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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fort Valley 50: Review

So how are we doing?

Lily is doing FANTASTIC. She is happy to see me at the barn and will come find me when she sees me arrive. Her eyes are bright, her coat soft and shinier than ever, her weight remained the same, and she's moving well. She had a tiny bit of fill around her fetlocks the morning after the ride and some swelling around the RF pastern from the boot scrape, but I was still very happy with how her legs looked. She used to be a horse that stocked up both when confined and after a big effort, but it didn't happen neither at the OD nor at Fort Valley. I didn't wrap her legs either time; I just slathered on a thick layer of Sore-No More poultice once she was back at the corral post-ride and it has seemed to do the trick both times.  When she got home, I released her in the barnyard and she trotted down to the far corner of the paddock and rolled and rolled and rolled, turning all the way over from one side to the other each time. She must've rolled for a good 5 minutes and I couldn't help laughing. "I guess her back doesn't hurt if she's able to roll like that!" I told Zoe, who was also watching her and chuckling. She then got up and trotted around until I brought out a mash for her.

She's been getting 2 to 3 mashes a day and wolfing them down, plus moistened hay morning and evening, and a daily dose of Perform n' Win via syringe. (It's a very fine powder that dissolves fabulously in water; I want to introduce her to it in water buckets, but there will be plenty of time for that later). Her poops are formed but slightly soft, the way they normally are, which indicates she is drinking well. The rub on her RF from the boot is healing well. No swelling/inflammation, and she lets me touch it without issue.

When we arrived home on Saturday. After rolling to her heart's content.
On Tuesday night. I haven't touched her with a brush since she got home on Saturday.
I had read in more than one source that endurance horses tend to go up in the herd pecking order as they become more experienced. Going over a million miles will increase their self-confidence like that. Lily has always been close to the bottom of the totem pole, even after the OD 50, where she followed Q for most of the ride. However on Wednesday of this week, Zoe mentioned that she has been seeing Lily bossing Gracie around. I said, "You mean Gracie is bossing Lily." Zoe responded, "No, I mean Lily is bossing Gracie." My eyes almost popped out of my head. Gracie has always been Super Confident Second in Command in the previous herd and the current herd, with Deja being the alpha in the current herd. Gracie would hang out with Deja, and Lily would kind of follow around in Gracie's shadow: Lily was third out of 4 mares in the pecking order.  Over the past 3 days, it is now LILY that is hanging out WITH DEJA...I watched Lily herd Gracie and then approach Deja with pinned ears before joining her to graze. Lily then herded the others down to the bottom field. (!!!!!!!!!!!!) Uh, guys? This is HUGEHUGEHUGEHUGE for this mare...for the first time EVER she is either second or even, dare I say, first in command! I will have to observe more to determine which ranking position she is in, but she is definitely near the top now. My conclusion is that it is a direct result of leading for nearly 50 miles of trail, and of me letting her pick and choose how fast or slow she wanted to go over said 50 miles of trail. OMG my meek submissive girl has grown balls! ;)

I was very stiff the morning after the ride (Saturday) and on Sunday I was sore around my shoulders, calves and inner thighs. Movement helped significantly. It was just lactic acid buildup. After forcing myself to move on Sunday by helping out around the barn, I was good as gold by Monday morning. 

What worked

Lily's conditioning between the OD and Fort Valley. It was a kick-ass program that kept my non-Arab going over 50 miles of terrain with strength and energy. Really, really happy with the results. She wanted to trot up all the hills and sometimes she got very frustrated if the horses in front were keeping us at a walk. When left to her own devices, she would trot up, walk for a short section, then trot more. Then we would walk a good ways on the downhill on the other side of the mountain for her to rest.
I would still like to add more hill sets to her conditioning for the next ride: do once a week or twice monthly hill set rides to shorten her recovery times more.
The improvement in speed was also stellar: Liz kept track of the miles on her GPS app and since Lily and I were leading, I kept track of our speed. Lily's walk used to be 2.5 to 3.5 mph; her average trot was 6 mph; average canter was 13 mph. During this ride, her walk ranged from 2.9 to 4 mph; her trot averaged 8 mph and often went all the way up to 10 mph, and I kept her canters at around 13 mph (that's the speed of her "all-day canter") though she did canter faster than that at times. I just didn't look down at the GPS. Why would you want to train for a faster trot and canter? In my case it wasn't necessarily about making better time, it was so we could walk more during competition! :) Which is why our average pace stayed at a pretty solid 6 mph: we did A LOT of walking. About 40% of the ride was done at the trot, 40% walk and 20% canter.
I felt like I had not done enough rider fitness-wise going into this, but I was happy to be proved wrong. I was able to post and two-point throughout the entire 50 miles of riding, get off and on to fix boots, hike up and down mountains when necessary, and enjoy being comfortable in the saddle. I got stiff towards the end of the second loop when the mares were walking up the mountain, but getting off and hiking next to Lily was a big help. I stiffened up more at the second hold, but taking elyte capsules and ibuprofen at the end of the hold, and working hard to hydrate more during the hold did help. It was very painful to get back on (my inner thighs hurt) but the soreness disappeared pretty much right when we started trotting on the third loop.

Hiking with our girls towards the end of the second loop.
Photo by Michelle Mayer.

- The Wintec Pro Contourbloc for competition. It was a brilliant idea to use this saddle as I know this is what helped Lily be able to perform so well over such varied terrain, simply because it is lighter. Thanks to using thin pads under it, she had NO back soreness after the ride, as evidenced by her willingness to fully roll over repeatedly once she was back home! I was actually quite comfortable in it after both finding my seat in it and using the full sheepskin cover for training rides to allow myself to get used to it. 
- Stirrups with offset eyes and Compositi cages. I loooove my EZ Ride stirrups but for whatever reason, their stirrup bars really bothered me when using the EZ rides with this saddle: the stirrup bars would poke my legs. So I swapped the EZ Rides for what are usually Charles's stirrups and had no shin issues whatsoever. No shin muscle soreness either neither during nor after the ride. Shin muscle soreness plagued me around 30 miles into the OD back in June and were so painful the next day I couldn't even touch the fronts of my lower legs! Issue: gone! I'm wondering if the muscle soreness issue disappeared during this ride because the saddle was different, because of the offset eyes on the stirrups or because I focused on strengthening my lower legs more? Whatever it was, it worked, and I will continue to use this setup + strengthening program for competing.
Stirrups with Compositi cages and halter fleece to cover the adjustment system of the Webbers. Having offset eyes on the stirrups (or using stirrup turners like Liz did) can eliminate torque on the legs, hips and back because the stirrups will always hang like this.
- I had been using Wintec Webbers with this saddle and the metal slot adjustment system would dig into my shins during training rides...so I bought a set of halter fleeces and used halter fleece cheek pieces on the lower part of the Webbers to cover the adjustment system. (See photo above.) Voila! Problem solved!
- At the OD, the pommel of the Alta dug into the fronts of my thighs when going down mountains. I ended up with HUGE welts from the pommel that turned my walk into a swagger for the following week...which is why I also wanted to use the Wintec for competition: no upommel at all because it is a dressage saddle. I would have preferred to not have the giant knee blocks of my Wintec Pro Contourbloc but they honestly did not interfere with my riding going up and down mountains like I had originally expected. No back soreness, no shoulder knots, no angry sciatic nerves, which were issues I had had with this saddle before on long rides, prior to adding the sheepskin cover. I think the sheepskin cover helped the saddle take up enough leg space that it prevented these issues. Go figure. These are just peculiarities of my own anatomy that I'm learning about.
- Using thin pads for the Wintec. The saddle is fitted to Lily in such a way that using my thicker Woolback Matrix pad, which works so well on the Alta, is too much. The Woolback + Wintec will make Lily's back sore. I have an Ambleside wool-backed dressage pad which Lily wore in the first 2 loops that worked beautifully for her. I swapped it out for a regular cotton pad for the last loop so she would have a dry pad under the saddle. I liked being able to change pads at the holds as it does help prevent rubbing/chafing issues and will probably be doing this again in the future. As for the Ambleside pad, yes, it is expensive. And yes, it is velvet on the outside. And yes, it is worth every penny. I've had that pad going on 2 years now and am thoroughly in love with it. It barely needs washing: it dries quickly when hung to dry after sweaty rides and the sweat/hair can simply be brushed off with a medium horse grooming brush. To wash, toss it in the washer with Woolite and cold water: it comes out looking like new. I LOVE that pad and I love it now even more after it proved itself over so many miles. Each Ambleside pad is completely unique and handmade.

You can get a glimpse of the pad in question in this photo if you embiggen. Candid shot by Michelle Mayer taken at the end of the first loop. Yup, I was fixing a boot.

- Speaking of boots. Despite all of our issues with boot cables and the one chafing incident, I'm still happy with the choice of boots over steel shoes for Lily. Having shoes on a horse doesn't mean that the horse isn't going to lose any shoes. They can still come unglued or ripped off if nailed. Lily is happy with boots on her feet and she strides out confidently, flicking her toes and landing heel-first on all four feet, attacking rocky footing without a second thought. She used to have front steel shoes when I first bought her, and she never moved like this with metal shoes. I will continue using our boot assortment for training rides and for LDs if we ever do any of those (Charles really wants to do LDs with Gracie, which means I would be accompanying him on Lily.) 
- Having multiple pairs of boots of different styles that have worked during conditioning rides was one of the best ideas I've ever had. I was able to keep 4 spares in my cantle bags at all times.

The concrete bridge at the beginning and end of the first and second loops where steel-shod horses slipped.
No issues for us with our mares' feet booted.
Photo by Michelle Mayer

The Beast
- Our 2006 Chevy Silverado. It really is a beast. It towed Kathy's trailer as if it wasn't there, using up only 1/3 of a gas tank on the way to Fort Valley and only 1/4 tank on the way back to MD. That was 100 miles each way. All I can say is DAAAYUMMM! I was not expecting that good of a gas mileage at all from this big of a truck. 
- I slept in the back seat of the truck both nights simply because I wake up at night to check on Lily and it is so much easier to bundle up and get out of a car than it is to squirm out of a tent when it is frigid outside. The backseat of The Beast is longer than my Corolla's, which meant I slept better because I didn't have to sleep in the fetal position all night. I had my pillows, a flannel blanket, a Polar fleece blanket and a comforter and that was enough for staying warm in 30 degree weather at night.

- Wore my safety vest for the first 2 loops and it didn't bother me at all. It helped keep me warm in the early morning hours when temps were in the 40's.
- Having extra shirts, socks and underwear to change into when the temperatures are changing so much throughout the day. I changed into a different shirt at the first hold, and into different underwear and socks at the second hold, and was able to stay dry, comfortable and chafe-free all day long.
- Wearing hiking boots. After hyper extending my left ankle while dismounting on the first loop of the OD in June due to wearing my Merrell shoes, I decided to just wear hiking boots this time around. They worked beautifully, both for riding and hiking. They're just an older pair of beat-up Timberlands that I've had for over 10 years now.

What didn't work

- Our girths with this saddle. I own one Woolback dressage girth and one Smartpak fleece dressage girth that is so beat up I have it encased in a Woolback girth cover. Both girths were washed with Woolite, hung to dry, and the wool combed with a slicker brush to fluff it up. Nothing new; I've washed these girths in this manner before without issue. Despite switching girths at the second hold, Lily still ended up with girth galls. No actual chafing, but the area behind her elbows was sensitive the day of the ride and swollen 24 hrs later. She has some flakiness going on 3 days later. I haven't had issues with either girth when used with the Alta, even when using the Woolback girth + Alta at the OD ride. The girthing systems are different for the two saddles though so I think this may be part of the issue: the Alta has center hung billets whereas the Wintec has a "point billet" configuration. I may need an anatomical or contoured girth for the Wintec for competition, a thought that popped into my head after seeing Gail's anatomical girth for Nimo. I'm leery of leather or synthetics as both have chafed Lily before...which means I may need to splurge on something like a Mattes contoured girth with its removable sheepskin covers (because I can wash them!). >.< Christmas present, Charles pweeeease? I need to remember to bring my bottle of Show Sheen for competition: spraying the girth area with Show Sheen prior to tacking up helps the skin slide under the girth, preventing rubs. This has worked very well with Gracie, who used to chafe with the Woolback.

- I love my Renegades and Vipers. I really do. I'm hoping the frayed cable issue resolves after replacing the cables, though that always leaves me afraid of more slipped cables, no matter how much I tighten the screws. It's a problem that you can't fix in the middle of a ride and you don't really have enough time at the holds to fix slipped cables either, unless you're really good (and quick!) at it. The Gloves outperformed the Lander Industries boots in the sense that I did not have to get off to replace them once they were on, but they were only on for one loop so that's not a good nor fair comparison at all. I would probably switch to Gloves entirely if they had better quality Velcro on the gaiters, but I have had to replace so many gaiters now that I'm honestly more unhappy with the Gloves as a whole than with the Renegades/Vipers. Cables are much cheaper and easier to replace than the goddamn gaiters that need to be unscrewed by man hands. Which is why I will not be switching to Easyboot Epics like other riders at FV recommended. Cables + flimsy Velcro gaiters? Ummm no no no no NO.

- Ummm, yeah. :( I feel like I'm beating this subject into the ground now, but it's been at the front of my mind since we came home from the ride. I wish there was some scanner thingy like those infrared thermometers that you could just point at the horse during a ride and the scanner could tell you, "Needs more sodium. Do this." But that's what the vets are for. So if you are worried about your horse not drinking well, or not having excellent hydration scores at the checks despite drinking well, ask the vets at the check as soon as you notice the issue. Don't wait until the end. I feel like I should have asked about this at the second hold, when Lily's CRI was 64/64 and she had B's on skin tenting and CRT, despite her fitness and eating and drinking on trail. I just didn't think to. She looked really good attitude-wise and the vets weren't concerned about it when I told them she had been eating and drinking. Seeing that the vets at Sara's ride weren't worried about the same things with Gem (though Gem's CRIs were SPECTCULAR!) makes me feel a little better about not asking at the moment. I won't ever make this mistake again. But still. Because hindsight. I will not be using Perfect Balance again for Lily. Why was I using this electrolyte to begin with? Because it is recommended by The Horse Journal and Dr. Eleanor Kellon. Because it doesn't have added sugar. Because it is not super irritating to the stomach. And it was recommended at the AERC convention in Atlanta, GA, which Liz and I attended spring of this year. It's a good electrolyte formula; I'm not saying it's not going to work for you. I'm just saying it didn't work for this particular horse. :/
I flunked my own elyting too. I definitely would have not had cramps in the second loop and probably would not have been sore the next day if I had been taking my elyte capsules throughout the day. Note to self: use the capsules regardless of temperatures, and always fill water bottles with half Gatorade and half water. Or use Fizz electrolyte tabs in the water again: those worked well over the summer and I completely forgot to buy more. 

- Charles slept in the tent due to the fact that he snores when face-up (if he'd slept in one of the truck front seats) and he would have had to sleep in a fetal position if he'd been in the back seat. His knee is fine now, but he would not have been comfortable sleeping with bent knees all night. The tent itself wasn't the problem though: it was the air mattress. He got very cold while sleeping on it due to the air inside the mattress cooling. We will need a pad for sleeping in temps below 40 to substitute the air mattress, and sleeping bags rated for 0 degrees. (20 degree sleeping bags were not enough when we crewed for Liz at Fort Valley last year, where temps dropped into the teens overnight!) Several cold weather camping articles recommend having wool blankets as well. 

At the OD, Lily attacked her mashes with a vengeance and even had a fit when we wouldn't immediately give her one at one of the away vet checks. I was doing exactly what I did at this ride: 50/50 Triple Crown Senior and molassed beet pulp. At this ride, she was a little lackluster about them. She still ate them, but not with the previous enthusiasm. The ride management member who let us borrow her trailer for giving Lily IV fluids had recommended Fibergized: she still hadn't met a horse who would turn their nose up at it. Lily LOOOOVED it. I found a Pennfield dealer about 30 minutes away, so I plan to keep this as a backup feed for her.
Need to bring more stuff I can eat while moving around at the holds. I loved my pollo en escabeche, but it required a fork to eat. Liz's idea of making sandwich wraps that you can eat while packing saddle bags and changing tack is brilliant.


I will share what Dr. K told me that I wanted to share with you guys. I checked in via e-mail with Dr. W re: elyte recommendations and she said to use Dr. K's; that's what she uses. Nick (not his real name), the ride vet whose wife I'm friends with, also goes by Dr. K's recommendations. So I have more than one source for finding out all of the details for you guys, but I'd like to get them from Dr. K himself. When I have ALL the details, I'll write about it in a separate post. You have all brought up some really good questions that I have had too, and that I still don't have the answers to.
Before I go on with the information I was given, I want to remind you guys:

  • Each horse is different.
  • Each electrolyte formula is different and it does not help that ingredient labels can be vastly different in the way they are written (% electrolytes/container or per lb, mg/lb, mg/serving, etc)
  • Climate, altitude, humidity, distance, terrain, speed, breed, diet, length of trailer ride to competition, horse's stress levels, water consumption, will all play a role in your horse's electrolyte requirements. Like Mel pointed out in the comments on my ride post, even if you figure out what works for your horse at this ride/this season/this year, it may change by the next ride/next season/next year/3 years from now. So do keep this in mind as well. 
  • You want to find a balance when electrolyting, as over-electrolyting can be just as bad (if not worse than) as under-electrolyting.

Recommendations I was given for Lily by both Dr. K and Dr. W:
1. Pre-load with electrolytes the week before the ride. 1 dose/day for 7 days. Mel also recommends making sure the horse receives plenty of forage in the form of grass and hay, as forage has the electrolytes a horse needs for performance. (The catch here is that not all hay is equal and hay can vary greatly in mineral content depending on region, soil, climate, time of baling, etc, etc, etc. If you want to know the mineral content of the hay you are feeding, getting it analyzed by a company like Dairy One will give you a solid answer. Since I have not had our hay analyzed, I added the daily oral electrolyte doses as well.) Why do you pre-load with electrolytes? Because the horse's gut has a tremendous capacity for storing them. Read more about this here. (This is one of the lectures Liz and I attended at Convention earlier this year; Mel has the best write-up of what was said.)
2. Give a dose of electrolytes:

  • the night before the ride
  • the morning of the ride
  • at each hold

This is the standard recommendation and a good one to start with if you are new to the sport and are figuring out what works best for your horse. It will most likely serve you well during long conditioning rides and LDs, though as stated previously, each horse's requirements will vary. You are more likely to run into electrolyting issues at longer distances.
3. Dr. K and Dr. W also recommended one dose of electrolytes per hour of riding.
4. If unable to give electrolytes while riding (carrying syringes of homemade elyte mixtures can be a very messy endeavor!) give 1 dose of electrolytes immediately upon arriving at the hold, 20 minutes into the hold, and immediately before leaving if this is a longer hold.
5. Do not wait more than 3 hours of performance before giving the horse its next electrolyte dose.
6. Identifying imbalances:

  • If the horse is not drinking, add more sodium (non-iodized salt) to the electrolyte solution you are using. (I don't know how much yet; I hope to be able to tell you guys.)
  • If the horse is drinking but is not hydrating well, add potassium (Nu-Salt or No-Salt). I double-checked my notes, and the specific directions I was given really were for Perform n' Win. Since electrolyte formulas will be different, these instructions will vary for each brand. So if using Perform n' Win, substitute 1/6th of your electrolyte dose for either of these two potassium salts. Administer as soon as possible,  and my understanding is that you continue giving this new mixture for the rest of the ride.
  • If the horse is not drinking nor eating and is getting dehydrated TELL THE VETS. This triple whammy of a problem will cause you THE MOST trouble if it continues for too long, especially if you are riding at 50+ mile distances. It is normal for some horses to not drink/eat for the first 15-20 miles of riding, especially if the weather is cool and/or the horse was hydrated properly prior to riding. Know your horse. Either do LDs before moving up to the longer distances or make sure you do longer training rides. Thanks to long training rides, I knew that Lily isn't keen on drinking for the first 18 miles of riding. So I give wet mashes at every opportunity prior to an 18+ mile ride.

7. Ideally give wet mashes prior to the ride, during the ride, and after the ride. Experiment with different grains to find something that your horse can't resist and will absolutely eat every time. Beet pulp-based grains are the best, as beet pulp helps keep water in the gut longer. I use Triple Crown Senior, as it is very low in starch and high in fiber. You can see the beet pulp in it, and normally Lily reacts to it as if crack had been added to it. :) I mix this grain 50/50 with molassed beet pulp (Lily hates unmolassed) for Lily's mashes. An excellent alternative is Pennfield's Fibergized. When Lily was lackadaisical about her mash while she was receiving fluids, we added a small scoop of Fibregized to it and she dug in. However, feel free to use whatever your horse prefers. I have seen mashes made with beet pulp and oats or even just sweet feed at rides.
8. Wet any and all hay given before, during and after the ride. Practice feeding wet hay to your horse before the ride. Most horses really do like wet hay, but just make sure yours will eat it beforehand.

For more info on some of the questions several of you had, I really recommend going through Mel's blog. It is a wealth of endurance information and she has most of her equine nutrition and hydration posts labeled. A great post to start with is this one. Do read the comments, too. There is even more information in there.

I want to try Renegades on Lily's fronts again, which will eventually mean buying a pair of used ones for her to wear all the way around. I'm hoping this will prevent the chafing incident from reoccurring because the captivators are slightly different from the Vipers'. I had never had this problem with the Vipers before and am still scratching my head about it. I'm still thinking about glue-ons for future competition. Maybe not all the way around...probably just on Lily's fronts and boots on the hinds, since I've overall had less issues with boots on her hind feet than on her fronts. (She does have wonky front feet: a clubbier LF and a flatter RF, and both front feet are very round.)

Every time I think of her and this ride, I can't help grinning. She had fun. She was a rockstar. She had no issue leading over 40+ miles of trail. She has always been a peculiar horse in the sense that she is submissive and she kind of used to choose to be at the bottom of the totem pole within the herd because she'd rather get along with others than fight with them. However, on the trail she has always enjoyed leading. She used to be timid on new trails by herself, but new trail + a buddy following her and she'd be a completely different horse: FORWARD, CONFIDENT, LEADER, BOSS MARE. I had never tested her leadership skills over such an enormous distance and she stepped right up to the plate: the only time she asked Q to lead was on the first mountain climb. That was it. We were behind other horses towards the end. Lily didn't care: she wanted to lead them too. She didn't argue with me for long nor act out, but if I had allowed it, she would happily have passed those other horses in front of us right away. Especially when we were climbing hills at the walk and when we were trotting and cantering around the hayfields.
Over the last year she has come to trust me enough that she is not timid anymore while alone on new trails and ever since that time where she spooked at the hole in the ground and I came off, she has become oh-so-careful about me on her back. We'll be cantering along on the trail and she might startle at something, and instead of doing a full-body dodge sideways, she'll just give a little hop and swing her legs sideways while keeping her body underneath me. If we're trotting along and she drops her head to look at something, she's very careful about keeping her withers up so as to not unbalance me. It's a really wonderful thing, and it has increased my own trust in her tenfold.
Lily encountered all sorts of funny-looking things on this ride, starting with piles of firewood covered with white Tyvek. She looked at the piles and didn't even falter. She didn't falter at any other unusual thing she saw either. Last year, Liz and her friends last year had issues with their horses at one of the river crossings on the 3rd loop due to a steep 1' drop into the water. When we neared it, Liz warned me that this was the crossing she had mentioned in her blog. I looked at it and said, "Lily will not have a problem with it." Indeed: Lily didn't even look at it. She just plunged into the water.
I just can't get over it:
I'm so freaking proud of this horse.

Photo by Michelle Mayer

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fort Valley 50: The Ride

Friday: The Fort Valley 50

The First Loop: 18 miles
I woke up twice during the night to check on the horses and toss more hay as it seemed fit. They ate hay and drank nearly the entire muck bucket of water throughout the night. As it turns out, Liz and I were on alternate shifts: she was waking up basically 1-2 hours after I was and doing the same thing! She caught Lily sleeping flat on her side that evening, which is absolutely fantastic: 100% relaxed mare at her second ride ever! I guess that made one of us that slept well that night? ;)

The next morning I was a bundle of nerves. Lily ate half of her mash (I wasn't too worried because she had eaten hay pretty much throughout the entire night and like I said in the previous paragraph, they had drunk nearly an entire muck bucket of water that we had topped off at 10:00 pm) and was antsy, so while Liz finished getting ready, I longed Lily for 5 minutes to let her get the willies out. She trotted and cantered but didn't throw any bucks or leaps, which made me happy. Her brain seemed to be in a good place after all. 

I gave Lily a dose of electrolytes and Charles held her for me while I mounted up and prayed to Daniel to make her behave. Lily took 3 dancey steps while Liz and Q waited patiently next to us. It worked: Lily settled immediately and was happy to walk down to the start line next to her buddy. We checked in at the start line, said good-bye to Charles and rode off at a walk. I want to note: Lily was wearing Vipers on the fronts and Renegades on the hinds. Both are by Lander Industries, but the Vipers work better for rounder feet and the Renegades tend to work better for more spade-shaped hoofers. I was hoping this combination would hold up for the entire ride. I had packed my other 2 Vipers and 2 Easyboot Gloves in my cantle bag, along with a roll of mueller tape and Vetrap. That's the sole purpose of my cantle bag: to carry boots!

I needn't have worried: Lily was "up", yes, but she had absolutely no issue staying at a walk at my gentle request, though this was not true for all of the horses. We watched a gray Arab in front of us spook at the end of the concrete bridge we had to cross. His steel-shod feet slipped and all 4 legs splayed out as he almost hit the pavement chest-first. His rider stayed on and they moved out okay, but it was scary to watch.  

We trotted on up the hill then veered right onto the trail. 

We started catching and passing horses as our mares powered on up the first hill in the trail, Lily in the lead. And then the cables on one of Q's Vipers snapped and Liz had to get off to replace the boot. Once that was sorted out, we continued on our way. 

We walked the mares down a very rocky section of trail, going down the mountain for a ways. We trotted where we could but walked most of it because there would be plenty of time later to pick up speed. The views from this part of the mountain were quite spectacular.

Riders in front of us.
Lily's ears saying, "You're sure you don't want me to catch up to them? Because I totally can..."
Liz and Q.
Yup it was a rocky trail. Liz asked, "So, after the Old Dominion, what do you think of this?"
My response: "I'm perfectly fine with this." And so was Lily.
Gorgeous, GORGEOUS peak fall colors on the Virginia mountains.
We continued on down the mountain at a walk, until the drag riders caught up to us and then we picked up a trot. We did feel a little harassed because we were making good time and would have plenty of opportunities later on to pick up speed and this was just the first loop, but we trotted on until they were well out of sight behind us.

There was one spot that Liz recognized from last year: there is a farm next to the trail where the grass was really tall last year. The farm has a small obese flaxen-maned gray miniature stallion that charged the fence through the grass spooking all of the horses. This year the grass was short and Liz was able to point out the mini as he took off running from across his field towards the fence. We leaped off of our horses as he turned towards us, galloping up the fence line while making these horrible snorting/snuffling/grunting noises that made him sound more like a pig than a horse. 

Lily and Q LOST. IT. 

Lily bolted backwards as fast as she could go as Q spun around in a circle and managed to somehow get herself between Lily and me. I almost lost my grip on the reins when I couldn't get past Q's rump but Lily slammed on the brakes when she hit the end of the reins just as Liz pulled Q out of the way and I was able to get my other hand on the reins. 

We managed to get the mares moderately calmed down and hand-walked them past the offending mini, who followed us on his side of the fence, still making his pig noises. Now that I could see him more closely, he literally looked like a gray pig with a white mane and tail. He was tiny, smaller than Kenai, and so fat that he had absolutely no waistline. Even his neck was short and set funny on his shoulders...he really looked like a pig with a wig.

Liz was getting ready to mount up when I realized I had a boot snafu and had to stop and fix it. Lily just stood there with the reins on the ground while I messed with her hoof and the boot. I could hear Liz talking to Q and still trying to get her to calm down. "She is so good for you for that," Liz said, as Lily obediently picked up her foot, held it up while I wrapped her hoof and stuck the boot back on, then put it back down when I took a step away, and weighted the foot so I could do the straps. She really is a saint, and I've gotten to the point where I take for granted the little things like this that she does for me that make life with her so easy.

When I was done, I realized that the mini had followed us all the way to the other side of his pasture and was still just standing there watching us from his side of the fence, which is why Q was still so worked up. By this point Lily was over the mini. "Oh...it's just a fugly little horse." 

We continued walking until it seemed safe to mount up again, and continued on down the trail at a trot. Eventually it led us onto a stone dust paved road where we were really able to pick up speed. We cantered along, the mares' booted feet ringing in a staccato beat on the harder footing, one mare's hoofbeats filling the spaces between the hoofbeats of the other, making us sound like some sort of equine train: "Chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh." It was a pretty and unusual sound and it became my favorite sound of the day. 

What comes next gets blurry because the first and second loops of the Fort Valley 50 double back on one another, so they are already mixed up in my mind. There was a second long but moderate climb, which is where these photos were taken. The views were breathtaking:

We had to stop to take photos.
Halfway through this climb Lily said, "Okay, I need a break from leading." Which was absolutely fine.
Q led the way for the rest of this stretch up the mountain and back into camp.

Moving along the ridgeline
Beautiful colors everywhere. I think I was grinning this entire ride.

While riding across the ridgeline, I ate the Powerbar and the Energy Blend I had packed.

And then we were going back downhill, back the way we had come to begin this loop. 

We rode past Becky Pearman and that's when she snagged this photo: 
This is what she looked like for 50 miles!
We trotted the rest of the way towards camp and slowed to a walk as we came onto the last stretch of road. Liz's GPS had clocked the ride in at about 17 miles instead of 18, and the miles had just flown by as they tend to do when you're riding a good horse with good company across gorgeous land. 

I dismounted as we arrived at the concrete bridge that had caused issues for other horses that morning, loosened Lily's girth and removed her bit. We hand-walked into the hold exactly 3 hours after we had left: right on schedule. Charles was waiting for us with a crew area set up for both Lily and Q. He did a stellar job as our one-man crew for this ride!

Crew area near the vet check. 
Both mares' heart rates were down within about 10 minutes of arriving. 

Waiting for our turn at the check.
Since it was cool (in the low 50's), tack removal was optional. We chose to leave tack on to keep the girls' backs warm, which is what everyone else was doing. Q breezed through uneventfully and Lily also passed the check with mainly flying colors. Her CRI was 60/60 (Cardiac Recovery Index, which compares the heart rate pre trot-out vs post trot-out. Very fit horses will have an equal or lower heart rate AFTER the trot-out). I think she was given B's on one or two hydration parameters but I wasn't surprised because a) there had not been much water on this loop and b) it is normal for Lily to not drink for the first 18 miles when the weather is cooler. 

We had a 45 minute hold so we walked the mares back to the trailer. Q had a mash at Liz's trailer so I set Lily loose in the corral, which ended up being a great idea: she alternately ate her mash and walked around, relaxed, eating her hay and carrots that Charles offered, and both pooping and urinating. Her urine was a light yellow color: completely normal. 

Relaxed, happy mare.
She didn't finish her mash, which I had left soaking that morning, so I made her a fresh batch that she dug into. She only ate half of the second batch, but between the two she had eaten the equivalent of an entire pan of mash. In the meantime, Charles filled our water bottles and both Liz and I ate. I chugged half a Gatorade, a bottle of cold water, and attacked my pollo en escabeche dish and ended up eating at least half of what I packed in one sitting. It really hit the spot. Brilliant idea to go to the trouble of making it ahead!

I had been wearing a long sleeved Patagonia Capilene 2 shirt + a short-sleeved microfiber shirt over it under my safety vest. It was starting to warm up so I changed into only a dry long-sleeved Cap 2 shirt and both Liz and I donned our safety vests again for the second loop. I mounted up at the trailer to use the mounting block. To my surprise, Lily had another brief moment of hyperactivity, "LET'S GO!" I had to burst out laughing. The conditioning work I had put into her during the last 4 months was really paying off. She walked out quietly at my request.

On our way to the start
Ready to rumble!

The Second Loop: 16 Miles
We trotted back up the paved road and across the concrete bridge like we had for the first loop. Q was pretty unmotivated at the start of this loop so we did some walking but once we reached one of the initial steeper hills, Lily really wanted to trot so I let her move out. We stopped to wait for Liz and Q at the first switchback, then trotted on together, Lily in the lead. Liz and Q pulled us along at the Old Dominion, and Lily and I were able to return the favor on this ride. 

We dismounted and hand-walked the mares down the same mountain that we had ridden them down in the first loop. I had been expecting this and had worn my hiking boots in preparation, which made negotiating the rocks easy. We probably hiked about a mile before we mounted up again, when the ground was more level. The mares picked up a trot and we continued on down the trail.   Eventually we came to a pipe gate where we turned the opposite direction from the first loop, which would take us through the woods for a ways, and eventually to very pretty white pine forest that Liz remembered from last year. Last year it had been great for cantering but this time it was kind of muddy so we just trotted through for fear of more boot issues (more on that later).

This trail offered plenty of access to small creek crossings and puddles. Lily drank at every. single. water source. Even the puddles. I was beyond thrilled. She used to be picky about her water sources: it had to be clear water, and it had to be deeper than her fetlocks. -_- Not anymore! We did get to ride into the Shenandoah River, where the mares got to stand in knee-deep water, drink their fill, and cool off.

Derp ears. She was shaking her head.

Liz and Q-Bee
We did some long stretches of FS road through the woods as the trail started very gradually yet steadily climbing as it took us in sweeping loops across the sides of the mountain. We did a lot of trotting and cantering here, Lily still in the lead.

Love her ears

And then we got to the worst climb of the ride, which after the awful 5-mile rocky climb of the Old Dominion, was nothing. It was the toughest part of this ride, yes, and I would have found it difficult if I hadn't done the OD in the summer. But given how awful the OD was, this seemed okay by comparison. The mares were still getting a workout though. We rode for the first section of this climb then dismounted and led them the rest of the way up. The entire climb was maybe 2 miles long. It was really good to get off and walk. I started to get really stiff while the mares were climbing. Liz and I were still feeling good as we reached the top so we continued leading them on most of the downward climb on the other side. Both girls had a nice long break from having to carry us. One big difference between this ride and the Old Dominion was all the talking. We were relaxed and happy and not worried about having to race the clock, and Liz and I chattered most of the time that our horses were not actually cantering. It made the ride feel like just one really long trail ride instead of a competition. It's a big difference when you can ride so many miles with a friend. Once the ground started leveling off, we got on to trot some more. During this short section we had to slow to a walk a couple of times to allow other riders to pass or to pass other riders, and each time we slowed from walk to trot, my hamstrings cramped up. Can I just say OW?! I groaned silently: I had brought my elyte pills but had forgotten to pack them in my saddle bags, so I had taken none during the ride so far. I had been drinking water but it was not enough even on this cooler ride. Live and learn. Taking my feet out of the stirrups and wiggling my feet helped release the cramps. We just kept trotting until we were within sight of the concrete bridge on the way back into camp. Again we dismounted at the bridge, loosened girths, and I removed Lily's bit, leading the mares into the vet check area. We stripped tack for this one. Lily and Q drank a bucket and a half of water each, which made Charles have to scramble to get more! We sponged their legs and bellies down to help them cool off.

Q was down about 5 minutes before Lily but Liz had to make a line. Charles and I were taking turns listening to Lily's heart while the other sponged. When Lily dropped to 66, I walked her over to the check since we would be waiting. The person at the pulse check prior to the vet check obtained a heart rate of 60 by the time it was our turn. We were right behind Liz and Q.
Liz waits with Q by the vet check while we vetted so Lily wouldn't get stressed over not seeing Q.
Lily went through with the same scores as before, with a B for skin tenting and capillary refill time. I was a little surprised by that given how well she had been drinking but she had A's on everything else and the vet was not concerned. Her CRI was 64/64. 64 was the highest heart rate allowed. I was a little surprised that it wasn't lower but it was warming up (temps were now in the 60's), this was only our second endurance ride, and there were a lot of horses around us: Lily had been antsy and nickering occasionally at other horses while we waited, and she had tried to dance away from the vet when they ausculted her, something which she never does.

Trot out
The vet did note that she was a little girthy on the left side, so back at the trailer I swapped out her Woolback for a second girth which I'd brought just in case: Lily's original fleece dressage girth with a Woolback girth cover. Both mares ate their mashes in the same arrangement as before: Q at the trailer, Lily in the pen. Lily urinated yellow and pooped and ate most of her mash. She had another dose of electrolytes before we tacked up. It was another 45 minute hold and I ended up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out a different underwear situation because I was starting to chafe. Note: if you have chafing issues, bring extra underwear. Just changing into dry underwear at the hold can do the trick. I barely had time to eat though. Charles started threatening, "I'm going to eat your chicken if you don't sit down to eat!" "NO! Don't eat my chicken! I just need to do one more thing!" Liz made me a turkey and provolone wrap that she shoved into my hand that I was able to finish while running around getting my act together. Charles filled my water bottles with half Gatorade and half water, and I shoved 5 elyte pills in my mouth that were chased down with 600 mg of ibuprofen. I was starting to get sore.
Liz studies the trail map from last year's FV 50.
Not sure why they didn't provide maps this year.
The highlight of this hold was Gail! She was riding Nimo in their first LD on Saturday and we knew she would be arriving around this time. I looked over and pointed out to Liz what I was pretty sure were Gail's truck and trailer, with her cattle panel corral next to it, just across the way from us. Gail and Nimo were nowhere in sight so we figured they were out for a walk exploring. Gail showed up as we were starting to tack up, so we had the opportunity to catch up quickly before it was time for Liz and I to continue onto the third loop. Lily was given another dose of electrolytes before I hopped on.

 Lily's attitude? "Oh, we're going out again? Rock on."

Third Loop: 15 Miles
Both of the mares were in the afternoon doldrums but Lily snapped out of it well before Q. We had our last boot snafu at the beginning of this loop. I had SO MANY boot issues throughout this ride that I actually lost count of them. I had packed in the trailer 5 Vipers, 2 Renegades and 4 Easyboot Gloves total, and made sure I had 4 boots in my cantle bag at the beginning of each loop. The cables on 2 Vipers frayed, the cables on the third Viper slid, the cables on one of the Renegades slid. The Easyboots stayed on, but they were on for most of the third loop only and I did apply hefty amounts of mueller tape and Vetrap to Lily's hooves prior to hammering the Gloves onto her feet with rocks from the trail. Lily finished the ride with a Viper on her RF and Gloves on her other 3 hooves. The captivator of the Viper on her RF would chafe the back of her pastern her so, so badly it is a true wonder that she was not lame at all during this ride. I wouldn't discover it until I removed her boots after the final vet check. I had never had this issue with the Vipers before, but it looks like a third degree burn and was so painful I gave her bute Saturday and Sunday. The frayed cables may have been partly my fault: Ashley had warned me that they had had quality control issues with one batch of cables and had sent me replacements, but I had only changed the cables that frayed at the Old Dominion ride; I figured the other two boots were fine because they performed perfectly throughout the rockiest 50 mile ride of the East Coast and during every conditioning ride after. I will note that the boots are adjusted perfectly and they fit well: there is still a little bit of wiggle room between the boots and Lily's feet, which is the way Renegades and Vipers should fit. Over-the-coronet band boots like Cavallos and Fusion boots do not work for this horse because of her hoof angles: she gets chafed every single time. Barefoot is not an option at the Old Dominion rides: hoof protection is absolutely mandatory. You are not allowed to start without it, and you are not allowed to finish without it. I see glue-ons or nailed Easyshoes in our competitive future. I don't care about the cost at this point. I just want something that will STAY ON HER FEET DAMMIT. (And it will most certainly NOT be steel after seeing the way the steel-shod horses slipped on pavement. Booted horses or horses with Easyshoes did not have this problem.) My boot frustrations reached epic levels at this ride. I was glad I had so many boots on hand but at the same time felt it was ridiculous that I needed to have so many boots on hand! Other than the final boot issue, this was my favorite part of this ride and one that I will carry with me for a very long time. It was a beautiful loop that took us through woods with ups and downs that were very much like the Patuxent (aka Redneck Park) trails that we love so much. Lily's ears were pricked and happy as she charged down the hills at a trot and attacked the uphills at a bounding canter. She felt as fresh as if we had just started the ride. I had to ask her to walk so Q could take breaks. The mares drank at every creek/puddle when given the opportunity and soon we caught up to a group of 6 other riders with whom we would be leap-frogging for the entire rest of this loop. It really felt like we were at an endurance ride for once, instead of Liz and I just riding by ourselves at the end of the pack (not complaining as us and our mares work well together solo, but it was nice to get the full endurance ride experience!) We would periodically ride behind some of the others, which gave Lily a break from leading, until Lily decided that she did not like the pace and wanted to pass. So we would pick up a trot/canter and pass.

The trail reminded me in a way of a jumper course. Liz had showed it to me on the map and it was incredibly convoluted. I had gotten the hang of watching for confidence ribbons (blue and white) and turn ribbons (red), and thanks to seeing the map beforehand, was especially on the lookout for those turn ribbons. Turns would often come up on us quite quickly, but it really added extra interest to the ride and kept the mares focused on us and the trail. The trail took would wind around hayfields with the golden and red mountains in the background. Like I said: I was grinning the entire ride. It was hard to believe the incredible beauty around us. The elytes and ibuprofen took effect and I was able to continue riding as before. No pain anywhere and I still had the strength to two-point up hills and while cantering. It was effortless riding.

 There were two big creek crossings on this course and we let the mares go into the water, hang out and drink as much as they wanted. They both drank well at every opportunity.

Walking towards one of the creeks.
Good girl!

More hay fields
Second creek crossing

We came across a very sudden turn that I missed but Liz did not. The trail was basically invisible but it immediately took us up a vertical but thankfully short climb. Liz and I had our hands up our girls' necks as we urged them up as quickly as they could go. Lily and Q trotted up: it was too steep to attempt to walk!

We were on more rolling countryside after this. We were still leapfrogging with the other riders we had previously caught up to. Every time they were in front of us, Lily would argue about wanting to catch up to them, but I held her back: I didn't want her galloping too much on this last loop. I was pleased by her spirits though: this mare was not tired! Like I said before: she is a very honest horse, and will always tell me when she's tired and when she's ready to continue. She doesn't often get that competitive and when she does, it's because she's feeling spectacularly good. I want you guys to remember this.

Liz took this awesome video. Mine didn't come out as well.

We would eventually pass the group of 6 riders. As we arrived at the last field before returning to camp, we stopped to let the mares eat. However, they both sensed that we were close and were not interested in eating then. They just wanted to continue.

We crossed the finish line at a trot, holding hands so we could tie. We tied for 30th place out of 34 riders that would complete, finishing the ride in about 9 hours of riding time (sans holds; 10.5 hours with holds). Our average speed throughout the ride had been about 6 mph, a very conservative pace.

The Last Vet Check
The finish line was about 1/4 mile from the vet check, so we immediately dismounted, loosened girths, I removed Lily's bit and we hand-walked the mares into the hold.

Charles had everything ready. We stripped tack and the mares took small sips of water but not the impressive guzzling from before. Lily was still pretty hot so we started sponging and scraping. Liz threw a cooler on Q but Lily was hot enough that I did not want to do that yet. Q was down within 10 minutes or so and Liz took her down to the check. Lily took another 5 minutes to get down to 66. Charles suggested we go to the check but I knew we had a full hour for this last hold to get the horses vetted through, so I told him I wanted to wait until Lily was down more. This is when things started to get dicey: instead of continuing to go down, her heart rate started to climb again. It hovered at 72 and stayed there. We offered more water and she wouldn't drink. I started to worry. We had arrived in a long pocket between riders so Liz and I were the only ones at the hold at that moment. The vets noticed we were having problems and called us over. Lily's heart rate rocketed up to 80 as the vets listened. Her skin felt cool to the touch now so a cooler was thrown over her.  I was asked if Lily had been drinking on trail and I told them she had chugged at every water crossing. They believed me : they could hear the water in her gut. She actually had really good gut sounds. But she had the most awful skin tenting I have ever seen and her capillary refill time was very prolonged at around 4 seconds. (That is a D score, in case you were wondering.) I was in shock. I was told that she had been receiving enough sodium with her electrolytes but she needed more potassium to help the water in her gut reach the rest of her body. Someone tracked down a container of No-Salt (potassium salt) and Lily was given a syringe orally. I was given the go-ahead to let her eat grass, mash, drink water. We had 30 minutes left to try to complete.

In the meantime, Liz was having some issues with lameness. While running back to the trailer to get Lily's mash, I passed her and Q talking to the farrier, who was hoof-testing Q's feet. We gave one another 3-word explanations and continued with what we were doing.

Lily ate about half of her mash, only when held up for her. She wanted grass, so we let her eat grass. She did not want more water. I stressed about her dehydration. She was given a second dose of No-Salt. She ate more mash. She looked a little better when I took her over to the vets. We completed with a CRI of 64/64 again, to my surprise: I had not been expecting to complete at all and had completely given up on the notion. Her capillary refill time was at 3 seconds, her skin tenting still wasn't great.

I was NOT happy. I honestly didn't even care about the completion. I just cared that my horse did not look right yet and she should not be struggling like this when she had done SO WELL on the trail in every single aspect.

Remembering what had happened to Hannah at hers and Tucker's first 50, I asked the vets if I could bring Lily back later for them to look at again. One of the big things AERC has been pushing is for riders to have their horses re-assessed two hours after completing/finishing if you have any concerns at all. Your completion won't be taken away from you, and the exam is free. Sadly not everyone knows about it, and I'm not sure this would have been at the front of my mind if Hannah had not talked about it on her blog. Thank you Hannah, for sharing what happened.

The vets said they would be happy to look at her again for me. Dr. W, one of the toughest vets at the rides in our area, took it upon herself to be in charge of Lily. She had vetted us through the first check. She told us they would all be at the ride dinner/meeting/awards.

During all of this Gail and Carroll, Nick's wife (the ride vet; they trailered Lily to the OD in June), had been helping and talking to us but it is now all a blur.

I took Lily back to the trailer and put her in the corral. Liz was already there with Q and this is when I learned that they had not completed due to a cramp in one of Q's hind legs. :( Thankfully, it was just a cramp and not a more serious injury, but it was a huge bummer because Liz had been aiming at getting the Old Dominion Triple Crown.

Lily seriously frightened me when she started sniffing around the corral and pawing furiously. I went into a blind panic, thinking that she was colicking. In an attempt at confirming that it wasn't something else, I gave her a flake of hay, another of alfalfa, and a fresh batch of mash. She attacked the alfalfa and ignored everything else. The pawing had been because she was demanding the food she wanted. This is not the first time she does this, but given all of the other circumstances, she really scared me.

I was still terrified that she was not eating her mash. It was the only way to get water into her when she was refusing to drink. All of our stuff was still at the hold area and Charles insisted that I go with him right then. I ended up getting into an argument with him because I could not leave Lily's side at that moment; I told him I would help him get our stuff later, I needed to watch my horse for a minute. He ended up storming off and later I learned that Liz helped him bring the stuff over. I was happy to help, I just could not do it at that moment!

I poulticed her legs and removed her hoof boots. Her heart rate was around 60 and she had good gut sounds but her skin tenting was the same. I threw her lined sheet on over her cooler as the temperature continued to drop. The low for that night was predicted to be in the 30's. Dinner had started and I could hear the announcer saying things that I could not understand. I put stuff away, stopping every few seconds to look at Lily. She continued eating her alfalfa. She touched her mash twice. She neither pooped nor urinated.

After an hour, I finally joined Liz and Charles for dinner. They were serving taco salad and thankfully we were able to get food before they were done putting it away.

I received my completion award (a cap) and sat back down to finish eating. We had been at the meeting all of 15 minutes. I realized I had just lost my appetite and wondered how on earth I would find the vets in the darkness with the amount of people gathered at the meeting. I was just debating whether I should just grab Lily and bring her down, when Dr. W found me.

I left my unfinished food on the chair and we walked back to the trailer. Charles came with us. It was 8:00 pm. It had been almost exactly 2 hours since we'd crossed the finish line at 6:06 pm. Lily was just standing around, not eating. Her heart rate was 56. Her skin tenting was even worse than when we first returned to the check and her capillary refill time was even more prolonged at 5 seconds. I wanted to cry.

Dr. W quietly and matter-of-factly explained that she was worried about Lily's hydration status. She gave me the option of waiting and monitoring her overnight. She offered bolusing IV fluids and did say that if Lily was her horse, she would give her fluids. At the same time, she said that plenty of people never have their horses re-checked and they do fine. However, I knew that my horse was a raisin. I knew that she would not willingly get the fluids she needed orally at this point. I chose the IV fluids. If Dr. W had said we needed to go to Leesburg, that's what we would have done. Lily is insured so cost is quite frankly not a big concern. But this is why we have the ride vets at these events. This is what they are there for. These are truly passionate vets that love the sport and love these animals.

Waiting for Lily's neck to be prepped.
So that's how, at 8:30 pm, we found ourselves next to another member of ride management's trailer who had hi-tie clips where IV fluid bags could be hung as high as possible (the higher you hang the IV fluid bags, the faster the fluids will flow into the animal when you don't have a fluid pump) while Dr. Bob's vet student clipped and surgically prepped the skin over Lily's jugular. Dr. W injected the skin with lidocaine to numb the area (a really nice touch) so Lily never felt when the 10-gauge IV catheter was placed. It had a large-bore extension set that was sutured in place. 10 liters of IV fluids, of which 5 liters had added potassium chloride, were bolused into her. Charles stayed by my side.

An hour later, those 10 liters were almost finished. Lily was looking significantly better: instead of just standing there quietly, she was starting to look around alertly, so Charles was asked to fetch mash and hay for her to eat. Charles returned with Gail, who hung around talking with us. It was so wonderful to have the moral support. Lily dug into her mash with the eagerness that had been missing at the vet check. Relief. It was decided to give her another 10 liters of fluids.

Liz stopped by to check on us and have Q looked at. Lily was feeling well enough to nicker at Q but stayed calm after they left. Dr. W examined Q and, other than body sore, declared that she was looking good. Her cramp was already improving.

We would hang out with the vet for two hours while Lily received her fluids. I would learn that Dr. W went to school with one of my favorite residents at work, Dr. B. I had instantly liked Dr. W's manner, the confident way in which she talked, and the fact that even Dr. Bob, who is an endurance ride vet veteran, had come over to see how she did her IV catheter placement. As it turns out, I could not have been in better hands: Dr. W is a boarded equine sports medicine specialist and she has been volunteering at endurance rides for 6 years now. Charles ended up entertaining her with some of his ER stories.

We were supposed to try to catch a sample of urine when Lily urinated. Per Dr. W, it was not a matter of "if", it was a matter of "when". Lily pooped halfway through her 20 liters of fluids and finally urinated as Dr. W was clamping the line when the fluids were done. This ended in laughter: in her determination, Dr. W actually stuck her hand in the stream of urine with a syringe case to catch the sample. She just wanted to confirm that it was yellow.

It was.

I love vets as dedicated as her.

Lily's CRT by then was around 2.5 seconds, her skin tenting slightly delayed but 75% better than it had been prior to all of this. The IV catheter was left in just in case and covered with Elastikon tape so Lily wouldn't rub it out overnight. I was to bring her back in the morning for a recheck before we left.

Lily ate another mash before I put her in the corral with Q. She then attacked the hay that Liz had set out for them. Charles and I hung around talking and watching her, waiting for our adrenaline rush to wear off, before we were finally able to go to bed.

I did not sleep well. Duh. I woke up multiple times during the night to check on Lily.  It was freezing cold and I had to run the truck heater at 2:00 am to warm up, despite multiple layers and comforters. Sometimes she was eating, sometimes she was not. Her skin tenting continued to improve, as did her CRT.  I could tell she was pooping: hers were softer than Q's.


We woke up at 7:00 am. Lily's CRT was a normal 2 seconds and her skin tenting was normal. I set up a mash for her and left it soaking, then ran over to Gail's trailer with Liz to help her get ready for her first LD on Nimo. Who is a Friesian, in case you are not familiar with her blog. And if you're not familiar with it, you should totally go read it. She is new to the sport but few people research what they do as thoroughly as she does. I learn something new with almost every post! And she has done an incredible job conditioning a DRAFT for endurance.

Gail and Nimo ride off into the sunrise.
Once Gail was on her way, I took Lily out of the corral so she could eat her mash. Charles and I then walked down to the vet check with her to find Dr. W. Dr. W was thrilled with how she looked. She removed the IV catheter and cleared us to go home. I was instructed to continue the mashes and daily electrolyting through this week.

Lily received another mash upon returning and was then placed in the corral with Q. We gave them hay and started breaking camp. Blankets were removed from the mares as the sun climbed higher in the sky and temps warmed up. 

Yup, my mare was that horse at camp. The one with the neck bandage.
But you can see that, if you remove that bandage, she looked really good. She didn't even lose weight at this ride.
We stopped by one of the vendors to pick up a tub of Perform n' Win, the electrolyte that had been recommended by Dr. W because of its higher potassium content. 

When it was close to 11:00 am, we went down to the bridge to wait for Gail to return.

We were able to meet her as she was returning from the first LD loop. 

Liz and I stripped tack as they were walking which meant Gail was able to immediately vet in. His CRI was awesome...I think it was 59/54. Him and Gail IMMEDIATELY had a fan club.

Liz and Charles walked them back to their trailer. Dr. K, one of the vets that had looked at Lily the day before, wanted to talk to me about electrolytes. It was a truly enlightening conversation and I am waiting for the e-mail with his research paper; I will share what I learned then because I think it will help other riders. It was very clear and black-and-white, which was exactly what I needed to learn. No one had ever explained the art of electrolyting in this manner, neither in school nor online, and I finally understood how to recognize and prevent specific electrolyte imbalances. Oh, and he also recommended Perform n' Win. 

I joined my peeps at Gail's trailer, where we helped her get everything organized for her next loop and saw her off again. It's crazy how quickly a 45 minute hold will go!

Team Nimo
We finished packing up and Lily was given a dose of electrolytes + another mash before loading onto the trailer. Q's cramp was fully resolved and her body soreness improved. Liz and I said our good-byes and went our separate ways. 

The drive home was uneventful. Once home I set Lily free in the barnyard to stretch her legs. I washed off her poultice and gave her yet another mash for dinner. She drank water as well, and asked to be put out with her friends when she was ready. 

Charles and I continued on our way home, exhausted, to finish unpacking. 


So how do I feel? I was happy to be in the hands of a truly fantastic vet. I love the medicine of the more aggressive, straightforward vets that tell it to you like it is. This type of vet will take the side of the animal, sometimes to the point where the pet owner might complain about lack of bedside manner, but it is because this type of vet truly cares. They are passionate about their job and they want what's best for their patients. They will fight tooth and nail for your animal, and I ended up with one of these individuals on my side, which gave me tremendous peace while everything was happening. I literally sat back and let her do her thing. I was happy that I could afford this care and that, despite it technically being emergency care, it was still very affordable (I have wondered about this and know others have the same question: how much did it cost for 20 liters of IV fluids (that was 4 bags of fluids total) + injectable potassium chloride + a very sterile catheter prep + IV catheter placement + fluid line + the one-on-one attention of the veterinarian, who happened to be a boarded equine sports medicine specialist? $426 in Virginia. Not bad at all, especially for this area. Way less than an emergency visit from your regular equine vet. I recommend having your horse insured and/or having a separate savings account or credit card specifically for equine emergencies. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.) I'm beyond happy that I have the veterinary training I have to realize that this really was NOT a moment to wait and see. My mare had turned into a raisin, plain and simple, and she was not getting the fluids she needed orally. She NEEDED those IV fluids.

What could I have done better? With the knowledge base I had, nothing. I could have done nothing better. I had pre-loaded her with electrolytes for the week prior to competition, I had given electrolyte doses at the standard time intervals (the night before, the morning of, and once at every hold), she had been drinking and eating like a champ throughout this ride and had performed to the absolute hilt in such a way that I felt like my heart was going to burst with pride and love for this mare. She was forward, she was happy, all the way through the entire 50 miles. She LOVES THIS SPORT and after only one competition, she already knows what her job is when it comes to this sport. Move down that trail efficiently, ask for breaks when she needs them, drink at every opportunity, eat at every opportunity. She is happy with that, I'm happy with that. She asks, I give. I ask, she gives. We take care of one another and we get to explore new trails over great distances together. It is a beautiful thing. I have never seen her so happy at anything ever in 3.5 years of owning her as I did at this ride. As long as she is this happy with this job, I will not take endurance away from her.

Would we have prevented this if we had practiced at LDs first? I have been thinking about this and my conclusion is: No. It would not have made a difference. The common denominator between the Old Dominion and Fort Valley is that Lily has not run into problems recovering until she surpasses 40+ miles. We probably could have been doing LDs for a long time, and we would have not run into the electrolyte problem until we started 50s anyway. Potassium was recommended at the Old Dominion by Dom, but I was afraid of playing with electrolytes too much afterwards: at the Old Dominion, Lily developed a heart murmur while giving electrolytes and it went away after I stopped giving them...or it could just have easily have been coincidence: the heart murmur developed as a result of inadequate preparation in terms of conditioning for the long, intense mountain climb of the OD and disappeared over more forgiving terrain. She recovered really well at the hold where the heart murmur happened, and the murmur did not reappear at that ride. She just had difficulty pulsing down at the last hold before the finish, though she was very excited then, so the issues recovering could have also been partially or mostly because of all that. The vets didn't think there was an electrolyte issue then, and it was the same group of vets at Fort Valley. Actually, Dr. K himself, the one who gave me the elyte recommendations at the end, was the one that vetted and passed Lily at the last away vet check at the Old Dominion. Like I have said before, electrolyte imbalances whether as a result of a metabolic disturbance or created by the person giving the electrolytes, can kill a horse. Or any living being, for that matter.

The conclusion is that each individual horse is different and Lily needed something more: she needed potassium. I just didn't know how to recognize the signs. I didn't know to research on how to recognize the signs because I didn't know there were separate signs to indicate different electrolyte deficiencies. I didn't know how much potassium to give or how much to modify the current electrolyte dose if more potassium was needed. But now I know. My ignorance didn't cause Lily to colic, it didn't cause major suffering, her life was not in danger yet. There is a great chance that it might have been later on in the night if we had not taken action when we did. But I can guarantee you that the dehydration she went through from lack of potassium will NOT happen again. My recommendation for other endurance riders new to the sport who are still figuring this out: along with whatever brand of electrolytes you are using, keep a container of Nu-Salt or No-Salt in the trailer (both of these products are basically salt substitutes that use potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride for people that need to be on low sodium diets), along with a container of non-iodized regular table salt. Just in case. You may need them or a fellow rider may need them for their horse.

Please be kind in the comments. Feel free to ask questions, but be kind. I could have simply omitted all of this but I am being honest and sharing my experience in the hopes that it will help others, and I don't think I should be punished or judged for that. I trained my horse appropriately, I followed all of the recommendations available to me from other much more experienced riders, and my horse did what she was supposed to do as an endurance horse with the energy of a well-conditioned horse. I was using an electrolyte recommended by endurance vets at the AERC convention in Atlanta: Perfect Balance Electrolyte. Shit like this can happen to even the best-prepared rider regardless of experience. It can happen to you too. I'm telling you about this so it doesn't.

I made the right decision by choosing to have fluids given to my horse. I was not ashamed that she was the one with the neck bandage in camp. I was complimented for taking care of her the way she needed to be taken care of, both by the vets and other riders when they heard the story. I would have preferred that she have not needed the fluids to begin with, OF COURSE! And I would have given anything to have the knowledge I have now BEFORE this ride. But I now have the information that I needed to be able to safely continue in this sport with a mare that truly loves her job. She gets a well-deserved vacation and an easy winter, and we'll see what next year brings.

Another photo by Becky Pearman

Review post to follow.