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|
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.|
|The map of the first loop|
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.|
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|
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!