At the Flesherton ride this weekend, I hit the trifecta… of BAD luck.
The ride started out innocently enough, a bit of a strong romp through rolling fields. We all warmed up, watching Rob’s drone buzz around above us – cool! We crossed the start line, a group in front of me taking of rapidly. I found myself in 5th place with good distance to the riders ahead and behind me. Which is why we were quite surprised when 2 big fat does popped out of the hay field, right in front of us and darted into the woods. Fortunately I had my GoPro on to capture the moment, and the resulting spin. Hope you don’t get dizzy!
A few miles in, I started to notice that I was feeling a little nauseous. I figured it was a combination of my bedtime wine (I usually stick to beer), the lack of bedtime (as I can never sleep at these things), and perhaps my meager breakfast. It was quickly getting worse, so i drank as much water as I could, trying to re-hydrate, also downing one of my nut-bars that I had stowed away in my pack.
The trail was very hilly, rocky, lots of gravel roads. Long story short, it was HARD terrain. I thought my saddle was slipping a bit to the right too, but assumed it was either the terrain, my distracting tummy (I could feel myself riding poorly), or my imagination. At one point, Debbie and Chrystal caught up to me, and we rode together which was a welcome distraction to my illness.
We hit one point on the road where the bridge was closed for construction. There was a path to the left to cross the river. We all paused for a minute or two to enjoy the sounds of the stream and let the cool water wash over the horses legs. For the record, this ride presented Bentley with his first real river crossings – he had done tiny creeks before (nothing higher than ankle deep) and deep mud puddle road (belly deep but not running), and he moseyed right into the rivers with no drama!
After the creek came a long dirt road hill climb. When I say long, I mean LONG! We trotted the whole way up (it had to be a good 15 minutes or more) and the horses were puffing pretty good at the top. Thankfully, just down the road was a large group of cars: thank goodness it was our crew! I recognized Carol’s yellow boots as she came running down to greet us. Her granddaughter Alyssa and her were so kind to volunteer to crew me for the ride. There was a trough, I got off to sponge Bentley and tighten the girth, thinking that the slipping had something to do with that, and was able to get it up another hole. Carol asked what I wanted and I said I really needed some electrolytes because of my now severe nausea. She came back with a tablet for for me as we headed down the road again, and it fizzed and bubbled in my mouth – hmm perhaps this was an add to water type elyte! I was refreshed with the thought that my stomach issues would soon be relieved.
Headed along some more roads and trails, specifics are becoming lost on me, but I was enjoying the company of Debbie and Chrystal. My stomach wasn’t getting any better and I found myself burping a lot without any relief. After a while of this, I clued it to what it was – the same mystery ailment I had in June/July of last year. The same ailment that my doctor once told me “next time this happens again, go STRAIGHT TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM” As a typical equestrian, I kept that fact to myself until much MUCH later (to be fair, when that warning came, we thought it might be gall stones, but had since been ruled out). Damned if anyone dared try to take me to the hospital when there is riding to be done.
We reached the top of the Beaver Valley ski club where Carol and Alyssa were waiting to help once again, where there was a mandatory 10 minute hold. We took advantage, Bentley got to eat and we sponged him vigorously. Just before our time was up, Bob G, the ride manager, offered to take my photo at the top of the ski hill. It was certainly memorable!
We continued on once again, knowing there was about 8 miles to go before the away vet check. Chrystal had left the hold later than Debbie and I, so we were down to two. Stomach was still screaming at me, but I did my best to ignore it and breathe calmly. What was I going to do now anyway?
Getting closer to the away vet check, we were back into rolling fields and were pleasantly surprised to find some cross country jumps. Bentley was thrilled to be asked to canter and eagerly looked for each jump. I suppose we always have eventing to fall back on! Debbie remarked how disappointed Bentley looked when we turned a corner and there were no more jumps to be seen.
When we arrived in sight line of the vet check, we both dismounted to lead our horses. However, Bentley had seen the teeny tiny donkeys at the gate of a paddock, and planted his feet, puffing and blowing, his eyes wide and buggy. Oh great, there goes the heart-rate! It took quite a bit of encouraging and Bentley finally made it past the donkeys, but they were not forgotten. Instead of eating and relaxing while we sponged, he eyed them from across the crewing area. It seemed to take FOREVER for him to meet parameters. Might I mention too, he lives with a donkey at home, but these ones were much smaller and a different colour. Horses will be horses I guess.
Finally we presented, but we were asked to do the dreaded second trot out, and the even more dreaded third. The vets thought he looked off in the hind end, more so on the grass surface than road. Some poking and prodding, they thought it was due to a scab that had rubbed off under the saddle pad and was visibly swollen and sore. He had also developed a small girth sore during the ride (which has never happened before!) on the diagonal to the scab, so it was likely he was travelling a bit crooked to avoid the pain of those. Which would also explain why my saddle felt like it was slipping – not just my imagination.
We were asked to put stuff on the wounds, do some stretches, and re-present before leaving. Got the out time and got to work. My stomach was bugging me so much, I couldn’t really eat anything. I added ice to my pack which felt nice to drink, but spent most of the 40 minute hold doubled over, clutching my stomach in pain. Carol made it clear she thought I shouldn’t go back out in my condition. I did explain to her that I knew what it was (sort of) and it was going to hurt whether I was riding, or sitting in camp, so I might as well ride and be happy. Lets get Bentley through this!
He cleared the re-check and we went back out. Carol agreed to let me go because there was only 6 miles before we would come back through camp. If things weren’t working, we could always stop then. 6 miles isn’t so bad as the 16 home. We cut my saddle pad around where Bentley’s cut was, an show-sheened the iffy spots. Debbie had pulsed down before me and Chrystal was still behind, so I went it alone. Bentley turned into a spook-crazy monster and I could barely get him out of camp (yes we did have to start by going past those donkeys again, but then oh the rocks, and the stumps!) it was getting really frustrating and I was very VERY sick. At one point, I just burst into tears, hoping I wouldn’t go off trail because I was crying too hard to see. I don’t think the pain had gotten worse, but without another rider to be stoic for, I had hit my limit. Oddly enough, I think the crying made my stomach feel a little better… who said crying wont help?
I got myself together, and agreed with myself to tolerate the pain. If I am going back to Mongolia, I am going to be much sicker than this, and at least I had Bentley, not a strange horse. After a few miles, Chrystal caught up and I was so relieved to see her! Both horses were slugs alone and they picked up the pace once they were together again. Chrystal was such a godsend to me for this ride, it turned from miserable to laugh out loud fun as we swapped trail horror stories and quirky tips we had learned over the rides. I regained a bit of my appetite and worked on a granola bar and my ice water. We came back into the crew area and I was looking and feeling much perkier, though still cramping quite a bit. Carol checked Bentley’s girth sore and said it hadn’t worsened. Chrystal had liquid bandage at her camper too, which was just another one of the many ways she helped me that day. I trotted out for the vets and they said he looked good. We were ready to tackle the ride home!
We headed out again, the trail home pretty much re-traced the trail out. We went down down down on the long dirt road, crossed the river, and went up and down some more. I was slowly starting to feel less ill, the pain reducing to what felt more like a “I went running after eating a heavy meal” cramp than a “I think someone is stabbing me in the stomach while I try to vomit” pain. See, much improved! The breeze was lovely along the roads and there were some magical looking trees overhanging the route. Very beautiful, and finally able to enjoy it some more.
At about 6 miles before home, we turned off and into a deeper river. Almost to the bellies we splashed right in. We stopped and relaxed there for a while, and I decided to try throwing the sponge in the water and cooling Bentley. This was a first for him, he gave it a good eyeball as I pulled it up from the river, but then understood what it was and really enjoyed the cool water. Seneca (Chrystal’s horse) flicked some water on me with his wet tail, it felt incredible!
Next we traveled up a steep rocky hill trail. Right near the top, I heard a pop noise. I knew exactly what it was without even looking. When I was cleaning my saddle prior to the ride, I noticed the billets were starting to crack and made note that I would take my saddle into the repair shop immediately after the ride. Apparently they wouldnt make it that far. I looked down, hoping desperately that it was just one and I still had a chance. Nope, the girth was swinging. I jumped off to see if I could fix it with zip ties, but it was the whole piece, and there was NO fixing it myself. Yeah, this would happen given my luck today!
After a moment of contemplating and discussing my options with Chrystal, I thought “well, I didnt fall off when it broke, maybe I CAN just ride with the saddle broken” Chrystal informed me that for OCTRA no bareback was allowed, but it was for AERC. Too bad it was sanctioned both. We thought nobody would complain if I came in bareback under the circumstances, but what to do with my saddle. It was about then I realized “oh crap, how do I get back on this saddle?!” Bareback mounting is much easier than trying to get on an insecure saddle. I decided I would have to walk.
Walking (and huffing and puffing) the rest of the hill and then some, we found a lovely giant rock. Decided to go ahead and try to mount anyway, the rock was big enough I could probably slide my leg over and not knock the saddle or myself off the other side. It was right under a tree however, and with the tight trail, I couldn’t get Bentley close enough to comfortably mount, again, it would be a huge risk to mount with the saddle as it was, and I didn’t feel like wailing my head on a rock. Chrystal asked if I wanted her to stay with us or go on for help. I said go on, at least tell Carol we are walking in so she doesn’t worry why we are late.
I walked alone for almost 2 miles, I was passed by 2 riders who both asked if I was ok and tried to be helpful. One asked if I could just leave the saddle behind and go bareback, to which I think my response was “its too expensive, I would rather die here!” You can see my priorities are in order. Another conversation I had said “It’s ok, I’m sure we must be close to camp now!” “uhh, I think its another 4 miles.” “Arggggghhhh”
I continued walking, in my riding boots, the 2 mile I walked rubbed my heels raw. I half expected to take off my boots later and find them filled with blood. It was so hot, and we were in some sort of meadow at the top of that big hill. It was endless, and my body was struggling. Bentley didn’t seem to understand why I was so slow, and was rather rude about dragging me along up the hills and through the meadow… if only I had some sort of all-terrain rollerblades to take advantage of our skijoring training from the past winter. The trail, despite not being wooded, was very tight and rocky, allowing only one to walk in a row, the tall grass wasn’t so bad at the side, but Bentley and I constantly fought for the part of the trail where we could see the bottom. It was not either of our finest moments.
And speaking of blood, I do remember quite vividly after Bentley had given me a strong push with his face, looking over at him and seeing a huge blood smear down the side of his face. No cut, it must be from me, but I was too tired, hot, and pissy (and Bentley was NOT about to stop to wait for me) to give myself a look over. Whatever, I would rather not know if I am gushing blood, so I will just bleed out. NBD. My ice water had turned to hot water, and I had hit my limit. This tree right here, this one looks like a nice place to die. I leaned up against it, pondering what I would carve on the tree as my tombstone, when I started to come back to my senses and reasoned with myself.
I realized I was not going to be able to walk the next 3 miles, not in these boots. I wasn’t going to go barefoot, the terrain sure spoke for that. The only way to get home now was to hike up my big girl panties and ride. That’s when I spotted it, a tuft of earth about a foot tall, perhaps that could be a mounting block? Bentley had settled enough that he would be still for eating, so I positioned him and tested the stirrup. I could actually put a bit of weight in it with my hand, maybe just enough that I coult “tap” it with my foot on my way up. It worked! I was able to mount, saddle stayed in place, and I landed gentley on my saddle, with the wet sponge right between us. Nice. Add adult diaper rash to the injury’s I will find at the end of this bloody ride.
We squished along at the walk for a little, until I was confident enough in the seat that I could lift off and remove my sponge wedgie. Gross. We walked along a little more, but Bentley had other plans.
Let me tell you a little something about him. He either hates my guts, or has the utmost confidence in me. I can put a beginner rider on him and he watches every step he takes, and is so gentle and forgiving. As soon as I get on him, its as if he says “You got this, hold on tight and keep up!”
So after a minute or two of walking, he informed me that endurance horses don’t walk when they can trot (his words, I swear!) and started jig jogging around. I sent him back to the walk, he complied briefly before jig jogging again. Like testing the stirrup for mounting, this seemed to be the test. Jog jogging didn’t land me a dirt sandwich, so maybe we CAN trot. I let him have it. We trotted along for the last 3 or so miles, with perfect balance, up and down hills, around corners, weaving through trees. The saddle never slipped side to side. Clearly my lessons with Karen, and my hours of practice have been paying off! I tell you, it was pretty peculiar to be riding with my girth hanging off my pinky finger. I could not have been more proud of my riding skills.
The saddle did slip back a little, I was worried about it affecting Bentley’s sore back and fretted quite a bit about this (I was told later that should NOT have been my primary concern when riding girthless cross country haha) at one point I did drop the reins mid rise at the trot, grab the pommel and cantle, and thrust/jump the saddle back into place. Yes, it happened. I was surprised it worked too. Perhaps something to add to my resume.
I was grinning from ear to ear (oh and the stomach issues were gone now, remembering the issue I had last year, I knew I just had to suck it up for a few hours until it was like it never happened), but I was so tired. That’s when I came up to the last mile of trail: the cattle gate. I sank again, I had managed to get up once, could I really get off, open and close a gate, and get back on even with the mounting block they had left for us? Safer to remount than jump the 4’+ gate girthless haha. I managed ok, and prayed we did not come across any of the cattle in that field: it would be a major spookfest for Bentley if we did. Thankfully no cattle, and upon reaching the second gate, volunteers were stationed there to open it for me! I told them they had no idea how grateful I was for their help, and waved my girth at them.
At that point, Michelle, who was in the lead (and now lapping me) came up behind me, perhaps a little confused how I got out front. It was a pretty wild but easy explanation. Shared my traumas of the day while we trotted the last few fields home. She was so generous as to offer me her saddle once she had crossed the finish line. After what I had been through that day, I was more determined than ever to not give up. I appreciated her offer immensely.
Just crossing the timer line at camp, someone must have been packing up, Bentley spooked at something they were doing and had a good sideways twist. Still stayed on. Whoop whoop! I waved my girth around like an idiot, yes, I was so proud.
The saddle got chucked somewhere, and Carol got right to work helping me. Theresa F was right there giving me a freezie which was SO NEEDED (I probably looked like death, I sort of felt like death) while Carol and Alyssa worked on Bentley. We took him over to the vets while all the passers by commented on what they heard had happened. I would NOT be broken!
We did our trot out, feet killing me as I was reminded the state they were in. Then I received the dreaded question “can you trot him again?” Noooooo! Carol took over and trotted him for me. No head bobbing or anything, but once or twice during the trot out, he did hitch up with the one hip. Still back end issues. That was it, we were pulled. Only 7 miles short, after all that. Damn.
The brutal part of this sport is you can earn your 50 miles, or you earn 0 – you dont get credit for the inbetween numbers if you get pulled. Once again, I was so close to earning my 1000 miles but so far. With Iceland coming up and a lack of other rides in between, it may be months now before I get it. Its just hanging there, 20 miles, just 20 miles is all I need. This may be the longest 20 miles ever.