Wow, where to start... What a ride, and what a ride it's been.
This past Saturday, 3/19, Diego and I completed his very first 50 mile endurance ride. I find it especially fitting that it happened at Rides of March (ROM), as this ride as had special significance to me over the years. In 2003, in its debut year, this is where Sinatra and I had our introduction to the sport of endurance and completed in our very first limited distance (30 mile) ride. In 2008, it was where I (unknowingly) rode Sinatra on his very last completion, a 50 mile finish on their brand new trail and location. He passed that December from cancer. Sinatra's ashes are scattered on the trail behind the hunt facility where the ride now passes by. So it seems extra appropriate that ROM would also become a huge part of the history of Diego and I as well.
The weather forecast leading up to the ride was a bit... um... interesting. It was supposed to be blowing a gale on Friday, and then snow overnight and into Saturday morning. On the plus side, the snow and wind were both supposed to stop sometime on Saturday, and the forecast high of the low 40's would be perfect for the horses with their winter coats. Hubby helped me get the camper all loaded up on Thursday and on Friday, amid gusts up to 50 mph, I loaded Diego in the trailer and SAILED over to Funder's house to pick up Dixie and her. We crammed everything in and then, as I was leaving her house, I realized it was after 3 pm and I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, so we hopped in and grabbed something to eat at Qdoba, which was MOST EXCELLENT.
Dixie and Diego in camp
Arrived at ridecamp with no issues and got the horses all settled in and camp set-up. I tested poor Diego by pulling a rookie move with my blanket. It's a closed front, which means I have to put it on OVER his head; it doesn't have buckles on the chest. That was fine, except I had it inside out. Realizing my error, I unclipped his lead rope from his halter in order to pull the blanket back off. He backed up as I started to pull it off, bumped into the fence behind him and then jumped forward in surprise, taking a few steps around the corner of the trailer, with the blanket still around his neck and now hanging on the ground in front of him. Bless his heart he just stood there and let me come "rescue" him! Good boy! Got everything all figured out and stuffed on correctly.
Both horses vetted through just fine. About 15 of us huddled around the campfire for the pre-ride meeting and to hear about the layout of the trail for tomorrow. Whiteout conditions over I-80 had the interstate closed, so only a few riders from California braved the trip over the mountain. It was already starting to snow off and on, but wasn't really sticking yet. Sanne and Diego's BFF Taz showed up during the ride meeting. After the meeting, Dave Rabe helped me with applying Diego's Easycare Glove hoof boots. This was to be our first 50 using Gloves. We've done several long training rides in them, but nothing of this distance so far (obviously). Since it was supposed to snow (more) overnight, it was best to get the athletic tape and boots on his hooves now, while things were still somewhat dry. Between Dave and I, the job went very quick and smooth. I left the gaiters loose, and it was super easy to just tighten them up in the morning.
Sanne, Funder and I had an excellent dinner in the camper and chatted for a while. After dinner, we took the horses for a quick walk around camp, where I panicked poor Funder by taking Dixie without telling her! Actually, I thought she was in the camper and yelled out "I'm stealing your horse" as we went by, but it turns out she WASN'T in the camper, and had a mild panic attack when she came back and her horse wasn't tied to the trailer. =) Luckily she found us fairly quickly. SORRY!!! LOL
I didn't sleep very well overnight. Part of that is normal for me. Oh well. Got up and it had snowed overnight, but was still mostly just a light dusting on the ground. Put on about 20 layers of clothes, I actually was NEVER cold at all during the day, rather I was too warm at times. Saddled up and put on my rump rug, a first for Diego. I tightened up the gaiters on the boots and lunged him for a bit in camp. Soon I could see the first riders heading off down the trail, so went back over and finished some last minute checking of items, hooked up my heart rate monitor, and we headed over to the start.
Ready to go at the start
Funder got on Dixie and left pretty much right away. Sanne and I chose to stay on foot and walk the boys for a while down the trail. Dig was excited and prancing a bit, but was being good and staying out of my space and not pulling on me. We figured it was easier to just go along on foot than to try to fight with them to stay at a walk at this point, and we knew they needed to WALK to get their heads' on straight for a bit first thing in the morning. It was probably only a couple of miles until we mounted up. Both horses actually did well and continued walking down the trail after we were mounted, in fact we didn't trot until we ran across the ride photographer. Unfortunately, it was snowing a bit too hard at this point and none of my pictures turned out. =( The camera was confused about where to focus and they're all a bit blurry.
The first loop was 20 miles, after passing the photographer and a volunteer taking numbers, we went through a gate and continued up a dirt road. Sanne and I both were watching the ground, looking to see if there were slip marks to indicate how icy it might be. We both had boots on (I had on Gloves while Sanne had on Glue-ons), and neither of our horses slipped at all, however we decided that a moderate trot was the best gait of choice. After a mile or two we dropped down into a sandy twisty wash, which was super fun and a great place to let the horses get a little power trot in. Once out of the wash, we headed up a long road into the foothills, and it started to snow, and snow, and snow. Soon we had almost a 1/2 inch accumulated in their manes and along the pommels of our saddles and packs. Since we were both tucked into our jackets, it actually was kind of fun. Certainly makes other rides seem much easier in comparison. =) This loop led us up and around through the foothills, making sort of a counter-clockwise rectangle. Diego drank at the first main cow tanks. He was all business all day about drinking. We'd arrive at water, he'd walk up and drink as much as he wanted, then scratch his head or look around for stuff to nibble on.
Sanne and Taz on the first loop
As we crested the highest part of this loop, we headed back toward the valley and it stopped snowing and the sun even tried to peak out. It was beautiful out! We headed down, down, down and back to Bedell Flats. At this point it was warm enough to peel of a layer, which I managed to wiggle out of as we continued walking down the trail. Right before we hit the main road on the valley floor, another rider came up behind us! Diego noticed her first. Both Sanne and I were surprised that anyone was behind us, but she mentioned that she'd missed a turn and had been off trail. She was shocked to even catch up to anyone. Turtles R Us was the motto for the day though! ;)
We followed along behind her for a bit, until we turned off the main road and began to climb through the foothills for the final few miles back into camp. At one point, Diego put his head down really low, like he was sniffing the trail while trotting along. I figured he was maybe stretching his back and let him cruise along like that for a bit. Suddenly, BUCK BUCK BUCK! I don't know what prompted that (I'm thinking the rump rug might have something to do with it, it had been pulled up but was down afterwards). Thankfully I didn't even lose my seat and he only did a few. He does NOT buck as well as Sinatra - who could always unload me at will. And he went right back to trotting on a loose rein. Dork.
We came across a gate, and when I hopped off to open the gate, I did my first boot check of the ride (about 15 miles in) and dumped some sand and one small rock out of the gaiters on all 4 boots. I actually was SHOCKED there were no rubs or any issues, considering the boots had been covered in wet sand throughout the entire ride so far. Dig has what I term "delicate" legs, so not having any signs of rubbing was most excellent. After going through the gate, we arrived at a set of cow tanks that all 3 loops would come to. The first 4 riders for the 50 arrived on their second loop at the same time as us, and all 6 horses shared politely. We had common trail for about a mile or so, where the front runners turned off to continue on their second loop, while Sanne and I headed the last 3 miles or so back to camp. One more water stop along the way, and soon we had arrived at 20 miles. The ride started at 7:00 and we came in off that 20 mile loop and pulsed in at 10:58, so it took us about 4 hours total (including starting late and walking on foot).
Checking in at 20 miles
The hold here was only 15 minutes, but both Sanne and I wanted to give the boys a chance to eat something and grab a bite for ourselves. Both horses vetted through well, Diego's CRI was a 48(!!!) and he had all A's on his vetcard as I can recall. I also took the time to get rid of my light jacket for an even lighter windbreaker. I went to send out a text update as to how things were going with the ride, and realized my iPhone was missing!!! I wear it in a Cashel ankle safe, and the entire pouch was NOT on my leg! Ack! Thankfully Sanne remembered seeing it when we went through the gate right before the common water troughs, so it was somewhere out there on shared trail. I notified management that if any riders came in with an extra phone, it was mine. Exchanged my empty water bottle for a full one, and about 30 minutes after our arrival we were all set and headed out on the next loop, which was 15 miles.
Both horses left camp quite cheerfully and we repeated the same trail as the morning up to the point where the photographer had been. We made MUCH better time on this loop, being able to trot along where in the morning we were walking on foot. We didn't go through the fence this time, instead turning left through the low foothills, parallel to the fenceline, back to the cow troughs were we saw the front running 50's on the last loop. I hopped off here to shed another layer on top (now down to 4 instead of 5) ;) and we set off again. Not 200 yards up the trail - THERE'S MY PHONE!!! Rejoice!!! I've ridden probably 2,000 miles with an ankle safe and NEVER had it come off before, but I also don't generally have on that many layers. My guess is the velcro was lined up just right with my stirrup leather that it caused it to pop off. I put it back on and it stayed where it should the rest of the ride.
This was a new loop for the ride this year, and it was called Scenic for a reason. Gorgeous views as we climbed up into, over, and through the hills. After negotiating past a water tower and a horse-eating tanker car of death (how in the HECK did THAT get out here?!?!?), we followed along a side-hill trail on the backside of the mountains. As we rounded one curve, I realized I had ridden this trail years and years ago on Sinatra, on a training ride with the ride managers, from the opposite direction. Sinatra was with me in spirit a lot on this ride, but especially on this loop. Sanne and I talked a lot about Tevis on this loop, since there were some narrow sections of side-hill. Diego crossed his "farthest to ever be ridden" after the 25 mile point on this loop. He was cute, he was so happy and perky - just giving off such a "I'm having fun!" vibe that I laughed out loud several times and commented to Sanne on it. =) We also did a fair amount of climbing, especially toward the end of the loop where we went down, down, down one canyon, followed a couple miles of trail overlooking some homes and the hunt facility in Red Rock, to then climb back up, and up, and up to a water stop at the top of the climb. We let the boys have a break for some water and the hay provided at the top, then continued on knowing camp shouldn't be too much farther. Sure enough, I happened to look over my right shoulder and a bit behind me after we were out of the hills, and could see the trailers about 1/4 mile away.
Arriving at 35 miles
Eating at the trailer
We arrived back in camp, at 35 miles for our 1 hour hold, right around 2:30, again averaging around 5 mph overall pace for the loop. I was STARVING and I'm sure the horses were too. We vetted through quickly and headed back to the trailers. Got the horses going on lunch and ate something ourselves. Refilled bottles, sent out some Facebook updates on how things were going (got to love the connected electronic age), and suddenly I realized I was TIRED sitting there with nothing to do and at least 10 more minutes before I needed to get ready to head back out. I gulped down the last of my, now cold, morning coffee and decided to walk over to the vet area to hang out and let Diego eat over there. Sanne was on board with the same plan so we spent the last few minutes of our hold chatting with everyone. On a sad note, Funder, who we hadn't seen since that morning, didn't quite like how Dixie was doing, so elected to pull here. =( Better luck next time to them and I'm SURE they'll get everything figured out eventually.
So off we went on the last 15 mile loop. Both boys happily trotted right out of camp and down the trail. I knew we were going "up and over that mountain in front of us" from doing this same loop back in 2008, but I forgot the exact details. Needless to say, I firmly believe that this loop should be renamed CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT. ;) Ugh! You start out on a gradual uphill climb, which gets continually steeper, and you climb, and climb, and climb. Then when you think you're at the top, you go around a corner, down a little bit, and then climb some MORE! Repeat about 3 times! We trotted anytime it was flat or a bit downhill and let the boys just continue to climb up at about a 3 mph walk. Finally, **finally** you crest the top and start down. And down, and down, and down, and down. But it's a nice sandy wash and easy to just cruise down at a walk. We stopped at one point and I fished out some ibuprofen from my saddle packs for Sanne, who choked on water while trying to take them, poor thing. But we got all situated and finally hit the bottom of the climb. At the bottom of the climb is a main dirt road, the same one we were on the first loop in the morning, which runs along the valley floor. You could REALLY make time on this road, especially with a fresh horse. Instead we had horses (and riders) with 40 miles on them, but who were still game to trot and canter off and on, so onward we went. We joked off and on that this was the hardest we'd worked the horses all day, here at the end of the ride, and it's probably true - Negative Splits R Us, or at least a consistent average. We took a few walking breaks as needed (mainly for us RIDERS!) and finally, FINALLY met up with the first loop trail. Then the mind plays tricks on you. What went by fairly quickly in the morning was somehow at least twice as long this time around. We were doing fine on time, right on track, but at this point, I certainly was ready for it to be over! =) Eventually we came to the gate, and then the common cow tanks for water. Both horses were all business. Diego would drink and as we'd leave, Taz would stay and wait until he was *certain* that Diego was indeed heading down the trail before opting to join us. He'd started that back at the end of the second loop and it brought some chuckles for sure. Taz actually prefers to be in front, and lead most of the day, but he wasn't opposed to taking a break and making it for as long as possible. ;)
Not too much longer now! Just a bit more off and on trotting, and we hit the "crossroads" water tanks right as John with management was showing up, knowing we were the last riders and he could pick them up after us. We visited for a while and let the horses eat, then continued on, knowing camp was only about 5 minutes down the trail.
And we finished!!! Right around 6:30, which had been the plan all along (5 mph). Both horses did great all day. Diego vetted out with A's and some B's. He had a B on gait with a note of a very slight inconsistent something on his right front. At first I told the vet, "Yeah, if it's any foot, it would be that one," thinking of his LEFT front, which is the only leg he's actually ever had any issues on (including getting it caught in a rope about 8 months ago), but then I realized I was thinking of the wrong leg. Honestly, I think he was a bit off because he has a STRONG preference to have me on that diagonal, and even though I tried to be very diligent in changing, I *know* I rode WAY more miles on his right front/left rear diagonal than I did on the other side. So add that to the list of things to practice more, for sure.
Diego was a hungry boy when we finished and happily snarfed up his food in camp and munched hay all the way home. Funder had done an excellent job getting us mostly ready to leave, so it didn't take long to strip tack, blanket, vet out, remove boots (NO RUBS!), and get the people side of the equation packed up and ready to leave. Since it was only a little over an hour to get home (including stopping to drop Funder and Dixie off), I didn't feel too guilty about loading up and getting on the road fairly quickly.
The next day, it rained or snowed pretty much all day at home. In the evening things finally let up for a bit and I took Diego on a little walk around the neighborhood. He was moving very free and forward, out-walking me and looking around with interest. It's been a long road to get here, but I can hardly wait to see what adventures lie ahead for us! Just the beginning of my incredible journey with this awesome horse.