Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Does It Mean to Attempt the Impossible?

So my blog description still tells you that I'm on a journey to ride Nimo in the Old Dominion 100 Mile Endurance Ride.  At the time I wrote that description, I HAD NO IDEA what it really meant to do endurance riding.  I'd read a bunch of books that made endurance riding sound like fun and that almost any horse and rider could do the distances if they just put their minds to it.  But that isn't really true, is it?  If you are in the endurance world, you know that it takes more than a half-way decent horse and a rider who really wants to do endurance.  There is a synergy between horse and rider that must be achieved, there is endless conditioning to do, tons of equipment to fiddle with or replace until it's just right, electrolyting to figure out, rider eating and drinking to plan, and a whole host of other things that can suck the life out of the unknowing rider as she tries to just make it to a ride and God-forbid, get the horse across the finish line in one piece and without needing veterinary care.

Currently, my Facebook newsfeed is jammed with Tevis news, including the story about the older gentleman (in his 70s, I think) who won this year.  And of course, it's hard to learn about endurance riding without hearing the name Julie Suhr, who is an older lady with quite a few miles under her belt.  And there is the half-Friesian who has won a 100-mile ride (maybe even more than one).

But I think those are some special cases.  Which is why they are such big news.  The reality is that it didn't take me long to realize how impossible it is for most experienced endurance riders to even contemplate the idea of riding a purebred Friesian in a 50 mile ride, much less a 100 mile ride, much less a ride as difficult as the OD.  To the best of my knowledge, Friesians are actually unclassified when it comes to hotblood, warmblood, and coldblood status.  They are referred to as Baroque, but they aren't really even that, because few of them have the shoulder and hip angles to be good at dressage and collection.  They are heavy harness horses that are just so damn beautiful with such people-loving temperaments that we can't help ourselves but interact with them.  Yet their unclassified nature makes it hard to know how they'll handle the extreme nature of endurance riding.  And I think that makes endurance folks uncomfortable sometimes.  Especially the ones who typically ride Arabs.  And even the ones who used to ride non-Arabs, but now ride Arabs because they are so much easier.  And I have to admit it makes me uncomfortable sometimes too.  Plus, it means that I don't have many good sources of scientific information when it comes to how I manage my horse, and the weight of the knowledge that I could really screw up my horse if I make a mistake is a tough burden sometimes.

For those of us who dare to ride non-Arabs, we can expect that the information that is out there is mostly going to be about Arab metabolisms and issues.  That means electrolyting protocols are mostly for Arabs (although I know there are those out there like Aarene Storms and Saiph who post about what does and doesn't work for their non-Arabs).  That means conditioning plans and advice are mostly for Arabs.  (I'll never forget the times I've read conditioning plans showing that I could get my reasonably fit horse in shape for a 30-mile ride in 6 weeks.)  That means equipment is typically Arab-sized (and I have to buy custom-made tack for my larger-than-life horse).  That means that hoof boots are Arab-sized (which means fewer options are available for bigger feet).  That means that general health care advice is about managing Arabs, with such advice as how much grass versus hay they should eat and even whether alfalfa is an appropriate choice (which means figuring out what nutrients my horse really needs is a shot in the dark).  That means reading about how to prevent girth and other tack rubs.  (I remember one endurance rider being very concerned that I'd fully bodyclipped Nimo prior to our Foxcatcher 25 ride.  She rode an Arab and that degree of clipping would have contributed to girth rubs and back issues.  Ha!  Nimo was in heaven without all his hair and has never had anything remotely like a girth rub because he has really thick, coarse hair that is very protective even when it's short.)

So what's a person to do?  How about asking questions on the AERC Facebook page?  Not a good idea.  For every question, I can almost guarantee that there will be such a mix of positive and negative answers that the questioner would have been better off continuing to wonder about the answer.  For example, today I saw a question about whether it was possible to condition a 20-year old horse for LDs.  The poster gave a few more details about the horse to help those so inclined answer her question.  I didn't read the responses because they would likely send me into the stratosphere, and also because...IT DOESN'T MATTER.

I see so many potential endurance riders trying to diligently gather as much information as they can about attempting the sport (I did the same thing).  And I see all the experienced (and probably not-so-experienced) riders try to help the best they can by expressing their opinions about whether something can be done.  Can you ride a mule with oddly-shaped feet in Renegade hoof boots over muddy terrain in the Southeast?  Can you do a 50-mile ride in an all-purpose English saddle that seems to fit the horse really well but sometimes causes the rider chafing on the inside left knee?  Can an 8-year old horse that has only done 2 LDs be conditioned to do a 100-mile ride in 6 months?

The answer to all these questions is that NOBODY KNOWS UNTIL SOMEBODY TRIES IT.  All the well-meaning advice in the world can't account for determination and some luck.  No one knows for sure that a horse has the temperament and fitness ability to become a 100-mile horse, until that horse is given the opportunity to try.  I do know that there are stories of unlikely horses and riders.  Horses that a few years ago would have run in terror to the next county at the sight of base camp.  Or riders who have gone through personal tragedy or financial issues or health problems, only to overcome them and complete a ride.  If these horses and riders had listened to the best advice of those that had gone before them, they would never have set foot in a ride camp.  But they choose not to listen and whether they finished one ride or 5,000 miles or failed completely, it doesn't matter.  Because failing at something you wanted to do isn't a sign of weakness or lack of skill.  It just means that it didn't work out.  AND THAT IS OK.

I'm not sure why failure is such a debilitating fear.  When I watch my daughter learning, she fails all the time.  She falls down a lot or bumps her head or spills the beads all over the floor or drops the marker or dumps the milk.  But she rarely gets upset about it.  In fact, failure is almost always a non-event for her.  She just picks herself right back up and tries again and again and again until she gets it right, even if it takes days or even months to get better.  She could probably be a motivational speaker if she was older than 2:)

So to those who think my 13 year old Friesian will never be successful at completing the OD 100, you are probably right.  In fact, everything that I've learned about endurance riding so far indicates that the chances are so small that we will succeed that it isn't even worth trying.  BUT I DON'T CARE.

The thing is, it doesn't really matter if Nimo and I are successful in reaching what is, to be honest, my goal that I came up with before I even knew what I was getting into.  Nimo has not yet communicated to me that he shares the goal.  (In fact, last night, it was apparently almost too much of an imposition to hold his foot up while I trimmed it.  "There is grass out there, dammit!  It must be eaten, and it must be eaten by me!")  But in the process of working toward my goal, I've learned so much, and I know that I have so much more to learn if I just stick with it.  I am a better owner for my horse and I will be a better owner to all my future horses and even other animals because of our journey so far.  As long as my horse's welfare is always my top priority, I don't think it matters whether our target distance is 25 miles or a multi-day 500 (OK, a multi-day 500 is NEVER going to be a goal, but you get my point, I hope).  And so, unless or until Nimo develops a physical issue that just can't be overcome, you will find the two of us plugging away toward reaching our goal and attempting the impossible.  Because no one will ever know if this Friesian can do 100 miles until we try:)

14 comments:

  1. This is SUCH a fabulous post, it really does need to be shared everywhere. I really admire your attitude and approach...definitely something that made me pause and think and realize it's something I need to work on myself. So thank you for that! My hats off to you and Nemo...I love reading about all of your experiences out there!

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  2. I've been dreaming about doing endurance since I learned how to ride almost two years ago and have done pretty much everything you mentioned from scouring the internet for tidbits and training plans to floating questions on the AERC FB page. After all that, I've come to the same conclusion as you state here- you'll never know unless you try. Will I enjoy doing a 6-8 mile trail rides? I did a hunter pace and found out I could and in fact I wanted MORE. Can I do a 25 mile ride? I catch rode my first 25 mile CTR a couple weekends ago, completed, and got reserve champ.The list of questions go on and I still have a ways to go before I'm doing 100 milers but I got my answers by preparing to the best of my ability and then going out and just doing it.

    I'm glad to see you are unwaveringly working towards your endurance goals regardless of the many unknowns- it is very inspirational to people who are walking a similar path (:

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    1. It sounds like you have made a huge amount of progress in a short time, Grace! I have no doubt you'll succeed at whatever your goals end up being:)

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    2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! You have articulated so well the trials, frustrations, biases and triumphs of endurance and its participants. I started on a 17 year old Spotted Saddle Horse and went to the "dark side" and bought an Arabian. I can say with great assurance, they are easier in many respects. Your journey with a Friesian has probably been more educational than if you just started with an Arab. Like me on my Spotty, you really have to learn how to manage your horse.
      Good luck on your journey to OD! I am headed to Tevis 2016! My horse finished in 2013...now it's our turn to do it together!

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    3. Thanks, phyliciam! Good luck at Tevis:)

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  3. This! LOVED this! And it's funny because I had recently wondered if you still had the same goal...and hoped that you still did! :) Not necessarily because of the goal itself, but, as the title of your blog so clearly states, because of the journey to get there. I've found so much inspiration in you and Nimo and in your blog, and I hope to continue going on conditioning rides with you and hopefully riding at more endurance rides with you in the future.

    And hey, you're friends with that crazy girl that one day had the crackpot idea of making her first endurance ride ever on her TB not only a 50-miler, but the OD 50. ;) I am 100% certain that you and Nimo will achieve whatever endurance goals you set out to do!

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    1. Thanks, Saiph:) And you and Lily are such an inspiration to me! I'm so thankful we managed to get together that first time to ride and keep riding since then. I think being able to ride with you has really helped keep me on track:)

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  4. Very well said!!! I just stepped back into the horse world after a 20 year absence and I just keep saying - it's a journey for us, me and my horse, a partnership, no matter what we decide to do -- it's the process of us learning about each other and becoming better, on the trail, in the ring, in the barn -- whatever. And FB drives me BATTY !

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  5. Excellent post! *clapping cheering stomping whistling*

    I wish you the very best with your goals and plans. As we say in our camp, "If you don't have a plan, you won't have anything to crumple up and throw away!"

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    1. Thanks, Aarene!:) And I love your saying about not having a plan - that may be my new motto:)

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