Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Redhead Power

At the Young Riders Team Challenge, a 120 km FEI event held on Nov. 12 at Broxton Bridge Plantation in SC, months of preparation, persistence and working conscientiously to address issues as they arise paid off more wonderfully than I could have ever expected! (In other words, sometimes an apparent setback is only the first stage of a big leap forward, one must just keep the faith!)

Sarah's hair matches Siena!
That Thursday, 17-year old Sarah Buckley's connecting flight from Maine was delayed a few hours, but she still arrived at my place that afternoon in time for a test ride on Siena, where she immediately noticed my little chestnut mare was moving much more balanced, thanks to consistent schooling in draw reins with lots of sidepassing and cantered circle to help round her up and use her back and hind end more fully.

Lisa Green agreed to give us a lift down, and by 7 p.m. the two mares and we three ladies were heading south. We pulled into cold, quiet basecamp around 2:30 a.m., tied the horses with hay bags and water, and slept until daylight. That Friday was a blur, as Sarah attended the four breakout training sessions for young riders. Lisa & I set up camp, and then our crewing area. Dr. Ann Stuart performed a chiro check on Siena, working on her right shoulder (might have gotten stiff from trailering frontwards instead of her preferred direction backwards.)

Around noon, me and our team of four young riders (Calla, Amelia, Hunter and Sarah), plus Calla's sister India who was riding the 50s, tacked up the horses for a 4 mile warmup before the vet in. All of the kids were riding their horses for the first time, even Sarah, who was aboard Breeze so I could evaluate the cough Siena still had from the previous weekend, although no other symptoms were in evidence. It seemed to work itself out as we neared the end of the ride, and I could tell each of the team was doing a great job managing their unfamiliar mounts. It's amazing how talented and brave our young riders can be!

Using a megaphone so everyone around could hear, Jack Weber read aloud a brief bio about each rider from the six teams as their horses were presented for the vet-in. Afterwards, I was running around finding a bridle to borrow for Siena (since in the dark I'd accidentally left hers at home), which is why I missed being in the team photo! I was also busy crewing for my friends Megan Davis and Meghan Dunn (Meghan was riding Megan's horse - long story why they needed help but I trotted ginormous Shabaani at nearly every vet check and was delighted when they finished 3rd and earned a Certificate of Capability!)

We all slept soundly and the temperatures didn't drop as much as forecast. Nonetheless, it was brisk (low 40s) as the riders set off at 7 a.m. on the first 24 mile loop, which included a midpoint trot out for the vets but no hold. Lisa and Sarah ended up riding together nearly all day - after all, the two mares had trained together and paced well, with Breeze leading most of the time so that Siena could draft off her (less work for most horses unless they prefer being alone). By the second hold I was starting to relax, since Siena's sore shoulder and cough were no where in evidence and she was pulsing down remarkably fast. Tom Hutchinson, listening with a stethoscope less than a minute after we pulled her saddle and before we'd put more than a sponge or two of water on her neck, looked up in surprise and said "She's already at 48!" which was well below the 64 pulse criteria. I soaked her usual Safe Starch pellets in water, tossing in a bit of Lisa's oats and sweet feed, and she happily gobbled this mash up at every hold, nibbling on alfalfa and coastal hay towards the end. Sarah also took great care of herself, although we had to find her a pair of chaps to borrow early on! Around 4 p.m., I walked out to the finish area with two horse coolers, a bucket of water and some electrolytes and horse treats. About 4:20, Meg Sleeper's chestnut mare Rabia, ridden by Marcelo from Guatemala, crossed the line in first place. Eight minutes later, and much sooner than expected, Lisa and Sarah appeared on our line of sight and cantered across together, with Lisa finishing second overall and Sarah in third place/second young rider.

Just as in Canada, the completion trot out was a nerve wracking experience since the vets asked to Siena trot a second time. She was more warmed up for the second trot and everyone could tell how happy I was to learn she'd completed as I cried and hugged my mare, then Sarah. India had successfully completed the 50-miler earlier that afternoon, and only a short time after Sarah, Hunter, then Amelia and then Calla all completed successfully, for a 100 percent completion rate among our Gold Medal winning Northeast Team (technically only three of four riders need to complete to be considered for a team medal, but team vet Pam Karner, chef Natalie Muzzio and I were especially proud of this achievement reflecting the careful riding and quality equitation. Not all the teams were so lucky - only one of the other five actually finished enough riders to be considered.

Both Lisa and Sarah agreed to present for Best Condition - it's a great final check of a horse's metabolics and you never know who might get stiff and not trot as well! During the lull between BC and the awards, which didn't start until almost 9 p.m., I carefully poultice both mare's legs while Lisa tried to work out the kinks in her sore back (from all that cantering!). I'll never forget the sight of Sarah bounding along in excitement - she's normally very reserved - after the selectors for next year's U.S. Young Riders Team told her they wanted to see her continue the qualifying process, which includes three more 120-km completions, ideally on alternative mounts to Siena.

With a cracking fire and the making of homemade s'mores in the background, the award were a wonderful experience. Each member of the organizing committee, including my friend Amelia and her son Jason who did a fantastic job keeping us all fed, were introduced and applauded. Then each person who finished received wonderful recognition from ride organizer Cheryl Van Deusen. The awards were especially nice, with each member of our Gold Medal Team receiving a lovely embroidered cooler for their horse. As we headed home the next morning, I was on Cloud Nine that we'd have such great news for Sarah's proud parents and many excited friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fueled by Kerry Butter

Check out our lakefront view at Skymont!
Of all my horse friends, the one who lives closest is Kelly Lane, who a few years back moved just down the road in New Kent County. While we regularly meet up for training rides, she isn't able to get away for AERC rides nearly as often as yours truly.

So, we were really looking forward to traveling together to Mustang Memorial in southern New Jersey on Oct. 1. Then Mother Nature struck, turning my place into Noah's Ark (we were hit with 8 inches of rain in just 12 hours the Wednesday before the ride, with the wet stuff moving north for an unrelentingly gloomy weekend forecast).

We'd already decided to use Kelly's rig instead of mine, a Yukon SUV pulling a teeny Brenderup --  NOT the best setup for a muddy basecamp! Considering another option, I sweet-talked Kelly into adding over 500 miles to our trip by heading west to the Skymont Ride in central Tennessee. Ike Nelson does a fantastic job of managing this fundraiser for the local Boy Scouts. Having traveled there two years earlier with Gryphon, I knew how my way around and how fun those trails are along the scenic Cumberland Plateau. Best of all, their forecast called for sunny skies and perfect fall weather!

Siena chomps as I enjoy more Kerry Butter!  
We both worked all day Thursday. I was helping run a conference in DC and my train didn't reach the Staples Mill Rd station until 9 p.m., so it was nearly 11 p.m. with a steady drizzle falling when we finally finished packing and hit the road.

Taking turns driving and sleeping, Kelly and I covered the 600 miles in under 12 hours, arriving mid-morning. While I grazed our hungry horses in a grassy field near camp, she found a place to shoehorn the rig at the very end of the crowded basecamp. But our cozy site was right on the lake! After hauling our crewing area gear to the other end of camp and going for a warmup ride, we enjoyed some wine & appetizers that included Kerry Butter from Ireland and Ciabatta Bread (Kelly is quite the "foodie," and high fat diets provide necessary energy for riders as well as their horses!)

Heading toward the ride briefing along the glowstick-marked path to the lodge on the other side of the lake, we caught up with friends over dinner, including Dana Abernathy and Joe Ford, who'd both successfully completed their rides earlier that day. Sleepily returning to our campsite, I happily snuggled in the back of Kelly's SUV until time for the pre-dawn feed.

At last! Kelly & Dinero finished with all As about 5 p.m.
Ride day dawned crisp and clear! I decided to ride close to the front and Siena was a pro all day, slowing down for the technical rocky sections & cantering the flat, smooth ones. On the first loop, I paced with old pal Debbie McClary on her young mare, then caught up with Leigh Ann Pauley on the second loop and Kathy Torgeson on the third. Kathy's mare (who'd done Tevis same year as Gryphon) was the only horse doing BOTH days of the ride, so when Sudi Lenhart and Debbie caught up to us on the last loop just 3 miles before the finish, Debbie and Kathy opted to hang back. I gave Sudi a quiet pat on the back and a grin, then we enjoyed a good-natured race to the finish, taking turns leading those last few miles. Sudi, who is President of the Southeast Endurance Riders Association, graciously held back as we crossed the dam to the finish line so we could tie for second place.

Siena had fantastic recoveries and solid vet scores all day, and I'd planned to stand for Best Condition. Then Dr. Otis saw her favoring her left hind during the warm up. We'd finished an hour behind winner Tina Cochran, so probably wouldn't have had a chance anyway. Given that this was Siena's prep ride for the FEI 75 at Broxton, I asked Dr. Ike, who is an equine chiropractor, to check her. He found soreness in her lumbar region that he said could wait til I got home to be adjusted.

Siena enjoys a hearty roll after her 2nd place finish.
Later that evening, after I'd helped Kelly & D.D. with their completion and got some packing done, we enjoyed wonderful photo slideshow of the day by the ride photographer and hearty meal served by the Boy Scouts, sharing our table with Angie and Josie McGhee and Jodi Buttram and her daughter Joni Burden.

Heading along the glowstick trail to bed, Kelly checked her SUV only to find that the battery had drained. Some nice neighbors gave us a jump start and we decided to go ahead and hit the road while the vehicle recharged rather than taking a chance on it not starting when we'd originally planned to leave in the wee hours. Kelly left her air mattress set up in the back, we again took turns driving and sleeping, pulling into my drive before 10 a.m. Sunday.

My 2-year old gelding Chrome's microchip had come in the mail, so after work Monday I trailered him & Siena over to the vet so he could get it implants and she could get her chiro adjustment. I was delighted that she was moving soundly during the pre-examination, but she deserved this therapy after 50 fast miles of trail and 1,200 miles of hauling in a strange trailer. And Chrome got some great experience learning to enter a stall all alone and stay patient!

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Tale of Two Chestnuts

Colleen Greene hit it out of the park in managing her very first AERC ride, at Powerline Park in Southeastern Ohio on Sept. 17. I was looking forward to seeing some new trails, and along with a few other endurance friends from Virginia made the trek over the mountains to reach basecamp by noon that Friday.

Located a few miles north of I-70 on a hilltop overlooking the Ohio Valley, this 1,000+ acre private property had hosted some extreme ATV competitions, with the beer cans and two grave-type memorials as sober evidence.

Lily and her good old Shiloh after their drag ride
But that afternoon the sun was shining, the breezes were blowing and it was wonderful to be alive and surrounded by some of my favorite endurance friends, including Dale Weaver and Peggy Thompson who parked right beside us.

I'd brought good old Shiloh to keep Gryphon company and for my friend Lily Kuhn to enjoy. She volunteered all weekend and got to ride the last loop, managing to keep Shiloh from doing his infamous drop & roll going through the pond crossing!

The weather forecast called for a spot of rain early Saturday, which happened to coincide with the start of the 50-mile ride. As we "endured" a thorough soaking, I followed behind Dale on his 18-year old mare Luminaria, watching her slip and slide through the first few steep ATV paths off the hilltop to the lower trails.  The rain soon let up and the trails quickly dried, but a few riders decided discretion was in order and optioned to not continue.

Dale and I were delighted to find that the trails, while technical and steep in places, were very doable and lots of fun. Never have I ridden such a well-marked trail, with spotters at several different points to keep us all honest. Pulsing ahead of Dale at the first hold, Gryphon had a 64/56 CRI and I decided to pick up the pace a bit, riding long enough with Skip Kemerer to have a good chat about AERC ride sanctioning (hopefully he'll bring back Michaux!), and had fun encouraging new rider, Sam Hammond from western NY state, who completed her first 50 that day.

G-unit proved that little can be POWERFUL!
By the 2nd vet check it was clear that 15-year old Gryphon was having a VERY good day. I caught up to frontrunner Laura Bramel on the 3rd loop and we left out together on the 4th loop, taking our time to let the horses eat and drink along the way before letting Laura take the win (my goal that day was best condition).

I almost didn't want this ride to end! Gryphon looked amazing at his best condition trot out, and I basked in the many compliments my plucky little rescue received before grabbing a brief nap.

All the riders and volunteers gathered for a yummy potluck dinner as the sun began to set. Realizing I couldn't wait for awards - I had nearly 8 hours of driving ahead - Dale agreed to pick up my loot and we hit the road with 2 glowsticks duct taped to the upper back corners of my rig since the running lights were on the blitz (don't worry! brakes and turn signals still operational!)

Lily snoozed and I played old CSNY cassette tapes: "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming ... four dead in Ok- Hi -Oh," pondering the weekend's events and what had transpired halfway around the world that same day, at the World Endurance Championships in Slovakia.

While my friends Meg and Tom didn't complete (Meg's Anglo Arab Rim was pulled at the last hold and Tom's Reinman, a second cousin to my Siena, at the exit exam before the 4th loop), three other U.S. horses - Greyson bred by the Crandells, Meg's mare Rabia and Valerie's Colin for Gold - all finished to make their riders from England, Guatemala and Japan and associated crews super happy and proud.

But what many will remember about this year's WEC is that a 15-year old chestnut mare from the United Arab Emirates, allowed to go out on the 4th loop despite fatigue and possibly some pain blockers, took such a bad stumble on course that she broke her right front leg and had to be put down right then and there. I heard that Tom's wife Gina witnessed the tragedy and know this has reopened the gaping wound of what's wrong with the international level of our sport, which uses fast flat courses that push even the best endurance athletes in the world to the breaking point.

I cried for that mare - I still do when I think of her helplessness to have her rider listen to her fatigue and the price she paid for human ego - and vow to do what I could as the owner of an FEI passported mare with much potential, as an apprentice FEI official and as a member of the AERC International Committee and board of directors to take a stand. Tom Hagis spoke for us all in his desire to see the  UAE riders banned for the next decade. As Neil Young sang so long ago,

Gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her, and found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Back on Track with G-Unit during the Dog Days of Summer

My friend's grandson treats Shiloh to a carrot as Ginger looks on
After Sarah Buckley & Siena's outstanding performances at the Biltmore and Coates Creek FEI rides, Princess SiSi got the rest of the summer off competition to focus on "ring work" (3-4 times weekly attempts at dressage-type riding and side-passing using side reins as a crutch). Hoping her carriage and back strength will benefit to help Sarah successfully compete her at the Nov. 12 Broxton Young Riders Team Challenge, which is also a demo event for the FEI Young Riders World Championship in Verona, Italy next year.

As the heat of July bore down without pause, it was time to learn if $750 in stifle injections solved Gryphon's hind-end lameness issues following his pulls at Foxcatcher and Biltmore. Hoping a trip 700 miles north would mean a cooler if not less mosquito-filled ride, I talked my husband Shan into taking off work for the haul north of Ottawa to Chrystal and Rob Woodhouse's new Pioneer Ride in the Madawaska Highlands.

We swung by Dessia Miller's in Stormont to pick up her young rider Marissa, the niece of my friend Kim Wooley, and to meet Chrome, the 2 year old offspring of her 100-miler finishing stallion Cognac Amberfyre "Farley" and Lynda Townsend's nicely bred mare Vondelehrs Black Bart. When I got talked out of breeding Siena to Farley for the time being, Dessia offered me a fantastic deal on one of his offspring, without the stress of foaling and accident-prone babyhood. We were hauling Marissa's mare to and from the ride and would pick up Chrome on the trip home.

We enjoyed talking with Marissa about school, hockey and other aspects of life in the Great White North. She saved the day by having Canadian cell service to helping guide us through some confusing turns on the way to the back of beyond.Arriving at the remote ridecamp by early afternoon, we decided that Gryphon got along so well with Marissa's mare they could stay in the same pen.

While Marissa hung out with friends and family, Shan, me and our collie mix Ginger unhooked to explore the area, stopping at the crossroads of a tiny town with the only diesel for miles to soak up local atmosphere and share a yummy poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy) from the roadside food truck. On the way back, Shan got some advice from the nearby campground owner on the best trails to ride his dirtbike while I headed to the ride briefing for the 2nd of the 3-day ride.

As Chrystal read out results from the first day's ride, I saw Earle Baxter and Maribel who'd been with me at the New Mexico ride in April, along with my old friend Libby Llop, who'd gotten pulled at the finish but brought two other horses and was planning to go out the next day.

Temperatures dropped nicely overnight, with gray skies on the second day that helped keep temperatures from climbing too high. We trotted steadily for 12 miles to a 15-minute hold, then continued on to the 25-mile vet check before turning around and returning the way we came, with a 2nd vet check at the same place we'd had the morning hold. Despite the difference in size (Libby's Andalusian cross mare was 16'2" to Gryphon's 14'2"), the two horses paced well together and we shared food and helped each other at each stop. I'd come up with the idea of soaking some dried out baby wipes with fly spray, pulling a couple out of a ziplock bag every so often to refresh the ones tucked on each side of our horses' browbands. The long day of riding gave me plenty of time to soak up the harsh but serene beauty of the landscape, which included numerous ponds and marshes. At one point we rode past a lonely cabin labeled "Gary's Weatherstation" accessed by a bumpy road, with a sign along one boulder-filled hilly section labeled "Marge's Tilt a Wheel."

As the never-ending ups and downs started taking their toll, I dismounted several times to jog beside Gryphon and hand-feed him bits of roadside grass. Just before 4 p.m., we reached the finish line and Gryphon completed with solid vet scores. Head vet Stan Alkemede encouraged me to come back in an hour to stand for best condition, and I was thrilled with his post-ride CRI of 14-12 (heartrate of 56 beats per minute before the trotout and only 48 afterward, obviously the heat conditioning he'd suffered through back home contributed!) He earned the second Best Condition of his career and I celebrated with a glass of wine. Shan and I decided one day of riding those tough trails was enough and we packed up (plus I helped Libby's husband Quentin get their truck to a high point of land to negotiate some over-the-phone stock trades) while waiting for Marissa to finish her set-speed ride on the 3rd and final day.

Dessia helped us make an early-evening appointment with the vet at the border crossing before giving Chrome's feet a quick trim. The Canadian vet, who was stuck there late to inspect a load of still-alive Peking Duck, couldn't have been nicer and reality returned as I turned my phone off airplane mode to receive 3 days of missed emails, texts and voicemails. Chrome unloaded and reloaded twice on the long trip home and was greeted by loud whinneys from Shiloh and Siena as we pulled in the drive just before sunrise that Sunday morning.

Gryphon is already grinning as we start the Iron Mountain Jubilee
As the heat continued through August, I patiently exposed Chrome to the pleasures of fly spray and cold hosing. He quickly acclimated to the herd, with Shiloh showing particular affection for the little "pomey" with his inquisitive, sweet face, crooked blaze and the dog-bone shaped white spot on his muzzle. I'd been thinking of entering Gryphon in a 100-miler at the end of the month, but with work duties limiting the time I could be out of the office and Shiloh having taken a young rider through 30 miles of West Virginia's Ride Between the Rivers in early August, I opted for a much shorter trip and offered my Teresa a chance to ride with me at the Iron Mountain Jubilee in southwest Virginia.

Siena seems to enjoy her role as Chrome's big sister
Teresa's new friend Lilias, who grew up in not far from the IMJ basecamp, was a welcome addition to our road trip. Arriving by late morning, we three soaked in the New River before setting up our crew area at the away vet check and checking in Gryphon and Shiloh. Lilias bought ice to help us cool Shiloh on ride day. Even through we were going slow and steady, it took nearly 20 minutes to pulse him down at the last hold and nearly the full 30 minutes allowed at the finish. I was too hot and tired myself to consider that he'd have gotten stiff during that timeframe, and he ended up being slightly off to get pulled at the finish. We all hit the New River one more time (except Gryphon who didn't need ANY cooling at the holds and is water phobic!). Watching Shiloh enjoy his hippolike roll of contentment, I felt a bit better about putting his 24-year-old body through all those hills and rocks in the heat. We got to my place just before midnight and enjoy DVRed Olympic jumping competition the next morning over waffles and omelets. Teresa's Kagen water leg wraps worked wonders and Shiloh had virtually no filling in his legs and was trotting sound when we checked him the morning after.

It's nearly mid-September now and the hot weather still hasn't let up. While Shiloh and Gryphon rest up, I've enjoying taking Chrome and Siena on trailer rides over to my friend Maury's, where I pony Chrome off Siena while she legs up her two hunt horses. Cooler weather can't get here soon enough!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In Which I Gain Unexpected Joys and Insights from Riders Young and Old

For 17 years now, heading down to Asheville for the Biltmore ride early each May has been a rite of spring. I started this year's drive Thursday evening with 23-year old Lily, a neighbor with mild cerebral palsy who's been riding with me for several years and loves volunteering at endurance rides, and 17-year old Sarah from Maine, who I met a few years ago at the Pine Tree Ride. Sarah would be riding my mare Siena in the 55-mile ride to try for her FEI 1* (the first step in qualifying for young riders events - she'd then need to complete three 2* 75-mile rides.

With another neighbor, Sarah Williams, helping make the 450-mile drive down, we arrived just before the start of the first day of competition, set up Gryphon and Siena's paddock and grabbed some sleep. Later that day, Lily and Sarah got to tour the Biltmore mansion while I ran some errands and set up our crewing area for the next day.

Sarah & Siena made a great team at Biltmore!
With perfect weather for Saturday, Sarah and I got off to a smooth start and took our time on the first two loops, riding with my friend Ricky Stone on his mare Ziggy.

Gryphon was having back pain and issues with his hind end, so was pulled at the second hold. I was impressed with Sarah's riding ability and told her she could set her own pace, so she picked up speed the last two loops and finished in great shape with a 7-hour ride time.

Lily had a lot of fun not only scribing for the vets and helping trot out horses for tired riders, but assisting treatment vet Lynne Johnson, who was up late that night keeping a watchful eye on several horses with metabolic issues.

Heading home early Sunday morning, I received a call from my husband that his mom was at the hospital in Winston-Salem, which was right on our way home. Sarah Williams and the girls refueled my truck and grazed the horses a bit while I briefly visited with my mother-in-law (Shan arrived later that day, which happened to be Mother's Day!)

We arrived back in New Kent in time for me and Sarah Buckley to drive to Williamsburg to visit my own mother and show Sarah some historic sites. That evening, we had time for her to show me some schooling techniques to help teach Siena to flex and be more responsive in picking up her right lead. I was very grateful and kept practicing right through Siena's next competition in Rhode Island later that month, with the goal of preparing her for Sarah to use at her first FEI 75-mile ride in Canada on July 3.

Two old geezers earn Best Condition!
Meanwhile, my vet adjusted Gryphon's back and we decided to inject his stifles. I had again volunteered to run the Waites Run hold (54-mile mark in the Old Dominion 100) and with Gryphon still in recovery mode, came up with the idea just riding the 25 and offering Shiloh to my friend Deck McCain. Here's the story I contributed to the SERA newsletter about our excellent adventure:

With 90 years between them, and nearly 50 years of endurance experience, the team of Deck McCain and Mary's Howell's 24-year-old 1/2 QH gelding Count Shiloh earned Best Condition in their completion of the annual Old Dominion 25 Mile Endurance Ride on Saturday, June 11, 2016.

"Deck and I became close friends last summer," Mary explained. "He kept Shiloh at his farm in Nash County, NC while I getting our new place in Virginia ready for my horses. Each time I'd visit Shiloh, Deck and his mare Smarty would take us out on their local trails, and we had a blast riding together."

The climb was worth it for the great Shenandoah Valley view.
Knowing Deck would enjoy the Virginia mountains, she offered him to loan him Shiloh for the Old Dominion limited distance ride in exchange for helping at the 54-mile mark gate & go, her volunteer assignment later that day.
"I was on my other gelding Gryphon, and figured we could finish the LD in time to make the hour-long drive out to Waites Run before it needed to open at 2:30 p.m.. We took it easy first loop, with walking the long hill climb and dismounting to jog both horses down the steepest part of downhill road to help Shiloh stay sound." 
Despite the heat and humidity, both horses vetted through in great shape, so they agreed to pick up their pace on the return. "Once Shiloh realized we were heading back to camps, he switched on his super-efficient trot, with Gryphon cantering to keep up. The two pasture mates crossed the finish line together, but predictably big-bodied Shiloh took almost 15 minutes more than Gryphon to meet the 60 pulse criteria.
Deck downs trial mix while Shiloh rubs his head at the vet check.
This image got over 450 "likes" on the AERC Facebook page!
"I decided to show both horses for best condition after learning how close we were behind the winning horse," Mary said. After weighing in and trotting both horses for the hour-after-exam, they hit the road for Waites, arriving in plenty of time to set up and help cool the horses of 100-mile frontrunners Stagg and Cheryl Newman.
"I was thrilled by how many first-time 100 mile riders were entered this year, and what a good job they did of managing their horses in the heat," Mary said. As the last horses left Waites around 7 p.m., she and Deck loaded water tanks from both there and Bucktail camp, arriving back at basecamp just after the 25 & 50 milers awards ceremony wrapped up.
"We walked up to get our completion awards and learned that the 216 lb Shiloh carried, plus good vet scores, more than made up for the time difference. For him to earn a BC after 17 years and 5500 miles of AERC competition shows what a great team he & Deck made, and that all ages can excel in this wonderful sport!"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Wet Rides of April

Most of April was warm and dry here in Virginia, but wet weather figured prominently at both endurance rides I tackled that month.

On April 9, my riding buddy Brigid, an eventing enthusiast, was looking forward to going with me to her first endurance ride at the Fair Hill International venue in northeast Maryland. While competing in the Foxcatcher 50 miler, she'd get to see much of their eventing course. I'd also find out if the OsPhos shot I'd gotten for Siena would help her remain sound past the 30 mile mark so I could offer her to a young rider trying to start her FEI qualifications at the Biltmore 50 (1 star) on May 7.

To avoid Washington D.C./Baltimore traffic, Brigid, Lily and I left my place before 4 am the Friday before the ride and arrived in Fair Hill in record time. The weather was dry and pleasant throughout the day as we took Gryphon and Siena on warmup rides and visited with friends old and new. I was especially grateful to Felesha Mannino and Roger Wolfe for coaching Lily on her equitation and figuring out how best to create a wedge stirrup so that her left ankle (impacted by cerebral palsy)  could handle more miles in the saddle so she can hopefully tackle a limited distance ride on Shiloh later this year.

Primal scream of anguish or joy of extremes? You decide
Saturday's forecast was dreadful, with a nearly 100% chance of a sleet/snow/rain mix the entire day, and many who had pre-entered decided to stay home. Nonetheless, 32 intrepid souls started the 50 miler at 7 a.m. under gloomy skies. Brigid and I set out at a sedate trot, with Richard Stone and Felesha Mannino joining us to create a foursome who stayed together for much of that 25-mile loop. About 15 miles in, precipitation started falling just as we reached the edge of a big green field for the 10-minute gate & go. Sleety rain was coming as us sideways as we remounted, and within 5 miles I was soaked. Felesha grabbed this photo of me & Gryphon crossing the Little Elk River during a few magical moments as fluffy white flakes filled the air around us.

Coming into the first vet check, Felesha dismounted to keep her stallion at a slower pace. Gryphon was tight on his right hind (which has a minor conformation flaw), and I rubbed unsuccessfully trying to work out the muscle cramp -- we ended up getting pulled. But Siena was fine and after finding Brigid dry clothes and a fresh set of gloves, she and Richard set out on the next loop of 15 miles.

Richard's wife Amy and I went under ride management's big tent to warm up and work on drying horse blankets, gloves, etc. as the snow turned to heavy rain. Amy had synced her phone to Richard's using "Map My Ride," so could follow where they were on course. A little over two hours later, two cold and wet but cheerful riders arrived. Lily took care of drying and warming Brigid while I saw to Siena, who was completely sound with all As on her vet card.

The precipitation had slacked off by the time the two "baby endurance riders" (Richard had only done one previous 50) set out on their last loop of 10 miles. Gryphon was restless in his pen, so Amy and Lily helped me pack it up in preparation for leaving. He circled for 20 minutes after we walked him over to the big grassy finish area to wait for our riders, but eventually settled and started chomping grass, much better than allowing him to fret back at basecamp. Even though I train my horses to compete solo, there's no avoiding bonding issues when both are at a ride, but at least I was able to compensate somewhat for his anxiety.

We missed the first to finish rider, but cheered on the next six. Brigid and Ricky tied for 8th just before 4 p.m. in a ride time of 7:09. No one was happier than me when Siena trotted out sound and received her first completion since last June, and I immediately texted Stephanie Buckley in Maine to share the good news that her daughter Sarah could count on Siena for Biltmore.

The weather was fine on the drive home and we made it back by 9 p.m. Brigid slept most of the way back & texted me the next day that her body was one big bruise, but otherwise she loved her experience and wanted to do this again!

The weekend before the April 22-23 No Frills ride, I'd dropped Gryphon off at my friend Lisa's following our USA Northeast benefit trail ride. Early on Friday, Lily and I again headed up before dawn, this time with an empty rig (the look on Shiloh and Siena's faces as I pulled out was priceless!)

We volunteered at the away hold (Vance's Cove) until late afternoon, when I caught a lift back to basecamp to take Gryphon out for a short warmup ride and vet in. I'd had little sleep the night before, so skipped the ride meeting and was asleep before 9 p.m. in a spare bed in Lisa's basement (Lily and Felesha stayed up later and slept in my trailer).

Before dawn the next morning, I could hear heavy rain coming down as I fixed a much-needed  cup of coffee in Lisa's kitchen. Unlike all the poor souls camping out, I had the benefit of using a dry stall to tack up Gryphon. The rain briefly let up just before the 7 a.m. start, with many of us 30 or so riders in the 55-mile all trying to rationalize that at least the hard packed road that we used the first 5 miles would be softer now that it had gotten rained on.

Even though my socks were soaked within 10 minutes as the rain resumed, I enjoyed riding with Maria Muzzio (who was taking her horse Lance's on his first 50). It was so foggy that no views from the ridge crest trail could be seen. Scrambling down the steep descent, I waited several minutes for Maria, then as Gryphon grew increasingly restive, rode the last mile into the away vet check alone, vetting through with no issues. (Maria & Lance arrived several minutes later and opted to continue at a slower pace.) It stopped raining and I traded Lily my raincoat for her dry socks, only to have the rain start again as my 10:34 out time neared. No problem, just grab a spare garbage bag, poke some armholes and make due!

No points for style at an endurance ride!
The second loop of No Frills is nearly 25 miles and infamously tough. It had been several years since I'd had a chance to compete here, but remembered each section well, a psychological advantage for sure! After covering the first 12 miles at a sedate pace, I ended up third in line of a large group of maybe 10 horses. The singletrack trail meant we all had to stop and wait any time a horse wanted to drink from an available puddle.

A few miles before the checkpoint area stocked with horse feed and hay, I took the opportunity of a  wider section trail to pass those in front and let Gryphon pick his own pace. He zoomed along the singletrack and with his short legs was surefooted on all the rocks, putting a big smile on my face as sped along. At the checkpoint, I called out my number to Maitland the radio guy and gave Gryphon some electrolytes before resuming our zesty pace. The skies had cleared and I was able to leave my plastic bag raincoat behind.

Crossing a series of creeks, we passed friends Heather and Peggy. Gryphon he drank deeply before picking up his pace again. A few miles later, we caught up to Kelsey Lewis on Vinny, and I realized we were now well within Top Ten position. Gryphon was hungry by this point, so I dismounted to hand feed him carrots, a baggie of grain and roadside grass as we trudged up a long steep climb.

A few miles later, I began hearing a clinking noise as Gryphon's right hind shoe loosened (his conformation causes him to slide rather than set down the hoof, which over time wears off the nail heads.) Kelsey helped me keep an eye on the shoe and offered to loan me her Easyboot if needed.

Arriving in camp, her horse pulsed through faster than Gryphon, so I ended up leaving out at the same time as Claire Godwin on her 25-year old Mercury, who is even smaller than Gryphon. I enjoyed watching how efficiently Merc used his body, with his short front legs barely bending at the knee as his long hind stride propelled him steadily forward.

I could tell Gryphon's right hind was starting to cramp up and rode as carefully as possible since he resisted letting me slow his pace. Near the end, knowing we wouldn't have much of a chance to find a portajohn after entering camp and trying to get our horses untacked and through the completion exam as quickly as possible, we both agreed to a quick dismount to take care of business.

I'm grateful to the vet who gifted Gryphon with a completion even though his gait was "B-" and immediately rubbed some Surpass on his sore inside thigh, which quickly took effect. The rest of the afternoon was spent helping Kelsey prepare for her horse's best condition exam and visiting with various friends while sponging mud off my gear and packing up (a much simpler task than usual, since I didn't have to break down a corral!)

Next stop, Asheville NC!

Monday, March 28, 2016

How Shiloh Spent His 24th Birthday

Endurance riding can provide a number of goals to aim for. In 17 years of competition, I've met many, from seasonal points awards to longevity milestones. The Leatherwood Challenge this past Easter Weekend would test whether my old horse Shiloh could be un-retired yet again to make it through a tough 50 miles in the North Carolina mountains.

Shiloh & I started competing at AERC rides in 1999. He passed the 3,000-mile mark at the 2006 Biltmore, then needed annular ligament surgery just after reaching Decade Team status in 2010.

The Grumpy Old Man doing what he loves.
Post-surgery he initially wasn't sound for longer distances, so I thought his endurance career was over. But he made an amazing return during the summer of 2011, passing the 5,000-mile mark at Canter over the Mountain on Labor Day Weekend.

In March 2013, just after he turned 21, Shiloh was pulled of retirement to loan to Laura Horst of North Carolina for the Rabbit Run AERC ride in New Jersey. (She hoped to compete in as many Eastern states as possible before moving back to California.)

Shiloh went on to finish six more AERC rides that year, but it took him longer than usual to bounce back from JD's 50 at the end of the season, so I'd pretty much decided that would be his last AERC ride. He'd still get plenty of saddle time at relatively laid-back Southeast Virginia foxhunts, which have few jumps and are held during the cooler months of November-March.

In Sept. 2014, my husband and I moved to a great new home. North Carolina friends were caring for Shiloh and my other two horses stayed with a friend in Louisa County while we built fencing and horse shelters. By November, I was able to bring everyone home to ample pasture and the kind of TLC you can only give when your horses are just a few steps away in the front or back yard!

Watching the glow in Shiloh's eyes as we headed off to each weekend's hunt, I realized the "grumpy old man" (as he is affectionately known) still loved to get out and go places. Despite the occasional age-related stumble, he never took a lame step, and his strong topline belied that he was now in his early 20s.

Laura Horst expertly managed Shiloh's pace to ensure he completed.
At the 2016 AERC Convention, Laura Horst (who crewed for me at the 2014 Tevis) said she'd be visiting family in western NC over Easter and was looking for a horse to borrow for the Leatherwood Challenge.

"Shiloh's been having a great winter," I said, "I think I can get him fit enough in time!"

As foxhunting season wrapped up, I rode him several times a week on short local training rides, warming up slowly before adding speed work and as many "hills" as I could find around my flat section of Virginia. A friend and I were able to sneak away on a weekday in mid-March to squeeze in a proper mountain training ride at Graves Mountain, where Shiloh handled the Upper Dark Hollow climb with great recoveries. He completely knew what was up, and seemed calm but happy as we loaded him and Gryphon for the 6-hour haul to basecamp.

On Good Friday afternoon, Laura and I took Shiloh and Gryphon out for a test ride to check saddles (Laura opted to use the sturdy Boz I'd inherited from my friend Brenda). We agreed that I'd do all Shiloh's trot outs, and walk all the steep uphills. (Shiloh had a bad case of pharyngitis from being fed bad hay as a youngster, and I noticed he had a bit more labored breathing on long climbs than my other horses.)

Easter Saturday, which happened to be Shiloh's 24th birthday, dawned cloudy and fairly cool after several warm days. We patiently waited until most of the 50 or so 50-milers were out on trail ahead of us, and sedately plodded through the first loop, taking the better part of 3 hours to cover the 16 miles. I was thrilled when Shiloh pulsed quickly and earned all "As" on his vet card.

The second loop was 19 miles and took just over 3 hours, with some flatter sections near the end that helped us make up a bit of time. The sun came out briefly, and so did our sponges, but mild breezes and clouds returned in time for the second vet check, helping Shiloh pulse quickly. (I was on my 15-year old gelding Gryphon, who was pulsing in the 40s but needed to take it easy as I have several more rides planned for him this spring).

Shiloh's 24th birthday vet card - nearly all A's!
The last loop was just as tough as the first. Towards the end, as some friends we were riding with picked up a canter on a flat stretch, Laura spoke up to say that Shiloh wasn't picking up that gait as readily. All day long, we'd been letting him set the pace and listened to him this time as well. I've got a competitive streak, so it was tough for me to watch two friends we'd been riding with all day leave us behind, but Shiloh's eye looked less bright than before so we maintained a slow but steady trot.

Three more friends from Maryland passed us near the finish, which we reached about 10 hours after we'd started that morning. At his completion trot out, Shiloh took a few bad steps and received a B on gait, the only non-A score on his vet card all day. Boy was I grateful to Laura for having the wisdom to slow up or Shiloh just might not have been sound enough to earn that completion!

When he was younger, Shiloh wanted nothing more than to be left alone after finishing a tough ride, and especially disliked being poulticed. But back at home, I saw that Shiloh's legs had stocked up a good bit overnight. After church on rainy Easter Sunday, he stood quietly munching his breakfast as I applied a thick layer, then wrapped each sturdy leg and scratched the extra white hairs away from his broad white blaze.

I'm humbled to be the owner of this one-in-a-million horse, who has touched so many lives in our sport.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Answered Prayers (or, "any ride can have a silver lining!")


Anyone remember the line from a Garth Brooks song, "some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers?

At the Jan. 30 Broxton FEI Endurance Ride in South Carolina, I had a chance to ponder the lyrics of this song. Young rider Hanna Weightman had come all the way from New Jersey to try to qualify for the North American Junior and Young Riders Championship on my mare Siena. Despite the beautiful job Hanna did riding her, Siena was pulled at the 30 mile mark for a minor lameness.

 As my gelding Gryphon and I headed out by ourselves on the first of three 15-mile repeat loops, I tried not to think how hard it would be to trot past Siena’s pen at both the beginning and end of each loop, six times total. Instead, I reflected on the unspoken prayer I’d sent heavenward just before heading down I-95, that whatever God’s will, somehow this weekend I’d make a difference for others.


That black & white loop took us through my favorite section of Broxton trail, along a palmetto-frond decorated swamp, where I’d once crossed paths with an armadillo. The weather was perfect and by the end of the loop, I felt a bit better.


After vetting through without issue, I listened to Hanna’s report from the treatment vet – Siena had no serious  issue and should be sound soon. I wished she and her parents a warm farewell, promising to use my I-phone voice record the young riders meeting later that night so they could start their long drive home.


Heading out on the second of the repeat loops, I found myself riding beside my friend Amy’s husband Ricky, who was tackling his first 50 and was on the last loop of that three-loop ride. He had hurt his back pain a few days earlier while moving hay, then crewed for his wife in the 100 the day before, but said he was feeling fine. But he was worried about his mare Ziggy, who hadn’t had good gut sounds at the last hold.


I noticed her eye looked a bit dull, and told Ricky I’d stay with him. We stopped at each water tanks with hay scattered around. His mare refused to drink, bur watched Gryphon drink and eat, then grabbed a mouthful of hay each time. We also stopped to let our horses graze briefly on green grass by the trailside, with Gryphon’s appetite seeming to influence Ricky’s mare. At the final water tank, the mare finally took a long drink and I had the joy of telling Ricky, “her eyes are bright and shiny now, you got this!” They ended up in 10th place.

I was a mile out of camp on my last loop when I came across a young rider and her mount standing in a patch of grass beside the trail. The rider, Kimmie, was trying to get the mare to eat but she seemed listless and uncaring. Another challenge! I explained that my young rider had been pulled and that I’d be happy help her get through the loop. She said this was the first 75 for both her and the mare, and that she was also trying to qualify for the North American Junior and Young Riders Championship that was to be held later that summer.


“No worries I said, we’ve got plenty of time and just need to keep a steady speed,” I reassured her. Four riders doing “negative splits” passed us, but we kept a slow, steady trot, stopping at each water tank. Gryphon again showed his companion by example that it was OK to eat. When Kimmie mentioned not having any Chapstick, I loaned her mine and also tried to cheer her up with my “glass half full” perspective.


“We’re in the single digits now!” I proclaimed as we neared the loop’s midpoint, with less than 10 miles to go. “We probably won’t even need our headlamps!” I enthused as we passed the last water stop just after 6 p.m.


We crossed the finish line just after dark, cheered on by the horse’s owner and crew members.


Receiving a completion, then getting a hot shower and real meal, were not the only things that made my day complete. Witnessing Ricky and Kimmie’s pride and joy at their accomplishments was a wonderful answer to my prayer, as was the heartfelt thank you from Adri Dinkleman, whose horse Kimmie had ridden.


Even when an endurance ride doesn’t turn out quite as you’d hoped, stay open to the unexpected answersed prayers that may arise!