interest in drinking either but Gail was able to get him to eat some of the carrots she had packed and I remembered I had put a bag of baby carrots in my bag for Lily. I pulled them out and was able to convince her to eat a few, which made me feel better. She seemed a little surprised at being offered food from the saddle, as I have failed at training her to do this, but was happy to eat about 5 baby carrots. 

She turned around and went back to Nimo but I turned her back towards the tree because I wanted her to rest a few minutes more, I wanted to let those other riders get as far ahead as possible so we could just ride our own ride, and I was still hoping she'd settle enough to drink. 

I had just shoved the carrots into my cantle bag and inadvertently pointed Lily at the 10' bank to try to keep her in this area with deeper water for just one more minute. 

I never in a million years dreamed that she would even think of attempting what she did next. 

I will remind you that this is the mare that used to be afraid of ground poles and that was terrified of 6" wide trickle-of-water creeks, who refused to negotiate mud. 

In her eagerness to please and continue on our way, Lily assumed that I wanted her to get us out of the creek. So she said, "Okay, I'll get us out of the creek," and gathered herself. There was no pause, no hesitation, no questioning at all of what she thought I wanted her to do. I felt when she shifted her weight onto her haunches, facing that huge bank in front of us, and I only had time to exclaim, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" before she launched herself towards the top of that bank from an absolute standstill. 

That 10' bank that was as tall as me while on Lily's back. 

There was a split second where I tried to stop her, but her mane was already an inch from my nose as she reached up vertically with all her might, standing straight up on her hind legs so she could reach for the top of that bank. Gail watched the entire thing in horror, as her and Nimo were standing right behind us when Lily made this decision, and she says she saw the split second where I decided to commit and flung my arms forward, giving Lily her head. It was the split second where I realized that if I tried to stop her, I was just going to bring her back on top of me. 

The problem was that, since she had done this from a standstill, Lily was only able to get enough room for her front feet on the edge of the bank. She leaped up but lurched sideways in the soft footing, going down onto her left knee as she reached the top and struggled to get her hind legs onto the bank as well. 

It's funny how instinct works. The top of that soft bank looked like a mighty fine spot to be in right then and I deliberately Supermanned off of Lily's back, flinging myself as far from her as possible so we wouldn't both end up back on the creek bed on top of one another. 

I heard Gail exclaim and I rolled over and looked up to find Lily standing with all 4 legs on the top of the bank right next to me, looking down at me happily, "I did it! I got us out of the creek!" 

This was the second where I burst into hysterical laughter as Gail shouted up, "Are you okay??!" 

"Yes!" I said. And then to my goofy mare, "Lily, what do you think you are? A cavalry horse?!!

She looked absolutely fine, standing right next to me with the reins still over her neck, staying with me by choice. I did a quick assessment of my own body as I stood up. Nothing hurt. I wasn't even muddy; I just had some easily brushed-off dirt on my tights from where I had landed.

A couple of other riders had also seen the whole thing and also asked if we were okay. I said we were both fine and they continued on their way.

I was doubled over laughing this entire time. I could not stop. I led Lily back down the hill towards the trail and back into the creek, so I could pick up the baby carrots that had flown out of my saddle bag and were scattered across the rocks in the water. "Maybe you'll drink now that I'm not on your back?" I said to Lily between fits of laughter. I said to Gail, "Things like this are hilarious when nothing bad happens." Gail responded, "Well, this isn't going to be funny to me for a while!" She was laughing too, though. "If I wasn't laughing, I would be crying right now!" I said. And I realized this was true, as I reached for the baby carrots and saw that my hands were shaking so hard from the adrenaline running through my body that I was having a hard time holding the bag open to put the carrots back in. My abs hurt from laughing so hard. 

"Lily thought she was the horse from The Man from Snowy River!" Gail said. 

"Yes, except she was going UP the vertical bank instead of galloping down it!" 

Crazy mare. Crazy awesome wonderful mare. 

I swear I took a photo of the bank for the blog with my camera, but the camera FAILED to save the photo! I didn't realize until after the ride. :( 

I checked Lily's tack then walked out of the creek since she continued to not drink. She looked quite rested though. I lined her up with a small rise next to the trail and managed to pull my still-shaking self back into the saddle. Lily was all, "LET'S GO!" wanting to charge off down the trail again at a trot. "No, Lily, we are walking for a while," I said, as Gail said behind me, "Yes, walk please!" Gail needed some time to allow her heart to drop back into her chest. 

I was still laughing. I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this mare had such absolute faith in me that she had not questioned what she thought was my request for even a split second. She had flung herself up at that bank, got herself onto it, and then managed to not step on me when I launched myself off of her to allow her to complete her mission. Gail said that if I had not bailed, Lily might not have been able to make it onto that bank. She said it was one of the most frightening things she had ever witnessed and heavily complimented my guardian angels. Thank you Daniel!

We walked on for half a mile then picked up a trot again, Lily in the lead as we followed the trail through the woods. Gail asked me to please not point Lily at any more cliffs or banks since she didn't think she could stand to see something like that again and besides, she didn't think her and Nimo would be able to finish this ride without us. Cue another wave of helpless laughter. 

It was nice to be able to set our own pace after that. And since I wasn't having to hold my mare back from going at breakneck speed, I was actually able to take photos of the ride for you guys!

The trail leaving the woods took us past these gorgeous ruins. 
Fair Hill open fields. This looks fairly flat but there were quite a few hills spread throughout the entire course. I didn't get pics of those because Mareface wanted to gallop up all of them. :)
Nimo takes the lead for a while. He usually led when we were out in the open and Lily led through the woods and  gnarlier obstacles...
...like this covered bridge! Lily walked through it cautiously but without faltering and received a TON of praise. Nimo went along behind her like NBD. I snagged the photo after we had gone through.
We eventually did catch up to the group of three riders that we had worked so hard to allow to get ahead of us but by then our horses were much better about their race brains. The five of us did a glorious hand gallop swooping up one of the hills of the open fields. Nimo doesn't often canter on trail because he has that huge trot that he can engage instead...but he participated in the gallop for this one! 

We walked our two afterwards to allow the three riders to continue on ahead. 

One nice thing about Foxcatcher is that they have pie plate markers announcing when there is only one mile left to go to arrive at the vet check. Gail and I trotted for about 10 minutes after seeing the marker, then asked our horses to walk...except we kept having people blasting past us at lightning speed trots and canters, and Lily and Nimo were having none of the walking. So we dismounted and hand walked them the rest of the way back into camp. They were both still a bit excited. Lily kept trying to walk ahead of me but I reminded her that she was to stay at my shoulder. Repeatedly. I eventually just gave up, gave her the length of the reins and grabbed onto her tail. "Fine. If you want to go ahead, you can just pull me along." Lily walked on happily, then realized what was going on. She started out looking over her shoulder at me, "What are you doing??" "I'm tailing! You can lead," I said to her. Gail overheard our conversation and stopped with Nimo to look back to see what we were doing, then laughed when she saw what was going on. 

Lily pulled me up a small incline, then turned around in a circle and came back to me. "I'll walk next to you now," she said. She stayed by my side after that. :)

The wonderful thing about this ride is that we had cell phone reception the entire time we were there, so I was able to call Charles to let him know when we were close to camp so he could have everything set up for us at the vet check. 

We walked in, took the horses over to where Charles had set up water for both of them, an elyte syringe for Lily and a mash for Nimo, and let both of them drink. Lily emptied an entire bucket. She was down: her pulse was at 58. I gave her her electrolytes, and once we confirmed that Nimo was also down, we walked both of them over to the vets. Tack was optional; we chose to leave it on since both horses were doing great.

They both passed with flying colors, As all the way. Lily's CRI was 52/52! 

We walked back to our campsite, where we untacked and threw coolers on both of them (the high for the day was 66 and sunny, but there was a constant breeze blowing that made it feel colder) while they ate mashes and hay. Once she was settled in, I made a point of wrapping my arms around Lily's neck and thanking her. I thanked her for taking care of us at the start, for being so game to try whatever it is that I decide to do with her next, for listening to me, for trusting me, for believing in me. And I thanked her for leaping up that bank because even though I had not asked for it, it was the biggest proof ever of how unfaltering her faith in me is. 

She leaned into the hug and closed her eyes when I gave her kisses on her forehead and cheek. 

I then let her be so she could continue eating and drinking. I drank straight Gatorade, ate a Power Bar, refilled my saddle bags with snacks, and curried the salty sweat off of Lily. 

And then our 45 minute hold was coming to an end. We tacked up again and I gave Lily a dose of elytes + potassium chloride. We mounted up, told the out-timers we were heading out, and off we went to do our pink loop.

The pink loop took us across a tiny corner of the cross country field and straight into the woods. 

We got stuck behind this mother-daughter duo who were walking only. Our horses got to have a long warmup.
Nimo was still half asleep here.
This section of loop connected to part of our first yellow loop: we went over the same first bridge over the river, but instead of turning right, we now turned left. Again the horses woke up as they picked up a trot on the FS road. 

This section of trail was beautiful: double track following the river for a few miles, with forest on our right. 

The second loop was a breeze for the horses. I think Gail and I were more tired than they were! I may have mentioned more than once how happy I was to NOT be doing a third loop on this ride. 

I think for most of this loop we averaged 6.4 mph. We gave the horses periodic walk breaks but they were happy to pick up big trots, with Lily breaking into a canter quite often to keep up with Nimo whenever we hit the open fields. 

I want to brag about the fact that Lily completed this ride with only front boots (her Gloves). She probably could have done it barefoot all the way around like Nimo did, but with all of the wet weather we had leading up to the ride, I chose to boot her fronts, which tend to be more sensitive when we've had several rainy days in a row. Hoof protection is optional at this ride. There is a lot of riding on gravel roads on the second loop, but you always have the option of riding on the grassy berm next to the roads, and both Gail and I took full advantage of this. Lily had no issues whether on the roads or on the grass regardless, and was happy to stay wherever I asked her to be: she didn't deliberately seek out to be on the grass like she'll do when her feet get ouchy. 

The boots stayed on wonderfully during the entire ride. No issues whatsoever!

The pink loop overlaps with some parts of the yellow loop, so we ended up going over and through several of the same obstacles as on the yellow loop, though sometimes in the opposite direction. If you're considering this ride and you have a horse that is afraid of bridges, you might want to practice bridge crossing well in advance, as you will be crossing a lot of bridges, one of which is an overpass across a very busy highway! We went over that overpass 3 times. It is very, very high up, with cars zooming underneath it in both directions. Lily and Nimo did great over it but it was kind of nerve-wracking anyway. 

Rise in the road leading towards the highway overpass.
This was a common sight throughout the park: proof that horse carriage driving is a common occurrence at Fair Hill!
The pink loop also had some really awesome, steep hills that I did not get pictures of because Lily was having too much fun blasting up them at a full gallop. Nimo walked up most of them at the beginning but was offering to trot up towards the end of the loop. It was in this loop that Lily realized she was supposed to be following the little neon flags staked in the ground to show us the way, and started actively hunting them down.

There was plenty of water available throughout this ride, in the form of creeks and streams. At one point I noticed Lily checking out some water-filled hoof prints on the side of the trail, and I realized she was thirsty. We passed an exceptionally wonderful cyclist who stopped, gave us the right of way, and told us that there was water for the horses less than 1/4 of a mile away. We thanked him profusely and trotted on. (Why can't all cyclists be like that??) 

I saw the creek off to the right of the trail that the cyclist had referred to and turned Lily over to it. It was perfect because we were out of the way of trail traffic in this spot so there were no distractions. Both horses went into the water and drank and drank. 

When we hit mile 8 per our GPSs, we slowed to a walk. We were making great time and if we walked the last two miles we figured we could still arrive by 12:30 pm with horses hopefully completely pulsed down and ready to vet in right away. If not, we would still have a 30 minute buffer (also the maximum time allowed to pulse down for LDs) before the cut-off time of 1:00 pm. 

Except our GPSs were wrong. They were approaching 10 miles (the length of our second loop) when we suddenly saw the pie plate indicating we still had a mile to go! We both groaned. My body had started to get stiff and achy from the walking and I couldn't stand the idea of walking yet another mile. "Let's trot!" I announced happily to Gail. She started to say no, but just like she had that morning with the coffee offer, halfway through her explanation of why she would prefer to not trot, she suddenly changed her mind and said, "Okay!" Again I burst out laughing. 

Nimo picked up his Big Trot and Lily switched to a canter and thus we alternately trotted and cantered for the next 10 minutes, which I figured was enough to get us more than halfway through the last mile. 

We walked onto the cross country course. We figured it couldn't be too far now until the finish, though we were coming through the course from a different direction so we didn't recognize any of the jumps. I told Gail it really couldn't be that far anymore, but Gail said that some cross country courses went on for miles. I insisted it couldn't possibly be that far: the pie plate would be a liar if that was the case. We settled into a hilarious banter where Gail announced that I was getting to meet Whiny Gail and she apologized profusely for me having to put up with her in this current mental state. I found her even funnier than ever. 

I distracted her by saying I would LOVE to get a photo of Lily and me standing next to one of the massive cross country jumps. 

This thing came up to the base of Lily's neck, with a spread about as wide as she is long.
We decided that was not a good idea, as neither of us really wanted Lily thinking that she was supposed to jump one of those creations from a standstill...

So this is the best you get. Except the jumps look tiny this way. They were NOT tiny!
This stretch of trail seemed to go on forever and ever and ever...

I mean, it looks like we were in the same spot as in the last photo. We weren't. We were past all the jumps. But that tree line seemed unreachable...
We stuck to a walk and soon we were going past the treeline...and we saw the gate back into ride camp!

I forgot to call Charles and so, despite arriving right at 12:30 pm as planned, there was no water set up for the horses. There were a ton of empty crew spots with buckets and muck buckets full of water everywhere though. A veritable ocean of full water buckets. Lily was thirsty and went over to the first large muck bucket full of water she saw and I let her drink. (She drank her fill and still barely made a dent; it was a very large muck bucket! I had every intention of refilling it if she had brought the water level down significantly.) When she was done I brought her over to Gail and Nimo and untacked while calling Charles. He was trying to get over to the crew area. In his defense, he had gone into the town of Elkton to get lunch for himself and adult beverages for Gail and me so we could celebrate after, and had gotten lost trying to get back to ride camp.

We took the horses over to the vet check to get initial heart rates on them. Both Lily and Nimo were at 64. They needed to be at 60 to pass the vetting. By then Charles had been able to fill the water buckets for them. We let them drink and chill for another 10 minutes or so, and then took them back for a recheck. Lily was at 60 and I think Nimo was at 56 or 58. We went on to have them looked at by the vets. 

Lily's final CRI was 60/60, with Bs for skin tenting and gut sounds and As for everything else. Nimo's scores were excellent too: we both received our completions! This was Gail's first completion ever! 

Congratulations to Gail!!!
We took Lily and Nimo back to our campsite, where they got set up with mashes and hay. Lily was not keen on her mash initially so I just gave her a scoop of the Premium Elite with water and she chowed down on that. I also gave her the rest of the baby carrots and made sure she had plenty of water. 

I think she thought she was going on a third loop. She didn't really start truly eating and drinking until after I had wrapped her legs for the afternoon (she had stocked up a little overnight on the first night), when she finally relaxed. She urinated and it was very, very concentrated: dark yellow. I gave her a few more small and very soupy mashes to get as much water into her as possible, and one more dose of electrolytes later in the afternoon. Her skin tenting and capillary refill time were fine, but she is going to need more potassium, I think. 

All warm and fed
After taking care of Nimo, Gail crawled into her tent for a long nap. Charles and I hung around the campsite for a bit to keep an eye on the horses as they finished recovering, then headed down to the tent to check out ride results. Gail's and my placings hadn't been posted yet so I walked into the tent to ask about it. The kind lady at one of the tables said they probably hadn't received my ride card yet. She invited me to have a hot dog and fill out a survey about the ride while giving them time to receive my card. I had seen the signs for the hot dogs and sandwiches but didn't know they were free! Charles got me one while I filled out the survey and it was heavenly. 

Afterwards I found the person in charge of the ride cards, picked up mine and my completion award (a dosing syringe that I'm pretty excited about, as I needed to replace mine!) and was able to see that Gail and I tied for 53rd place out of 59 completions and 68 starts in the LD. 

I changed clothes and took a one hour nap myself. Gail woke up not long after I did and the three of us went with The Beast to get more water for the horses. Charles and I then went to get dinner and milkshakes from Sonic for the three of us while Gail stayed with Lily and Nimo. 

The food really hit the spot. We walked the horses around the rapidly emptying camp before nightfall, then sat around the propane heater again, joking around with Charles, talking and laughing and laughing and laughing well into the night. "Well into the night" being 9:30 pm, because we were all exhausted!

Lily and Nimo being too cute for words!
We woke up early the next morning to feed the horses, pack up and break camp, succeeding at leaving Fair Hill by 9:00 am.

The drive back home was uneventful. Gail dropped us off at our barn. Nimo nickered at Lily after she was off of the trailer but remained calm otherwise. 

Lily had a good brushing and a mash, and was set free in the mare field. The first thing she did was roll and then proceeded to boss the other mares around to remind them that she was the second in command.

Goofy mare. How I love her. Cavalry horse or not. ;)

She suffered no ill effects from her 10' leap onto the bank: she is sound and had no issues whatsoever, not even a scrape on the knee that touched the edge of the bank.

It was a beautiful ride. Gail and I agreed that when we first imagined ourselves doing endurance, we imagined it being just like it was at this ride: over gorgeous undulating terrain, across fields and through forests, our horses moving out effortlessly, and maybe sharing the entire experience with a friend who keeps us in good spirits the entire way. I had an absolute BLAST doing this ride with Gail, and felt like I finally got to know more of her real life persona. She is as thoughtful, caring and funny in person as she is on her blog and it was a truly wonderful experience to get to share this ride with her! I'm so glad we didn't listen to the naysayers and went anyway!

Thank you again, Gail! <3

Ride review to follow. :)


  1. What a grand adventure!! I'm surprised that your mare leapt up the bank and am pretty sure you are at least a cousin to Wonder Woman for getting off your horse that way. One of my biggest fears is being in a situation where my head knows I need to bail, but my body fails me. Glad you are safe, Lady. And a darn good thing Daniel brought you home safe or we would have had words.

    Congrats on your first 25. Glad you had a friend to ride with.

    1. I still can't believe she did that. Daniel and the boys did a stellar, stellar job with this ride, from the weather cooperating (no rain on Friday, breezy on Saturday yet the high winds predicted for the overnight never came - we'd been worried about the canopy blowing while we were sleeping and spooking the horses! No need to worry after all!) to the quiet start to the horses' responsive behavior. We had so, so much fun! It was wonderful to finally just be able to really enjoy the ride.

  2. Yay, congrats on the completion! And what an awesome Lilymare, so many new things and she took them all in stride- literally haha A few of my online artist/horse friends have been telling to come join them out for a ride/drive at Fair Hill for MONTHS saying it's got the some of best trails. From your pictures, I have to say they are right!

    1. You should TOTALLY go check out Fair Hill! You and Quest would have an absolute BLAST!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks JWall! It's good to see you back! I'd been thinking about you!

  4. Beautiful ride!! I would have died if Gem decided to leap up that bank. The things horses decide are ok versus death traps is always interesting. Getting that first completion out of the way is the most stressful, I think. Good job for Gail and her gelding is stunning.

    1. That bank was out of this world. Back in the very beginning I had considered eventing Lily but she hated jumping enough that I didn't want to push her into a sport she didn't enjoy. Maybe that idea wasn't as far-fetched after all! Ha!

      Thank you! Gail has done an amazing job with Nimo!

  5. I always love reading your perspective on our shared experiences! I had so much fun that I think Nimo and I are designating you and Lily as our Best Trail Buddies Ever and of course, Charles as our Best Crew Ever:)

    1. Agreed! I can't even begin to explain how wonderful it was to ride with someone who had the same pace and recovery concerns as me. I know they say "ride your own ride" but I truly felt like we were both riding our own ride together. It was a really great feeling to be with someone so like-minded. The miles just flew by with yours and Nimo's company. I never thought I'd laugh so much at an endurance ride! Thank you for having us. :) I hope we get to ride many more together!

  6. congrats on the completion!! esp figuring out a workable system for helping Lily recover! that story about the bank is insane - glad you are both ok! i'm pretty sure Guy McLean and one of his horses recently had a similar miscommunication at an expo where the horse said, 'ok you want me to jump this wall into the crowd? sure, no problem, anything for you Guy!'

    1. I read that!! I'd forgotten about what happened to Guy McLean...it really was exactly the same scenario. And that just left me feeling even more awed about my mare. :)

  7. Sounds like a wonderful and exciting adventure. Lily is an amazing horse and I really miss having her here at CPF.

    1. Thank you Kathy! Lily is always missed a lot more than I am ;), which I think is a testament to her sweetness and good nature. I still get calls from my FL barnmate friends saying how much they miss Lily too. ;)

  8. Okay, you absolutely need to get a helmet cam for these adventures, because that bank would have been amazing to see. I'm so glad that things went so well this time, with the electrolytes, the hooves and the prep. Oh, and her clip job is PERFECT because of that trace on her butt. Those muscles just jump out!

    1. I've thought about the helmet cam numerous times! I think one really will need to be obtained for these adventures...haha..

      Thank you Beka! :D

  9. I'm so glad you decided to go and that you enjoyed it! The terrain can be deceivingly difficult. It looks easy,but isn't. I'm super sad I didn't get to go this year. I was looking forward to seeing you, and it's one of my favorite rides.

    I know exactly what bank you're talking about and I cannot believe she JUMPED UP IT and you both SURVIVED. WOW!!! Glad you're both ok.

    And that stretch next to the river is where Ozzy got hurt that one year. It's so cool to see all these familiar places make an appearance on another endurance blog :)

    Seconding the comment about the helmet cam.

    Hope to see you out there this year. I miss you!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement and for having written in so much detail about your rides there on Ozzy! It allowed me to picture the ride in advance perfectly. I kept telling Gail, "Dom has a picture of this on her blog!" I figured that stretch by the river was where Ozzy got hurt; we slowed to a very careful walk over the rocky section when I saw them.

      I'm glad someone else knows how big that bank was! I'm still furious that the camera didn't save the photo I took afterwards.

      I really hope to see you too! I miss you too!!!

  10. When you said you were gonna do your first 25 after doing 2 50s, I thought, "Oh man, she's gonna regret it - 25 won't be enough!" But it sounds like a great day, and I'm really surprised that despite not riding particularly slowly, you finished near the rear. Thanks for sharing the entire experience. I would be very intimidated by such open landscape, which ironically is how most German rides look.

    I wanted to mention you don't need a tree if you have a friend with a trailer and you can string the line between the two trailers (over both roofs). We've done that with more than one horse, they really love being able to walk circles (or as Lily had it, back and forth too), and I feel it's the safest way to camp. As we all know, electric paddocks only work if *every life form* in camp respects them, which is never true. (However I believe in the judicious use of epaddocks, e.g., in enclosed ridecamps, or just after the ride.)

    How funny that you recognized places from Doms' blog!

    1. Lytha-- I'm glad to see you commenting here. I don't know if I missed the memo, but I appear to be locked from your blog. If you wouldn't mind sending me an invite (dominika.nawrot@gmail.com) I would really love it. I understand if you've gone private and aren't taking readers (or have other reasons for not inviting me) but I miss your posts.

    2. Lytha, I've slowly gotten used to the open landscape myself. For a while there I loved the *idea* of galloping across open fields a lot more than the idea of actually doing it. I think after spending a lot of time riding in the woods I had developed a titch of agoraphobia. The new barn situation has been a big help with getting over that, but I totally understand what you mean!

      I really loved the idea of the high line and I think it might end up being our go-to horse containment method. You are absolutely right about the safety of electric corrals; I've worried about that in the past! Liz also gave me the suggestion of stringing the rope between two trailers. Hopefully we start making other friends at rides soon so we can do that. ;)

  11. What an awesome adventure, well told. Crazy that jump, glad you both survived that unscathed. The ruins are my favorite photo. I've also had the tree line that never gets closer, so awful!

    The electrolyte protocols are so tricky, but I'm so glad you've figured things out. Congrats to you and Lily!

    (As an aside, I'm so glad Lily was happy on the high-line, that's what we do camping. I would advocate for a better rope though: a high line is only as strong as the weakest link. Often those box store ropes are only 200-pound test, which an agitated horse can easily pull. I bought some climbing rope that is high pound tested. )

    1. Climbing rope!! That is a brilliant suggestion! Thank you Irish Horse! Riding Warehouse sells a high line kit for multiple horses, so I just looked for the kind of rope they included in the kit. Love the idea of climbing rope! I will certainly be upgrading! Thanks again.

      And it's good to hear from experienced endurance riders who regularly use this method! It seems like everyone at ride camps in my region always either have hi-ties or corrals. I never would have thought of trying this method if Liz hadn't suggested it.

  12. What a great post! Glad you guys and the ponies had a great time and recovered well. It looks like a beautiful ride! I'm sad you didn't end up having a picture of that bank!