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Sunday, March 1, 2009

20 Mule Team 65

I’ve just returned from this year’s 20 mule team ride. It’s amazing how much there is to learn in this sport. I will post pictures in a separate post in a couple of days. In the meantime, here’s the summary (warning: long…).

The Base camp is at the Desert Empire Fairgrounds. There was plenty of parking. I set up camp and met my neighbors. Vetting in was a hassle. Something spooked the horses right before it was my turn. My normally calm, sweet horse bucked and cantered during her trot out. *sigh* After all the jogging we do together it’s a shame THAT is what she chooses to do when people are watching. Her behavior during the trot out set the tone for the rest of the ride.

After not sleeping at all, I got up and tacked. At home I don’t ride with saddle bags, a breast collar etc, so on ride day I have to attach all the “extras”. At a ride, I usually set everything for the ride on a saddle stand the night before, but don’t actually put on the horse and attach everything until the morning of the ride. This time I put everything on the horse and attached my saddle bags, ziptied my camera to the saddle, attached my pad to the saddle etc. In the morning I lifted the entire ensemble (including the saddle pad already set and attached underneath) on the horse. Very nice. Especially if your horse is like mine and has a limited amount of “standing still” patience the morning of a ride.

The ride start was a nightmare. Farley usually starts a ride on a loose rein. She was HYPED. Fighting, bucking, one rein stops during “warm up”. Once the ride actually started she did NOT settle. One issue was she was in season and 2 stallions were near me. During AERC rides my experience with stallions has been 100% positive. They all had excellent manners, and even when I had a mare in heat there has been ZERO issues. In this case, I was NOT impressed with this stallion’s behavior. He was actually being allowed to call to my mare under saddle and was barely under control. I found out later that this particular gentleman (the rider, not the horse) has a “reputation”. As soon as the controlled start ended we spread out a little I was able to put good distance between them and me.

After 2 hours and almost 15 miles Farley finally started to work off of a loose rein. We were all by ourselves! I had finally found my bubble and she had found her brain (it didn’t last)! This was by far the worst start. She almost succeeded at bucking me off. I’m thinking the wet weather and limited riding the last 2 months was not the best situation. She usually only takes 30 minutes to settle during a ride.

The miles passed in a blur. I should have appreciated the loose rein before vet check 1. It was the last time it happened. At mile 35, my shins/outside calves were on fire. At vet check 2 I tried dropping my stirrups one hole to see if that would help. The only thing it did was cause my abs to be on fire by mile 50 (which means I was using my core, and posting correctly right?). At mile 53 I put my stirrups back in their original hole. At mile 55 I asked for a walk and got a jig…..we practiced one rein stops as I asked for a 4 beat gait and got a 2 beat gait. I was furious. My abs hurt so bad, and I knew that if I couldn’t get a break from trot/jigging, my muscles were shot for the rest of the ride. At mile 57 and vet check 3 I collapsed off my horse. 15 minutes later I remounted. I can tell you with certainty that the last 8 miles to the finish were NOT short. I was unable to check her or make her walk. In fact, I’m sure she had lost the ability to do a 4 beat gait. Apparently the core muscles are extremely important in order to check a horse. The only way I could check her was to brace one hand on the saddle and pull with the other. That way my abs wouldn’t engage. I practiced breathing.

I tucked in behind Dave Rabe and Karen Chaton (see her blog in the bar to the right) until the finish. They were going at a nice little pace – trot with some walking. During the trots I stayed in 2 point, leaned over the neck and rested my hands on withers, grabbed mane, and focused on deep breaths. At this point I could not touch my stomach without wanted to grunt in pain (abs were VERY unhappy). If I moved my legs wrong, there was a bad tearing sensation in my outside calves. Finally we got to the finish line. It was a bitter sweet completion. She was deemed “fit to continue”, but was slightly off on her left right. I’m fairly certain it’s the splint that was present after Death Valley. As she was perfectly fine at mile 57, it was probably due to my very bad riding the last 8 miles and being too forward. Total ride time (does not include hold times): 8 hours, 52 minutes. I’m sure she was as sick of me after the ride as I was of her. But both of us relented after I brought her grain, and she knickered at me from across the fairgrounds :)

This morning she was perfectly sound on the lunge going both directions, which means the lameness is fairly minor. I buted her for the splint and muscle soreness and will continue to for 3 days. I’ll give her a couple weeks off, then start back with light work and see how she does. If she looks fine, we’ll either do a hilly 50 or a flat 75 in 2 months.

Things that went especially well:

Dirt bikes passed us numerous times and Farley didn’t even look twice.

I didn’t look at my GPS at all. I was able to use my watch for pacing! I knew approximately how far I had gone at all times, and came into the vet stops about when I thought I would! The GPS was great for learning pacing and is very useful for training rides, however, I don’t like being too dependent on it for actual rides.

I got to ride with Karen and Dave! Karen gave me some good advice. I did very little sponging (OK – none), because the weather was cool and breezy, so Farley was covered with salt and grime. I don’t groom my horses at vet checks because there is so much other stuff to do and I really focus on specific things that will help my horse – checking feet, watering, mixing feed, massaging, refilling water, scratching her itchy spots with my fingers etc. Karen told me that by currying the salt off my horse, I may help recoveries and hydration because of how salt in the hair can act on the skin. So now I will have an excuse to make my horse pretty at the vet checks!

She recovered VERY well over night. Because of the 4 day Death Valley ride, I’m sure she thought she was going out again today. She looked like she could have. (but I wouldn’t have because of her being off at the finish)

Her condition looks fabulous. Using the formula (in inches) girth squared multiplied by length (point of shoulder to point of buttock) with the result divided by 330…she weighs ~830 pounds. She was probably ~790 at Death Valley.

My Achilles gave me ZERO problems. This is good news because it means I can start running again. Some of my fitness issues during this ride were because of the Achilles (this was the third time it was injured in 5 years. It’s REALLY important that it heals and not become chronic).

Things I learned:

I am not fit enough for a 100 miler. Farley is.
***If I had been in better condition and she had not been off, she would have gone out for a “surprise loop” after finishing. That is how atrocious her behavior and how forward she was for the ENTIRE ride.

I need to rethink the “no riding for the week previous to the ride” rule.
***It think it would have helped if she had gotten out a few times in the last week.

I need to switch to a different bit.
***I bought a kimberwick a couple of months ago that I think she’ll like. She was bad about pulling for her first 2 rides, but then was SO GOOD for Death Valley and Desert Gold I didn’t think there was an issue. I had blisters on my fingers by mile 30 from trying to hold her back, and I think this was part of the reason my abs hurt so bad. A hackamore may be part of the solution, I will just have to experiment. I do NOT want to pull on her mouth! I want both of us to have fun.

I really really really planned on getting off and jogging part of this ride.
***It didn’t happen because she was so forward and brain dead. Sometimes a button is pushed with her and I can’t get it unstuck….I’m going to focus on SLOW miles for the next conditioning rides. She obviously is fit enough, but apparently has forgotten the 6 months of “brain work” I did with her.

I will never ever again judge someone who’s horse is a spaz.
***Maybe, on 90% of the rides the horse is an angel. Sometimes it is “one of those days”.

Even when she has lost her mind and starts to buck (HARD, at a FULL extended trot) I can stay on and stay in control. In an emergency situation (a junior’s horse bucked the rider off), I can ask for a stop and get it.

Bad riding will hurt the horse.
***I know this, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me. I only had 8 miles to go and thought it would be OK. I physically could not ride correctly. I couldn’t make her walk, couldn’t ride the trot, and couldn’t dismount. If I had been doing the 100 miler, or if I had reached this point earlier in the ride, I would have had to pull with a rider option.

Desert rides can be just as hard as huge hilly, rocky ones. It’s just more subtle.
***Sand, gradual long uphills, cactus, rider fatigue, lack of water. Which brings me to the one item that made me mad during this ride.

*stepping onto soapbox*

When ride management asks everyone not to sponge because water is EXTREMELY scarce and it a) makes the water salty for everyone behind you and b) uses up the EXTREMELY scarce water supply for the riders behind you…..then DON’T SPONGE!!!!! Cupping your hand with water and soaking your horses neck…OVER THE WATER TROUGH is the same thing…..Ride management generously let us sponge at vet checks because they were easier to get to and refill water, yet, I came across countless people on the trail wasting water, and contaminating the troughs. It was very frustrating. The weather was cool, and even with my horse’s winter coat, I didn’t NEED to sponge. Yes, it would have been nice, but water is too precious in the desert. By following the ride rules, we can insure rides are held again. If you can’t follow the rules “because of the welfare of your horse”, please do whatever is necessary to insure it’s safety and keep that in mind when choosing your next ride. Choose a ride where water is more plentiful.

*stepping off of soapbox*

*stepping on with one foot…*

And I come from Northern California where water is plentiful! Come on So Cal people! I lived in the Delta for years and yes, I wasted water. But when in the desert, CONSERVATION is key.

*taking deep breath*

**stepping off of soapbox**

I almost forgot! There were showers! Hot showers at the fairgrounds! Or may I say “heavenly spas” upon unlimitless clouds of hot water steam? (Can you tell I’m tired, sore and slightly delirious? Work tomorrow should be interesting)

And one more thing! Check out the March Edition of Endurance News. Farley and me are number 1 in national LD mileage standings! It’s won’t last, but it’s exciting anyways.

Pictures coming soon!

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