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Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Memories - American River

My my how things has changed.


This picture was taken in the parking lot at the start of my very first endurance ride.


I didn't have a mentor that was active in endurance although my aunt had some some rides in the past, so I chose my apparel based on what had worked for me during conditioning rides and during weekends of doing civil war reenacting on horse back. I'm wearing my trusty cavalry boots, that to date remain the most comfortable pair of boots I own. Half way through the ride I did switch to a different pair of tall boots that I used to use for polo. I didn't realize that the soles were glued and not sewn, and so when I stumbled my way through several full ditches of muddy water, my soles tore off - but I hardly noticed at that point, being oh so very done and my horse being done and me being incapable of doing anything beyond trudging forward with one foot in front of the other regardless of what was in front of me.


I didn't own a pair of riding tights. A vet I had worked for in college had given me a sack of older breeches (mostly cotton naturals but some other brands too) and that's what I settled on to ride. I chose a singlet from my marathoning days, and then put a long sleeve shirt over it, which is probably the smartest thing I did - that might be the only time I rode the american river trail and DIDN'T get poison oak.


Ironically, although my rider apparal changed drastically in my next couple of rides and seasons, my tack on Minx did not. This is a 1860's repro McClellen saddle, which I used for all my rides up until Minx's death. Farley started her conditioning in it, but I moved to a different saddle quickly because of her back shape.
That isn't to say that the saddle worked perfectly - I remember having to reset the also-period blanket mutliple times during a ride - it constantly slipped backwards. But in general that saddle was perfect for me and Minx. I eventually replaced some of the leather peices out with biothane, but that is a story for future posts, and during this first ride, nothing broke.


Mom packed me a bag full of homemade cliff bars which melted and congealed in my grain bag that I was using as my "food bag".


That year, we had an usually hot April and it was near, if not at 100 degrees the day of the ride. I didn't have my electrolytes figured out and I remember my aunt making me eat pieces of sourdough bread with horse electrolytes poured over it.


My poor horse. We came into the 35 mile vet check and I was leaning towards pulling. It was hot. It was a hard ride, and Minx looked done. However, I headed out. A combination of my ignorance, some advice that was given (although, especially that early in my career) I tended to not hear advice that I didn't halfway want anyways - so it was definitely my full responsiblity.


Things weren't going too badly until I hit training hill (I think that's what it's called). LONG STEEP. Irish horse posted about it a week or so ago. I had been riding with a guy and his stud. He swore at me because his stud got attached to minx and wouldn't leave her, but he finally convinced his horse to go on. I got off and tried to lead up it. I puked every 3 steps. I turned around and Minx was bleeding out her nose.


We sat on the side of that hill for a long time.


I used up my water cooling Minx down.


I remember trying to call my aunt (who was crewing for me) but I can't remember if I got through or not.
Finally. After literally hours, Minx and I crawled our way up that hill.


I mounted up and met a volunteer at a cross roads.


I tried to tell him out done we were. How hurting we were. How she had been bleeding, but he didn't seem to hear.


"She looks pretty good now!" he said brightly. "You can still get this done!"


I had my doubts but since more experienced people than me were seeing the same thing I was and had a different opinion and knew more?


Minx and I continued down the trail for another hour (2 hours? more?). One plodding step after another. I hadn't had water on a very hot day for a while now. Minx did feel better now, thanks to my hand walking and my cooling efforts.


The drag rider finally caught up to me a couple of miles before Cool. He ordered me off my horse ("what are you doing????? She has done enough for you! Get off her Damn back!"). I didn't have the energy to argue. She HAD done a lot of me. And who was I to talk to back at someone with vastly more knowledge? (who apparently didn't realize I had just gotten back ON my horse after I decided I wasn't going to survive the experience if I couldn't catch a bit of a rest).


I walked blindly on behind the drag rider. I remember going through ditches that had water up to my waist in them and neither me nor Minx blinked as we stumbled through.


It was dusk by the time we came into Cool. My aunt was there, where she had been trying to convince the volunteers out there that they still had a rider out there. I remember the vet check being completely out of liquids and drinking something my aunt found for me somewhere.


I didn't buy the ride picture because I figured that a picture was only worth it if I had finished. I have very very few rides of my first season, and I think this may be the only one I have of that first ride.


That's not to say that everything was a disaster. By complete accident I camped next to who I consider the best person in the endurance world who welcomed me into the sport with opened arms. I fell in love with single track. I fell in love with the sport. And I never ever again doubted what Minx what would do for me and I realized that tremendous gift that the horse gives humankind and I learned to never ever take that for granted.


That guy who was riding the stud? I met him again at 20 mule team a couple of years later and I apologized for the incident and told him that I felt badly about it (I don't know exactly for what, but when you are a new rider you don't know what is your fault and what isn't) and we had a good laugh and we both agreed that it felt good to erase that sour note from that ride and clear the air. I saw the drag rider again too, at tevis one year. And thus I learned another important lesson at this ride that I didn't realize until many years later. The endurance world is a small one and you are not invisible - this is a note of caution (in a good way!) to the newbie and the experienced.


And that folks, is the story behind the picture



  1. Wow, that is quite the story! I'm hoping to get involved with endurance this year for the first time and I sure hope my first ride won't be as eventful as yours was.

  2. Oh no, maybe I shouldn't have read the whole story. (True, there is no more Training hill, but there is 2.5 weeks to go before I attempt the AR50) What an unfun adventure. I know you learned a lot, but damn, that sounds miserable! Love the photo though.

  3. Fascinating story. Well written. I could feel both the physicality of it as well as your emotions.


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