I had scheduled Bentley and I to ride the 25 mile set speed gold level at Coates last Sunday (however when I got there, for some reason I was registered silver so I just rode that). Carol and Laura were to do the 15 mile ride on Cairo and Frankie on the Saturday, so to make things easier, we carpooled with Linda who was happy to pick up Bentley on the way – just like good ol’ times! We arrived with plenty of time before Carol and Laura’s start (as I intended to crew them), however it meant that I had to put up with the deafening screams as Bentley called across camp to Cairo while I set up his paddock. Once they were out on trail, he relaxed and got about his business of eating hay and chatting with the neighborly ducks.
Frankie and Cairo finished in good time and with low enough heartrates to both earn grade one. Only downside was I was distracted when they arrived (i had meant to get a photo of them crossing the finish line, oops!), and didn’t notice they were in until they had already been there for ten minutes. Crew failure!
After they had vetted through, Ashley ran past me asking “you are coming to the beach right?” What what now? I ran back to feed and water Bentley, pick up a towel, and soon Ashley and Solstice were driving up to our campsite and whisking me away, picking up Charli on our way out. I originally thought it was Wasaga we would go to (about 20-30 mins away), but Solstice said it was a different beach much closer… but kind of gross. Whatever, it couldn’t be any more gross than me covered in sweat, electrolytes and beet pulp!
Solstice was not wrong. After we had stripped off our outer layers, we were met with a goose poop beach, into the water, the base was 100% slime sand. I zipped right out, knowing at one point I would hopefully get deep enough my feet would no longer be subjected to that sensation. It took forever, and I gave myself several good dunks then made my way back to Solstice who wasn’t quite ready to brave the cold of the deeper water. She looked at me funny “where are your sun glasses?”. My heart sank to the depths of the slime below… the same place my glasses would be lost forever.
So it came to this: dragging my toes around in the slimy bottom of the pond, searching for my sunglasses. To my surprise, after only about a minute of searching, my toes met a solid object. I lifted my foot out of the water to see my sunglasses, grasped between my toes. We cheered and motioned at Charli and Ashley who were being kicked by a small child back in the shallows of the beach. This was clearly my lucky day!
We returned to the campsite before Linda finished the RNT, and I got to work on my pre-recovery beer as it became named that day with Ashley. I worked on making a dinner of guacamole. Linda came back from the RNT and informed us that dinner was potluck (I don’t think the flyer had stated that), and suggested we bring the guacamole. Ashley and I had already demolished a third of it, and it was too good to share. Sorry potluckers, today I will be selfish! To be fair, my eating habits don’t lend themselves well to potlucks or other group eating functions – better just to make my own food. We settled in later in the night in Solstice’s camper, sharing laughs and cookies. Then a restless sleep (as always) before the start at 7:30 the next morning.
Morning came too soon, and I was tacking up Bentley in his new headstall from Great Leads ‘n Reins. We had to trot out for the vets, so I warmed up with some lateral work, and Bentley was very good! It was a staggered start, and I started 5 minutes behind Ashley. At 7:55 I took off at a wild walk and a good sideways spook to eye up the scary gate at the end of camp. As soon as we hit the trail moments later, Bentley settled to work mode. We got to the Girl Guide Camp at a calm working trot, and I spied Wendy who was there to take photos. I kicked him into a canter for the photos, and we never stopped.
The canter was so lovely and relaxed, I couldn’t help but continue it throughout almost the entire first loop. We caught up with Ashley in a field and sadly left her behind to continue on our nice canter. Ended up passing most of the bronze level riders in one big cluster along the road, continuing alone on our canter through moguls and roads and fields and forest.
The whole first loop felt like a dressage test: relaxed and supple, balanced turns (even hairpin!), easy lead changes, quiet transitions. Then we hit the enchanted forest: a section of trail that my more sadistic friends grinned wildly about – imagining me wailing my head or knees on the very low, very tight and windy forest trail. Nope, still dressage worthy! We trotted through the trees elegantly, occasionally tucking my toes into Bentley’s armpits to avoid the trees (yes they were that close on either side!) and bobbing branches like a dance routine. At one point, we met Mike Downing, who was stuck between 2 trees on an ATV (yes I told you it was tight!) I bit my lip knowing I couldn’t offer to help, but he managed to get through and I made my way while we both had a laugh.
We managed to finish that loop at about an 11mph pace. Oops! Max speed on Silver level rides is 8mph. 2nd loop was going to have to be slow! I wasn’t sorry however, Bentley pulsed down quickly and had a perfect vet card. Also, the day had started nice and cool, but was going to be hot by mid-day, so it was nice to get speed out of the way and take it easy on loop 2.
I might take a moment to say here, its good the rider’s heart rate was not scored… When I came in, I put Bentley right at his food, stripped the saddle and started sponging. I should have watched his face as I sponged: once my friends had finally been able to get my attention, I saw him spewing his very wet beet pulp and grain mash ALL OVER MY VERY EXPENSIVE SADDLE (which I had recently bragged about having kept it out of the rain for its year and a half existence). And when I say all over, I mean all you could see was a saddle shaped muck blob. Also, if you know my saddle, you know its full of intentional holes. Intentional holes which can fill up like a cereal bowl with muck when the saddle pad is under it. Yes, it was a real disaster. Thankfully friends work fast and spotted me a towel or something to clean it off with… doesn’t seem to be damaged.
Back off on loop 2, Bentley was ready to go off at a lovely trot. Nah Bentley, we should walk, we have time to kill. Going down the first hill, he tried to turn around as if to say “if I can’t trot, we might as well just go home lady!”. Perhaps I should have argued my way to be the only gold level rider! I made my point clear and he continued to walk through the trail and across the guide camp. Alternating some slow trot and walk… I goofed off, dropping the reins and doing some demi-sun salutations while he ambled along, suddenly game for the lazy loop plan.
Somewhere in a meadow, I decided the lazy loop plan would include lots of grazing for Bentley. I stopped and encouraged his head down “this isn’t a home ride, i don’t stop during the races you crazy woman!” but he obliged. About this time I spotted those little pops of red and black along the treeline – wild raspberries and blackberries! So I jumped out of the saddle, and picked berries by the side of the trail appreciating how odd it might look to anyone trying to make time. A wonderful little snack. How fortunate we had extra time!
We diddled along the rest of the loop in this fashion, never seeing any other riders until the very end at the 2 way trail. It was really nice to just be alone together for this ride, and take the time to stop and play in the forest. We walked the last several miles in, and produced about 10 strides of canter for show as we crossed the finish line, averaging exactly 8 miles per hour. Bentley was cool and dry, heartrate was right down.
I figured, lets try and get it down more so I sponged him anyway. Doing so at a leisurely rate, after a few minutes I was alarmed to feel that he was actually heating up! There was almost no shade at ride camp (opposed to the forest which was nice and cool), and just standing there (not sure if the water had a positive or negative effect) was bringing his heartrate up incredibly! Nooooo! For set speed, you are scored on heart rate, so its very important to bring it down as low as possible. He vetted through after a few minutes to earn his completion, and I decided to take him to the only strip of shade available. He wasn’t so keen on staying in the shade or eating the grass there however, so I employed Heather (who was crewing for Solstice) to hold him while i fetched his mash. He stayed long enough to finish that, but then dragged me back out in the sun in search of stimulation. So in our final (scored) vetting, his pulse was up at 46… might also have something to do with the peanut gallery nickering at him through the pulse check. I can say for sure it was due to the heat of the day, not due to a hard ride (seriously, we picked raspberries, the most relaxing activity on the planet!), especially since it was LOWER after the “hard” canter loop. Can’t change that, but damn I hate getting grade 2s!
On the bright side, after hanging out back at our trailer for the rest of the afternoon, we went to awards where Bentley had earned Best Condition award in the silver division! I guess 46 isn’t so bad, and the ride was so lovely, I can still say it was one of the best rides we have ever had!