Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blackwater Swamp Stomp 2017: T-1

Back in December, I found out about a new endurance ride that would be offered in Virginia: the Blackwater Swamp Stomp (BSS), which would be held in what is called the tidewater region of Virginia, not too far from the famous (or infamous if you are trying to drive there) Virginia Beach.  Virginia currently had four endurance rides and all of them were in the mountains.  Don't get me wrong, the mountains are beautiful, but after awhile, it gets a bit tedious to always be worrying about hoof protection and hauling the longer distances to train in the mountains.  So when I found out that the BSS would be held over easy, barefoot-friendly terrain, and offered an intro ride of 13 miles, I couldn't help myself but to sign up.  I also convinced a friend of mine that it would be a good idea to go, and she signed up too.  We trained together once a week (except when Nimo was out of commission due to the abscess) and by some miracle, I deemed us and our horses ready about a week before the ride would be held, with one exception - clipping.

Weather predictions for the day of the ride about a week out indicated temperatures in the 60s, which meant clipping would be a primary concern for me.  However, given that Mother Nature has been unwilling to provide either seasonal or consistent temperatures for months, I opted to wait until as close to the ride as possible to commit to a clip for Nimo.  As the days went by, the expected high for the day of the ride crept downward.  I decided to get a head start on clipping by doing a trace clip three days before the ride.  The weather was gorgeous, with highs near 70, so I knew a trace clip would not mean I would have to blanket and Nimo would probably appreciate some relief as well.  And even with cooler temps, a trace clip would be helpful for cooling without taking too much hair off for Nimo to need a lot of blanketing.  Two days before the ride, I finally committed to doing a modified chaser clip and as temperatures plummeted below freezing (remember I said Mother Nature was a bit off?), I shaved more hair off of Nimo in anticipation of a high of 46 degrees on ride day.  I should emphasize that my experience with Nimo is that if he gets overheated on the trail, he will slow down, never to pick up a decent pace again, and no amount of ice water or other cooling technique is going to perk him up.  It is critical that I keep him from overheating in the first place and that means clipping fairly aggressively and blanketing in cold weather.  This is what I ended up with:

Not the prettiest clip I've ever done, but I figured it would get the job done!
With the clipping out of the way, I went home to finish packing the few remaining things that could be packed the night before, and enjoy a night of the usual tossing and turning and frantically making a note to myself every time my brain remembered something I'd forgotten to pack.  (I keep my phone next to me and type in any item that I remember during the night, so in the morning I don't forget!)

Bright and early on Saturday morning (the ride was on a Sunday), I got up, made a quick cream cheese-based filling for the dish I'd be bringing to Saturday evening's potluck dinner (it turned out great, so if you are interested, click here for the recipe), packed the last few things that needed to be packed, and headed out down the road.  One minute later, my husband called me to tell me I'd forgotten my kindle, so I turned around and stopped by the house to pick it up before once again heading down the road.

Luckily, I'd padded my schedule with about 15 minutes, so having to go back for the kindle was not a big deal.  Plus, I'd already loaded everything and had the trailer hooked up already, so when I stopped by the barn, all I needed to do was fill a water container and load Nimo.  He was already in his stall eating breakfast, so my timing was perfect.  While he finished eating, I got the water, double-checked a couple of things, and then loaded him.

My friend and I planned to caravan most of the way to the ride, and my friend came up with a route that completely avoided I-95.  It would take us a little longer (assuming there was no accident or any other of the many completely random delays that tend to plague I-95), but we would be able to avoid driving amongst all the people who are idiots who also tend to plague I-95.   So about a half hour after I loaded Nimo, I met up with my friend and followed her for the next 3 1/2 hours as we wound our way south through Virginia.  The trip was pretty uneventful.  We stopped about halfway through for gas and to check the horses.  Both were blanketed, but the temperature seemed to be warming up, so I wanted to make sure Nimo wasn't too hot (he wasn't) and give him a quick snack.

In keeping with my usual custom of traveling to new places, we missed a turn near the end because the sign was crooked and we couldn't see the name of the street we were supposed to turn on.  (This happens ALL THE TIME in Virginia and it is beyond annoying when you are hauling a trailer.  I spend a lot of time furiously hoping that the idiots who flip the signs will spend an eternity in hell where they have to travel places and all the signs are messed up or missing...)  But we were able to find an abandoned business parking lot to turn around in, and we were back on track within in few minutes.

And then about 20 minutes later, we were within a mile of camp.  I found myself getting excited as we drove down the gravel/sand lane to the park where the ride was based.  I could see the ribbons marking some of the trail and we passed the separate ride 'n tie camp on the way in.  Even though I have struggled so much with whether the effort to train for endurance rides is worth the sacrifices, on that day, with the sun shining and the air crisp with spring, it was hard for me to deny that all the conditioning and clipping and blanketing and packing and planning was worth it for the opportunity to see new trails and catch up with fellow riders.

We arrived at camp just after 1 pm, and we managed to get the best parking spots ever.  Literally.  Parking was incredibly limited at the ride and it had filled weeks before, so I had expected we'd be crowded and parked inconveniently.  Instead, the ride management had carefully arranged and numbered parking spots and were making sure everyone was parked appropriately, so each rig had enough room for ample pens for the horses and maneuvering room to get parked.  My friend and I parked across from each other because she had a bigger trailer and there was separate parking for bigger trailers to make sure they had enough room.  To my left was the check-in camper and tent for food, as well as the camp fire.  Talk about conveniently located!  I was also close to the vetting area, so if I'd been doing a longer ride, I could have easily crewed from my trailer.

After I got parked and took a couple of minutes to be in awe of how lucky I was, I unloaded Nimo and tied him to the trailer so I could unload the livestock panels I use for his pen.  A minute later, the ride manager herself stopped by to say hello and asked if it was OK if she walked Nimo while I set up his pen.  I was so surprised, I kind of didn't know what to say.  (I mean surely the ride manager has more important things to do than to help me?)  After stuttering for a minute, I finally agreed that yes, she could take Nimo for a walk (apparently she had a friend who loved Friesians and wanted to introduce them).  So Nimo got to socialize and eat grass while I set up his pen.  And about 20 minutes later he came back to me attached to someone else who loved him and I got him set up with hay and water.

Then I went to check in, which was easy because I'd already submitted all my paperwork, and then I spent some time chatting with my friend as well as others I knew in camp.  I think all but 2 or 3 of the regular riders that I know ended up being at the ride, and I have to admit that it made me feel right at home.  Then I got my tent set up despite the fact that I apparently completely forgot the process I had come up with, so I spent a lot of time swearing and looking harried while I tried to remember how to get the *&%$ing thing up.  Eventually, I decided it was good enough and got the rest of my stuff in the tent and set up for the night.

At that point, it was time for the vetting in to start.  The line was pretty long for about an hour, so my friend and I just chatted and watched while we sat at my trailer because I had a lovely view of the process.  I have to admit that I have never had a chance to really watch so many horses do their trot-outs, so it was definitely a great opportunity.  Lots of beautiful, fit horses.  Finally, as the line dwindled, we decided to get our horses and vet in.  And of course, because I finally remembered to both order and bring a dozen grease markers with me, the ride management had plenty and were marking horses for everyone.  Nimo was letter A.  Letters were used for Intro riders, and I think we must have been the first to register.  We vetted in without any problems, and then I ran my friend's horse for her because she has a bad knee.  Her horse vetted through just fine too, and we put them back in their pens.

By then, it was getting close to dinner time, so I finished making the appetizer I had brought and before long, it was time for dinner, followed shortly by the ride meeting.  The ride meeting was pretty short, with the trail manager explaining how the trail was marked.  I did have a feeling of foreboding when he said, "Only a real idiot could get lost out on that trail because it's been marked so well."  If there is anyone who can miss a perfectly well-marked turn, it is me.  And if there is anyone who can't read a map to save her life, it is me.  And I have a horse who isn't much better.  So there's that.  The pulse criteria was the standard 64 bpm for the holds and 60 for the finish.  There was also a post-ride meeting just for new and intro riders, so I stayed for that.  I wanted to make sure my friend got the full experience and also, while I have accumulated quite a bit of knowledge, it had been 10 months since my last ride, so I figured a refresher was not a bad idea, especially given the previous situation with my tent.

The new rider briefing was sort of the usual stuff - basically going through much of what had been said at the ride meeting because new riders always seem to need the extra confirmation of the information they thought they heard and offering some basic tips.  The only thing that I really remember standing out to me was when one of the speakers (maybe one of the vets?) said that trotting was a much more efficient gait than walking and that a person's horse would actually stay cooler and in better metabolic shape if she trotted him than if she walked him (at least that is how I perceived what she said).  I'm not sure I've heard it said exactly that way before, but I have heard something like it in the past.  Here's the thing: I'm going to need some scientific evidence for big black horses before I believe it.  I'm not sure if this idea is more relevant for Arabs, and I will admit that Nimo pulses down a lot faster than I expected, even when I trot him almost all the way in to the vet check, but I really struggle with the idea that going faster is easier than going slower.  Sure, trot is an efficient gait in terms of movement, but that doesn't mean it is always the best gait.  I know some horses who actually seem to do better at the canter, and for Nimo, it would be abuse if I asked him to keep trotting when he was tired.  (Plus, let's not forget all the gaited horses who don't have a trot.)  It is certainly possible that I've missed a nuance with the concept, but I'm not sure it is the best advice to give to new riders, whose horses may not be as fit as they need to be.  In my opinion, every horse is different, and it is paramount that a rider learn to pay attention to the horse rather than apply one-size-fits-all rules.  Anyway, I don't bring it up to criticize the person who said it, but rather as a reminder for myself to keep it in the back of my mind to think about and do more research on.

Everyone went their separate ways soon after the ride meeting ended because the cold was creeping in.  The expected low was 25 degrees and the temperature was well on its way to that end by 7 pm.  I got my trusty heater running in my tent and snuggled in for a bit to read before I took Nimo on his usual pre-bedtime walk.

My trusty propane heater
I also checked email and Facebook and discovered that a fellow rider had posted pictures of what looked like a full-blown forest fire right next to ride camp.  I was kind of surprised because I hadn't noticed anything (note to self: learn how to be more observant when in ride camp...), but I figured the ride management would let us know if there was an emergency, and I had what I considered to be pretty good emergency transportation in the form of Nimo (who I'm pretty sure would turn into an endurance horse of Tevis caliber if faced with an out-of-control fire).  I later discovered it was a controlled burn, but the pictures were definitely a little scary.

At about 9, I pulled myself out of my toasty warm cocoon to walk Nimo for about 20 minutes and make sure he had hay and water for the night.  Then I tucked myself into bed, read for a bit more, and turned the lights off at about 10, hoping for at least a little sleep before the ride the next morning.


  1. You are so cruel to parcel your report in this way!!! 😱😜

    1. It's less about cruelty and more about time management:) It took me days to get this written because of all the interruptions at home!

  2. I'd get a heart rate monitor and test Nimo in various conditions walk vs trot. I've seen the rate go down when horses switch to canter from trot, which I found interesting. I imagine the trotting being more efficient than walking applying to really hot weather where you're hurrying to get to the next shady place where you can walk but I've never done it.

    1. I would like to use a heart rate monitor at some point, lytha, but I haven't felt up to the aggravation of choosing one and trying to get it fitted properly. I'm almost positive that the sensor that is supposed to be under the girth will actually not be under the girth for Nimo and I'm not sure if it will stay on. Anyway, you're right that those readings would give me some good evidence for how Nimo reacts to different gaits.

  3. The way I understand it is more along the lines of, "Trot in the sun, walk in the shade." Definitely helpful on HOT rides. The cool breeze from keeping in motion helps the horse stay cool instead of baking in the sun. I am not sure the same principle applies at all times. I do think staying in a single gait (be it trot, canter, or pace) is much easier metabolically and *mentally* than going back and forth from walk to X gait and back again. That's why we do transitions to get horses thinking and working in an arena setting, and why most endurance riders only change gaits enough to keep the horse using different muscle groups.

    1. I've heard the same, Dom, but I think this advice went beyond that, and that is what is confusing to me. It is possible that the person giving it assumed a certain level of horse fitness and I do know there is a trotting pace that can be sustainable indefinitely for any given horse, but I think the horse needs to be fit for that pace to exist and I question whether that trot pace is necessarily metabolically better for the horse than walk would be. Anyway, definitely food for thought...

  4. I've heard the trotting advice given to beginners before and it concerns me. A lot of the newbies to this sport don't have fit arabs and I have watched some run their horses right into a pull thinking "they told me to keep trotting." Everyone should know how to manage their own horse, but a lot of people don't.

    1. I think new riders are most prone to misunderstanding a horse's physical state (although I'm sure it can happen even to seasoned riders), and the more I think about it, the more I wonder about all the advice new riders get about managing their horses. I think in the quest to keep things simple, we present information as a "rule" rather than as a possibility. Riders really do need to know their horses better than if they are trail riding for pleasure or even doing some of the other, less intense disciplines. I actually know of one new rider who got really bad advice from a vet and her horse almost died after she competed when she shouldn't have. She thought listening to the vet was a good thing but it ended up being bad advice.

  5. So jealous of you with that heater! We froze in the cold truck all night lol! And it sounds like you are about the same distance from the ride. We drove just over 3 hours to get there.