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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

No Frills Review

This was a long time coming but life has been a bit crazy (in a good way) on this side of the computer monitor!

As usual, a post of "what worked, what didn't" after our 50+ mile ride. :) I'm only reviewing the things that were done differently/added from the last time we did this distance; if something works, it stays.

What Worked

1. Nutrition
For the horses:
  • Based on this article (as well as literature by Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, but that article summarizes all of it really well) I switched both horses to Triple Crown Complete, and mixed it 50/50 with crimped oats. They received this mixture as a sloppy mash every day for the week leading up to the ride, during the ride, and for the week after the ride. I really liked this mix, especially for Lily: her energy levels never bottomed out throughout the day!
  • Leading up to the ride, I mixed 1 oz of regular table salt with 1 scoop of Perform n' Win electrolytes into the horses' mashes once a day. At the ride, I used 1/2 oz table salt + 1/2 oz lite salt + 1 scoop Perform n' Win every time I gave a mash.
  • At rides, I feed a mash upon arriving, right after unloading the horses; another mash after the pre-ride, and a third mash at bedtime. If I wake up in the middle of the night (and it's not freaking pouring rain...) I will give another mash. The horses get ANOTHER mash when I wake up first thing in the morning, and I will offer half the amount of mash + a handful of alfalfa (in a separate bowl) before beginning to tack up. Does this seem aggressive? Yes. But my horses are non-Arabs in a humid climate and this is working so far, especially for Lily.
  • I didn't syringe elytes in camp because both mares were so willing to eat this mixture with their feed.
  • For on-trail, I bought three syringes of 3-dose Lyte Now. I carried 1 syringe for each horse at all times; I sent the extra syringes to the away vet check and restocked as needed. While on-trail, each mare received one dose of Lyte Now halfway through the first loop and again before leaving the first vet check; on the second loop, each horse received a dose halfway through the first 14 miles, with Gracie getting an extra dose before the stop n' go; both horses had doses at the stop n' go, and again before leaving the second vet check. Lily did not get any more Lyte Now on the last loop because we walked so much of it. Both horses again received mashes with added elytes upon returning to camp.
  • Gracie still needs her elytes tweaked (I think she needs more sodium to get her to drink more) but Lily did FABULOUSLY with this regime throughout the day. Does it seem excessive? Yup. But this is exactly how Aarene manages Fiddle, another dark, muscular non-Arab ridden in a humid climate. And as you can see, Lily had great scores all day long, ate and drank like a trooper, and stayed hydrated. I'm VERY pleased with this electrolyte formula!!! Especially because it is the first paste of any form where Lily has continued eating and drinking immediately after. Usually whenever I syringe her anything, she will refuse to eat and drink for a while, sometimes hours, because she hates the flavor of what she was given!
Ponehs eating their mashes
  • The horses were only offered high quality grass hay from the farm where we board at. I brought along bagged alfalfa, but it was only given before the pre-ride, before the ride itself the next day, and after the ride for recovery. I don't like feeding alfalfa during competition because Lily has had a hard time recovering while on it in the past: it is very high in protein, and high protein + high fat diets during endurance competitions can actually interfere with a horse's ability to cool down. So I decided to eliminate another variable in the equation by avoiding alfalfa for the most part.
For us:
We carb loaded the week before the ride, like I always do. I make lunches and dinners in advance for the entire week for both Carlos and me on a normal basis, but I modified it a bit for the week leading up to No Frills.

Breakfasts: 2 slices of Ezekiel toast; egg whites scrambled with spinach and low fat string mozzarella cheese.
Lunch: oven roasted chicken breast, quinoa and black bean salsa; baby carrots with red pepper hummus.
Dinner: whole wheat protein pasta, pasta sauce made with canned tomatoes, lean ground beef, mushrooms, shredded carrots, onions and peppers.
  • At the ride, the evening prior we had the ride dinner with lasagna, salad, and brownies for dessert. (Brownies are rapidly becoming a pre-ride dessert of choice when available...)
  • The day of the ride, we had our English muffins with honey-roasted turkey and Swiss cheese, with dehydrated apple chips. I'm a coffee addict and get a wicked migraine if I don't have my morning coffee: on this morning we had Starbucks Double Shot protein drinks. This was an EXCELLENT start to the day that kept me fueled all the way until the first vet check. 
  • At the first vet check, I completely forgot they had hot food like chili and soup; Carlos snagged PB&J sandwiches for us, which is a ride staple for me anyway: easy to digest, has carbs, protein and fat, and you can wolf down the sandwich while working on your horse. I tend to crave sweet things when I'm tired and PB&J hits that spot as well.
  • At the last vet check I ate nothing because the food had been put away by the time we arrived at the hold.
  • Throughout the day I always carry snacks in my saddle bag: 2-3 snacks/loop. The crew bag had been packed with extra snacks so we could replenish at each hold. Both Carlos and I did a good job of eating what we had taken. For myself: Power Bars (I like the chocolate flavor; always have), Fuel for Fire pouches and Cliff Shots. If I was truly hungry (this happened halfway through the second loop) I ate a Power Bar. If I was low on energy, I had a Cliff Shot. If my brain felt fatigued, I had a Fuel for Fire pouch. These, when timed right like this, all worked perfectly to keep me going all day long! The jelly beans I saved for the last loop and were an awesome pick-me-up when I was tired of eating the same things all day. 
  • Carlos isn't a fan of Power Bars so those were subbed for Epic bison or beef bars (he really likes them and they sit well with him), Cliff Shots, Cliff Blocks (he'll eat those when he's not really hungry but needs the calories), and Fuel for Fire pouches. I wasn't keeping tabs on when he was eating what, but my orders had been that he ingest food every hour on trail and he obeyed to a T. He ate all of his snacks on each loop.
  • I used Nuun electrolyte tablets in one of the two water bottles I carried. Only had one episode of leg cramping at the end of the last loop!

2. Rider Fitness
Both Carlos and I have been working out regularly; him for the past 5 months, me for the past year. Carlos used to complain about it, saying that riding was enough of a workout...until he noticed how much better he was riding after just one month of consistently dragging him to Spinning classes with me. He shut up then. Lol He now alternates between running on the treadmill and the elliptical for cardio (he has a bum knee and ankle so he has to be careful with high-impact) and has added strength training 2-3 times/week. My workouts are much more  rigorous: 5-6 days/week, doing a combination of circuit weight training that varies from high rep-low weight to high weight-low rep to drop sets; HIIT; and some steady-state cardio (running on the treadmill, Spinning, Bang Power Dance classes) for endurance. These ever changing combinations have taken me from this:

December 2015

To this:

May 2016
I've lost 10 lbs of fat in 5 months and put on a whole lot of muscle. I have deltoids and pecs for the first time in my life and everything is so much easier: long work days with lots of lifting of animals, running, riding. No personal trainer, no super restrictive diet: I have always had an avid interest in fitness and nutrition, so I'm just applying what I know.  We normally eat pretty clean at home no matter what, and have one or two meals out on the weekends.
I experienced pain during the ride, yes, but none of it was muscle fatigue related. 48 hours after No Frills, I felt good enough to go back to the gym for a light workout. Another 24 hours later, I was back to my regular workouts. Carlos was the same: his bum knee became sore halfway through the second loop but it was the only thing that hurt. He looked as happy and perky at the end of 44 miles as he did at 6:00 am that morning (maybe even more so...he's not a morning person! Lol) Carlos gets A++ for rider management. ;)

3. Tack

  • Gracie's crupper did a fabulous job at keeping her saddle in place. That combined with her TSF girth with sheepskin cover = no galling whatsoever during this mountainous ride!
  • I like swapping out saddle pads at every hold: each horse had a dry saddle pad at the beginning of each loop to avoid heat friction. No new white hairs on either of their backs.
  • I also like swapping out girths. I only have one TSF girth (too expensive to own multiples) so G-Mare kept the same girth (every other girth I own rides up into her armpits even with the crupper. She has long humeri), but with Lily I alternated between her contoured mohair girth and her Woolback. No galling on either horse.

4. Shoes

  • Both mares wore steel shoes with tiny borium studs, all the way around. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Dan, our farrier (and also Liz's farrier) is knowledgeable in shoeing horses for both endurance and riding on rocky trails, and his work didn't fail for one second. Those shoes were TIGHT all the way through this ride on both horses. Both mares had had longer strides and much more confidence on trail with shoes vs boots right from the get-go. Carlos even asked during our first trial ride, "Does Dan include nitro with his shoeing jobs? Because holy crap!" Both mares were FLYING at the trot and Lily had the confidence, for the first time ever, to be ASKING to canter all over creation. This was a consistent change after the shoe application: her default gait has always been the trot prior to this. Both mares were also CHOOSING to trot downhills during our trial runs at the barn, which was also a huge significant change. I can't tell you guys what a relief it was to be able to move out on trail with rocks and mud and not have to constantly worry about a hoof boot popping off. Boots work very well for some horses, but not for these two. We will be continuing to shoe for competition, with strictly barefoot being the off-season norm.


What Didn't Work

1. Tack
  • Leg protection was hit-or-miss. Both horses had mild chafing from their bell boots. Gracie also had some rubbing from her front Woof boots, to my surprise.
  • My short stirrup covers (I use sheepskin halter cheek covers: only covers the Wintec Webber's "buckles" and doesn't create so much bulk under my legs) were a contributing factor in my shin pain/swelling: they have Velcro and the Velcro twisted, digging into my shins. I've also decided I really need stirrup turners. I might have to try riding without the sheepskin saddle cover to see if this helps with my IT band pain: it is only happening on Lily when riding in this saddle.
And apparently these are the only two things that didn't work for us. I honestly can't think of anything else that needed improvement other than next time I should pack real grain portions for the horses for away checks: Ride management ran out of grain by the last hold and I had nothing to give either mare grain-wise. At least they had hay, which they were eager for anyway.

Things I have learned since then: I should add BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) to the humans' regimes during the ride to help with recoveries and keep pain at bay. Magnesium can also be very helpful in preventing leg cramps. I notoriously get those during 50s, usually halfway through, but only suffered one cramp that resolved with hard massaging only 3 miles from the finish thanks to adequately hydrating myself. If taking magnesium, you should pre-load with it: don't take it during the ride because it might make you have to go to the bathroom more often. :)


I completed the Old Dominion 50 by sheer luck. I completed the Fort Valley 50 flying by the seat of our pants...and Lily crashed afterwards, ending up being that horse in camp with the Vetrap bandage around her neck. The No Frills 55? Lily and I EARNED that completion fair and square. And after all of our struggles at our previous 50s, to have her finish looking like this...

Photo by Dom.
Well, it makes that completion practically priceless.

I returned to work the following week walking on cloud 9. Lily is living proof that horses that do endurance go up in the herd pecking order: after each ride where she has led, she has come back to become herd leader or second-in-command. This, the mare that used to be at the bottom of the totem pole.

Well, it can affect people in the same way.

At work, for the last 9 months or so as the new kid on the block in Surgery, I've been in a learning situation where I was close to the bottom of the totem pole in our new department. I had SO MUCH CONFIDENCE returning after this ride, that all of a sudden I was voicing opinions, making decisions without asking first, telling senior coworkers what to do when I needed them to do said things, and trusting my gut a million times more. I know what I'm doing, but I was constantly second-guessing myself prior to this ride. And just like Lily, I suddenly made the climb up the totem pole without having to fight to get there: my confidence alone got me there. Suddenly, my coworkers and doctor were not only respecting my opinion, they were turning to me to ask for my say in things, and instead of being the student, I found myself in the position of teacher alongside my head coworkers. When you work with a team that is almost 50% men and some of them are of dramatically different cultures from my own, this is an incredibly significant series of events.

All because of 55 miles. 55 very, very tough miles.

Lily has officially completed the Old Dominion Triple Crown, the toughest series of endurance rides in this country, at the 50+ mile distances. While she didn't complete them in the same year to earn herself the OD Triple Crown title, she has most certainly completed each one on the first attempt, which still counts just as much in my book! Especially when you consider that she is a mutt non-Arab mare that no one wanted, that had been declared too dangerous to ride, that I got for $1.

Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase.
And I, the nerdy fat kid that everyone chose last for school sports, that was repeatedly told she sucked at every sport under the sun, that didn't have a boyfriend until age 17 because she was so insecure, that for the longest time was also the girl that nobody wanted...conditioned said mare, prepared her, and rode her to success at all three of these rides...at endurance distances. All by herself. And let's not even talk about the fact that endurance is among the toughest of the equestrian sports, where rider fitness is just about as important as your horse's if you want to succeed.

Not the fat kid anymore.
If that's not a rags-to-riches story, I don't know what is.
We are the same, her and I.
But it is our story. I can't wait to see where it takes us next!

And if there is something that you have always wanted to do, by golly grab that bull by the horns and go out and do it! You will never be sorry that you tried. 


  1. You guys rock! Love reading about the rides and all of your progress, so amazing how your hard work has paid off. <3

  2. Congrats again for a completion well deserved (:

  3. Your rider fitness is inspiring, and reminds me that I need to buckle down and get my ass in gear.

    As for stirrup leathers. Do you ride in a Wintec? I'm blanking. If yes, you can pass the leathers under the saddle flap and get rid of the chafing entirely. At Hector (in the rain) I got bruises on my shins and my legs were swollen and burning for days. I passed my stirrups under and haven't had a problem since!

  4. Awesome recap. Your elecrolyting seems really intense, but clearly it's working. I'm taking some notes since we're also attempting to bring a non arab, dark colored mutt into endurance.

  5. I am enjoying reading your riding adventures with Carlos. I think it is so wonderful that you are enjoying your horses together! Also, I think a rider needs to be fit too. It makes you feel so much better. You look marvelous in your photos!