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.

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