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!