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!