I awoke early Sunday to feed the horses. I use the word awoke loosely, as I had maybe a combined total of 2 hours sleep, tossing, turning and generally fussing about. There was frost on everything. Great. The horses didn’t seem to mind me being a sleeping bag monster since I was toting their food dishes, but I did get some nervous barks from dogs.
Had some breakfast and tacked up, still nervous that Bentley would be an idiot when the time came. Solstice and I had agreed that we would start 5-10 minutes after the front runners so the horses wouldn’t get racey, but when we got over there, we realized the shotgun start was not really happening as all of us riding the 50 had the wait plan. So we just went about 1 minute late, passing a few horses within the first couple of miles. After that, we neither passed nor were passed throughout the rest of the ride. Our start was actually wonderful and quiet.
The photographer did manage to get a photo as we started: http://www.janetgriffinscott.com/Photography/OCTRA%20Cayuse%20Canter%20May%2018%202014/
Go to page 3, photo #30. You can see Bentley has his game face on. Excuse my chair legs, it takes me a good half hour to be able to stretch those heels down and back… especially in the frosty morning! 27 years of walking on my tip-toes. Thankfully Bentley puts up with me. I am very much in awe of how much brain he had right from the beginning, and lasting throughout the whole 55 miles. It was really such a treat for me to ride him, and I cannot believe how far he has come since last year. Unfortunately, there isn’t much media I can share – both my phone and my gopro managed to be drained of battery Sunday morning, so I took no photos myself.
We started on the orange loop (15 miles). Angel was being dancy all over the start line, doing her best Lipizzaner impression but Solstice kept cool. Bentley trucked along at his 10mph trot – what I have been aiming for all year – anything bigger and I worry he will pull something, but 10mph is actually very easy for the big boy. Orange loop had lots of very long hills and we quickly agreed that we would be walking the suckers, not having done a lot of hill work at home yet. There were also lots of spots with medium sized rocks – not small enough to be called gravel, but the right that if the horses stepped on them it would be ouchy and could get a decent stone bruise. So lots of other places to walk too. Despite that, we kept a good pace, alternating who led – the horses generally agreeing to each others company. At the water trough, tucked in this beautiful little creek, Solstice syringed elytes and Bentley got his mixed in a baggie of mashed TriMax. The trough attendants laughed at how eager he was to get at the mash, and practically sucked the baggie up with it as I tried to shoo him off so I could scoop it with my hands. This is a huge improvement over last year as he would often be too excited to eat. He also chugged the water. All this in the time it took Solstice to syringe, so I think we can agree to this system for the long term – its pretty effective and efficient. He also snagged some maple leafs and grasses on the trail as we went through, then had a good long drink when we came into camp: exactly 2 hours after we left.
So with all this, I was not prepared for the first vet check. We went over in 9 minutes (after a drink and offering some beet pulp). He was already down to 44, but almost no gut sounds! Yikes, how is that even possible? 3 vets checked him. We rushed back to our crew area and Morgan stepped up as Ms. Super Crew and followed my beet pulp/elyte instructions to a T as I ran back to camp to get some TriMax to “season” the mixture in case he decided he didn’t want to eat. Not a problem with Bentley and thankfully the lack of gut sounds was a grocery issue. We went and rechecked and got an enthusiastic thumbs up. Lesson learned: more aggressive elyting and feeding is in order. All the loops after, we took just a little longer for him to eat before pulsing and we had all As for the rest of the ride.
Loop 2 was a 13 mile blue loop, and boy was it ever fun. Not great for getting speed, but really fun technical trail. Lots of winding bicycle trail that we got to pole bend through. We suspected a lot of riders would have to walk it, but with 2 agile horses and carefully collected speed, we managed to trot through. The horses performed fantastically and we breezed through. Then it opened up to some beautiful 2 track trail with soft pine footing… oh boy this is the perfect canter place! We rocked along peacefully and just relished the ride. There were even a few downed logs that we could jump over if we wanted. Some came a little fast around the turn and we opted to go around despite being tiny, but I do remember one big one (maybe 2’6″?) that we had a nice approach to and bounded over with great delight.
Bentley came in pretty sweaty after loop 2 as the sun was coming out and it was getting to be quite warm. As he munched down on his food before vetting, I decided to try sponging him. He has been insanely afraid of wet sponges in the past and we have been working on it at home, but I didn’t plan on sponging during this ride since hes still funky away from home. At first he flinched, but continued on eating, allowing me to lightly sponge his chest, girth area, and I even heard a sigh as I did his belly – he realized it felt good. I am so incredibly proud of this!
Loop 3 was back to orange. 5km in, I hit a wall. My lack of sleep was catching up with me and I seriously wondered how I was going to get 55 miles done that day, let alone 10 days and 1000km. Kill me now. The gravel road all 3 loops take seemed endless, both our horses were dogging it and shortly after, I was struggling to keep my eyelids up. I had packed myself a protein shot (like an ultra condensed protein shake that tastes like liquid gummy bears). Solstice, also feeling the wall opted for a sip, but doesn’t like the taste as much as I did. We both perked up and managed to get through the loop without any difficulty and the horses were enthused again once their riders weren’t sacks of potatos on their backs. It cooled right off and when we arrived back at camp, Bentley was already cool and dry, and I could tell he would be at parameters already without any need to sponge. We waited though, and shoveled the food into him and Angel. Angel isn’t as good as Bentley for taking care of herself through the ride and had to be made to eat. Morgan took care of watching her and giving her the gears when she would take her face out of her food bucket. It did start getting quite cold again so the horses were blanketed through the hold.
Loop 4 was back on blue – yay! We threw in a lot more cantering and the horses somewhat tolerated each other, but were becoming cranky and snarking at each other when we would ride side by side. Ah horse love! At one point, Bentley had a funny spook which had his front stay in place, but his butt go right, then left then right, then left very quickly in a booty shaking dance. We howled at this and pretty much everything else after… we were tired therefore everything was funny. Toward the end of the loop, Solstice tried to barter with me about who would finish ahead: I get this one, you get the next one. She didn’t know I had already intended on letting her have the lead. Since I won’t be in any August rides, and who knows what shape when I return, I am most definitely out of contention for year end awards. The extra points are better off with her, and I considered all the wins we had that day: sponging, eating, calm steady horse, adjustable gaits, good reaction to cycles, motor bikes, dogs, and a long beautiful fun ride. I don’t need a number to make it worthwhile for me!
We crossed the finish line 3rd and 4th. Wow! Certainly wasn’t expecting or aiming for that. We completed in 8 hours and 4 minutes (55 miles). Our best placings always seem to happen when we just focus on having fun – the ribbon just seems to come naturally when we have a good ride, and is the icing on the cake.
To be fair, there were only 16 entries, 12 starters and 9 finishers. But I am still pretty wowed at what Bentley can do without feeling like he is even trying that hard, and our relationship has become so strong it made a tough trail seem fun and easy.
I also am so thankful that Morgan was there to crew for us. She picked up the routine so fast (must be from keeping things in line at the race track!) and took fantastic care of Bentley, made Linda and I food for the holds, and made sure we got our pulses taken when we were a little quiet. I think she even enjoyed it! She’s a true leader and we really hope she will be able to come with us to more rides this summer!
Also, Linda was a real trooper. She drove us home late Sunday night so we could relax and have a nice sleep at home. She didn’t do the 50, but she did the 27 and I am so grateful that she had it in her to take us home.
Both myself and Bentley were feeling great yesterday. I gave him a bath to get rid of the goo that I couldn’t sponge off (after the end, he was not so willing) and did a quick trot… he practically dragged me, not looking like he was tired at all. So we are all well recovered and looking forward to our next adventure!