On May 2-3, the first ride of the season was set to happen in the Dufferin forest, home turf for us. I had been wavering as to whether or not to do the 50 mile ride (80 km ride) as I wasn’t confident in my own fitness – several different illnesses had bound me to the couch for a good part of the winter. In the end, I put in my entry for the endurance ride, knowing it would be a challenge for me to rise to, rather than an easy jaunt like our 50s toward the end of last year.
On the Saturday, I went out with my mentor Carol to do a 7 mile warmup ride with Bentleys best friend Cairo. It was fun and relaxed and we managed to earn a grade 1 completion for the Set Speed.
Sunday held the big event. Despite being out of shape, I was not nervous. We have the routine down pretty well now, and now entering our third season together has us working pretty in tune. The field was small (only 11 entries) and the start was very sane. Of course, as usual the plan was to stick with Solstice at the beginning, but it became clear very early on that the horses would not be well matched together. I was not happy with how Bentley was rushing to keep up with (tiny) Angel, and held him back so we could ride alone. Once the other horses were out of the picture, he settled into a fabulous trot, both of us sighing and smiling and enjoying the ride.
Every so often, we would turn a corner and come up behind Solstice again, who was riding with Michelle Watling and her horse Klein. Again, the stress level would rise in Bentley, which was easily corrected by hanging back a little. By the end of loop 1, Wendy Benns had caught up to us and we casually trotted and walked the last half mile together (with no snarky faces from Bentley, which is unusual! Of course it didnt last when we met them again later in the ride)
Bentley took a while to pulse down. He did not see any value in sponging (it was still pretty cool at that time) and danced around avoiding the sponge, knocking over full pails of water in the process. He was pushy and rude, completely different from his demeanor on trail! We decided sponging was futile as it was just making his heartrate go up, and just fed him and waited patiently for his pulse to go down. He presented ok for the vets, but the uneven ground had me doing our trot out 3 times before we were cleared to ride.
A new feature at this ride, was at the timers, a whiteboard was set up as a leader board. We set out on loop 2, only a few minutes behind the leaders (not surprised since I kept catching up to Solstice through loop 1!). Not long into the loop, and I had caught up with Earle Baxter, and spent most of the loop riding with him. His horse paced well with Bentley and we enjoyed a steady ride without any nasty faces. Towards the end of the loop, we were met with a wonderful surprise: a second water trough! Bentley had drank well at the first one, but on the blue trail, the trough is well ahead of the half way mark, so we were very thankful to have another. It was starting to get HOT!
When checking in, I knew we wouldn’t be able to keep up with Earle, Bentley is still shaggy with the remnants of his winter coat and is slower to recover than full Arabs anyway due to his size and muscling. Its ok, I know this and I work with it. Thankfully, with the heat, Bentley was fine with sponging and was thankful for some relief. Passed the vet check with flying colours. Laura had appeared when we were out on loop 2, and had prepared everything beautifully for us! My sister and her boyfriend had also appeared part way thorough my hold, so lots of extra hands.
I got out onto loop 3 in good time, and rode most of the loop alone. Bentley was still happy and travelling nicely. We were having a very pleasant ride. Halfway through the loop, I was starting to feel my lack of fitness catch up to me. One of the illnesses I had this winter was a bad virus, which had me in bed for 6 days straight, and even a month later when I tried to run briefly, I suffered through 3 days of coughing up blood as a result. The exhaustion was in my lungs – feeling exactly like breathing in altitude. No gasps or coughs, but weak and not quite right. My bad knee was also starting to remind me I have a bad knee. I just kept thinking “light feet, light feet!”
We came in for the third hold and Laura was there with food for Bentley, I had instructed her to add a lot of hay cubes to it to bulk up as he tends to get low gut sounds later in rides. He apparently was not keen on the new recipe, and snubbed it. He did however stand rock solid for sponging, so we focused on cooling as that was more time sensitive anyway. He vetted through ok, but with low gut sounds. Cathy asked to see him again before we left. We put him in the corral and he decided the hay cube grain mix was ok (or the best he was going to get) and chowed down. We cleared the re-check and were approved to start loop 4!
We started out alone, and Bentley was clearly tired. I tried to perk him up with a little canter – his favourite, but he dragged his feet and slid back into a western pleasure jog. Knowing Bentley is not a horse that ever needs to be kicked, I dreaded the 12 miles ahead as we were both exhausted and unmotivated, and the temperature was now up to 28C. Thanfully, a few miles in, we saw a familiar white bum (the horse’s) and red t-shirt. It was michelle! I was hoping the sight was enough to perk Bentley up, and maybe it did… by about 1% haha. It took forever to catch up to them, though none of us was going particularly fast.
When we did catch up, we were both relieved to have found each other – Klein had also given up a lot of go. At that point, we were the perfect match for each other! The horses perked up together and Michelle and I worked on keeping each other awake in the saddle. We both came into it knowing it would be a challenge, and here the challenge came! We still finished in decent time, but slightly slower than the first few loops. Bentley’s brain was so good the entire time, I was proud of him no matter what the outcome of the ride ended in. He has become a steady, confident presence beneath me, and really rose to the occasion. Finishing with an uneventful ride was exactly what I wanted!
We (Michelle and I) had a slow canter into the finish, her coming a nose ahead of us. We got to cooling and went in for our 10 minute CRI to stand for BC. He was already under 64, so we vetted through right away and earned our completion. Led him back to his paddock, and let him chill for a while, eat, and be fussed over by my sister and her boyfriend who cleaned him up for his BC standing. He was looking pretty tired, but good.
Fast forward to our vet check for Best Condition (BC) scoring. Everything was looking good, until I turn him right to do our second trot circle… OW! THE JERK BIT ME! Apparently he was not fond of me invading his bubble on the right turn, and decided to pick me up and out of the way. Score for attitude: Too much (haha). Or maybe he was just saying “you make me run 50 miles, then tell me I’m done, then make me run another 100 feet? NO FAIR!”
We did not earn best condition, but we did finish a happy 5th, and I am still so proud of his (riding) manners through the day. Gives me faith we will some day finish a 100 mile ride, knowing that we are becoming less and less sucked into other people’s rides. Now, to work on our trot outs.
PS. After awards, I went back to get an apple, and found bins strewn across the paddock, cracked lids, and not a lick of grain or beet pulp remained in them. Also, 2 very guilty but smug looking horses. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, but I found it hilarious, and it absolutely made my night.