Monday, April 17, 2017

Foxcatcher 25 2017: Before the Ride

I've been to the Foxcatcher endurance ride the past two years and each time, I really had a lot of fun (except for the rain, sleet, and snow last year - I could have cheerfully done without all that!).  A big part of the fun was the company, of course.  I rode with Saiph in 2015 and with Saiph and her husband, Charles, in 2016.  They are wonderful people to be around, and I always enjoy hanging out with them.  Another reason I love Foxcatcher is that even though it is typical for there to be over 100 entries, the ride camp feels small and less formal.  The energy level seems lower than at other rides, the volunteers are always so friendly, and the ride is really well-managed.  Plus, Nimo loves the course.  He prefers open spaces to forest trails and much of the Foxcatcher course is in open fields with a few roads and trails through woods for variety.

The ride sort of feels like a tradition to me, even though I've only been twice, and I was excited to be able to go again this year, although Saiph and Charles would not be there.  (Several other riders I know would be there, though, so I was looking forward to seeing them.)  The friend that I rode with at Blackwater Swamp Stomp wanted to come and try to do the first loop only as part of getting herself and her horse in shape, so I was also excited to have someone I knew to ride with, at least for the first loop.  I wasn't sure I would be doing the second loop - I figured I would make the call either out on the trail or seeing how Nimo was recovering during the hold.

I wish that I could say that I packed assorted things all week so that the day before I would be leaving was peaceful and relaxing.  Ha, ha, ha!  Not so much.  I did manage to run a few errands during the days leading up to my departure, but I actually didn't get to packing the truck and trailer until after 9 pm the night before I left.  There are multiple reasons for my lack of organization, but a big one is that I can no longer leave my trailer parked at my house for the week before the ride to load the livestock panels I use for Nimo's pen and other assorted items like water jugs, hay, etc.  Apparently one of my neighbors got very unhappy with the mere sight of my trailer and called the police to ticket it. 

Apparently, it isn't technically legal to park my own trailer in front of my own house.  (I hate to bring politics into this blog, but this kind of sh*t makes me really mad.  Since becoming a homeowner - and a landowner - I have discovered that local governments can be ridiculously petty and have nonsense for regulations and neighbors can be very frustrating.  There is plenty of parking on our street.  And I wasn't blocking access to parking in front of anyone else's home.  Plus, most of our neighbors have kids who play in the street and leave their crap all over, and we have no HOA, so very few houses on our street are what I would call "perfect."  We chose our neighborhood in part because we can actually live here instead of spending all of our time being slaves to HOA rules.  My trailer is clean and still looks fairly new, and I am blown away that someone I know - the complaint was anonymous - would call the police instead of addressing it with me first.  And the fact that the city government enables that kind of behavior is very aggravating.  I think the police should not be wasting their time dealing with something low level like this, and there certainly should not be a law preventing me from parking my own property in front of my own house.  I realize that there may be some of you who disagree with me on this, but please leave it alone - I'm still really, really mad.)

Anyway, the officer who came to my house at 7:30 am on the day after I got back from the Blackwater Swamp Stomp ride explained that the police do not enforce the ban on trailer parking unless they get a complaint after I pointed out that there is been a trailer parked up the street for the last 10 years.  (I later felt bad about saying that because then that person had to move their trailer too...)  I can legally park my trailer in the driveway, but our driveway is short and steep with sort of a narrow entrance and a bit of a curve to it due to the idiocy of the developers who thought it made a nice aerial view and didn't think through the practicality of it, so it's a bit of a mess to try to get the trailer parked there and then my truck blocks the sidewalk (which I assume would result in another complaint and ticket).  So, I didn't bring my trailer to the house until the night before I had to leave, which meant loading a lot of things late that night (it is legal to park the trailer on the street for unloading and loading, and I dare anyone to tell me that I have to load the trailer, haul it back out to the barn at 11 pm, drop it off, come back home, and then go back out to the barn in the morning to hook it back up).

Luckily, a lot of my stuff was still aggregated from the last ride, so it was pretty easy to assemble and load into the truck.  However, another reason I didn't get the truck loaded sooner was that the day before I would be leaving, we had a lot of rain in the morning.  I expected it to clear up in the afternoon, but instead we got a terrible storm with pea-sized hail.  We were lucky and didn't have any damage to our house, but tornadoes were reported in the area and a friend who lives about 30 minutes away lost part of her siding and roof.

Our deck during the storm - the little white bits are hail.
So I didn't get anything loaded in the afternoon.  And I have to say that I was probably near the breaking point in terms of stress at that point.  I had gotten sick at the beginning of the week, which meant taking time off of work that I could not afford to do, given that I was already scheduled to be out for the ride, but I didn't dare work and risk getting too sick to go to the ride at all, because I simply could not live with that option.  My work load had already ballooned after a short break, and I was so stressed about it that it was really affecting my mood, so being out and trying to take care of myself, the house, the animals, my daughter, and plan for the ride was almost too much (my husband is limited on the leave he can take, so we try to save it for when it is essential that he be out - like for when I need to go to an endurance ride).  I almost had a mental breakdown in the kitchen when my husband got home from work, and I remembered why I gave up conditioning for endurance riding last year.  It is simply too much for me to handle with everything else that I have to do.  But...I can't live without it.  I don't know yet how to reconcile that conflict, but I was determined to make it to Foxcatcher.

After a quick dinner, I headed out to the barn for a couple of last minute tasks and to pick up the trailer.  I needed to trim Nimo's right hind hoof and clip off some more hair to make up for the expected high of near 60 degrees the day of the ride.  That shouldn't take long, right? 

All was going well until I picked up Nimo's hoof to trim it.  I probably need to back up a little at this point.  After I had taken Nimo out for a conditioning ride the previous weekend, I noticed that his right hind was dragging just a bit on the outside of the hoof and I thought I saw a flap of frog coming off.  I also noticed that his hooves had grown insanely fast.  It had been about 4 weeks since his last trim, and normally in that time frame his hooves grow enough to need a bit of work, but not a lot.  Instead, they looked like it had been 8 weeks since his last trim.  They were all looking very asymmetrical and in serious need of a trim.  Because of all that growth, I'd only been trimming one hoof each day during the days leading up to the ride.  It was taking me a good half hour to get each hoof properly trimmed because I had to take so much off.  It was weird.  And in case you are wondering, Nimo's field has no grass in it because it is overstocked, so spring grass was not the reason for accelerated hoof growth.  Anyway, I didn't think too much about what I'd seen in the right hind (you might remember that it is the hoof with the abscess earlier this year, but I didn't...), and just made a mental note to check the frog when I trimmed the hoof to see if I needed to cut anything extra off.

For whatever reason, I started my trimming cycle earlier in the week with Nimo's left front.  Then I did his right front.  Then I did his left hind.  And aside from the extra growth, I didn't see anything exciting.  So when I picked up his right hind and saw what looked like an incredibly deformed hoof, I was in shock.  I should have taken pictures, but I seriously was trying not to hyperventilate because my brain could not process what I was seeing.  I have been trimming Nimo's feet myself for close to 4 years now, I think, and I have been at every farrier appointment since he was 14 months old (he will be 15 this year), and I have never seen anything like what I was seeing.  The best way I can describe it is that the hoof looked like the lateral half had elongated and melted.  Eventually I realized that almost half of his sole was in the process of sloughing off.  It started just to the outside of the half-way line of the hoof and the piece that was sloughing off got deeper and deeper so that at the heel, over 3/4 of an inch of depth was essentially off.  This huge chunk of sole was hanging on by a thread at the outer hoof wall.

I had no idea what to do.  It was 7:30 at night and the night before I was supposed to leave for a ride.  Was this an emergency?  Should I call a farrier?  A vet?  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided to start trimming the hoof on what I'll call the good side.  The bars had grown a lot and actually almost broken off on that side, so I cleaned that up with my hoof knife and then trimmed the edge of the hoof and gradually started working my way to the deformed side.  Little by little, I rasped and used my hoof knife to shave off the deformed sole.  I was careful and tried to make sure I was only trimming the part that was sloughing off.  At some point, it became clear that Nimo had grown a whole new sole under the chunk that was sloughing off and it seemed pretty normal and looked OK.  So then it became a matter of figuring out how to get the remaining sole off because I could see that the medial-lateral balance of the hoof was way off if I left the 3/4" of the heel bulb that had mostly come off still on the hoof.

So I rasped and I sliced and I rasped and I sliced until I got all of the old sole off.  There was a little bit more dishing to the sole than normal, but it looked OK.  What I didn't know is how sensitive it would be on gravel or even on firm footing.  Nimo seemed really happy that I trimmed the hoof, though.  He was licking and chewing and yawning the whole time I was trimming and he happily held his hoof up for me, so I felt like I did the right thing.

When I finally finished trimming, I wondering whether I should call my friend who I would be riding with and let her know I wouldn't be coming.  Or should I check Nimo the next morning and then decide?  I was torn.  I really wanted to go to the ride and I knew my friend would not go without me.  But obviously, Nimo's welfare is more important.  On the other hand, it was clear that the old sole was getting ready to fall off on its own, so maybe it was fine.

I walked him around in the barn and he looked good.  No dragging of the hoof and no sensitivity on concrete.  I finally decided to clip him and get ready as if we were going but do a soundness check in the morning before we left.  And I figured I could always talk to the vet at the ride about it if I had any concerns or he didn't look right when we got there.  I was still kind of shaken up and in shock, which is why Nimo ended up with the strangest clip ever (I'll include pictures in my next post).  And then I tucked him in for the night, hooked up my trailer, and headed home for the packing, which ran late into the night. 

I got up at 6 the next morning to finish packing a few things and hang out a little with my husband and daughter before I left.  At this point, I was pretty sure I would find Nimo crippled when I got out to the barn, and I felt pretty ambivalent about getting on the road because I dreaded what I would find.  I kept wondering what was wrong with me that I would tackle his hoof by myself instead of calling one of the 3 farriers that I would trust to work on him.

I got out to the barn a little after 9.  I didn't need to leave until 10, but I wanted extra time so I could check his soundness.  I avoided doing the last minute filling of water jugs because I really assumed Nimo would be lame and I didn't want to waste my time on unnecessary tasks.  As it turned out, Nimo was full of himself that morning (it was cool and windy) and he trotted completely sound in the arena and didn't seem to have any trouble walking on the bluestone driveway.  So against my better judgment, I finished packing the last few items and loaded him up.

I met my friend about an hour into the drive so we could caravan to the ride and get parking together.  We had decided to drive north through Virginia on US 15 to avoid the Beltway in DC and some of the most congested parts of I-95.  We cut east across Maryland on I-70 and then got on I-695 and then I-95 for the remainder of the trip.  And it was miserable.  I'm almost positive it was really windy last year when I went to Foxcatcher too, and trying to handle a truck and trailer in wind in heavy interstate traffic just sucks.  I had my usual near death experience on I-70 when I was passing a big garbage truck on one side and a semi-truck was passing me on the other.  Shortly after the semi passed, I got slammed by a major gust of wind and the trailer started to fishtail.  Luckily, both the garbage truck on my right and the little car coming up on my left saw what was happening and gave me as much space as they could.  I was able to get everything under control within a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. 

About two hours later, we arrived in camp at around 2 pm, and I have never been so happy to get anywhere.  The fields were muddy from the massive amount of rain that had come through the day before, but our parking volunteer gave me great advice for where to park, which I followed.  I parked in a different area of camp than I have before, which was less sheltered, but also drained better.  I still needed 4-wheel drive to get parked and even with that, I felt my tires lose traction in a couple of places, but both my friend and I got nice places with plenty of room.

We got the horse pens set up (I didn't set up my camping stuff because I was still convinced Nimo would become crippled and I would need to haul him to an emergency clinic) and then checked in and vetted the horses through.  And Nimo was great.  I could feel his usual "I feel so great that I want to buck but I won't because I'm a good boy" that he reserves for Foxcatcher during the trot-out and the vet saw no indication of any issues.  He got all A's on his vet card.


So, I guess we would be starting the ride! 

I decided it was safe to set up my camping gear at that point.  As a note, I normally use a truck bed tent, but about 2 days before I was supposed to leave for the ride, I got it in my head that I wanted to try something else (this is why I never get enough sleep at night - when the house is finally quiet and everyone is asleep, my brain feels like it can finally function and actually think things).  When I was first considering camping methods, one of the things I looked at was using my trailer as my sleeping location.  I ended up ruling it out because my trailer does not have grooves already installed for plexiglass (it is a stock-type trailer), and I thought maybe the smell of past manure would be unpleasant no matter how much I swept the floor.  Plus, I figured I needed to hang some type of tarp or other material for privacy.  Anyway, I became convinced that I wanted to try it because I thought it would be nice to have more room than I have in my tent and to be able to stand upright.  Not to mention, I wouldn't have to fumble around like a rabid, trapped animal to erect the tent.

I concocted a crazy scheme to use binder clips and old sheets and fabric to block the openings on the trailer (I didn't want to spend too much unless I knew I'd be using the method in the future).  It is perhaps a sign of how many crazy ideas I get that my husband didn't even question me when I sent him to the office supply store to get me 30 large binder clips.

I spent some time rigging up the fabric, which was made more challenging because of the crazy wind, but eventually I managed to produce my home away from home:

I may need to work on coordinating the fabric a bit...
I was not able to cover the very top openings of the back and side doors, which probably would have been fine if it hadn't been so windy, but overall, I was pretty happy.  The binder clips worked pretty well to hold the fabric even with the wind, but I realized I wouldn't be able to use anything other than a sheet or very thin fleece because the clips weren't big enough for thicker fabric.  But I loved the concept.  I had plenty of room for my cot, a table to set things on (or use for cooking because the ventilation was really good with the top part of the doors still open), a chair (even two!), my heater, and all my horse crap like my tack locker, hay bales, and buckets.  My friend and I could actually hang out in the trailer out of the wind and chat without feeling like we were crowded.

Not long after I got things set up, it was time for the ride meeting.  One of my favorite things about the Foxcatcher ride is that there is a huge tent that has tables and chairs, plus space to bring your own, and a propane heater.  It is wonderful to have a place to meet and eat that is out of the elements.  So my friend and I headed over to the tent for the meeting.

People are wandering in for the meeting
The ride meeting was pretty basic, although it was briefly interrupted because someone's horses got loose.  Luckily they were easily retrieved and there wasn't too much drama.  The information was similar to past years, except that this year the 25-mile ride was split into two 12.5 mile loops instead of a 15-mile loop followed by a 10-mile loop.  I wasn't sure how I felt about that because I'd really been hoping to cover 15 miles in that first loop.  On the other hand, maybe fewer miles was better, given Nimo's hoof situation.  Anyway, I just needed to remember that we were doing the yellow loop first and then the pink loop if things looked good after the first one.  The pulse for the hold was set at either 60 or 64 (I don't remember, to be honest, but I typically plan to get Nimo down to 60 anyway as a habit, which is sort of a meaningless plan because I have yet to do anything particularly special to get him to pulse down) and it was set at 60 for the finish.  Also, someone pulled some strings and convinced the ride management that while the 50s were starting at 7 am, the 25-milers should start at 8 instead (thank you, whoever you are!).

Dinner followed the ride meeting, and it was the usual fare of catered lasagna, salad, bread, and little pastry-type desserts.  There were also lots of beverage options, from lemonade to water with cucumbers in it to tea and coffee.  We didn't stick around too long after dinner as the temperatures were starting to decline and there was a frost advisory for the night.  I was hoping the wind would die down for the night, but at that point, it was still going pretty strong.

I made sure Nimo was in good shape and took him for a short walk to eat grass and stretch his legs, and then settled in for a chat with my friend in my trailer.  With my portable propane heater running, it wasn't too bad in the trailer, although I could feel the wind coming through a little.  On the other hand, I wouldn't have my usual worry of dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

At about 9, it was time to check on the horses one last time, then call my husband to check in at home, read a little, and do my usual I'm-so-tired-but-I-can't-sleep-because-I-have-a-ride-tomorrow routine.  I did end up cranking my heater up to high instead of the low setting that I normally use.  The bigger space of the trailer plus the wind whistling through was not super conducive to heat maintenance, and I'm a big fan of heat, so I set my alarm for 2 am so I could get up and swap the propane canister (at some point, I will remember to buy the adapter so I can hook the heater up to the 20 lb propane tank and not have to worry about the little 1 lb canisters running out, but that is another story).  I did actually manage to get some sleep and not set myself on fire (another worry that I have when using a propane heater), and when 2 am rolled around, I was feeling pretty warm as long as I kept a blanket over my head to keep out the wind.  I swapped out the fuel canister, threw Nimo another couple of flakes of hay, and settled in for another 4-ish hours of sleep.

And sleep I did, waking only when my friend came in just before 6 to see if I was awake.  I was warm and toasty despite the heater having already run out of fuel, and I was pretty excited about that.  I usually spend an eternity laying in my cot checking the time every so often while I wait for my alarm to go off or I wake up when the camp commotion starts.  So it felt like a luxury to have actually slept.

By then, Nimo was pretty insistent that somebody feed him because he was starving, so I did that and then headed over to get some breakfast, which consisted of coffee and a pastry.  After hanging out in the tent eating and chatting for a bit, I headed back to my trailer to get my riding clothes on, and get Nimo tacked up.  And finally, it was just after 7:30, and time to get on to warm Nimo up a little before walking over to the start line, which was at the other side of camp and across a road in a big, open field.