Friday, September 27, 2013

Third Time's the Charm

At the finish of both AERC and FEI endurance riding competitions, each horse must be examined and found "fit to continue" by the ride veterinarians, both in soundness and metabolics, before being awarded a completion. While I've escaped being pulled at the end of a ride since 1999, this past month I got to complete three weekends in a row only to get pulled at the finish of the first two endurance rides and barely squeak by at the third! Fortunately these pulls were for minor lameness issues that were quickly resolved, rather than a serious metabolic problem, and helped add to my cache of endurance wisdom.

Virginia Highlands 55-mile ride - I arrived midway through the first day of this rugged two-day ride near Ivanhoe, Virginia and helped with those finishing the 25 mile distance while waiting for my riding companion Liz Stout to arrive. She brought along her Siberian Husky Kenai, who was recovering from surgery on both his back legs and spent much of the weekend resting in his big crate.

We used Liz's SUV to set up our crewing area at the away hold (ride managers Don and Nicky Meuten's mountaintop retreat, a little slice of heaven!) After grabbing a late lunch, we took the horses out on a "tack check"test ride during which I realized I needed to purchase a second running martingale to control eager little Gryphon, who was super-fit after finishing eight endurance competitions already this year.

Ride morning went smoothly, with Gryphon and Siena traveling happily together down the trail. We took our time on the first loop because portions of trails were quite muddy from afternoon rain showers the day before. I really enjoyed the 24-mile second loop, which had one long hard climb but lots of places to canter along on good footing. Ride management provided horse and people refreshments at the 15 minute hold halfway through this loop, where we learned that six of the front runners had missed a key turn, putting us mid-pack riders in Top 10 position.

At the second hold, I retrotted Siena for Liz when her vet thought he saw a slight hitch in her right hind, then massaged her butt muscles and inner thighs while she ate, just to be on the safe side. Coating back to basecamp on the final loop, we had less than 8 miles left to go when Gryphon started trotting with a noticeable hitch as we made our way up another long climb. Hopping off, I repeated the massage process I'd done on Siena, telling Liz we'd walk the uphills in hopes the cramp would work out. Gryphon was eager to go and would trot smoothly for several hundred yards, then cramp would return. As a glumly headed down a final hill to the finish line. I explained my plan to Liz: get Siena her completion right away (which was 6th place) and use the whole 60 minutes you have to present for completion at an AERC ride to work on Gryphon's cramp.

With help from old friend Mary Farris, we did more massage and stretching exercises plus gave Gryphon her special electrolyte mix in case the cramp stemmed from a body chemistry imbalance. All to no avail! Gryphon has a big heart but a scrawny hind end for scaling all the climbs on a mountain ride like this. The vets complemented his overall metabolics and muscle tone, telling me to administer paste banamine and that he should clear up quickly (which he did - completely sound when I checked on them around midnight). I also presented Siena for Best Condition just for practice, and she looked great!

My friend Dee Dee in Roanoke kept both of my horses for the next 10 days, since I was going to be out of town much of the time and it would save them much of the haul out to the Big South Fork two weeks after Highlands. I returned home to a new retraining project, a 12-year old mare called Serenata who hadn't been ridden much in some years. Her owner had asked for my help in getting her back under saddle and finding her a good home, and I made excellent progress in just 4 days.

Serenata got the weekend off as I traveled to Ottawa, Canada for the two day Stormont FEI ride hosted by Dessia Miller, whom I'd met at the Broxton Ride in February. Dessia is a trainer who also  breeds Arabians on her farm, and I really enjoyed getting to see what life is like in Ontario province. While the food was wonderful and the terrain not much different than, everything cost a lot more. Two 3 lb. bags of ice, a little bottle of soda and small bag of chips was $12!

Dessia's place was just 2 miles from basecamp, so on Friday afternoon she rode her stallion and I rode his half-sister Amber Kiera over for the vet in. I was worried about being able to steer Keiera and make her go smoothly down trail, as she acted quite green, but Dessia's friend Kim Wooley on her mare Ziggy agreed to lead me around the 75-mile course. After heavy rain that evening, we had warm dry weather for ride great day, pacing well with the horses receiving excellent vet scores at each check.

At the very last check, around 7 p.m., vet Art King noted some interference marks on Kiera's inside back fetlocks and suggested I add boots. Not realizing she'd never had any on before, I accepted a brand new pair still with the tag on from Dessia and was unprepared when Kiera reacted strongly, kicking out as if the boots were stinging bees and pulling the sweaty reins through my hands to run through camp. Although she was quickly caught and we finished tacking, I could feel a slight lameness as we headed out into the growing dust for the last 12 mile loop. I switched diagonals and rode as carefully as a I could, but was far from surprised when the vet committee let me know we wouldn't get a completion. All the ride staff were very sympathetic, while I was philosophical, noting that my main reason for attending this event was to gain insights for managing the Sand Hills CEI event the following month.

Dessia later told me she that Kiera had developed a minor case of scratches (irritated skin on the back side of the pastern) that she thought may have also been a factor in our lameness pull. On Sunday, since my flight didn't leave until late afternoon, I enjoyed helping crew for Dessia on her stallion in the 75-mile ride and several others - so many of us Americans were there, including Mary Farris, Lynn Kennelly and Cheryl Van Deusen from the Southeast region that I felt right at home. I especially enjoyed getting to talk with Dave Augustine and Meg Sleeper during one of her holds in the 100-mile event, which she and her amazing little mare Syrocco Cadence won by a large margin.

Back in the U.S., I spend several days at a regional work conference in Norfolk, catching up with some friends who live in that area, before setting off on the 600 mile trek to Oneida, Tennessee for Eric Reuter's Big South Fork ride. I only had a chance to do this trail twice before, in 2002 and 2007, and was really looking forward to seeing those spectacular trails again.

Arriving at Dee Dee's farm around 3pm Friday, I found Gryphon and Siena looking well rested and happy to load for another adventure. We didn't arrive at basecamp 10 pm, but Eric was waiting for me with my registration packet. With help from Mary Farris' boyfriend Ranger, I quickly set up my horse pen and managed a good night's sleep before rising early to vet in and start the 50-mile ride on Gryphon.

He felt sound and forward on the first loop, which featured was even more beautiful than I remembered, especially the 100-yard wise crossing of the Big South Fork River. I vetted through with longtime friends Bonnie from NC and Claire from SC, but decided to slow down and walk any  hills, concerned that Gryphon's muscle cramp might resurface if I pushed too hard. Despite this caution, I felt him start hitching with his hind as we neared the end of the second loop. I hopped off and massaged it, resigned in case our day ended early. But he felt sound the last 1/4 mile into camp, so I went ahead and electrolyted before vetting in hopes that would help. Vet Otis Schmitt noted a minor intermittent issue on the right hind, but thought Gryphon was sound enough to continue. Phew! I gave more electrolytes before heading out, this time with Tamra Schoech and Sudi Leinhart who setting a slower pace in the 100. Mike Everett suggested using BCAAs and I vowed to buy some once I was back in camp.

Gryphon had shared a feed tub with Tamra's Rushcreek gelding at the first hold, and as each of our three horses took turns leading I was thrilled that he stayed sound as the loop progressed. Ken Marcella pronounced him sound at the finish and I shared my concern about his right hind. Since we were 6th (even though I'd taken my time most of the day!), Ken urged me take advantage of the Best Condition exam at the end of that hour. After 40 minutes of eating and resting, Gryphon moved out energetically and looked completely sound. Phew! But I'm going to start using BCAAs and see if that solves the muscle issue. Now Gryphon will get 7 weeks off (just light riding) and I'm looking forward to taking Siena to our first endurance ride together this year.