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!