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!

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