The start time of the ride was a bright and early 7 am, so I wanted to start saddling by 6:15. Before that, though, I wanted to take Nimo on a short walk and let him eat some grass, so by 6 I had him out and about. Once I started tacking up, I debated about whether to wear a raincoat and how many layers I should have on. I was in a giant winter parka, but I knew that would be too warm for riding. I'd brought enough clothes to make just about anything work, but I really needed to know the status of the rain/snow for the day. As it turned out, I didn't need my weather app to figure that out. Light sprinkles started falling around 6:30, and so I decided to go with a couple of light layers topped by a lined raincoat. I hadn't had much of a chance to ride in the raincoat, but I figured if I got it wrong, I'd be able to change after the first 15 miles anyway.
By 6:45, I was on Nimo to keep him from losing it. He definitely knew he wasn't at any old training ride and I could feel him getting excited. It turns out that mounting in a long rain coat using the wheel well of your trailer isn't that easy, so I got a hand from Charles. It was at this point that some not so subtle mocking of my giant raincoat began. I admit that it is not among the top 10 most flattering things in my wardrobe, but I had every expectation that it was going to perform the all-important function of keeping me dry, so I took Charles' ribbing in good humor and hinted that he might have to eat his words by the end of the ride:)
I walked Nimo around camp for a few minutes while Saiph and Charles finished getting ready. We planned to ride together for at least the first loop and then play it by ear for the second loop. Because they had already completed a ride a few weeks before, I felt like their horses were in better shape than Nimo and that I might want to slow our pace down a little for the second loop. On the other hand, I knew Nimo was in better shape than the year before, so I decided I would let him dictate the pace unless I felt there was a safety issue. So far, he has never lied to me on a ride about feeling tired, so I was sure I could trust him not to overdo it.
As 7 am approached, all three of us began walking the horses toward the start line. We intended to start about 5 minutes late to let any anxious front-runners get underway without getting in their way, but we also wanted to do better than our 20 minute late start last year (we had been worried about the horses freaking out because of all the horror stories we had heard and we had no intention of having crazed, bucking horses running all over). The horses were definitely alert, but not out of control as we made our way to the start line, which was located across a road and in the middle of a big, open field (hence the concern about amped up horses). There were a fair number of starters all heading out at once, but except for a group of three ladies who trotted through, everyone was calmly walking their horses. Nimo was awesome. He walked with motivation and I could tell he was ready to trot at a nano-second's notice, but he kept it together.
|Crossing the road to get to the start line (photo by Dom's Mike)|
|Image by Hoof Prints Photography|
|There are several tunnels on the trail that go under roads. Last year they seemed pretty intimidating, but they were no big deal this year! Photo by Charles|
|There are also these exciting bridges which go over highways. Note that the guard fence is basically see-through, which means I keep my eyes straight ahead! Photo by Charles|
|Charles has a gift of being able to take pictures while riding, and I'm pretty sure he took this one as Gracie was cantering by|
Maybe 4-ish miles from the end of the first loop, we stopped briefly for Saiph to swap a hoof boot that had come loose. It turned out to be a multi-purpose stop because both Lily and Nimo needed to pee (yay, good horses!) and as we started walking forward, we realized that there was a horse without a rider loose in the field. And then my heart sank and I felt sick to my stomach because I saw his rider on the ground not moving. There was a bicyclist stopped on the side of the road, and it wasn't hard to put together what must have happened. There was a lady on horseback trying to catch the loose horse, but he kept moving away from her. We proceeded slowly forward, not sure what we could do to help. She asked us to stop, so we did. It was at that point, that the rider started moving and trying to get up, which he was able to do. It was clear something was really wrong with one of his legs/feet because he could hardly walk. Nonetheless, he hobbled over to his horse and caught him. Then he brought the horse over to the road, so he could use the ditch to get back on. He tried to say he didn't need any help, but eventually he was convinced to let Charles hold his horse so he could put what he thought was his foot connected to a Broken Ankle in the stirrup and get back on. I have got to give this man credit for sheer pain tolerance because he kept on riding (even though it probably would have been possible to get an ambulance there because of the road).
After waiting for a few minutes to make sure that it would be OK to leave the man and his riding partner, we moved off trotting again. While we had been stopped, the rain had turned into sleet and then heavy, wet snow and the temperature had dropped as well. For a couple of miles, it wasn't too bad, but I have to admit that by the time we had about 2 miles to go, I asked Saiph for a mileage update. I had opted not to ride with my GPS or my phone for the first loop because I knew we'd have no trouble making time, and then I figured I would use them for the second loop where I was more likely to need to monitor our pace. (I've been trying to practice estimating time and pace using just a watch, so that if I forget my GPS or it doesn't work, I still have some idea of our status on the ride. Mostly I'm able to get within a mile of what our actual mileage is.)
We continued on through the snow as it started accumulating into a slushy mess on the ground and I have to admit that the fun factor started to go way down. Even with my raincoat, my gloves were soggy and I was pretty sure the water-proofing on my boots was failing. Plus, the light layers that had been perfect earlier in the ride were now not quite enough, so even though I was mostly dry, I was getting a little chilled. So it was with great relief when we got to what I was sure was about a half mile from the vet check (which was held at base camp). I recognized the trail from the year before. However, there was supposed to be a marker indicating one mile to go and we hadn't seen one. Saiph speculated that maybe the trail would wind around a little more before taking us in to base camp, but we must have just missed the sign, because it became clear within a couple of minutes that we were indeed finishing the first loop. We walked the horses in for the last quarter mile or so and I mentally prepared for what I would need to do with Nimo to get him ready to be vetted.
Unfortunately, we arrived at the vet check with quite a few other riders, so we had to wait a few minutes to get our in-time. Normally, I would have gotten off, but with the snow coming down, I knew my saddle would be soaked and the thought of adding a cold, wet saddle to the next 10 miles was not appealing, so I asked Nimo to tough it out.
|Waiting in the snow for an in-time. Photo by Saiph|
Saiph and Charles were still vetting in, but it looked like everything was OK, so I headed back to the trailer to get Nimo set up with food and water. I was starting to get concerned because he didn't drink out on the trail and he didn't drink at the crew area. Normally he would have. Obviously, the cold and wet was a factor, but I have literally spent 99.37% of my time worrying about ways to keep my horse cool and hydrated, so being in a situation where it was cold and wet was kind of a new thing. I had "electrolyted" the way I always do, which is basically just to give Nimo an extra tablespoon of salt in his dinner the night before the ride, an extra tablespoon of salt in his breakfast mash the morning of the ride, and a tablespoon of salt in his mash at the hold. I haven't needed a more stringent electrolyte protocol, so I'm holding off on developing one until it seems like what I'm doing isn't working. But no drinking. He was alternating between picking at his mash, eating a few bites of hay and resting, which is quite normal for him during the hold, so I wasn't worried about that. And all his food was wet because of the rain/snow coming down, so he was getting some moisture. I decided to take care of a few things and see how he did. We'd made good time on our first loop, completing it in about 2 hours, 15 minutes, so we had a ton of time left to do the last 10 miles, and there was no need to rush.
I took a fresh, dry cooler to the crew area and put it in my garbage bag enclosed crew bag to keep it dry and then I got our out time of 10:09, which left almost 3 hours to get through 10 miles. Then I ate and drank and changed my shirt. Unfortunately, the neckline and sleeves of my raincoat had leaked, so my shirt had gotten a little wet. No big deal, though. I put on a dry long-sleeve shirt and sweatshirt, put my raincoat back on, put my super soggy wet gloves back on, and headed back out to prepare Nimo for the next 10 miles.
At this point, though, he still had not drunk anything and he looked miserable. He was hunkered under a leaf-less tree in an attempt to endure the snow and I got this overwhelming feeling that he did not want to go back out. The thing is, I felt the best I've ever felt after a first loop. I was not tired, I was not hungry, I was not headachy, I was not sore, and with my clothing change, I was reasonably warm and dry. I was a bit thirsty, but that was easily remedied. Nimo did great on the first loop. I had no reason to think that he wouldn't be able to do another 10 miles...except, I was worried. I couldn't really identify a reason except for possible dehydration, but I doubted he would have gone from fine at the vet check to dehydrated a half hour later. I am having a tough time explaining how I was feeling, but it was like my body was trying to move through water and it had nothing to do with my own sense of well-being. It was just an oppressive feeling that we shouldn't go back out on the trail. I could tell Nimo was not excited about going back out (although I don't think he ever has been - it always takes a couple of miles to convince him that it's really fine to do some more miles), but aside from the lack of drinking (and I knew there would be opportunities on the trail), it was more a feeling than some tangible reason.
Still I had Nimo ready to go and was literally in the process of finding a good mounting block, when I finally said the words to Saiph. "I'm concerned about dehydration. I don't know if we should go back out." She looked concerned too, and it wasn't long before I realized she had similar worries. I'll let her tell her own story at this point, but I decided to Rider Option.
I took Nimo back to his pen and pulled his tack, and about 30 seconds later, he was happily eating hay. I could feel the sense of relief from him and I knew I made the right decision. Because while there are always stories of riders/horses who get through incredible odds and do things like get back on and ride even with a broken ankle, this was not one of those kinds of days for us. It was cold, it was wet, and another 10 miles had little chance of being remotely fun. It would have been a hard slog with a horse who really wasn't up for it. And I would rather have pulled him when I didn't need to than to have continued on when I shouldn't have.
After giving Nimo a little more time to eat, I took him over to the vetting area to turn in my rider card and check in with the vet. For some reason, she decided not to do a second check (which I think is typical), but I wasn't that concerned about Nimo's health at that point, and I knew I could come back anytime if things changed.
Nimo did eventually drink about 2 hours after we came in from the first loop and that made me feel better, so I started packing up to go home. I had initially thought about staying Saturday night, but the weather changed my mind, and getting on the road seemed better than staying in what was increasingly becoming a muddy mess.
By about 1:30 pm, I was packed up and Nimo seemed to be in good shape, so I decided to head out. Luckily, the snow/rain stopped within about an hour, and the sun even came out a little as I headed south. Plus, the traffic was much improved over our trip the day before, and I pulled into the barn at around 5 pm. I got Nimo settled, watched him pee and drink - hurray! - and headed home to get a shower and food.
I did come back out to the barn at about 9 that night and at about noon the next day just to double check that Nimo was still OK, and he was. In hindsight, it kind of seems like I might have overreacted to his lack of drinking because I heard from quite a few other riders that their horses weren't drinking either and they still went on to finish. But, I remember that really bad feeling I had, and I still feel like I did the right thing.
Here is the rub. I had originally planned to ride at the OD No Frills 30 ride in a couple of weeks. But going to that ride was contingent on us successfully completing Foxcatcher. I never had any doubt that we would (I didn't even think about the possible impact of snow), and now that we haven't, I don't think No Frills is a good idea. It is a 30 mile ride through mountains and if it is anything like the other two OD-sponsored rides that we've done, it will require a combination of good preparation and luck just to survive the first loop. And honestly, that isn't where I'm at right now. I feel unfulfilled about our missed completion at Foxcatcher and I was really relying on that ride to give Nimo a good conditioning preparation for No Frills. Without it, I don't think we're ready.
So here's what I've decided to do. I joined ECTRA (a competitive trail riding organization) and I'm going to try a couple of 25-30 mile CTRs in May. I initially didn't look into CTRs much because the set pace for those rides is in the 6+ mph range and that felt like too much for us when we started. Now, I'm pretty sure we can handle it, so I think adding CTRs to our ride schedule this year will be a good thing. It gives us almost double the number of rides to choose from in the 2-5 hour hauling range, plus CTRs offer options that endurance rides don't, like 2-day 50s and 3-day 100s, which could really be helpful when we're looking to move up a distance.
I'm bummed about missing No Frills, which will literally be attended by every endurance friend I have in the area, but I have to make the ride choices that work best for Nimo, and I think a lovely 26 miles in hunt country (Cheshire CTR in PA) will be just the thing:) I admit to being a little apprehensive about joining a new organization and learning new rules and meeting new people and developing new strategies, but in the long-run, I think it will be very beneficial to working toward increasing our distance and being able to do more rides.
So enough about that. My next post will go into our gear and what worked and what didn't because while we might not have completed the ride, a lot of other things worked really well and I want to write up those successes so I remember for next time:)