Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The OD 25 2017: The Ride, part 2

Immediately after getting our in-time, we took the horses to get a drink at the trough and then over to our crew area for a few minutes of snacks.  A volunteer came over to see if we needed help and both horses got sponged a little, although we didn't take the tack off.  I wasn't sure how much of an impact there would be on the horses because of our faster pace into the vet check, but they both seemed to be doing pretty good.  So after a few minutes, we took them over to the pulse-taker for what many people probably thought would be a courtesy pulse (big black horses don't pulse down that fast, they were thinking...), but sure enough, Nimo was already down to 60 bpm just 9 minutes after coming into the hold.  The criteria was actually 64, so we were good to go to the vet.  Nimo's CRI was 60/64 and he got all A's.  My friend's horse vetted through equally well, and we headed to our crew area to discuss our next move while the horses ate and rested.

Our out-time was 12:39 (the hold was 45 minutes), leaving us 1 hour and 21 minutes to go the remaining 9 miles and pulse down.  (I remain consistently bitter that the finish criteria for LDs is different than for 50s and 100s.  I've had more than one person - sometimes sanctimoniously - explain to me that LDs aren't real rides and are just considered training, so the fact that we have to be pulsed down by the maximum time when 50- and 100-milers just need to be across the finish line by the maximum time should not bother me.  Well, it does.  My perspective is #1, LDs are not just training for some of us - they are the best that we can do - and #2, if I'm in training for a 50-mile ride, than I should be acting like I'm on one and doing everything the same, including the finish - don't even get me started...)

I did not think the math was looking that good, although so many people had told me the remaining trail was relatively easy, I thought we had hope.  I didn't know what my friend would want to do, though.  And I admit, I was feeling pretty miserable physically.  The insides of both knees were definitely chafing, I had a mild headache, I felt dehydrated, and I had a back spasm in my upper back.  So the thought of ROing was appealing.  On the other hand, I was convinced that this was my last ride, so there was also an appeal to at least getting the miles done before I called it quits.

My friend, surprisingly, seemed in really good spirits after she had a few minutes to settle her horse and rest.  Apparently, she is one of those people for whom the holds are really helpful because she feels refreshed after resting.  I, on the other hand, never want to get up after I sit down.  But we had so much time that I actually peed (first time ever at a hold!!!), ate something, drank a lot, and even sat down.  I had expected Nimo to act like he had the last time we had come in to the hold at this ride and wander around inconsolably while desperately wanting to get back out on the trail.  But he settled right in and ate the best I've ever seen him eat at a hold and was very relaxed and easy-going.  I'm sure having my friend's horse there with him was what made the difference.  The two horses get along well and were happy to share food and be right next to each other.

And so the consensus was that we would continue on.  At about 12:30, we got ourselves together, found a bench (both our horses are tall), and got back on to attempt to complete the ride.  I was skeptical that we could finish in time, but I thought that if the trail really was easy, we should be able to move out and give it a legitimate effort.  We got lots of encouragement from the volunteers as we headed out right on time.

We walked the horses for just a minute or two to let them warm-up a little and then we started trotting.  Nimo was leading at that point and felt almost as fresh as he had at the beginning of the ride.  My friend's horse was also in good spirits and motivated, and it wasn't long before he took the lead (he seems more comfortable in front, although we do swap out every once in awhile even if it is just for a few minutes because I think it is important for him to get a break from leading).

But it soon became clear that "easy" is a relative term that must mean vastly different things to different people.  While we did not encounter any 2-mile climbs, there were some steep, shorter ones and also more than a few rocks.  At this point, though, my mental state was a little better.  Nimo's hoof boots had now stayed on for a record 7 miles without incident, the light at the end of the tunnel was faintly visible, and I was really looking forward to being off my horse.  So when my friend started to have a case of Tourette's syndrome every time she saw rocks, I started (quietly) giggling.

We trudged along for miles, trotting occasionally when the footing was half-way decent and we weren't climbing or coming down something too steep.  When we hit the power line section of trail several miles in to the loop, though, I was cursing the name of every person who told me the trail was easy.

This is the one picture I took on trail because by then I knew we were going to make it to the end, maybe not on time, but we were going to get the miles done.  It's right at the top of the power line section of trail and you may notice that the trail looks like it just drops off and then goes down steeply.  That is not an illusion.
We happened to be riding with a couple of ride 'n tie runners at that point and they mentioned seeing people (presumably on tiny Arabs) come cantering down the trail on previous rides.  These people are certifiably crazy (the cantering people, not the ride 'n tie runners, although I do believe they have some mental issues too).  I did manage to trot Nimo down short bits of the trail to keep up with my friend's gaited horse's walk, but I'm not sure I could have sustained a trot down the whole thing, much less a canter.

Once we made it off the steep power line trail, we turned into the woods and into, you guessed it, more rocks.  There was one place where I think we had a discussion about where the trail even was because there were so many big rocks everywhere and zero ribbons.  I guess we figured it out, though.

One thing that was adding drama to the ride for me was that I could hear a loose buckle on Nimo's right hind Easyboot.  It started just before the power line trail and I had thought about asking the ride n' tie runners to take a look for me, but I didn't want to slow them down because those poor souls were running the trail.  I also thought about getting off to take a look because there were lots of big boulders to use to get back on.  But I kind of suspected it might be upsetting to my friend, and I knew if we missed the time to get in by 2 minutes or something like that, I would never live down stopping to check that boot.  (You might point out that if it came off, I would have to fix it anyway, but I am really good about procrastinating when facing situations that I don't want to face.)

So, with every stride I could hear the buckle clicking.  But the boot didn't come off.  It didn't come off when we went over some rocks and it didn't come off when we started trotting, even when we trotted over rocks.  It was a mystery that would have to remain unsolved for the time being.

And then, miraculously, the trail started to be less rocky and easier.  We started doing a bit more trotting.  Nimo took the lead again, probably about 3 miles before the end of the trail.  He still felt good and he happily trotted on a winding trail through the woods (which is normally not the kind of trail he would like to trot on).  But within a few minutes, I could hear my friend yelling, "Slow Down!  There are rocks!"  I possibly laughed out loud this time (I don't think she could hear me) because I think I saw one 3" rock.  The poor woman just could not handle the sight of another rock.

And so we walked a bit and trotted a bit, and the sun beat down on us relentlessly as we slogged our way to the end.  Probably about 2 miles from the finish, I knew we wouldn't make it on time.  It was 2 pm, and that was the maximum time.  But, we were close to the end, and we wouldn't be as late as I had thought we would be when we started the trail.

One concern I had in addition to the loose hoof boot buckle was that Nimo was stopping to pee a lot, which is not normal for him.  I thought maybe he was so excited to get back to the trailer that he wasn't fully emptying his bladder when he stopped, but I was also worried something else could be going on.  He was not lathered up, though, and his movement felt smooth and normal, so that seemed to rule out tying up.  I should note that this frequent peeing has occurred twice before on conditioning rides.  The first time it happened (about 2 years ago), I had the vet out, thinking Nimo might have a bladder infection.  The vet found nothing (other than the cleanest sheath she'd ever seen), and the behavior wasn't repeated until over a year later, again on a conditioning ride.  I never figured out what was going on the previous 2 times, so I was definitely paying attention, but not freaking out.

Finally, we got on to the section of road that marks the last 1.5-2 miles of the ride.  I wanted to crawl in the shade and get out of the never-ending sun.  The high that day was only supposed to be 75, but it felt much hotter than that (Weather Underground reports the actual high was 80).  We mostly trotted, walked a little, and then it was over.  At 2:18, we rode up to the in-timer and got our official in-time.

I got off and we walked the horses to the crewing area to let them drink and eat a little as we pulled our tack off.  Nimo had not drunk as much as I'd hoped at the hold, so I was happy to see him dive into the tank and drink deeply.  He also started inhaling grass like he was starving.  He didn't want any carrots or hay, just grass.  He had definitely still had lots of energy left and the only sweat was under the saddle pad.  After maybe 10 minutes, we took them over for a pulse check.  I was actually not sure that Nimo was pulsed down.  I never use a stethoscope, but so far, I've always been able to sense when he seems close to 60 bpm.  I thought his breathing still seemed a little rapid, and the pulse-taker confirmed that he was still at 68.  So it was back to the crew area for more water (he drank deeply two more times) and more grass.  I also sponged him and pulled both hind boots off.  The right hind boot had stayed on the whole rest of the ride, even though the cotter pin that holds the buckle must have snapped off and the cable had come out of the buckle.  Luckily, the cable had somehow caught on another section of the buckle and pulled tight, so it was never in danger of coming off, but it was a pain to remove.  I took the hind boots off because I know Nimo doesn't like them, and I thought getting rid of anything annoying might help his pulse come down faster.

I waited about as long as I dared before bring Nimo back for a pulse check.  Part of the reason was that there were some other people vetting in.  They could have been 50-milers at the finish or maybe 100-milers vetting in for the next day, but either way, I didn't want to interfere because I was already out of the completion time.  The other reason for the delay was that I wanted to give Nimo every chance to get pulsed down within 30 minutes.  If he didn't, I knew we'd be headed for lots of rechecks and discussions with the vet because I'm positive that every OD vet who looks at him sees a metabolic failure waiting to happen.  It might just be my warped perspective, but I often get the sense that vets think I'm clueless about horse care because they can't fathom why any intelligent human being would bring a 17 hand Friesian to an OD ride.

Don't get me wrong.  If Nimo needs medical care, he's going to get it.  But he was acting like he was still ready to go, and he had drunk so much that I thought he'd corrected at least part of the deficiency he'd had leaving the Bird Haven vet check.  Plus, he would not stop eating and moving around.  So I wasn't really concerned that something significant was wrong.  I did think the hot sun was not working in his favor, though.

At 2:47 (29 minutes after we arrived), Nimo was pulsed down to 60.  His CRI was actually 60/56, so he was recovering well at that point.  He got all As, except for gut sounds because one side was quiet.  The vet gave us an overall score of a B because he took so long to pulse down and the gut sounds were quiet on one side.  I got the sense that if his CRI hadn't been so good and she hadn't seen him stuffing his face with grass with her own eyes, she would have considered a metabolic pull.  But then the vet looked at me and said, "You could have had a completion if you'd come in on time."

And I just wanted to cry.  Not because we didn't get a completion.  (I have always maintained and continue to maintain that getting a completion isn't why we do this.)  But because there is this crazy focus above all else on completions.  I have come to believe that coming in overtime may actually be considered worse than a pull for lameness or metabolic issues.  I overheard or was part of so many conversations with people whose horses had been pulled, and everyone was always sympathetic (as they should be) and they would share stories of their own that were similar.  But when people found out I came in overtime, they often felt compelled to do the math for me.  "If you just did each mile a minute faster, you could get a completion."  It's as if coming in overtime is merely a demonstration of how incompetent a person is at reading a watch or GPS device or perhaps can't add correctly.  I'm not sure that a single person ever considered that the slower pace might have been necessary to save my horse from a metabolic pull.  (Not every person I shared the information with reacted badly - some were supportive - but there were enough that weren't that I feel compelled to write about it.)  And to be honest, the slower pace was more of a default than intentional, and once it was clear we weren't going to make it on time, I saw no reason to push the horses faster than the nearly 6 mph pace that we averaged for the second loop (which is really not that bad!).

The thing is, in hindsight, I think Nimo didn't drink well enough at the hold and if we had done the second loop half an hour faster, giving us enough time to beat the maximum time and have 10 minutes to pulse down, Nimo could have been a metabolic pull.  He could have ended up on an IV or worse.  And so it wouldn't have been a completion, it would have been a train wreck.  And that's something along the lines of what I said to the vet.  Hopefully, with a matter-of-fact tone and not a bitchy one, because I really do try to treat all the vets and volunteers with respect.  They work very hard and without them, I would never have a chance to see what my horse and I could do, but I felt so upset that the vet would say that, especially with the delay in Nimo pulsing down.  It had to have been clear that a faster time could have had negative repercussions and to sort of chastise me for my time seemed nonsensical.

Anyway, my friend's horse had pulsed down a little faster than Nimo, but she waited for me and tried to help me while I got Nimo pulsed down, which was really nice.  Then, we walked what seemed like a mile back to the trailers to get the horses settled.  Both looked good and ate and drank and napped.  My friend and I relaxed and ate and drank too for about half an hour before getting in my truck to pick up our crew gear.  I knew if I sat too long, I would never want to pick up my stuff.

When we got to Bird Haven, it was quiet and I got a chance to talk to the volunteers for a few minutes.  It turns out that I don't have a bad memory about the rocks on the OD trail.  Lots of riders reported significantly more rocks on the trails than last year.  I guess all the rain we've been getting the past few weeks created a lot of wash-out on the trails and that was the reason we saw so many miles of those 2-5" sharp rocks scattered everywhere.  A lot of times were slower than usual and riders were also reporting shredded pads on their horses' feet.  In fact, I saw some riders post pictures of shredded pads and even virtually non-existent ones at the end of the 50- and 100-mile rides.  My friend's horse did not have pads on, so maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that we took it easy on those rocks, especially because I think there were at least a few stone bruises reported.

Which brings me to why I chose to use hoof boots on Nimo for this ride, despite the frustration they caused.  They protect his soles better than shoes and pads.  I didn't know the ride would be as rocky as it was, but I always feel better about the sturdy protection offered by hoof boots, and when we were riding over those sharp rocks, I was grateful to have them. I would have felt comfortable trotting Nimo over them while my friend, whose horse has shoes, did not.  And while there aren't that many miles of gravel roads (probably a total of 6-7 for the whole ride plus a very short bit of pavement), I like the performance of hoof boots over shoes on pavement and gravel. My friend's horse slipped more times than I can count on the gravel road leading into Bird Haven and Nimo didn't slip once.  More than one horse ripped at least one shoe off on that trail.  I know one lady was able to overcome her horse pulling two shoes off and still get a completion, but that is the exception to the rule.  You may remember in the first loop, Nimo slipped and stepped on his other foot, ripping the hoof boot off.  Well, the hoof boot was toast, but his hoof wasn't.  If that had been a shoe, things night not have ended as well.

Another reason I use hoof boots are that I can handle any problem myself.  I don't need to rely on a farrier that I don't know at a ride to reset a pulled shoe (and I would have had to put a boot on anyway!).  Nimo can have trust issues about strange people handling his feet, and if I can avoid having to work with someone he doesn't know, it's less frustrating for everyone.  I can put the damn boot on all by myself.  I can trim his feet by myself.  I can fix the boots by myself.  I can carry extra boots by myself.

Then there is the matter of finding a farrier to shoe Nimo in the first place.  I luckily do have access to one in the area that I know is good, but it's either a long drive for him or for me, and I'm not sure that I would get shoes often enough for Nimo to become comfortable with the farrier, making each visit annoying for everyone.

Finally, you may remember that I suspect an abscess is in Nimo's right hind foot.  When I took his hind boots off at the finish, he was really difficult about me handling that hoof.  He was kicking (not at me, but in general to let me know he was pissed off), and it took me three tries to get it off.  That is not normal behavior for him and it tells me that even though he is moving soundly, there is still something going on in that hoof.  I question whether anyone would have been able to get a shoe on and whether it even would have been a good idea to be putting nails in that hoof.

I absolutely understand why people overwhelmingly choose to use shoes instead of boots, particularly at this ride.  Because so few people use boots, it's hard to get a good comparison of how boots versus shoes hold up, but I'm pretty sure anyone who used boots would have at least one problem while the majority of people who use shoes experience no problems.  But when there is a problem, it is often much worse than a lost boot and can involve lay-offs from riding while the horse regrows part of his hoof or heals from a stone bruise.

So the final deal on hoof boots is this, if I had to do it over again, I would use the hoof boots again.  And the next time I am at that ride (YES, there will be a next time!), I will likely use hoof boots again.  If I do decide to use shoes, I would definitely get pads too.

In terms of other things that I could have done differently, there are four that stand out to me.  One is that I would have given Nimo a dose of electrolytes at the start of the ride (not necessarily at the hold, though).  He did not drink as well as I expected at the 10-mile mark or at Bird Haven, and although his hydration parameters were good at the hold and at the end of the ride, I think if he had drunk more at the hold, he would have come in to the finish able to pulse down faster and he could have handled a slightly faster pace.  I think part of the issue was that we walked so much in the shade during that first loop that he didn't feel tired or hot and so he didn't think he needed to drink.  He did so well at the end - better than I've ever seen - and even at the hold, he did the best I've ever seen eating, so I think the elyte dose is a matter of fine-tuning what was good and making it better.  After the ride was over, his recovery was amazing to watch.  After napping for an hour or so, he perked up and it was like his coat kept getting shinier and his body looked so toned.  I couldn't stop looking at him.  The picture below does not do him justice.

The second thing is that I have got to figure out why I'm getting the skin peeled off the inside of my knees.  My left knee is worse than my right, and even several days after the ride, I still have ooze coming out of the wound.  I'm thinking my half chaps combined with my longer stirrups are the culprit.  I've noticed some minor rubs over the past few months, but they weren't consistent or painful, so I didn't really think about it that much.  I am using longer stirrups this year because that seems to prevent my right knee from getting jacked up 10-15 miles into the ride, which causes endless complaining on my part.  I'm also using the same half chaps I always have except I bought new ones of the same brand/size after Foxcatcher and there must be something about the fit that is different from my old ones.  I hate to give them up because I love them, but I also love the skin remaining attached to my body, so I'm going to have to experiment before the next ride.

The third thing is that I have got to take care of myself and be mentally prepared for this ride.  I can get away with a lack of focus and being exhausted on easier rides, but not this one.  My friend was upset and I knew a lot about how she was feeling because I suspect it was pretty similar to how I felt at my first ride, when my horse unexpectedly acting like a lunatic and the trail was challenging and the time kept slipping away from me.  But I need to keep my own focus and my own sense of self, regardless of whatever is going on around me.  Nimo relies on me to keep it together and there were a lot of miles that I wasn't doing a very good job at that.  Mentally, I need to prepare better for this ride and make sure I get more rest and eat and drink better, even if it means taking an extra day off work before the ride, so I can take a nap and focus on myself for a day.

The fourth thing is obviously the pace.  My initial thoughts were that I didn't know how we could have improved our pace on the first loop, but I know we finished a little faster the first time we did that section of trail and we had even more hoof boot issues than this time, so there has to be something we can do.  I think that something is trotting more on rocks.  The rocks weren't there before but they are now and they are unlikely to disintegrate before my next attempt, so I've got to figure out a way to do it.  Lots of other people did (33 to be precise - that's how many completed the ride), so it must be a matter of practice.  Admittedly, there were no drafts or draft crosses at this ride (that I saw, anyway), so this is just not a ride that is easy for bigger, heavier horses.  That doesn't mean we can't do it, though, just that we have to find a way to improve our time just a bit (it's just a minute a mile after all!).  On the second loop, we could definitely shave some time off.  Having a slightly fitter horse, who can handle a faster pace on the shorter climbs may help a little, and just being really focused on time and taking advantage of every section of trail that isn't steep and has smaller rocks is going to be important.  I think my mental state can be just as critical as Nimo's physical condition for improving our pace.  If I'm not depressed and worried and upset, I'll be able to better identify places we can move out, instead of feeling like everything is hopeless so why even try.

In terms of what is next, I'm not sure yet.  I think I swore out loud and in front of witnesses no less than 8 times that I was never doing another endurance ride after the OD.  But after sitting around for about two hours, I started to think that maybe I could do something easy like Blackwater Swamp Stomp or even Foxcatcher again.  And then, I started to think about improvements I could make if I ever did the OD again (like finding some horrible place to condition that is nothing but miles of rocks!), so it looks like my endurance career was only over for a few hours before being reinstated:)  Ride between the Rivers in WV is on my list, but it's a tough time for me to take off work and of course, it's August, so temperature may be a factor.  Definitely Mustang Memorial and Fort Valley in October are on the list, assuming I can keep Nimo in halfway decent shape during the next few months.  And maybe something in NY if I can swing the time off of work.

And if you're wondering about my relationship with my friend, well, it's actually in pretty good shape.  It didn't take long for us to be laughing at how miserable and pathetic we were on the trail.  I think the big problem was just that she really didn't have an idea of what to expect and I didn't do a very good job of explaining it.  Also, the trail was more miserable than it was when I rode it before and that threw me off.

But endurance riding isn't called Fun and Games on Horseback for a reason.  A real endurance ride, regardless of distance, should test the mental and physical capabilities of horse and rider.  I did have some actual, real fun earlier in the year because the rides were easier for us and we didn't do a full ride.  It was wonderful and I hope I can have fun again.  But I also really want to do this OD trail.  It sucks and it's hard and we've failed twice now, but our second attempt was a whole lot better than our first attempt, and I have to think that the third time might just work out.  As luck would have it, Bruce Weary posted on the AERC Facebook page shortly after we got home from the OD.  He talked about how it took him 7 tries before he successfully completed Tevis.  I know that the OD 25 isn't the same as Tevis, but Bruce's post was a much-needed reminder that failure is really only failure if you stop trying before you succeed.  Otherwise, it's just part of the process.

And so, our journey continues...

Monday, June 12, 2017

The OD 25 2017: The Ride, part 1

I slept poorly the night before the ride, as I always do.  No matter how tired I am, my brain can't seem to relax and turn off.  I did drift off eventually, though, and awoke to the sound of the reveille, which made my dream-fogged brain think that I was attending the Kentucky Derby for some reason.  Nimo's intense gaze managed to penetrate the walls of my trailer, though, and it didn't take long before I realized that I would need to get up and feed him.  So I threw him a flake of alfalfa and crawled back into bed for 45 minutes of ignoring the reality of the effort we were about to undertake.

I got up for good at around 6 and fed Nimo a mash and then tried to get myself dressed and organized.  When Nimo was done eating, he wanted to go for a walk around camp (I'm beginning to suspect that horses are as demanding as 4-year-old girls...).  After Nimo's walk, I headed to the camp tent to pick up a little breakfast and drop off one more thing at the finish crew area.  And then somehow, it was time to start putting on hoof boots and tack.

I put the hoof boots on first, and had a little shock when the second of two Velcro straps on the gaiter of Nimo's left hind boot basically came off in my hand as I was fastening it.  The boot doesn't need the second strap to function, luckily, but I worried that without the second strap, the gaiter would be more prone to failure.  It was actually the gaiter I had recently replaced, so it was brand new.  Very frustrating...

Then I saddled up and tried to get on my horse.  At that point, I realized I was still wearing my regular shoes - no boots and no half chaps.  This is what happens to a perfectly good brain after you have a child...I went back to my trailer and got my boots and half chaps on and then I was in the saddle for good.

The friend I would be riding with and I went over to the start line to check in with the start volunteers and then walked the horses around for a few minutes to get them warmed up before the start time.  My plan was that we would start a little behind the front runners, sort of in mid-pack.  That strategy had worked well at Foxcatcher, and I had no reason to think our horses couldn't produce a pretty good pace for the first 5-6 miles, until we hit the 2-mile climb that has become infamous on this ride.

So we watched the start line from maybe a quarter mile down the road and when it looked like at least 20 riders had started, we headed toward the start line.  There were only 42 riders scheduled to start the ride, I think, so I figured we were in good shape.  We tried to stick to the rule about walking the first few minutes after the start, even though our horses were kind of wound up.  Nimo was excited to trot until he realized there were onlookers with cameras just past the start line.  At which point, he wanted to stop and say hi, and I had to encourage him to keep going.  (Ahhh, the price of fame...)

Nimo just before the start line.  Photo by Melissa Lizmi.
We started trotting down the 2-ish miles of road that would lead us into the woods.  All was going pretty well at this point.  The horses were a little excited, but nothing too difficult to handle.  Regrettably, right after we turned into the woods, things started going on a downhill slide that seemed never-ending.  I had this experience when I rode at the Fort Valley ride a few years ago.  I thought I was starting in a certain place, but apparently a lot of riders like to start well after the start time and then gallop their horses to catch up.  It is possibly the most irritating thing for those of us starting in the middle.  Vast numbers of people started to catch up to us and pass us - one group was close to 10 horses, I think - even though we were trotting pretty strongly.  Both horses fed off each other's excitement and my friend got really upset with her horse and very worried.  I did the best I could to try to talk her out of her anxiety, but I also had a 1500 lb, suddenly very full of himself fire-breathing dragon to handle, and at some point, I just couldn't manage myself and my horse plus my friend and her horse.  I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that we were in very bad shape emotionally at this point.

As luck would have it, the first Easyboot failed and started flapping around Nimo's foot.  I could hear the thwapping sound with each stride, but we were in no position to stop right then.  Thankfully the gaiter held and the boot continued to stay attached to Nimo's leg while we trotted on a single track through the forest.  When we emerged from the woods onto a road, I realized there was a good place to pull over.  We managed to get the horses out of the way of what seemed like a never-ending supply of additional riders, and I got off to fix the boot.  It looked like it just hadn't been tightened enough - it was a newer boot and I probably should have taken more time to make sure it was tight before I got on in the first place.  But it was lucky that I got off and took a good look at my horse, who was breathing very heavily and lathered in sweat.  Our pace wasn't necessarily too fast, but all the adrenaline and excitement from all the other horses around us had put Nimo and my friend's horse in a bad place from a metabolic standpoint.  I told my friend we needed to slow down a little and let the horses settle even though that meant wrestling with them.

And so on we continued.  We hadn't started the climb yet, and I suspected we were probably about 4 miles into the ride.  I had forgotten to start my GPS, but the trail has a number of benchmarks for mileage, so I wasn't too worried about it.  It was 8:30 and I was already questioning my sanity. 

From then on, my friend's mental state deteriorated, and I have to admit that mine did too.  A boot failure so early in the ride did not bode well, and I always feel this terrible pressure when I use hoof boots and ride with someone who doesn't.  I know that people who routinely shoe their horses just have no patience for hoof boot issues, and I always get a bit frazzled when I have to get off and then hope I can find something equivalent to a ladder to get back on.

But more than that, the excitement at the start had drained the little strength I'd had when I got on.  I could feel both a back spasm and the beginning of a migraine coming on, and nothing sends me into a depression faster than the thought of a migraine.  Wrestling with Nimo is a workout like none other, and it's something I haven't had to do in a very long time.  The situation was so similar to what happened at my first ride at Fort Valley that mentally I think I was having flashbacks.  Except at Fort Valley I was by myself and now I was with a friend who was becoming increasingly upset with me.  And that was much, much worse than being alone, I found out.

My friend had not done the OD trail before and while she had done intro or "half" rides before, this was by far the most challenging situation she'd found herself in on her horse (she had conditioned on mountains, but conditioning when you are in a non-competitive situation is different than when your horse turns into a adrenaline-charged lunatic).  And as we got farther along the trail, my insistence that while the trail did have rocky sections, there were plenty of places to move out seemed to her to be a lie.  And I have to admit I was questioning my memory.  There were so many rocks on the trail.  They were never-ending after the first few miles and they were often 2-5" in diameter and sharp and loose, making the footing seem terrifying to someone unprepared.

We also had trouble with the trail markings.  The vast majority of the trail was really well marked, but there was one place where all the ribbons switched to the left side of the trail despite there being perfectly good places to put them on the right, leading me to believe that somehow we missed a turn and were going the wrong direction.  I was torn between continuing on just to get the bloody ride over with or turning around to see if we could figure out where we went wrong.  As it turned out, somebody just marked the trail on the left for awhile...And there were other places where there were trail intersections and no ribbons.  We weren't the only ones to have trouble.  More than once, we were either asking if someone had seen a ribbon or being asked if we had seen a ribbon.  At one point, we had a conference with other riders to get a consensus on the best direction to take.  All of that was slowing us down and eroding our confidence.

And then the second hoof boot came off as we started the climb.  I had to pull over and let a rider pass (why is there ALWAYS someone right behind me when I have a hoof boot failure???) and the horses were upset about being passed.  At that point, I just got the boot and got back in the saddle without replacing it.  The gaiter had torn a bit, but it was otherwise useable.  I was just DONE.  My friend said something about why didn't I just put some goddamn shoes on the horse, and I almost snapped.  (I'll explain my reasoning later, but this was just not the best time to have that particular discussion).  I think I said something reasonably civil, but I was getting more and more upset by the minute.

Here's the thing.  It turns out that my friend and I have vastly different strategies when it comes to coping with adversity.  Despite the horses being too excited and despite a couple of hoof boot failures, I never once thought our ability to finish the ride was compromised.  They are just things that happen on endurance rides.  They've happened to me before and I survived.  But they haven't happened to my friend before and she didn't have the experience that I did to know everything would be OK.  So I wanted to make sarcastic jokes and self-deprecating remarks to cope with the unpleasantness while my friend preferred that I not speak at all.  She also had a tendency to express herself very loudly and colorfully, particularly when we encountered more rocks on the trail (which was ALL the time).

As the miles went on, I took her unhappiness more and more to heart, and I felt worse and worse for encouraging her to start the ride.  I imagined that our friendship was likely over.  And I wrote the post for this blog in my head where I explained as briefly as possible that I was done with endurance riding.  Then I fantasized about my life without endurance conditioning and rides.  It seemed free of worries, and I imagined all the free time I would have to clean my house and do laundry and cook healthy meals (because cleaning a dirty toilet seemed vastly preferable to the situation in which I found myself).

Later in the climb, Nimo lost another hoof boot, and I just got off to pick it up and strap it to my saddle bags, got back on, and kept going.  At this point, there were so many giant boulders around, I had no trouble finding a suitable mounting block.  Unfortunately, after we reached the ridge, which is also rocky, Nimo started acting pretty sensitive with his feet.  So I looked for a good place to get off again and put the boots back on (I'm not sure why I didn't put them back on in the first place, except that I was just in a bad state mentally).  It wasn't hard to find a giant boulder to use for a mounting block, so I got off to put one boot back on and replace the one that had come off more recently because I realized the gaiter was hanging on by a thread and part of the buckle was broken.  Nimo had slipped with his left hind and stepped on his right hind in the struggle to catch himself (unsurprisingly, there was a giant rock involved...), and it was too much for the boot to handle.  The good thing about this particular stop is that both horses were finally settled enough to eat and they spent a few minutes munching on grass.

We kept trudging along the ridge, which had not gotten any less rocky since the last time I rode it, and finally emerged from the rocks and trees to the small clearing that marks the 10-11 mile mark of the loop.  There is grass there and a water tank.  I expected Nimo to drink heavily, but all he did was stick half his head in the water and play around.  My friend's horse did drink, though.  We chatted with a couple of ride-and-tie runners/riders for a few minutes and my friend quizzed one about the nature of the second loop, no longer trusting anything I had to say.  The runner swore it wasn't nearly as rocky as this loop had been.

Then we continued down the three-mile stretch of gravel road.  It is all downhill and really needs to be trotted to make up the time lost on the climb and ridge.  But at that point, it was close to 11 am, and I knew there was no way we would be able to do the remaining 5 miles in 45 minutes.  (You'll remember that the vet check closes at 11:45.)  I wrote the ride off as a loss and congratulated myself on coming to the realization that endurance riding is a stupid sport.  I thought about how wonderful it would be to get a trailer ride back to camp, pack up my stuff, and head home a day early for rest and relaxation at home.  (My friend and I had originally planned to stay over that night.)

We did not move at what I considered to be a very fast pace down the road, but my friend's horse is gaited and his walk is quite quick, so Nimo alternated walking and trotting to keep up.  Each trot step felt like it was ripping my insides out and scraping the skin off the inside of my knees.  My core would have been able to handle the downhill trotting except that I'd exhausted it when I was fighting with Nimo the first 6-ish miles.  And it turns out the skin really was being removed from the inside of my knees, although I didn't learn to what extent until later. 

We also did some faster trotting on the less steep sections, and it honestly wasn't that long before we made the turn into the woods that meant we only had 2 miles to go.  Out of curiosity, I happened to glance at my watch to see how late getting into the vet check we would be, and I had the stunning realization that we still had 15 minutes left.  So, using my best matter-of-fact tone of voice, I gave a status update to my friend and explained that we had 15 minutes to go 2 miles if we wanted to stay in the ride.  And then I left it up to her.  She said she wanted to try to make it.

And so try we did.  We moved out as best as we could.  Our horses were still pretty fresh and happy to trot, and we were able to cover ground pretty quickly.  But the minutes kept counting down.  I didn't think we were going to make it.  As we turned the final corner toward the vet check, we had 2 minutes left.  I could see Bird Haven in the distance.  We had a nice grassy trail leading into the in-timer area (probably the only decent footing in the whole ride), and I started yelling at my friend, "GO!  GO!  GO!  Don't stop for anything!  Just keep going!"  She picked up the canter and I ramped up Nimo's trot and we raced toward the in-timer.  My heart was pounding as we came up to the in-timer's tent.  The timer was someone I knew, and I felt so much relief that she would be the one to tell me that we had missed the time by just a minute or two.  Except that wasn't what she said.  She said, "It's OK.  You guys made it.  You even have 45 seconds to spare."

And I started laughing while my friend was crying with happiness.  We made it to the first vet check.  It was 11:45.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The OD 25 2017: Before the Ride

I mentioned in my last post that the Old Dominion (OD) 25-mile ride was next on our schedule.  The OD 25 is a ride that I've wanted to do for a while.  We did attempt the trail in October 2015, when the OD hosted the National Championship ride, but hoof boot issues forced a Rider Option at the hold.  (You can read about it here.)  I've been thinking about how to do the ride better ever since then, but high heat and humidity meant that we scratched last year before the ride.  This year's crazy up and down weather offered a chance for completion, so I registered a couple of weeks before the ride and crossed my fingers.  Mother Nature was agreeable and we were hit with a "cold" front for a few days before the ride, and the expected high the day of the ride was 75 degrees.

I was still worried about Nimo's left hind hoof because I suspected that an abscess was brewing in there due to some hoof remodeling on the sole and a slight bulge on the lateral quarter, but Nimo continued to move well.  I did a brief ride on the Tuesday night before the OD to check for soundness at all three gaits and he seemed OK. 

So I continued with my pre-ride preparations which mostly involved body clipping.  It probably sounds strange to be body clipping in June, but the hair on Nimo's legs and face tends to remain a little long and I could still see the faint outline from the clip I'd given him in April before Foxcatcher, and I wanted to give him every chance to keep cool at what would be a warmer ride.  So I clipped his entire body except for his legs below the knee.  I wasn't taking a huge amount of hair off, but it made me feel better to know that all extra hair was gone.  I leave the hair on his lower legs partly out of respect for the Friesian breed, which is known for its feathers, but also because I like the protection the hair offers when we have to navigate off trail in brush with sticker vines and other such horrors.

I also needed hoof boots on all four feet for the OD (shoes or hoof boots are required by ride management).  I'd been working Nimo in Easyboot Epics, which are the best fit for his hoof shape out of all the boot brands I've tried.  Last year, I gave up on the Epics in disgust because I had constant problems with gaiters ripping and even just boots randomly flying off.  But, after experimenting with Renegades, I just could not get them to fit his front feet right, and I turned back to the Epics.  I used them for about 6 weeks for climbing, over rocks, and on the flat at Nimo's crazy fast trot to re-test them, and aside from one boot coming off because I hadn't tightened the cable enough, they seemed to be working OK, so I was ready to try them again at the OD.  That meant repairing a couple of older boots to make sure I had extra boots in case of failure, and I've got to say that the first time I replaced a gaiter, it took me two attempts and a total of about an hour and a half of frustration before I got it on.

This picture represents the crowning achievement of my life to-date - a successfully replaced gaiter!
Luckily, the next boot that I needed to repair was a little easier and I was able to replace both a cable and a gaiter, which was tricky to do at the same time (and it's possible that I both dented my coffee table and chipped the concrete on our garage floor banging on the copper band for the cable), but the boots cost me $87 a piece, so spending $12 on a gaiter and $3 on a cable is a huge savings, even it it took me 45 minutes to make the repairs.

I planned to leave for the ride on Thursday morning (June 8) because the ride was being held on a Friday this year to allow for a two-day format.  The 25- and 50-mile distances would run on Friday while the 100-mile ride along with an Intro ride would run on Saturday.  So I packed everything on Wednesday night, double-checked that Nimo was still moving well on his left hind and went to bed fully expecting him to be dead lame in the morning.

On Thursday morning, I was up at 6:30 to whip up the filling for the appetizers I was bringing to the potluck dinner on Thursday night and to finish packing some last minute things.  I headed out to the barn at 8:30 and after confirming that Nimo was still miraculously sound, I quickly gave him an abbreviated bath so that some of the mud he has been accumulating over the past few weeks would be washed away.  Then I loaded him and we were off.

I met a friend about 30 minutes down the road so we could caravan and park together at the ride, and we made it to ride camp without incident, although the merge from I-66 to I-81 south took about 3 years off my life.  I hate that particular merge because it requires merging from the left onto an extremely busy section of 81 that is full of semi-trucks and idiots barreling down the road as fast as their little engines will allow.  I, on the other hand, can barely get to 50 mph because of the short acceleration lane, so finding an opening in traffic that is big enough to allow not only for my rig but also for my slower speed is tricky.  Anyway, it all managed to work out, and we survived the 25 nail-biting miles on 81 before turning off onto much slower roads.

We got to the OD ride camp around 12:30 and managed to score the last 2 spots on the creek side of camp.  Unfortunately, that meant we were also as far as possible from the registration area and tent for meals and meetings, but the location was simply beautiful!

Nimo enjoys the good life!
Nimo must watch all the vehicles coming in to camp:)
OD Ridecamp - trailers as far as the eye can see!
We got the horses set up in their pens and set off on the long journey to the registration area to check-in.  After picking up our rider packets, we packed up our stuff to take to the vet check area for the mid-ride hold, which is not in camp, as well as put together a few things for the crewing area in camp so we would have some supplies like water buckets and food for the finish because our trailers were too far way to use for crewing.  Bird Haven Farm hosts the vet check and it isn't far from camp, so I opted to bring my stuff to the vet check myself instead of relying on the volunteers to do it.  Because I'm using my trailer to camp in now instead of a truck bed tent, it's easy for me to unhook and drive where I need to go.

Bird Haven vet check is the most beautiful vet check I've ever been to!
After we got our stuff set up at the crewing area at the finish and at the Bird Haven vet check, we headed back to camp so I could get my trailer set up for sleeping, which basically just involves hanging sheets or tarps so weather can't get in through the openings in my stock trailer and setting up a cot with bedding.  Quick and easy with no wrestling a tent - definitely an improvement!

I finished making my appetizer for the potluck dinner, and at about 6:15, we set off for the tent that hosted dinner.  After dinner was the ride meeting, which started at 7 and went until 8.  Apparently, some changes had been made to the way the ride was organized, so it took awhile to go through them.  It was also a bit more formal than other ride meetings I've been to, which added some length, but I think the goal was to make sure we not only had the information we needed, but that we understood why things were they way they were. 

It was a bit long and I started to fidget toward the end, but there were two important pieces of information that I'm glad I had.  One was that the first loop was marked with white/blue striped ribbons and the second loop was marked with yellow/black striped ribbons, and the second was that the closing time of the Bird Haven vet check had been changed.  I'm not really used to vet checks closing because the other rides I've done have in-camp vet checks.  Obviously, I knew that the mid-ride check was an away check, but I didn't realize that there was a specific deadline for getting in.  If you were late, you'd be pulled from the ride.  Apparently, the time had changed based on something that had happened last year, where riders had gotten to the vet check a little after it closed (which doesn't mean it is shut down, just that you're considered overtime), and complained because they felt they could have still finished before the maximum time for the ride.  The ride management reviewed Bird Haven to finish times from the previous 2 years and concluded that the riders were theoretically correct and decided to extend the time the Bird Haven check was open.  The ride started at 8 am and we had until 11:45 am to get to the vet check.  The first loop is almost 16 miles, so the time seemed reasonable to me and I hoped we'd be there by 11 and it wouldn't be an issue (hint: foreshadowing...).

After the meeting, I headed back to my trailer to give Nimo a walk around camp and get him settled for the night.  I chatted with my friend for a bit, and then headed off to bed at a little after 9.  There was no cell service in camp, and I was too tired to read, so I ran my little propane heater for a few minutes to take the chill out of the air (the low was supposed to be around 50, so I didn't think I'd need the heater all night), and tried to get some sleep. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Foxcatcher 25 2017: The Ride

I'm really behind in getting this post up.  There are reasons, of course, but a big one was that I wanted a particular issue to be resolved before posting so I could write about it in terms of looking back.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  (I'll explain later in the post.)  And so it is that time got away from me, and I'm finally sitting down to finish this story.

The morning of Foxcatcher dawned sunny, crisp, cool, and without the winds that plagued us the day before.  As we walked to the starting line about 15 minutes before the start time, I could tell my friend was anxious about the ride.  I think she would have been nervous regardless of what had happened in the days before the ride, but it didn't help that people spent the day and evening before telling her about the challenges.  In particular, everyone worries about the start of Foxcatcher.  It takes place in an open field and it's common for several horses to really get excited and possibly try to buck their riders off or engage in other unwanted shenanigans that might be amusing later, but are definitely not fun that morning.

Because Saiph, Charles, and I had such a great start last year, I've stopped worrying about it in an active way, and just keep the start conditions in mind as something to be aware of rather than to stress about.  This year, the plan was to actually cross the road and hang out in the start area and then wait about 2-3 minutes for the front-runners/competitive riders to get started before going out.  In theory, it was a great plan.  However, the approximately 5 minutes we hung out in the field prior to the start did not do my friend's mental state any good, or mine, for that matter.  Both our horses were great.  In fact, everyone's horses were great.  Most horses were either oblivious to the fact that they were at an endurance ride or at least very controllable, but pre-ride jitters did get to me a little, despite my best efforts to keep them away.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the front-runners were off and we walked toward the start line and continued walking with what I'll call the second wave.  The first wave was the front-runners in front of us and the third wave was those waiting for 10+ minutes to start so that there wold be less risk of unwanted antics from their horses.  Nimo and my friend's horse were now fully aware that we were doing a ride and they wanted to move out.  I wanted to walk down the first hill (which is very gentle and totally trottable) just to get my own brain back to where it needed to be.  Nimo reluctantly agreed to this plan, but as the terrain leveled out and I didn't immediately let him move out, I felt his back tense for a buck.  He was telling me in no uncertain terms that I had entered the world of unreasonableness and I needed to let him do his job.  Point taken.  We started trotting:)

For the first 2 or 3 hills, we trotted up and walked down and I carefully felt for any unevenness in Nimo's right hind (it's been so long since I posted, you might have forgotten he had had an abscess in that hoof and half the bottom of his hoof sloughed off two days before the ride).  Over the next few miles, everybody got loosened up and I got my ride brain back.  I could, unfortunately, feel that Nimo was a bit sensitive on his right hind when he was trotting on gravel (he was barefoot, and I'm sure the newly exposed sole was adjusting to direct impact with the ground).  But that sensitivity seemed to clear up as we rode longer, and I finally settled in to just enjoy the ride.

As I mentioned before, Foxcatcher is really a favorite trail of Nimo's.  He loves the wide open spaces and this time we were riding with a horse and rider we'd ridden with many times, so things were very comfortable.  I assumed that my friend's horse might be a little reluctant or possibly need a lead toward the end of the loop like the last time when we'd ridden together at Blackwater Swamp Stomp.  However, that horse is one of the smartest horses I've ever seen, and he figured out his job after just one intro ride. He led probably 80% of the time for the entire 12.5 (or 13 according to my GPS) mile loop.  We trotted and trotted and trotted (my friend's horse cantered a fair bit), and Nimo even pulled out his 15 mph trot after he got tired of being behind a group of 6 horses for awhile.  I could tell when he was ready to pass, and I gave him the release to do it.  And so he hit that beautiful, powerful, fast trot that is like nothing else in this world and passed while we were headed down a long hill.  There was some mud, but I managed not to freak out and just stayed out of Nimo's way while he thoroughly enjoyed himself and powered past the group.

Just before passing the group of 6 horses.  Photo by Hoof Print Images
We managed not to miss any turns on the trail, and we rode at our own pace for the entire loop.  There was some leapfrogging toward the middle/end of the loop because with 70+ horses out on the 25-mile ride and about 40 more on the 50-mile ride that was using some of the same trail, there were a lot of riders on the trail, and I considered us lucky to be as alone as we were.

My friend's horse was wonderful on the trail and we did the tunnels and bridges without any incidents.  Nimo felt better than he ever had out on a trail - very forward and consistent both physically and mentally (with the exception of that sensitivity on his right hind at the beginning of the loop) and with the cooler temperature and lovely sun, we had the best time.

This is near the finish, where I was attempting to walk the last quarter mile in.  Photo by Mike Turner.

Shortly thereafter, I gave up and let Nimo trot some more:)  Photo by Mike Turner.
We had such a good time, I wasn't even whining when we rolled back into ride camp at 9:58.  The start time was at 8, and we had started a few minutes late, and according to my GPS, we logged 13 miles in less than 2 hours.  That time is probably pretty close to what we normally do the Foxcatcher trail, maybe a tiny bit faster.  It was hard for me to judge exactly because the loops had changed from previous years and instead of being 15 miles, the first loop was only 12.5 (or 13).  But I felt really good about our time as we pulled up to the in-timer tent.  (If you had told me three years ago that Nimo would be able to sustain a 6.5 mph pace over 12-13 miles of hills, I would have laughed and laughed.  It's still kind of unbelievable to me, which is why I comment on it every time.)  I got off to give my vet card to the timer and absolutely would have fallen on my butt if my friend's horse hadn't been right next to Nimo and caught my fall (thankfully without even flinching).  Apparently, my legs need a tiny period of adjustment to go from riding to standing:)

The map of the first loop
We got our in-time, and headed over to our crew area to let the horses drink and get a quick snack before checking in with the pulse-taker.  Both horses drank and ate a little and seemed to be doing great, especially because we had trotted all but the last 1/8 of a mile.  I knew Nimo would be pulsed down in less than 10 minutes, but I wasn't sure about my friend's horse.  He had cantered a lot, and I didn't know how that would affect his recovery.  But he looked good to me, so we headed over to get the horses' pulses taken to see where they were at.

At this point, I should mention that neither of us were planning to go on the second loop.  Nimo had done so well, and I was so pleased with him, but that stupid abscess and the resulting sloughed hoof sole was niggling at my brain and I worried that even though Nimo seemed to be moving OK, there could still be something going on or gravel could cause a sole bruise, and I felt like doubling our miles might be the thing that caused a problem that didn't need to be caused.

I explained to the pulse-taker that we were planning to Rider-Option (assuming everything was OK with the horses), so she needed to be looking for a pulse of 60 bpm or less rather than the 64 bpm threshold that was required for the hold.  Both horses met the threshold.  Nimo was already at 56 bpm and by the time we got to the vet, he was at 52.  His CRI was 52/52 and he got all As on his vet card.  No lameness was apparent.  Whew!

The back of Nimo's vet card
At the vet check after the first loop. Photo by Fair Hill International.
I breathed a sigh of relief that Nimo and my friend's horse (who also vetted through very well) were in good shape, and we headed back to the trailer to get our horses settled and then clean up our crew area.

And so it was that by about 10:40, our horses were eating and we were sitting and I realized how much time was still left for the ride.  We still had time to saddle back up and head out because our pulse time was 10:08 and the hold was 40 minutes, so we could leave at 10:48 and have over 3 hours to do 12.5-ish miles.  I actually thought about going back to the administrative trailer and asking if I could get my card back and finish the ride.  Twice.  Possibly three times.  Until it was after 11, and I was finally able to let it go.

Nimo was not, however.  He made it very clear to me that he was ready to go back out, and it was complete nonsense to make him stay in his pen.  He did not relax or take a nap for hours and hours.  He paced, gave me the evil eye, and in general was kind of a pain in the butt.  He did eat and drink, but his attitude was definitely one of, "Let's go!"  I took him out for two walks that afternoon, and both times, he felt so ready to rear and bolt, behavior that I haven't really seen for years and years.  I started to feel bad that we hadn't gone back out, but that stupid abscess, you guys.  I could not have lived with myself if he had come back lame from that second loop.

My friend and I had already planned to stay the night after the ride.  It's not a long journey back (maybe 3 hours - it always takes less time to go home than it does to get there), but we both like camping with our horses and I had some things I wanted to experiment with.  Like cooking on my portable propane stove that I bought a year ago and hadn't used yet.  So for dinner, I heated up chili that I had made the day before the ride and brought with me and served it in bread bowls that I had also made ahead of time.  My friend brought two desserts!  So we ate very well:)

Bread bowl chili
I was able to set up the stove and cook in my trailer - the ventilation was good and the temps were dropping again that night, so it was nice to be in shelter.  And after a better-than-average sleep that night, I made bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast and coffee too!  It was so cool!

We packed up and were on the road shortly after 9.  Thankfully, traffic on I-95 and the Beltway through DC was uneventful and we were back at the barn around noon.  I got Nimo unloaded and headed home.

And that is the story of Foxcatcher this year.  One thing that I remember so clearly is how great I felt after the ride.  I was invigorated instead of exhausted.  I was happy instead of feeling overwhelmed.  In fact, I was in such good shape that the day I got home, I was able to get my trailer unloaded and drive it back out to the barn before heading to a friend's house for a birthday celebration.  I couldn't have even imagined that I would be able to handle a social interaction the day after a ride, so to feel up to going was huge.  I'm not sure what was in the air at Foxcatcher, but it was good stuff, and I finally got a taste of what normal people probably feel after rides.  I spend so much of my time feeling chronically exhausted that the few days I don't make me realize how heavy the price is for that constant exhaustion.  I still haven't figured out how to be less exhausted on a normal basis, but it was wonderful to enjoy time with a friend and my horse at the ride and then be able to come home and instead of spending the week recovering, be ready to jump back into life.

It was so great that I'm planning to try it again at the Old Dominion ride on June 9.  The big issue is what I referred to at the opening of my post.  Nimo's abscess situation is still not resolved.  For a few weeks, I thought it was.  His hoof looked good.  He continued to move well, and after about a week off after Foxcatcher, I started riding and training more on mountains to get ready for the OD.  And then I realized that the lateral side of his right hind hoof is starting to deform again on the bottom, just like before Foxcatcher.  His hooves continued to grow faster-than-normal, and I expected that a new section of the bottom of his hoof would slough off.  Except that it hasn't.  Things are sort of stable now.  I've been picking away at the extra growth on the bottom of Nimo's foot with a hoof knife, but unlike before Foxcatcher, it doesn't seem ready to come off.  I can also see a small bulge in the hoof wall in the lateral quarter of Nimo's hoof, which is likely another infection pocket that needs to come out.

It is becoming clear to me that I may need to take Nimo in to one of the area veterinary hospitals for x-rays and maybe other diagnostics to see what is going on inside the hoof.  I've been waiting a little because I expected the new abscess to come out, and I wanted to see the hoof without the infection in it.  But if things don't resolve soon (like within a couple of weeks), I'll have to set up the appointment anyway.  There is something going on in that hoof that isn't right.  At this point, Nimo continues to move soundly and work well, but he still has trouble picking up the right lead.  He has no issues with his left lead now and has done some really lovely collected canter (for about 3-6 strides at a time! even in sort of a large pirouette!), but the right lead is not nearly as good and he really struggles to pick it up in a collected frame (although he does fine in a non-collected frame), and I suspect it is because something isn't right with his right hind.  Time will tell, of course, but waiting is frustrating.

So, for now, we are on track to go to the OD 25.  Nimo will be wearing hoof boots on all four hooves (I think - cross fingers - that the problems I had last year are resolved!), and that gives me some peace of mind about the hoof sole, but I keep expecting Nimo to show up dead lame any day now as the new abscess works its way out.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the story!