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

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Ride Between the Rivers 2016: A Carlos Guest Post!

Yet another SUPER late post...since he is the one that actually rode at Ride Between the Rivers, we decided Carlos should do a guest post about his experience. :) He did his homework and promptly wrote his portion the week after the ride...and it's taken me another...three? to add in my parts of it. Italics = my writing, since I'm also commenting from my point of view. 

Drives to WV are always beautiful...except when the "Check Engine" light on your truck turns on while hauling a full two-horse trailer over mountains with hairpin turns, right before you start the section of drive where you will not have any phone signal whatsoever for the next 2-3 hours.

I can only imagine this from the point of view of the lady running the registration booth from the small white trailer in base camp. Ride Between the Rivers has been held for 10 years and by now almost everything works like clockwork.

Then this little smiling brunette comes up to the registration desk.

This is just a small sample of quotes the registration lady said in the next two hours:

"Welcome to Ride Between the Rivers!...Wait, so you want to switch riders AND horses?"

"So you want to ride a different horse, Carlos won't ride anyone (the original entries had Carlos on Gracie and me on Lily) and someone else who is not here will ride the second horse?"

"Well, I've never had anyone ask me if they can swap riders on one horse mid-race before but I can find out." (More on that in a minute...)

"So you are NOT going to ride anymore. Carlos was not going to ride but will now ride the first horse and the second horse will be ridden by the other person who is still not here?"

"Wait wait wait...So the horse that has had riders switched twice and is registered as Milli-On-Aire [lame name, btw] (I agree, but it's her registered name. I don't care to pay the moola to change that...) is actually called Gracie???"

"Hold on...so the number 6 horse, who was supposed to be Gracie, got vetted in as number 2, who is Tiger Lily...Okay, we can switch the numbers but I need to see their AERC cards so I can make sure I get everything right."

"Hey guys! Haven't seen you in like 20 minutes!..."

This was the beginning of Ride Between the Rivers 2016.

The registration lady's name was Tina, and I wanted to give her a hug at the end of ALL THAT, not only for her infinite patience, but also for handling that whole entire mess with a huge grin and a sense of humor. Apparently this is the stuff that happens when I'm not the one riding and try to step back as crew for my own horses...

To backtrack, since I haven't written in a while: we had entered to ride RBTR before my accident on the river. After my accident, it was pretty evident that I would not be riding the original 50 miles I had intended on Lily. I thought maybe I'd be able to do the LD...but as the ride date got closer, I realized that even that might by out of the question. My friend Jess was willing to ride Lily in the competition, so that solved that. The possibility of me riding Gracie (because gaited = smooth) and having Carlos crew for us so I could guide Jess on her first endurance ride ever on my horse, was discussed. I didn't think I could do the full 30 miles even on Gracie though, but I thought I had heard somewhere of a horse legally (as in notifying ride management) swapping riders halfway through an AERC ride and the miles still counting for the horse but not the riders. I was willing to do that, if allowed, but we found out that this is, in fact, not allowed. Which was absolutely  fine by me. 

Carlos and I went on a pre-ride after vetting the horses, with Carlos on Lily and me on Gracie (Jess was driving straight from work in the Rockville, MD area to Elkins, WV and would be arriving later.) 

Shorts and half chaps ftw
I had had a very physically tough first week at the new job and I was very sore on my right glute and thigh (the areas that I hit the hardest), enough that riding put me in excruciating pain, which I wouldn't realize until I was on Gracie. Liz had described a 5-mile loop that involved going down a path into the river, crossing the river and going back onto the gravel road that would take us back into camp. 

At about mile 2 we saw a steep downhill path that took us to the river (we totally misunderstood Liz). Except it was so freaking steep, I decided we should dismount to negotiate it with the horses. Carlos and Lily led the way, with Lily's hind legs splaying out as she skied the last few feet downhill. I gulped when I saw that and thanked the Heavens that I'd suggested dismounting. I made Gracie tail me down, which she did...until she got to the slippery last section of the path: she then tried to turn around to go back uphill. There was one terrifying moment where I was further down that muddy trail than she was, and I felt my heart pounding in my throat because the last thing I wanted was for her to panic and me to end up under her hooves. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I felt extra-vulnerable being injured as well: I totally understand why some horses get extra-skittish when they hurt, because I get the same way!

Thankfully, G-Mare is not the same horse she was back then and it didn't take a lot of talking to convince her to approach the stream while walking next to me. She, too, skied the last few feet down to the water's edge but remained calm.

At the water, at the bottom of this treacherous trail.

She stood stock-still for me to get back on.
We crossed the river and tried accessing the gravel road on the opposite bank, but the climb onto the road was 100% vertical. My veins were still pumping with adrenaline from the downhill climb on that last section of trail. I was nauseated by the sight of the uphill climb to get out. I told Carlos there was no fucking way we were doing that climb, and turned around and decided we would follow the river back to the gravel road. 

My tension was not helping my soreness. We had only done 3 miles and I was already mentally and emotionally exhausted. I could not do the LD. I couldn't even do half of it even if we had been allowed. Not physically, not mentally. During this pre-ride, I realized I still had a hefty dose of PTSD from my last attempt at RBTR, with Liz's Griffin. 

 Back in camp, we switched the entries so Carlos was riding Gracie in the LD after all.

One of the rivers for which this ride is named, and one of my favorite parts of the trail from two years ago. I was happy to get to ride through it if only in practice. If you "embiggen", you can still see the faint lavender bruise on my right thigh.
Once that was done, I was surprised by my level of relief. I had been a knot of general worry and anxiety leading up to that moment and it all suddenly vanished. Apparently I had been stressed about my body holding up to this ride + combination of starting a new job and needing said body to work. Hanging around camp dog-sitting Dan's German Shepherd and wolf hybrid while waiting for my riders to return sounded like heaven right about then and there!

Jess arrived literally 15 minutes before the ride briefing and dinner were scheduled to start. Liz had brought a tent for her just in case, and had it all set up for her! Jess was thrilled. Dinner ultimately started late, so we had plenty of time to get Jess settled in and the registration situation sorted out for good!

The ride meeting.

Ride camp

Taking the horses for a walk around camp.
Our team of riders was really interesting. Liz was the most experienced endurance rider. Relatively new endurance riders like Dan and myself with a few competitions between the two of us, and several 100% brand-spanking new-to-the-endurance-sport riders: Orion, Jess, Austen and Laura. Charlie, a friend of Dan's, was also riding with us on one of Dan's horses but I'm not sure about her level of endurance experience. A team of 8 riders and a one-person sore, limpy crew in the form of Saiph.

No one stayed up too late the night before, no one drank too much, and when we woke up, it was a nice cool morning: cloudy but not raining, unlike every other race this year. Everything seemed to be in place in the morning (probably because the one-person crew made sure of that, Carlos... ;) ) Everyone was awake, getting ready, smiling, and happy about the weather...except for Dan, who had a look of, "God I wish it was raining." Dan really enjoys riding in the rain. I had threatened him that if he deliberately made it rain at this ride, I wasn't going to the next ride he was competing in! Lol And yes, we all have superpowers around here. Dan makes it rain and places fall apart when I stop working at them. Astoundingly true story...I left a week to the day before everything went to hell. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry when Jess told me. "They're going to think I'm a witch!" I exclaimed.

I saw everyone off, making sure to take pictures of all in the giant posse of riders that was heading out together as a single group. 

HUGE group of riders!

Their plan was to pace for the benefit of the slowest horse, since some of the horses were also completely new to the sport (Griffin, Nell) or  fairly inexperienced (Gracie, Dakota, Butch) when compared to Shiloh, Q and Lily. Liz was basically going to be the "adult" with Dan as her backup, since he has a long career as a trail guide through the WV mountains

With Carlos and Jess. Photo by Dom's Mike!
Also by Mike. I love this pic.

Relaxed mares after walking around camp.

Austen on Q and Liz on Griffin. This would be Griffin's true maiden voyage into the sport!

Another GREAT shot by Mike!
Since I wasn't riding, Carlos was under STRICT ORDERS to NOT let go of the reins at the ride start (remember?) because they were with an army of people and horses new to the sport and I didn't want him causing any accidents...so he did this instead. I especially love the fact that Gracie's walk phase in this photo makes it look like she is cantering in slow motion...and that Dan is imitating Carlos by holding Butch's reins with two fingers! This was my favorite photo of the entire ride! Dom, you need to tell Mike to set up shop with these, seriously!

For those who might not remember or who missed the post...this is what Carlos did at the ride start of Rabbit Run 2016, his and Gracie's first endurance ride ever. He did it for kicks and almost gave me a heart attack!
Mike was also the genius photographer that captured the moment that has become endurance legend among our group of ride friends!
Once they had disappeared beyond the field that would take them to their first loop, I turned around to putter around camp, setting up grain for my girls well in advance as well as the buckets, sponges and sweat scrapers in a crew area next to the vet check. I lingered, waiting for the water truck to come by to fill the buckets for me. Once that was set, I swung by the in-timer booth to catch up with Liz's mom, Deborah, who had frozen gallon containers of water so I could put them in the crew buckets, to make the water icy cold. 

With our crew area squared away, I returned to our camp area to let Dan's dogs, Zee and Tokala, out of Dan's horse trailer so they could hang out with me. 

Zee is a wolf hybrid...the best-behaved one you will ever meet. (Other than hating being confined: Dan had asked me to let her, specifically, out of the trailer so she wouldn't destroy it!)

I might have fallen in love with her.

Tokala is a white German Shepherd. Here she is, looking quite regal.
I sat down to rest my tired, broken body and napped, with the dogs sleeping next to me. I woke up on my own  about an hour later (about 3 hours total after the group had left), put the two girls away, and strolled down to the vet check area to wait for my posse to arrive. 

Now, my recollections are a little bit scattered because, unlike Saiph, I never took notes during the race except for my obsession with taking pictures of everything. The first loop was a sample of everything I like when riding trails: hills going up and down, areas that are flat and wide where you can canter and gallop if you want, and some incredible river crossings, one of my favorite things EVER. The only complication really was that the whole loop was really muddy. Lily tripped into a muddy ditch then jumped out of it. Jess managed to hold on for dear life and both of them were okay, with Lily walking on without missing a beat.
Liz and Austen, right as we started on trail.

Austen and Jess riding side-by-side.

Hand signals to indicate the group ahead was slowing down.

On your marks...

...get set...

...SPONGE! Everyone sponged off their horses here.
Everyone hand walking to give the horses a break.

After that we all made it back into base camp. We all vetted and passed. Our mother-hen-one-woman-crew Saiph had everything ready and had us out in time. The only warning she gave me for the second loop was to keep an eye on Lily.

It's a little more complicated than all of that.

The riders all hand-walked their horses in. 

I helped everyone sponge and scrape their horses, but my main focus was Lily and Gracie. I was concerned because Lily looked dehydrated to me: thin, and her skin tenting was prolonged. Jess was worried because she had refused to eat or drink on trail. While this is normal for Lily on first loops, it was really humid on this day and I tried my best to hide my own worries. 

While waiting for everyone to vet through, I noticed Gracie resting her right hind constantly, which is unusual for her. I frowned and watched her trot out. She looked okay, though somewhat reluctant to move out. The vet passed her. 

My hawk eye at work
Lily had the toughest of the ride vets, who gave her B scores on everything. I personally would have graded her harsher, knowing my horse, but I figured she would catch up on gut sounds and hydration once she was back at the trailer eating. 

Both mares dug into their mashes right away. I noticed Gracie resting her right hind again and that's when I realized her shoe was slightly displaced, enough that the clip on one side of her toe was digging into her white line. It was a miracle she passed the vet check like that! I notified Dan, who is her farrier after all, but he was trying to get his two horses settled: his mentor was at RBTR so he had us take Gracie over to him to re-set her shoe. 

Carlos took Gracie and I stayed with Jess and Lily. Of course, the second Gracie was taken away, Lily lost her ever loving mind and we could not get her to eat. It only took 15 minutes to have Gracie's shoe re-set but the hold time was going fast, with Lily having barely eaten and now screaming her head off for Gracie. I was genuinely concerned that Lily would end up on IV fluids again...after an LD! 

It took forever and a half for Carlos to get back with Gracie from the farrier...he had no sense of urgency whatsoever as he strolled slowly back to our trailer, and I was about to lose it: Lily needed to eat. 
I was tempted to have Lily pulled, but she dug into her mash and hay once Gracie was next to her again. 

I gave Jess and Carlos very specific directions that they absolutely needed to slow down for Lily to make it. I told them that they were to pace either with or behind the rest of the group. I didn't care if they came in overtime. If they were going too fast, Lily was not going to eat nor drink because she was going to be too amped. I was starting to realize that I truly have a 50-miler horse: Lily will take care of herself on 50s, not so on LDs. This was her fourth LD...on her previous three she had done a poor job of eating and drinking: Foxcatcher 2015, Rabbit Run 2016 and Foxcatcher 2016....but these were all cooler rides and I had assumed it was because of the weather that she was reluctant to eat or drink. Nope, I am now pretty sure it's because of the distance. I have no idea how she knows when it's which distance, but she sure as hell does know! I guess it's a good thing I started her in 50s or I would have never thought she'd make it as an endurance horse? 

As it would turn out, Carlos and Jess didn't do a good job of listening in terms of pace, but Lily made sure the pace was slowed for her benefit. 

Off they go.

Nasty weather moving in over the vet check area.

So off we go on the second loop and the sky begins to get very cloudy. It wasn't long before it started raining and I was getting a little bummed out because it has rained at every single endurance race I've done this year. Not Dan though...he was ecstatic it was raining and kept saying, "My record is untarnished!!!" I've never seen anyone who loves riding in the rain more than him.

You can't tell here but Dan was grinning from ear to ear because it was starting to rain.
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go...

Strong smell of natural gas here.
My POV for 3/4 of the ride!
The second loop started out with our team leader Liz letting me go at the front of the group during an uphill stretch. I was kind of worried about Gracie's race brain going AWOL (it has been discussed with Carlos that this means his horse was tired and he needs to take it easier on her...this is an ongoing thing and it now means that if I'm not riding, he is not riding either...) but lucky for me the trail was rocky, narrow and I had to ride behind a trio of ladies going at the speed of a geriatric Florida driver: sloooooooooow. So for the next couple of miles my mare was the picture of obedience and self-control...until the second we passed these ladies. Little by little she started going faster and faster, her ears pricked while she did her happy trot (I did not let her gallop, which is what I knew she wanted to do) And the exact second that I started wondering if we were going too fast I heard Dan's voice from the distance: "Hey Carlos, slow down sunofabitch!"

Everyone had just caught up to us when I saw Lily and Jess pass us and continue on at the front of the group...except they didn't stop. They kept on going. I knew EXACTLY what was going through Lily's brain so I took off after them. (No Carlos, this has nothing to do with what was going through Lily's brain. Lily was just doing what Jess wanted, which at the time was to continue, because she had not realized the group was slowing down to rest. If given a choice, Lily will stay with the herd, especially with Gracie.) I saw Lily look back at Gracie over her shoulder, flatten her ears, then speed up into a canter. (Now this, yes: Lily enjoys a race.) I picked up a canter too, in an attempt to catch them...and then Charlie's horse started cantering with Gracie. Lily stretched out into a gallop and that was it: RBTR 2016 turned into the Kentucky Derby. When I finally caught up to them and told them to hold on, Dan arrived and told us we have to wait for everyone else. I could see Gracie's look of "Who...me???" And I thought for a second that her and I were psychically connected. Then we all agreed that we had lost our rights to be at the front of the group for acting like we were on bath salts.

Liz writes about this whole incident here. It wore out a lot of the horses, and Liz couldn't understand why every vein on Lily's body was popping. She thought Carlos was the one that started it all. Of course Lily wanted to eat even less after that because she was both overheated and excited: that's what she does when that happens. Jess didn't get the memo about the whole group slowing down to take a break, but I wasn't exactly thrilled when I heard about it later: my instructions had been to pace with the group or behind them. 

After we regrouped and started marching again, everything was going smoothly. Raining in spurts...mud all over the trail with the risk of falling into mud pits in the form of puddles...Dan telling us about the strong smell of natural gas on the mountains while lighting a cigarette...And the slow realization that Lily was limping more and more. Eventually the group started spreading out more and more...some people in the front of the pack with the fit horses that are barely noticing we've completed over 20 miles already; some in the middle of the pack beginning to get tired, and Lily in the back, where Jess finally dismounted because the mare was barely putting weight on her painful front leg. 

Scoutmaster Liz had a huddle where it was decided that the people in front were going to keep going while the slower ones paced themselves for the rest of the loop so we could see how Lily progressed.

By now Jess had already been hand walking Lily for more than 20 minutes and Gracie was giving me a look of, "What are we waiting for???" But I felt like I should stay behind with Lily and Jess to make sure they were okay. It was Jess's first endurance ride and her first time in Elkins, after all. I rode to the end of the line to keep them company.

Jess said she was going to hand walk Lily until we hit the bottom of the hill. But apparently we were at the top of Everest because we kept going downhill for almost two hours, all while Jess kept telling me how she has "a bum right leg that causes me incredible pain when walking for too long on rough terrain with an incline" and how she can lose circulation to her toes from all this..."but I'm okay!" I offered her Gracie to ride until we came to the next spotter but she refused.

Jess hand walking Lily for 3 miles that seemed like forever.
My plan was to stay with her until that next spotter. The problem was we hadn't seen a spotter for miles and we didn't know if we had a section of river to cross ahead, which meant someone would have to either ride Lily across or get their shoes wet. Luckily, the spotter checkpoint was right before the next river crossing. Jess stayed with Lily, the trailer was called, I drank water and liquid courage, and then Gracie and I took off on our own.

We didn't really feel alone for the first mile because I could hear Lily calling out to Gracie for the first 10 to 15 minutes as we rode away. Riding Gracie by myself is very different from what I'm used to because I'm always riding with other people. So once I got over feeling like an asshole for making fun of Jess for spending the last 6 hours saying, "Good girl" to Lily over and over, the last stretch of ride was really good: we walked, trotted, galloped some and crossed the river like it was nothing. Gracie finally started drinking (she always refuses to drink unless the source is running water...can't blame her!)

My favorite part of the trail.

Chimney in the woods
Meanwhile, back in ride camp...

I was able to get everything set up for the riders' return before it started to POUR from the skies. I took cover under a pop-up near our crew area, which turned out to belong to Dom's Mike. I was able to catch up with him on how Dom and Angela were doing on trail (they were doing great!) 

It didn't rain for long. I was soon walking back to our campsite, where I again took Tokala and Zee out of Dan's trailer (I had put them away when my riders were arriving so I'd have both hands available to help) and after setting up mashes and hay for Liz's and my horses, sat down on one of our camp chairs to take another nap. I had a two good hours to sleep. 

I woke up with a start. The sun had come out and it was steamy hot. Both dogs were sleeping quietly next to me. I had no idea what had startled me awake. I had been dreaming about Lily but couldn't remember the dream. I vaguely remembered wet rocks and an injured front leg.

I stood up abruptly and saw in the distance a truck and trailer slowly head out of ride camp. 

My stomach did an ugly flip-flop. It was the horse ambulance leaving. During my meandering around camp, I had heard of several horses pulled for lameness and metabolic issues. My gut feeling was, automatically, "Lily is in trouble." 

"Why do you always have to think the worst about your horse?" my consciousness asked. 

"Because." my gut answered. "Because puncture wound, ligament injury, IV fluids to correct potassium depletion, broken splint bone, torn-off face. Is the list not long enough already? Because."

I told both sides of me to shut up, quietly put Tokala away in the trailer (she had an injury to a hind leg that she was recovering from and Dan wanted her to take it easy), and took Zee with me to the in-timer tent. I looked at my watch. There was still at least an hour more to go before my riders returned. We had zero phone signal in the mountains, so I couldn't call or text to see how everyone was doing. 

I arrived at the tent just in time to hear Tina, the wonderful registration desk lady, saying to the other ladies at the tent, "The ambulance has gone out to pick up number 6, Tiger Lily."

My heart fell to my stomach. Tina saw me right then. "Isn't Tiger Lily your horse?" she asked kindly. Yes, that would be her, I responded. 

They didn't know what exactly had happened, just that it wasn't serious because they had not requested a vet to go with the ambulance. I had seen that happen earlier: the vet had been requested to go with the trailer to go get a horse that was colicking on trail. That had been four hours ago and that horse was still colicking in camp. Like I said, if you paid attention, you realized that this particular ride was no walk in the park. It is a tough ride. I was on some of its trails when I attempted it with Griffin two years ago. It is as rocky as the Old Dominion rides, but the rocks are sharper, and it is muddy and slippery with giant puddles created by ATVs that can literally swallow a horse. A rider and her horse fell into one of those puddles two years ago and the woman had to be taken away in an ambulance with a broken ankle. The heat could have been worse but the humidity from the rain was not doing anyone any favors.

I did not breathe a sigh of relief. Not calling for the vet didn't necessarily mean that something serious hadn't happened. It could just mean that they didn't know the vet was an option or that the issue at hand might be mild now but could still become serious later. 

I remained calm on the outside and contained my insides with an iron fist, waiting for someone from the group to arrive so I could find out what had happened. Liz's mom pulled up a chair for me to sit in next to her and distracted me with small talk. 

The ladies at the in-timer booth, with Liz's mom on the far left. The empty Mountaineers chair is where I ended up sitting.
It was almost another two hours before Liz, Austen, Dan and their part of the group arrived. Carlos and Gracie were not with them. I was just about to lose my mind from stress and worry. No one was sure what exactly had happened with Lily. No one knew about the horse ambulance. It wasn't their responsibility, but I kind of wanted to run away screaming right then and there. I kept having this vision of Lily with a hairline fracture in a leg and having to put her down in camp instead of taking her back home. I don't think I can go back to RBTR. Not with the horses, at least. I've taken this long in writing about the ride because I still couldn't handle rehashing my mental agony. 

I helped Lauren, Liz's student, sponge off Shiloh, who was already down, and then helped Dan, who was struggling with a very lame Butch. Butch is his new Arab and this was only his second race. Dan has done an incredible job with the gelding, but he is still working on getting him to accept having his hind legs handled. He would have needed to be sedated to put shoes on his hinds (sedating so close to competition can show up on random drug tests), so Dan had tried booting him. The Gloves he had used had not held up to the rocky, muddy, wet terrain and they had continued barefoot in the hinds. He must have stepped badly on a sharp rock because he was now very lame in his left hind. He was not pulsing down: he was hanging at 66 bpm, which was unusual for him. He was that painful. 

The vets confirmed both the lameness and the increased heart rate due to pain and not metabolics, which meant Dan didn't complete. Dan is awesome and wasn't too worried: he knows his horse and figured it was not serious, that he would be better with a week or two of rest. As it would turn out, Butch was dramatically better by the next morning!

Still no ambulance. But then Carlos finally arrived.

Photo by Dom's Mike. :)
We eventually made it to the end. The cut-off time was 3:45 pm and we made it to base camp at 3:49...whatever.

He filled me in on what had happened on trail while I checked Gracie's pulse. She was already at parameter at 60 bpm. She passed the vet check beautifully but of course they were overtime so the mileage doesn't count toward their record. 

Gracie passed the vet check at the same time Lily and Jess made it back to base camp in the trailer (a mirror image of what happened at No Frills when Gracie was pulled at the last vet check for lameness, and the trailer ambulance made it to base camp with her just as Lily was passing the final vetting.)

I had to contain myself to keep from running to the trailer, yanking the door open and pulling my horse out immediately. There was another horse in there who was a total nervous wreck and he needed to come out first, Jess explained. 

Once I saw Lily inside the trailer, I calmed down: she was okay. I could tell just by looking at her. Jess and I convinced her to come off the trailer (she hates getting off of straight loads; hence why we have a slant load.) She was barely lame at the walk on her right front, but her left front shoe was missing. She had an old blown-out abscess that had left a huge "V" in the front of her right front hoof that had slowly grown down. It had never been an issue and had been noted by both my vet and Dan, but currently the bottom portion of the "V" was even with her toe and I was pretty sure the fast pace and the rocks had not done it any favors. Losing the left front shoe would have meant even more stress on that right front. What made me a little crazy was the fact that there was a spare Glove in both Lily's and Gracie's cantle bags that I had clearly told my riders about while showing them which pockets I was placing the boots in, and no one had thought to put one on my poor mare.

We vetted her through, which you're supposed to do even if you know you're out, just so the vets can give the horse a full once-over and make sure there are no other issues. Lily was fine but she was still somewhat dehydrated and looked quite tucked up and ribby. Despite giving her all the electrolyte doses I had instructed Jess to give her (Lyte Now, just like we did at No Frills), Lily had continued to not eat nor drink. She had lost close to 200 lbs between the trailer ride to RBTR and this LD. She had lost more weight on this ride than at the Old Dominion 50, her first and toughest ride she has ever completed. 

I wondered if part of the issue was just having a different rider she didn't know well: she seemed to have had more anxiety in general on this ride and had given Jess a really hard time after Carlos had left once they were at the spotter. This was also the largest group Lily had ever ridden with for so many hours, but I didn't think that should have been a factor in her refusing to eat and drink, especially when the other horses did so. She'll usually follow suit if the other horses are eating and drinking.

Once at the trailer, Lily did what she has done at previous LDs: she refused her mash, nibbled hay and drank water, and then once 45 minutes had passed and she confirmed she was not going back out on trail, she settled in and dug into her food. I didn't turn to socialize until I knew she was doing okay. 

Mares with poulticed legs. I also wrapped Lily's for good measure. She had started stocking up from the moment she was parked at the trailer. Again: since starting in this sport, she has never stocked up. This was a first.
I was not okay mentally. It had been an anxiety-ridden trip from the get-go. When we had pulled up to the barn in Maryland to pick up the trailer and horses the Friday before RBTR, I had told Carlos, "I am so anxious right now, I wish I had thought to take a Xanax." I didn't even know why I was so anxious until I officially pulled as a rider before starting and that had improved my mental state significantly. But my anxiety levels had not been helped by the truck's "Check Engine" light coming on right before we started the part of the trip where we would have absolutely zero phone signal for the next 2-3 hours, with several steep climbs still waiting. US Rider is useless if you can't call them. And we still had to drive back home over the same roads! I had been fine with the idea of Carlos and Jess riding without me because they had this huge group of riders with them, but I had had ongoing concern about that rocky, treacherous, slippery trail and either them or the horses being seriously injured. 

We now cracked open beers and headed down to the swimming hole, where I tried to interact with everyone normally but I felt both withdrawn and left out. I was the only one that had not ridden and while I was okay with that, it felt so strange to not have participated. I had not had a fun month leading up to that moment and it was all feeding into my mental state at the time: how much I missed my doctor, work friends and coworkers and the way things had been before they changed and forced me to leave, a weird mix of sadness and glee over the fact that the hospital was not what it used to be and that I had gotten out just in time, my own injury and not knowing when I would be physically "normal" again. I was grieving on several different levels and as I write this, I still am. Working four years at a hospital is a really long time in the veterinary world...and so much of that hospital had become routine. When I was hired there, I could see myself working there for decades. They did really, really good medicine for such a long time. While there I dealt with the changing quality of management and medicine, especially over the last year, but the familiarity of the hospital, of being known as "one of the good ones," of being respected by so many of the other "good ones," both doctors and techs throughout every department in that hospital, was home to me. They were family to me, and I was just starting to come to the realization of exactly what losing them meant to me, of the magnitude and significance of it. The new job is fantastic but there are days when I miss so much of what I left behind that my heart feels like a shriveled up raisin and that doesn't help.  

I had looked forward to RBTR as a way to escape all of that for a weekend. I would hang out with friends and horses and laugh and talk and participate in my favorite sport and forget the incoming emotional storm. I felt very lonely in my everyday life already and it was puzzling to me now to feel just as lonely while surrounded by my favorite people. I realize in hindsight that being alone in ride camp did me no favors. 

So I laughed and talked and listened, and when asked how my day had been, I focused on the positive: I had loved hanging out with Dan's dogs and the naps I had taken...until the second nap turned into a premonition. I couldn't put into words how difficult the ensuing 3-hour mental agony had been and I don't think anyone understood. By the end of the weekend I was seriously considering quitting the sport entirely.

The water was icy cold, just like I remembered it from last time. We have been trying to return to this ride for the last two years.

Even the dogs went for a swim!

I had been yearning to plunge into a natural body of water since all the problems at the old job had started. Back on the island, I used to take to the ocean when troubled, which is easy when you have a beach within 30 minutes of anywhere. I'd grab my bodyboard and go, and let the waves take away my worries, sorrows and anger. I'd always walk back out of the water a new person. The weekend of my accident, we had been planning to go tubing on the Potomac: it was the next best thing to the ocean for me. And of course, we didn't go because I could barely move after the fall. I was so happy to finally be in water. 
After the swimming hole, Dan removed Lily's right front shoe, trimmed back her toes as much as he could, and re-shod her. She was 90% sound at the trot after that, confirming that my suspicions had been correct. I thanked Jess again for hand-walking her as long as she did: it could have been so much worse if she hadn't! After hearing about all of the things that had happened on trail, I was secretly thankful that Lily had come up lame when she did, because it kept her from developing a metabolic issue that might have required treatment.

We changed into dry clothes and walked down to the ride dinner for food and awards. 


Liz with Lyra, Austen's pocket Husky. Lol

Dan and Zee

So many raffle tickets for a raffle that none of us won!

Because RBTR = dogs. So many dogs! It is one of our region's most dog-friendly rides!

Jess takes a turn puppy snuggling.

Zee wanted to say hi to the puppy.

Austen snuggled the puppy too.

Austen won the Turtle Award! And Liz completed successfully with Griffin. :)

Classic Dan: with his hat, his cigarette and his wolf dog. <3
We returned to our campsite, where we were later joined by Dom and Mike. We had the special opportunity of watching a barefoot trimming tutorial that elite farrier Daisy Bicking gave Amanda Humphreys, demoed on Amanda's horse Elvis. 

Amazing photo by Carlos
As is typical RBTR tradition, there was a bonfire with live music well into the night. We stayed up late, talking and drinking and laughing. 

The next morning we got up early, slowly packed our belongings, and hit the road. The truck made it just fine, and I had it checked by our mechanic the next day. As it turned out, the "Check Engine" light was on because the oxygen sensor needed to be replaced: not a major deal, especially since we took care of it right away. It was our first time returning home after a trip since Astarte's death. The realization that she wouldn't be there to greet us hit me hard when we were coming down the mountains.

Lily was completely sound within 48 hours, which was a huge relief.

The RBTR experience was totally awesome. It was great meeting up and riding with our endurance family, having a terrific one woman pit crew, and being able to camp and hang out in one of my favorite places. Plus I can officially say that I have one completion, one rider option, one vet pull and one "slower than turtle" finish. Here's to the next one.

Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase

Photo by Becky Pearman, used with purchase

1. No more tough LDs for Lily (I'm keeping fun LDs over easier courses with milder weather on the table), and this is the first and last time someone else competes her if I can't ride too. Jess did a GREAT job of electrolyting Lily as directed and may have just saved her from a more serious injury by hand walking her for as long as she did once the mare pulled up lame. I have no qualms about having let her ride Lily at all, and honestly, I did not mention my concerns about Lily developing a true metabolic problem and the real possibility of her ending up on IV fluids if they didn't slow down. I think if I had said this out loud in that specific way, her and Carlos would have taken my orders about pace more seriously. I would very much let her compete Lily again at an endurance ride, but I would be on Gracie. Jess is hooked on the sport. :)
2. It is the first and last time that Carlos competes without me on trail with him. I was very disappointed that my rules about pace and saving the horses are seen as me being a worrywart. No, my rules are there because we do this for fun, not to break the horses permanently. 
3. Shorter toes for Lily going into endurance rides. This has always been a rule, but I now officially have Dan on board. :)
4. No long hauls for a while. I have PTSD from the long drive over the mountains with the damn "Check Engine" light on. 
5. Lily gets treated with Ulcergard before and after rides now. I ordered a full month's supply after the ride and gave her a month off of work, but by the time the meds arrived a week after RBTR, she was already gaining a noticeable amount of weight without intervention: a first! 
6. Note to self: if Lily refuses mashes, offer her dry grain. She ate GREAT once I offered her dry grain. She totally did a Q at OD100.
7. Gracie drank MUCH better overall at this ride than she has previously!! The change? I stopped by the Running Bear trailer and bought a bunch of Perfect Balance Electrolyte syringes. I used this brand of electrolyte with Lily in the beginning, until it turned out that she needed more potassium. PBE has plenty of sodium chloride in it, which had always kept Lily drinking. Since Gracie's issues continued to be with drinking, I upped her sodium chloride and it worked like a charm. Despite having been tired on trail, she drank in camp and on the second loop, and she never did look dehydrated. Success!

As for the rest of everything I vent about in this post, things have been better overall since RBTR. Update to follow.
Can't wait to do this again with my mare!
Photo by Becky Pearman and used with purchase, an old one from No Frills that I had not shared on here yet.


  1. I am so sorry that this was such a traumatic experience for you :( I knew you would be worried sick when I saw Carlos alone, and I asked Jess if anyone had gotten a hold of you. She wasn't sure :(

    1. No phone signal. None of us had it; there was no way to communicate with one another. I just wish the spotters would give the ride camp staff more details when this type of thing happens on trail: some riders go alone, but so many of them have friends and family crewing for them that would be worried sick just like I was upon hearing that the horse ambulance is going to get their rider's horse. The other thing is that I really don't think anyone understood how very harrowing it is for the person back in camp who doesn't know what the fuck happened. I mean, there were 6 other riders with my horses and none of them knew what had happened. I understand the concept of "Ride your own ride"...but you can still ride your own ride and ask what is going on that is causing a hold-up. There just was no communication at all: Carlos didn't think about how worried I would be, and I don't think neither him nor Jess bothered to explain to Liz and the others why they were going so slow at the back. Words, people.

      Hence why I am not opening the door for something like this to ever happen again. I didn't marry military because I have issues with loved ones disappearing and never knowing what happened to them. This ride hit very close to home in that sense.

    2. I might be coming across as being overly dramatic but none of the events of this ride would have been quite as stressful if it hadn't been for everything else that was going on at the time.

    3. I don't think it's over dramatic at all. I stress when I crew for experienced riders on their own horses. Trying to imagine getting the call that Ozzy was hurt and Mike was out alone with no word on what happened would leave me tearing my hair out. I honestly think crewing is harder mentally than riding, and that's when things are going smoothly!

  2. I've been waiting for weeks for your story :) I'm sorry it didn't turn out the way you hoped. I debate lettin someone else ride Gem but after reading your story I'm not sure I could handle the stress. So much can happen out on trail. Knowing your horse inside and out makes such a huge difference in the outcome. I'm glad your friend had a good time regardless and I hope things are going better for you in every aspect. As an aside: I really really would love to meet up with you and Carlos somewhere this fall and having a fun horse camping weekend without the stress of a ride. Maybe somewhere in NC. Think it over!!

    1. I REALLY want to go horse camping with you but this is not a good time to propose this type of trip when I honestly have no desire to haul for more than two hours! ;) NC is 6 hours for us. I don't want to put Lily through that type of haul again just yet. I'll let you know in a month or two how I feel. For us up here, fall is already starting: the trees just started changing colors this week. :)

      I'm not even sure we're going to compete anymore this year. I still can't ride for more than 1.5 hours without pain...I'm waiting until October to see how I'm doing physically and how I feel about competing mentally. We're also both working new jobs: Carlos is now doing agency work, which means he is the hospital's "bitch." He gets paid more but it also means that he is at the hospital's beck and call. Our schedules are absolutely chaotic right now: come October I will most likely not have 3-day weekends anymore. We've requested a weekend this month and another next month well in advance, but we're both trying to keep from rocking the boat too much because we're the new kids on the block at both of our jobs.

      I'll let you know, but if not, can I get a raincheck for next year? :) Please?

    2. The offer is open ended :) it is still in the 90s here and no end in sight although the humidity has finally come down.

  3. I'm so sorry this was such a traumatic weekend for you. I hope the beach can fix you right up in 2 weeks and that you can come back renewed again as a new happy girl <3

    1. It's been better overall since then. Remember that was just 2 weeks post-accident and the work shitshow. I really hadn't wanted to write this post because my mental state at the time was such a bad one and I had to revisit it.

  4. Oh, and Carlos. HIL-AR-IOUS about the geriatric Florida drivers. I did literally spit my water out reading that.

  5. I'm sorry it was such a stressful weekend. Given I practically work myself into an ulcer when I have to trailer without a check engine light on, I'd have been done in at just your drive in. Nilla had similar ulcer issues at our last ride. UlcerGuard does seem to be working for her though.

  6. Don't know why or how I completely missed this entry...my bad! I'm glad both the girls ended up being okay despite everything that happened. As for pacing on the trail, I think this is one of the hardest things for a newbie distance rider to accurately judge until they become more experienced. That's why I have done all of my rides with experienced people to learn to pace with them as the trail conditions dictate. That being said you HAVE to know your horse to be able to firmly say no when the set pace is too much. Now that I am aware of Quest’s old injury history, I know I’ll forever be hyper-aware of footing and trail conditions and be adamant/unyielding when comes to her soundness and safety.

    I hope you continue to ride distance though, at least LDs. We still have yet to ride together (: I’m curious what you had in mind for “easy” LDs...

    1. Oh I didn't say I was quitting distance! :D I meant that if we had to LDs for Gracie's sake in the long-term, they would not be 75% rock + mud in hot humid temps. :) Lily just doesn't take care of herself on LDs because she somehow knows she can get away with it. It's harder to get away with it when it's a tough ride like this one and it's hot and humid to boot.

      In terms of pacing, I had allowed this to happen because Jess and Carlos were with a mixed group led by two riders that pace slowly by default. I was stressed afterwards when I realized Jess and Carlos kept trying to out-pace the others despite *specific instructions* from the *owner of the two horses* (myself) to keep pace with Liz, the most experienced rider in the group. I understand pacing is hard for inexperienced riders, but that is precisely why I had set them up with more experienced people. :) The other upsetting thing is that paying for Gracie's joint injections has come out of his pocket too: he has been completely informed when this happens. He knows it is an issue. He knows it is important to pace slowly with her (6-7mph average) in order to save her joints.

      If the world doesn't fall apart next year, we're aiming high. I want to do a 75 with Lily, maybe even a 100. And I would like to *complete* at least one 50 on Gracie. LDs would be for fun. :) In terms of an easy LD: spring or fall when the weather is cooler, less than 50% rock on trail, flat/rolling hills/steep climbs no longer than a couple of miles in length.