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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Foxcatcher 2016: In Which the Islanders Attempt an LD in the Snow

On April 9th. Yes, snow. In Maryland. <- This right here is why I sincerely despise spring with all my heart and soul: because of the bipolar weather when you just want it to stay warm already. Sure it's pretty. But there are few things in life that I hate more than the weather combo of cold + wet and when I saw the forecast for Saturday April 9th change from a sunny 72 degrees to 34 degrees with a 65% chance of rain and snow and 30 mph wind gusts...well...I wasn't exactly thrilled.

I had already sent our entries though, so we were going one way or another. But I did invest in this baby when I confirmed that the forecast was absolutely not changing:

I was very excited when it arrived at our doorstep 2 days before we were scheduled to leave for the ride!
If you regularly camp in questionable weather with cold temps, I 100% recommend this heater! You'll see why soon enough. It was a life saver.

On Friday morning, I literally shoved every winter jacket and fleece we owned into one side of the truck's backseat, and on the other I shoved two comforters, two polar fleece blankets, and the same bedding as last time.

Think this will keep us warm enough? It was going to be 24 degrees that night with wind chills in the teens.
The girls loaded up uneventfully at the barn after eating their mashes. Lily cracked me up: the second I opened the trailer doors she started pacing, trying to get into the trailer STAT. I had to tie her shorter because she actually tried to step into the trailer through the side escape door!

If you had told me 5 years ago that this particular mare would love an adventure so much that she would WANT TO GET INTO THE TRAILER RIGHT NOW, I would have told you you needed a brain transplant.

The 1.5 hour drive north to Fair Hill International, where this ride is held in Elkton, MD, went smoothly. Except when I realized I had left our bag with our meds, toothbrushes and deodorant in our bathroom back in the apartment...when we were only 20 minutes from arriving in ride camp. My contacts were in that bag too, which is when I knew we would be doomed for a wet ride the next morning: I would have to wear my glasses in order to see, which are a nightmare when it's raining!

We had to stop at a pharmacy to at least get toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant (because otherwise EWWW...) and this involved a 40-minute detour into the boonies to find the nearest Walgreens because the lady at the cash register decided to take a 15-minute phone call right when Charles was ready to pay.

We FINALLY arrived in ride camp at around 2:15 pm, where Gail was waiting for us! She had chosen a spot under a large tree for us to camp under, so we'd have the option of using my high line. With the impending nasty weather and high winds, I decided to just hard tie to the trailer again like we did at Rabbit Run.

The three of us checked in, vetted the horses (on the way over we met up with Dom, who was camping within eyesight of us! She walked us down to the vet check, where the horses all passed with flying colors) and then returned to the trailers to put up tents and organize our stuff.

Camp halfway set up. The tree was off to the right of the EZ-Up.
Gracie eating and drinking. :) Lily was next to her on the other side of the trailer. We would move them to this side of the trailer once we were done setting up so we could see them from the tent overnight.
Charles helping Gail set up her truck bed tent!
Charles and I saddled up for a quick ride: the horses had basically not been ridden since Rabbit Run two weeks prior, thanks to uncooperative weather the previous weekend. I had snuck a 30-minute hack in the rain on Lily on Monday and Gracie had had two 15-minute lunge sessions during the week to make sure she moved out and stretched her legs, but that was it. I had been adamant about doing a pre-ride so the horses would be settled for the ride the next morning.

I remembered where this ride had started last year, with the pink trail, which was marked as such again this year, and took Charles out on this loop so he could see the beginning of the first loop. He was amazed: he said that to look at ride camp, you would never guess it was so beautiful out there.

Fair Hill is a gorgeous park and one of the selling points of our current barn is that it reminded me of a mini-version of Foxcatcher's course. Our barn's trails continue to be some of Charles's favorites and I had figured he would have a blast at this particular endurance ride because of the similar landscape.

I took him down to the creek where Lily and Nimo had blasted down the gravelly trail and caught up to the group led by the man we would dub The Pace Natzi. Both Lily and Gracie were barefoot and I noticed that here Lily was quite ouchy on the gravel with no real grassy verge for her to use to escape it. It had rained for most of the week leading up to this ride and I figured her feet were sensitive from being softer than usual. My hoof boots basically live in the trailer now so I decided to boot her fronts for the ride the next day.

We turned around a short ways up this path and let the horses trot out back to camp. It was a gorgeous late afternoon.

As we were riding back into camp, I received a text from Dom saying the ride meeting had just started. What? It was 5:45 pm! The Foxcatcher website had said it started at 6:00 pm!

Apparently there was a large yellow sign over by the check-in desk that indicated the time of the meeting and somehow Gail, Charles and I had all completely missed it!

We untacked and fed the horses and rushed down to the big tent for the meeting, arriving just in time to witness its ending. Dom told us we hadn't missed a great deal: yellow loop, then pink loop for the 25s; pulse parameter was 60. If you are paying attention, this means that the loops for the LD this year were reversed from last year: I had just taken Charles on the beginning of what would be our second loop this year. But that's okay.

We all got in line for dinner, which was amazing.

We ate until we were stuffed, staying at the table to continue talking and catching up long after we had finished our food. There were plates with peanuts on the tables and I teased Charles because he had already tried passing his extra desserts onto my plate when he was full, and here he was eating peanuts.

"I made the mistake of having one," he explained.

"That's the problem with those: once you have one, you just can't stop!" Gail said.

"Here, have some!" Charles offered.

"Nope, not having any," Gail said.

So Charles proceeded to try to make a basket by aiming peanuts at Gail's mouth while we were all talking. Hilarity ensued.

Charles finally quit and the conversation moved on to other topics. He asked Gail a particularly engaging question (I can't for the life of me remember what it was) and when Gail opened her mouth to answer...Charles threw a peanut at her and nearly nailed it.

None of us had been expecting that and we all roared with laughter, including Gail, who is amazingly tolerant of my husband's shenanigans. I did give her permission to beat him up if he ever takes it too far. :)

Life is most certainly never boring around him...
This photo is priceless :D
In which we all appear to be normal people. :)
Hint: we're not. We all rode the next day!
We all hung out at the tent a while longer, until Dom had to leave to go check on Mike and Skip. Gail, Charles and I moseyed over to our campsite. Gail and Charles took the horses for a walk around camp while I rasped Lily's fronts so they would fit in a pair of Easyboots (I did not boot her hinds), set up our saddle bags for the next day and finished tidying up our area. I wanted everything 100% ready for the next day so all we would have to do was wake up, get dressed, tack up and ride. The bad weather was scheduled to start at 11:00 pm.

Butt numbers!
Lily and Gracie chowing, reflective collars on for the night.
The temperature dropped a good 10 degrees as the sun set, but the wind finally died down as well.
Charles brought out our new heater and set it outside so we could all sit around it and stay warm while we talked. I finished setting out clothes for both him and myself for the next day (layers, layers, layers...) and left everything I would need within easy reach. The one thing that drives me bonkers about camping is when you set everything up, move one thing accidentally, and then can't find it in the dark even with a flashlight/headlamp because the inside of the tent is black and so are half of your clothes!

Headlamps are one of those pieces of gear that you think you can live without...until you finally purchase one and wonder how on earth did you survive overnight camping without one!
FINALLY I sat down with Charles and Gail by the fire propane heater with a beer and my BoT mini blanket over my knees. We stayed up talking until 10:00 pm, when we finally all went to bed.

Blurry photo of the heater at our feet. I might be totally in love with this thing.
The heater set on high warmed up the tent in less than 10 minutes, at which point Charles and I set it to low and proceeded to remove a few layers of bedding!

It was blissfully warm inside the tent all night. I woke up once, not because I was too cold, but because I was too hot. What a change from previous spring/fall camping!

I woke up before the alarm at 5:00 am to feed the horses, woke Charles up once the girls were eating, and we went down to the ride camp tent to check out breakfast. There was instant oatmeal and hot water and I found myself eating two packets of it. Again: completely relaxed about ride start. We snagged coffee for ourselves and for Gail and walked back down to our campsite. Gail was already walking over and I handed her her coffee. :)

We took our time tacking up and a light drizzle started basically just as we were about ready to get on. I threw sheets on the horses to keep them warm and dry for as long as possible. The three of us agreed to maybe wait 5 minutes after the trail opened instead of 15 like Gail and I did last year! The 30s and 50s were all starting at the same time, 7:00 am, but in opposite directions.

All three horses walked out with level heads. I think Gracie learned her lesson last time at Rabbit Run!

Photo by Mike Turner, who was at the start taking pics!
Dom was riding in the 50. :)

Also by Mike. G-Mare looks like a powerhouse!
She was gaiting veeeeery slowly...on a loose rein.
I might have repeatedly threatened Charles with murder to get him to keep his hands on the reins though...lol (If you read the Rabbit Run post, you know what I'm talking about!)
No fooling around at the Foxcatcher start! It's all across open fields.

Lily got a little prancy dancey as we rounded the first field. She wasn't naughty at all: she just wanted to start moving out at a trot. I laughed at her, let her dance sideways for a few strides, then requested a walk again and she obliged.

We were basically doing the loops backwards from the year before: first the yellow loop and then the pink loop. So the ride start I had taken Charles on for our pre-ride the previous day was wrong...but oh well. Not only that, we were also literally doing the loops themselves backwards: we were starting the yellow loop through the cross country course, which is where we ended that loop last year.

The horses kept their wits about them as we crossed a second field and we let them move out into a trot.

Between the cool weather and the misting drizzle, the horses were total powerhouses. They kept a steady big trot for mile after mile after mile. Unlike last year, we were actually catching up to people and passing them. All three horses took turns in the lead with Lily spending the most time at the front. I was super impressed with her. She was just flowing with this steady, strong energy that felt eternal in its fluidity. There was no faltering, no hesitation, no slowing down; she just went and went and went.

The infamous Foxcatcher tunnels were NBD for any of the horses. Gracie has never been to this ride before but I have ridden her through tunnels like this at other parks, so this was not a novelty for her.
The fields at this ride are gorgeous and absolutely tempting for galloping...which is what will wear out a horse a lot quicker than you'd expect! We did a lot of trotting on these hills, resisting the urge to let the horses fly.

We did a few short canters to switch up the muscles the horses used but trotted for the most part, stopping at streams to give them the opportunity to drink, but none of them wanted to stop, much less drink. So we continued.

My GPS finally called out mile 8, which we had completed in an hour. I decided to stop and give the horses a break: deep down inside, I was concerned about how this weather would affect thirst and hydration. I had no idea how to manage them when it was this cold and wet. Hot weather is a challenge but I know exactly what to do! More than 15 miles in cold weather? I am stumped. Electrolyte more to get them to drink? Electrolyte less because you know they're not going to drink? Don't electrolyte at all? Give the same elyte mixture or just sodium to trigger thirst? What about potassium with non-Arabs? You still have to give more of it... All of these questions swirled through my head and I shoved them aside. We were already riding: there was nothing we could change now.

We stopped in one of the lush fields and I told Charles and Gail to let the horses graze, as I was going to get off for a second: I wanted to swap Lily's bit out for her hackamore, which I had had the foresight to stick in my cantle bag. The second the bit was out, she dropped her head to eat the wet grass. I was upset that I had forgotten to do the same for Gracie, but was relieved to see her eating hungrily while I fiddled with Lily's tack. Nimo was also grazing happily.

We let the horses rest for an extra 5 minutes, then I remounted and we continued on our way.

"CARLOS STOP CANTERING," would soon become a common phrase during this loop. Gracie has 5 gaits and a million speeds within each one. I get a kick out of putting friends on her because she really is like driving a very fancy sports car: she is very rateable and adjustable. With her canter alone, you can slow it down to the same speed as Lily's slowest trot. While yes, it is easier to ride than a trot, it still uses a lot more muscles and energy than just trotting along. I understood why Charles would let Gracie switch but they both need to learn to use the gait that is tougher for the rider and easier on the horse. 

As a result, "Gracie needs a break," was another common phrase. Despite the bit, she was quite willing to eat grass when given the opportunity. So any time G-Mare looked even remotely fatigued to me, we would pause to let the horses grab a bite to eat. Even with the multiple stops, we were making great time so there was no need to push the horses too hard.

I worried about Gracie more than Lily on this loop, mostly because I had even less of an idea of how to manage her with this weather. Lily continued powering through, still leading for the most part. More often than not, I found myself slowing Lily down to allow Gail and Charles to catch up! Gracie looked a bit fatigued to me as time went on and finally I made us take a series of consecutive short walk breaks, including a walk downhill where I let Charles take the lead so I could watch G-Mare in front of me. She eventually picked up her gait on her own and I was relieved to finally see the bounce return to her step: her blonde tail bounces up and down with her movement when she's happy and going strong. She had finally recovered.

She remained recovered throughout the rest of this loop and Charles kept her at a trot, which I think also helped!

The horses still didn't drink however, and I wondered if eating the wet grass was killing their thirst reflex. This loop would end up being mentally exhausting for me as I second-guessed everything. We still let them eat though: I figured some moisture from the wet grass was better than none!

I love this bridge. The horses didn't care. :)
That's not fog; that's steam rising off of the horses!!
As the ride progressed, the rain got heavier. And heavier. Thankfully there was no wind, so the brim of my helmet was enough to keep the water off of my glasses.

About 11 miles in, one of Lily's front boots slipped off and we stopped in the field next to the trail so I could replace it. The second I was off, Lily postured and urinated! Nimo immediately followed suit and we laughed. Both horses' urine was light yellow: exactly the color you want to see it! All three horses grazed while I finished beating the boot back onto Lily's hoof (I can't put into words to you guys how very done I am with hoof boots), completely unfazed when two riders passed us.

These two riders were Chris and Larry, whom we had met the night before at dinner and who are also friends of Dom's. Larry had been joking that something always happens to him at Foxcatcher: he is always jinxed at this ride.

The couple paused to make sure we were okay (I just love this sport. Anytime we had stopped and were passed, the riders would check to make sure we were fine) and then continued on their way. As I remounted, however, I realized that they had not made it very far ahead of us: Larry's horse was trotting slowly across the field, riderless, and he was lying motionless on the ground.

I think all of our hearts stopped.

Chris was still on her horse and was trying to slowly approach Larry's gray, who had a leg stuck through the reins: it was what was keeping the horse from taking off full speed. It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened: there was a cyclist on the main path, standing next to his bike and wearing the brightest neon yellow shoes I have ever seen in my life. Either the bike or the shoes or both had spooked Larry's horse.

The three of us made our way slowly forward on our horses, who all remained calm, not sure what to do to help. Chris asked us to wait and we stopped. Larry was finally able to get up and he hobbled painfully over to his horse, caught him, and slowly led him back towards the road. "You just can't shake that curse!" I said. This lightened the mood: him and Chris laughed.  By this point we were all standing next to Chris on our horses. Larry's horse didn't want to hold still for him to get back on and Charles finally convinced him to let him hold the horse for him. I held Gracie's reins while Charles dismounted.

Larry used his injured foot (left) to get back on his horse. We had offered to call an ambulance for him but he insisted on riding on...despite describing his injury as a "snapped ankle". O_o I'm sorry, but when it comes to equestrian sports, I think endurance riders take the cake when it comes to both physical and mental toughness. That man went on to continue his ride as if nothing had happened!

Once it was clear that they were going to be okay, we picked up a trot and passed them as we headed on down the trail.

During all of this, the rain had switched to sleet and then to the most awful, heaviest wet snow you can imagine and I swear the temperature dropped another 5 degrees.

This is the part where we stopped having fun and just focused on getting back to ride camp already. We had all been quite comfortable up until then temperature-wise, but I was really starting to feel the edge of cold slipping in like a knife blade as we got wetter and wetter from the insane precipitation.

What the hell, Weather Gods? What the hell??
Our original plan had been to walk the last mile in but I told Gail that I really didn't want to do that: I was afraid the horses would get chilled and cramp. Gail agreed. We decided to keep our eyes out for the marker that indicated there was one mile left to go to camp, and then walk the horses in for the last 1/2 to 1/4 mile.

Except there was no marker this year. Or it had blown away. Or something. Dom mentioned the terrible trail marking at this ride (especially noticeable after being at Rabbit Run two weeks prior!) and I have to agree. There were two instances where, if it had not been for Gail, we would have missed turns on trail due to lack of turn markers.

Gail thought she recognized the end of this trail from last year and I recognized it too, but I thought maybe there was a detour before arriving at camp? Except there wasn't. We basically ended up slowing the horses down to a walk with camp in sight!

Literally: ride camp was within sight!
The second we stopped trotting, misery set in. My hands became instantly icy in my soaked Thinsulate gloves.

As it would turn out, we were mid pack and had arrived at the same time as a large group of riders so we had to wait in line to give our numbers to the in-timer. We all chose to stay on the horses in an effort to keep our tack dry for as long as possible.

We waited.
And waited.
"Mom, it is SNOWING! Why are we standing around?" - Lily
Note the question mark ears!
And waited some more.
Lily gets major points for infinite patience. She just stood there looking around. Charles and Gracie were directly behind me. No photos of anything else because I was literally hunkered down in my coat!
We finally were able to give our numbers to the in-timer and walked our horses over to our hold area...and decided to not sponge and scrape because why? They were already wet and it was icy cold out. We threw coolers on all three horses and went to have their pulses taken. Lily was down but Gracie had to wait a little longer. Lily's pulse went up again while waiting for Gracie. Gracie finally came over. Lily settled. Then we went over to the vet. Gracie's pulse went up again and she had to go back to get her pulse taken by the pulse taker. Lily lost her mind, so we had to wait for Gracie to come back.

By some miracle of God, Lily's pulse came down to 60 when Gracie returned. Both horses passed the check with Bs on their hydration scores, which concerned me. Lily has never had B's at a first vet check and Gracie had had A+s on everything at Rabbit Run.

And then the scribe couldn't write on Charles's vet card because it was too wet. It was another 10 minutes before they could find a pencil so she could write.

By this point, Charles was downright shivering because he was wet to the bone. The snow was coming down heavier and starting to accumulate. I felt demoralized but at least I had my safety vest under my raincoat keeping my core warm. Both of our hands were painfully numb from the cold. We got our out times, which involved more waiting, and I think this is when we saw Dom. She was in game mode, very serious as she stood with Moniet, and I asked her how was it going. I had been concerned by her somber expression but she gave me a grin that lit up the entire day and a thumbs-up. I grinned back. YESSS!! She was having a good ride despite the weather! (If you follow Dom's blog, you will know about her recent curse. Go read her story about Foxcatcher here. It is AWESOME. At least look at the photos if you don't read; they are gorgeous and tell the story of what this ride was like with the insane weather!)

 Once we had our out-times (Charles was the later one, at 10:15, so we would go with his, obviously) we walked back to the trailer, where we tied the horses. Gracie drank. I told Charles to go into the tent to change and warm up. He refused; he said he would change in the trailer. I didn't understand this; he was going to have wind-up cold.

In veterinary medicine, there is what we call wind-up pain: if an animal becomes painful during surgery because you didn't preemptively give analgesics, by the time the animal wakes up it is going to be in such enormous levels of pain you're going to be chasing the pain with medication without ever quite being able to control it. Same thing happens with the cold. If you are cold and wet and remove the wet but don't warm up, you're still going to stay cold.

I tried explaining this to Charles but he wasn't listening. I gave up; I threw sheets on the horses over their coolers and fed them their mashes. Gracie dug in and I saw Lily put her head down to her mash just as I dove solo into the tent to turn on the heater and remove my dripping wet clothes.

Guys, that heater. I had it cranked on high and within minutes the entire tent was toasty warm with radiant dry heat. I let myself dry out before slipping into dry clothes, and then I kind of just sat there. I didn't want to eat or drink; I just wanted to stay dry until it came time to leave. I tried getting Charles to come into the tent too but he refused. He was not making any sense and I just didn't want to argue. I peeked out at Lily. This is what I saw.

My heart plummeted into my shoes.

I zipped up the tent again and forced myself to eat a Cliff bar. Around then was when I realized that the gorgeous beaded armband Karen made for me was MIA. I had been wearing it under my rain jacket during the ride and it had slipped down to my forearm during the last couple of miles of the first loop. I thought it had come off with my jacket when I removed it after the vet check but I couldn't find it ANYWHERE and I went into a sort of mindless panic. That armband has a purpose and without it I couldn't ride. I just couldn't.

10 minutes later, we only had 5 minutes left  before our out time, and I still hadn't found the armband. I was ready to cry.

I stepped out of the tent, deciding I would ride without the armband if I had to, but incredibly uncomfortable with the decision.

And then I saw Lily, who still looked like this:

She had absolutely not changed position nor expression. Whereas Gracie was happily picking at her wet hay in the background.
Lily had not touched her mash at all.
Gracie had eaten half of hers, but was really chowing on her hay.
(If you're my friend on FB, you may note that there is a slight difference to the story I posted there. This is the real story; you'll see in a minute.)

I wrestled with what to do. My gut was saying "PULL," but I also wondered if maybe I was magnifying what I was seeing because the weather was so goddamn AWFUL. However, I was comfortable and warm and ready to continue now...and my horse very clearly was done. I wondered if she would eat and drink on trail? If she would get better with movement? This made me uncomfortable though. She has never looked like this at a hold, not even when her potassium tanked at Fort Valley two years ago. And suddenly, I just couldn't see myself going back out. I couldn't envision the next loop, the best loop actually: we had had so much fun on it last year. But I couldn't see it happening. And I knew what I needed to do, but I hesitated.

I looked at Gracie, eating away. She was not done. I was looking for Charles to discuss options with him when Gail showed up with a fully tacked-up Nimo. She looked worried and I stopped.

"Are you continuing?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I was going to..."

"I don't think I am," Gail said. "Nimo doesn't look right to me."

I then looked at him. I saw what Gail saw. I looked back at Lily. He looked just like she did: done. Miserable. Not necessarily tired, just DONE.

Gail debated continuing, but I stopped her.

"What does your gut tell you?" I asked her. Her and I were in exactly the same mental spot. In asking her, I was also asking myself.

She said with absolute certainty, "It's telling me to pull. Because he's not right."

"Then RO," I said. "I'm going to RO too." I think I just needed to know I wasn't imagining what I was seeing too. (For those readers that aren't familiar with endurance, RO = Rider Option, which is when the rider calls it quits, either because they don't like what they are seeing with their horse or because they can't continue themselves.)

The second I made the decision, all I felt was relief. An enormous wave of relief crashing over me. The feeling was that dramatic. I could just stop and focus on Lily and taking care of her so she could continue on another day.

All of a sudden Charles popped up out of nowhere.

"There you are! Where were you?" I asked him.

"In the trailer changing clothes," he said. He had changed to dry clothes from the waist up. He kept on his Prana pants + Smartwool liners because they were warmer and dried quicker than anything else he had (aka jeans...Someone else try to convince the man that he needs to try tights/breeches, yes? Please? lol)

"We are going to pull," I told him. I explained about Lily and Nimo not eating their food (read Gail's story here) "Gracie is eating, though. If you want to continue on your own, I'll crew for you at the end." I meant that wholeheartedly. The second loop of the Foxcatcher LD was going to be the best one and it was only 10 miles. Charles could walk the entire thing if he wanted to and still arrive on time.

Charles didn't answer. I looked at him closely and realized that he was paper-white and his eyes were glazed over.

"What's wrong????" I asked him.

No answer. He got whiter, if that was even possible. I grabbed his arm.

"Do I need to call an ambulance???"

"I can't breathe," he said. "My chest feels really tight."

He was having an asthma attack from the cold. He has never been exposed to quite this much cold and wet at once, and he had gotten monstrously chilled while waiting on the vet. He's always had allergy-induced asthma; it used to be REALLY bad when we lived in South FL and had improved noticeably when we moved to a place with seasons (because in MD we don't have pollen and mold year-round) and even more when he started working out consistently with me. It had been a long time since I'd seen him have an attack this bad.

He had his albuterol on him, had already taken a pump, but was still shivering from the cold despite the warm dry clothes. I told him never mind about the second loop, he wasn't riding back out even if he had wanted to. "Get in the truck, turn it on with the heat cranked, and warm up," I ordered him, guiding him over to the driver's seat, since he still refused to get into the tent. (He didn't want to get it wet. Despite the fact that we wouldn't be sleeping in it that night and it was already wet! Men...)

He looked a little better sitting down so after hovering for a bit I went back to the horses to untack them. Gail went ahead to RO with Nimo and I stayed behind to take care of the girls.

As if by magic, while tidying up, I found the lost armband! It had been hiding under my vest, right next to our tent.  I swear that both losing and later finding it was a sign that RO'ing was the right thing to do. It was such an enormous relief to find it!

About 30 minutes later, I went back to check on Charles. He had fallen asleep but looked SO much better.

The three of us (Gail, Charles and me) walked down to the vet check to have the horses looked at one last time so we could officially Rider Option. Gail was awesome and trotted Gracie out for Charles so he wouldn't have to run so soon after his asthma attack. Gracie, however, made sure poor Gail got a workout by refusing to trot behind her. -_- G-Mare was fine; she just didn't understand the point of trotting with someone she didn't know. Silly horse.

Lily had started eating grass while we waited and Gracie had started shivering. Back at the trailer, they received fresh mashes and I switched them into dry waterproof blankets. Gracie got a dry cooler under hers as well. Both horses dug into their food and G-Mare warmed up. *Relief*

Once the horses were set, I walked down to Dom and Mike's camp area by Skip's and left a chocolate milk on their car windshield. I had the fortune of spotting Mike, who was moving equipment from one spot to another in his job of Best One Man Crew Ever. I asked him how Dom was doing. "Good," he said. "They're turtling." "I don't blame them one bit!" I said, unable to imagine doing anything but turtling when the ground was so slick. I let him know about the chocolate milk for Dom. He gave me a huge grin: "I'll make sure Dom gets it," he said. Dom and Mike = <3.

There was a really wonderful feeling about knowing you could do one small thing for another rider to make them feel better on such an awful day.

We all got to work breaking down camp, which was a slow and miserable process with the ongoing horrible weather. The horses looked as miserable as we felt:

They would hang out like this when pausing from eating: Gracie would hide her head under Lily's, trying to take cover from the onslaught of rain and slush.

It seemed to take forever, but eventually we had everything loaded up, including the horses, and were on our way home. I had one more chocolate milk left and I dropped it off on Dom and Mike's car windshield again. I figured she would have had one at the last vet check and one at the end to celebrate.

Because I knew, I just knew, that she would be celebrating! Again, go read her post! :D

The girls were offered water and fed more mashes when we arrived back at the barn while we unloaded the trailer and truck. They ate well.

Lily even tried eating Gracie's food for her...

I was asleep in bed by 7:00 pm that night. I was exhausted to the bone.

The next day we went to check on the girls. Charles asked to hop on Gracie bareback, to my utter astonishment, and did a 10-minute ride around the barn with her.

You know he's hooked when he asks to do this of his own accord!

Other than that, the mares received a break on Sunday while we laid all of our camping gear out to dry, and on Monday we took them out on the barn trails for a spin.

The horses felt FABULOUS!!!! So fabulous, in fact, that they covered 11.5 miles in 1.5 hours...a new record!

Yup, totally worth pulling, in my opinion. Hence why the motto of this sport is, "To finish is to win." You can't win them all and that's okay! :)


  1. FINALLY!!!:) It's so interesting to read your ride story even though I was there with you:) And I truly had forgotten how damn miserable it was until I read what you wrote. I haven't been beating myself up about the RO, but I was wondering if maybe I was a bit of a wimp. But no, it was a totally crappy day, and I am so ridiculously glad that none of us went back out, especially with Charles' asthma attack. I'm not too religious but sometimes I see a greater purpose in things that happen.

    Here's to warmer, drier rides with less drama in the future!:)

    1. I too see a greater purpose in things! The whole thing with the armband was a sign to me, and I think the assumption was correct. While at the vet check I'd already been wondering about the possibility of RO'ing because of the footing: it was going to be so damn SLICK out there with the slush and the wet grass!

      Amen to drier, warmer, drama-free rides! :D

  2. I really like the steaming horses photo. Well-captured. It's so hard to get a photo of that.

    Definitely didn't sound like a very fun ride at all with that kind of weather! But at least the wind wasn't bad. The wind is usually what does me in on days like that! I definitely love spring though <3. The beginning is fickle, but all the birds are back,the amphibians emerge, and everything starts growing anew and I just love it -- especially the birds. And it ultimately means that summer is around the corner and cold days are ending (which after a winter patrolling, I really appreciate).

    I'm really glad you found the armband. I was really sad for a bit. But then happy!

    Also. Seriously. Fuck boots on rides lately. So done. So so done. (Well, obviously, considering the steel on my horse's feet.) Merely READING "pounded the boot back on" made my blood boil a little bit. Zero fun. Zerooooo.

    And men. Yep. MEN. -_-

    I'm sure the next ride will be a better time for all of you! Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! =D

    1. Agreed on all counts. My one thought with the damn stupid boots (she lost each boot once during that loop!) was "This is the LAST TIME! This is the LAST TIME!" Gawd.

  3. Several things made me very happy . . . you have mastered cold-weather camping and going forward, you sound like you will be warm and dry . . . pulling in those conditions sounds like the best idea and I truly believe you weren't meant to get back on trail . . . the ride on Monday let's you know your horses are conditioned - that wasn't the issue - but rather nobody wanted to ride in the wet.

    Seriously talk to your husband about being a bit smarter at taking care of himself. That could have been a bad thing, had you all tried to get back out on trail. And the tent and heater are for warming!! I know that sometimes, especially when we are going into shock because of cold (and that sounds like what was happening to him) our brains shut down and we don't make great choices. I'm sure his suggestion to someone (from a nursing standpoint) who was in his condition would have been to get dry and warm.

    Finally, if you are going to ride in weather like this often (or at all) I would suggest a set of rain pants (mine are from REI and go nicely over my breeches) and a rain jacket. You can layer under them and they will keep you dry. I'm carrying a set in my saddle packs because Colorado. It's almost a guarantee that if I have them I won't need them.

    1. He thankfully learned, as you already know! :) And yes: when I realized that he was having an asthma attack, it all clicked - he hadn't been thinking straight because he was too cold.

      I need a proper pair of rain pants. I had a pair of Pranas myself that I adore, that are water resistant but I chose not to wear them...I don't know why! It would have been an additional layer for trapping warmth, at least, even soaked through!

      I have a couple of rain jackets. The problem I have with them is that there is only so much I can spend on high-end raingear and everything I own loses its waterproofing frustratingly fast. But I just can't justify or afford spending $400 on an Arc'teryx jacket (they have the very best waterproofing). I wash my rain gear as directed, use Nikwax Techwash for cleaning, and have re-waterproofed them...and got soaked through anyway at this ride. Carlos's saving grace was the Carhart. It got wet, yes, but it didn't soak all the way through because the fleece is so very thick. He LOVES that jacket. I had brought mine to wear for the second loop. At some point I will most likely invest in an oilskin jacket, after seeing how the one Carlos borrowed at No Frills performed. I rode in a poncho in PR because Lucero was perfect and it kept me dry through the worst rainforest deluges, but Lily is terrified of my Irideon coach rain jacket so long jackets are out of the question with her. *sigh* What brand are your REI rain pants?

  4. Oh your ride flashed me back to a ride meeting where a vet was very stern with us because of the freezing weather. He said "I don't want any of you to be foolish enough to follow your normal routine and forget to THINK ABOUT THE WEATHER. I want to see horses with blankets on, and not only blankets, but I want their necks wrapped in whatever you have, I want them completely covered at the vet checks. Some idiots actually sponge horses in this weather!" He was pretty angry about those idiots, I think. I've never had a vet scold so much.

    I had a bad dream last night, most likely from your last post about your vet check stress (I wasn't the calmest person to be around during holds, I admit). I could not find my ride card anywhere and no one would help me look for it. I was trying to take care of Mag (Mag!) and find the stupid card for 30 minutes and then I went to the vet check and for some reason he had all the cards. WTH. I was yelling how it doesn't make any sense, and then he said it's no problem, you have enough time to finish, so I happily got back on my horse....and woke up.

    Oh, and from your last post, I wanted to ask if you could ride Gracie with a heart rate monitor, to see what her pulse is during her different gaits. I've definitely had horses ask to canter to rest their trotting muscles, and I wonder if that would be the case for Gracie as well. It's admirable how you watch both mares so closely the entire time.

    1. Your dream sounds like how most of my vet checks and holds seem to go! Hahaha I'm always relieved when tack off is optional because I don't have to worry about strapping every freaking thing under the sun back onto my horse. I feel like it takes 10 minutes just to get everything on her and make sure it is comfortable and in working order. Granted, I'm still removing tack to swap out saddle pads anyway (since I use cotton pads because both saddles fit the horses so well, I like to switch them into a dry pad for the next loop)...but it's nice to know I don't *have* to remove tack if I'm running short on time...the joys of competing non-Arabs!

      I have an equine heart rate monitor but I don't completely trust it, which is why I don't use it more often. Gaited horses are fascinating, and each breed and individual within each breed will have their own unique quirks. But I've found that gaited horses that have a trot (not all of them have a trot; my Paso was completely incapable of trotting), they will prefer to trot when out of shape or sore because it uses less muscles. (Except for Dom's Ozzy: he prefers to gait when out of shape! Despite being a trotter Standardbred! That's what I mean about individuals. :) ) For gaiting/pacing/racking they have to collect a little more, lift their withers more and push from behind. A fit gaited horse will have an easier time gaiting, which has always been my barometer when conditioning gaited horses: I knew G-Mare was ready to compete when I was able to keep her at her gait for at least 75% of a conditioning ride. She has an easy canter that is super ratable, but it still wears her out more than just trotting. So in terms of effort for her, from easiest to hardest, is trotting, cantering and gaiting. She'll canter when she's excited and also to rest trotting muscles...and also because Carlos REALLY likes to canter, so part of it is her doing it to please him. Haha...hence why he has to be extra careful with the cantering! :)She tends to offer it up a lot more with him than she does with me, whereas with me she'll offer the gait more often because she knows that's what I want.

      I had figured for competition, the most efficient gait for her would be the trot, since it is the easiest for her. :)

  5. The weather at this ride was soooo miserable! I don't think there is any reason to second guess your decision to pull. The part about the asthma attack scared the hell out of me. I had no idea! Holy s**t! I'm glad he's ok. I would have had a heart attack. I'm so glad we got to see you guys, even though the weather sucked. Thank you so so so much for the chocolate milk. It was the perfect pick me up after a tough day. Hope to see you again soon :)

    1. I was thrilled to see you at this ride, and SO HAPPY you got your completion! I will be taking chocolate milk to every ride we're both in for sure! ;)

  6. I'm glad you pulled. It sounds like a miserable experience. For Charles: My husband rides in breeches. Including at endurance rides in his treeless saddle that he could ride in jeans in. But the riding pants are more comfortable. In addition to not being a soggy mess like jeans, they don't have a seam on the side of the leg. Even with sheepskin saddle covers, the seam on the jeans can rub. And they're really much more breathable than jeans. He wouldn't try to run in jeans right? Endurance is an aerobic activity, not a pleasure ride. So pick the equipment for the sport. There are pictures on my blog of my husband doing endurance rides in breeches if that'll help.

    1. Message relayed! ;) Thank you Olivia!!

  7. That weather is just...no, yuck, glad you started but even happier you RO. It was the right decision, as proved by happy horses the next ride! At the ride Lily looks miserable, Charles was lucky he didn't get worse: wear comfy tights, and go into the damn warm tent!

    I do keep a pair of waterproof pants to go over my tights in the trailer, right with the horse blankets! Of course I've never had to use them, but someday...

    1. Maybe if I keep waterproof pants in the trailer it will never rain again at these rides! ;) I seriously should try that.