Wow!!! Where to even begin? I mentioned my initial drama with even getting to this ride. A huge THANK YOU to Easycare for the ride entry, I found out only TWO people had entered to win, so odds were very good! ;) I'm SO SO Glad I got the chance to attend this ride! It was a wonderfully run and beautiful event and if it wasn't such a damn long drive I would for sure be back every year.
I ended up not leaving Reno until nearly noon on Friday, and then, due to not consulting an actual MAP or PEOPLE and relying on computer directions, took the route through Napa and up the 128 to get to the ride. We encoutered quite a bit of traffic in Napa, and the 128 was a windy road, but it was a very scenic and beautiful drive through the vineyards (My son - T: "All they have is GRAPES!! It's like grapes forever!"), arriving in ridecamp around 6:30 pm or so. Diego doesn't eat, drink, or pee in the trailer =( Got him out and gave him a few minutes to look around and then kind of grazed our way up to the vetting area (vetting was to end around 7). Got checked in and filled out my paperwork, Diego peed a small lake in front of the vet secretaries trailer, and vetted through with Lindsay Graham. She had me trot twice, "he has a little sashay in his butt", and gave him a B+ in gut sounds. Went back to camp and got Diego installed with his food, water, and a mash, just in time to hurry over for the ride meeting and to get my map for the next day. My dad and step mom arrived during the ride meeting, walked over to where I could see them and wave, then went back to get their camp set up. RM had made a few minor changes to "Ruthie's Classic" but most of the trail was the same. Chatted with a few people at the table about what the trails were like, and then went back to get the people portion of camp set up before it got dark. I had elected to bring the truck tent and air bed instead of the camper, since the camper is so big that would have easily been another 1+ tanks of gas and just more of a hassle to drive. T decided to just sleep in the back seat of the truck in the cab - which worked out well for both of us since he's a talker, mover, kicker in his sleep. As it ended up, Diego must be too because I hardly slept at all that first night. There was "something" out there in the dark because several horses, including Dig, kept doing that loud trumpet snort. I kept waiting to feel him set back and pull or something, but he never did. I got up with him at one point, and he just kept staring in the blackness over toward the vetting area/main camp. Some people the next day mentioned they think it was a mountain lion or other cat due to sounds people heard.
Saturday morning got up and got saddled. I rode in the borrowed Freeform Classic with a borrowed (from someone else) smaller seat. Dig was UP in the morning. He dumped the saddle off once before I could get it girthed on and was in general being a pain in the ass. Thankfully I had put his Easyboot Gloves on Friday before we left Reno, and injected some Goober Glue to create pads in the bottoms of the boots. All I had to do was tighten up the straps and we were good to go. I walked him around in camp for about 10 minutes before the actual start, and at about 5 minutes after started off on foot in that direction. Cynthia (RM) had warned that "this is the most difficult start of any ride I've ever done", so I wasn't exactly thrilled to be hiking my butt up the hill with a pony flotation device in tow. At least he has enough manners to not pull me, although he does push with his shoulder. I stepped off the trail in a couple of spots to run him around at the end of my reins, and then continued walking up on foot.
Somehow, magically, he has this little good behavior reminder that seems to click in right at about 1 mile. So after hiking to the TOP of the first hill, we hit that mark, he sighed, shook, put his head down, and I knew I would be okay to get on. I pulled off the trail and had just gotten mounted and on my way when a group of three ladies came by. I tucked in behind them and followed them down the top of the hill, across the paved road from camp, and up into the next set of hills. They were setting a nice pace, trotting some but walking anything overly steep (which was quite a bit at this point). We started chatting a bit, I asked if it was okay if I stayed with them for a while, explained I was from Reno, didn't really know anyone, hadn't done the ride before, Diego likes buddies, yadda yadda and they were totally fine with me riding with them as the little caboose for the group. The first 3-4 miles are a blur of steep climbs followed by short rolling descents. Eventually, we came to a long down hill where everyone got off and we continued down on foot. Very steep, loose scree footing found us all, human and equine alike, slip sliding our way down into the river valley at the bottom. There we remounted and followed a winding trail through the lower portions, crossing the rivers and adjoining creeks off and on, with smaller more rolling terrain (this ride has very little actual FLAT). We came to a large crossing where the photographer was shooting, I got some lovely shots. A couple of miles later, and we arrived at the first vet check which was at around 9 miles.
This next loop was about 18 miles and I'll just say it was steep and hard. Diego's and my opinion of what was considered a trottable hill was certainly altered. Although we did walk anything that was overly steep, whoever was setting the pace in the front, would often trot the first portion of the hills until the grade increased. Sometimes I would trot behind as well, other times we would start walking sooner and then trot a bit more of the downhill on the opposing side to catch up, or as it just worked out, would catch up very shortly anyways. Diego had settled in well to his job and was very focused and doing great. My only issue was that one of the sheepskin covers on the stirrup leathers kept sliding down, and the top portion would rub my left thigh until I yanked it back up. We got off on foot a couple more times on this loop and at one point I slipped a bit and kind of did the splits, with my left leg extended in front of me while my right leg folded under me as I put my hand down. I think I stretched or pulled something a bit as this is the only place where I'm really sore.
We got in off the 18 mile loop and Diego was HOT. I had scooped out of one of the creeks on the loop (this would be a good ride for a sponge and a sponge-trained horse), and thankfully the vet check had a ton of water, buckets, even hoses. I scooped and scooped about 8 gallons of water on him and at right about 5 minutes, he pulsed down to 60 and we got our in time. Once again the other 3 were a couple of minutes ahead of me, but I was so pleased with how well Diego was doing. We went back over to our crew spot, and he wasn't interested in eating. =( I don't think he was overly stressed, his expression looked good and he wasn't panting, but he just was too busy looking around and gazing off at stuff. I finally got him to take a couple of carrots, then a couple of handfulls of hay, but holding them up against his lips. I told T his job was to keep him eating as I ran over to grab some lunch for myself. RM provided sandwiches, chips, cookies and fruit both days at the away check. I grabbed another handful of carrots from the volunteers, and went back over to Dig. He was nibbling, but wasn't really eating with gusto like I wanted him to. We kept plying him with food stuffs, even a bit of red licorice, and while I was frustrated he wasn't eating that well, just due to how he looked and the vibe he was giving off, I wasn't really concerned about him in general. We went over and vetted around 40 minutes into the 60 minute hold, and he received a mixture of A's and B's. Gut sounds were a B as I recall. I saddled back up, Diego with an expression of SHOCK that I had the NERVE to put the saddle back on him (!!!) and kept an eye on when the others were getting ready to leave.
We had a 20 mile loop back to camp at this point. It worked out that the other 3 vetted a bit late, so we were all able to leave together from the check. This last loop went south and did a big sweeping loop through the hills, climbing to the top of the ridgeline and back down several times, before taking us along the edge of a newly planted vinyard and then dumping us on a fairly exposed and somewhat flat dirt road. You could look down onto a lake (Lake Sonoma?) and it looked so cool and inviting, they were saying how it's pure torture to ride along up there when it's 100+ and the sun in beating down. We eventually came into some of the ranch houses where there was a trough with a hose and all the horses got sprayed and cooled off before leaving. Diego did very well with his drinking at the ride. He's very business like. When he's going to drink, he just gets in there and gulps it down. He doesn't fiddle fart around with it, just chugs until he's done, then he's done and ready to go. He does skip water if he's had a big drink recently. But he did well on this so I don't feel like I need to worry about him too much in this regard.
After leaving the houses we continued along the road for a bit until there was a cattle guard, where we crossed a field and then came out onto the paved road that lead toward ride camp (it's on a private ranch so traffic is very very light). OMG what a climb this road is!!!! Pure torture, just up and up and up and up. A real strong grade that goes on for what's probably about 2 miles or so. Thankfully there's a trough about 1/2 way up, where all the horses drank heartily. Dig had finally realized he was hungry (duh) about 8 miles ago so was grabbing huge mouthfulls of the tall grass clumps and eating as he went along. When we neared the end of the paved bit, the group trotted off and Diego just kept walking. He neighed once or twice, but that was it, still on a loose rein just going along. We turned off from the road and climbed the last of the hill on the dirt trail. The other 3 had gone on ahead at this point, so Dig and I trotted that last mile down off the hill and into camp and the finish all by ourselves (beaming) and crossed the finish line at 3:17 pm for a ride time of 7:47. We ended up finishing 28 out of 50 finishers, with 52 starters. That was the lowest pull rate in the history of the ride, I'm sure the mild weather was a huge factor.
Took Diego back to the trailer, where he decided his hay bag and slurpie mash were the best thing he'd seen all day (um, lesson learned?). Pulled tack and checked the boots, the first time I had touched them all day. With all the water crossings and the dirt, I was scared to mess with the velcro overmuch and have it quit sticking. He had one teeny rub on the lateral heel bulb of his left rear, and that was it. I put a bit of Desitin on it and the backs of his pasterns for good measure and left the gaiters fastened loosely. Nearish the one-hour mark, I took him over to vet out. He did well with all his scores except gut sounds, which Jamie gave a C. I told him I wasn't surprised and why, and explained how well he was eating now. Both Jamie and I weren't too concerned due to the circumstances. I cleaned up a bit, fiddled with some stuff, ate a small snack, visited with people, had an excellent dinner, got a super cute completion T-shirt, packed to go for Day 2 (riding the 30-mile LD), and went to bed around 9:30 or so. It was a much quieter night all around and I was grateful for the extra hour to sleep as we had a 7 am start time on Sunday.