Monday, December 1, 2014

Ode to the Grumpy Old Man

For several decades now, East Coast endurance junkies have escaped holiday shopping madness by spending Thanksgiving weekend at JD Fountain's ride in South Carolina. I started going to this ride in 2000, when it was being held at Whitehaven Plantation. Then, JD, an engineer and pilot, bought a small piece of land across from both a grassy airstrip and former "winery" that produced such top-shelf products as Wild Irish Rose & Boone's Mill.

Despite the no-frills setting, for more than 30-years JD's ride has helped those pursuing an AERC points award end their season on a high note. With the 100-mile distance just $115, many also choose this for their first attempt at the 100 distance. JD even offers a $15 senior citizen discount for riders 62 and older!

The current site (aka "The Winery") is just across the road from miles of drivable trails in the "federal lands," as well as ample unpaved roads on the privately-owned of Hartsville-Ruby Road for use after dark when access to federal lands is closed.

This year, I took my 22-year-old Shiloh and headed down Friday morning with my Tevis buddy Cat Carter and her Appaloosa Spur on his comeback attempt after sitting out most of the season for hoof issues. Those entering the 100 had traveled from as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and Alabama, arriving at least a day earlier to claim the few available electric/water sites, but we found a great parking place just behind the timer's trailer/P&R area.

Head vet Amy Spies was on an emergency call and running late, and the only other official ride vet was a first-timer, so DVMs Duane Barnett and Bob Marshall pitched in to help check in most of the horses before nightfall. Serving as Duane's scribe, I made careful note of any existing scars and cuts on the rider cards, noting how many had these - Shiloh wasn't the only high mileage horse going out the next day!

Wanting to support friends in the 100, but needing to head home before dark after the ride, I collected hay from several donors and talked JD into driving me midway through the 25-mile loop to pitch out a few snack sites (Mary Farris and Ranger normally do this, but hadn't made it to JD's this year.)

About a 3-mile stretch of fresh gravel midway through that long loop caused me concern -- even though there was enough sandy shoulder to get off the gravel in most places, it was deep, soft sand and just as hard on the horses. I returned to camp to find that Jody Buttram had been able to reset one of Spur's shoes that somehow had become sprung on the trailer ride down, and he was OK to start. (PHEW!)
As temps began to plummet, JD's family members got the bonfire going and everyone clustered around for a dinner of fresh-cooked BBQ and JD's unintentionally hilarious ride briefing (you have to be there to understand!). I'd forgotten to stock up after using 3 containers of propane at the Skymont ride, but my little propane lantern stayed on all night and kept the worst of the chill off.

By the next morning, temps had dropped into the 20s as the 100s headed off. I was grateful for the toe warmers Cat gave us to stick on top of our socks even though the 50s didn't start til 8 a.m.. Shiloh walked quietly as we warmed up before the start, and for several miles enjoyed trotting along with Jody Buttram and Jesse Jarratt as we cracked jokes about the unique muscles on endurance riding women and what pitiful foxhunter I was for not having a flask handy to help take off the chill. I ended up pairing with Nancy Sluys and her young gelding Able for the rest of the ride, although at times we passed LD riders or were passed ourselves.

Shiloh was showing more signs of his age than he during the five 50s he'd done earlier that year, and by the last loop I'd pretty much decided this would be his endurance swan song unless someone wanted to borrow him for the occasional limited distance ride. He kept moving steadily each loop, took a hearty roll at both holds, had decent vet scores and ate & drank heartily, but I could tell the years were finally catching up. Cat and I had a smooth trip back, taking the horses off at Exit 77 in NC for a big drink and few minutes of grazing, then rolling in my driveway just before midnight.

A recap of Shiloh's endurance career spanning 16 years (1999-2014):
   5,430 AERC miles with 18 different riders
   92 completions, 16 of which were 100-mile rides, plus 4 limited distance rides
  59 Top Tens and 11 wins (but only 3 best conditions - I'm a featherweight rider which didn't help)

The Grumpy Old Man is one of the most sensible, idiot-proof and gentlemanly horses I've ever known. If it weren't for owning a horse as special as him, being able to trust him in all types of situation and loan him to many others - my endurance career might never have gone as far
. Thank you, dear Shiloh, for all the miles and all the memories!  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Young horse + young rider = fantastic team!

At the Mustang Memorial 120km FEI ride in New Jersey on November 8, my little mare Siena earned her first Certificate of Capability (14 kilometer per hour minimum speed), with India Orino  keeping a perfect, steady pace, even on the last two loops that they rode alone.

This joyous outcome has its roots in my early   days of endurance, when I met Tom Hutchinson and Kathy Brunjes of Maine. In April 2000, Tom had made the trek south to compete at the No Frills Ride in Virginia. We were galloping on a downward sloping road beside the Shenandoah River when Tom's horse slipped as its hooves hit pavement, falling sideways and throwing Tom to the ground. Unhurt and undaunted, he sprang up, leapt back on the horse, finished the loop and won the ride with barely a pause for breath and no delay for the rest of us riders.

In 2001, I began competing in FEI-sanctioned endurance events with my first endurance horse, Count Shiloh. We made team that represented USA East at the Pan American Championship in Woodstock, Vermont but with newly formed "splints" on both front legs (from too many miles on a concussive surface), Shiloh was pulled for lameness at the 86 mile hold. Sharing the trailer ride back to the treatment barn with us were Kathy Brunjes and  Ali Darkness. When both horses were re-examined, I got to watch Kathy's horse trot perfectly sound for early lesson in the capricious nature of our sport.

Fast forward to 2012, after Kathy eventually got her "days in the sun," participating in several big FEI events and World Endurance Championships on her horse Theatric, with now-husband Tom as crew. Kathy had become a FEI endurance icon more ways than one, helping develop the Young Riders Championship to encourage more youth in our sport. She was teaching her granddaughters India and Calla Orino to ride with the same poise and discipline that made her so successful when she tragically succumbed to cancer. Kathy made an indelible impression on so many of us, with AERC naming its Young Rider Award ( in her honor.

Supported by Tom and their mother Wanda, India and her younger sister Calla continued endurance. At the January 2014 Broxton FEI ride, India earned her first Certificate of Capability on  Frontier Random, a bay gelding my friend Jenny Poling had sold the family the previous year. In May at the Biltmore FEI ride, I had a blast sponsoring Calla in her first 75-mile AERC ride (she was still too young to compete FEI). In early July, I finally had a chance to travel to Fryeburg, Maine for Tom's 5-Day Pine Tree Endurance Ride and got to spend time with the family again.

That fall, I decided to take Siena to one more FEI-sanctioned ride before year's end, the Northeast Region's only FEI ride, Mustang Memorial in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey. I originally offered use of her to other Young Rider hopefuls in the 50-mile distance. But the day before I headed up to Barb's for the trailer ride to NJ, Tom phone looking for a replacement horse for India in the 75-mile distance so she'd have the three FEI 120km events needed to qualify for 2015 Young Riders. (They'd decided Random needed more rest and time to recover from a tendon injury and Siena was  passported and qualified for that distance.)

With help from Holly Corcoran and Meg Sleeper, as well as ride manager Holly McDonald and Kristen Brett at USEF, we revised online FEI entries so that the NJ young rider who had planned to ride Siena in the AERC 50-mile ride switched to Meg's horse, while India switched to Siena.

At Barb's that Friday, we loaded her mare Welcome (now best buddies with Siena) and picked up Welcome's rider Heather Davis in Berryville. After a smooth trip up we unloaded the horses just as a wintry weather front blew through camp, dumping hail pellets on the horses as they nibbled grass at the edge of the big cornfield where we all parked our rigs. Fortunately the nasty weather was short-lived.

India and Tom found us and we registered and vetted in by 3:30 pm, then India took Siena for a test ride. With her long legs and elegant posture, she reminds me so much of Kathy! On the return, we agreed that my treeless Ansur saddle was a bit small for India and I agreed to use her use her own saddle, a junior Bob Marshall that was also treeless and only weighed a few pounds more.

With a glowing near-full moon and quiet peaceful night, Siena and Welcome ate and rested well. Ride day dawned clear and still, and Siena started calmly with 19 other horses in the 75, 11 of them FEI (but only one other junior, Solstice Pecile from Canada). Barb and I had a great spot for crewing our horses and the day passed quickly, with me running inside the clubhouse frequently to check the free mulled cider at the USA Northeast Endurance fundraiser table.

India said she enjoying keeping pace with Wendy Benns of Canada for the first two loops but as Wendy's horse speeded up for some negative splits, India wisely decided to "ride her own ride" - after all, the little mare is only 6!

All my solo rides with Siena in September and October paid off, as they continued only fractionally slower for the last 30 miles of the ride. I was thrilled with how well India presented Siena for inspection and trot-outs by the vets, but India opted to have me do Siena's final completion trot out, since you only get once chance to present. Despite being chagrined for the bad luck of two good friends whose horses were pulled at the finish, what a great day for this young pair and a great experience to share with the Orino/Hutchinson family! I can only hope Kathy was somehow able to look down and be very, very proud...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gryphon's 100-Mile Reprise

     After his candidly unexpected completion of the Tevis 100-mile ride, I was eager to reunite with my little rescue horse for another endurance adventure. Gryphon had been back from California for a week, grazing on the Crandell's front pasture, when I drove up to Star Tannery on Aug. 23 after competing Siena at the Iron Mountain Ride, where she'd finished 3rd and earned high vet score thanks to her lighting-fast recoveries.
     Unfortunately, that Saturday morning was a rainy mess even for die-hard riders. After spending a few minutes with Gryphon, who looked super-fit and proud of himself, I treated Lisa and John Crandell to lunch in Wardensville, where we agreed to buy John a plane ticket to France in time for the World Endurance Championships that week. Soggy terrain was also a major issue for that event - just 22% completed, with Jeremy Olson on my friend Amy Whelan's Wallace Hill Shade as the lone U.S finisher . Sigh.
    Shaking off disappointment about the U.S team and international level of our sport,  I began training Gryphon for the AERC National Championship (NC), which this year would be in Mount Pleasant, Texas on Oct. 30. Almost every weekend in September and early October, I drove 3 hours each way to meet Lisa and work our horses. Unlike the mountain training we did for Tevis, this time we took the horses to the State Arboretum at Blandy, or nearby training track, for fast, flat workouts.
   With Lisa's mare Amana dragging him along, Gryphon managed to gallop 10 straight laps on the 1/2 mile track (5 times each direction, 5 miles total) in just 21 minutes. But as the NC date approached, my plans shifted - I'd been willing to take a whole week off work and use my F-350 again to haul our horses to Texas, but then learned John Crandell and his friend Shannon were willing to haul Amana (who'd been bred by John's parents) using John's gas truck with Lisa's rig.  
    This meant I was off the hook. The first thoughts that jumped in my mind were that now I wouldn't need to miss two important work meetings early that week and could instead go to a Tennessee ride I'd been wanting to try for years, which was half as far as going to TX. This was going to be Lisa's last last big endurance competition with her mare and I knew they'd do well, but didn't have crew of my own and wasn't excited about taking unclipped Gryphon on a hot, flat trail - twisty trail is where he excels.   
   I sadly informed the NC ride manager (who was low on entries) of my change in plans and quickly mailed in registration for Ike Nelson's Skymont Ride in Altamont, TN on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.   
   On Oct. 24, I hauled my other two horses to the Fort Valley Ride, where my friend Cat Carter from Md. and Lisa's youngest son Ridge borrowed Shiloh and Siena for the 30-miler. Lily Kuhn, my young neighbor who's been riding Shiloh for the past two months, helped me crew, then with my horses nicely tired out, took a short mid-afternoon ride before packing up, dropping off Siena at my friend Barb's and picking up Gryphon on the way home. (Barb had agreed to help Siena get farrier and chiropractic work before we hauled to the Mustang Ride in NJ in early Nov.)  
   The following Wednesday after work, I had just enough daylight to finish packing for several days of cold weather - the forecast called for temps to fall well below freezing all three nights I'd be in TN. After about 4 hours of sleep, I fed G a soggy beet pulp mash, then loaded up and headed out in the dark of night, hoping to arrive in the warmest part of the day to bathe Gryphon and give him some grazing time. But just 90 minutes later, on the west side of Charlottesville, all of us on westbound I-64 were held up for 2 and a half hours by a bad accident. Unable to completely remove the wreckage even in that timeframe, they finally used a police-only crossover to turn us back eastbound. Using GPS to figure out a hilly 25-mile detour, I was back on route by 4 am, reaching Altamont just after 1 pm with the Central Zone time difference.  
   With Ike's help I found a great parking spot next to Susan Kain and just in front of Angie McGhee and the Buttrams, less than 50 yards from the vetting area. Gryphon was nervous but got some grazing in on a nearby green field and quickly attached to his neighbor, Susan's big gelding.It had been more than 6 months since I'd had daily care of my little rescue horse, who'd had popped a hemorrhoid a year earlier. He hadn't had any issues with it earlier in the year while in California, but the durn thing decided to make a brief appearance just before the vet-in that Thursday. I disclosed and discussed my concern with head vet Otis Schmidt, then as darkness rapidly approached heated up some dinner in the Running Bear microwave (thanks Teddy!) before walking the half mile over the dam to the ride briefing, following glowsticks put up by Eric Reuter.  
    The Skymont ride is held on a 2,400 acre Boy Scout reservation perched on the Cumberland Plateau, with basecamp adjacent to a long-fingered lake. Ike's friend Wendy, who singlehandedly cleaned up  and marked the four loops of the trail, did a great job explaining the course for us first-timers. After barely any sleep the night before, I slept soundly and was in the saddle 20 minutes before the start of Friday's ride, with Gryphon both calm and eager. There were only about two dozen of us in the 50-mile ride and I ended up in the front third of the pack, behind a tall bay mare. Within the first 10 miles of riding together, the bay mare Jazz's owner Kathy Torgeson and I figured out that we'd BOTH just finished Tevis, on the same horses we were riding that day.   
   Despite Jazz being a full hand taller than Gryphon, he managed to keep up, cantering in some of the places to keep up with her long trot. The trail was a great mix of single-track trail and wide forest roads, with lots of creek crossings and some big hills along the gas lines. Sudi Leinhardt also rode with us all day, and with the two of them doing most of the leading, three loops flew by. Everyone got a kick out of how Gryphon seemed to want to drink at EVERY water opportunity - one of the greatest attributes for a multiday endurance horse.
   We were halfway through the final loop, having barely gotten rained on all day, when the sky grew ominously dark and the wind began to blow violently. We completed in 6th, 7th and 8th place around 3:30 pm, and I just had time to buckle Gryphon into a waterproof blanket before the truly nasty weather began. Luckily my trailer created a wind block from blasts coming off the lake, and I quickly set up and staked down a pop-up tent for Gryphon to stand under as icy sleet began to fall.

   Joni Buttram and I kept the McGhee's fire bowl going strong despite the precipitation, then helped Angie untack and bundle up her horse when she came in off her final loop. The nasty weather took a break during the dinner and awards, but snow began falling around midnight, along with more winds, which both continued until almost dawn.
   Nine of us die-hards started the 50 on Saturday, all wearing multiple layers (for me, this meant rain pants over my breeches, duck boots with two layers of socks instead of sneakers and rump rugs on our horses.) To my pleasant surprise the trails were less slippery and soggy than I thought they'd be. Here's some video from Josie McGhee, Angie's daughter:
   Kathy and I again rode together, with her mare setting a steady pace that was just a bit slower than the day before. The sun never came out, but the snow quickly melted and the wind subsided by noon.  We finished at 3:39 pm and I offered to present Kathy's horse for best condition, since she'd hurt her hip when her horse slipped and fell on the Granite Chief section of Tevis (G had also slipped and fell on that part, but I'd been luckier not to get injured.)

With my little horse resting and surrounded by several food options, I was getting ready for the long walk to the dining hall and showers when Ike kindly lent me his mule (gator) to drive instead. The hot shower felt wonderful, and I enjoyed hanging out with the four radio guys while waiting for dinner, who until then had only known me by my ride number, 316, which I'd called out at every checkpoint over the past two days. The significance of my number - the wonderful Bible verse 3:16 from the Gospel of John, finally dawned on me. I reflected how fortunate I was to have an eager horse like Gryphon and was deeply grateful that his hemorrhoid, despite making a few more appearances, didn't keep him from completing. And Kathy's mare Jazz did earn both high vet score and best condition!!! 
   After one more night tucked under the comforters in my comfy trailer bed, I began final packup around 5:30 am on Sunday. Ike happened to be out and about trying to find his little old dog, who hadn't returned when let out to pee a few minutes earlier, so helped me load my metal fence panels.
   I enjoyed watching the sun slowly rise as I headed east along 80 miles of back roads before hitting the interstate. What wonderful memories me and Gryphon made that weekend! And how good it felt to make it safely home just before dark. Endurance helps you discover the rewards of perseverance, while elevating the simplest comforts of food, warmth and companionship to become like finding lost treasure.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From Hip Tag to Tevis Buckle: Rescue Horse Completes Our Sport's Iconic Event

Just two years after I took my friend Barb’s advice to adopt a scared, starved Arabian gelding with no name from a Pennsylvania rescue, that little horse (renamed "Gryphon" after the mythological half lion/half eagle) has repaid me countless times over. We just completed what is perhaps the world’s most rugged 100-mile endurance competition in the experience of a lifetime!
Officially called the Western States Trail Ride but popularly known as Tevis, this grueling test of horse and rider fitness across the historic trails in California's Sierra Nevada mountains is held on varying dates each summer to coincide with a full moon that helps riders more safely cover trail after darkness falls. This year's event was Aug. 9, a bit later than usual but that may have contributed to daytime high temperatures staying below 100 degrees, a rare occurrence for this ride.

My partner in this adventure was Lisa Green, whose mare Amana had just completed the Old Dominion 100-Mile Endurance Ride in our home state of Virginia. Like many of our East Coast endurance friends, Tevis was on our "bucket list," but it wasn't until late June that we realized our chance would come much sooner than expected, THIS summer!
It's not easy to balance my full-time job with this demanding sport, since both involve a lot of travel. But Lisa's neighbor happens to be John Crandell, a world-famous horseman who has been on the U.S. Endurance team several times and won Tevis twice. John is also a top-notch farrier who was willing to take time away from home to help us make this happen. (For those who may be wondering, his accomplished horse Heraldic, who has a Reactor Panel saddle named for him, is perfectly sound, but John is taking a break from competing at top levels.)
Lisa and I fit in as many long, mountainous training rides as we could on Old Dominion trails near Star Tannery before John left Virginia on July 22 with both horses and his dirtbike, using my F350 truck and Lisa's 3-horse Sundowner to haul nearly 3,000 miles west along the 1-80 corridor.
Lisa flew out on July 26 and John picked her up in Reno before continuing on to the ranch near Auburn, CA where his friends, the Gerhards, had agreed to keep our horses. The horses would get nearly two weeks to recover and also pre-ride the last section of Tevis trail.
In late July, after shoeing both Amana and Gryphon with protective leather pads, John joined Lisa, Andrew, and the Gerhard's client Sophie from Austria on a 10-mile training ride out and back from the finish area at McCann stadium in nearby Auburn. This video shows John working to set Gryphon's head and my little horse certainly benefited from his training during that time.
As a precaution, Lisa had bloodwork done on both horses the week before Tevis. Gryphon's showed high levels of CK and AZT, meaning he'd experienced a mild tie-up (metabolic issue involving the processing of muscle metabolites) on the long trailer ride out. Lisa, who was carefully managing the horses' feedings, added Vitamin E/Selenium and Vitamin B supplements to Gryphon's diet. A second blood test done five days later showed he'd recovered to acceptable levels. Hurray!
Back at home, I'd been running a few miles every morning before work, doing my best to get in shape. After taking photos at one of our member co-op's annual meetings on the evening of Aug 7, I flew out west early the next morning. I was careful to drink as much water as I could during each of the three legs of that journey to offset the triple-whammy of flying, traveling to high altitude and also a much-needed massage the day before.

My brother Peter and his wife Patty picked me up in Reno at noon in their old Toyota Dolphin RV, aka  "Flipper," and we reached Robie Park, located near Lake Tahoe, just after 2 pm. The last six miles was on a steep and winding dirt road up the mountain as we listened to my Tevis theme song, "Estimated Prophet" by the Grateful Dead. With rigs tucked around basecamp's many trees, Robie didn't seem crowded despite nearly 200 horses being entered in the ride.
After introducing everyone (including John's son Yancey and Andrew Gerhardt's friends and family) to each other, Lisa and I walked our horses to the pre-ride veterinary inspection. While jogging Gryphon to warm him up, I first noticed the effect of the 9,000 feet of altitude - simply could not get my breath and could only manage about 30 yards at a time. Then John and I saddled up to pre-ride the first several miles of that end of the trail. By the time we returned, I was getting tired and opted to skip the ride meeting and dinner, instead chowing down some hot lentil soup and a tuna sandwich before tucking myself under Patty's down comforter around 8 pm California time.

Since my normal wake up time in Virginia is 5:30 am, I didn't need an alarm to be up by 3 am giving both horses their pre-ride meal, then dressing in my cool-weather Tevis clothes (long sleeved shirt) and eating a protein-filled breakfast.

Gryphon had the quivers as Peter and John helped me tack in the dark.  Lisa & Amana were eligible to join the 60 fastest horses that had pre-qualified for Pen 1, and the other three horses in our group had also left for the starting area by the time I was ready to mount up, which added to his anxiety.

We couldn't locate my running martingale, but John reassured me that  if Gryphon started bucking or acting up, I could always do a one-rein stop. I focused my breathing to relax as John clipped a leadline and helpfully led my horse to the back of the starting area. I could see faint outlines of the other horses around me. Magically, Gryphon remained calm even when a nearby horse started acting up. We continued walked slowly forward, reaching the starting line just a few minutes after the official start time, and were off! If there was ever a time I came face to face with what "courage" feels like, that morning was IT.

The next three hours were a blur - I tucked in behind big bay mare ridden by a distinguished looking older man whom I later found out was Danny Grant from British Columbia, on his way to earning a 10th Tevis buckle. His experience showed as he slowly but surely began passing slower riders. By the time we reached the Highway 89 crossing at full light, I could tell we'd even passed some of the Pen 1 riders, but didn't realize Lisa was one of them until after I'd arrived at the first three checkpoints just ahead of her.

The trail through Squaw Valley and long, steep grade into the Granite Chief Wilderness gave me a good idea of the gorgeous views that lay ahead. The  single-track trail was very technical and when the line of horses abruptly stopped on a rocky climb interspersed with muddy "bogs," Gryphon ended up on a slippery rock and slid sideways, knocking me off. I was able to quickly remount, and he drank twice on this section, taking his first pee of the day coming into the Hodgson's Cabin checkpoint at 8 am.

Around 9 am and leading a group of three other riders, I saw a 'cowboy' (no helmet and big western saddle on his horse) blocking the trail to Cougar Rock, so decided not to tackle it and took the  much faster go-around instead, with everyone following me. Lisa and our friend Gene from Vermont both had sure-footed, hill-climbing horses to tackle that landmark and have the iconic photos to show for it. Maybe next time!

Gryphon took a few minutes longer than usual to pulse in at Red Star, but we still passed a lot of horses and riders that were having difficulty meeting the 60 heart rate criteria. I enjoyed sharing this part of the trail with Vicki Roden, another "flatlander" from east Texas, as we chatted about the AERC National Championship she was helping host in October.

Coming into Robinson Flat (our first of two hour-long holds) slightly ahead of schedule at 10:29 am, I was delighted when Gryphon vetted through in great shape and also passed the required bloodwork check. My friend Laura Horst had driven over from Cool to crew for me and greeted us with a baggie of carrots & apples that Gryphon devoured on the way to vets, plus a big bowl of soaked mash that he downed afterwards. Meanwhile, I opened Laura's cooler to find all kinds of goodies - gobbled quiche Lorraine, a hard boiled egg, potato chips, fresh plums from the tree in her back yard and some weird but yummy protein drink before turning my attention to packing my saddlebags for the demanding trail ahead. I changed into a short-sleeved quick-dry shirt and swapped my riding boots for sneakers, adding a fanny pack I planned to load with food for Gryphon before we entered the canyons.

The next section was among the fastest of that day. A group of about five of us, including AERC board member Tom Bache, swept through the site of the old gold rush town, "Dusty Corners," descending to about 4,000 feet altitude. Lisa caught up and passed our group just before we reached Pucker Point, with that area looking a bit dark and crispy following last year's devastating fire. I knew Gryphon couldn't keep up with Amana when we got to the canyons, but we hung out together for 10 minutes at Last Chance, making the volunteers laugh when Lisa asked if she had accidentally squirted chocolate almond butter all over her face and I licked it off to help clean her up!

The first canyon went on forever, even though most of the downhill and all of the uphill was in the shade. I steadily fed Gryphon carrot pieces and used up most of my fanny back's contents by the time we finally reached the blessedly cold creek at the bottom. I soaked my shirt before remounting for the long climb, managing to keep up with two French riders on gorgeously turned out horses with red and white ribbons intricately braided into their tales.

Resupplying at Deadwood while Gryphon ate a pan of mash, I was able to go a bit faster on the second canyon, which was not as steep but took even longer to cover.

I only took a few minutes at the next aid station, trotting into Michigan Bluff just before 5 pm, where Peter and Patty surprised me with carrots and lots of help! 

A third canyon prefaced our second hour-long hold at Foresthill, where we arrived at  6:30pm. Even though Gryphon had covered nearly 70 miles, he was fresh enough to be agitated by the commotion at this site, which had many spectators from the nearby town. He even reared slightly when a loudspeaker went off as the poor volunteer was trying to check his pulse. Laura sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to quiet him down. After a much-needed shower and cup of spaghetti O's, I talked with Lisa's mom Susan and Becky Supinger, one of my first endurance pals, before heading out into the fast-approaching darkness.

The 10 blocks of Foresthill were lined with cheering locals as a small group of us trotted by. Will never forget the last yard filled with partying folks calling out good wishes - I felt like a celbrity! The trail now took us through the edge of hills that lined the South Fork of the American River, which glittered like silver below as the golden moon rose brightly to our left. Never have I so enjoyed riding at night - no headlamp or glowsticks needed.

For the first part of this 17 mile section, I rode with Lori Stewart, who'd loaned her horse to my friend Amanda Taylor the previous year. We caught up to a dejected Andrew Gerhard, whose horse had lost a shoe. Lori fortunately had the right size Easy Boot to loan him. Gryphon must have sensed he was getting closer to the end, because he picked up speed, leaving Lori and Andrew behind and we enjoyed several miles alone in the dark before catching back up to Ann Hall, Christoph Schork and several others.

Just before 11 pm, I glimpsed the bright lights of Francisco's twinkling in the distance. It's well trained posse of volunteers did a fantastic job feeding both me and Gryphon to tackle the final 14 miles. Can't say enough good things about those patient, pink shirted follks, whose expertise seemed to increase as we got further into the ride. Gryphon even got a courtesy massage of his hard-working hind end.

When we crossed the American River just after midnight, I had to lift my feet high to keep from getting soaked. After that, the trail was fairly flat and we picked up speed.
Our group had swelled to seven riders whose positions changed frequently, and I tried to stay ahead of a rider whose two glowsticks tied to the BACK of her saddle were making me dizzy. I'm relieved that despite some icky moments in the canyons when I downed some beef jerky to settle my stomach, I never felt sick enough to throw up, always a risk on a demanding 100-mile ride!

None other than 30-time Tevis finisher Barbara White cautioned me not to take to much time at Lower Quarry, which was near the river and quite chilly. We crossed No Hands Bridge together, and recognizing trail he'd been on just the week before, Gryphon enthusiastically covered the last 4 miles, finishing in 33rd place at 2:24 am, the last in a group of 4 horses.

Laura was blessedly there to greet me (I was starting to get overwhelmed by the miracle of finishing that was about to happen) and patiently led me down an asphalt road, across railroad tracks and into McCann Stadium, which was blazing with light. She helped me untack and cover him with a much-needed warm blanket. Laura's personal vet, Larry Goss, happened to be the one who did Gryphon's completion exam and he was so kind during the whole process, gaving my little guy a thumbs up. We did it!!!

Patty heated me some chicken noodle soup, Peter gave me a much-needed back massage and Gryphon munched hay while  we all waited out the rest of the hour before the mandatory second post-ride check. Gryphon continued to be doing just fine.

Lisa and Amana waited with us - they'd completed about a half-hour earlier in 23rd place at 1:58 am. I also learned our friend Gene Limlaw from Vermont and his mare Gracie  had come in 11th - WOW! Libby from New York sadly got pulled for lameness at the first check, and Cat Carter from Maryland rider optioned at the 80 mile mark, but hurray for we five East Coasters!

With Peter and Patty following in Flipper, it was around 4 am when Laura hauled Gryphon to her place down the road in Cool, turning him out into the miracle of a small grass-filled pasture! We later learned that of the record 109 horses who completed (the weather was about 10 degrees cooler than most years), 40 came in during the last hour before the 5:15 am cutoff. I'm so grateful Laura was able to provide a quiet place for Gryphon to rest after his tremendous effort rather than overnighting him in the crowded, hectic atmosphere of McCann Stadium.

The next morning was glorious. I woke up around 9 am and immediately ran outside to take off Gryphon's blanket and make sure he was OK. My wonderful little horse was looking bright-eyed and content! We all took our time getting ready to go back to McCann for the 2 pm awards and ate a leisurely lunch at a Mexican Restaurant before heading to the 2-hour long program. What a memorable experience, especially when the Top Ten horses paraded by, and the Tevis and Haggin cup winners each enjoyed oats out of their silver-plated trophies!

I'm filled with the desire to return as crew next year and help other East Coasters have the great experience I did. I also want to contribute in some way to helping this incredible event stay viable for future generations. There's nothing more reflective of our great nation and Americans' ability to prevail despite formidable obstacles than this historic and amazing trail and all those who work to keep this heritage event running smoothly!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Visiting our Neighbors to the North

After having competed in FEI-sanctioned endurance events since 2000, I've been concerned by the limited number of licensed officials to continue being able to hold these events in the U.S., particularly the role of Technical Delegate (TD). My friend Susan Kasemeyer has "aged out" and can no longer serve as a TD because she's over 70 years old, so after last fall's Sand Hills Stampede, I decided to pursue the convoluted 8-year process of becoming a TD so Southeast ride managers don't have to bear the expense of flying in our nation's few remaining endurance TDs from Vermont, Montana or somewhere else when I'm just $100-$150 bucks in fuel down the road.

USEF doesn't hold the required licensed officials class very often, and this year's single offering was the same weekend as a big conference for my job, so when I heard that Canadian's FEI organization was going to host a class in Ontario in late June in conjunction with the Stormont CEI rides, I immediately followed up. Will spare readers the details of how many emails were involved for USEF to eventually approve my taking this class, and will only briefly mention the work involved to get all our required paperwork to cross the border, but after weeks of preparation, my husband Shan and I, our Collie mix Ginger and my horses Shiloh and Siena all piled into our rig and headed north early on a Wednesday morning, crossing the St. Lawrence River into Canada via Ogdensburg, New York around 7 p.m.

Knowing we would pay high international rates to have cell service or access to GPS navigation, I'd carefully printed maps and detailed directions from that point to basecamp, which was less than 40 miles away. But I keyed in "McMillian Rd" instead of "MacMillan Rd" and we ended up about 8 miles from our proper destination. Fortunately, Shan spied a Canadian smoking a cigarette in his driveway and we were able to figure out my mistake and make it to basecamp at MacMillan Garage with enough light left in the sky to set up camp and cook a quick dinner before bed.

Early the next morning (Thursday June 28), I hitched a ride to the nearby town of Finch with ride manager Colette Hutton and settled in for a full day of licensed official training with four-star FEI veteran Ruth Carlson. There were only 5 of us and I was the only American, but the class was very intense and Ruth minced no words in exhorting us to speak up about any FEI rule violations we saw, taking photos and videos if possible to back up what we saw and being brave enough to file a formal statement even if no other licensed officials were willing to speak up. Instances of horses being trained and ridden too hard and artificial methods being used to lower horses heart rates and make them appear sound was becoming an ever-increasing black eye for FEI-level endurance, and we all deeply considered the difference a new generation of officials had the potential to make. The class resumed Friday morning and wrapped up with a 90 question open-book exam that was surprisingly difficult, as we found out when Ruth reviewed the correct answers. Even if you know the rule that applied, you still had to read some of the questions carefully.

Back at camp, it was time to vet in and set up the crewing area, as horses would not be allowed to return to their trailers in the crewing area. Siena was acting more mareish than usual and the vets ALL watched her trot a second time so that the sashay in her trot would be noted and I'd be less likely to have to represent for gait if they saw that's how she normally moves. Detailed trail maps were handed out at the ride meeting and I slept soundly, waking easily in plenty of time to prepare for the 120 km event's 6:30 a.m. start (since it started getting light around 4:30 each morning). Only three senior rides were entered, and Krista Alderdice and I set off together since Valerie waited 15 minutes for the 6:45 a.m. start time of her junior, Nayar from Veracruz. Despite having a trail map, we got confused near the very end of the first loop and lost about 10 minutes going down various trails to look for the right color ribbon, so all four of us ended up coming in together - probably from the wrong direction but ride management didn't object since the mileage was met. Siena vetted through perfectly at that vet check and the next two. I so enjoyed meeting Roxy Bell, a longtime endurance vet from the West Coast who'd  even worked the Tevis ride. She gave Siena a big thumbs up both times she examined her, which made me very proud and happy.

Leaving out on the fourth (next to last) loop, I was dismayed to learn that Krista's horse had been pulled for a minor lameness, but was able to catch up to Valerie and Nayar, who was hoping to earn a "Certificate of Capability" (COC) for maintaining an overall pace of 14 kilometers per hour. Valerie led, while Nayar and I made sure we stayed on trail - he had eagle eyes for catching missed trail markings, while I checked the trail maps. Despite keeping a near-constant hand gallop on that loop, we all returned to the hold and vetted through with only about 50 minutes before the COC window expired. I decided to take it easy and ride the last loop alone while Valerie and Nayar gave it their best shot. Siena finished about 40 minutes after them, and had great vet scores at the end. We even showed for Best Condition!

The following morning, Ruth and Colette let me serve as a member of the ground jury (part of the required apprenticeship to move up through the FEI official star system). It was hotter than the day I'd ridden, and the ride volunteers and officials stayed out of the sun as much as possible while not helping examine horses. Around 4 p.m., I drove Shan to the Ottawa airport so he could fly home in time for work the next morning. That evening, with all the horses safely through and none needing treatment, a holiday atmosphere prevailed, with two of the tack vendors playing music and everyone staying up late drinking and talking until the wee hours. Shan had done most of the packing, so after catching a few hours sleep, I just had to strap my metal corral panels to the side of the trailer, load the horses after feeding them breakfast, and hit the road with Ginger on the back seat. The border crossing back into the U.S. went smoothly, and I completely enjoyed the 300 mile drive through the northern edge of New York (so close to Quebec that nearly every radio station played French music), then through the green hills of Vermont and New Hampshire to the Fryeburg, Maine Fairgrounds on the Saco River. Arriving by 1 p.m., I discovered that my rig would fit just outside the horses' stalls and enjoyed a leisurely nap and getting to know my other camping neighbors who were there for the Pine Tree Ride (5 days if you had the horses and/or stamina!) before Art King (who had also come from Ontario!) arrived around 7 p.m. to vet everyone in.

Heather Hoyns from Vermont and I started with Garnet Gallant, who was in the LD and split off from us about 5 miles into the ride. We though we were following the correct ribbons, along with three other riders, but as we approached the Humpback Bridge, I recalled hearing during the ride meeting that this trail wasn't going to be used until later in the week. Fortunately, I had cell service and ride manager Tom Hutchinson answered my call, explained how far we needed to backtrack and meeting us there - where a missing pie plate with a key arrow had been installed. Poor Shiloh and me didn't make it back to camp until nearly 10 a.m. after well over 3 hours on trail, but being the old trooper that he is, despite being all alone in last place, we enjoyed ourselves on the two remaining loops, both of which included pulling off his saddle and letting him enjoy the cool waters of the Saco River.

That afternoon, Sarah Buckley's mom Stephanie asked me to sponsor her daughter on their Welsh Cob mare for the following day's 50 mile. Because of the heat and flies, the start time was moved up to 5:30 a.m. and from the very first miles, that little mare led the way like nothing I'd ever seen! At the last hold, Art said that Siena was trotting out sound and Bryna Stevenson, who had just become the youngest rider to ever win the Old Dominion 100, came over and offered to help massage the sore area (which turned out to be more in her neck than her shoulder). I was ready to pull Shiloh back out on trail as an unentered horse if need be, but Art allowed Siena to continue and I stayed on as Sarah's sponsor. She won and Bryna again helped rub Siena to make sure we earned a completion. PHEW!

Time to return...after a rainy, wonderful ride dinner and awards, I loaded the horses around 1:30 am and began the 17 hour drive south, stopping in PA to drop off Shiloh and pick up Gryphon, then meeting John Crandell near Boyce just after a big thunderstorm came through to hand off Gryphon again, and then finally reaching New Kent around 6:30, with enough energy to do much of the unloading of gear before crashing into bed. A wonderful, successful experience! And many new friends and memories!

Monday, May 5, 2014

A different sort of Biltmore

Gryphon sticking out his tongue while passing a field of canola 
Now in its 25th year, the Biltmore Challenge in Asheville, NC is one of the nation's largest endurance rides and a major ride on the FEI calendar as well. Even endurance rigs enter the thousand-acre estate through a magnificent gatehouse and the 3-mile drive to the Biltmore Equestrian Center winds along landscaped woods, pastures of livestock and fields of canola. Several trails provide stunning views of the Vanderbilt mansion. The overall terrain is hilly and technical, which has made earning a "Certificate of Capability" (COC) under the current 14 kilometer per hour overall speed requirement very difficult to obtain.

The week before the ride, with forecasters predicting heavy rain and potential flooding of the French Broad River that runs besides basecamp, ride management made the difficult decision only host the longer distances (75 and 100 on Saturday and 55 and 75 on Sunday), with no limited distance rides to reduce the number of rigs). I'd entered Gryphon in the Saturday AERC 75 and 21-year-old Jessica diCamillo from New Mexico would be riding Siena in the Saturday 120 km CEI** (same distance).

The area ended up with much less rain than expected, with two full days to dry out before rigs began arriving late Thursday. I drove to Star Tannery after work that night and enjoyed a cookout hosted by Lisa Green before catching a few hours of sleep. John Crandell had agreed to do most of the driving in exchange for a free ride down, and he took the wheel @ 2am, getting us safely there before 10am. Hunter Green, who was going to cheer on his girlfriend Emilynn, spent the trip down sleeping in the gooseneck. We three quickly set up camp before and fetched water before my two traveling companions went on their merry ways.

Siena led the way much of the afternoon
After Dr. Ann Stuart did chiro work on Siena, I sat in on the officials meeting (am hoping to take the FEI judges class as part of my trip to Ontario in late June and wanted insight in what was discussed). I finished setting up my crewing area and enjoyed a much-needed shower courtesy of Holly Corcoran, who was riding Cheryl Van Deusen's Pinot Noir in the CEI*** and offered use of her nearby hotel room. One of my oldest endurance friends, To
m Hutchinson from Maine, was parked just across from me and asked if I'd sponsor his daughter Calla in what would be the first 75 for both she and her horse Sam. I readily agreed, since Jessica's goal and mine were just to complete, not to try for a COC.

Dinner catered by the estate's Deerpark Restaurant was as delicious as always, but the diCamillos hadn't arrived by 7 pm and I was getting worried when they called for help finding their way into the estate. Ride Manager Cheryl Newman talked them through all the way to basecamp, and they quickly set about weighing in (an FEI requirement - rider plus saddle must be at least 165lb for senior division and also young riders wanting to be on the ranking list) and shimming Jessica's saddle to fit Siena's little back. I slept soundly, getting up @ 3am to let the horses graze for about 30 minutes and giving them breakfast before heading back to bed for another hour of rest.

Little Gryphon is such a joy to ride
Gryphon and Siena were their usual steady selves during warmup and we got off to a smooth start, trotting smoothly for several miles before adding in some cantering here and there. Coming into the first hold, Calla's big horse Sam took about 5 minutes longer to pulse than my little guys so they had a few more minutes to eat before we left out on what I like to call the "Sound of Music" loop, which was 20 miles and featured a long, gradual climb that Gryphon eagerly led. We returned to camp about 11:15 am and again had excellent vet scores. The third loop also went great, with the horses getting in to camp @ 2pm. We'd been told the 4th loop would be the hardest even though just over 12 miles, and we took our time, dismounting to lead our horses down the frequent steep downhills and letting them walk up most of the climbs. The weather couldn't have been nicer - it never got really hot. At the final hold, Dr. Ken Marcella held Gryphon's card - said he saw something in the hind end. I brought him back at the end of the hold time and while he moved the same or better as at the beginning of the hold, the three-vet panel voted to pull us. I was glad Jessica could legally take over as Calla's sponsor, and was moving the pen for Gryphon to have access to fresh grass when they trotted by around 5:15 pm at the start of the last 14.9 mile loop. Jessica's mom Karen and I then packed up some horse blankets and supplies to take to the finish, where we waited for the next two hours. Jessica texted her mom that the horses stopped wanting to move out about halfway through the loop and were slowly walking and grazing their way in. We agreed they were doing the right thing, and about 30 minutes after nightfall were relieved to see them come trotting up to the finish line. It was a long mile walk back from the finish line to basecamp and the arena where the completion trot outs were being held, and Jessica did a beautiful job presenting Siena, who looked fresh as a daisy in receiving her first CEI** completion. So proud of Siena and grateful to the diCamillos!
Jessica & Siena at the finish - not a fast ride but they completed
Lots of other enjoyable moments in the weekend: sharing copies the Cooperative Living cover story about Natalie Muzzio with friends and ride officials, seeing other young riders complete well and getting to hang out with old friends. After awards, John, Hunter and I started home around 12 noon and stopped to refuel near Wytheville, Va. around 3 p.m. Watching my shiny, happy, healthy horses much green grass alongside a local man mowing the same area while the boys got fuel for themselves and the truck, all while surrounded by blue mountains with strong spring breezes blowing will stand out in my memories of this weekend.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"The Old Man" Reaches Another Milestone

Three endurance rides have elapsed since I've last had a chance to update my blog! In late March, despite an ominous weather forecast, Theresa McCarty and I loaded Shiloh and Gryphon for the 6-hour trip to the NJ pine barrens. This was my 3rd year in a row at Rabbit Run, hosted by the NJ Trail Ride Association on sandy trails that loop around cranberry bogs. We set up a canopy for the horses and ourselves, then retreated to BBB Hunt Club's cozy cabin with its wood stove.

The wind blew strongly overnight but cold rain held off til mid-way through the first loop. I recall pulling off my wet clothes only to discover just one dry shirt left that needed to be saved for the drive home. I put my favorite wool sweater back on against bare skin, which with a waterproof raincoat  on top kept me comfortable for the last two miserably wet loops. Theresa kept Shiloh to an 8.5 mph pace; Gryphon  gamely kept up with Shiloh's long strides.

We cleared both vet checks and I'd given Teresa some meds to help with her sore ankle (which was still weak after a traumatic fracture last fall), when five miles from the finish we came across Holly Corcoran. Her FEI horse Poete had the misfortune to break through a rusty pipe-lined culvert on trail, scraping his hind leg badly. Holly was hand walking him in and we commiserated for five minutes before continuing on, promising to make sure the horse ambulance was on its way. BBB's hot showers and clothes dryer set us straight for the next leg of our journey, to the Engel's place in Fairfield, PA, where Shiloh would again be spending the summer.

It rained the whole drive there, as well as overnight, which makes you question my sanity the following morning when (before my first cup of coffee) I tried to turn my rig around in the back corner of their pasture rather than backing up the Engel's 150 yards of narrow driveway to the road. Yes, I got stuck. Badly stuck. Four-wheel drive was useless in 10 inches of slop. Dennis tried to help me with his tractor but to no avail. Quick thinking Theresa contacted Excalibur Towing and texted photos of our predicament to an enterprising young driver, who said he could help. God bless that man - 90 minutes and $200 later, he accomplished the impossible and winched us out backwards, then continued to back my rig up to the road as I should have done in the first place.

The remainder of our trip involved dropping Gryphon off at the Green's in Star Tannery, Va, and picking up Theresa's 3-year old gelding Stetson to bring to her home in Virginia Beach. Safely back at my place in New Kent, we emptied, scrubbed and hosed my rig while waiting for her husband Alfonso to come with their rig.

Two weeks later, me and our collie-mix Ginger headed south with an empty rig to Sand Hills State Forest in South Carolina to meet my friends the Bruckers and compete Siena at the Spring Fling ride as a warmup for Biltmore. They'd been keeping Siena on their large pasture all winter, where she'd filled out nicely after a final growth spurt just past the 15h mark. Separating her from buddy Breeze was no picnic, but she was all business on trail the next morning. We soon paired up with Julia Fisher.

While we'd never met before, Julia and I had several endurance friends in common and the miles flew by as she provided entertaining company. The vets held her mare's card at the first hold, but let her continue after representing. We agreed to stay together and slowed our pace a bit to help Julia's mare. As the early afternoon temperatures climbed to nearly 80, Siena confidently led the way the entire last loop, pulsing quickly at the end with good vet scores. With Siena in tow (this was her first endurance ride and she LOVED it!) Ginger and I headed home, arriving before 9 p.m. Early the next morning she was back in the trailer for a reunion with Gryphon on the green hills of Star Tannery.

The following week, I received a call from old friend Amy Cieri who was looking for a horse to borrow for Bonnie Hutton, the executive director of a TB rescue near Valley Forge who is entered in the Mongol Derby and wants a few endurance rides under her belt to prepare. After discussing some options, I mentioned that Shiloh was fit and sound but needed shoes and careful riding, especially on the first loop, to stay sound. Having known Shiloh for more than a decade, Amy leapt at the chance and planned to pick Shiloh up on her way to the ride and get him shod before the vet in.

Arriving just before dark on the Friday of No Frills weekend, I found where Shiloh was tied to Amy's rig and strapped on a halter for a short bareback reunion ride while everyone was at the ride meeting. BLISS! When I met Bonnie, she was younger than I expected and seemed to be taking everything in stride. The next morning, I had time to carefully groom Gryphon and Siena (who were still shedding) before 12-year old Nina and I tacked up to ride the first loop over to the away hold. We arrived just as Amy and Bonnie were heading out on their second loop, and Shiloh looked just fine! I reminded them to feed him plenty of carrots, before Nina and I headed back to basecamp to reorganize my trailer and then volunteer with the vets and pulse timers at the finish.

The first dozen limited distance riders had completed when Daryl Downs on Skip Kemerer's mare Princess showed up first to finish in the 55. Amy and Bonnie were just 6 minutes behind! Amy's mare sadly got pulled at the completion trot our for lameness, but 22-year old Shiloh completed just fine. I helped Bonnie go through the process of weighing and trotting Shiloh out for consideration in the Best Condition award.  Daryl and Princess easily won BC, but I'm super proud of how well "The Old Man" did. No Frills was his first AERC
completion in 1999. Not many horses are still competing 15 years later, and this year's No Frills was his 100th start of a AERC ride of 50 miles or more, with Bonnie being the 17th rider to compete on him.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mid-Winter Endurance at Broxton Bridge


Early in my endurance career, the season ended with JD's on Thanksgiving weekend and didn't resume until late March or April. Two years ago, USA Southeast Endurance began holding a mid-winter fundraiser ride about an hour northwest of Charleston, SC at Broxton Bridge Plantation.

With temperatures in the low single digits and back roads covered with ice and snow from the most recent storm, me and my friend Lisa's three teenage sons left New Kent early on Thursday, Jan. 30, picking up speed once we reached I-95 South.

It's been an unusually severe winter for our part of the county, and this most recent storm struck the Carolinas as well as southern Virginia, with several inches of snowfall visible until well past the South Carolina state Ride management had sent out several emails and social media posts reassuring that the competition would proceed as planned, although late vet-ins would be allowed, and I could tell they were worried about covering costs, much less coming out ahead!

I've been friends with the Green boys: Forest (17), Hunter (15) and Ridge Green (14) since they were little kids. On Wednesday night, Forest had driven the three hours to my house from Star Tanney, Va. and left his ailing truck at our house so my husband could work on replacing the fan drive and serpentine belt. He was going to help me with the return drive and crew, along with Ridge, while Hunter was going to enter at least the first day's CEI 75-mile (120 km) ride. The trip down went smoothly as we all listened to a CD of "Unbroken," Laura Hildebrand's book about the life of WWII POW Louie Zamperini. It was about 40 degrees when we arrived around 2pm and felt like a heat wave as we set up camp.

Hunter and I started with the 100 milers at 8 a.m. on Friday, and we enjoyed watching ice melt from the tree limbs all morning, almost as heavy as rain against clear blue skies. Theresa Carroll on Silas raced off and beat Jeremy Reynolds in the 50. I was keeping a close eye on our speed - for Hunter to earn a COC on Cheryl’s mare Spotty, he'd need to finish no later than 7:30 p.m. As dusk approached, Gryphon did a super job of leading and pacing the last two loops when Spotty wasn’t drinking well or very motivated. Spotty bounced back on the last loop and we finished with 11 minutes to spare, but sadly Gryphon got pulled at the finish. It was a sore back, not a leg, and after a morning dose of bute, he trotted out sound the next day. In Friday's 100 (160 km) event, Heather Reynolds on Chanses, her British friend Nicola Gilbert and Jeremy Olson on Amy Whelan’s big gelding Wallace Hill Shade rode together all day in the 100, which Heather won. Jeremy Olson who came in 2nd earned Best Condition.

Saturday dawned cold and rainy, NOT what was forecast! The 50-milers didn't start until 9 am, giving me time to sop up the Broxton kitchen floor after a spigot broke in the big commercial sink. My easy-to-ride Siena set a great pace on this, her first CEI ride, hanging with Claire Godwin on the first loop, Taylor Stine on Jeannie Waldron’s horse in the 2nd and then Jaber on Peggy Clark’s horse in the final loop. She had good vet scores and CRIs all days and completed in 5th place despite all the mud. Her ride time was about 5:25 and we showed for BC. Despite me & my muddy, wet clothes and tack weighing 184 lbs, nearly 20 more than usual, Peggy's horse won and I'm glad I persuaded Jaber to stop and let him drink twice on that last loop, which surely helped!

Hunter was reluctant to leave Saturday evening as we agreed, since his girlfriend Emilynn was just finishing the 75-mile ride, but at least he got to crew for her all day. Broxton's hot water was out so no one without a living quarters rig could take a hot shower, which helped motivate us to drive 250 miles to the Bruckers in Bear Creek, NC. We overnighted there and enjoyed hot showers and a hot breakfast the next morning.

Safely back to my house by noon, the boys began the last leg of their journey while I set to work taking advantage of the bright sun and mild weather that afternoon to clean mud and sand out of all my tack, gear and trailer. Siena is parked at JD's until the Spring Fling ride in April, and Gryphon has off until Bunny Hop at the end of March. Back to foxhunting on good ole Shiloh, weather permitting!