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.