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

Monday, May 9, 2016

No Frills 2016: 55 Miles!!!!

Beast Mare Mode: Engaged!!!
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase.
The beauty of this sport is that every part of it, from preparing for a ride to getting to the ride, to actually RIDING at the ride, especially at endurance distances, is an adventure. No Frills 2016 was no different.

But let me start at the beginning.

Decisions, Decisions
I've been trying to get to No Frills for two years. In 2014, Lily was boarding at a farm with horrible pasture management issues and Lily ended up with awful sole bruising from standing around in the mud 24/7 during a very, very wet spring. (I initially was 100% convinced she had laminitis. It was that bad.) This happened right after I had sent my deposit for the No Frills 50. Needless to say, we did not make it to that ride. In 2015, we didn't have our own horse trailer yet and we were too far from anyone else that might be able to give us a ride to Star Tannery, VA so we didn't make it last year either. I had just ridden Foxcatcher so it was no big deal.

This year, Carlos and I both originally signed up for the No Frills LD. But after Lily's amazing ride at Rabbit Run and then her endless stamina during that first awful loop of Foxcatcher, I really, really wanted to try another 50 with her. My gut told me that she was ready. I was not excited about another LD; I wanted to go back to endurance distances. And the next 50 that would be available for us to compete at after No Frills would be the Old Dominion...and...nooooooo. I wanted something easier. While none of the Old Dominion Triple Crown series rides are anything to sneeze at (the Triple Crown is formed by No Frills, the OD aka The Old Dominion, and Fort Valley), the OD itself is so tough that it makes anything else on this coast seem easy by comparison.  Actually, completing that ride makes anything life can dish out at you seem manageable.

A week and a half before the ride, I proposed to Carlos the possibility of me doing the 55 at No Frills and him doing the LD on his own with Gracie. I knew both him and the mare were ready for that and knew that they would be able to get a completion on their own, as long as Carlos remembered what I taught him and listened to his horse.

Except he insisted he wanted to try the 55 with me. I was quite surprised and initially very excited over the fact that he was willing to try real endurance distances himself at all, but a little concerned about Gracie's ability to finish. I knew could take her the distance, but I wasn't 100% sure that he would be able to invoke the very depths of Gracie's heart when he needed it most, especially if he himself became exhausted.

So I hemmed and hawed about Gracie + 55 miles. I wasn't 100% sure Gracie was ready for endurance distances just yet. Here is my thought process for not just saying "NO!" though:
  • She did really well at Foxcatcher even with the weather once I figured out how much rest she needed at what times and Carlos listened re: cantering less. 
  • She did brilliantly at Rabbit Run overall. Halfway through the ride I was thinking we might be able to try her over 50-mile distances after all. 
  • I knew her fatigue at the end of RR was from the sand and from me needing to elyte her more: I wasn't as aggressive with her elytes as I was with Lily and Gracie has never really enjoyed working in the sand. She is used to it thanks to cross training, but her way of moving is different in the arena vs the trails because of the footing. 
  • Her baseline pulse is lower than Lily's and while her recoveries at in-ride holds have taken a bit longer (again, me needing to elyte differently) once her pulse came down, it would plummet to pure awesomeness. I've been very impressed with her CRIs once we've gotten her pulse down.
  • Mentally she could handle a 50. But she needs more practice with some details, like trot-outs at vet checks. 
  • If y'all remember my descent into madness two years ago when I took Lily on the Old Dominion 50 aka The Beast of the East aka one of the toughest rides in the country second only to Tevis, as our first ever endurance ride at any distance, without really having a clue as to how everything worked other than what I had (diligently, feverishly) read, and only one year of endurance-specific conditioning under our belts (part of which was rehabbing from a soft tissue injury)...well, if you consider that and the fact that Lily completed sound despite my enormous ignorance, my taking Gracie to No Frills with 1.5 LDs finished and close to 2,000 conditioning miles over the last two years over much more varied terrain than anything I did with Lily prior to the OD, and also a much more solid knowledge base on my part after two years involved in the sport myself...well, I'd say my taking Gracie to No Frills wasn't absolute insanity. Just saying.
  • If there were issues, Carlos would RO. If the mare was tired, if she started having difficulty recovering, if she became sore, Carlos would RO. It was the first thing that was discussed. We were doing this for fun, to see if she could do it, and so Carlos could experience the challenge of a longer ride: we weren't trying to prove anything. Arthritis-wise Gracie had been doing fabulously with injections of generic Adequan and Legend 5 days prior to the rides as recommended by my veterinarian (this is legal). I was concerned, however, about how the extensive downhills of this ride would affect Gracie's right front, the leg that has ringbone. I did expect some soreness after the ride, but I had every intention of managing downhill approaches for her benefit during the ride. The only way to know for sure how this would affect her was to just go out and do it. 
I told Carlos that he absolutely needed to do as I said when it came to managing his horse, that he had to do his part at the vet checks (I couldn't crew for both of us), that he absolutely needed to take care of HIMSELF (eating, drinking, staying warm!) without me reminding him, and that if he got pulled, he would have to load G-Mare on the trailer to take her back to camp by himself (both vet checks at No Frills are the same away check) and I would continue. I would be riding to finish; I didn't care about time, just about finishing and getting the completion with Lily. The pace would be set for Gracie's benefit, though, to see if we could get her through it as well. Carlos said this was all fine. No complaints at all from him on any of these points.

I used to be a chronic over-conditioner when it came to jumping and dressage on my own personal horses. I successfully competed for years on lesson horses and leases, but when it came to my own, our performance had to be absolutely spectacular. It had to be PERFECT. Which meant that I spent a LOT of time nitpicking at my horses and exactly ZERO time actually competing. The beauty of endurance, to me, is that it's just you and the horse against the trail and the clock. That's it. It's not about a judge's opinion, about getting a perfect lead change or leg yield or getting a clean round in the jump-off. It's about how you prepared your horse and yourself to navigate that trail. You put in the time and the miles and the effort and the REST (because resting the horse is just as important as conditioning), and even then, most of the time you never know if your horse is going to complete. The weather might contribute, your horse might be having a bad day, or you might just be shit out of luck on this particular ride. There are so many variables that you have no control over! The only way to know if you and your horse can do it is to just go out and try. That is all. Which is why all of a sudden I'm so NOT stressed out at all about competing and managing not one but TWO horses at once. 

So I e-mailed ride management and requested our entries be changed from the LD to the 55. Not a problem. And I informed Liz that we would be riding the same distance as her! :) Liz was planning on pacing at 6-7 mph. I was aiming for a 6 mph average. My goal would be to ride the first loop with Liz and Dan as long as it was comfortable for Gracie, knowing that we'd get split at the vet check (because Liz and Dan were on Arabs and my horses are non-Arabs: non-Arabs just take longer to pulse down. I have accepted that and am fine with it.) After that Carlos and I would be on our own. If we caught up to Liz and Dan afterwards, then excellent, but if not, we'd meet again at the finish.

I proceeded to prepare just like I always do for a 50: the horses were pre-loaded with elytes (Perform n Win) and added salt (this was new: 1 oz of salt/day for each. More than that and they won't eat) in their mashes once a day for the entire 7 days leading up to the ride, and I made chicken with black bean salsa and rice for lunch and pasta for dinner for the week for us to carbo load. (I find that this makes a HUGE difference in my recovery; it always has. I have always carb loaded for equestrian sports. I still eat high protein and simple sugars get cut out as much as possible, but I add more high quality carbs like protein whole grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice. As well as lots of additional veggies.) The horses had light workouts the weekend before, as did we, and then we took the whole rest of the week off from the gym. There will be more on nutrition, elyting, and equipment in a separate post.

Both horses got clipped. I left a star on Lily's butt...
...and a patch of hair under her saddle. No more; she was completely body clipped otherwise.

Gracie impressed me VERY much by letting me remove all the hair from her hindquarters.
Without sedation. Without drugs. Without twitching.
She just stood there and let me do it, as if I'd been clipping her for every day of her life.
Funny the difference that trust will make for your relationship with your horse!
Everything got packed Thursday night by moi so it all would be ready to go Friday morning. Carlos was able to get out of work early on Thursday night so we both had a solid 6 hours of sleep before getting up on Friday to hitch up the trailer and load the horses.

The weather forecast for the ride was all over the place. Friday would be rainy for sure but Saturday had either a 50% chance of rain or a 20% chance of rain depending on which forecast you looked at. I didn't really want G-Mare to start her first real endurance ride in the rain on a trail that already had such technical terrain to begin with, so up until the last minute I was hitting "refresh" on the forecast waiting to see what it was going to do: my plan was to switch her and Carlos back to the LD if it was going to rain on Saturday morning. I swore to Liz, who was also riding the 55 with our farrier Dan, that if it was warm enough I was totally riding the 55 in a bikini top as my way of giving the weather gods the middle finger. I was done with the rainy starts to rides!!! That's 3 out of 3 already!

I really did pack that bikini top. I wasn't kidding! The only reason why I wouldn't wear it after all was because it would end up being too chilly for it.

At the very last minute the forecast said 35% chance of rain for Saturday. So Carlos and Gracie remained signed up for the 55.

Except the weather gods don't care; they do what they want. Like the honey badger.

The drive down to the George Washington National Forest in VA, where all of the Old Dominion series rides take place, was uneventful. Ride management had given us excellent directions and Liz had sent me notes on the drive as well.

We were about 3 miles from ride camp when traffic came to a complete stop.

And we were kind of horrified to see people getting out of their vehicles to walk dogs and/or smoke a cigarette: traffic had been stopped for a while. There were other horse trailers in front of and behind us as well.

Carlos eventually got out of the truck and walked up the road to talk to other people and see if anyone knew what had happened. I got out of the truck to stretch my legs. Traffic went on for miles behind us.

Of course, when all of this happened I was at the point of maximum bladder expansion: I really had to pee!
As it turned out, traffic was stopped because of an overturned semi, and the road was already mostly cleared. We were at a standstill for all of 15 minutes. Phew!!

Traffic was re-routed through the left lane. There was sand all over the road.
5 minutes later, we were in ride camp!!

Ride camp was two fields and the first one was jam-packed. I kept forgetting that No Frills offers rides both on Friday and Saturday; we were signed up for the Saturday ride but the Friday ride was in full swing when we arrived at around 1:00 pm.

We were directed to a second overflow field past the first ride camp field and we staked out a spot for both ourselves and Liz and Dan, who were about 30 minutes behind us. I had lost phone signal right when we entered camp, but had been able to tell Liz we were close prior to arriving.

We had just finished unloading the horses and some of our stuff when Liz and Dan arrived.

It is the first time in over a year that Liz and I have been at an endurance ride together! The last time was at Fort Valley in 2014!

We had all the time in the world to get our areas set up, feed horses, put up tents and pop-ups, and unpack before heading off to register and vet in. It was a really nice change to not feel monumentally rushed to get everything done like we did at Rabbit Run and Foxcatcher!

Ride camp starting to fill up. The tree closest to the nose of our truck (on the far right) had a water trough underneath. We chose to park as close to it as possible: it was AWESOME to NOT have to lug water across camp for the horses!!
The girls having electrolyte mashes shortly after arriving.
Carlos and Dan setting up the second pop-up and talking man talk.
Dan: "I'm doing my first 50 too! We're going to pop our cherries together!"
He said that right as I was taking this photo. I burst out laughing.

Adult beverages and fried chicken snacks.

Trailer turned feed room.

Our tent and pop-up, right between our truck and Liz's trailer. Liz's tent was on the other side of Dan's truck.
Dan inspects his handiwork two weeks later.
Yes, my horses are both sporting steel shoes all the way around. Why? I couldn't explain it better than Liz does here.
Basically: I am still a HUGE proponent of barefoot. I will do barefoot most of the time: during the off season, if there is a long lull between competitions. But for endurance rides, both horses are having shoes nailed to their hooves. I simply CANNOT deal with hoof boots anymore, and most of the rides in my region REQUIRE hoof protection: you aren't allowed to compete without boots or shoes. I refuse to trim the soundness out of my horses' feet just so they will fit in boots and I am sick of dealing with boots and their inability to stay on my horses' hooves. Shoes can be molded to the peculiarities that both mares need on their hooves in order for said hooves to be functional. That is all. Dan is a great farrier: he does a barefoot trim (short toes, lower heels, doesn't touch the frogs) and then molds the shoe to the horse's hoof. He is also an endurance rider that trains on some of the rockiest terrain of the East Coast: he knows how to nail shoes so that they STAY ON. Liz is using him for Q, and that was enough of a recommendation for me! There will be a review on the shoes as well later. Spoiler alert: I couldn't be happier!
Walking to registration.
On our way back from registration, Carlos and I stopped by the tack swap to look around and that's when we saw Dom! She was riding for Skip again at this ride and his rig was parked right next to the vetting area, directly across from the tack swap. 

Liz and Dan caught up to us and we all hung around chatting for a bit. This is the first time since Ride Between the Rivers of 2014 (!!) that The Endurance Trifecta has been in the same ride camp at the same time. It is the first time EVER that the three of us were riding the same distance at the same ride! We would each be riding our own ride, but this was still a cause for celebration. Dom was lured down to our camping area with the promise of hard cider. :) We then took the horses back up to get them vetted in. 

Trot out. Both Lily and Gracie had all A's. Lily's heart rate was 52.
Carlos has mad hops. :) Gracie's heart rate was an astounding 40. The mare is fit, guys! Lily gets happily excited in ride camp but Gracie is completely unperturbed by the goings-on.
Afterwards, we tacked up the horses for a short ride. I had been mentally prepared to not be able to pre-ride the day before the race because it was supposed to start raining Friday afternoon, but the rain had held. Liz wanted to do the ride for Butch's (Dan's horse, who was doing his first endurance ride ever) benefit, so the four of us went out together. Dom walked with us. :)

Dom was pretending to be another horse in our line.
Carlos asked, pointing at Dom, "Is that an Andalusian?"
My response: "She is a Polish Arab, made for endurance!" ;)
Liz took us up to where the ride would start, but instead of continuing straight like we would for our 55 the next day, we made a left-hand turn and went up the mountain: the trail Carlos and I would have followed if we had done the LD instead. 

It was a brief 3-mile ride; the horses all took turns leading and all four of them behaved beautifully. Even Butch, the rookie, acted like an endurance veteran. Dan has done a fabulous job conditioning and training him. It was warm and humid enough that all four horses broke a sweat.

Single file through the woods.

Lily was making angry mare ears at Butch, who was coming up on our left. He was the only gelding in the group and none of the mares wanted to let him pass them! Poor guy.
I told Lily to take a chill pill. She let Butch pass. :)
We walked the horses back into camp, fed them and got to work setting up our crew bags while we had daylight, since the ride meeting was late (7:30 pm) and we would most likely be getting out close to or right after dusk.

What would go in my crew bag: Small bag with two full changes of clothes (including socks and underwear) for each hold and an extra pair of dry shoes (because the forecast had changed YET AGAIN and now it was going to rain in the morning!), and snacks for the saddle bags; a clean pair of bell boots (because shoes...) and a clean pair of fetlock boots; a bowl for grain with a bag of crimped oats; a tube of Lyte Now electrolytes; a bag of treats; a dry girth; a clean saddle pad and a sweat scraper. Both Carlos's and my crew bags contained similar items.
And yes: I officially have enough stuff that I could go out and do a 100 tomorrow without having to buy any extra equipment!...

The ride briefing was held in an old barn and it was PACKED!!! Part of dinner was provided by management but the majority of it was a potluck...and I had completely forgotten to bring food for it! Carlos and I waited for those who had brought food to serve themselves before getting in line (we weren't the only ones who didn't bring food to share; there were others waiting too). Thankfully, there was TONS of food and we were still able to get a good selection of the most yummy-looking stuff, including the lasagna provided by ride management.

The meeting was long: the ride manager went over that day's ride results and issues that had been found on trail that had been corrected. The ride info itself was straightforward: the 55-mile trails were marked red, white and blue. Red loop = 18 miles; white loop = 25.5 miles with a "stop n' go" 14 miles into the loop so we could give our numbers to the spotters and the horses could stop to eat and drink; blue loop = 9.5 miles, mostly on gravel forest service road back into camp. The two vet checks were away checks at the same location; no crew allowed but there would be volunteers and there would be plenty of hay, grain and water for the horses as well as food for the riders, including sandwiches, chili and chicken soup. Pulse parameter was 64 bpm.

Trail map.
I had known about that second 25 mile loop beforehand. Lily and I (and Carlos and Gracie, for that matter) had never gone a solid 25 miles without stopping. This had been the one thing that had intimidated me about the No Frills 55 but hearing about the stop n' go made it seem easier: we just had to ride 14 miles to get there, and then 11 miles back to the vet check. When broken down like that, it was easy!

Feeling better about the long loop, we returned to camp after the meeting to finish getting our crew bags ready. I also took the opportunity to pack our saddle bags (I shoved the hackamores in BOTH mares' cantle bags this time!) for the next morning. I threw Lily's waterproof sheet on her and my lined sheet on Gracie because she tends to just run colder in general, and I didn't want them getting chilled overnight in the rain since they couldn't move around much: I had them hard tied to the trailer again.

When Liz and Dan were done packing and getting their equipment set up for the next day, we lugged our crew bags up to the designated horse trailer for them. It was just starting to drizzle and night had fallen. Since Skip's trailer was right next door, we swung by and knocked on the door.

There was something really cool about standing next to Skip's team of gray Arabs at the door to the trailer!
Dom, Angela and Skip were all watching a Caps hockey game and we were invited in!

Skip was quite the host and made screwdrivers for us. We had a grand time and ended up staying a little longer than originally planned because it started to outright POUR outside! It was warm, toasty and dry inside the trailer.
Dom's Mike is also in this picture!
Dom <3

Angela is a huge Capitals fan and they had been winning the game up until the moment we arrived. When they continued to not score, we decided we should head back to our tents to see if that would change the scoring!

Our timing wasn't bad: the rain had slowed down a bit and we walked down the long hill to the outflow field and took cover...after we had refilled water buckets and I had tossed the girls more hay and given them each another mash. They were both eating and drinking very well since arriving in camp. At this ride they were preferring hay on the ground vs haynets, which was a first but it made life easier for me, so not complaining!

Carlos and I fell asleep to the sound of the rain falling on the roof of our pop-up, which was set up over our tent. I woke up a couple of times throughout the night but overall I slept better than I ever have at an endurance ride. The rain helped with that, though each time I woke up I would lie awake for a bit, listening to it coming down and hoping it would slow down come ride start time. I couldn't do anything about it though. I couldn't even obsess over the forecast because we had no phone signal, so each time I would turn around and fall asleep again. I got out of the tent once to replenish the girls' hay and check on them: they were warm and dry under their respective blankets.

At least it wasn't frigid. Evening temps were in the high 50s; we didn't even have to turn the heater on, even with the humidity. Temps would be in the high 60s the next day, so I knew Carlos wouldn't be getting massively chilled during the ride even if we got drenched.

The Ride
I woke up at 4:45 am, 15 minutes before the alarm and lay in bed, listening to the rain still coming down hard. Carlos was also awake so we lay there talking for a while, dreading going outside into the wet. I finally pulled on my clothes and my long rain jacket (the Irideon coach jacket) with my snow boots (they are 100% waterproof) and stepped outside. The rain wasn't as bad as it sounded.

"Easy for YOU to say it's 'not so bad' when you haven't been standing in it all night! Also: are we SERIOUSLY doing this AGAIN in the rain?" - Lily
I was really glad she couldn't talk that morning. Lol
The white streaks are raindrops, caught by the camera flash.
I fed the horses, grabbed turkey, Swiss cheese and two Starbucks Doubleshot Protein drinks from our cooler and crawled back into the tent, where Carlos made turkey sandwiches for us on English muffins while I struggled to get my contact lenses onto my eyeballs using my cell phone camera as mirror. Yeah: I completely forgot to buy a small portable mirror for this purpose! We then wolfed down our sandwiches with a side of dehydrated apple chips. There was no way in HELL that we were hiking in the deluge up to the ride manager's trailer for breakfast when we had great food with us.

The food really hit the spot, far more than any ride camp breakfast so far. Note to self: eat a real breakfast at longer rides! This is easy to do when you're not dying from butterflies. :)

I heard Liz and Dan stirring in their respective spots: Liz had slept in her tent and Dan, being the wild man that he is, had slept bundled up in a mummy bag under his pop-up. No tent! Hard core, that one!

Liz stopped by to give us the weather report per the radar from what she was able to see on her phone: nasty rain bands right as the ride was starting, with it hopefully clearing up sometime between 10:00 am and noon.

At 6:00 am Carlos and I started tacking up our horses. We undid the buckles on their sheets and slid the material up their necks so we could place the saddle pads and saddles on their backs, then threw the sheets back over the saddles to keep everything dry while we attached cantle bags, did up girths and strapped on breastplates. Gracie was getting her crupper for the first time since last fall to keep the girth from sliding into her armpits on the downhills (this has been an issue on previous mountainous conditioning rides and a source of galling.)

I changed into the rain jacket and hiking boots + half chaps I'd be wearing for riding and Dan offered Carlos an oilskin jacket that was about a size too small  (Dan is wiry and only a couple of inches taller than me, whereas Carlos is 6'1"!) but Carlos squeezed it on over his rain jacket. Despite the size discrepancy, it would keep him dry and warm. Note: oilskin jacket for Carlos for the future!

The trail opened for the 55 milers at 7:00 am. We were all in our saddles and heading out by 7:06 am. The horses were raring to go but well-behaved, all four of them.

As we trotted onto the FS road that would take us away from ride camp, I noticed the fog. So much fog around us. It made for very gloomy scenery but it added so much magic to it. I have been fascinated by fog and mist since I was a kid. I stopped feeling annoyed by the rain right around there.

See the fog among the trees? And that big ole' grin I had was genuine. Lily wasn't feeling the rain either, even though both of us were drenched! Also: check out her engaged, uphill canter! Proving that endurance horses CAN work correctly down the trail if they have been cross-trained properly.
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase.
I cantered Lily for 3 strides for the photo but then went back to a trot: our goal had been to trot the first four miles to let the horses truly warm up in the chill and wet before requesting a canter. Lily and Q took turns in the lead and I laughed at Liz, "Who would've thought the two formerly most insecure horses would want to be in front on this ride?"

The rain actually came down even harder as we continued on down the road: what the radar had shown was on point. I didn't take any photos for the first third of the red loop because everything was so freaking WET my phone's touch screen wasn't feeling anything: my saddle bags were wet, my hands were wet, the phone was wet (thank God for Lifeproof cases!). Water was dripping off the brim of my helmet and I was so glad I'd gone to the trouble of putting on my contacts! Carlos couldn't see anything between the water and his fogged glasses and was cracking jokes about it. My waterproof jacket soon soaked through (I just can't spend $300+ on a jacket with Gore-Tex. I just can't swing that!) but I was comfortable thanks to a wool layer underneath the jacket and the motion of posting: I didn't feel cold at all. Carlos was doing great with Dan's oilskin.

All four horses paced fabulously on the FS road, roaring down the gravel at enormous trots thanks to the steel shoes on all four feet. I can't even begin to tell you guys what a HUGE relief it was to NOT have to worry about boots popping off with the pace and later the rocks and mud we would encounter all day on trail.

It downpoured solidly for the first four miles on the road, but slowed down considerably when we started climbing up the mountain on singletrack trail, right behind another group of mid-packers with whom we would stay for a good part of the day.

The horses all slowed to a walk, trotting when possible, but mostly walking as we all made our way up the mountain.

This is what riding mid-pack looks like at an endurance ride. :) Horses will ride close together on single track like this, which is why it is important to place colored ribbons on your horse's tail if he/she kicks (red), is new to the sport (green), or you simply don't want other horses getting too close (use red anyway).
We arrived at a spot where there was a small clearing in the woods by the trail. Dan's girth was slipping and he needed to tighten it, so I took this opportunity to also dismount and swap out both mares' bits for their hackamores. We were about 7 miles in and both horses had been calm and steady all this time. They were also quite hot and I wanted to guarantee they would drink if we came across any water. Though I knew water was minimal on this first loop thanks to reading Liz's post from her first No Frills two years ago. I still gave them each a dose of Lyte Now (I was carrying a 3-dose tube for each horse.)

The majority of this loop was spent riding through the gloom of fog. The rest of the mid-packers continued on ahead as we stuck to our own pace, with Felesha and Roger, whom Liz knows, staying with our little group.

At around mile 10 I realized that I really was hydrating myself properly...and desperately had to pee. Like, STAT. We had 8 more miles to go and I couldn't see myself lasting that long. We were in a nice pocket with no one coming up behind us and were on ridgeline where the fog was so thick, you couldn't see anything but white beyond the trees next to the trail. It looked like a scene from the Swamp of Sadness in The Never Ending Story.

Epic shot of Carlos and Gracie, taken by Becky Pearman and used with purchase.
You can see how thick the fog was in this section.
I called to Liz that we were going to stop for a second and I dismounted to empty my bladder. OMG what a RELIEF.

I hopped back on and we picked up a trot to catch up to our little group. The trail wasn't terrible so we let the horses accelerate into a canter. The fog was thick but we could see well enough down the trail that we'd be able to see our group with plenty of time to slow down before coming upon them.

We finally did catch up to our friends. Liz and Q were bringing up the rear next to Dan and Butch. I made a point of slowing the canter the second I could hear them because I didn't know how Butch would react to horses running up behind him. And also, that's just bad trail etiquette regardless! We broke to a trot about 8 strides away from the group and right then one of Lily's shoes hit a rock and rang loudly through the stillness of the fog.

To my absolute horror, this startled Q so badly that she leaped up and forward, right out from underneath Liz, peeling her neatly off in one fell swoop. Liz went flying off backwards and to the left of Q, landing on the ground back first in the one rock-free spot of earth on the entire trail.

I had gasped when I saw Q jump, which brought Lily to an instant dead halt mid-trot stride. Gracie came to a halt right behind us.

Liz just lay there for a minute. She was conscious but we all stood frozen in shock around her. The rational part of my brain assessed the entire situation in a split second: the ground was soft, Liz had shot backwards in a straight line with no chance of impact from either horse or rocks, she had her hydration pack on her back to protect her spine: she was simply doing a mental run-through of her condition before sitting up. Carlos had already dismounted and rushed to her; Dan told him to wait a second: Liz was just doing a mental check before moving. Confirming what I was sensing.

Liz eventually sat up slowly and was absolutely fine; Carlos and Dan helped her get back on Q. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die, thinking of all the ways that could have NOT been fine. I apologized to Liz profusely once she was back up on Q, but I just wanted to go back in time and erase what had happened. Words weren't enough.

We continued on our way through the mist in silence. Dom rode with us for a spell, as did Dodie. We did a lot of walking as the rocks materialized out of the fog closer and closer together.

Liz in front of us.
Trot, trot, trotting, through the gloom.
So many rocks. They seemed to glow in the fog; photos don't capture the ethereal quality of the scenery at all!

Photo by Dom.

This loop went by surprisingly quickly. My Garmin had died only two miles into the ride and I was relying on Liz's periodic mileage updates from her phone. I fretted for a bit about how Carlos and I would keep track of pace and miles during the longer loop that we would be doing next, and then let it go. I'd figure it out when the time came. Liz & Co. talked amongst themselves periodically and I could always hear Dan's voice carrying through the clouds, but Carlos and I rode mostly in silence. One rock at a time, one step at a time. Every once in a while Carlos would slow down to let Gracie take a break and I would slow down when I noticed to let him catch up. It was really cool to see him making his own decisions for his horse, a trend that would continue and become stronger throughout the day.

Carlos and Gracie behind us.
I couldn't get over the mist. It drizzled occasionally but I didn't even feel it. It was all so surreal.

Liz dismounted when approaching the rock that sliced Q's stifle open 3 years ago. Funnily enough, it was that incident that got Liz and I talking to one another outside of the Blogosphere! I followed suit, not seeing the rock until Lily and I were already upon it. It was a huge slab jutting out of the earth at a slant with a knife edge along its exposed top, and I didn't even think to get a photo of it because both Lily and I had to sit down and slide down its surface: it was that big and the earth around it was deep mud. It was kind of terrifying, actually, and I was really glad I'd gotten off to negotiate it! Even though another rider (we didn't know her) in a fucking hurry almost ran me over in the process. >:(

Regardless, that rock might have just changed my life three years ago.

We re-mounted and eventually we caught up to Mary Howell, Liz's mentor, and we paced behind her. Liz and Mary dismounted from their horses to give them a break and stretch their legs and I followed suit. We alternately walked and jogged down a series of switchbacks. Carlos stayed on Gracie: his bad knee was bothering him. Dom rode a ways behind us as well.

Rider fitness was paying off in huge dividends here.
We got back on our horses and were soon dismounting again to hand walk into the first vet check. We had just completed 18 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, despite all the walking over rocks and two long pauses to adjust tack.

Q and Butch were down (no surprise there! :) ) and vetted through immediately. Lily was right at 64 but Gracie was at 72, so we took them up to the area the volunteers had set up for us to let the horses drink while giving G-Mare time to pulse down further. We didn't sponge because both horses were already wet from the rain and drizzle, and it was quite chilly once we weren't moving.

Carlos got this shot of the hold area of the vet check.
We presented again 15 minutes later and by then Gracie had dropped into the 50s.

Lily stood proudly, head and ears up, as the vet did her physical exam. Lily then looked down at me, lowering her nose to mine and breathing out to me, something which she hadn't done in a long time. This is an incredibly intimate gesture of love/friendship from a horse. I breathed back softly at her and she lowered her head further, pressing her forehead into my chest.

The vet saw this interaction and smiled, "What a sweet mare!" she said.

"Yes," I said, giving Lily a big kiss on the cheek as she raised her head again. "She is the sweetest."

And I then looked at her, just radiating happiness unlike anything she'd shown at any of our LDs, looking around like a queen surveying her kingdom, and I knew: "You TOTALLY know this is a 50," I said out loud to her in awe. I don't know how she knew this early in the day, but she knew. She knew we were going long. And she was thrilled about it.

Both horses had As throughout except for the B Lily received on gut sounds: the vet said she was a little quiet on one side.

Mareface, however, was by now dancing around, pawing in impatience: "FEED ME NOW!" I burst out laughing. "She wants her food," I explained to the vet, who also laughed. "As long as she eats, I'm not concerned!" she said.

Lily chowed immediately upon putting hay and grain in front of her, eating everything in sight. Good girl! Gracie followed suit.

We let the horses eat under the warmth of their coolers while we took care of ourselves. Carlos snagged PB&J sandwiches for us in addition to Gatorade and replacement water for our saddlebags. I added more snacks (we had eaten everything we had brought for the first loop!) and then ran to the porta potty to change into dry clothes...coming out just as it started to rain again. The radar that morning had indicated that it should stop raining by mid-morning but again: the weather gods don't care, they do what they want.

Eff you weather gods.
I had a lightbulb moment and remembered that our phones have a health app that automatically tracks steps and mileage for the day, even when in airplane mode. Unlike Liz, I can't run Endomondo or any of the other GPS apps without phone signal (which doesn't make sense; I'm not sure if it's an iPhone thing or a Verizon thing. Liz has a Samsung Galaxy and AT&T) but I thought that maybe, just maybe, the health app would still track the miles...and I was right! While it meant that I had to look at my phone whenever I wanted to see how far we'd gone (vs Endomondo nicely calling out the miles and pace) I didn't care: I just wanted to be able to see our distance! I was really glad I'd figured this out while at the hold, because I could see exactly how many miles we had already gone (it was reading exactly 18, so it was matching the course distance. This isn't always the case) so I could get precise tracking when we headed back out on trail.

Screen capture of the health app, taken later at mile 33. This was such a life saver!!!!
It was raining harder than it had in at least two hours. I grimly put my drenched raincoat back on and Carlos and I mounted up, heading out exactly 12 minutes after Dan, Liz and Felesha had left.

I was hoping we'd eventually catch up to them again but if not, it wasn't a huge deal.

We soon found ourselves riding behind a couple of LD front runners and Dodie and a friend, who were riding in the 50. Since these were all experienced endurance riders, we just stayed behind them to pace with them: they were walking all of the rocky portions of trail, which was exactly what I wanted to do!

I forgot my initial misery at having to ride yet another loop in the rain when we rode back into the fog.

My face says what I thought of this. :)

Rocks, rocks and more rocks.
Again Carlos and I rode in silence, lost in our own thoughts.

Gracie owning the trail.
Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase.
Eventually the LD riders made a right turn where their loop veered off, and we continued behind Dodie, trotting where we could but mostly walking.

I was glad for the company of far more experienced riders in front of us, because otherwise I would have been fretting about the slow pace and might have pushed the horses to trot over gnarly terrain that we had no business trotting over. Dodie gave us the option of passing, but I told her we were in exactly the spot we wanted to be.

We stayed behind them for a good long time, letting the horses drink at puddles. Lily was drinking SO WELL. I was tremendously impressed with her. When she got thirsty, she'd start looking for puddles and I'd let her stop as soon we found one. She would drink, taking several huge gulps. I kept tabs on her skin tenting, which isn't the most reliable sign of hydration but it's easy to check from the saddle: at Fort Valley two years ago when she crashed and burned, she HAD been drinking well but had still become dehydrated due to the wrong combo of electrolytes. Her skin tenting had been massively delayed. At No Frills, her skin was snapping back nicely, and I had an alert, perky, enthusiastic mare beneath me.

This bridge was really cool but it was insanely slippery: we carefully walked the horses over it.
The concern then, became that Gracie was NOT drinking. Like AT ALL. Both Carlos and I fretted over this. We became a living example of the old adage that says, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink." This happened over and over and over. Gracie would sometimes touch her lips to the water but she wouldn't even take a sip. "What, it's not Evian??" Carlos said when she turned her nose up at yet another puddle. I snorted with laughter at that. It was true: she didn't want to drink muddy water.

There wasn't any grass on these rocky sections of trail for her to eat, either. She would take treats from the saddle if Carlos offered, though, so at least there was that. I had deliberately packed dry treats (vs moist carrots) thinking that the dry treats wouldn't affect the thirst response. It didn't work.

I tried to keep myself calm by reminding myself that Gracie had eaten and drank water really well only about 7 miles ago at the vet check, but I still worried. Our mission soon became to just get to the stop n' go at mile 14 to see what Gracie would do with real water and food in front of her, and if she didn't eat/drink then, Carlos would R/O. The stop n' go had easy access from the road for the ambulance trailer if riders were running into trouble with their horses here.

Dodie continued walking on a section of trail that didn't have any rocks and here I decided to pick up the pace again. I wanted to get the horses to food and water. We asked for permission to pass and picked up the trot, which we sustained for a while. I had Gracie and Carlos go in front so I could keep tabs on the mare. She perked up in front, like she always does, but as we made short work of the miles, she continued to not drink.

She was just starting to look fatigued to me when we saw a creek off to our left and we took the horses in to cool off. Lily was fine but Gracie was hot. Carlos dismounted and sponged her down to cool her off. She sniffed at the water but AGAIN didn't drink.

The stream where we stopped at.
Carlos said, "Pssst!" I looked over my shoulder and hadn't even realized that Lily looked too until I saw the photo after the ride!
Lily was like, "Why are we stopping???"
It took a while to convince her that yes, we had to stay here for a few minutes. She kept trying to head back to the trail.
Knows her job much?
I checked her CRT (2.5 seconds: slightly delayed) and skin tenting (also somewhat delayed) and tried to not tear my hair out. I know this is controversial but I gave her a dose of Lyte Now, my logic being that while she wasn't drinking, she was still losing electrolytes through sweat. My hope was that this would encourage her to drink at the stop n' go's water troughs.

The stop n' go. We just had to get there.

We walked for a good long while. It was starting to warm up and I had already taken off my jacket. Eventually we came to another section with lots of climbing, and we dismounted and hand-walked the horses for a good long while here too. According to the app, by then we were only 2 miles from the stop n' go but they were the longest two miles in the history of riding. We got back on the horses and tried picking up the trot. Lily was gung-ho about moving out. Gracie was in the middle of her afternoon doldrums and plugging along. This was the spot where Carlos literally started managing Gracie EXACTLY the way I had managed Lily at the OD 50 when we did our first ever endurance ride: he would walk until Lily and I were nearly out of sight, then trot to catch up, then walk until Lily and I were nearly out of sight, then trot to catch up. I did not tell him to do that; he just figured it out on his own.

Carlos took this one of Lily and me way up ahead.
My view.
Carlos and Gracie taking a walk break behind us before trotting to catch up.
We could finally see the mountains beyond the trees as the day slowly cleared and the sun shone brighter and brighter.
We finally saw the sign for Bucktail (where the stop n' go was located: it is one of the stops for the Old Dominion 100 as well!) and took a left onto FS gravel road. I heard a voice ringing off the mountains...Dan! And then I saw a group of horses and riders walking through the trees: Liz, Dan, and Felesha were coming back from the stop n' go!

We exchanged greetings.
"How are you guys doing??"
"Gracie isn't drinking AT ALL. How are yours?"
"Ours aren't eating at all. None of them are!"

That made me feel significantly better though.

We walked into the stop n' go and dismounted to let the horses eat and drink. Carlos and I breathed huge sighs of relief when Gracie walked over to that trough and drank, drank and drank. Lily followed suit. We didn't move a finger, not wanting to disturb or distract Gracie in any way as she continued to take gulp after gulp of clear trough water (SNOB! You are a water snob, mare!!)

The horses didn't want any of the alfalfa available at this stop (I guess the grass hay had already been eaten?), but they happily dug into the Triple Crown Senior and beet pulp provided by ride management, and chowed on the grass available at this stop. Gracie and Lily both drank multiple times from the troughs.

After about 10-15 minutes, with both horses looking satisfied and Gracie back to normal perkiness levels (her CRT was now a normal 1 second and her skin was snapping right back when pinched to check skin tenting), I gave them another dose of Lyte Now and we re-mounted.

Since I wasn't distracted worrying over Gracie anymore, this is the part where I realized how much I was hurting.

This section of trail was so beautiful though.
Carlos and Gracie, who looked like a new horse after eating and drinking!
OMG we could see the SKY!
A funny thing about endurance, about riding the real distances, is pain. You're going to wade through pain of some sort sooner or later as muscles fatigue or you realize something about your clothes or tack needed to be tweaked differently (because often times, the only way you realize that is by riding 40+ miles in one day....what works for 25 miles might not work for 50!) The definition of "endurance" is, after all, "The fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way." If it were easy, it wouldn't be called "endurance" now, would it? :)

Happy ears in front of me alllllll day long!
So you'll be riding along, totally blissed out at being on this gorgeous trail with your favorite horse in the world, and there'll be a niggling of pain somewhere in your body poking at the edge of your consciousness. You ignore it because awesomeness in front of and around you. Until it continues to build up to the point where it really gets your attention. And then you just bear it for a while. Until something else starts hurting. And that builds up until it gets your attention. But it allows you to focus on that instead of the first thing that hurt. And then a third thing starts to hurt...and then you have to pee and suddenly it's like the world will end if you don't pee right now because your entire body feels like it is on fire with pain. So you get off the horse and pee, and the relief is so great that you forget everything that hurts! Until you get back on the horse and start riding again. But you peed, so it's all bearable again. And you start back at square one: a niggling of pain at the edge of your consciousness.

I don't have issues with LDs. I get second-day onset soreness because I'm not as careful about taking care of myself because it's "just" 25-30 miles. But I don't get sore during the ride because I don't start to hurt until exactly between miles 30-35.

And that is what happened at No Frills.

At about mile 35, I suddenly realized that my shins hurt so bad it felt like the muscles were slowly being ripped from the bone, especially when trotting downhills or cantering straightaways. Downward transitions on the flat and downhill made me literally want to scream: the change in pace ramped the pain from a 5 to an 8 on the pain scale. It was excruciating! At one point I made Carlos lead because my brain could not handle the combination of leading, setting pace, and managing the pain. If someone else could lead for a while and set the pace instead, it made it easier to bear. It made it possible to actually ignore it. And then mentally I could blame someone else for stopping or slowing down abruptly: being able to point an imaginary finger at an outside person as my source of pain made it that much easier to handle. Weird, I know. Made even weirder by the fact that I was fully aware of all of this, of my brain needing to do these things in order to get my body through the ordeal at hand.

And then the outside of my left knee (which is actually my good knee) started hurting. It was a 7 on the pain scale, a constant knifing sensation right on the outside of my knee. I did a mental run-through of the parts of the knee that can be major issues: "ACL - front of the knee, not this problem; MCL - medial part of the knee, not this problem; meniscus - back of the knee, not this problem. What is on the outside of the knee...? It's a common running injury...OH! The IT band. I'm fine. But...huh. That's never been a problem before." Not even while running, and I've been doing runs up to 6 miles in length. I shrugged it off and trotted on.

The IT band pain made it easy to ignore my bilateral shin pain. Until I had to pee. Which is when it all became too much: it really made it seem like my whole body was on fire with discomfort and pain. And since I was actually truly hydrating myself properly for the first time ever, there were a couple of pit stops. Every time I dismounted, all the pain stopped. Emptying my bladder made everything bearable.

Funny how that works.

Anyway. Most of the remaining 11 miles of trail back to the vet check were on FS gravel road. Carlos and I were riding in a pocket, all by ourselves, no one in front of or behind us. The sun showed weakly through a slowly clearing sky but I think all four of us were somewhat mentally fatigued at this point and I really wanted music to get us through this spot.

The road goes ever on...
He was still grinning.
So I started singing "Iko Iko" as Lily trotted along, again in the lead. I sang at the top of my lungs. So loudly that my off-key voice (made off-key by my posting) rang across the mountains. Carlos started laughing behind me.

I swear both horses perked up and picked up the pace.

It was all quite ridiculous and I melted into a puddle of laughter. Carlos then piped up with Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" aka "The Banana Boat Song", which I can't for the life of me sing. My voice just doesn't do those things. We laughed and laughed.

In the process of trotting to catch up.
This mare. Those ears. How I love her!
And then came my favorite part: we started singing the most random Spanish songs from our childhood. Carlos started with El General's "Boricua Anthem." El General was one of the very first reggaeton singers back in the late '80s-early '90s. Boricua Anthem is a TON OF FUN and was played at our wedding reception. You can listen to it here. I joined him in on that and we sang until we didn't know the lyrics anymore.

And then Carlos started singing Burbujita Gargarita's "A Dormir" and I was like, "NO! DON'T SING THAT SONG! NO! ARRRRGGGHHHH..." Burbujita Gargarita was the MOST ANNOYING children's character. A doll muppet that was scary ugly, with the most irritating voice. I swear every time I heard that voice on TV it was like nails on chalkboard. Every single weekday night at 8:00 pm on local TV, she would be aired during a commercial break singing "A Dormir", which means "Go To Sleep." I can't even begin to tell you guys how very, very much I hated that song, especially because once you heard it, there was no way you were getting it out of your head for hours! And you can listen to it RIGHT HERE because it is actually on YouTube!

I gave up and joined in. It was too late: the song was already going to be stuck in an endless loop in my head so why the hell not. We continued on with others, the kind of songs that I would never have sung on trail if I hadn't been with someone that grew up in the same place with the same language, with whom I share the same history. It was truly awesome and it made the ride so very special.

The sound of the rushing water of the stream next to the road was lovely.
Around this time I realized that I hadn't seen a white trail marker in a while and I panicked a little. However, we had been following the FS road and there had been no side trails leading away from it for miles. I started to pay more attention and finally saw a marker.

I took a picture of it, because that's how relieved I was at seeing it!

Do you see the white ribbon?
Shortly after this, I heard a voice through the trees as we were nearing a turn in the road.


Him, Liz and Felesha had stopped next to the turn to let the horses graze. "We caught up to you!" I exclaimed happily.

We let our horses graze too for a few minutes and then the five of us continued on together for a ways. Liz was bent on getting to the vet check because her shin was killing her (she was having the same issue as me, but only on one leg), and eventually their horses picked up a canter and continued on. I gave Lily the option of following at the canter but she was like, "Nah, I just want to trot." So we continued trotting and soon Liz's group was out of sight. It was just Carlos and me again.

I was really happy to see Gracie continue to drink during this second section of loop. Lily tanked up at every puddle and water crossing and Gracie started imitating her! She even drank from a puddle and Carlos and I started laughing because she wanted to drink from the exact spot Lily was drinking from: Lily must have the best water, so of course Gracie wanted some of it...

The trail took us through this gorgeous stream:

BOTH of them drank!!! YAY GRACIE!

And soon we were in a familiar section of woods. I knew we were close to the vet check but my brain was fatigued enough by now that I didn't want to dismount and end up hand walking two whole miles back into camp. I wasn't trusting the health app: actual trail distances can be off by a mile or two from what ride management will tell you.

The end result was that we ended up trotting into the vet check.

The horses had had a nice long walk before we had picked up the trot though; we hadn't been trotting for miles and miles. They both looked REALLY good but they took a while to pulse down because of that last bit of trotting. Temps had continued climbing and it was now quite muggy, so both horses were still hot. We stripped tack and got to work sponging. To my dismay, ride management had started taking down the vet check and we barely had any sponge water. Also, most of the volunteers seemed to have disappeared, which made this all so much more difficult and time-consuming. Eventually one volunteer materialized (we thanked him profusely many, many, many, many times) and held the horses so that we could each sponge and scrape. I let both of them eat and drink and relax. Lily was down fairly quickly but it took Gracie a full 20 minutes to get down to 64 bpm. By then she looked awesome though: she was bright and her skin all over was cool to the touch. We took them back down to the vets and Lily passed with flying colors but Gracie didn't really want to trot out. We really do need to practice this more: she'll trot for me but not so much for Carlos.

The vets really wanted to see her go and that's when I realized something was off: Gracie didn't want to trot because she was lame. She finally trotted when I took the lead rope from Carlos so I didn't get to actually see what the vets were seeing. They said it was her right hind and thought maybe she was cramping so they said to let her rest and eat and re-present about 15 minutes before our out time. Her gut sounds weren't the best either but I wasn't too concerned about that because her appetite was solid. She just needed to eat more. The vets were worried that her heart rate had spiked back up to 72 after the multiple attempts at trotting out but pain will MOST DEFINITELY make an animal's (or person's!) heart rate go up (it's the #1 way of knowing an animal is painful. Ask me how I know: it's part of my job description!) so I wasn't worried about that either. We had just confirmed she was quite painful.

We took the horses back to our spot to let them chill out and eat. Gracie ate and drank happily while I felt her over. She did not have a cramp: there were no tight muscles anywhere in her hindquarters and she didn't mind any poking and prodding whatsoever. I figured the rocky trail had finally made her arthritic joints sore.

I started tacking Lily back up, knowing that I would be finishing this ride alone. The last 9.5 miles of trail were easy on fairly level FS road and it was frustrating that Gracie had to be stopped before a section of trail that she could have walked in its entirety and still finished on time, but she had already made it so much farther than I had originally expected! 44 miles in! The same horse that a year and a half ago was so wonky with her multiple issues, I thought she was neurologic!

Carlos was fine with everything either way, though he was bummed over the idea of not finishing with me. He managed to track down some ibuprofen for me, which I gladly took immediately! I then went down with him and Gracie to the vets, bringing a tacked-up Lily with us to keep Gracie company. While the rest of G-Mare's physical exam was great (her gut sounds and heart rate were reflecting what I had been seeing all along), she was still lame. The vets were seeing the right hind but I also saw the right front (it can be notoriously hard to spot lameness on gaited horses, even for vets, but I know my gaited mare's way of going after all this time), which was no surprise to me: it is the leg that has high ringbone and the original source of Gracie's problems.

Gracie was officially pulled. There were two riders still on trail so ride management wanted to wait for them to come through before taking G-Mare back into camp in the ambulance. I fretted over this: Carlos has never loaded Gracie onto a trailer himself. He's seen me do it a million times but I'm always the one that leads her in. But then again, he had so many knowledgeable horse people with him that they should both be fine.

I made one last decision: I was doing a Funder for the last loop and going commando. Despite full changes of clothes, to add insult to injury with my shins and painful IT band, I was also getting chafed in the most unpleasant parts of my anatomy and I could NOT take it anymore.

So I went to the porta john, where I said bye-bye to my underwear and changed into ankle socks to go with my hiking shoes: the elastic of the seamless crew socks I had been wearing were putting pressure RIGHT over the parts of my shins that were so very painful while riding. (This was most likely the cause of the pain to begin with!) I also made the call to ride without half chaps: the previous day, I had repeatedly lacerated my ankles with brambles growing around the area where we had parked the trailer. The cuts were now blistered, swollen, red, angry and incredibly painful, and my half chaps were digging right into the cuts because of my low hiking shoes (my boots had been drenched on the first loop and I had swapped them for the shoes at the first check.) Since the cuffs of my tights were also touching the lacerations, I rolled them up so I had these awesome 4" of exposed ankle on each leg. George Morris would have fainted in horror.

Lol And that is why I do endurance. ;)

The technical fabric shirt I was wearing got swapped for this wonderful soft, loose-fitting tank top from American Eagle that I had packed specifically for this last loop. It was like riding in pajamas.

It was finally time for me to go. I said good-bye to Carlos, not without choking back some tears because I had had so much fun with him on the trail prior and I had wanted us to do this together.

We kissed good-bye, I re-mounted and he stayed behind, packing up our crew bags and allowing G-Mare to continue eating and drinking.

Lily didn't notice we were leaving Gracie. She was all, "LET'S GET THIS DONE!" as she practically dragged us back on trail. I started laughing and laughing at her, which meant I was beaming as we rode out of the vet check. The volunteers and staff waved at us as we went by and I grinned back at them and thanked them for being there for us. They appreciated the thanks so much!

Lily and I trotted on, no one else in front of nor behind us.

"Somos tu y yo, beba," I said to her in Spanish. (Because I talk to her in Spanish all the time.) "It's just you and me, babe."

I worried for a bit about Gracie trailer loading while painful. We rode past the straight load ambulance trailer, which made me worry some more: I've never loaded G-Mare onto a straight load and had no idea how she would react. I was glad I had given Carlos specific instructions to load Gracie first if another horse was going to avoid issues as much as possible.

I held onto the worry for a minute, then let it go. Couldn't do anything about it now. Just like my pain earlier in the day, which I wasn't feeling at all now that the ibuprofen had kicked in. It was also AWESOME to FINALLY be able to post without pain in other areas!!!

I saw double ribbons indicating a turn in the trail. The ribbons were on the right hand side of the road, which confused me: that's the correct side for them to be on if you're going in the right direction. The turn took you up into singletrack in the woods. I stopped and looked at the single track and at the double ribbons. "I thought we stayed on the FS road...everyone said it was straight FS road until the end!"

The ribbons were red.

Lily and I continued on a ways. I saw striped blue & white ribbons on the right side of the road. Hoof prints on the ground were heading away from the hold, in the same direction we were going. And I still second-guessed myself. We turned back around and I looked at the turn onto single track, again noting that the ribbons were red.

"The loops are red, white and blue," I thought.

"Red, white and blue. Red, white and blue...Red, white and BLUE!!!" BLUE!!! BLUE was my trail! I smacked myself: we weren't on the red trail anymore; it was important in the beginning but not now! Part of my confusion was based on the fact that at recent rides, those white and blue striped ribbons had been used to mark turns or spots of note. I think subconsciously I had been expecting solid blue ribbons. Trivial, but it's the best I can come up with as an explanation for this major brain fart.

Shaking my head in dismay at the error I had almost made, we continued on down the FS road, following the striped ribbons. I had not had a chance to eat at the vet check because all of the food for the riders had been put away when we arrived, and even though I wasn't hungry, I made a point now of stuffing my face with one of the Power Bars and Fuel for Fire I had in my saddle bag as Lily trotted along. Calories, carbs, protein: my brain needed all of those to function, and it was obviously lacking at the moment!

Lily plugged along at a steady 6 mph trot. I didn't put her into this pace, it was the one she picked up and held of her own accord. She had no interest in eating or drinking for the first few miles; I wasn't terribly concerned but I did want her to at least drink before we arrived back in camp. There was plenty of water access on this last loop as the road pretty much followed a stream for most of the 9.5 miles. I'd stop Lily periodically to let her think about drinking or eating and she would think about it...then she'd slowly try to turn around. This was the only indication she ever gave me that she noticed Gracie wasn't with us: she wanted to go back to her.

"She's not back there, Lily. Home is this way and she'll be there too." I hoped.

She actually spooked twice at random things on the trail, to my utter surprise! "Do you seriously have the energy for that now?" I asked her, "Do you want to do 75 miles?"

I finally offered her cookies while I ate jelly beans: I had borrowed the idea from Dom's Foxcatcher post, where Skip kept everyone's spirits up with "bean salad" aka jelly beans. I'm not a huge jelly bean person but reading the post, I had known that this would be an awesome pick-me-up for the trail and had bought a bag of the candy just for this ride. I was 100% right.

I asked Lily to halt while I dug out the bags of candy and horse treats from my cantle bag. She seemed annoyed.
"Why did we stop?"
"Want a cookie?" I held out a Stud Muffin to her from the saddle.
"Oh! Don't mind if I do." I saw her eye brighten and she gently took it from my fingers. I shoved jelly beans in my piehole and offered Lily more horse treats. She took them from me twice more and then she was all, "Ok, enough dawdling. Let's go!" She took one step forward as I stuffed the baggies back in my saddle bag, then...
"Can we turn around?"
"No Lily, we have to go forward. Onward!" I said out loud, holding an arm straight up in the air as if we were about to charge into battle.

Except we continued at a walk. :)

Lily eventually picked up a trot again of her own accord, and I just enjoyed the ride and the scenery and the fact that I didn't hurt and that here I was on this horse with whom I have lived so much, just her and me and the trail, finishing a 55-mile ride all by ourselves.

I wanted to sing but my addled brain couldn't remember the lyrics to any of my favorite songs. Other than the Black Eyed Peas, for whatever reason. I sang "Let's Get It Started" for a while, and then "Scream and Shout". And then I sang "Life Is a Road" from the Anastasia movie, whose lyrics I pretty much remembered in their entirety. We both perked up as Lily continued at her 6 mph trot, never hurry never tarry.

Right around then, two riders on their cantering horses showed up, calling out "Coming up on your left!" as they approached. "Go right ahead!" I called back, waving my arm and moving Lily onto the road berm on the right.

They flew by, a girl and a man on two non-Arabs, the man dropping the reins and holding his arms out as if he was flying. I grinned when I saw that.

Lily pricked her ears and picked up speed in her trot.
"Wanna catch up to them?" I asked her.
"Wanna canter? We'll have to canter if you want to go with them," I said.
"I don't really want to canter," she said.
"OK, you're boss mare, girl."
"I'm fine just the two of us," she said, slowing back down to that 6 mph trot, head swinging slightly from side-to-side as she moved along in utter relaxation with ears pricked.
"As you wish," I said out loud, and continued posting at whatever pace she wanted to set, my fingers on the buckle of the reins.

About 6 miles into this loop, Lily suddenly said, "I want to walk." So we walked. And walked and walked. We crossed 55, following a sign that said "To Finish" onto single track.

"To Finish" sign right across the road.

Single track after crossing the road.
Here Lily stopped for water at every puddle on trail and as we walked through a small grassy clearing to take the last section of trail down to the finish line, she stopped to eat. She ate until she said, "Let's go," and we continued.

Drinking from a puddle. She also munched on the wet grass.
The afternoon sun was just glorious.
There is something so incredibly wonderful about a horse that knows, understands and loves her job. The entire day, all I felt flowing from Lily was this intense joy. This happiness over being on this tough trail all day long, going, going on and on and on, pacing herself and taking care of herself. In hindsight I never once had to tell her what to do: she clearly understood and gave her all. If she needed to walk, she walked. If she felt good enough to canter, she did. If she felt confident trotting downhill, she did so. I let her call the shots because I 100% KNEW that Lily knew what she was doing. My concerns only ever lay with Gracie and her management. I never doubted Lily's ability one bit because she never gave me a reason to.

Soon we were arriving at the finish line, where I handed my ride card and dismounted. Lily stared off towards ride camp. She looked like she had done nothing at all. She actually looked perkier than she had at the beginning of the ride!

Staring off towards ride camp at the finish line.
I loosened her girth and hand-walked her into the vet check, where I stripped tack while she drank water from the trough. I knew she was already down but I was in no real hurry. I was just floating in this cloud of absolute happiness and overwhelming pride over my horse. 

Dom showed up around then! She had already finished and gotten her completion on Moniet! She helped me with Lily while I finished removing her tack and I then presented to the vet. Lily saw a Rocky Mountain Horse down at the end of the road that looked a LOT like Gracie (I saw her too) and her heart rate went up as the vet was listening. She could tell Lily was staring at something so we gave her a minute and she came back down, I guess when she realized it wasn't Gracie.

We received our completion! As all the way across the board!

The vet, who was the same one that examined Lily at the first vet check, looked at her now in awe. "She really looks like she didn't do anything at all!" I grinned from ear to ear. "Fit to continue": we had finally, FINALLY achieved this at the end of a true endurance ride!

Lily at the final vet check: "Are we going back out again?"
Fit to continue, indeed!
Photo by Dom.
As if on cue, a truck with a horse trailer pulled up right then and there was Carlos, standing in the back of the truck, waving happily.

My gut feeling from the start of this ride was that I would be finishing it alone. The fact that we went out and did it all anyway was just an indicator of the fact that I was still calm about this gut feeling: I knew we would all be okay anyway. I had wished that Carlos and I would make it to the finish line at the same time though.

I got goosebumps when I saw the trailer arrive with him standing on the truck bed. Because yeah, my gut feeling had been correct, but I had still gotten my wish: Carlos and I arrived at the finish with our horses at the same time! I started laughing in bewilderment at how things work out and how we should be careful with how we word our wishes, and he took this pic:

Dom is awesome. Lily had not realized yet that Gracie had arrived: she was still focused on that RMH at the end of the lane that looked like Gracie.
You know, if I hadn't believed in a higher power before, this sport certainly would have led me to believe. I got my wish: I just forgot to specify I wanted a completion for Gracie too! :)

I'm always saying: "When you want something, the Universe conspires in helping you achieve it," because it does. It really, really does!

Carlos was bubbling with excitement when I asked him how had the trailer loading gone.

Initially Gracie hadn't wanted to step onto the trailer at all. He had stood in it and waited, then put his face close to hers and whispered, "Gracie. Trust me." And Gracie had given a huge sigh and put one front foot on the trailer at a time, then heaved herself on. The other horse that needed to go on the ambulance had been incredibly difficult to load, and everyone, including that horse's owner, praised Gracie for being such a good girl.

I was beaming when he told me this story.

Carlos took these when both horses were loaded and ready to return to camp. 
Gracie unloaded in ride camp and Lily whinnied and whinnied in greeting.

We walked the horses down to the trailer so I could feed Lily. Carlos then took Gracie back to the treatment vet to get her looked at one more time per ride rules: she was still lame but better than she had been at the vet check and she was cleared to go home. All As metabolically, at least! She looked rested and happy, even after the trailer ride down the mountain in an unfamiliar rig.

I fed both horses mashes, grass hay and alfalfa and poulticed their legs.

Endurance ponehs with legs poulticed with Ice Tight.

Have a photo of my horse urinating! This was a major cause for celebration: her urine was light yellow, the color it is supposed to be aka I managed my horse correctly and she had done GREAT metabolically!
(Yes, endurance riders are slightly more obsessed with their horses' poop and urine than the average horse person...)
Gracie also had a serving of bute. The rest of the evening is now somewhat of a blur. We hiked up the hill to get my tack, which I had left by the vet check water trough, and our crew bags.

Liz is one tough girl and I love this photo. She had both hers and Dan's crew bags!
Liz, Dan, Carlos and I hung out with Dom for a bit.

This photo has quite the backstory and I'm not telling y'all!
Endurance Trifecta Secret!
We completely skipped the ride meeting in favor of hanging out at our campsite, stuffing our faces with chicken, steak, roasted veggies, Thin Mints, and beer, provided by Liz's and Dan's sponsors Saddles & Smiles, and cooked up by Dan on a charcoal grill.

Felesha and Dan.
Felesha is a badass: she has ridden entire LDs BAREBACK!!!!
Feast in progress.
The temperature started to drop with nightfall. I threw a cooler and sheet over Lily and Gracie received her midweight. We brought out our Mr. Heater so we could continue to sit by the grill long into the night.

Lulled by the conversation around us, a truly full stomach for the first time all day, and the warmth of the heater and the BoT blanket I'd wrapped around myself, I fell into a deep, deep sleep still sitting in my chair.

Carlos roused me when everyone was getting ready for bed. The horses got fed one more time and we crashed hard afterwards.

Sunday: Return Home
I woke up after it was light outside and stepped out of the tent when I heard Dan and Liz moving about. Carlos followed suit.

My legs looked so very sexy that morning...NOT!

See my shin? It's normally a straight line.
You can see the red bruising on my shins and a hint of the red lines from the lacerations across my ankles. This photo does them no justice at all: they looked nasty enough that I had Carlos take a look.
Another view of the huge welt on the front of my shins.
We took our sweet time packing up our belongings and breaking down camp. We then took turns walking the horses up the hill to the main ride camp to say good-bye to Dom. 

I gave G-Mare a light longe in our field to watch her move. I could see the right hind stepping short that the vets had seen the previous day but it was intermittent. The right front currently looked fine. I gave her another dose of bute with her breakfast.

Marefaces eating in the morning sunlight.
Liz and the truck that self-feeds: Saddles and Smiles's truck came with its own gas for refilling the tank! I thought this was the coolest thing ever, Liz said it was the most redneck thing ever.
By 8:30 am we had all said our good-byes and were all hitting the road. 

It was an uneventful drive back home.

Once at the barn, we unloaded the horses, fed them so they could eat while we unloaded the truck & trailer and cleaned our gear, turned them out and then took our stinky, unbathed selves to Cracker Barrel, where we had a feast of a breakfast.

Everything in this photo was MY breakfast and I ate ALL OF IT.

Lily recovered like nothing had happened. She actually GAINED weight after this ride, which is unheard of! Gracie received bute in her grain for a full 5 days after this ride and she received a Chondroprotec (generic Adequan) injection. We had a prolonged rain forecast for the entire week after No Frills, which meant the horses were moving less in their pastures: 2 days after returning from No Frills, Gracie appeared to be crippled in both front legs. Movement helped significantly so for those first 4 days, I took her out of her field and had her trot and canter at liberty.

Hanging out after a liberty session during a brief moment we had sun.
She just got better and better after each session. The first weekend after No Frills, I hopped on her bareback for an unplanned ride to see how she felt...and she was sound!

She was gaiting in this photo. No short striding on that right front whatsoever!
She had the rest of the week afterwards off, and was put back into work this weekend. She felt like nothing had ever happened. 

Carlos had no issues recovering: he had some second day onset soreness in his legs but otherwise didn't feel like he had ridden a whopping 44 miles: he took great care of himself. The swelling in my shins was gone 48 hours after the ride, and my IT band has only bothered me once more, and only as a dull ache, during a 4-mile run. I've been doing more cross training since then to strengthen the muscles on the outside portions of my legs. The lacerations on my ankles healed uneventfully, though I'll have the scars from them for a while. The rest of me did great! It is the BEST I have felt after a 50+ mile ride!

What are our plans for Gracie for the future? LDs for sure. We might try an easier 50 over not-so-challenging terrain at some point. We will see.

As for Lily? I am not saying a word! ;)


  1. I'm very disappointed you didn't include the photos Carlos and I took of you passed out!!!!!

    The peeing photo was my other favorite. The George Morris memes were very well played! But Eric Cartman is forever my favorite because that is one of my favorite life quotes :-D

    See you in a few days sisterfrann.

    1. He deleted them before I could get them sent to my phone for uploading!

      Eric Cartman is also my fave! Lololol

      See you soon!!!!

  2. Arrrggghhh, long comment all typed out...and then closed my browser window before I remembered if I hit 'publish' or not. So, let's try this again...my apologies if it's a duplicate. :)

    CONGRATULATIONS on a great finish for you and Lily! To finish a touch ride, and looking so good is such a great reflection on all of the care and time you've put into her and figuring out what works for her particular endurance needs.

    Good job to Carlos and Gracie! Sad that they got pulled, but you don't know what you can do until you try, and it sounds like they had an excellent ride up to that point, and a great learning and partnership experience.

    A few miscellaneous thoughts...

    -- I had good luck finding a reasonably priced GoreTex rain shell at Cabelas with their "Rainy River" line. Retail is around $120 and they will sometimes have year-end stuff in their "Bargain Cave" for $75-90. I got mine about 8 years ago, have used/abused it on all sorts of rides, hikes, and trips (especially since half the time, the desert reserves its rainy days specially for ride days), and it's only just now starting to lose some of its waterproofness, especially around the lower sleeves/wrists.

    -- "Anastasia" is one of my favorite go-to movies for "sing along on the trail" moments! (Fortunately I'm pretty sure the pony is tone deaf.)

    -- *Ouch* on the shins. I had the same thing happen at a ride, so major sympathetic *ouch*.

    1. Thank you for the tip on the Rainy River line from Cabelas!! I will definitely be checking it out!

      Isn't "Life is a Journey" a wonderful song? It's so appropriate for endurance, too! ;)

      I had shin issues of similar magnitude at the OD my first time and later used stirrups with offset eyes at Fort Valley...and no issues. I think that's where the key to preventing this problem altogether lies! From looking online, apparently it's a pretty common issue. :/

      Thank you again!!

  3. Congrats on your 55. I'm so glad Lily managed without metabolic issues. You two kick ass!!

    1. Thank you Karen! These rides are such beasts compared to others on the East Coast.

  4. That first photo, wow, it's the most hardcore ride photo I've ever seen.

    I love how you experienced the ecstasy that is 50+ miles with a good horse who loves its job and doesn't mess around. There is nothing better on earth.

    Your idea to bring changes of clothes to out-checks - I never thought of that. But you were wise to do so because of your clothing issues. Imagine if you hadn't!

    So sorry your man and Gracie could not finish with you, but how wonderful they met you at the finish.

    It must be something special to compete and complete on a non-Arab.

    Most of all I love how you can share what endurance truly is. The worry that is always there, but the exhilaration. Enduring agony at times. Finishing to win.

    And you also summed it up - one of the best things about the sport is to succeed at it, all you have to do is ride your horse a lot. A lot a lot. Should that be so hard? And then you get the bonus of camping with friends, and seeing God's country with your best friend. Like you said, Lily seemed to know what 50 miles is, and that is such a great feeling in a horse, when they understand and get stronger toward the end.

    Loved the peeing photo. The important stuff.

    Oh, um, I kept worrying that Carlos was gonna fall out of the back of the truck and get killed. Was the truck rolling through a pasture with him standing?

    Thanks for the great ride story.

    1. I started bringing changes of clothes to rides for every vet check after Fort Valley. I changed on a whim then and it was SUCH a game changer mentally to be able to get into fresh, dry clothes that I've continued doing so. Even for LDs!

      People on Arabs make the sport sound easy. It's a completely different perspective when your horse has no Arab blood...but completes anyway. The completion becomes very, very hard-earned indeed. Lily will never have CRIs in the 40s during competition but that's okay: she's been pulsing down as rapidly as an Arab, and I am beyond thrilled with that! We'll see how the trend continues as the weather gets warmer...

      Hahaha Carlos rode in the back of the truck but it was driven slowly down the same FS road that I rode. So no danger at all. :D

      And you're welcome! So happy you enjoyed!!

  5. So happy for you and Lily- I had the biggest smile on my face reading this whole thing <3

  6. Super congrats! I love the Beast Mode mare photo, war mare for sure. It sounds like such a great ride, though I'm sorry Charles couldn't finish with you, but that Gracie is now OK. That fog is epic, I find riding in the fog I lose my sense of distance with all the sounds muffled, and views so obscured. And ouch on the pain! Your shins look so painful, but I'm glad it was all worth it!

    As for the GPS without phone signal: I have used (on an iPhone) MotionX GPS. You can hard-download the maps of any particular area into your phone, at different detail levels, and it will work without cell service. It is especially great for camping, but I've used it for an entire endurance ride as well.

    1. Thank you irish horse! :) And oooo thank you for the MotionX recommendation!!! I will be trying that!

  7. I am so thrilled we got to see each other for three rides in a row! Also glad you got your completion. OD definitely makes things seem easier in comparison, but No Frills is a TOUGH ride.

    I agree with you about not being able to cope with boots. With the exception of Spot and Poe (who I only did CTR with) I think all the horses I've catch-ridden have been shod. I am a huge barefoot fan and Ozzy was barefoot for 99% of the rides I did with him, BUT I will pick shoes over boots every time. So much less maintenance and so much more affordable in the long run, IME.

    Also, I giggle-snorted when I read your Polish Arabian comment. Hahaha.

    I need to take notes on packing away hold bags. I am notoriously bad at packing with myself in mind. If it hadn't been for Skip I would have frozen to death AND starved.

    I hate any loop that is over 20 miles, but that stop and go really makes the 25 miles at No Frills bearable.

    I am thrilled you guys came to hang out at the trailer. I am spoiled riding for Skip but it results in me not socializing as much as I used to at rides (and, let's be real, the social aspect is half the reason I do this sport!)

    I need to invest in good waterproof coat and boots. I will be messaging you for recommendations :) I HATE being wet and I've done it more this year than in my entire endurance career prior to this season. UGH.

    I'm jealous you can eat breakfast the morning of a ride. I am not a big breakfast eater in general, but I have an especially hard time at rides. If I don't eat, I feel crappy later, but if I DO eat more than a bite or two, I end up feeling queasy after the start.

    The fog on this ride was eerie and amazing and beautiful. Words and photos totally failed to capture it.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who breathes in her horses' noses. :)

    For what it's worth, I think you did the right thing giving Lyte Now when she wasn't drinking. That specific formula is designed to boost that thirst feeling and make them drink when they're not. Horses' elytes work basically opposite of ours and you made a wise decision on that one.

    Fun story... I did NOT recognize Bucktail at all even though I've spent lots of time there. My brain didn't connect it at all until everyone started talking about it. Dur!

    I need to ride with you for the music aspect alone :-P

    FYI: If you see me at a ride, I have Ibuprofen on me. I carry it in my saddle bags. If you are ever painful, tell me and I will gladly share!!! You can ALWAYS go through my hold stuff, too. I tend to stash pain meds there too.

    I was chaffed in bad places after riding in my wet saddle too. I am totally pulling a Funder next time it rains at a ride (please, dear god, no more rain at rides!)

    I actually got teary when you said goodbye to Carlos <3 <3

    I'm glad the jelly beans helped you. I am constantly picking up what to bring to rides from other people's blogs. I now drink V8 at holds (I can't normally stand the stuff!) Also helpful are KitKat bars and Crunch bars. :)

    The conversations you had with Lily on the last loop are so familiar to me. I smiled reading them. There is NOTHING like this sport. Nothing. That feeling of a horse that knows and loves distance riding... I get that with Moniet. It's awesome.

    Thank you for writing this up. I kept refreshing the two weeks after the ride. I got home from Biltmore feeling pretty bummed, but reading this entry reminded me so much of why I do this. Why I keep coming back. You nailed it with this post. Thank you.

    Hope to see you out there again soon. Happy trails.

    1. Dom, your comment was my favorite and it's taken me forever to get back to you because I wanted to do it while sitting at a computer! I've read and re-read it multiple times because it gives me the warm fuzzies.

      E-mail or message me at any time! I'm happy to recommend all the things. :D I'm so tired of riding in the rain too. Even this weekend...we were planning a long conditioning ride and it's been drizzling all day long. Carlos and I were like, "Oh hell no!" Which is why I'm at the computer today. ;)

      I used to have a really hard time eating the morning of a ride. I'm normally very much a breakfast person, and not eating enough would make me crash halfway through the first loop. It was all pre-ride jitters though. I hope that with Moniet being such a good boy, you'll be able to get over those jitters sooner rather than later.

      The fog was stunning. I just love fog. Did you ever read "Season of Ponies" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder? My fascination with mist comes from that book. It was one of my favorites as a kid. I still have the book: it's one of the ones that made the overseas trip with me from PR. I brought my cat, my clothes and my books. Nothing else!

      Thank you so much for the ibuprofen offer! *hug* I will remember that! I had a tiny vial of them in my saddlebags and apparently managed to spill them all on trail. Ugh!

      You should totally ride with me more, music or no music. ;) I forgot to mention when we sang "You are my Sunshine!"

      V8!!! I used to bring that to rides initially! I love V8 at rides! Thank you for reminding me that! I might pack KitKats too...those and peanut M&Ms are some of my fave chocolates.

      Thank you, again, for recommending the Lyte Now. I kept hoping I'd find it in a tack store and finally just ordered it from RW. I should have tried it a long time ago. I'm glad I used it correctly. I honestly didn't even read what was in those tubes; I went blindly on your recommendation. Which says a lot about how much I trust and value your opinions! ;)

      I'm thrilled for you that you are riding Moniet. <3 And I'm happy that this post helped cheer you up after Biltmore.

      Hope to see you soon too!


    2. I hope I can get into the breakfast thing. Even with Steel, who I trust completely, I can't bring myself to eat. I just have a Starbucks iced coffee drink and a banana and call it a day. I'm trying!

      I have not read Season of Ponies. I'll have to look into it!

      Peanut M&M's! Omg... those sound like they would really hit the spot at a ride. I have also been eating fruit snacks at holds. Om nom nom.

      No pressure about the blind trust!! Eek!

  8. Congrats on the 55, you definitely know how to write it as an epic. I was so worried for Liz and Gracie, glad both girls are okay :)

    1. Me too! Liz's fall was terrifying but she was 100% fine even the next day, which was a relief! Gracie is now truly back to normal. My vet gave her a once-over when she came recently for vaccines and declared her sound! So yay! :)

  9. It's so wonderful to see how all of you have changed over the years I've been following your blog. It makes my heart feel full to see how endurance gives people and horses so much more confidence over time. I think overcoming adversity and failures and mistakes in judgment must be good for us! Congrats on your awesome completion with Lily and I look forward to seeing you guys at another unspecified ride at some unpredictable time in the future:)

    1. It's pretty amazing what endurance does for people, horses and their relationships with one another.

      I too look forward to seeing you at another unspecified ride at some unpredictable time in the future! ;D

  10. Congrats on the completion and the epic ride story. I'm glad Gracie is doing better.

  11. This whole thing was a complete pleasure to read- thank you for sharing part of the experience with us! A big congratulations to all of you!!

    1. Thank you EquiNovice!! I'm glad you enjoyed! :D

  12. Late to the party, but CONGRATULATIONS! What a wonderful report. :)

    Also I totally read that as, "George Morris would have farted in horror."

    1. LMAO! The idea of George Morris farting in horror is hysterical!

      Thank you! :D