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!"