Let me preface this post by stating outright – this was our best ride ever!
Bentley chills out waiting for his time to go play on the trails.
Since we had done the RNT in the morning, I chose the latest possible start for the staggered start to give us lots of time to vet, change, eat etc. Linda actually snuck a new time, 3 minutes behind me, so I wasn’t the last on the trail however. Linda, Jess, and Laura were doing silver level (max 8mph instead of 7mph) so I was expecting to be passed readily by them. I was also slatted to ride with Nancy Z, who was riding gold (10mph) with Bob Coleman 3 mins ahead of me. So my plan was to ride with Nancy until I got to Bob, and ride with him and his friend through the end. I haven’t seen Bob really since last year when I rode Leena and Hellfire, so I was looking forward to catching up (yes that’s a pun) with him.
Nancy and I started together, I was also looking forward to riding with her because I am so used to seeing her smiling face whizzing by and in photos, and I read her blog too, but I have never had a chance to ride with her. Well, literally as we came into the forest (maybe 1/10th of a mile out) I see an orange blur come out from under her, and realize Luba had lost her hoofboot. I called up to her and she inspected – it came right apart in 2 pieces. I waited until she decided her plan, and she opted to go back and get new boots on, so I carried on alone.
To my surprise, Bentley carried on without any issue. In fact, better than without issue. He has never been particularly bad with other horses, hes always been very good, but he was clearly happier ALONE. What a surprise to me! We trucked along the trail, barely breaking the trot of 9-10mph. A few times I let him sneak up to 12, provided he kept it light. If he started to feel stompy, he got a reminder. The whole time too, I was riding on the buckle. He was happily turning and collecting and transitioning entirely from my seat and voice commands. I had the reins in my one hand only to ensure they didn’t fall, occasionally taking them back into 2 hands – not because he needed it, but because I could feel my loose arm getting floppy and I didn’t want to be a lazy rider.
For quite some time, we didn’t see another soul on the trail. The first time I saw someone, we were going down a switchback, and I saw Sable and gang through the trees. Well, I saw Sable and Earl spook, the Bentley gave a baby spook too. Clearly they were surprised to see each other. Linda told me later she didn’t realize it was Bentley, she had heard Earl spook and thought Earl had somehow made it “all the way over there”. Ha ha ha.
At the first water trough, we glanced sight of some horses. Bentley drank readily when I asked. One of the great things about him… I don’t have to wait for him to drink, so we don’t lose much time at troughs! Then we had to go down the road to the dead-end, pick up a playing card, and come back. Bruno was at the trough taking photos and explained this to me, but I thought he said “Cod” and I was quite confused as to why I had to bring back a fish. He said something about poker and “try to get an ace” and I figured it out… sorta. We trotted down the road shoulder, and holy cow, there’s where all the other horses were! There was a huge lump of them! He was looking at them all excitedly and I was a little sad that he wasn’t showing off the beautiful low, relaxed trot we had all through the first part of our ride. Oh well. I was able to pick up an Ace out of the bucket on the stake, put it in with my ride card, and trotted back down the shoulder. At that point, I decided it was best to get away from the crowd and passed a ton of horses on the road. I even passed Bob, and opted to continue on alone. As soon as we were past the horses, Bentley went back to happy, low, relaxed trot. He really does prefer to be on his own. Alright, that works for me.
At some point, Nancy came back up behind me and passed. She was cantering most of it and while she was in our sights, Bentley asked if we could do it too by offering up 2 strides of canter. I didn’t so much like this, so a deep sit, and he had to walk until Luba was out of sight. And it was up a big loooong hill too. It was a dancy trot-walk for most of it, but eventually he settled and had a nice quiet walk, so I let him trot on. I explained to him that they aren’t in the same level, so he doesn’t need to worry about them being up front. A few other times we could see them cantering ahead, but he just asked by glancing back at me with the questioning look in his eye, and respecting my “no.” He drank well at each of the water troughs, we came in just over 8mph from the first loop, and he cooled relatively quickly (8 minutes to pulse down to 52 in high humidity without sponging). I had walked the last half mile on foot with a loosened girth and bit out to help with this. I know he isn’t mentally ready to be sponged away from home yet, so I do the best I can to help him in other ways. We did sponge at the last ride, but there was a lot more room in the crewing area so he didn’t pose a danger to himself or anyone else if he spun a little. So I was pretty pleased with this!
Loop 1 off my garmin here: http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/361767539
Linda came in only about a minute after us, but pulsed down a bit slower. This ended up being a good thing, because I was 5 minutes ahead of her when we went out on loop 2, so there was no distraction of having Sable close at hand. I knew I had to do loop 2 much slower, around 6 mph and told Bentley this. I think he may have been confused about what I meant, because as I asked him to trot, he went into dressage trot mode… trotting at EXACTLY 6mph. This must be some sort of brilliance, and there were many moments to suggest Bentley could understand full English sentences. Even with my encouragement, he didn’t want to go past 7mph. It was a bit tiring for me. Ok, time to wake him up with the canter. A bit of slow cantering (10mph) and he still wasn’t awake. We cantered into the first water trough, and then he spotted another horse and remembered exactly why we were here. He woke right up then!
Thank goodness! The dressage trot is lovely and all, and I am glad he wanted to get exactly 6mph, but he was forgetting about the times we would have to walk down hills or time lost at troughs. So again, we trotted nicely down the road to get our poker card, and I seemed to confuse poker and blackjack, and grabbed a king of hearts (A Bentley card?), I cant remember what my ace was, but quite sure it wasn’t hearts. Oh well, rider brain!
I passed 2 horses again there, and settled into a nice mix of walking and trotting. Occasionally he would look back at the walk to tell me “You know, I feel good, we can trot” but knowing I didnt want to have to wait at the finish line, I just dropped the stirrups to tell him it was time for a fun walk in the forest. Occasionally we would meet some of the people doing the 12 mile loop. One saw me walking so placidly and asked if everything was ok (I guess walking is suspicious? glad they cared though!) he was a little surprised when I told him we were just wasting time and enjoying a walk. I let them get ahead of me but once it was time to trot again, Bentley’s huge stride quickly passed them… I called back not to follow me as I was on the blue trail as the 2 split apart. At one point Linda, Laura and Jess passed us, asked if I wanted to come along with them. A big no to that! Love you guys, but you should be 27 minutes ahead of me by my calculations 😉 So get moving!
At one of the road crossings, Bentley convinced me yet again that he knows full English and complete sentences. We had to go on pavement for maybe 100 feet, but he wanted to trot (I never let him trot on pavement unless we are face to face with a transport truck). I said to him “no, this is walking time… if you are good and walk, then take a really good drink out of that trough up ahead, I will let you trot as soon as we are back in the forest.” Wouldn’t you know it, he took the LONGEST drink that he had taken all day. I am talking triple the typical drink he takes. His eyes kept darting back at me to make sure I was paying attention. When he was sure I was satisfied, we walked toward the forest, I laughed and said “ok” and he bounded away at a frisky trot. The crossing guards may have heard the conversation, I am sure if they did it must have been pretty amusing for them.
We timed things well, and just as I knew we were coming into the last tenth of a mile or so, I had about 5 minutes to spare. So I took the opportunity to dismount, loosen the girth and remove his bit, and walk him through the forest, crossing the finish line quite literally as the clock struck our perfect time. I largely attribute the not having to wait part to me riding alone, I was able to better manage my speed because I knew exactly what I wanted to do! Having a horse happy to be alone was an added bonus.
Loop 2 off my garmin here: http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/361767498
Of course, nothing is official until the vetting. Again, I didnt sponge, but Bentley lets me scoop water out of the trough with my hand, and pat it on his chest, neck, shoulders and belly, so I did a small bit of that… if only to get some of the crusties off. We did our 20 minute pulse only a few minutes early and he was at 48. Lindsay was there supporting us at the time and I explained to her that in the next 10 minutes, I want him to be down to 44 or less, because that will earn us a grade 1 completion, which is always my goal. It was very humid, but I had confidence we could get down 4 points in 10 minutes. When our time came up, he stood still for the full minute count, and to my astonishment, we clocked a 41! Fantastic!
He trotted out sound, and we confirmed our completion – another grade 1! The score was great, I was thrilled to have ridden on our own, and on the buckle the entire time. Yes, it was clearly a perfect ride from all those aspects, but to top it off… We WON!
Having a snooze after a job well done.
Abbey models his ribbon for him… twilight came up on us after awards, so I couldn’t get a good picture the day of.