Monday, November 30, 2015

G-Unit Rocks JD's - plus some 100-miler wisdom

Each Thanksgiving weekend, East Coast endurance addicts escape Black Friday shopping madness by trekking to Patrick, SC for JD Fountain's Carolina Ride. This was JD's 32nd year offering a low-cost option for those wanting to tackle one last 100 before winter sets in, just $115 for any distance entered.

Little Gryphon trots slow, but never quits!
JD's gives new meaning to the concept of "no frills" -- some of us joke that basecamp should have a sign "You're On Your Own!" to warn newbies. However, no one will argue about the quality of trail marking or kindness of the vet staff, led by Dr. Amy Spies, and volunteers, who include Samm Bartee, Peggy Thompson, Laurie Underwood as timers/pulse takers and Lucie Hancock to handle registration.

I'd spent Thanksgiving with my husband's family in Lexington, NC, so just a 2-hour haul got me, Gryphon & Siena to basecamp by 9 a.m. Friday. My friend Amy, who was making the 6-hour haul from Virginia, asked me to save her an electric hookup, but several riders coming from even further away had hauled there the day before and snapped them all up. No biggie, as the weather was perfect - mid-40s at night and mid-60s both days I was there.

After setting up camp, I rode Siena and ponied Gryphon (AKA "G-unit") on a 10-mile warmup ride, then gave both a bath. I then gathered up hay donated by several other crewless riders entering the 100 and drove out with JD, Amy and her husband Ricky to deply at several points on the 27-mile-long 1st & 3rd loop.

My horses vetted through with 32 pulses and Liz Stout, who'd be riding Siena, arrived just as darkness fell. The dinner and pre-ride meeting were typically disorganized. Jody Buttram explained the legend of Lizard Man, Samm Bartee reminded riders of basic rules (if you don't check in before starting, you won't get credit for miles!) and Dr. Amy explained that the vets were there to help us ALL get through if at all possible and asked everyone to do what we could to prevent our horses needing invasive treatment. I let everyone know where we'd set hay out on the long loop, then a glass of wine helped me drop off to sleep right away. I woke up @ 3:30 a.m. to feed the horses breakfast and slept some more before time to tack up.

The 7 a.m. start was smooth and Liz and I settled into a 10 or 11 mph trot with Amy on her big Anglo-Arab mare Cricket. Both Amy and I have been mentored by our friend Brenda, who completed 9 tough Old Dominion 100s, served on the AERC board and was on the gold medal USA East team for the 2001 Pan Ams. She has since retired from endurance, but her wisdom lives on with us!

A pack of 5 riders caught up to us halfway through the long first loop. After several minutes of friendly bantering but also feeling "pressed," we three pulled off to the side to opt for a slower pace. Be careful not to "use up" too much horse early in the day!We finished the first loop in 3 hours, 15 minutes and made note of several good places on trail to hold pit-stops the 2nd time through, when the temps would be higher and the horses would to both take time to eat and be dosed with electrolytes. Important to not let your horse go too long with eating, drinking or getting more electrolytes, especially when they have a winter coat and the temp is nearly 70 degrees!

Sadly, Siena was off on her right front at the first vet check so Liz transitioned to crew mode. I spread LOTS of baby powder on the underside of Gryphon's saddle pad and added e-lyte tabs to my drinking water as well as chowed down on some turkey sandwiches and my favorite "Munchos" chips. I also did a bit of yoga and wrapped some vet wrap around my left ankle, which was starting to bother me a bit and needed more support. It's critical to take care of yourself at every hold and not get behind on hydration.

My WV friend Liz Stout on Siena. Love the orange tack!
Amy's out time was a few minutes later than mine at 2 of the holds, but I left out ahead as practice for times when I might need to ride solo...and long-legged Cricket caught up to us in just a few minutes. The second time through the long loop took us 4.5 hours, but we were happy with how much our horses ate and drank. Cricket was in a hackamore and I'd taken out G's bit halfway through to make it easier for him to eat. All was well until about 3 miles before the end of the loop, when darkness was setting in and temps were cooling down. I was fiddling with my helmet when G-unit spooked him and bolted, dumping me off on my left side. We were only 1/4 mile from the paved road and I prayed hard as I jogging after him and gently called his name while Amy and Cricket stayed still. He continued about 200 yards before stopping and waiting for me to walk up and grab the reins. Phew! Lesson learned - keep bridle on G-unit! I gratefully climbed back aboard, ignoring my aching left side ribs and hip, and called for Amy to head our way.

Back in camp, we added glowsticks and headlamps for the last two loops, which were a repeat 15.5 miles marked with yellow ribbon. Before she started on the long drive back to Elkins, Liz made me take a combination of Aleve and Ibuprofen, then lined up our friends Roger and Nathan from Manassas, Va to help me as crew (Melissa Yopp who'd finished the 60 on her little Paso Hollie also came by to lend encouragement.) Patricia Clark camped next to us also provided some helpful tips on negotiating the yellow trail - get as much information as you can about sections of trail you'll be covering after dark!

Amy's super bright headlamp was extremely helpful since sections of the sandy road had been washed out from all the rain of Hurricane Joaquin the month before, plus logging trucks has torn up other sections or added gravel for traction. Despite Cricket having a faster trot than G, so that she ended up walking every so often for him to catch up, we made good time and passed several other 100-milers. Amy started wishing out loud that the ride could end at the 84.5 mile hold, but I reminded her how lucky we were to both still have lots of horse left and be able to finish as early as 12 midnight.

At the last hold, we learned that several horses in front of us had been pulled for lameness and that other 100s had rider-optioned. With the almost-full moon finally risen and lending a good bit of ambient light, the last loop seemed to go more quickly. Roberta Young, Jennifer Smith and Kelly Lane in Jen's truck providing much appreciated food and cheer 2/3rds of the way through. I opted for Fritos while G chomped some of their hay. Amy and I crossed the finish line at 12:15 a.m. to tie for 4th place, and both horses completed just fine. I stayed up to present for BC at 1:15 am, and got to see several other friends successfully complete, including Kyle Gibbon and Steve Rojek right behind us (Steve's horse's 1st 100) and Jenny from GA on her little POA/Appy pony. The Aleve that Liz had given me @ 7 p.m. had worn off, so Roger gave me something stronger (THANKS Roger!) and also trotted G for his BC presentation. Make sure to have plenty of supplies on hand for whatever soreness may arise - cough drops are also helpful to have on hand for getting through long, sandy loops.

G-unit with bit on for control :)
I woke up at 6:30 am, just 4 hours since I'd taken Roger's magic pill. My ribs felt better than expected, then my friend Libby Llop let me borrow her laser to wave over them before the low-key awards ceremony (only about 20 of us left!) Ruth Anne Everett and Jumpin Jax had won, their 3rd or 4th time at this ride, and Verena Stock on JD's horse finished in 2nd on her first 100. The Northeast Region members did great - Richard Stedman from New York was 3rd, with me & Amy and Steve & Kyle after him. Then Jeff and Katherine Gardener from RI and Skip Kemerer and Angela Gross from MD also completed!

Avoiding the interstates, many areas of which were showing up RED on my traffic app, I made it home before 3 p.m. and started in on the inevitable chores, buckling my hard-working little G into his waterproof blanket as a cold rain began to fall. Thank you JD for taking out that long gravel section on the long loop and giving us some scenic new sections of trail to enjoy this year!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

5 Ways Black Sheep Boogie was like a modern-day Viking Raid, of sorts

Siena photo bombs little wet G & me
I'm part Norwegian on my father's side and a big fan of the History Channel's "Vikings," which recently completed it's third season. I not only love all sorts of boating but journeying to far-flung endurance rides, kind of like a modern-day Viking?  (And like the Vikings, I spent long winter nights plotting and scheming for adventures to tackle in the year ahead! - #1)

Shoehorning my endurance competitions into a busy work schedule can take some doing! But as soon as I learned AERC Ride manager Mollie Krumlaw-Smith was going to test-drive a new ride location and set of trails for the Scioto ride weekend, I set my sights on making it there. The Black Sheep Boogie, located in the southeast corner of Ohio about an hour past Huntington, WV, sounded like too much fun to miss.

Liz and Siena on the first loop
Gryphon and Siena had been spending the month an hour west of my place at friend Laura's in Louisa County (very helpful while I was out of town for my job a lot that month), which meant tracking down a new farrier. I lined up Carl Via, who serves as a judge for the American Horseshoer's Association. Carl came out a week before the Black Sheep ride and did a super job.

Next, I dedicated a hot Sunday afternoon to pulling stall mats, scrubbing and deep cleaning my trusty '97 Sundowner. After fitting 5 days of work into 4, packing up Thursday evening and putting in a few hours at the office on Friday morning (with my rig conspicuously parked in our office lot) I headed out to Laura's, quickly loaded G&S, and continued west on 64. Since I was able to leave several hours earlier than I'd originally planned, I was able to negotiate the last hour of travel on hilly, twisty back roads and arrive in daylight.

Basecamp at Elkins Creek Horse Camp was cram-packed when I arrived. Lucky for me, I was able to flag down Mollie in an ATV with Rick, the property owner. They found just enough space to back me in beside my friend Melissa Yopp, who driven out the day before, and two other Virginian pals, Jerry Shelton and Ann Wick.  Like the Vikings, finding an optimal spot to come ashore and set up camp is key to success! #2

With the horses all settled in and Liz Stout and her Siberian Husky Kenai having joined us, I enjoyed some libations with my fellow campers. Rain started falling at dusk but we were committed no matter what the weather! Like the Vikings, you psych up for a long "battle" by drinking up and getting briefed. #3

Early morning light showed raindrops on our saddles as we tacked up. The horses were fresh and feisty heading out of camp on a trail up to the ridge, but once we got off the gravel road the trails were quite slippery and several times I felt little G slide out from under me. Like the Vikings, you ignore fear and discomfort and just keep going no matter what! #4

Because of the hot and humid (not to mention MUDDY conditions), both veterinarians working the ride were very strict on their exams. At the first vet check, both Liz and I were given instructions to work on improving gut sounds and massaging out sore muscles on our horses. Added to the amount of mud we had to remove from the horses, our tack and ourselves each time, our vet check holds weren't very relaxing!

We did it! Goofing off at the finish line
But the trails were gorgeous and there were many sections where drainage and trail enhancements had kept the mud away, so we could move out a bit. Even though we took our time on the last loop, we finished 3rd and 4th @2pm, in a ride time of just under 6 hours. Gryphon trotted out well enough to stand for BC an hour later, but it was my new friend Alex who I'd met at a ride in Indiana a month earlier whose horse Marton ended up receiving this super-special award.

Liz helped me get the horses settled for well-deserved rest before showering, packing and heading to her boyfriend's with Kenai, as we'd agreed on. After getting my own shower, I waited with Ann and Jerry (both of whom retired their horses early from the ride) for Melissa and her little rescue Hollie's, a Paso Fino mare, to come in from their last loop. How wonderful to see the look in Hollie's eyes after her completion trot out! That little horse KNEW she'd done something special. The awards and dinner were wonderful - Like the Vikings, you celebrate vigorously what you've managed to endure! #5

I pre-packed before full dark, led both horses over to one of Elkins Horse Camp stall-corrals, and grabbed about 5 hours of sleep before starting the trek home. Being an endurance addict means LOTS of driving, but also spending quality time with my horses, taking them off the trailer every few hours for a pee break and few bites of grass. I'll spare you the details of what it took to remove Black Sheep mud from all my gear!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Biltmore Syndrome

At the U.S. Endurance Team Trials held at Biltmore on May 2, 2015 - Faveur, me, Holly, Poete and Emily
Take a well conditioned horse, typically from a northern state where pastures have barely started their spring green up, add the excitement of the East Coast's largest endurance event in early May (over 300 combined entries this year in all distances offered over both days), plus a half hour here and there spent walking and hand grazing one's mounts on the greenest, most luscious grass you can imagine, and you just might experience...THE BILTMORE SYNDROME.

This dreaded syndrome is a higher-than-usual tendency of horses in all distances of this event to experience exertional rhabdommyolosis, otherwise known as "tying up," early in the competition and subsequently require expensive treatment, including the administration of IV fluids to flush the system as well as pain meds and bloodwork to check the extent of the out-of-whack body chemistry.

This was my 16th year in a row at Biltmore's May edition (they also offer a September endurance event and last year, when heavy rain caused flooding that limited parking and entries the week of the ride, also rescheduled a July rides that  turned out to be very popular.) While I've been fortunate in that none of the horses I've competed there have tied up (knock on wood), I've also been careful to follow various dietary protocols and lightly exercise them (several miles at a walk) them in the days before the ride to help reduce the likelihood of this happening.

I've been fortunate to compete in nearly two dozen states plus Ontario province, but I think there's nowhere else as gorgeous at the BEEC trails. A few years ago, current ride managers Stagg and Cheryl Newman expanded the trail to include several gorgeous loops through livestock-filled fields and vineyards on the other side of the French Broad River.

Biltmore was my 5,400+ AERC-mile horse Shiloh's first 100 back in 2000, and for many years, I was fortunate to experience a high completion rate at this event. In recent years my success has taken a nose dive, but this hasn't detracted from my love of the setting and appreciation of the fine job ride managemenet does.

This year, my main task at Biltmore was to crew for my friends Holly Corcoran and her proxy rider Emily Stemmler in the U.S. team trials. The second day, I'd be sponsoring Calla Orino on my mare Siena in her first FEI 120 km event. My friend & co-crew member Liz Stout and I worked hard all day Friday and were rewarded when both Holly and Emily's horses their 120km event finished strong and sound, with Holly's mount Poete earning especially high marks from the team selectors. I was so busy doing final crewing chores, including showing for Best Condition, then getting a much-needed hot shower, that I missed the ride meeting. I figured no big deal, I knew the trail system like the back of my hand, right?

What I didn't know is that ride management had made several significant changes for 2015, with green loops on BOTH sides of the river. and arrows that could be confusing if you didn't realize the difference between the river green and the regular green loops. Long story short, on the second loop Saturday morning Calla and I followed the wrong green trail, giving me a chance to display my unique wisdom that "when all else fails, throw yourself on the mercy of ride management."

Since we'd never officially come off trail or received outside assistance, Cheryl and Stagg allowed us to do a makeup loop, which was especially entertaining because we happened to cross paths with her mentor "grandpa" Tom Hutchinson and his new bride, Lyn, who were riding in the LD. I hadn't had a chance to get Siena her pre-ride chiropractic treatment, and at the 3rd vet check, both Heather Caplan, one of the FEI vets, and my friend Lisa Green saw her not using her hind-end correctly.

Liz crewing Fave - he ate like a BEAST!
With 35 miles to go, we decided to rider option Siena rather than risk a more heart-breaking pull later in the ride. I set out by myself on game little Gryphon, quickly catching up to Farzad Faryadi on his mare doing her first 75. Farzad is always enjoyable company and the horses chugged through the loop in good time, then unfortunately Farzad's mare didn't pass the next vet exam. All alone again with Little G, I found myself enjoying the last loop tremendously. The route was the same as what we'd done for years as the first loop along the French Broad River, but at this time of day, with no early morning fog to obscure the flowers and the late-afternoon fun illuminating everything brilliantly, I found myself singing happily to help Gryphon keep a steady pace.

Then, a semi-disaster struck. Coming down the small hill on a gravelly section of trail, Gryphon took a really bad stumble. He righted himself and continued on with a good bit of energy, sensing that the ride's end was near. Greeted by well-wishers at the finish line, I was warned to walk the mile back to camp and the vetting area quickly, as several others just ahead of me had cramped and been pulled at the finish. I didn't get lucky this time - G's stumble must have tweaked that right front tendon worse than I thought.

Farrier Jeff Pauley and his assistant helped me ice it while they reshod him (was taking advantage of G's being too tire to need sedative!) but he only trotted sound the first few strides of his vetting re-present. Oh well, I got some good advice from my vet friend Megan Davis on giving him anti-inflammatories for the next several days and began hauling both horses home early the next morning, arriving safely in daylight only to discover that my trailer was missing an entire passenger side wheel - but that's another story!

Monday, April 13, 2015

"G-Force" Earns an Most Unexpected Best Condition

Having competed in the pine woods of H. Cooper Black Recreational Area in the Sand Hills State Forest for more than a decade, I'm thrilled by how current ride managers Tammy and B.J. have reworked the loops to include less deep sand, plenty of shade and gorgeous scenery, making those familiar trails outside Cheraw, SC seem like a brand new ride.

G's teeth are bared as usual in his "Gryphon Grin"
It was just two months since Gryphon had undergone major surgery to remove a 5 inch polyp wedged high up in his colon, but he'd been back under saddle since early March, was handling progressively longer training rides with no side effects and enjoying ample grazing time to gain weight back.

So I was now going to put his recovery to the test at the Spring Fling 50-mile ride on April 11, where he'd done his very first endurance ride just three years before. My friend Teresa McCarty agreed to ride Siena for what we'd planned as a prep ride for Biltmore three weeks later. (Siena would then have young rider Calla Orino back on board for the FEI 75-mile ride, with me sponsoring her on Gryphon while her mom Wanda crewed.

The drive down fast-forwarded spring by three weeks with blooming dogwoods and azaleas and fully leafed out trees. Temps were in the low 80s when we arrived on Friday afternoon. Gryphon (now 13) and Siena (7) rolled and frolicked like youngsters in the sandy H. Cooper round pen as we set up camp. Both got a bath and thorough scrubbing to remove more winter coat before being checked by the ride vets. As we walked each horse onto the SERA scales, I was thrilled to see Gryphon's weight register above 800 pounds for the first time since I brought him home as a skinny little rescue.

Teresa McCarty on Siena - that's a German martingale
We each took showers and enjoyed talking with friends over a yummy hot meal in the clubhouse,  skipping the ride briefing to take the horses on a grass walk and watch the sun set. Teresa Carroll dropped by for a glass of wine before bedtime - I loved her hilarious comparison of polar-opposite rides Skymont (Boy Scout Pow-Wow) and Ride Between the Rivers (aka the Moonshine Ride).

Not sure what got into me as ride management called "trails open" on Saturday morning, but seeing most riders hang back, I tucked Gryphon in behind the first few horses to enjoy the brisk pace set by Teresa Carroll. On her veteran Silas, she led us through that 17-mile loop in well under two hours. We pulsed in less than five minutes, vetted through quickly and were able to crew from our trailer, setting up a divider to keep G from pestering S. He didn't eat as much as I would have liked, but seemed more relaxed than pre-polyp surgery.

On the second loop, we slowed up and rode mostly by ourselves. Teresa on Siena did a super job leading. At one point the trail cut through a rough area and they stumbled in a bowl shaped depression, then a few strides later Gryphon and me hit the same hole. Teresa thinks that's where Siena twinged her shoulder, but they pulsed even faster than at the first hold and both passed the vet exam, then they ate heartily during the hold.

Temperatures had reached the low 80s by the time we left on the last loop, and I was grateful for an assist from Tom Gower, who caught up and pulled us forward at a faster pace than we'd have been capable of on our own. About two-thirds of the way through, Gryphon began to struggle a bit to keep up on the seemingly never-ending up-up-ups of that up-and-down trail, so with my inner voice clanging loudly, I told Teresa to let Tom go on without us. A second man (local rider on a big gelding) also passed us but we kept up a steady trot.

As we neared the last mile of the trail, we were thrilled to be met by two riders on a four wheeler handing out ice cold bottled water. Guzzled immediately! We crossed the finish line about 2:30 p.m. in a six-hour ride time with only three horses ahead of us, not bad for a comeback ride!

As I watched TM present Siena for her completion, I could see a hitch in Siena's left shoulder on the trot back. Dr. Otis Schmitt gave us the option to represent within the hour, and then commented how nicely Gryphon moved out for his completion trot. Siena was carrying about 35 more pounds, so we'd thought she'd have a better chance of earning Best Condition (which factors in ride time and rider/tack weight along with horse soundness and metabolics). With that option gone, I told Otis I'd present G instead when I brought both horses back at the one hour mark. 

Again, while Siena was still not trotting sound and failed to complete, Otis commented how fresh Gryphon looked at his Best Condition trot out. I hoped he might earn high vet score, but thought Best Condition unlikely with two large men finishing ahead of us.

Our trip back to Virginia was uneventful, with a long grazing break at Exit 77 in North Carolina. Back home before midnight, I buckling blankets on both horses and gave Siena 2 grams of bute. Her expressive face told us how nasty it tasted, so I followed that with two syringes of honey warmed in the microwave, which she much appreciated. After checking on both horses the next morning to make sure they were eating well, I discovered via Laurie Underwood's Facebook post that G-Force, as she calls him, had somehow come out in front for Best Condition. What a wonderful and unexpected result from what was intended just as a comeback ride! If there's one thing my partnership with this brave and eager little horse has shown me, it's that the most unlikely results can occur with love and a desire to survive thrown in the mix. Next stop, Asheville.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Back in the Saddle Again!

For being a short month, February seemed to take forever to end. But by its final week, Gryphon was finally starting to show signs of an appetite. Had been hand grazing him as much as I could plus giving pureed carrots, coconut oil and Pro-Bi mixed with electrolytes. Three weeks after the surgery, I gave him several Vitamin B-12 shots spaced a day apart that really spiked his appetite. I also provided Sentinel pelleted feed in addition to the ground oats/corn mixed with hot water and yummy clover and alfalfa hay some good friends helped me find.

We took some short, slow rides with no adverse effects. If anything, he seemed delighted to be going back to work! Gryphon's homecoming on March 31 after getting his first set of shoes since October was a joyous one, and regular training rides resumed. Stay tuned for updates from the Spring Fling ride on April 11!

Monday, February 2, 2015

G-Unit's Operation: and it's just a Box of Rain...

And it's just a box of rain, I don't know who put it there..Believe it if you need it, or leave it if you dare!

As I begin this post, Grateful Dead lyrics are running through my mind while I anxiously await a call to let me know the outcome of surgery on my horse Gryphon. Dr. Trostle at Blue Ridge Equine was removing a mysterious anal protuberance that changed from being a concern to being a full-blown problem at last weekend's FEI ride at Broxton Bridge plantation in South Carolina.

The backstory: In December 2013, a year after I'd first begun competing my rescue horse in endurance and a few weeks after he finished his first 100-miler to cap an amazing season, G was exerting himself during a hilly foxhunt when an ugly red bubble-shaped hemorrhoid-looking thing popped from his anus.  

One of my hunt friends, a veterinarian, called it to my attention (since I couldn't see that area while mounted), and we headed back to our trailers right away. I phoned my longtime vet, Doug Daniels with Virginia Equine, then gave G several weeks off as he advised.

In the months that followed, this squishy sack would occasionally  pop out even when G was just hanging out in the pasture. For some reason during the six months (April-September 2014) when he was out of my daily care, staying at Lisa's in Northern Virginia and to California and back for the Western States 100-mile ride, this issue never emerged - even during our amazing 22 hours together on the Tevis trail. On that day, August 9, my little "G-unit" showed the depth of his stamina and willingness to go eagerly down sometimes treacherous trail hour after hour, earning him a unique status among all the wonderful horses I've competed and owned.

Safely back in Virginia and after a month off, G felt great as I trained him several weeks in a row to prepare for a 2-day 100 in late October. Then, when I unloaded him from the 600 mile trailer trip to central Tennessee for the Skymont ride, the red skinned bubble was back in all its glory. With a little poking on my part, the darn thing went back in by time for the vet-in, but I explained it my friend Otis the head vet and the other ride staff in case it re-emerged during the ride. Although it popped out several times on trail and got a bit bloody the second day, it was back inside by the time I reach each vet check and G's vet scores were as great as always.

However, I knew something had to be done and contacted Doug again, this time to do a full exam with sedation. With surprise, nearly his whole arm inside my horsie's hiney, Doug described it as a foot-long tube-sock shaped "pedunculated polyp" attached 18-20 inches up the rectum, almost at the border of the peritoneal cavity. Since Doug didn't have surgical facilities, I scheduled a December trip three hours north to Dr. Harrison in Northern Virginia (who several endurance friends use and who I later found out had been one of Doug's teachers at Auburn).

As instructed, we withheld G's food for the 12 hours before arriving at the Berryville, Va. facility. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when, after sedating my horse and examining him just as Doug had done, Dr. Harrison could find nothing large enough to remove. He showed us ultrasound images and described the growth feeling like a small deflated balloon stem and expressed the opinion that it shouldn't be an issue in the future.

He was wrong. The damn thing reappeared less than a week later. I'd been planning to use G to sponsor Calla Orino riding my mare Siena on her first FEI ride on January 31 Broxton, and decided to go ahead and take him, figuring at least I'd have lots of wonderful experienced vets around if there was a problem.

G reached a record weight of 790 lbs just before this ride
While the red bubble/polyp or whatever it was didn't exhibit itself during the vet in Friday, I still asked the ride staff to note it on his vet card. He was fine at the first vet check on Saturday, but at the 2nd vet check, he was examined by U.S. team vet Dwight Hooten, who pointed out the ugly red bubble - now fairly bloody (G had pulsed so quickly down to the 40s that I'd forgotten to look while removing his tack!)

Calla Orino's first FEI ride on Siena,
another great photo by Becky Pearman!
Sprinkling it with hydroponic sugar then sponging to clean the crusty blood away helped things get back to normal so I was able to represent him before the end of the hold. Dr Hooten, in consultation with Dr. Ken Marcella who I've known for 15 years and who patiently listened to my story and assessment of how the horse was behaving on trail, agreed to let us continue. Calla and I ended up finishing in 5th and 6th place (5:05 ride time) and even stood for best condition an hour later to take advantage of the extra veterinary inspection before leaving Broxton for our halfway stop on the trip home.

After a smooth trip to my friend Jonie's in NC, where we overnighted, I began making phone calls the next morning to line up G's treatment as we continued north. The ride vets had advised I get him to a clinic while it was inflamed, plus the red bubble seemed to have re-emerged for good and was now twice as large as the day before, making me quite concerned.

Although Dr. Harrison was out of town, the staff at Blue Ridge Equine just west of Charlottesville were able to accept my horse (Doug had previously shared with Dr. Trostle what he'd found during his exam.) Detouring west to drop G off at 2 pm, we made it back to my place by 5.

Dr. Trostle and I spoke before beginning surgery on Monday morning, warning me that he wasn't sure how much would be required and how good the prognosis would be if a large blood ruptured.

Waiting was tough. The post-surgery call came at 1:30 pm. Dr. Trostle said had managed to remove the polyp, tumor or whatever it was but G was still bleeding significantly and he wanted to keep him one more night for observation. Since the process had required an epidural and colonoscopy (being so close to the peritoneal cavity Dr. Trostle wanted to make sure he didn't damage an intestine during the surgery), he said the bill will over $2,000, more than twice what I'd hoped and not great timing since I also have a big tax bill to pay by April 15.

When he was first rescued, Gryphon would get vacant eyes, rear and thrash when he felt threatened. Even after he grew to trust me for the most part, being examined by a vet (usually male) who didn't first take a minute or so to "introduce" himself could set off this scary behavior Those days are long gone, replaced with an affectionate little guy who has eagerly responded to all I've asked for him, truly earned his much-needed surgery.

As for the reference to the Grateful Dead song in this post's title, I've obviously cried buckets over this experience, but also see the cycle of life. Until Tevis this past summer (Estimated Prophet and Terrapin Station were my two theme songs I hummed much of the ride), I hadn't listened to the Dead songs for two decades, ever since starting my career. This experience brought me back to the feeling of scraping along financially that I had in my early 20s, and the song gives me hope that this event, as have other traumatic experiences I've survived, will eventually be paid off and in the rear view mirror of life.

A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through!