This would be our biggest start yet: there were over 30 horses signed up for the 50 mile endurance ride!
The start was pretty normal, we settled in right up front, in 4th place behind Chrystal, Pat and Michelle who were keeping a fast pace. They asked if I wanted to pass, to which I am pretty sure I blurted out “hell no! We are going to hang back as soon as he will let me!” Minutes later, Bentley begrudgingly agreed to my plan and we walked for a few minutes while they went on ahead. I didn’t see them for the rest of the ride!
We rode alone for most of the first loop, setting our own pace. There is a new twisty gnarly track added into the red loop, which was a lot of fun, but sometime overnight a tree had fallen across a difficult portion of it, and was very tough to get around. Long story short, we ended up jumping a log from an almost standstill, and then climbing over some bushy stuff to get back to the trail. We came into the vet check feeling pretty good. Laura was there waiting for us and was a big help.
Solstice and Dominic had come in just behind me, and pulsed down faster, which meant Solstice and I were able to head out together and Dominic caught up minutes later. We rode together until the water trough, where Bentley was all business, drinking heartily and then ready to be on his way. So we didn’t wait for our friends, but they did catch up later to finish the loop together. Their horses were setting a pace a little too fast for Bentley however, and he came in pretty high and not looking so bright. His gut sounds were low in the vet check. Carol, rushed back to the trailer and came back with a miracle: Probiotics! We had never used them before, and Bentley wasn’t keen on being syringed, but we gave it a try anyway.
Boy was I glad we did. We went out on the third loop, and it was like I was riding a fresh horse again! We had left with Earl Baxter, and his horse was trucking along. However, he was going a little too fast for us, particularly down the hills which Bentley likes to be more cautious on, so I held him back. Bentley was NOT impressed. He was feeling good and wanted to gooo! Since walking was out of the picture in his mind, I made him just stand for several minutes while he complained. I was glad I did, it was good to practice the control and remind ourselves that a few minutes spent schooling is better than finishing sooner but risking the health of the horse. The rest of the loop went by beautifully, riding alone at our own pace. Getting it done EXACTLY the right way: our way.
He still took a while to pulse down, but he was bright and cheerful and wolfing down food like it was his business. A few riders had passed us in the vet check, dropping our 7th place standing down to 10th. Carol reminded me with sage advice not to worry about getting caught up worrying about where the other riders are.
We set out on our last loop, a young man set out with us who I didn’t recognize. I pointed this out as he zipped past me on the road, expecting an introduction, but got none. After a mile or so, we did make introductions and I found out he was one of the riders from Israel who was riding with a group OCTRA dubbed “The Hockley Flock.” Training for 2018 WEG. He seemed nice and we rode together exchanging stories for a while, eventually meeting up with another rider from his group. We then found out that his father had made a wrong turn and was somewhere behind us now.
The three of us continued, I think they were a little boggled by my riding style: by which I mean I spent most of my ride with the reins hanging off Bentley’s neck, and my hands at my side. Look ma, no hands! They took turns leading, pulling each other along. I offered a few times to lead but it was declined. It was probably in their best interest… after the second trough, I led, and shortly after, I looked back and they were gone!
Bentley had revved into the next gear after the trough, and was determined to leave them behind I suppose. He had renewed energy and really upped the speed of his gaits. About 2 miles out from the finish is a very tough long hill, which I offered him to walk it, but he got that look in his eye, trotted up it with determination, and continued into the homestretch.
Our finish was very exciting. I had taken out my phone to turn on music to help Bentley get that extra oomph. However, I had forgotten to button up my pocket. Actually, that’s a lie, I thought about it, but then countered with “its in there pretty good, I’m sure it will stay in”
Famous last words right?
In the final half mile, we saw tail lights ahead of us. The water truck was making its way back to camp… very slowly. Bentley saw it and perked up EVEN MORE. He decided we should chase the truck, perhaps considering it another competitor he had to knock off. Anyway, he kicked into turbo drive, galloping steadily closer to the truck. It went into a clearing, which I knew was our opportunity to pass the truck. So I picked up the reins at the buckle, and neck reined him to the left or inside of the turn.
Then we saw Wendy, the ride photographer notice us and squat down for the shot. Perfect! Might make for fun, Bentley racing past the truck. It was still game on.
But then… out came the dog. Big spook! (I am sure the photos are hilarious).
I went to continue on, realizing I didn’t hear music. Ohhhh the phone! I asked Wendy if she minded picking it up for me, but then realized I could do it just as fast. Swinging down and up in a real quick fashion (I am impressed I was still so springy after 70 miles of riding), I went to race off again. Wendy assured me I was way far behind the other riders, and I called out on passing “its not them, its the people just behind us!”
I switched the song to Bentley’s favorite psych up song: Rockefeller Skank. Laugh all you want, it totally worked.
His ears twitched back and he lunged forward, eating up the ground as we cantered merrily down the trail, into camp, and across the finish line. Stopping immediately after the cone with no prompting. This horse sure knows his job down to the finest details!
What a spectacular finish for the day, 7th place and feeling fine! 70 more miles on our record. We finished the ride season with so many great feats: my 1000 mile badge, a new skill of ponying, and a fresh horse at the end despite my previous doubts. I think 2016 will be our year to move up!