On July 3, I tackled my first 2* ride (75miles / 120km). Neither Bentley nor I had ever ridden this distance and I wasn’t my usual confident self going into it. Its totally uncharted territory for us and I had been dealing with some hip problems leading up to the ride which made even walking very painful for me. I had done some physio, taken my trip to London which seemed to magically cure it, but then it came back (thankfully less intense) shortly after. The other side to this was how I was affecting Bentley… who was exhibiting signs of back end lameness at the start of our rides (but then would work out of it after 10-20 minutes of work).
The week before the ride, I had a Chiropractor come out and look at Bentley. He couldn’t find anything wrong, but gave him an adjustment anyway.
On the plus side, the nights before, I had Stevie and Sam of the Mongol Derby come stay with me, and we always seem to have good luck when we travel in groups!
We started the ride near the front of a controlled start. Bentley loves to chase vehicles, and was pulling my arms out trying to catch the ATV. After it peeled out, everyone shuffled positions for the next several miles, and by the end of the loop, my still very frisky, still not lame horse was paired well with Emma’s Zillary. They pulsed through about the same time and I was thrilled to have another horse and very fun rider to share the long white trail with.
The white trail was limited to the 75 and 100 mile teams, and boy was it ever fun! I was thankful for doing the 75 so I could enjoy the twisty gnarly trails, winding through the trees… though they weren’t cleared as high and spent a lot of time on Bentley’s neck. 16.2hh and I am used to ducking a lot! I was so proud of Bentley, I did manage to syringe some Mad Barn electrolytes into him at the midway trough, something he usually wont tolerate and is so tall… well… I just can’t reach when he says no! I did still manage to cover my new black polo shirt and arms in sticky white mess though!
We finished that loop feeling good… almost wishing we had attempted the 100 so we could ride that loops again! Again, we pulsed close to Emma and was happy for company yet again, heading out now on the Short Red loop. Not long after we started, we caught up to Ashley, riding the 1* and rode with her for a little bit, but were setting a faster pace and pulled away eventually, finding Emma’s friend and other horse along the way, we continued to ride with them.
We pulsed in a few minutes behind them, but at 56… drat, we lost some time! So I headed out into loop 4, the blue loop alone. That’s when it started to get hard. We had passed the 50 mile mark and we both felt VERY aware of that. The heat was also climbing and the loop seemed to drag on a bit, we were both losing our mojo. We hit a long open field and Bentley seemed re-energized, offering to stretch out and canter. I got so into it, we completely blew past a turn and went off trail for a little bit (grinning like an idiot with our second wind), continuing around the field instead of exiting and crossing the road! Ooops! By the next water trough, we had caught back up to Emma and her two horses and we once again rode in to the hold together.
Bentley was taking a long time to cool down, he kept hanging just around the required 64bpm, and shooting a bit back up again. It was especially tricky because the cooling water had gotten hot over the course of the day, and was less effective. Sam was helping to crew us and a few other riders, suggested that we cool, then walk, then cool again… giving the cold surface blood a chance to work its way to the core. It worked! We got Bentley down in time that we weren’t disqualified, and vetted through with mostly A’s… the B’s being for impulsion, as both of us were getting pretty tired and our trot out was lacklustre!
Emma was now long ahead of us, and I set out alone for the last loop. The moment I mounted, I could feel a huge pain in my right butt. I assumed it was compensatory from my left hip issues, and just grit my teeth through the pain and kept thinking “always forward.” Bentley was feeling tired and was no longer offering to canter or big trot, instead, he shuffled along the roads which felt so tedious. That is… until I looked at my GPS watch and realized I was STILL going faster than my goal speed. He had managed to learn a new gait that day… the endurance shuffle. It was efficient, comfortable (less bouncy than his big trot), and managed to cover ground at a decent clip. I didn’t really clue into that until at least 24 hours later once my brain had recovered. I hope it was a lightbulb moment for him too, and he will break out this efficient gait earlier in our rides now!
Speaking of brain… I had a traumatic experience at the same spot I went off trail the loop before. This time, as I came around the field, there was a junk yard. As I neared the fence “BANG” a gunshot rang out, Bentley spooked sideways and I barely stayed in the saddle. We stopped and stared into the junkyard in shock, trying to see the soul who had fired, but unable to see a single person. Hearts racing, he refused the water trough right beside that property. I didn’t blame him and went along. We then had to cross the road and ride past the front of the junkyard. When we did, I heard a whistle, then nanoseconds later, another gunshot. It still strikes me as odd… is it coincidence they managed to shoot at the exact times I was in front of their yard? What was the whistle about? No matter what it was, I was convinced, through my delirium that they were shooting at me, or deliberately trying to scare me… so I spent the next several miles crying my eyes out. Until I saw Wendy, the photographer. Wipe wipe the tears, smile, wave, ok im over it.
As we came to the end, I was still alone and knew nobody was nearby me. We stopped in the stream a few hundred feet and just outside view of the finish line and Bentley had a good drink, having not drank through most of that loop thanks to scary stuff. We took a few minutes just to relish the moment and have the weight of the ride sink in. I reached down and gave him a thankful hug, and we made our way up the hill, trotting quietly over the finish line. We had done it!
We walked back to camp, where my awesome crew got to work cooling him. We went to the vets, and of course, as Ashley described, it was a nerve wracking finish, but we passed (although I was seriously gimpy from that butt pain… don’t worry, turns out it was just a knot and some muscle relaxants and stretching worked it out)!
We had also been selected for drug testing… again… seriously, I must look like a druggie or something, because I always get tested! So we found a spot for Bentley to pee and have his blood taken. Despite his exhaustion he still managed a half-rear and some serious backing up to avoid the needle (we decided not to stand for BC as the needle was 6 minutes before the time we needed to be in!). I don’t blame him, I hate needles too. Then as the paperwork got signed, Bentley rested his chin on the Vet’s truck and promptly fell asleep, face pressed into the bed of the truck. It was met with a lot of chuckles and “Awww’s” from the officials who thought he was just the cutest thing… he is. ❤
So there you have it, our first attempt at a distance beyond our 50 mile comfort zone. Oh and we did manage to place 5th open, 3rd FEI, and got a bronze medal for the Provincial Championships.