Monday, April 11, 2011

The Old Dominion No Frills Endurance Ride

Let me just preface this by saying that I have been infatuated with the equine sport of Endurance since 2007, when I came across the Long Rider's Guild website. Intrigued and irrevocably fascinated by the people and horses who had logged thousands of miles of riding time through all kinds of terrain and weather without any outside assistance, riding for days and weeks and months on end, I began looking for a way to enter into this sport in a smaller way, a more "doable" way, for those of us who do not answer to the illustrious name CuChullaine O'Reilly.

Incidentally, at the same time, my mother and her little Khemosabi-bred Arabian mare were getting into the sport by way of a friend of hers, and learning the ropes as they accompanied experienced endurance riders on training rides. In that year, we lived on opposite ends of the continent, I in Monterrey, California, she in Staunton, Virginia, and since we both had very demanding jobs, we only had the opportunity to speak every week or so. By osmosis, or astral projection, or simply because we share the same blood, we both stumbled on the sport at the same time and became immediate co-conspirators in our quest to ride Endurance on our horses. Several years went by, and because of many unforeseen setbacks, it was not until this past weekend, on Saturaday, April 9th, 2011, that I rode in my first official Limited Distance ride.

The weekend started out with an early Friday morning wake-up, made all chaotic with instant coffee, last-minute changes, additions, and anticipatory stomach-dwelling butterflies. We left the house, headed for the barn, armed to the teeth with all manner of equestrian paraphernalia and camping supplies. When the truck rattled over the cattle-guard and trundled around the corner of the farmhouse, Apollo and Desert looked up from their grazing, nickered, and trotted to meet us, knowing that food was about to be poured into their little feed buckets in their cozy stalls under the monolithic, geriatric pole barn.

They were not wrong.

As they merrily munched their lunch, we humans got the brand new trailer hooked up to the 250 diesel truck, and packed it up with hay and goodies for the horses, the electric fence and charger, and various buckets and water containers and pitchforks needed when going horse-camping. (I forgot to mention! Lovely brand new two-horse slant load with living quarters and swing-out safety-tack room! This trailer deserves its own post, so it shall get one... later).

Then, it was bath time for the boys.

And right before a sneeze.

And so by the time the baths were finished, everyone was incredibly keyed up and raring to go. So we loaded up the steeds and headed on up to ride camp, an hour and a half north and then a few miles west.

At ride camp, the rainy, cold weather and the passing of fifty or more rigs and their delicate burdens had already churned the ground to peanut butter mud. Having forgot an essential item, before the horses were even unloaded, I went in search of a decent waterproof blanket for a reasonable price at the only vendor who had braved the dismal weather to ply her trade with the die-hard endurance riders. And there, I found the only blanket in the entire camp large enough to fit my 16.2hh Anglo-Arab, Apollo. We affectionately call him The Giraffe.

So we went about setting up camp, arranging the electric fence, water buckets, and hay piles in a pleasing way and turned them out into their temporary paddock. We spoiled them with apples and carrots and a little bit of feed, but then left them to meditate over a healthy helping of hay for the night. Domestic duties completed, we were snuggling in blankets in the warmth of the trailer when we realized we had forgotten something: the vet check-in! Ahhh! So we scrambled back outside, into the drizzle and mist and chill, snapped lead ropes on the boys, and set off for the east end of ride-camp, where the vets had set up their pre-ride examinations in the middle of a giant puddle of sucking mud. Apollo vetted out with all A's, and I scribbled our number on each of his large gray hips in grease marker: #302.

The ride dinner and meeting was scheduled for 6:30pm, and so we headed over to the main tent for some grub and an opportunity to mingle. My stomach was in knots the whole weekend, what with all the excitement and anticipation, so I had little else but a few bites of pasta salad for dinner. When other riders found out this was my first ride, they made sympathetic sounds (because of the "horrible" weather) and wished me good luck. They all seemed very welcoming, and more than willing to give advice or suggestions, and so I felt completely accepted into their little circle. The ride meeting was wonderfully informative about things we might encounter on the trail, and the ride manager gave a very detailed description of the trail and the vet checks. As the night wore on, I became even more anxious and excited. It was a long night of little deep sleep, interrupted by night visits to the back of the trailer where a special bucket was nestled in the shavings for certain... ahhh, shall we say private constitutionals? Between those trips and having to switch out the propane tank on the space heater, I barely slept.

Finally, my alarm went off at 5 a.m., and I sprang out of bed (oh, warm and comfy bed!) to begin the day. I was determined to document as much as I could with the camera, and so I immediately set about taking pictures, no matter the subject.

In this case, the fabled "potty bucket" held at a respectable arms-length by my mother. It is truly amazing (unnerving?) what the mind centers on as good subject matter when sleep-deprived and overly-excited.

Ah, much better. The lovely boys in their adorable little blankets, toasty warm and ready to go!

The fog never lifted, the entire day. It looked like this, as if straight out of The Mists of Avalon, until we pulled out of ride camp at four-thirty that afternoon. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Like I said, the mind plays silly tricks on people this early in the morning. Or, wait, is that an Oompa Loompa?! Oh my word!

Okay, back to the story. Desert Storm, an endurance racing veteran, was cool as a cucumber, but Apollo was understandably excited. After tacking up, we walked them both around the camp, regularly asking them to back up, yield to pressure, and basically keep their attention on us. Apollo was compliant, but still excited. Two minutes after the start of the race, we mounted up and headed out onto the trail, and what a stellar start it was! Apollo was happy and full of energy, but  he understood that I was still in control and yielded to my leadership, and so off we went. I chose to continue using his Indian Bosal instead of changing it up and using the bitted bridle. I am glad I chose to stick with what was familiar, because he did wonderfully with his bit-less bridle. With his big stride, and the fact that he is in wonderful shape, we overtook many of the horse and rider teams and stayed there throughout the ride, finishing in the top five out of a field of fifty-eight! At each vet check, he pulsed down to 60bpm almost immediately, ate his fill of delicious alfalfa and soaked beet pulp, and drank fully at every trough and water-crossing. Suffice to say, he took good care of himself during the whole ride, even though he was excited and a bit distracted at times because of all the horses and people and sounds and smells and sights. As it turns out, he is quite competitive! He would be going contentedly down the trail, and as soon as he spotted a horse ahead in the distance, would ask for more speed so he could catch up and overtake the front-runner! He would gleefully pull even with the horse, pause a moment to look him or her square in the eye, then power on up the trail with a burst of speed that shot us far ahead of the competition. 

We finished the 32.2 mile ride in 4 hours and 10 minutes, excluding holds. I believe our average speed was 7.7 miles per hour. I am so proud of this horse, I cannot keep from singing his praises. When people would congratulate us on our top five finish, I knew it had little to do with me. I really was just a happy passenger, only monitoring his health, food and water intake, fitness and speed so that he could finish the race fit-to-continue. Apollo has so much heart and fire and desire, so much love for the freedom a race like this gives us. I have never felt more complete than when he and I soar through the woods at an easy hand-gallop, in perfect balance and harmony.

I am officially addicted to this sport, and cannot wait for the next race in June.

Ha! He looks like he is sleeping in this picture! It was so cold and wet, I was wearing four layers plus a fleece vest and two pairs of gloves, and still I was not warm enough!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Impending Write-up

How boring a title. However, it is true, I will indeed have a detailed account of the No Frills Limited Distance Ride for you to read within the next day or so! Let me just say this: Drug addictions have NOTHING on Endurance Riding!!!! Seriously, I think my mind just exploded. And I have the bruises to prove it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Freak out


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Second-to-last training ride before the No Frills LD!

It was short, but sweet. We were going for constant, controlled speed this time, not distance. Ten miles at a comfortable, consistent, ground-gobbling trot. Apollo really has hit his stride; he levitates, he glides like Alah ud Din on his magic carpet... I cannot help but imagine how Jasmine must have felt when flying through the sky, passing stars, outpacing comets, singing at the top of her lungs. I shout, I whistle, I hum, and cannot keep from singing when riding my lovely Magician. I must scare the bears away. (Maybe I should invest in jingle bells? Then maybe my cheeks wouldn't be so sore from puckering; steady stream of whistling while HE works, indeed!)

Ah, solipsism. Where would I be without you? On track, that is where I would be.

The best part about this ride... we did it in the dark! Oh yes, one hour and forty-five minutes in pitch-black backcountry, miles from the nearest Bud-light-guzzling-hillbilly, on a National Forest dirt track. It would have been a 15 mile workout if not for the imagined Ted Bundys running amok on the mountain, and a forgotten .22 caliber hand-gun. No matter. Every mile is a training mile, and the boys are in fine form, ready for the 32.2 miles of Limited Distance racing coming up in ten days.

Let my cup of excitement runneth over!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

I will try harder this time.

It has been quite the eventful year. Much has happened since my last entry, an entry so full of hope and rebirth and sheer excitement for the 2010 season it was hardly containable. We were derailed, yet again, by circumstances not under my control. However. My passion and desire to compete in Limited Distance and Endurance riding has persevered, and here are my recent efforts, delineated, for your reading pleasure:

Apollo and I have reached 130 training miles this season, with plenty of hilly terrain done at Long, Slow Distance mixed in with easy, level fast workouts. He is "raring to go", as the saying... goes. I have changed my tack preferences up a bit this year, returning to the Crazy Ropes Indian Bosal as the primary head gear, among other minute changes. Last summer, following a very traumatic experience not horse-related, I lost much of my confidence in all areas of my life. So, regrettably, I subjected Apollo's mouth to the bit for a few confidence-building months. Thankfully I have light hands, so as not to shock his mouth too much with the hard, cold steel. A few rides ago, he was hesitant to allow the bit into his mouth when tacking up, and after another refusal at the next ride, he happily accepted the Bosal when I offered it. This made me smile, and my heart sang arias for the duration of the 16 mile working ride, for we flew over the soft dirt track with nothing, man nor metal, holding us back.

I have been riding horses since my early high school years, and in that entire time, I had never had the occasion (or monies!) to purchase my own saddle. I was always borrowing my mother's Wintec 2000, or using the ancient, rotting Italian generic brand hunt saddle with the broken tree as a poor substitute. So, it is with little reservedness that I announce my *new* status as Abetta Aire-Grip Endurance saddle Owner! Ta Da! To go along with the lovely new (ahem... eight months old as of today, in fact) saddle, in regards to comfort for both Horse and Rider, I have purchased a Toklat Woolback Endurance pad and a 100% Merino wool sheepskin seat saver. I have my eye on a very nice 100% mohair cinch, but for now the polyblend rope cinch will do. I promise pictures of the whole get-up, mainly for my own viewing pleasure!

It is for real, this time. I have entered myself and Apollo into the 32.2 Limited Distance Old Dominion No Frills ride, coming up soon on April 9th. I have paid my AERC dues for the year, the check for the ride tuition went out in the mail a month ago, and I have been carrying my AERC member card with me for months now in anticipation of this momentous occasion. Fingers crossed, chakras aligned, incense lit to stave off bad vibes and to ensure a lovely first ride! Huzzah!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Riding Writing

We exist, yet again. We are seamless, fluid, connected. We ride.

We have been going on our jaunts through the new world for a few months now, but I have been remiss in keeping this blog updated.

We live, yet again. I breathe, he breathes. We ride.

Happy Pony Boy

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Of which there is none. I miss riding, I miss being with Apollo, just us, in the moment, nothing else existing.