I'd wanted to return to the scenic Scioto trails in southern Ohio ever since I'd first ridden them back in 2005 on a borrowed horse. Under the auspices of OATTS, the Ohio Arabian & All-Breed Trail Riding Society, Mollie Krumlaw and her local friends put on two AERC competitions each year, one in June and one in September.
The week leading up to the June ride, I'd been in D.C. taking photos during the Electric Co-op Youth Tour (1,600 high school seniors from 43 states!), which wrapped up Thursday afternoon. The day before, I'd learned Lisa Green & her mare wouldn't be able to go with me and started calling other endurance friends, hoping I wouldn't have to take Gryphon by himself on such a long trip.
Jenny Poling, an old friend from West Virginia, came through for me - she said Liz Stout's mare was recovering from an injury, she didn't have any plans until Sunday and was game for riding my little mare Siena despite the short notice. Liz would travel with Jenny and her daughter Kelsie and we'd have time Friday afternoon for Liz to do a test ride on Siena.
The trip there went smoothly - I finished packing before dark, got 6 hours of sleep, and left home before 3 a.m. The miles flew by, aided by a book on CD. With brief stops for diesel and letting the horses graze near West Virginia's New River Gorge (the halfway point), I rolled into the sunny basecamp field before 11 a.m. Parking as close as possible to the crewing area, a set up my corral popup tent to keep the horses cool, then provided them big tubs of soaked beet pulp. I was even able to catch a quick nap before Jenny, Liz and Kelsie arrived at 1 p.m. Our test ride later that afternoon gave Liz a chance to see how my treeless saddle felt, and we moved the pop up tent to the crewing area, knowing it would help the horses cool and pulse down more quickly when they came off trail.
With a 6 a.m. start for the 50 milers and 6:30 for the 25s, everyone hoped to get most of their miles done before the temperatures became too toasty. But by the five mile mark, zigging up and down short but steep changes in elevation, I could tell this was going to be a long day, with only occasional breezes to break the humidity. During the first hold, we made some tack-related changes, borrowing a breast collar for Gryphon (since one of mine had been left behind at Lisa's) and adding rear interference boots on both horses (the technical footing plus a several-week old shoeing job were causing them to knock their inside fetlocks more than usual). Gryphon has come a long way in just nine months, evolving from a worried, difficult-to-handle rescue horse to a bright-eyed, confident endurance horse, but it was still helpful to have his buddy Siena for company. I dosed them every two hours with electrolytes and buffer and they drank - and ate - well all day despite temperatures reaching over 90 degrees.
The second loop included three miles of gravel road, which we rode with Emily Richardson, who is a foxhunter and endurance rider in her late 70s showing no signs of stopping her horse pursuits! During the vetting at the halfway point hold, one of the vets thought Siena took some bad steps on her left front foot. Wishing she had a more recent shoeing job - there were more rocks on trail than I'd remembered - we soaked that leg in ice water and re-trotted her ourselves before heading back out. She seemed fine, but we decided to go slower and hand walk down all the longer hills.
All was well at the final hold, but we stayed in camp a few more minutes to let our horses rest. I also dosed them with honey for energy and massage both horses' haunches and inner thighs, which were starting to get stiff from all the climbs. Jenny and Kelsie successfully completed their 25 mile ride (they had six hours to complete but Jenny's horse pulsed down with just a minute to spare, after a hair-raising adventure on the first loop when her young horse Vinney got loose, making that loop take longer than expected!)
Liz was able to borrow Kelsie's saddle at this point - her legs weren't having an easy time adjusting to the Wintec stirrup leathers on my saddle. The last loop was a repeat of the first loop from earlier that day, but seemed like a brand new trail, given our slow pace that gave me time to savor the scenery. Liz, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Elkins, WV, was able to listen to a bird call and tell right away what species it was. She also knew most every type of tree and plant we encountered, including an invasive Chinese grass, which was everywhere. On a common section of trail used for both the 3rd and 4th loops, we passed Ranger and Michael, who were carefully leading their horses. I shared some of my extra Gatorade and cautioned that they'd need to get back to camp by 4 p.m. or might not make the 6 p.m. cutoff time for the 50-mile ride. We also caught up to two ladies from Louisville, KY and finished just ahead of them around 3:30 p.m.
With the sun beating down mercilessly, we untacked and cooled the horses as best we could (no ice left!), then headed to the vets for the completion exam. Worried about Siena, I trotted her out for Liz and the vet shook his head. "She's off both coming and going on that right front," (which meant a consistent grade 3 lameness and no completion), plus he noticed that she had a flutter in her flank area called "thumps" that results from an electrolyte imbalance.
When bringing two horses instead of one, I'd forgotten to pack extra Enduramax, developed by Jeannie Waldron, DVM for East Coast heat and humidity. Even though both horses had been frequently electrolyted all day, the mix was mostly Perform'n'Win and just didn't have enough oomph in the mineral department. Gryphon completed just fine - his 7th 50 this year - and we headed over to the shade to give Siena some calcium gluconate, which quickly cleared up her thumps, and continue cooling both horses while letting them graze.
Emily Richardson had left 45 minutes earlier than us on the last loop, but we never passed her on trail and she was not in camp when we completed, so I alerted her crew and ride management, who took a four-wheeler out looking. It was past 5 p.m. and ride management was getting ready to send out hired and alert the local EMS/Fire Dept. when happily Emily and Comet showed up unharmed. Emily was tired but in good spirits and as best we can figure, they somehow did much of that last loop twice.
With Emily was safely back in camp, we finished packing up and I also poultice both horses with a heavy dash of "Sore No More" squooshed into the paste. Both rigs headed out to the highway as cooler evening temperatures creeped in, Jenny turning left on Rt 35 and me turning right. By midnight, I'd reached my friend Lynne's place off I-81 in Virginia, where she'd generously offered use of her guest paddock. The horses looked wonderful when I woke up Sunday morning to load them up for the last three hours to get home, and they both trotted out joyfully (and soundly) when I let them loose in their home pasture.