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!