Then I was free to get back in my truck, turn on the heat and spend a blissful 25 minutes getting warm. I made some wardrobe changes so I'd be ready for the day's freezing temperatures to rise into the 70s while we were riding and then I headed back out into the cold to take Nimo for a walk around camp. I could tell he was done with being cooped up, especially because he's used to being turned out all night. So for about 25 minutes, he walked and grazed his way around camp.
By 7, I wanted to be putting on his hoof boots, though. The 50-mile riders were leaving at 7:30 and I knew Nimo would start getting antsy about all the activity soon, and the last thing I wanted to be doing was wrestling with hoof boots while he was dancing around. I did manage to get his boots on without too much trouble, but he definitely started acting up while I was putting on the saddle. He knew something was going on and he didn't want to be left out. It was about then that Liz and Saiph came over to see if we needed anything. I mostly wanted somebody else to do the ride for me, but I don't think that's what they meant by help:) Just having them there was great, though. Liz helped hold Nimo for me while I finished getting things ready and Saiph held him for me while I got on, which was no small feat given how excited he was!
So far, everything was pretty much going according to my plan. The 30-mile ride started at 8, and I wanted to be on Nimo by 7:45 so I could walk him around to help him work through some of his anxiety. My only real problem at that point was my stomach - it absolutely insisted that no food was to be allowed in it. I decided to pack a couple of snack bars (which were currently in a frozen state), hoping that by the time they thawed, I'd be ready to eat something.
|Nimo and I walking around camp just before the start of the ride.|
Photo by Saiph
One other thing I wanted to do was find the other lady riding a big, black warmblood. I'd met her the day before very briefly and several other riders have suggested over the past year or so that I get in touch with her because she's been riding her horse in LD's for several years and done well. I'd been reluctant to approach her because I have trouble asking for help sometimes and I also worried that I would hold her back. However, I'd kind of gotten over my worry about that because I really felt like I needed a riding buddy for this ride, and she seemed really nice. I did manage to find her (there were only 41 of us starting in the 30-mile ride) and I asked if I could tag along, at least for the first few miles. She said that I absolutely could and she was also sponsoring a junior, so she had no intention of going very fast. (Said junior was on a gray Arabian, so that should have given me a clue about what "slow" meant.)
I continued to walk Nimo around camp until a couple of minutes before the start to help keep him calm. And then, all of a sudden, it was time. There was a lovely group of people waiting to send us off and we walked out onto the road. I was expecting a controlled start because that was what they'd said the night before at the ride meeting. It turns out that there might be some definitional confusion about what a controlled start means because I never saw the vehicle that was supposed to be keeping everyone to a walk when we started. I convinced Nimo to walk for a couple of minutes, but after that, it was sort of a free-for-all and we were all trotting up the mountain. Because I actually wanted Nimo to trot up the mountain in the first place, I was fine with the extra speed at this point and let him go at what I considered a reasonable speed. However, I really wanted to stay at the back of the pack because I knew once we got to the top of the mountain, our pace would be slower than most. It turns out that that particular strategy was easier said than done.
By the time we got to the top of the mountain (about a mile and a half later), I could tell I had a frantic horse on my hands. Nimo was really anxious about being left behind and we somehow got stuck with a group of crazy people. Well, actually, pretty much all the riders at that point were crazy. And I don't meant the kind of crazy that makes you camp in freezing temperatures with your horse so that you can then ride 30 miles in the mountains the next day. I mean the kind of crazy that is well above that level in the hierarchical structure of crazy.
These people would trot their horses over and down anything, which is the exact opposite of what I wanted. There is a short level part of the trail at the top of the mountain, but it is fairly rocky and not really the terrain I want my horse trotting over. I particularly did not want my horse trotting down the trail on this side of the mountain because of all the steep angles and rocks, which is what these nutcases were doing. I tried holding Nimo back, but he was pulling for all he was worth, and when a big Friesian is pulling, it is not even in the same category as when a tiny Arab is pulling. I know this because I used to have a tiny Arab who would get frustrated if she had to walk behind anyone, so I'm familiar with tiny Arab pulling. But I wasn't all that familiar with big Friesian pulling. I've been riding Nimo on a loose rein or very light contact on the trails the vast majority of the time, and even in the arena, I rarely use much more than 1-3 pounds of pressure on the reins. This was not 1-3 pounds of pressure. This felt like 50 pounds of pressure. It literally was taking all of my strength to hold Nimo down to a sort of walk, slightly crazed and unstable trot down the mountain. And people kept passing us. I don't understand where they were coming from, because I'd sworn I was at the back of the pack, but they must have been late starters or just walked their horses up. Why anyone would walk their horse up the mountain and trot down it is beyond me, but I have no other explanation for what was happening. And I managed to lose my prospective riding buddy in the mess too, which meant we were on our own. (I later found out that her horse went a little nuts with all the craziness too, and she got sucked along with the faster pace for longer than she wanted to be and over terrain that was not safe for her horse to trot. Maybe we can work together next time to overcome the situation...)
As luck would have it, one of the gaiters on Nimo's front Easyboots ripped and the boot went flying (it probably wasn't meant for 10 mph trots down the side of rocky mountains). At first, I was upset, but it gave me an excuse to get off and let some riders go by and Nimo seemed to calm down a little. I put on a replacement boot that I was carrying, found a big rock, and got back on. I was hopeful that we could settle on a slower pace. Unfortunately, more riders just kept passing us and with each one, Nimo got more and more wound up. My arms were already exhausted and I was freaking out because I never expected this behavior. Nimo has been awesome when we've ridden with groups and by himself, so I just wasn't prepared for this level of anxiety from him.
Unfortunately, Nimo's anxiety and pulling seemed like it would never end. Finally, by about mile 6 into the ride, I couldn't take it anymore. We'd been passed by a couple of riders on a "walking break," which was awesome because with them walking, I got my first break from the pulling on the reins in an hour and got to drink some water too. The problem was that they inexplicably walked on the flat part of the trail and then as soon as the trail went steeply downhill, they started trotting. I absolutely made it clear to Nimo that we weren't trotting down this hill and then he started ripping the reins out of my hands, throwing me off balance in the saddle, and HE WAS NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT HIS FEET WERE DOING ON THE STEEP, SLIPPERY, ROCKY, RIGHT-NEXT-TO-A-PRECIPICE TRAIL. I think this might be the first time I've ever gotten off a horse because I felt safer on the ground than on the horse. I was really scared that Nimo was going to lose his footing and fall. It turned out that I wasn't much safer on the ground because I couldn't walk very fast and Nimo kept running into me and trying to step on me and circling me on the trail. Somehow we made it to the bottom and I just kept walking because there wasn't a good stump in sight. I finally found one and tried to get back on, but my whole body was shaking with the fatigue of wrestling with Nimo (and maybe a little with fear too) and I literally could not get back on. Plus, Nimo was dancing around, making it hard for me to even get my foot in the stirrup. It was so frustrating! We have practiced me getting on from rocks, stumps, logs, fences, pickup tail gates, trailer fenders, mounting blocks, and any other obstacle that I can get on from out on the trail with never a single issue.
So I kept walking and tried again to get on using a different log farther down the trail. No go. By this point, we were about halfway into the loop and I didn't know how we were going to get back to camp. I was pretty sure we really were the last people on the trail now (I forgot about the drag riders) and I was too exhausted to keep going and Nimo was too much of a basketcase for me to get back on. It is possible that I was on the verge of a complete breakdown, involving tears and the fetal position, except Nimo kept trying to step on me, which prevented me from really engaging in my pity party.
And then my knightess in shining armor arrived. A lady on a white horse (okay, gray, but work with me here), came out of nowhere on the trail and asked if I needed help. It turned out she was one of the Ride & Tie folks. Her voice was so kind and she was exactly what I needed. I asked if she would mind stopping for a minute while I got back on, and she was happy to do that. I explained I'd been having some trouble with my horse and was trying to get him slowed down, so she offered to walk with me a little bit, although she needed to get moving because her partner was apparently very fast and he'd been running 4 miles already or something like that. And while we were chatting, another lady came up behind us and asked if she could ride with us. She was an experienced endurance rider on a young, green horse and she wanted to go slow, but her mare was acting the opposite of Nimo. She was stalling and having trouble getting down the trail by herself. So she needed a buddy. WhoooHooo! The three of us picked up the trot and rode together for awhile until it was time for the Ride & Tie lady to swap with her partner. Her partner took off at a canter, which was too fast for our green horses, so the two of us stayed behind and just kept trotting. It was about at this point that I got my horse back. Nimo was motivated and forward-thinking without being stupid about it and he was happy to lead the way down the trail. I was finally able to ride on just light contact and we started making really good time. The other horse with us couldn't trot as fast as Nimo, so we would sometimes get a little far ahead. It worked out OK, though, because then Nimo would want to walk for a bit, while the little Appy we were riding with kept her slower trot and caught up to us.
It seemed like no time before we were back at the mountain we'd climbed during the first couple miles of the trail. We started back up and I looked at my watch for the first time in a long while. I'd mostly been paying attention to the mileage on my GPS because I figured I'd blown the ride and I'd have to pull at the vet check because we'd be too far behind to catch up. So it was a bit of a shock when I realized it was only 10:20. My original plan was to be back at camp for the vet check by 11. (There were two loops - the first one was 14 miles and the second one was 15 miles, with one vet check and 45 minute hold at base camp.) With less than 3 miles to go, I realized that I might actually be able to make that target if Nimo could climb well and trot down the mountain on the other side (the other side was mostly a gravel road, so much safer to trot than the trail we'd been on earlier). With my head back in the game, I waited to see how Nimo would do on the climb before hoping too much. It's a fairly steep, long climb that was challenging for him at last year's Intro ride, but this time he did it without hesitation. And at the top, once we got past some of the worst of the rocks, we started trotting, and we trotted and we trotted.
I have this image in my head from last year's ride. It was when we were first going up the mountain and I guess either the 30-milers or the 50-milers were already starting to come back down to finish their first loop. There was a lady whose horse was trotting down that mountain toward us and the grin on her face was like nothing I could even imagine. She was so clearly having the time of her life, and I remember thinking that trotting down that steep of an incline on gravel was flat out dangerous and that Nimo and I would never be able to do that. It turns out that I was wrong. Because as we trotted down that mountain toward base camp, I realized Nimo was so balanced and moving so well that I WAS HAVING FUN!!! And I had the exact same loopy grin on my face as that lady from last year did. And it didn't matter anymore that I wanted to quit just a few miles ago and I could hardly even feel the soreness in my arms from holding Nimo back for so many miles.
|Photo by Becky Pearman|
|Me with Nimo and Saiph. Photo by Saiph's husband, Charles.|
|Vetting in. Photo by Liz Stout.|
|Team Nimo with Liz and Saiph. Photo by Liz Stout.|
Nimo was definitely a little slow for the first few minutes. I think he really thought he was done, so this part of the ride was hard for him. After a few minutes, though, his riding buddy caught up and we were off and trotting. I could tell that this loop was going to be tougher because Nimo lacked the motivation he'd had for the first loop. And while my arms paid a heavy price for that motivation, I kind of missed it at this point. So, the other lady and I ended up leapfrogging the horses for many, many miles. When one of them would get tired or hesitate, the other one would just pass and keep going. It made the miles go by pretty quickly and the lady I was riding with was really happy about it because her mare had trouble with horses passing or just being next to her. Nimo was completely oblivious to the Appy mare's pinned ears and tail swishing because I think he really believes that everyone adores him. So he would just quietly trot next to or pass the mare and gradually she got desensitized to him.
I'd heard from Liz and Saiph that this loop was easier than the first one (the second loop of the 30 and the third loop of the 50 were the same) with the exception of some climbing in the early and middle part of the loop. I guess that was probably true overall, but the climb in early part of the loop nearly killed all four of us. I could tell Nimo was struggling with the climb, so I got off in an attempt to help him. The other lady did the same for her horse who was also dragging a bit. But then I realized why Nimo was having such a hard time - it was a steep and fairly long climb! I actually nearly died at least three times trying to get up the stupid hill and I'm not sure who was the most relieved when we finally got to a different part of the trail that wasn't so steep.
Luckily, it wasn't long after that climb that we crossed a nice creek. Both horses drank and we let them stand in the water for a few minutes to help cool them. The temperature was approaching 70 degrees (maybe a little more) and I was starting to worry about Nimo getting overheated. He wasn't sweating a huge amount and there was no lather like in the first loop, so that was good, but I wanted to make sure it stayed that way. I knew there were several creek crossings in this loop, so I was hoping to take advantage of them.
But as the miles went by, I could tell that Nimo was getting more and more tired. He was trotting less and less distance before he wanted a walk break, even on the easy fields we were often riding in. And instead of him pulling the Appy along, she was now pulling him along. And when we got about 4 miles from the end of the loop, I knew he was done. So I told our riding partner that she should go on ahead because if she could keep the pace we'd been keeping, I thought she had a chance of making it on time. She'd said she didn't care if she went over time, but I could tell she really wanted to try to make it, so I sent her on ahead. Nimo was only mildly concerned about her leaving, which was a testament to how tired he was, and I figured we'd probably come in about a half hour over time, but hopefully still in good shape.
And I made my peace with my decision. Because after all my anxiety about this ride and my belief that we couldn't do it, I realized that I really wanted us to come in on time and pulse down and get a completion. When that goal was so close and tangible, it was hard to deny how much it meant to me. But I also knew that if I pushed Nimo any more, I would risk his health, and I hope to have many more rides on this wonderful, giant, pain-in-the-butt horse. So we walked all the way back to camp, even when we got lapped by the 50-milers on their third loop and Nimo wanted to try to keep up with them. It turned out it my GPS had missed about a mile somewhere and my estimate of a half hour over time was way off. We ended up coming in a mere 7 minutes after the cut-off time of 3:15. (Our riding partner for the loop had made it in on time and pulsed down with literally not a minute to spare.)
Because we were over time, I hadn't gotten off to walk Nimo in to the vet check because I figured we probably had some time to pulse down. My plan was to get our in-time, stop by the water tanks for Nimo to drink and then head to the trailer for me to pull tack, sponge Nimo, get him something to eat, and then head back over for the final vet check. Something went horribly wrong with that plan because the in-timer insisted I check in with the vets first. I did stop by the water tanks first and Nimo drank. Then I went to the P&R area to explain we were over time and I'd be back in 15-20 minutes for the final vet check.
Weeeellllll, here's what happened. Everybody started freaking out that we were over time. The P&R lady insisted on taking a pulse right then. Nimo was at 79, which wasn't great, but we'd only been there for 2 minutes, so I said I wanted to pull his tack and get him something to eat. I was told I needed to pull his tack right then. So I did. Then I was basically forced to vet in right away. Nimo's pulse was 68 by the end of the vet exam, which indicated to me that he was coming down pretty well and that if I could just get him to the trailer and let him eat and rest, he'd be fine. I reiterated my desire to do just that. Instead, I was essentially forced to go to the treatment vet and wait for a good 5 minutes while the ride vet explained the situation to the treatment vet, who was currently in the process of treating the Ride & Tie horse whose rider had helped us in the first loop with fluids. And I knew that the other big, black warmblood had come in on time, but wasn't pulsing down and so she probably needed help. Plus there was another 30 mile rider just behind me and another one still on the trail, so they might have needed help too. Eventually, it was decided that I could take Nimo back to the trailer and let him rest and eat. Sigh...
I got Nimo set up with food and water and then I had to walk all the way back to the vet check to get my tack. Because I was parked pretty much as far away from the vet area as it was possible to be, that was a long haul. And while I remember Liz saying my saddle felt light when she carried it after our first vet check, the thing seemed like it weighed 50 pounds to me. So I literally dragged it on the ground all the way back to the trailer because I was incapable of lifting it. And finally, I got to sit down and get something to drink and eat. I watched Nimo and he ate and drank and then took a little half-doze.
Because I'd said I would report on Nimo's progress after about half an hour, I then had to walk back to the treatment vet and let her know how he was doing. And she decided she really wanted to see him with her own eyes. So I walked back to the trailer and saw that Nimo was busy stuffing his face with hay. I really didn't want to interrupt that, so I waited a few minutes, and then got him out of his pen and we started toward the treatment vet's area. It literally took us 45 minutes because so many people stopped us to talk. They wanted to know how we did. And when I explained we'd finished but at 7 minutes over time, most of them averted their eyes or looked embarrassed and quietly slunk away. A few said things like, "Well, you'll know better next time" and "I hope you learned something" or they went through the typical laundry list of ideas for cooling.
The thing is, I don't think I really made any mistakes on the ride. Definitely a few things didn't work out the way I'd expected or hoped, but I did the best I could with the horse I had. And to be honest, I thought it was pretty awesome that we finished at all and so close to the maximum time. I mean, do 7 minutes really matter when you've been on the trail for over 7 hours? I get that there has to be a cut-off time and I'm OK with not getting a completion, but I don't think that being over time should be such a bad thing. I took care of my horse and I really expected to get some exclamations of congratulations or even something along the lines of, "It's great that you didn't push your horse too hard on his first ride." I was really proud of us (although possibly too tired to articulate that point at the time). Yes, I could have clipped him, but I had a reason for not doing it. Yes, I could have sponged him with cold water, but he wasn't really sweating, and he really hates being sponged with cold water unless he's really hot. I think the slower recovery was just the miles. The heat may have been a minor factor, but if I had to do the ride over again, I would do exactly what I did with the exception of checking in with the vet when we got back. If we go over time again, I'm totally slinking off to the trailer first unless I think Nimo is in trouble.
Anyway, the treatment vet pronounced Nimo OK once we finally got there and when I asked specifically about sponging him off, she actually told me to wait until we got home and use warm water. His pulse was still a little higher than I would have liked (56), but the vet said his gut sounds were good, skin tenting was good, and overall appearance was good. His capillary refill time was a bit slow, but otherwise he was in good shape.
And once again I tried to journey back to my trailer, but more people wanted to talk to us. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I really enjoyed meeting so many friendly people who were obviously interested in how we were doing. But I hadn't gotten much of a chance to sit down and rest myself and while Nimo adores being doted on and fawned over, he really needed rest too. Plus, I still had to load all my stuff and drive 2 hours back to the barn before I could go home and crash.
There was one thing that I wanted to wait for Nimo to do before we left and that was to pee. I hadn't really talked about that with the treatment vet, but it was something that was on my mind. And I made an internal decision that no matter how exhausted I was or how late it was, we wouldn't leave until Nimo peed. As it happened, he peed on the way back to the trailer. It looked a little dark, but definitely not bad and there was a lot of it, so I figured he was probably mildly dehydrated but otherwise just tired and getting him home would probably be the best thing for him.
So, I loaded up all of my crap which was strewn all around my truck and trailer and even in the general vicinity around my truck and trailer. I assure you that I did not improve the organization of my stuff by loading it. I think I could have rivaled a teenage boy in terms of messiness. (It's possible that I kind of want to set fire to my truck instead of unloading it and just buy new crap.) And those 50 pound corral panels were definitely not my favorite thing. It turns out 50 pounds weighs a lot more after you've ridden 30 miles than before.
But by shortly after 6:30, I was on the road. I'd hoped to leave a little sooner so I could do the first 11 miles of the trip in daylight, but it was not to be. Those 11 miles wind through the George Washington National Forest and the road is only about 6 inches wider than my trailer with no shoulder. There aren't any steep hills, but the sharp curves mean I have to go slow, which causes a traffic back-up behind me and the darker it is, the slower I have to go. So I'm sure I annoyed at least 50 people, but we made it in good shape and the rest of the trip was an easy drive.
I pulled into the barn around 8:30, gave Nimo some dinner and turned him out for the night. Then I took about 30 ibuprofen tablets to address my headache (likely due to a combination of stress, dehydration, and exhaustion), and drove home. The funny thing is that I called my husband to tell him I was about 30 minutes out and he sounded so exhausted. It turns out that watching a two-year old for 2 days might be more work than camping with your horse and riding for 30 miles!