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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

No Frills Review

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

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

What Worked

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

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

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

December 2015

To this:

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

3. Tack

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

4. Shoes

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


What Didn't Work

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

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


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

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

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

Well, it can affect people in the same way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

WW: The Dolly Sods Wilderness...on Our Horses

So much to write! And I still have to finish my No Frills review post! 

Many thanks to all that commented on my previous post. I still have to finish responding! I cherished each and every comment. ❤️

Monday, May 9, 2016

No Frills 2016: 55 Miles!!!!

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

But let me start at the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adult beverages and fried chicken snacks.

Trailer turned feed room.

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

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

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

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

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

Single file through the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My face says what I thought of this. :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That made me feel significantly better though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is what happened at No Frills.

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

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

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

Funny how that works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The trail took us through this gorgeous stream:

BOTH of them drank!!! YAY GRACIE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lol And that is why I do endurance. ;)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ribbons were red.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except we continued at a walk. :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

"To Finish" sign right across the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was beaming when he told me this story.

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

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

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

Endurance ponehs with legs poulticed with Ice Tight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an uneventful drive back home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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