Monday, September 30, 2013

15 Miles!

Interspersed with my crazed I-must-clean-the-house-because-my-mother-in-law-is-coming-for-a-visit-even-though-I-have-a-one-year-old-who-is-the-messiest-child-ever, the frantic I-must-clean-out-the-home-office-to-prepare-for-hardwood-floor-installation, and the constant end-of-the-fiscal-year emergencies for work, I plotted my ride for the weekend.  I managed to squeeze in a short arena ride Friday night.  That was possibly ill-advised because I hadn't actually ridden my horse in the arena at our new barn yet.  I had taken him in there one day and he acted like an unrideable maniac, so I decided to wait a week or so and try again.  My next effort was in the dark...The arena is lighted pretty well, but what I realized after having not ridden in an outdoor, lighted arena at night for several years is that the darkness beyond the lights is pretty frightening, especially for my big baby of a horse.

So, we spent a lot of time walking really fast and trotting really fast.  I think Nimo was trying to get away from the boogeymen that he imagined were out there (or who knows, maybe there were actually boogeymen...), but we kept going in circles.  I got zero engagement, about 10% bending, and a sore back from the ride.  I am reminded of why I don't like to move to new barns.  My normally placid, well-behaved companion acts like a complete idiot for several weeks or more as he adjusts.  So I can kiss any legitimate dressage work goodbye for awhile because I'll be focused on just keeping my horse under control.

Anyway, I wanted to get a ride in during the week after our 12 mile ride last weekend.  And, I knew I'd be riding Sunday, so I wanted there to be at least a short break, so Friday night was the best I could manage.

On Sunday, I hooked up the trailer, loaded my crap into a brand new SporTote Saddle Trunk, got my horse, and headed out the the Shenandoah River State Park.  I got the saddle trunk because it fits in the front of my horse trailer in front of the divider and acts like a mini-tack room.  This means that I will no longer have to load all my stuff in my truck and leave random dirty boots, whips, and stinky saddle pads that offend the non-horse people who have to ride in my truck on occasion (which is basically my husband and because he is otherwise supportive of my horse habit, I felt like I should make some effort to accommodate him).  It also means that I no longer have to unload stuff like my Easyboots that I only use out on the trail - yea!  The trunk was ridiculously expensive and I could have absolutely built something even better and much cheaper, but I have zero free time these days, and loading and unloading all my stuff was really getting annoying.

When we got to the park, I discovered that EVERYBODY had the same idea I did.  The parking lot was packed with trailers.  Luckily, I was able to maneuver just enough to park rather creatively.

My plan for the day was to ride 15 miles in 5 hours or less.  And this time I had brought a cooler full of food for me and lots of apples, carrots, and feed for my horse.  Because he didn't want his regular feed during our last ride, I took a riding friend's advice and got some Pennfield Fibregized.  It is a pelleted, no grain feed that relies predominantly on beet pulp for its formulation.  When I pointed out that it is pelleted and Nimo can't have pellets due to a past choke incident caused by pellets, said friend pointed out that they could be soaked.  Wow - sometimes I'm a bit slow.  Why didn't I think of that?  Anyway, I packed a couple of small bags of Fibregized with a bottle of water that I could use for soaking.

After carefully packing my pommel pack with Nimo's food, water for me, hoof pick, extra buckle pins for the boots, needle-nosed pliers for the buckle pins, and cell phone (I forgot my waist pack at home because I took it out of the truck and put it somewhere unbeknownst to me as part of my cleaning frenzy). The savvy among you will instantly realize what I forgot to pack, but I didn't notice I had not packed any snacks for myself until I was out on the trail.  I was close enough to go back to the trailer, but after all the effort it took for me to get out on the trail in the first place, I couldn't bear the thought of turning back.  I also could have changed my route to loop back to the trailer, but I thought that would be mentally hard for both of us.  So, I resolved to suck it up and pretend this was a real endurance ride and live with the fact that I forgot my tuna sandwich, and my chips, and my yogurt...

Again my plan was to ride to the river, where we would be about a third of the way through the ride.  I wanted to stop for a few minutes, let Nimo eat some grass, try out a bag of the new food, and see if Nimo noticed that I ate most of his apple.  Once again, the universe was against my plan.

Here's what happened.  I rode on a part of the trail that had a wooden bridge.  I could have gone around the bridge, but I didn't.  I decided it was something we were likely to encounter on rides, and we needed start working on our bridge crossing skills.  I walked Nimo up to it, and he made it clear that he would not cross it under any circumstances.  That was a lie and I knew it.  As soon as I got off, Nimo walked right behind me as if we cross bridges all the time.  There are some things he does better under saddle and others he does better when I'm on the ground.  Negotiating obstacles is something that often works better with me on the ground.

Guess what works better if I'm in the saddle?  Seeing other horses in the distance.  After crossing the bridge, I walked a short distance to a lovely bench off the side of the trail, stupidly thinking that I would be able to stop for a break.  I let Nimo eat some grass while I snuck bites of his apple.  He totally figured out what I was up to and stole the apple away from me.  As I was getting his bag of feed from the pack, he spotted several horses across the field...and he went completely nuts.  Prancing, snorting, circling, and pulling nuts.  I wasn't expecting the behavior because he'd been really calm when we encountered lots of horses on the trail, even doing very well when two horses had to practically touch him to pass on a narrow ridge trail.  Nothing I did made any difference and embarrassingly, I lost my temper and yelled at him and yanked on the reins.  This behavior led the other riders to believe I was in trouble and the poor bicyclist trying to pass to think she'd really spooked my horse.  So I was stuck between a bicycle and the sight of horses who weren't moving.  I was pissed at everyone, even though it was no one's fault, just a bad situation.  I finally convinced the bicyclist to pass and reassured her that she was not the problem.  Then, I yelled at the other riders that I was fine and could they please keep going because my horse was freaking out because he could see them and wanted to join up with them.  Then, I got myself under control and realized that the best thing for my horse to get his mind back was to start walking and get him out of sight of those horses.  Almost instantly he settled and do you think there was another bench or fallen tree I could use to get back on?  Nope.

The last time I rode here, it seemed like they were everywhere, but I couldn't find a single one.  And as I walked, I got pissed all over again.  I was mad at the other riders who had stopped to watch my disaster (even though they had no way of knowing I didn't need help - I'm sure I looked like I needed help), I was mad at myself for losing my temper with my horse - I know better and he doesn't deserve to be yelled at for acting on instinct nor does it help the situation, I was mad because the sun had started beating down and it felt like 100 degrees instead of 75, I was mad because I forgot my tuna sandwich, and most of all, I was mad because I could not find a damn bench anywhere!

Finally, I found one, got back on and contemplated my situation.  There was no question I felt like turning back or cutting my ride short.  I was hot, tired, thirsty, hungry, and mad.  My horse hadn't had much of a snack nor had I.  We still had almost 2/3 of the ride left.  How were we supposed to keep going?

I checked my GPS, and we needed to go another mile and a quarter before turning around.  I knew that instead of turning around, we could just take the trail back to the trailer and be back in much less time.  I decided to postpone my decision and focus on getting to the turn around point first.  I wanted to do some trotting, but we encountered so many other people out walking, biking, or riding that we had to keep slowing to a walk.

Once I got to the turn-around point, I was so tempted to just head back to the trailer.  I wanted to go back to the trailer.  A little voice in my head said, "What's the big deal?  This is just a practice ride.  Things aren't going well.  Just quit and try again later."  But another voice said, "This is what is going to happen to you on a real ride.  You're going to be tired, hot (or cold or wet), or you'll have forgotten something.  Are you really going to quit every time something goes wrong?  If you are, you might as well give up endurance riding and go back to something that doesn't require as much commitment."  And the second little voice was right.  Either I'm an endurance rider or I'm not.  I don't do things half-assed.  I either do them or I don't.  I had already put in over 7 miles and I needed to finish my ride.

So, we turned around.  And about 2 minutes later, we got to another bridge.  I thought we'd try to go over it with me still riding.  Nimo was not happy about this option, but after several minutes of discussion, we made it.  Then we saw the riders who were the unknowing cause of our difficulties earlier, and I gave them a wave to let them know all was good.  Then we got to another bridge, and Nimo dropped his head and walked right over it.  WhooHoo!

Then, we encountered a couple out walking.  I'm sure they thought they were doing us a favor by ducking off the trail to one of the bench rest-stops that had been so few and far between when I needed one.  The problem is that the benches are near the river and hidden by bushes until you get right to them.  So, I knew instantly we were going to have a problem.  Nimo saw the couple literally disappear into the bushes.  He knew they were lurking somewhere and when he saw them, he was going to spook.  Grrrr...Then, my stupid brain kicked in and I moved him off the trail and well into the field, so there would be more distance between us and the lurking people.  I try not to ride off trails because I know hooves damage terrain, but honestly, what was the park thinking when they hid benches in bushes?  My need to live was greater than the grass' at this point.  My "quick" thinking prevented the crisis and we continued on...and on...and on.

Eventually, we got close to the wooded trail and I saw a sign that said the Big Oak Trail was .2 miles to the left.  Hmmmm...once again, the little voice told me I could take a shorter route back to the trailer.  Nope.  I kicked my horse into a trot and headed for the long way back.

We headed up back into the woods and saw this:

The picture isn't that great, but let me assure you that the view reminded me why I ride.

By now, we were over 9 miles and I started thinking about where we could stop for a break.  I wanted to try to make 10 miles and then give Nimo a snack and take a short walk to relieve the increasing pain in my inner thighs that was suggesting I buy a skinnier horse to ride.

And guess what happened at 10 miles?  More horses.  Gaaaa!  No stopping now.  I kept going.  My GPS died at 10.7 miles (note to self, pack batteries), but by this point, I knew how many miles we had left, so I really didn't need it anyway.  I found a place with lots of fallen trees to use as mounting blocks and tried the new grain for Nimo.  I was a huge hit.  I poured water over it and let it soak while I fed him some carrots.  Then I poured the feed on a paper plate I had brought.  The plate worked OK, but I had to manage Nimo's snarfing and managed to get completely slobbered on.  No big deal, but maybe I'll look for another container:)

Anyway, we were fed, hydrated, and I got back on.  I did notice that while Nimo's walk had been pretty motivated before we got off, the stop did seem to slow him down a little.  Just something to file away for later.  Maybe try to feed him while we keep walking?  Maybe try the snack break a little earlier?

And finally, 15 miles and 5 hours after we started, we made it back to the trailer.  It was great to know that I hadn't turned around early.  Nimo was definitely tired, but I think he could have kept going for another 2-3 miles without much difficulty.

So, I gave Nimo more food, sponged him off, put away the tack, took off the boots, fantasized about the food in my cooler, and hit the road.  I would have stayed a little longer, but I have a deal with my husband that if I don't call by a certain time, he needs to send a search & rescue team for me, and there is no cell reception at the park.  In fact, cell reception is pretty iffy for quite a few miles, so I wanted to make sure I got in touch before there was any sort of panic about my safety.

As it turned out, I probably should have just camped at the park.  Just after I got on the interstate (and still had a good 45 minute drive ahead of me), I saw a sign that said, "Accident.  Right lane blocked in 4 miles."  Please understand that I was out in essentially the middle of nowhere.  At least 60 miles from DC, so the idea that I could be stuck in traffic at 6 pm on a Sunday night DID NOT OCCUR TO ME.  It should have.  Because that sign wasn't there for sh*ts and giggles.  Less than a mile later, traffic was stopped in both lanes and looked something like this:

It took 50 minutes to go 3 miles.  What was left of the accident when I got to it looked pretty bad.  One SUV was still being towed and it looked sort of like it had hit the car in front of it going 50 plus mph and it also looked like someone had rear-ended it.  All I can say is thank God it wasn't me and my horse.  On the other hand, I plenty of time to work my way through my cooler full of food.

It was after dark when we got back to the barn.  I can't explain why it is depressing to unload a horse and unhook a trailer in the dark, but it is.  Anyway, I got Nimo turned out, unloaded most of my stuff, but got to leave some of it in the trailer, which was nice, and headed home.  It was 8:45 when I got home, over 12 hours after I left in the morning, and I was bone-tired and thinking that it sucked that I had to work the next day, but that I did what I wanted to do and I was glad that I didn't give up.

Things I Learned:

1.  Pack snacks for the human in the saddle bags.
2.  Pack extra batteries for the GPS.
3.  Find a new container to feed Nimo with on the ride.
4.  Make sure there are no horses within sight if I want to actually do anything on the ground with my horse besides spin in circles.
5.  Work on my temper when things aren't going well.
6.  Check for accidents on I-66 before heading home.

Things That Went Well:

1.  We did the distance!
2.  When under saddle, Nimo handled the comings and goings of other horses very well.
3.  The Fibregized was a great snack for Nimo.


  1. Good job, dude! You got through some adversity!

    I only learned to ride Dixie so well because I was riding in the desert and I never could find a rock to get back on if I got off, so I rode out allllll her antics for years. Stupid tall horses!

    Check out the Spot tracker things for Christmas, maybe? I got mine mainly to reassure my husband when there's no cell reception - you can send an "I'm ok" text to his cell as long as you've got satellite lock (not in deep forest) and you can push the panic button and summon search'n'rescue if you get in trouble. Your husband would probably be reassured; mine was.

    Yes, unloading/unhooking in the dark is oddly depressing. And sitting motionless on the interstate with your poor horse stuck in a steel box is also kinda depressing. C'est la vie...

    Yall did good! At least half of the endurance game is just sticking with it even when it doesn't seem like much fun.

    1. Thanks! And I had no idea anything like Spot tracker existed, do thanks for letting me know about it. It definitely makes sense to get something like that for the times I ride in more remote locations.

  2. Woohoo, well done, and you are hardcore! I can outwait and outlast many, many things, but being hungry is my kryptonite every time.