Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ride of the Week: A New Perspective

This week's ride of the week is brought to us by Mel of Boots and Saddles.

A New Perspective

Initially I wrote ride stories because I had to – the experiences of the trail demanded to be put on paper, even if it was only for my own amusement.  I would come home after a glorious 25 or 50 miles on the trail and shoot an e-mail off to my family and friends with amusing and self-deprecating anecdotes of what happened, coupled with the ever popular “lessons learned” segment.  Later, I started a blog where perfect strangers could also amuse themselves at my expense.  Once I write a story, I rarely go back and reread it.

After selecting and editing this story to publish here, I’m now wondering – maybe there is value in revisiting the past?

Mariposa 2008, although I did not realize it the time, was a pivotal ride in reshaping my endurance philosophies.

(italics have been added as a sort of “backward” look from 18 months later as I identify where I was starting to make changes to my endurance philosophy)

Mariposa 2008
Mariposa was Farley’s 2nd LD, and her last before moving her to a “traditional” endurance distance (50 or more miles).  It was also to be Minx’s first LD, after 2 seasons of not-so-successful-endurance rides…. and my attempt to “reset” our endurance adventures and maybe salvage her attitude towards endurance.  Philosophy change #1:  LD’s are not just for the old, the sick, or the crippled.  When I first started endurance, I had fully bought into the belief that there was no point in paying to ride 25-35 miles (Limited Distance) if you can ride that distance at home.  To say the least, things hadn’t worked out so well with Minx using THAT particular philosophy.

The weather had been a bit…wet and ride camp was a bit….muddy (quite the understatement).  With a 2WD ½ ton pulling a 3 horse trailer I had to have a plan for this type of situation.  It consisted of:  go through the mud at top speed, don’t stop, and arrive in the general vicinity of an empty spot.  Unload the horses and hand them to someone. Then, back uphill on wet grass and much to your spot by employing the “top speed” principle: get the tires moving and then go as fast as possible until you slip or your trailer jack knifes.  Call it a day and set up camp.

I decided not to think about how I was going to get out of ride camp.

After the horses were situated, I set up for the 25 miler on Farley the next day.

Saturday was beautiful.  I stayed at my trailer as long as possible letting Farley eat grass and then headed to the start.  My watch was early so I had to hang out for 5-10 minutes, and then we were off.  The footing was perfect.  Farley and I once again had a discussion of speed. We MOSTLY kept it at a trot. 

Somewhere during this loop I decided this would be the LAST LD I did on this silly horse.  Philosophy change #2:  Let the horse guide the transition to longer races, not the rider’s personal goals

The 25 mile only had 1 vet check (15 minute hold).  I stayed longer (30 minutes) because I knew her next ride would be a 50+miler I wanted her to learn that vet checks are where she needs to relax and eat and drink.  Philosophy change #3:  Ride today with an eye towards your ultimate goal (for me – 100’s).

And off we went again….even faster.  We are flying and it’s all I can do to keep a “reasonable” speed. 

It turns out Farley and my definitions of “reasonable” are a bit…different.  Farley’s definition:  if I move my feet really fast, I’ll kind of float over the technical stuff.  My definition: nice, controlled trot on the good stuff- walk the technical stuff. 

At this point in Livermore (her first LD, 4 weeks prior) she was amiable to my suggestions of speed (as long as it didn’t involve a true walk).  This ride I was struggling to keep her out of a canter and gallop.  About 1 mile from the finish I dismounted (flying dismount) and tried walking her into the finish.  She had ATROCIOUS ground manners.  I screamed, lunged her, tried to make her back up etc.  Even though I’m REALLY far way from camp, Minx and Farley are screaming at each other (how do they KNOW??????  I’m like a MILE away!!!!!). 

I walk into the finish and try and pulse down.  Farley and Minx are still screaming at each other because I’m just outside of camp.  Ride management is not letting anyone into the pulse area so I had to get her relaxed and below 60bpm on my own (no hay, no water, Minx can’t be brought over….)  It took me almost 10 minutes but I did it.  I scramble to get my tack off and sponge her off so I can do the final vet check.  It’s been cool and I don’t want her to get stiff.  I vet and get the completion (belt buckle). I put her on the trailer.  It’s only 10:00!!!!!!  I finished the ride in ~3 ½ hours (3 hours of riding time).  NOT what I had in mind for my future 100 miler horse….

My cousin and I go for a little hack later in the afternoon (I take Minx).  1 hour walk/trot. 

Saturday night it POURED.  Rain rain and more rain.  All night.  In the morning the ground was so slick I could hardly walk on my own. The rain had stopped but I felt that the footing was too questionable.  Sunday morning I decided not to start Minx.  Minx had nothing to prove to me. Philosophy change #4:  I had never before pulled out of a race before even starting it.   From now on, the well being of my horse was paramount - $$ paid for entry, my completion record, and my pride of being “tough” didn’t matter. 

Getting out of camp we had a “pulling party”.  Some rigs were able to muscle their way through the mud and get to the rigs, others needed to be pulled out with a tractor.  Guess which one I was?…..I got further than I thought with my “advanced” technique of “go as fast as possible for as long as possible”.  It was exhilarating to floor it and go slip sliding and fishtailing through the mud with a trailer. 

I have a secret….I didn’t really think I was going to make it. Can lack of faith cause you to get stuck in the mud?

Lessons learned:

  1. Anyone want a deal on a ½ ton 2WD truck? Kind of muddy right now but gently used (HAHAHA!).  Seriously.  I wonder what it would cost me to upgrade to a 4WD ¾ ton? 
  2. 2 horses isn’t twice the work, it’s like 4x!!!!!  Not sure if I will try this again.  Probably only for rides that are really far away or that are so important to me that I need a back up mount.  I don’t have the “buddy problems” when there’s only one horse and the horse is more focused on me.  I didn’t have the same bonding experience with the horse like I usually do.  AND 2 horses makes my trailer REALLY heavy for hard pulls.  (see ¾ ton truck comment above…)
  3. I am DONE putting LD’s on Farley.  She can do a 50 and I hope she gets really tired.  (*evil little smile*)

If I had to redo my “lessons learned” section now-18 months later, here’s what I would write:

  1. Nothing changes.  I had completely forgotten how much of a PAIN Farley was coming into camp – For some reason I thought this was a recent problem!  But after reading this account I realize that it’s actually getting better!  Sometimes a bit of perspective is all that’s needed to appreciate the present….
  2. I’ll never regret a decision to pull, but I’ll probably regret a decision to ride when I should have pulled.  Eighteen months later I still feel good about my decision to pull.
  3. Enjoy every moment, even when it’s difficult.  That was the last endurance ride Minx ever went to.
  4. Slow down – I can remember trying to walk Farley in with the horses screaming at each other and her acting like a MANIAC.  It was bad.  I was frustrated.  I could have done a lot of things, including turning around and riding away from camp until she settled down.  I had plenty of time to complete.  But I didn’t because I was too caught up in finishing. 


Allenspark Lodge said...

I love reading your stories, Mel. When I got my first horse 10 yrs. ago I started studying 'endurance ideas', but things weren't to go that way. I do have 2 marvelous Mustangs that have learned a few "tricks of the trade", such as tailing-up, that come in right handy in our tough mountain terrain, and....I can now live vicariously through your experiences! Thanks.

Linda said...

I've never done an endurance ride so this was a great story to read to get a different look. I can't imagine my horses wanting to canter 25 miles--they always seem more than happy to walk a lot, canter a little. Sure sounds like fun, though!