I will give you the story and the gear and the lessons learned post.....but before that you have to grant me one, just ONE post of raving about Farley. Consider this the post about my horse and Cache creek. The gear and tricks learned will come next.
Farley may be that one great horse in my lifetime.
This ride proved more than anything that our past successes are absolutely NOT due to me as some sort of wonderful endurance rider, but to her phenomenal physiology that comes together in a way that makes this sport relatively easy for her.
I'm probably an average endurance rider. After 20 MT in 2011 I remember posting about I felt like I had finally become a "real" endurance rider because I actually rode and managed my horse throughout the race, and Cache creek gave me the same feeling - it was an extremely challenging day and through knowledge and experience I was able to manage pacing and hydration to complete 50 miles in about 9:15, about 1 1/2 hours before cut off.
But that does not explain how we finished that ride yesterday.
First off, it was THE most humid ride I've done to date, combined with high temperatures (mid nineties) for a heat index that was well above the 150 "danger zone". Not usually a problem for a mid summer or fall ride, but for a May ride those are very hot temperatures indeed.
Upon realizing what the temperatures PLUS humidity was going to be I quickly realized there were 3 facts of life going into Saturday.
1. We did not have the heat training to do this ride.
2. We did not have the hill training to do this ride.
3. We did not have the mileage to do this ride.
Facts 2 and 3 have been around for a while and I had a plan for managing them. Adding in fact 1 made my life complicated.
I haven't been exactly straight forward about what I've done conditioning wise with Farley because it hasnt been much. I did a hot fast LD (30 miles) on her last September. Starting in March I've been getting on her 2-3 times a week and doing anywhere from 3-10 miles per ride, mostly intervals (trot, canter, gallop), although there's been weeks I've not ridden. I've gone up to Auburn mid day and got in some afternoon hills in the sun with lots of trotting. Two weeks ago I went camping at Cache creek and got some where in the neighborhood of 24 miles in over 2 days. Alot of walking and hill miles, but a lot of cantering and galloping too.
That's it folks. This 50 was where I was either going to come to a reality check when it came to my endurance plans this year, or (unfathomably) be impressed enough to take a chance.
Heres the other facts of life when it comes to endurance on Farley
1. She has 2 pulls. Both on 100's, both due to lameness/injuries.
2. She has probably some of the best heat metabolic I've ever seen in a horse. She can canter into gate and go's at Tevis and be below 60 by the time I dismount. She does not require a lot of sponging and scooping - over cooling her will cause her to shiver.
3. Farley takes care of herself and doesn't hide stuff
4. She's short and I can get on and off her how ever many times I need to during a ride.
There were 4 loops on this ride - each 12.5 miles long. Here's how the ride went down.
Loop 1 (Red)
This was one of those "1 in 7" starts I have with Farley when she's a maniac and is attempting to go at Mach speed from mile one. I was already having flash backs to 2 rides in particular, both done on Minx, both resulting in pulls. American river it was cold all week and then was over a 100 on ride day. We didnt make it. Mount Diablo I had to trailer her over to the ride camp in the middle of a hot day, and then once we got to ride camp there was zero shade. And then it was even hotter the next day (115 or something ridiculous like that), they ran out of water, it was hilly, and I pulled at lunch with no gut sounds. Only to find that you couldn't stay the night at RC and I had to put my horse back into the trailer that evening and take her home. So yeah. I don't have a great history with hot early season rides - at least on a Standardbred. Anyways - back to Cache Creek. I had to trailer Farley into RC 3:30-4:30 and she was slightly dehydrated coming off the trailer. I made it my mission to rehydrate her that night and everything looked good in the morning. So off we go with a horse who has a slightly different ride plan than I do. My plan: trot everything that isn't straight up hill, get off and jog the downhills. Farley's plan: Pass that horse and that horse and that horse and that horse and charge up that hill and that hill and that hill and race down that hill and that hill and that hill and then use that ditch as a cross country jump and that log as a jump and then stop to drink and eat and repeat.
I did let her got at a faster trot on the "flats" (ie the parts that weren't straight up or down) in the morning and trot up *some* of the hills because I knew the cool hours were going to be precious few. Starting in this first loop I did get off and jogged the down hills. This is the first ride that I've consistently gotten off from the beginning to the end and it definitely helped me as much as the horse.
After claiming to have completely forgotten all ground manners for a good 2 miles down to the first vet check, we vetted in.
Vet check 1
P&R at 52, walked over to the vet where he pronounced her good. Not even a watch on the gaits or a slight uneveness, or a comment about hydration. And it wasn't just nice vets - I saw 5 people ahead and around me go through with "there's something about that left front". Wow. OK. This is good.
Loop 2 (White)
More trotting, more jogging, in these last couple hours of cool. The last half of the loop was hot, and she finally started to drink really well at the water troughs on the trail. I found out that scooping water on her actually encouraged her to drink instead of just annoying her so for the rest of the ride I concentrated on scooping and reducing her heat load as much as possible. I don't remember much of this loop, except, although vet check 1 had reset the "button" some what she was still really really strong and my abs, shoulders, and arms were really feeling it. At the end of this loop we had 25 miles and even though I've done a lot of rides on this horse, I felt like my first 50, when everything past the LD distance is an unknown. The thought that kept passing through my head was "of course we will get to the lunch stop - we've trained for that, but further than that?".
It was going to be a hot ride so the vets instituted a respiration requirement to the pulse requirement and I was nervous because I've never monitored that on Farley. I've never noticed her panting, but since I'd never been required to make sure it was under 60/min what if I screwed up and pulsed her in too early with an inverted pulse and respiration?
Was never an issue all day even though there were lots of horses around me that had delayed P&Rs because of it.
Vet check 2
Vetted in at 48. Really?????? Totally sound. No watches. No comments. B for hydration parameters. Vets assured me that they were seeing that on everyone. This is when I started looking for more reassurance from the vets. "Are you sure she looks good? are you sure she's sound?". (unsaid was "you have no idea how underprepared we are for this, and there has to be something.....). I found myself actually bringing stuff up like "she seems to have some more gas than normal on the trail" because I really really really wanted to make sure that everything was really really really ok because this trail and ride was really really really hard. (I was told "don't worry about the gas").
My standard phrase for when asked how my ride was going from that point onward was "I'm having a better ride than I deserve or could expect".
I met the lovely Irish horse and Major at this point and her (even lovelier) boyfriend crewed for me. It was wonderful. We rode off and on together for the rest of the ride and finished within minutes of each other at the end.
Loop 3 (Blue)
We were warned of a ginormous hill on this loop. It was the talk of the trail. Irish horse had ridden with some people earlier where all they talked about was how bad the hill was and how they puked on the way up. I was really really really nervous that it was going to be like training hill (cue flashback to American River with Minx). I had decided the night before that Berkely hill might be the hill of the ride that I would end up leading up even though Farley and I had a pact of "you carry my ass up the hill and I'll lead you down it".
Farley was still wanting to trot and was quite strong so I made another pact. I would not ask her to trot but if she broke into a trot, I would let her trot a 100 yards before I made her walk. In this fashion I would make sure that she wasn't getting caught up in some sort of race brain that was going to kill us in the heat. We went along comfortably in this fashion, doing lots of trotting in short segments. She was still offering to trot up hills but I decided that our pact applied to mostly flat ground. I let her have one short canter just for fun, and yes, we may have trotted up a couple of hills, but I always made sure that anything we were doing above a walk was her asking, not me telling. As far as I was concerned, we had entered the realm of "no-mans'-land" of the ride where I didn't know what the hell to expect, but I hadn't expected to have this much horse.
We went up up up a hill. It was pretty steep. But not that long. "is this Berkely?" I asked myself? There has to be more. A little flat section and then a little more up.....but that was it. Huh? Farley stopped once in a shade patch for maybe 10 seconds, but beyond that had power walked up the hill and never gave me any indication I should get off.
It was after that hill that I started to think I had a real shot at finishing this ride and perhaps even doing it in such a fashion that wasn't too embarrassing.
Vet check 3
Lots and lots and lots of hot horses here with loads of water being dumped on them. I dumped some water on Farley and then P&Red and vetted in. Totally sound. No watches. B on gut and hydration. "Been seeing it all day" I was told. "Looks totally average for the horses coming through here" I was told. "The top horses that have gone through here have looked exactly the same" I was told. Can you tell that I was asking the vets whether everything was REALLY ok?
You mean she isn't sore or have cramping due to all these hills? Or the fact we haven't done this in 2 freakin' YEARS????????
Are you sure?
The only thing wrong is some Bs for hydration?
Because I'm pretty sure I've NEVER gone through a ride with this horse where at SOME POINT I didn't a B for gaits or muscle tone.
She's a little tired - I told the vets.
So are most of the other others - I was told.
Loop 4 (purple)
The heat load was starting to build up in the horses and I could see it in Farley. She was eating, but not diving into her food the way she usually is, so I decided to ride a very conservative. I calculated it, and even with walking most of the last loop I would get in one hour before cut off. Farley was mostly content to give me a good strong power walk but was still asking to trot. If the footing was good and it was mostly flat I would give her the OK and we did some trotting. Getting off and running the downhills REALLY helped decrease or at least minimize the heat load in the later parts of the day. She visibly looked cooler when I would get to the bottom of the hill. She wasn't even taking advantage of me mounting to take a break and rest - we do moving mounts during rides and she was walking and trotting off as I mounted and dismounted.
I was IMPRESSED.
I saw a horse on the trail a couple miles from camp that was in trouble and being treated by the vet. I looked at the horse and recognized the "look". I've seen it in Minx, and I've seen it in Farley (most notably in Tevis) of a horse that was done for that day.
Farley definitely did not have that look yesterday.
About 5 miles from RC she started to ask to canter. Ummm.....no. Absolutely not. We have NOT come this far to do something that stupid in the heat of the day. I'm happy that you are feeling so good, but that is NOT what is going to happen.
At 2 miles from RC she refused to even LOOK at the water because we were almost.there.
1 mile from RC she started threatening to buck me off and jig.
Right.....because jigging is the fastest way for me to throw the reins at her and let her just trot/canter/gallop as fast as she wants towards RC. NOT!!!!!!!!
We practiced WALKING.
She rewarded that lesson by attempted to rear and buck me off at the in timers when I had to hand them my card.
I had a lot of horse left.
Final vet check
"Still has quite a bit of bounce to her step" I was told at the final vet check.
OK - color me shocked because NO ONE has EVER accused Farley of having a "bounce" to her step at ANY POINT during a ride before. She's not a pretty mover - she's efficient.
When asked how I thought she was doing, my response was that I thought she was a little hydrated and tired, but that I thought she was OK. The vet agreed. She pulsed in at 68 (I always vet her in as soon as I can because she tends to "shut down" during vet checks and take naps and trying to vet her in 30 minutes into the check seems cruel and unusual, so I usually take a hit on my gut sounds, but she stays happier. ) with a similar respiration, so he did comment that she was probably still a little hot.
There wasn't a line, so I asked the vet to give her a more thorough look over because of her history, my goals, and because I'm using a new saddle. The vet, who knew my history with this horse (and knows I'm a vet student) patiently explained that yes, she was totally sound. No signs of ANYTHING. Nope, she didn't look stiff or sore or crampy. Back looks great - the saddle is fine (at least what can be evaluated without seeing the sweat pattern).
I was super super happy with Farley. She had stayed strong through the entire ride, and the vets had given her better scores on a very very very hard ride than what we have gotten in the past in "full" training and conditioning.
After the ride
I *think* I may have mentioned that this was probably by far the ride with the highest heat index I've ever done. I've never seen Farley hot but I was pretty sure that what was going on. Her respiration stayed elevated and she wasn't eating and drinking post ride like she usually does. One of my classmates who also did the 50 was parked next to me and I asked her if she would mind listening to Farley's gut sounds and giving me her opinion. I was at this point flat on my back with a migraine trying to resist the urge to smash my skull against the giant rock next to camp site and splatter my brains over the ground. She agreed with me - Farley did have gut sounds but they were quiet. In her opinion Farley was tired and hot. Her horse was much the same. Farley seemed fine other than that.
I had a feeling from previous rides that once the sun set, Farley would stop napping and start eating. That didn't stop me from worrying of course. It seemed like everyone that had finished the ride was dealing with the same issues, so I kept telling myself to just be patient. Farley ALWAYS naps after a ride, and she was swishing at flies and had gut sounds. Let her do her thing.
I woke up after dark to the sound of her crunching the carrots I had left on the ground for her and drinking and eating and pooping.
In the morning I woke up to a horse that looks fully rehydrated, has lots of perfectly colored pee, and dragged me around ride camp looking for the most scrumptious clumps of grass.
She didn't look this good after our first LD
She didn't look this good after our first 50. (even though we had trained for it, done several LD's prior to it, and it was an easier, cooler 50)
She looks better this morning than she has at any comparable hot 50 we've ever done before - usually she still looks a bit tired and gaunt if it's been a hard hot ride.
I felt her legs: totally cool and tight. SHE HAS NEVER HAD ABSOLUTELY ZERO FILLING ON HER FRONTS. Sometimes I go out to the stable and she is slightly filled. No wrapping or pouliticing was done because I was trying to die that night. No walking was done.
I trotted her out - bouncy and sound. Not stiff and sore at all.
We trailered home and I turned her out into the arena. She TROTTED out away from me. YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Rolled, got up and went to explore the arena and what little edibles there might be.
So here's the bottom line for me
1. She felt great for the entire ride and kept wanting to move forward at speed.
2. She vetted in great all day.
3. ALL physiological parameters looked great the next day.
4. The only caveat to our greatness was a heat related issue after the ride. Considering that the cool weather and very few heat spells up to this point in the season, we were not able to get the heat training in. LOTS of other teams were having this issue, not just us. This is a fixable issue before Tevis.
I think the most important parameters that tells me Tevis isn't a pipe dream is the lack of soreness, stiffness, or any indication that she was over ridden. Heat training is fixable and probably would have been an issue this early in the season if we HAD been training for it.
I'm not sure how she's doing it, but some how I'm able to pull from her base of 2 years ago. My guess that it goes back to good genetics and having a solid base (even if it was some time ago.) She's always been able to maintain fitness without a ton of mileage, is relatively heat tolerant, has good trail sense and pacing, and really stable physiology (I think that heat tolerance is probably highly correlated with a horse that is able to compensate and maintain their internal electrolytes and balance respiration with other physiologic parameters so that they don't get too out of whack - I had a good conversation with a vet about electrolytes that I will share in a later post that relates to this). Whatever secrete mare paddock workouts she's doing, I hope she keeps doing it.
Can you tell I'm a bit in shock how it all turned out. I am not shocked that we finished - I wouldn't have started if I hadn't had a good shot at finishing. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have the horse that I had yesterday. I still cannot freakin' believe it.