Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ride Between the Rivers...or David keeps up with Goliath

Early on a Friday morning in early August, I loaded Gryphon in my rig and headed west on I-64, then south on I-81 to rendezvous with my longtime pal Jonie Brucker in Natural Bridge. Jonie had her 8-year old gelding Ghost, whom she bred and raised on her North Carolina farm along with Ghost's full sister, my 5-year old mare Siena. It was as if Gryphon knew Ghost was his pasturemate's big brother! They got along great despite the size disparity - Ghost being 5 inches taller and 350 lbs. heavier than Gryphon. 

This was Jonie's first time tackling Ride Between the Rivers in Randolph County (also known as "the Moonshine Ride"), and we agreed to use her larger rig and F-450 to travel the rest of the way, with my job being to help navigate all the twists and turns. It took three hours to travel just 165 miles, but we were rewarded with gorgeous views. Afternoon was spent setting up camp - we'd be able to crew from our trailer! - and visiting with friends and tack vendor Teddy Lancaster. We also went on a short ride and practiced crossing the Tygart River, during which time ride photographer Becky Pearman did me the favor of shooting some video for use in a work project about what co-op staff do in their free time.

Ride morning dawned cool and foggy. After Ghost saw several front runners gallop out of camp, it took about 5 miles for him to settle into a medium trot. Gryphon did his best to keep up, cantering whenever he started to fall behind. We missed a turn about halfway through and did a few extra miles, but both horses got excellent scores at the first vet check and at well in their adjacent paddocks. One of the front-runners, Laura from Ohio, was camped next to us and we shared some suggestions with her husband Chuck when we learned she'd had difficulty getting her horse to eat when it was in the first hold (she had already left on the second loop by the time we arrived).

Becky Pearman was creative in taking photos of everyone just as we started a long uphill climb; I call this one "practicing for Cougar Rock" (after the 100-mile Tevis Ride in California).

A enthusiastic young man in the 30-mile limited distance event, Roger from Northern Virginia, was going our pace on the tough second loop. We enjoyed talking with him and kept a lookout for large gravel chunks getting lodged in our horse's shoes during a long downhill grade. A few times one of us had to dismount and pry a stubborn piece out.

Back in the hold, the ride vets again gave our horses good scores and just before 2 p.m. we headed out on the final loop, a repeat of the first. About a half-mile out, was passed front runners Theresa Carroll and Laura, who had agreed to tie and not risk getting pulled at the finish. Austin Shafer, now old enough to ride unsponsored,  was about 10 minutes behind them.

I totally enjoyed the final loop, even with the threat of rain materializing into a steady drizzle. Ghost did most of the leading but by this point Gryphon kept up without too much difficulty. In the last 3 miles, we passed several riders who had slowed for various reasons, and finished just after 3:30 p.m. in 19th and 20th position.  The horses had a few hours to graze and rest while we packed up, with the goal of reaching main roads in Virginia before full darkness. This didn't quite happen! Jonie was a good sport about me routing her down a winding 8-mile "shortcut" south of Millboro that took 40 minutes to negotiate, but we got to my rig around 10 p.m. and I was home in my own bed by 1:30 a.m. Next stop: Virginia Highlands!