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Friday, June 28, 2013

Heat and heat conditioning

Please someone explain to me why I can write posts for this blog day after day after day for a paltry $5/month (that’s what I make on Google ads), but I can’t even think of a good subject, let along actually START my Ride and Tie Vet Student scholarship worth $1,000. 


In the comments yesterday Crysta (author of the blog Go Diego Go) brought up heat conditioning, which was a tangental point to the discussion of multidays versus doing the mileage in one chunk and the effect of hot afternoons versus rest. 

As it’s no less than 105 degrees here until we get a break of temps in the 90’s for fourth of July, I think now is an excellent time to talk about heat and heat conditioning. 

The heat of the afternoon, even with appropriate heat conditioning, takes the toll on a horse and rider (which is why I think a one day 100 in the summer may be easier physiologically than the same mileage over 36 hours - see previous post on the subject). 

The cumulative heat load that builds up over a hot afternoon has to be dissipated whether or not the horse and rider is conditioned for the heat or not.  The heat conditioned team can do so “better” and has less of a risk of ending up in distress......but energy and physiological resources still have to be “spent” to keep the body cool. 

There is a neutral operating temperature range for all species where no extra energy has to be spent to maintain body temperature (shivering, sweating etc.). The animal’s metabolic rate within this temperature zone is steady and the same as the resting metabolic rate - ie no extra energy expended.  Above and below this temperature range the metabolic rate rises as various physiological mechanisms “kick in” to either cool or warm the animal.  I think it’s natural to think about the calories or energy expended to keep ourselves warm when we fall below the thermal neutral zone (TNZ), however metabolic rate and energy expended increases when we go above the TNZ too! 

***It is important to keep in mind that this “neutral zone” is in a NON-exercising animal.  

A naked human TNZ is 28-30 degrees C, while a clothed one 22-25 degrees C.  One resource I have states the TNZ for humans as 33-35 degrees C (but whether this with clothing or in the birthday suit I'm not sure?).

For those of you (like me) that are a bit C-->F challenged:
22*C = 71.6*F
25*C = 77*F
28*C = 82.4*F
30*C = 86*F
33*C = 91.4*F
35*C = 95*F

For the sake of this discussion I’m going to assume that we are all wearing clothing and let’s call the human TNZ where we can maintain body temperature without expending energy as 80*F. 

The equine TNZ is much lower than humans. Depending on the time of year (thus coat) and body condition, most of my sources peg the equine TNZ as 30-50*F for a horse in temperate climates. 

In both the human and the horse the TNZ drops when you add exercising.......The physiologic structures that are propelling the horse down the trail and the rider up and down in the saddle, such as muscles, are generating heat.  The environment has to be that much colder to compensate for the increase in body heat, OR some sort of physiologic mechanism needs to kick in to actively disperse that extra heat. 

Depending on the coolness of the ride, the rider *might* be in their TNZ (if the ride is 60*F, that might be the right temperature for an exercising endurance rider to stay within the thermal neutral zone).

However, it can safely be assumed that when doing endurance rides, the horse is absolutely expending energy to stay cool and maintain a normal core temperature.  If you consider that at least for those of us in California’s central valley, we are regularly doing summer rides where the temps are in the mid 90’s or higher in the afternoon - that is a LOT of energy expended by the horse to cooling mechanisms during the ride.

No wonder I feel beat and the horse looks tired after a hot ride!

Some of the mechanisms a horse employs as they compete in temperatures above their thermal neutral zone are:

-blood vessel dilation

-increased respiration - accounts for about 25% of heat dissipation in the horse

-increased heart rate

-increased blood flow to skin (which transports heat from body core to the skin, which it unloads into the environment - a process greatly accelerated by animals with a sweating mechanism), and sweating (as an interesting side note.......Did you know that camels sweat?  And that marsupials and rodents don’t sweat but moisten their bodies by salivating and licking themselves?????????) In a concept that comes up over and over in biology, as the body size of an animal increases, the relative amount of surface area decreases.........which makes horses relatively inefficient at dissipating large amounts of heat through the skin....which is also the single most important way for a horse to dissipate heat!!!!!  Evaporation through sweating accounts for about 65% of heat dissipation in the horse.

- As FYI points since these aren’t strictly a physiologic changes, but they are all ways to dissipate heat....wind is your friend  :)  Have a hot horse that you have sponged and scooped?  But the air is just sitting there and not helping you out and now you have a rather wet, coolish horse but want to get cooler?  Generate some wind!  And put your horse in the shade.  And let him drink water. And periodic short walks to help muscles pull heat out of deeper tissues. 

All of these mechanisms “cost” something in physiological currency.  You don’t get anything free in this world..........In summary: If you are at an endurance ride, your horse is spending energy to keep cool. The hotter the ride or the time of day, the bigger that energy expenditure is.  This is a biological fact that has nothing to do with how much “heat conditioning” you have.  This is the cost of staying alive and moving forward in the heat.

So, if hot weather is going to cost my horse energy no matter what, what IS the point of heat conditioning? 

Heat conditioning allows you (and your horse) to actually function and perform in hot conditions instead of dying In some cases heat conditioning will reduce the physiologic “cost” of the cooling mechanisms, and in other cases it will just make them more available/effective/active.

How can you heat condition or function in the heat better?

General conditioning - just having muscles that are more fit will impact “heat conditioning”.  Fit muscles generate less heat to achieve the perform the same level of “work”.  Less heat generated is less heat that needs to be dissipated. Conditioning also expands capillary beds which improves the flow of blood to the skin and muscles which will make the horse more efficient at dumping the heat outside the body to the environment.

Live somewhere hot.  This sounds contrite, but it’s true.  I’ve grown up my entire life in an area where triple digits for weeks on end is not abnormal.  I’ve never had air conditioning, worked outside, and don’t notice hot temps unless it’s a really high humidity (50+) or it’s over 115*F or so.

Wear long sleeves and sweat shirts all the time.  Especially if you are working inside with an airconditioner.

Drive with the windows up and no air conditioning.  (If Tess is with me I have to make an exception - in that case I’m in a heavy jacket while I drive).

Don’t get sunburnt - I find that how much heat I can handle for how long takes a dramatic downward turn if I allow myself to get sunburnt.

Walk in the shade, run in the sun.  This actually works.  Try it!

Exercise in the middle of the day.  I do all my runs and rides at noon until the weather starts to hit triple digits.  Since I’ve started doing this, I haven’t had any problems with the heat.

My horse wears a fly blanket.  I don’t think that it makes her any hotter than without it (she’s not any more sweaty under it).  But if it does?  *shrug* I consider that a fringe benefit.

Exercise in clothes that make you sweat - live in the bay area and running in the afternoon only gives you a high of 75*F?  Where a sweat shirt and pants. 

Run high intensity intervals- this is how even in cooler weather I raise my core temp and practice living with sweat dripping down my armpits and having my respiration up really high.

Don’t clip for training.....and then +/- clip for competition if necessary

Lose weight

Get younger: From a article in the Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement: “Ageing compromises the ability to handle the combined demand of exercise and thermoregulation in part due to decreased absolute pre-exercise PV.”  Or in plain english, as you age your plasma volume (PV) decreases and the decrease in PV is to blame for why old horses reached a core temperature of 40*C faster during exercise and had a greater HR when they reached this temperature.

How long will it take to “heat condition”? says that most horses will need at least 3 weeks in a warmer climate to allow their bodies to adapt.

As this post is taking WAY more time than it should (HOURS!!!!) I’m not going to try and find any more sources on this.  Three weeks feels about right.  Two-three weeks is about how long it takes me acclimate to really hot weather and be active in it.  2-3 weeks is about how long it takes for a physiologic system to do some major shifting in metabolic pathways, gene upregulation etc.  2-3 weeks is how long it takes for vegetables not to taste bitter to me after I cut out all refined sugar in my diet.  2-3 weeks seems to be the magic number for a body to adapt, so that sounds entirely reasonable to me.........

Although, after reviewing this post, maybe this wasn’t a complete waste of my time?  Maybe I could rework this subject as my Ride n Tie Scholarship submission? 

References: here is a partial list of my references - I originally had them within the post, but it started to get a bit messy.


Thursday, June 27, 2013


It's Thursday and I'm still really really, deep-in-my-bones tired.

Soreness is mostly gone except for a few twinges in my quads and some residual stiffness in my neck, but there's some healing going on someplace because I'm the sort of tired that only occurs when the body is diverting massive resources to something other maintenance activities.

I have 2 jobs - yesterday I went in to put in some hours with the department that is mostly sit down computer work.  Today I got brave and actually waltzed in the door of my more active lab job.  And....was begging for mercy mere hours later.  I spent the entire morning fantasizing about sneaking into my homeroom that was just a building away and taking a nap on the couch for my entire.lunch......mmm.......

It's a bit strange because Ive spent my time over the last couple days both more hyped up than I've been a long time (over Tevis and prepping for it, and all the blog posts I want to write, and a scholarship RnT essay that I haven't started) and yet really really sedentary. The dichonomy between what my mind is doing and what my body is doing doesn't feel....right.

In summary, I feel like I did 100 miles last weekend. 

I've been giving some thought to whether it's harder for a horse to do the mileage all in one chunk (ie 100 miles in 24 hours) or as a multiday (2 50's over 48 hours). 

As a rider, I feel about the same whether I do a one or two day 100 - mileage is mileage when it comes to my riding.

What about the horse?  

Historically I would have automatically said that riding a multiday was easier on the horse.  After all, isn't that what I've practiced and preached over the years?  That the intermediate step before moving up a distance is to ride a series of low mileage multidays? 

But now I'm not sure. 

Advantage of riding 2 50's: the horse can catch up on hydration and eating over the 12 hour break

Disadvantage of riding 2 50's: You are riding through 2 afternoons, not just one.

IMO during an endurance ride, heat is you and your horse's enemy #1.  If you ride 100 miles over 2 days, you are doing twice as many miles in the heat of the day, than if you continued on and ride the "second 50" in the evening and into the early morning hours.   The ability of a horse to "perk" up after the sun falls in a 100 is remarkably like the "perkiness" I feel on my horse at the start of day 2 of a multiday. 

It's hard to make any hard and fast rules.  What if it isn't a hot ride?  Then does the 12 hour break make up for riding during 2 afternoons?  Is it possible for a horse that has been a poor eater and drinker in the first 50 miles "catch up" in a 12 hour break and finish the 2nd 50 strong the next day?  Can you do that in a 100 utilizing 1 hour holds? 

What are the actual physiologic differences in a horse asked to do 100 miles over a 24 hour period, and horse asked to go 100 miles over a 36 hour period (in 2 12 hour periods with a 12 hour rest period between) over similar terrain in similar weather at a similar pace?

I don't know.  But I'm inclined to say that in general mileage is mileage is mileage.  And whether you are splitting that mileage up over 2 or 3 days rather than doing it in one big chunk....the miles are still miles.  With one caveat that I'll get to shortly.

I think that this miles are miles are miles has 2 important implications.

Firstly, why is it that we will do 2 or 3 50's in a weekend, yet, not do 2 or 3 consecutive weekends of one day 50's (leave the trailering consideration out of it)?  One seems entirely reasonable, the other a recipe for overriding your horse.

Secondly, I think we are less likely to give a horse the rest before and after a multiday as compared to a 100. Because we have a perception that the 100 is harder on the horse. 

So, if miles are miles are miles......why do 100's have a greater pull rate than 50's and people riding consecutive 50's? 

First, we are going to assume that the 50's and the 100's we are comparing are comparable - in fact, let's assume for the sake of this discussion that the 50's ride the same 50 mile loop on each day, and that the 100 is 2 loops of the same 50 mile trail.  So, the 100 mile horses are not riding trail they haven't seen during the day, the horses on both rides are doing the same mileage and the same terrain.  And now, let's assume that you have decent weather.  Moderately hot in the afternoon, and cooling off in the evening/wee hours of the morning to long sleeve tshirt weather (can you tell that I'm in California?).

If we ran this experiment, I predict that 2 things would happen.

1. The pull rate on the 100 would be greater than the pull rate at the end of the 2 consecutive 50's. 
2. The actual dehydration and other physiologic parameters of all the horses in both events as measured at the 36 hour mark after the initial start would be identical, (or possibly the horses on the 24 hour 100 would be slightly improved over the horses on the 50....).

If the physical ramifications are the same for both, why the greater pull rate on the 100?  I think it has more to do with the mental aspect of the game than the physical. I get stupid at the end of a long 100 that is taking me much of my 24 hours to complete.  I'm not necessarily any more sore or stiff or tired after a 100 versus a 2 days, but trying to work through sleep deprivation at the end of a long 100 is the WORST.  It's really really hard to make good decisions, and it's really really hard to keep doing the "little" things that make sure you don't have problems later in the ride.  Riding 2 50's basically gives you (IMO) exactly the same physical "workout" without having to deal with the mental stuff.

I know I need 8-9 hours of sleep a night.  I have no idea what my horse needs - but whatever it is, just like me they aren't getting it on a 100.  And just like the rider, I think that mental "tiredness" and "stupidity" of the horse after a long day with no sleep plays a bigger role in the pulls than any true physical unreadiness, assuming that same horse can do the same 100 miles over 2 days at a multiday. 

IMO a 100 mile rider and 100 mile horse aren't necessarily a fitter team than those doing back to back 50's, but they ARE dealing with a mental component that just isn't present during a multiday (and yes, I think there are people and horses are that better at dealing with this than others).

So......if you want to do 100's and you feel stuck at the 50 mile mark, consider doing back to back 50's over similar terrain in similar weather as the 100 you want to do. Obviously if your goal is Tevis, don't do 2 50's in the bay area, or in the high desert in December and expect success and smooth sailing for a 100 held in July in the Seirra Nevadas. But assuming that you and your horse get through those comparable 50's in good physical shape, recognize that your biggest obstacle for riding a 100 at that point is mental.  Physically, as long as you gave you and your horse the appropriate rest after those 50's, you should be ready to go.

Obviously, this is all a guess on my part.  Educated guessing from someone with too much time on their hands and a commute that allows them to be inside their head too much....but guesses all the same.  (I welcome your comments and thoughts!)

My next post will address moving up in distance (I've done an LD.  Now what?) so I don't want to venture too far down the lane of moving up distances and when the right time is to move up a distance....but a couple more thoughts on multidays

- Because I'm starting to feel like mileage is mileage is mileage.....If I wanted to do an intermediate distance between a 50 and a 100 miles before diving into 100 miles over 2 days, I would do a 50 and an LD back to back before doing 2 50's.  (as a side note, I would do the 50 the day before the LD, not the other way around - that allows me to ride my horse in the cool of the morning, the heat of the afternoon, and then the cool of the morning again.  Instead of doing 2 cools and ending on a hot, which is not how a 100 is going to go!)

- I think that doing LD mulidays do NOT give you the same benefit of moving up to 50's as doing multiday 50's does for moving up to 100's.  Because most of the LD mileage is done before the heat of the day, you have to consider that you just did 50 or 60 miles in the best part of the day when it was cool, and zero mileage in the heat of the day.  (In contrast, doing 2 50's as 100 mile prep means that you will be doing MORE mileage in the sun than you will for your 100, which may offset the 12 hour break in helping prepare you for the step up in ride distance).  Even doing 3 or 4 LD's in a row isn't a guarantee that you are preparing your horse well for the step up in distance - The break is too long between ride starts (18 hours), all mileage is done in the cool of the day.  This is one reason why I think the step up from an LD to a 50 is in some ways tougher than the step up from a 50 to a 100. 

Responsible horse owners

Yesterday I decided that responsible horse owners don't sit at home and write blog posts all day when there is a trailer to unpack.  Responsible horse owners don't watch whole seasons of supernatural episodes on the couch when horse hooves need trimming.  Responsible horse owners absolutely don't take covert naps when their horse needs turn out (I don't worry about turn out except for the first 7 or 10 days post ride.  In which case I'll do it, or I pay someone else to do it.  Lessons learned from Tevis 2010....).

So.  I compromised.  And Farley and I went on a bareback, in-a-halter, I-might-have-been-in-a-helmet, but-definitely-I-was-bare-foot ride. 

I closed my eyes, raised my hands in the air, and BREATHED. 

I looked like a demented hippie doing yoga.  On horse back. At 2pm in the afternoon.  On the most humid day I've ever experienced in CA.  

Farley walked some, trotted some, but mostly just walked. 

For 20 minutes I focused on nothing else but breathing and being centered and balanced and straight.  Which is surprisingly hard to do with your hands in front of you on the reins. 

So I didn't use the reins. 

I knotted the reins in her hair so she wouldn't get caught up in them if they shifted to the side and decided that the worst that would happen is that I would slide off her back into the soft dirt if she did something stupid.  Which being bareback isn't that far. 

I still love riding bareback.  Even as an adult, knowing that I no longer bounce as well as I used to.  Even after getting quality instruction in the saddle and KNOWING how to use the tack to my advantage, NOTHING quite soothes my soul as well as going bareback.  Because sometimes being a responsible horse owner is being able to put away the shoulds and oughts and embracing what is right for that moment. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Having crewed and been crewed for in the last 2 weeks, not to mention spending most of today putting together my Tevis crew binder....Today’s topic is crewing!

Bottom line: If you are crewing, I would emphasize how VERY important it is for you to take care of yourself. 

At least at a ride with a lot of out ride checks, I found crewing as hard as riding the distance.  At each point that Funder came in at Sunriver, I did a mental self check and decided that yep, at “x” mileage I would feel exactly like I did in that moment. 

Some of the same issues cropped up while crewing that also crop up in my riding.  Starting in the late afternoon I started to get a really bad headache.  A migraine.  Oh no......What the heck is going on?  It wasn’t altitude - this was day 3 at the camp.  It wasn’t hydration.  It wasn’t the heat, although I had been slightly sunburnt in spite of putting on sunscreen.  Maybe it was electrolytes? 

Funder uses the same electrolytes as I do, so I took some capsules, drank a bottle of vitalyte, took some ibprofen, ate some of the best salty nut clusters EVER, and miracles and miracles, about an hour later I felt fine.

For some reason when I start feeling crappy my instinct is to conclude that because I’m over hydrated (which is actually a real issue for me) I should stop drinking.  And grit my teeth and just start shutting down and plowing through it.  Instead of, you know, correcting the electrolytes and continuing to hydrate.

Gritting my teeth and shutting down has (surprise surprise surprise!) never ever worked unless there is a nap in my immediate future. At Tevis, or any other ride, if I start to feel crappy I need to start downing elytes immediately, very aggressively.  At wild west, I got serious about my elytes and switched to water only in the saddle with vitalyte at the vet checks and 1-2 elyte caps every hour in the saddle along with food.  And.....tada!!!!!  no hydration or elyte issues.  I know I know.....absolutely shocking that if you actually identify a problem and a solution and put it into practice.......

As a complete side note, this is why I have issues with overhydration and elytes. I was running marathons back before they recognized the dangers of over hydration and when the recommendation was to drink at every water station, even if you weren’t thirsty, and even if you were a turtle at the back of the pack. 

So for years I essentially overrode my thirst mechanism and I can’t trust it any more.  If there’s a bottle of water in front of me, I’ll finish it the same whether it’s my 5th or 50th of the day.  Nowadays they say that thirst is actually a very good indicator of when it’s time to drink and in normal everyday life I’ve managed to put this into practice. However at ride it’s better for me to rely on having a goal of specific quantities of water at certain times, along with elytes when I invariably over drink or aren’t eating food with enough salt in it.  At wild west I found out that saving elyte drinks for vet checks only and drinking pure water in the saddle actually helped me maintain an appropriate thirst mechanism! 

What about taking care of the horse and rider? 

It depends on the horse and rider.  Know thy horse and rider. 

Funder and Dixie? Dixie likes having her food held for her and didn’t want to be fussed over.  Funder whines like a 3 year old about food, and food that was declared to be banned for the rest of the ride, will then be requested at the next check.  Adult beverages were a necessity starting at mile 60. Food is unappealing and a chore but Funder will eat!

Melinda and Farley?  If you sponge her back and rump you will get Farley pulled. Melinda is usually nauseous and puking starting before she even gets on a horse in the morning. Melinda doesn’t want to be asked any questions that require anything more than a yes or no question, and asking her to smile for a picture will likely result in bloodshed.  On the plus side Farley takes care of herself and is an easy horse to get through a 100 if you can get her rider through it......

Different riders and horses are going to need different strategies.  Try to get your rider to write down as much of their instructions as possible.  Follow their instructions to the letter, even if they don’t make sense to you.  The time to talk about the whys and the alternatives are the day before the ride or earlier - NOT the day of the ride. Ultimately the decisions made regarding the ride and the horse are the RIDER’S.  Your job as the crew is to help the rider ride THEIR ride and to affirm their decisions.

There is an exception to the “do not disagree” with your rider policy....and that is when you ask whether something should be done, that was already agreed upon before the ride.  For example - very nice crew member asks the rider at the end of the ride “shall I take the hoof boots off now?”.  It is entirely possible that the rider will say no, due to sheer exhaustion EVEN THOUGH THAT WAS THE PLAN and YES THE BOOTS SHOULD COME OFF. 

If you KNOW that was something that they wanted done, and they are saying “no” purely because it’s late, they are tired, and it’s one more thing on top of a whole pile of things that ought be done.....then it’s OK to offer again “I know you are tired and I’m perfectly happy and wiling to do this if it’s something that you want done”. 

This REMINDS the rider that they have a CREW and that they aren’t the ones that are going to have to get out of the chair and do it, and they CAN make the right decision for the horse AND STILL GO TO BED and not have to lift a finger.

Trust me.  Your rider may need this kind of reminder near the end of the ride. 

The rider is exhausted and they know they have not appreciated the crew during the day nearly enough and may have even engaged in a bit of crew abuse and whining.  So when it’s all said and done, the rider feels a bit guilty - after all these are their friends and family that are doing this out of FUN and SUPPORT.  So.....the rider tries to be nice by saying “that’s ok.  That really doesn’t need to be done....”

My friends.  At this point your rider isn’t just acting like a 3 year old.  They really do have the mental capacity of a 3 year old. 

My advice is to not ask questions at the end of the ride.  Instead, stick to the agreed upon script of the post ride plan.  Imagine if you were hospitalized. Does the nurse say “Do you want your catheter flushed now?”  NO!  They say “I’m going to flush your catheter now” *smile*.

Here are some examples:

NOT “do you want your horse boots off now?” INSTEAD “I’m going to take (insert horse name)’s boots off now and put there here”.

NOT “What do you want in her mash?” INSTEAD “ I prepared a mash with stable mix and beet pulp.  I’m going to give it to her now”.

NOT “what time do you want to be waken up?” INSTEAD “the awards are at 8.  I will make sure you are up by 7:30 so you won’t miss them”.

See the difference?

Besides (mostly) listening to your rider, your other job as a crew is to do whatever is necessary to get your rider back on to their horse. 

Bribery, threatening and cajoling.... are all acceptable.

Prepare their bed, but lock the doors on the truck so they can’t get to it.  Listen to their whining, nod sympathetically, and then remind them they have 10 minutes left in their hold time.  Promise them an adult beverage if they 

Some riders want to be told what to do, to be micro managed.  Others do better with a disapproving look if their water bottle was too full when they got to the next check, but don’t want to be mommied. 

A good crew is a tremendous asset and can make the difference between a completion and a pull, or the difference between a rider that can keep their head in the game and one that is marginal out there on the trail. 

That being said....recently I’ve seen piss poor crews and it’s worse than no crew at all, IMO.

How do you avoid being a bad crew? Avoid doing these very simple things.

1. Miss all the checks and rely on strangers to take care of your rider

2. Don’t make sure your rider is eating or drinking in checks or on the trail

3. Do exactly what the rider said NOT to do with their horse

4. Expect the rider to do anything, or coordinate anything beyond their ride and horse on ride day or the night before ride day.

5. Get easily offended

6. Piss off ride management

7. Eating the last of ANYTHING. Even if your rider hated it all day.  THAT is the thing they have been craving the entire last loop. You know, the thing you just ATE. 

Got it?

Now, I’m sure you are saying to yourself - “ I’ve got this!  Feed the rider, feed the horse, take naps while they go out and do their 2am loop!”  Not so addition to the sponging, mash preparation, watering, tacking, massaging, and’s some additional crew duties you may not have thought of.

1. Keep track of their ride card.  It is totally your fault if it is lost or mangled.  After all we JUST went through the fact your rider is a 3 year old.  Which means if you don’t take care of it, they probably shoved it down their pants. 

2. Defend their right to ride turtle.  Even though it means that you don’t go to bed until 4:30am. (Remember - you are doing this because you thought it would be FUN)

3.Sacrifice your pants because your riders tights have split all the way up........

4. Assure your rider that it’s perfectly normal to eat noodles which have fallen on the ground and insist that of COURSE you will eat them too....why would you want to waste perfectly good noodles?

5. Find your rider’s thumb when it gets yanked off by the reins coming into the vet check.  Hopefully you have thought ahead and have ice to put it on....(you don’t want to be a bad crew right?)

Are you ready yet? 

My best advice for crewing I have saved for last.  Don’t volunteer to crew for someone unless you really really care. 

It’s a lot of work, a lot of dirt, and a lot of effort.  And it didn't matter, because being there for Funder at her first 100 was better than riding it myself. I would have been happier to see her finish that ride (although watching her come safely out of the dark at 80 miles was a close second.....) than I will be in July when (hopefully) I finish Tevis for the second time. 

Being someone’s crew is more than just going to a ride and being someone’s cheerleader, or keeping them company.  You can encourage and support someone without being their crew (and going to a ride to cheerleader your friends is a GOOD THING!). 

Crewing means you are going to work just as hard for them to finish the ride, as they are going to work in the saddle. And it is incredibly fulfilling and absolutely worth it. 


Today is Tuesday.  I’m *suppose* to be backpacking right now......but in fact I’m hiding out at home resting due to some unforeseen medical issues with my backpacking partner and the fact that I felt like I was in a car wreck post ride.  Does 10K feet of elevation sound like a good idea to you for 2 people in this kind of condition?

So, I’ve decided that today is probably my last day of self imposed quarantine and tomorrow I shall poke my head out and see what’s what.  Up until today I couldn’t actually move my head because my neck was so stiff, which would have made poking it anywhere a wee bit difficult. 

I’ve been doing some thinking and reflecting. 

MULTIDAYS.  I am not a multiday person.  I am a do-the-mileage-in-one-big-chunk person.  Two days is my max.  And I can only do that if I’m prepping for a bigger ride - such as a 100.  I rode the 2 days last weekend not as 2 50’s, but as a 2 day 100.  That helped me both mentally to get through the ride, and also remind me of why it was important to take the little stuff like food, hydration, seriously, because even though we were going to get a 12 hour 4 weeks we would be doing the same thing without that break. It also helped me to ride each day as part of a big picture which really helped my mind stay in the game.

ADEQUATE NUTRITION. Besides rest, the only other change I can think of in Farley’s management is she is finally being fed good quality hay and enough of it.  Even her paddock at her current boarding situation is about the same size as it was when I lived in Turlock. However, it was only after her tye up after Tevis 2010 that I started feeding her hay I bought instead of relying on the boarding stable. I started supplementing selenium at the same time.  Unfortunately, it was only a couple of months later when Farley was pulled for lameness at 20MT and while I *thought* there was a difference muscle tone and her recovery after rides, it was hard to be sure - especially because I was still over riding her at that point. But now, I think in addition to the benefits of rest, I’m seeing the benefits of a horse that is finally being fed in accordance to how she is being worked (and I must say, now that we aren’t putting a gazzillion miles on, it’s far easier to keep her adequately fed).

ELYTES. For those of you that are interested, I gave a total of 2 or 3 half doses over 2 days. I’ve gone back to trying to be conservative to moderate on my elyte dosing. I bought a velcro pouch at Griffins at wild west to put my ride card, map, cellphone, and 2 elyte syringes in and it works like a dream.  I’m going to do some rearranging of my saddle bags and probably shove my Goo container in this pouch too. 

CREW.  Jessica was an AWESOME crew.  So listen up.  Here’s what to expect from your recently-was-a-completely-sane-adult, now demented 3 year old 100 mile rider. It didn’t faze her when I got grumpy the second day because I didn’t feel good. She calmly accepted the wild swings of “I’m so hungry I’m going to eat noodles off the ground”, and “all food is nasty”.  Her mom is an excellent lameness vet and Jessica is in vet school with she was truly a pair of experienced eyes on Farley’s trot outs - but if you don’t have that sort of qualifications - don’t worry.  That won’t stop your rider from asking you several million times about how the horse looks. She volunteered at the ride and entertained me with all the ride camp drama I missed while out on the trail (missing thumbs, falls, pulls, and how the other horses looked). She pretended to care about my silly stories and remembered my endurance friends’ names.  She calmly packed up camp while I ADHD’ed like a neurotic border collie chasing light flashes after the ride.  And then she endured an hour drive home with conversation (conversation? interrogation?) centered around what she, as an outsider but experienced equestrian competitor, thought about endurance. Doesn’t that sound like fun?  I’m sure you are lining up to sign up to be on my next crew.....

REST. I wonder how many endurance horses are being overridden.  I totally include myself and my horses in this category prior to 2011.

Obviously there needs to be a base will a ton of miles there - I’ve taken an underconditioned horse to a ride and experienced the consequences, but so far I’ve seen way more tired and over conditioned horses at rides, than horses not prepared for the distance. 

I don’t think Farley is an exception.  Funder is having a similar experience with her own non-arab, and there's at least one more endurance blogger out there who is as well (but I don't know if they want to be called out yet....).  Put a big base on, and then STOP RIDING. 

I know I made a big deal recently in a couple of posts of the the fact you have choice once you have that base - you can chose to do lots of rest or lots of miles.....but now I’m not so sure that there really is a choice.  I don’t have a clue how to condition a horse that can win and BC a ride on purpose, but I’m more and more convinced that if your goals are mid to back pack finishes, there is no point in continuing  to put on the miles. Chose the rest option. 

I think Wild West is what finally convinced me.  I’ve done Wild West for 5 years.  I’ve done it on an underconditioned horse, an arab, a non-arab, and an over conditioned horse.  I’ve done single days, 2 days, and 3 days.  And this year I had a second set of eyes so that it wasn’t just me and my opinions. Cache creek could have been a fluke.  Two days at Wild West isn’t.  Everything, and I mean everything - the vet’s comments and observations, Farley’s vet scores, physical indicators such as filling, my subjective observations, my friend’s observations - points to a horse that is handling the distance far better than before. And for some reason, this concept of less may be more is a hard pill for riders to swallow. 

TEVIS. If my life was a novel, I would be skipping to the end right now to see how Tevis turns out, because I can’t WAIT to see whether I finish or not, and how Farley feels during the ride and how she looks post-ride. I have 2 years of Tevis pacing data and I was really consistent both years.  It’s going to be really interesting to compare this year with past years.

I spent some time figuring my pace charts out and making my plan for this year.  The tevis ride provides you a “recommended” travel time between checks in order to finish before the 24 hour cut off.  I rode the ride in 2009 without the benefit of knowing how hard I would have to ride between checks to be on track.  In prepping for 2010, I evaluated my 09 paces and realized that I could take it easy going in and out of the canyons and still be on track, or better, to complete.  I did just that and I had a fresher horse at Foresthill and was able to go on.

Since I got pulled at Foresthill (65 miles) in 09, pacing that section was a bit of a mystery and again, I went really fast after Foresthill.  For example, I finished one section an entire HOUR faster than “recommended” when the rest of the sections I was within 15 or 20 minutes of the recommended pacing.  That means that I FLEW on a section in the last 3rd of the ride and pushed my horse more than was really necessary, potentially making my horse more tired at the conclusion of the ride.

Just like I was able to slow down in the 2nd third and have a less tired horse at 65, can I slow down in the last 3rd and have a less tired horse at 100? 

I hope so. 

While we are on the topic of Tevis, here is what I want out of the ride this year.

In the past all decisions I made were centered around giving me the best shot at finishing. 

This year, I want to fully experience the ride moment by moment.  Yes, I still want to complete, but most of all I want a sound horse that isn’t too tired at the end (where ever the end is for us this year) and to not have any regrets if I never ride this ride again. 

I want to go over cougar rock.  I have never been over the rock, and I really want that picture.  In some ways I feel like I haven’t experienced the full ride by avoiding this monument.  I told myself and others that I didn’t want to wait in line to go over - and while that was true.......if I’m being completely honest with myself, I was scared too.  I desperately wanted my completion and I didn’t want to do anything that could make it less likely that I would finish - whether that was falling on cougar rock or having to deal with boot issues.

Ah yes.  Boot issues.  In 2009 I was still shoeing and my farrier completely screwed me over in the shoeing cycle for Tevis.  Was that the reason I pulled?  Nope, but it was definitely one more factor in about a dozen of why that was not the year we completed. In 2010 I glued on, thinking that glue on boots were the easy answer to not wanting to deal with hoof issues.  The joke was on me when one by one my glueons came off, starting at mile 15.  I ended up using strap ons (which performed perfectly) or going completely barefoot until I got to the next check when Renegade could professionally reglue boots on for me.

This year I’m using strap on boots. There’s a lot of reasons that I may not finish this year and the LEAST of those reasons is the chance that I’ll have problems with my boots.  And as I learned the hard way, no matter what your hoof protection choice, nothing is foolproof.  So I may as well chose the option that isn’t going to damage my horse’s feet and has the least potential to cause adverse affects, such as accidentally getting glue under the sole in the gluing process and laming my horse in the first section of the ride.

Being able to let go of making Tevis all about the completion is incredibly freeing.  It allows me to make decisions about what is going to be best for me and my horse long term and not make questionable short term decisions just because I want that completion so bad.  I have my buckle.  Now I want my cougar rock picture, the satisfaction of doing the ride in strap on boots, a horse that wants to trot during our ceremonial finish, and one more shot at riding next to the American River in the moonlight. 

And then, I want to complete a 50 (or 2) and ride the Tevis again next year.  Lather rinse repeat for the next 5 years.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wild west part 3 (Day 2)

I woke up for Day 2 SORE.  And with a headache. And feeling nauseous.

I really considered a DNS.  Farley didn’t need a rider that couldn’t ride effectively.

I decided that if I could saddle my own horse, and mount without assistance then I would head out.

I tried getting off a couple of times when the headache started to get better but it quickly came back, so I decided that I would just ride for that day. I knew she could do 50 miles looking good if I got off and ran significant portions of the downhill, but could she actually carry me 50 miles?

It was also a good test of my food system.  Could I still get down the Goo and elyte caps when I felt this sick?  Even though the feel of the elyte caps in the back of my throat made me gag, the Goo didn’t and I felt better and better as I went through the day mentally.

Physically was another story.

I really screwed up my calves on day 1.  Not putting those fleece covers on my leathers was a bad idea.  Also, I think the wintec has a harder seat than I’m used to on my endurance saddles.  And while I was grateful for the covers on my stirrups for safety’s sake, and the wider platform really helped me mount up on the trail at the walk and trot, the “cushiness” and width of the pad makes my knees and feet hurt.

I tried to ride the best I could, knowing that I might have to pull if there was any sign that I wasn’t riding well enough and compromising my horse.

Here’s an example of the difference between a happy pain free Melinda, and a grit-your-teeth-and-you-might-get-through-this Melinda. (the photos are courtesy of Bill Gore and Rennie - and they are pictures of a picture.  The actual quality of the pics are quite nice!  My photo of a photo? not so much...)

This is day 1.  Note the casual, relaxed atmosphere, the smile that actual meets the eyes, and the relatively correct, upright position. What a pretty picture we make!

Day 2?  This is before I realized there was a photographer.

Maybe I should smile?

There.  That’s the best I can do. I’m sitting up as much as my to-the-touch-painful-abs allow me to really, who thought riding a horse for 50 miles was a good idea?

At least my horse is still moving well.

Crap.  Another photographer.  More notice this time, better smile.

Let’s pretend we are having fun.

And since we are talking about pictures.......Note the much better position the wintec puts me in than the saddle I was borrowing for Cache creek. (especially the cache creek pic on the far left - I look like a saddle seat rider).

I started Farley on day 2 in a hackamore.  It’s the first time I’ve started a ride in it - usually I’ll switch to a hackamore on the second half of a 100.  But she seemed so relaxed and willing at the end of the first day, AND I had a revelation that the curb chain would keep her from “rooting” at the end of the reins going down hill (which, because I was so sore would absolutely cause me to fall forward out of position).

She wasn’t QUITE as calm and willing as I thought.  At least if you define “willing” as “the speed I want you to go versus the much faster speed you are trying to go....”.

I had a rule on day 2.  No passing Karen Chaton.

I have similar goals as she does, she was riding a different horse on day 2 than she was on day 1, and there was NO REASON I should be going faster than Karen.

I eventually caught up to Karen and fell in behind her, thinking that I would soon watch her disappear ahead of me up a big hill, since I know Farley isn’t in as good condition as Chief is.  Instead, to my surprise, we had very very similar paces and the same ride plan.  Anytime I thought to myself “I want to walk” and I started to walk, Karen would too.  Anytime I thought “this is a good place to trot” she took off trotting at about the same speed I would have gone with Farley if we had been by ourselves. Near the end of the ride there is some beautiful, elevated single track that Farley just LOVES to take at speed, that I probably would have let her....but Karen was walking and even at the time I recognized the wisdom and taking that section easy.  No reason to risk death and loss of limb and horse just because you have a horse that is a bit of an adrenaline junkie!!!!!! I ended up rating Farley in the hackamore a lot more than I have before and Farley was unhappy.  So she started tossing her head.  I tried growling at her and slapping her neck, but it was spectacularly ineffective. At her worst she was doing little rears as we were going down hill.

REALLY?????????? (on the plus side, me thinketh her hocks are no longer an issue?)

It was at that point I sorta accidentally let her poll collide with my fist the next time her head came my direction.  We sorta repeated that accident a couple more times and she got the point.  No more tossing her head.

After lunch, when I probably would have normally put her in the hack, she was working off my seat and the suggestion of my hands quite nicely and was much more what I expected.

Throughout this day Jessica continued to reassure me that Farley looked completely sound, the vets weren’t just giving anyone A’s, and Farley looked average or above average....and she looked better than she did yesterday.

Farley and I finished somewhere around 16th or so and I vetted in.  Melissa told me that she looked “really good” and rechecked her back by my request to see if there was any concerns using the wintec for Tevis (there wasn’t anything:)).

I immediately ran to Jessica and asked how many other horses got a “really good” from Melissa and was told it was just a handful.  Whoo hoo!!!!!!

Farley looked great and had gotten through both days with nearly straight A’s. From Vets that weren’t giving straight A’s.

And that’s what I just can’t get over.  I pull this horse out of a 2 year retirement and do 3 really tough 50’s on her.  At a similar pace to what we were doing before she was “retired”.  With basically no conditioning.  And I’m getting BETTER vet scores.  The ONLY thing I notice different is that I can’t come in as hot and have her pulse quite as fast.  But we are talking about the difference of coming in at a canter and coming in at a trot.  Her CRI’s are still in the high 40’s or low 50’s and her gaits, soundness, hydration parameters, attitude, EVERYTHING IS BETTER.  After 2 years off.

I cannot wrap my mind around it.  And that’s why I was so happy to have a second set of eyes at the vet check.  A set of eyes that wouldn’t have hesitated to tell me if she say ANYTHING.  And she didn’t.  Farley is completely sound and handling this just fine.

I’m not naive enough to think that I can jump right into a 1000 mile season, or even a 500 mile season with Farley just because she looked good completing a couple of 50’s after an extended lay off.  I think eventually I would pay the price of not doing regular recent conditioning and I would accumulate enough micro injuries during these rides that something would break.......but 3 50’s, Tevis, and then give her 6-8 months off?  I think that works.  I’m not sure that would work with any horse, (and we will see what happens at Tevis), but at this point I stand in awe of my horse.  Physically she is recovering faster after rides, is stronger during the rides, and presenting better at vet checks than ever before. Even though I’ve adopted the attitude of “please find something wrong with my horse” instead of “I’ve appropriately conditioned my horse therefore she is fine”.

And so far, every time we return home after a ride and I turn her out in the arena to roll before putting her up, she trots away from me sound as ever, not stiff, and gives me sweet nickers when it’s time to go back to her paddock.

I think everyone thinks their horse is the best and has a heart as big as an elephant, but I stand here before you to say that Farley absolutely has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen.  This quiet, unassuming, non-descript brown horse has an incredible depth that is scary to behold.  I felt like I got a glimpse of it at the end of day 1 when she was taking me home after an incredibly difficult 55 mile ride and she was still strong and forward and floating over incredibly technical trail as if it was a groomed arena.  And she absolutely knew she was going out again the next day (this horse never forgets a trail or a ride, and this is her 3rd year at this ride, which we always do 2-3 days at).  And to combine that sort of heart and competitive spirit with a horse that has always taken care of me and has NEVER made me nervous, even with my numerous “fear buttons” is something special indeed.

A vet at the ride that has watched me do endurance on Minx and continue on Farley laughed at me at a vet check when Farley was rubbing on me, which I HATE!!!!!!! and said that Farley likes to tease me and totally chooses her moments and what she is going to do, and I had to laugh.  Because it’s true.  She’s subtle and she never throws anything at me that I can’t handle at that moment, but she does play with me - especially at vet checks.

I keep thinking back to the trail ride we did in Oroville the weekend after Minx died and how I had an appointment to look at another horse the next day, and how I took Farley out in a hackamore and she said “Give ME a chance.  I will be the only horse you need.  I have so much to give and will give it to you, if you only give me the chance.”  And so I cancelled my appointment the next day and it’s been just me and Farley ever since.

I did think with some regret while I was riding on day 2 that Farley could have probably been one of those “great” horses in endurance if she had had a different rider and owner that hadn’t made so many mistakes and had to teach her rider so many lessons.

At 14 we don’t have time to start over and make the decade team (this is my 6th season with her doing endurance, but in 2011 we got pulled on the only ride we did, and in 2012 we only did one LD), and with my plan of just doing enough 50’s to get us to Tevis every year, we might make 2K miles, but I doubt we will get to 5K.  And I’ll never be brave enough to let her go enough to win a ride, and she’s not flashy enough or a pretty enough mover (and I’m not fat enough....) to get a BC.  Which makes her even more special to me.  I have a once in a life time horse RIGHT NOW and it is enough that I recognize the fact that she has chosen to share her heart with me, and loves what I love.

Enough gushiness. 

Wild West Part 2 (Day 1)

 Top picture is from the day before, showing off her pretty new American Trail Gear halter, courtesy of Renegade :).

Below is after finishing a tough TRUELY 55 mile ride.  That's what happens when you get lost........
Day 1 at Wild west is a 55 miler and even though each year I do it the trail changes, it’s always a rocky, rough, long trail.  And I know if I do all 3 days, day 1 is the day that I will feel like I rode the hardest, yet I will finish the latest.

Thus, I REALLY didn’t need to add another 7 miles onto this particular trail. 

I confirmed a really important fact Friday. You cannot see signs and ribbons as well if you are off running, than when you are mounted.  Combine that with a rider that is slightly hard of hearing and a horse jogging beside you in noisy boots, AND tack jangling in your ear and what you have is an off trail rider, following the LD loop back into camp, regardless of the number of people yelling at them that they are on the wrong trail. 

And since me and Farley and speedy demons down a hill if I’m on foot and we are the ones passing people, not vice versa, no one was going to easily catch us.

I didn’t realize I was on the wrong trail until I was almost back to the photographers.

The orange and black ribbon loop was a lollipop loop and so it wasn’t easy to recognize that I was off trail because at some point, after doing a large loop, I WAS going to be on this same trail headed back to camp. 

Farley thought I had lost my mind, and completely lost trust in me when we spent a good 25 minutes going down a trail that was obviously marked with ribbons, and then a good 25 minutes going back up that trail, and then continuing on the correct trail that was also marked with ribbons (she looks for ribbons). 

Farley was absolutely convinced that this whole thing was some cruel trick to make her *think* we were at a ride, when we were *actually* doing “conditioning”, which she is less than fond of and which she sees no point in. 

And it’s hard to argue with her based on her performance this spring, but nevertheless we will discuss that later and get on with our story. 

So at this point, I went from leaving camp last (according to plan), moving up to mid pack in the first couple of miles (according to pack), to being turtle by about half an hour (not to plan).

Farley makes a really poor turtle.  She is motivated by horses behind, not horses ahead, which is why we start at the back (her mind is more likely to stay intact). 

Doing a 30, now 37 mile loop all by ourselves with NO ONE in sight was not her idea of a good time. 

As for me and my mental state?  I was still getting off and running all the significant downhills.  And as I was running down a particularly long and sucky one, I realized that this was like a very poorly executed ride and tie.  Because the only thing stupider than abadoning your horse at a tree hoping to come across it at some future point, hopefully BEFORE you have to climb that huge hill, is to have your horse BESIDE you, perfectly capable of carrying your a$$ down the trail at speed.

I started to do the math and was about 95% sure I was going to rider option at the first vet check, which was my hour hold.  I had done somewhere between 5 and 7 miles extra on this loop, which would make this day somewhere 60+ miles.  I was NOT doing 60 miles on this horse, only to follow it by a 50 the next day, and then 100 miles 4 weeks later.  Could Farley do 60 miles?  Yes.  She might even do the 50 the next day.  But I would be compromising Tevis.  And the 50 the next day was my favorite loop.  Pretty, single track, and right up Farley’s ally.  My other option was to do the 60 miler, and then not ride the next day......or rider option today, do a small loop by myself so I could get 50 miles in, ride the 50 the second day, and be on track for Tevis.  The downside?  If I finished both days this weekend Farley would have her 1,000 miles. 

I decided that because of my stupidity, Farley didn’t get to have her 1,000 miles. 

I decided that Tevis was more important to me than this weekend and a rider option just made sense.

I decided that in this case, the bird in the hand (knowing I could finish today’s ride) was NOT worth the bird in the bush (the next day’s 50 and tevis). 

I decided to ignore my normal philosophy that TODAY is the most important day and you dont know what is going to happen tomorrow and thus you do what you can TODAY. 

The fact that I was going to rider option kept me going through that loop. 

I even had the entire blog post written in my head and I knew I was going to get kudos for doing “right by my horse” and making a “difficult decision”. 

I came into the PnR point announcing that I was almost sure I was going to rider option, still a 30 minute turtle.

I went to camp to pull tack and vet in and consider my options.  Jessica told me that Farley looked better than the average horse coming in. I looked at my phone which I had turned on the GPS by some dumb luck and realized that with my extra mileage I had only done 30 miles.  It was a short loop.......I had done the mileage that the loop was supposed to be, which meant as long as the next 25 mile loop wasn’t long, I would still have only 55 miles.  And if I wanted my 50 miles that day as a rider option, I would have to ride a 20 mile loop by myself for no completion. 

So I decided that as long as Melissa (the head vet, who puts on this ride with her husband) confirmed my mileage counts, I would go out. 

At the check Melissa confirmed my horse looked good, that the first loop was short, and that the second loop was as stated (25 miles).  She then did something really wonderful. 

“You have plenty of time to finish.  The front runners get to the out check in 2 hours and then back to camp in an hour.  It will take you two hours to get back to camp and longer to get there, but don’t let the vets out there pull you for over time.  If they give you problems, have them call me on the radio and I will back you up”. 

I left the hold at 1pm, with 7 hours and 15 minutes to do 25 miles with a 45 minute hold. 

I figured based on the information that Melissa had given me it would take me 3 hours to get to the out hold. 

It took me 2 hours and 10 minutes. 

I passed the first people ahead of me within an hour. 

I did the same strategy I had the entire ride.  We walked up the hills, I got off and jogged the down hills, mounted trotting for the flats, and walking all the nasty nasty rocks (and there were a ton of them......).  I have to admit - going out to the out check t I broke down and broke a skinny branch off a tree and used it as a dressage whip - the first time I had ever used a crop during a ride. 

At this point we were still turtle, my calves had some deep muscle bruising from uncovered stirrup leathers (my full seat is worn through at the bottom of the flaps and I didn’t realize I needed to keep my leather covers on.....something I rectified at the lunch check, but riding 30 miles and 4 hours did some serious damage on my calves, which sort of screwed me for the last half of day 1, and day 2) and could not enforce her being in front of my leg. 

Something Farley took FULL advantage of. I don’t use a crop on the trail because I’m afraid that I will misuse it and ask my tired horse to go forward at a pace that is inappropriate.  However, I decided that I could NOT keep asking her to go forward with my leg and she was spooking and sucking back which was making me more and more sore - and telling me she wasn’t exactly tired.  So I decided that I would use a dressage whip only in place of my leg.  A little “tap tap” when I kissed to trot, no more. 

Farley quickly got the point and we moved forward at around 5 miles per hour (as in, I checked my watch and at each hour I would check my GPS to make sure we had gone 5 hours). 

After we caught the people in front of us, I was able to discard my “dressage whip” and just kiss. 

After going down down down down a scary stretch of broken up old pavement with a river of rocks we got to the vet check.  No issues and 45 minutes later we were on our way. 

I was hurting bad.  Farley knew we were headed back to camp and we alternated between her charging down single track switch backs with me clinging to her back like a monkey, and me begging her to just let me dismount and I PROMISED to go at the fastest shuffle I could down the hill if she would JUST LET ME GET OFF because I my pulse needed to come down at some point. 

I was a couple miles out of the vet check when I realized that my crupper was gone.  My ATG BRAND NEW CRUPPER had freakin’ fallen off my saddle with the ring had broke off my brand new Distance Depot gullet adapter thingy that adds a ring to the back of the saddle for saddles that don’t have a back ring. 

I was pissed. 

At some point we passed 4 more people and came into the vet check. 

Jessica said she looked “above average”, we vetted through (all A’s AGAIN). 

My GPS stopped (phone died) some where on the trail back at ~52 miles when we were still a couple miles out of camp so I absolutely did 55 miles on day 1.

At the ride meeting my crupper was in lost and found....Jessica said I was not allowed to complain that my $2 sunglasses were not :). 

Jessica and I finished our day off with dinner.  After carefully boiling and steaming the rice based pasta for a rediculous 20 minutes.....I decided to drain them.  Carefully.  And managed to dump the entire pot on the forest floor in a bed of pineneedles.

I decided that picking the noodles off the ground and brushing off the pineneedles, rinsing them, and calling any residue “basil” and “rosemary” was preferable to going through the whole cooking pasta ritual again.  I swear that at the end of the ride I have the intelligence of a three year old. 

Then it was bed, more supernatural, more moon, and SLEEP.

Instead of going back through the story and integrating some other small details from this day that I want to talk about, I’m going to just dump them here, and then we will move onto Day 2 and another 50 miles.

1. Strap on boots. Worked perfectly.  Didn’t touch them the entire ride even though we went through soft stuff, single track, up and down jeep track etc..  Were super easy to put on in the morning, and easy to take off that night.  Didn’t need to clean them before riding in them the next day. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden any significant distance in the strap ons - I condition entirely barefoot and I glued on for Cache creek.  The strap ons are so easy and work so well, that I think that if I had to do Cache creek over again, I would not glue on.  And if I was worried about that boggy section in the beginning of the ride, I would just start it barefoot. 

2. Food. I was really really proud of myself. I ate in the saddle every hour on the hour. The nutella and almond butter mix came out of my sqeeze tubes perfectly and I could also suck it out of the opening.  The tube was super easy to find and pull out of my saddle bag.  As a note, one of my big camping squeeze tubes lasted me 1 1/2 days on the trail.  I actually found myself hungry every hour, so I think one mouthful of Funder’s goo every hour is a good starting point.  If I was still hungry after my mouthful, or I got hungry between the hour (only happened once or twice in the 2 days) I pulled out a luna bar or candy bar.  Along with the Goo, every hour I took an electrolyte capsule, and then in the afternoon I bumped it up to 2 each hour since with the running I was working hard and it was hot. I drank straight water in the saddle, and vitalyte drink mix at the vet checks. I only carried a liter of water with me, and on the first day when I was running a lot with the vet checks only 25 or 30 miles apart that was pretty marginal.  I think the spackle/bear bait has been reduced to a backpacking food only since the goo is working better in the saddle, even if it isn’t as yummy because of logistical constraints. At the lunch vet check I dived into my little containers and ate a bit of everything - again, this system seemed to work really really well.  Day one I stayed mentally really sharp, never got nauseous etc. I was pleasantly surprised. The real test was going to be day 2 when I started the day with a headache and nausea, but I’m getting ahead of myself!

Wild West Part 1

I'll do the good part first: Farley has her 1000 miles, and Tevis is a definite go for us. Now let's get to the story.

I dragged my friend Jessica along to crew for me and immediately introduced her as "my friend from vet school whose mom is a horse vet" and of COURSE she was immediately recruited as a ride volunteer.

It was WONDERFUL to have a crew member that while she had no endurance experience, is an experience horse person and was able to watch my vet throughs and not only tell me with absolute certainty whether Farley was even a little bit off, but also how she compared to the other horses coming through the check (average? above average? below average?). Plus.......I would take me scores and vet comments to her and get the low down on whether everyone was getting those comments and scores.
The day before the ride was spent setting up my tack.

You know, all that "stuff" that goes on the horse that is usually tested and ridden in BEFORE a ride.


First up, put brand new boots on Farley. A new model on the fronts that I've used twice, in a size that I've never used before. And then to put together "frankenstein" boots for the hinds because the new vipers don't fit the hinds, but I wanted the new viper captivators.

And then there is a matter of using a breast collar, crupper, halter, bridle, ride card holder, stirrups that have seen one 3 mile conditioning ride.

And of course, there's the wintec saddle that I've put maybe 20 miles in since I borrowed it from Irish Horse after Cache Creek.

Jessica and I totaled up what WASN'T new at this ride and I think, counting the horse we settled on 5 items. Farley the horse, the girth, scoop, sponge, reins, saddle bags. OK, that's 6.
So, I broke my rule, saddled up my horse, and went for a short ride the day before the actual ride. I NEVER ride my horse the day before. By now it's a superstition. A couple of years ago I relented and actually decided it was OK to tack my horse in order to set up everything the day before, but I refused to actually allow myself to swing onto her back. But it seemed prudent to give everything a run through.

Everything survived a a road trot out, and a section of single track at speed, so I declared it ready to go after 20 minutes.

I also started my food log. These 105 miles over 2 days were Tevis training and the thing I most needed to figure out was how I could continue to eat and drink. So, I decided to start documenting everything I ate, and giving everything a rating so that I could actually make some good decisions on what to have at Tevis. I prepped my food for the next couple of days. I made 3 piles of food.

Pile 1: saddle bag food - Funder's goo (almond butter + Nutella at a 3:1 ratio), luna bars, candy bars, electrolyte caps, apple sauce packets

Pile 2: Vet check food - Kettle corn, chips, tuna salad, pork skins, peanut butter m&ms, smoked almonds. All in cute little tupperware cups. All of which would be opened the vet checks and the idea being that I would shove handfuls of each tupperware cup into my mouth and chew and swallow before my brain could decide whether it really wanted to eat or not.
Pile 3: ride camp food - jerky, fruit, non-wheat pasta + pasta sauce, cheese, canned soup etc etc

I put a sheet of paper on a clipboard with a pen in a central location in ride camp and divided the paper up into categories: preride, day 1 breakfast, day 1 morning trail, d1 lunch check, d1 afternoon trail, d1 dinner, d2 beakfast etc. Everytime I ate something I wrote it down with a "+", "-", or "0" symbol. ("0" means neutral). I haven't totally analyzed it yet, but a clear winner was Kettle corn, something I discovered while crewing for Funder. It has the right combination of sweet, salty, carbs, but enough fiber that it doesn't affect my blood sugar like some of the other high carb foods. After scarfing Kettle corn, I could usually go on to eat something really high in protein like tuna salad without having trouble with my stomach.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself! We haven't actually started the ride yet! We are still in ridecamp....vetting in, going to the ride camp meeting, watching supernatural episodes, waking up in the middle of the night ready to kill someone for leaving their headlights on (and then realizing it was the moon....), worrying that Farley wasn't drinking enough, visiting another one of my favorite vendors (Griffin's Tack), catching up with friends.....

So far everything is going according to plan. What could possibly go wrong? Will something blog worthy happen? After all, I've already told you the end of the story, so all's well that ends well right? me, you won't want to miss.....the rest of the story.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Best video of Team Fixie 4 sure!

I'm working on my "what I learned and what you should know for crewing" post, but in the mean time enjoy this video of Team Fixie's vet in Friday afternoon before the ride.

Vet's comment at the end was "well there was enough sound steps there to call it good!"

If you are the impatient type, skip ahead to 1:05 or so.....

Monday, June 17, 2013

Crewing for Sunriver 100

I was so worried that I wouldn’t have anything to blog about on my crewing experience for Funder and Dixie.  I’m staring at the draft I started on Friday in an attempt to document some details that might be of interest to you, my Dear Reader, since I wasn’t sure there would be much of a story behind Funder and Dixie doing a conservative, respectable first 100 mile at a ride with a reputation for being a really good first 100.

Ha!!!!  Apparently don't invite me along unless you want a blog-able adventure. 

Ummm.....I don’t think I’m going to need to bore you with the various things I forgot (contact lens case, anything that would prepare me for weather in the low 30s, deodorant, yada yada yada).

Similarly the list of various REALLY REALLY good restaurants that we discovered along our route (Dill’s Deli at 5132 Caterpillar road off of I-5 on the north side of redding, CA and Baldy’s BBQ in Bend OR are both absolutely incredible.  Baldy’s is only doable without a trailer, but Dill’s is an excellent rest stop) are only going to get the barest mention.

This is going to be a tough post to write.  I’m mad, disappointed, sad, angry, frustrated and probably too tired to write this right now.  My goal is to not say anything I’ll regret once this emotional hangover is over, and not tell anyone’s story but my own (ie - what I saw and heard, not what I got second hand).  I’m currently on lunch, so if this post goes on longer than it should, I’ll have to break it off at some point and continue the story at a later time.

Most of my rides take place in the western region, within CA state, so I’m always excited to visit a new state or region.  This was the third region I’ve ridden or crewed in.  Endurance is a national organization with oversight of all the regions, but each region has it’s own flavor and style.  I know people from the pacific northwest and have heard really good things about the PNER regional organization and their rides and I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally get a chance to see it in person.  We travelled all the way from San Fransisco CA to Bend OR, a 12 hour drive each way because after a ton of research and talking to people and looking at previous years’ ride results, Funder thought this was THE best first 100 for her TN Walker mare, Dixie.  Mild weather, a trail that wasn’t all hills and rocks on the side of cliffs, and a region and ride that (we thought) has a reputation for being supportive of non-arabs and first time 100’s.

And I agreed with her.  When I still thought Minx might be my 100 mile horse, I too did a bunch of research and had settled on Sunriver, even though it was at the limit of how far I thought I could travel for a ride.

On Thursday morning we headed out.  We didn’t have any particular plan for travel except to do at least one longer stop where Dixie could get out of the trailer, and multiple other small stops.

There are 2 things that stand out to me when I think of that drive to the ride.
1. We peed.  It seemed like we couldn’t get 20 miles down the road before we had to stop and pee again.  And again.  And again. 
2. Dixie looked incredible.  She travelled well.  She ate and drank and ate some more.  She came out of that trailer at the end of a 12 hour drive looking as if she could start the ride the next morning.  Which wasn’t necessary because she was going to get an entire day to lounge around and eat some more!!!!!!!

That night it was cold.  Really really effing cold.  We hundled in the back seat of the truck with the heater running, watching Supernatural for HOURS until we crawled into our respective tents/nests/sleeping bags at 12:30a.

The next morning Funder tacked up and went for a very short little trail ride to see how the boots were working and see how Dixie felt.  She looked GOOD.  I have video.  At some point I’ll organize and post pics and videos of the ride.  Not now.  Right now we need to move along to the inevitable train wreck you know is coming with this kind of lead in. 

Funder signed up for the ride and we went to the ride meeting.  So far so good.  The camp was the dustiest thing I’ve ever seen in my LIFE, and I was not prepared for such cold temperatures in OR, but so far the people have been friendly, there are people recognizing both me and Funder from our blogs, and one of my favorite tack vendors, American Trail Gear is there with a full lay out with everything I had on my list to buy before Tevis. 

At this point there is a couple of red flags.
1. No food vendor at the ride because the ride manager forgot until the last minute to find someone.
2. No trail maps.
3. No crew directions to the checks except the ones written on poster board at the ride HQ because they forgot to print and put them into the packets.
4. Expectation that everyone would be in camp at the 80 mile point before dark.

You knew I couldn't get through this post without at least one bullet list....

I didn’t realize at the time that #4 was a red flag.  I knew the day was longer than I was used to up where we were, but if I had stopped to actually do the math, I would have realized that a 9:30p 80 mile was a 16 hour 30 min TOTAL time into the ride, with 2 hours 15 minutes of holds.  Which means to get into the 80 mile mark by dark, you have to do 80 miles in 14 hours and 15 minutes of ride time. Which is a 5.5 mph.  Which is about 1mph faster than the actual pace to finish the ride.  And I was predicting a 20 hour ride time with 3 hours of holds, for an overall pace of 5mph.  Which meant that Funder was absolutely going to come in after dark, on a loop that was new trail, after dark.  And (what I didn’t know at the time) - on a trail with especially shitty footing. 

For those of you that aren’t endurance riders, that aren’t following the calculations, here is the bottom line: For Funder and Dixie to be on track to finish comfortably in front of the 24 hour cut off, in a conservative 20 hour ride time, they would be coming into the 80 mile vet check at 10:45pm.  Over an hour after dark.

Crew fail #1: Instead of actually running the numbers and making sure we would be ok, I just assumed that the ride management was familiar with the trail and based on their history with riders finishing in the same time as I expected Funder to finish, that their predictions were correct.  Especially because they had a 100% completion rate the year before and were really proud of it.

I asked for some clarification on trail markings and vetting in (how are the turns marked?  Can you vet in at anytime during the checks?) and thought it was pretty cool that everyone seemed pretty laid back.  It reminded me of the NV ride I’ve done.  There were way more non-arabs in camp than I’m used to seeing at west region rides (and way more portable corrals) and overall I was feeling pretty good about the decision to drive all the way up there for a 100.

The riders were informed that all the trail was new with some exceptions so whatever trail they remembered from previous years should be forgotten and to pay attention to trail markings - which is a good sign because I’ve ridden those rides that have been established “forever” and sometimes it isn’t clear to a new rider who HASN’T ridden the trail before where it goes.

I told Funder at this point that I really felt Dixie was ready for this 100 and if they didn’t finish the next day, it wasn’t because Dixie couldn’t do a 100 or wasn’t ready for it - it would be because of bad luck.

Oh fateful words......

In case you don't get to the end of the post, or are distracted by all the apparent wonderful things I'm saying about this ride, I'm going to be very direct and to the point.  The management at this ride cost Funder and Dixie their completion.  Period. I was completely blindsided by what happened and the attitudes and circumstances are still a bit unbelievable to me as I sit here writing this.  I love endurance.  I love 100's.  Managing rides is not easy and I give the benefit of the doubt when I can. I didn't go into this ride with a chip on my shoulder.  But what happened to Funder and Dixie was IMO completely unacceptable.

Saturday (ride day), the horses started out.  After milling around for 10 minutes and then finally going to wake up someone to take their numbers. 

We would see Funder approximately every 12 to 20 miles.  There were 4 vet checks before the 80 mile vet checks with holds ranging from 30 to 45 minutes.  Amanda and I made every single one of them, while simulataneously running to the store to pick up whatever she was craving that she didn’t have at the last check, getting gas, and feeding ourselves.

Crewing is absolutely as tiring as riding the distance and I naively didn’t take care of myself as well as we were taking care of Funder, and I got to confirm that my afternoon migraines at rides are ABSOLUTELY an electrolyte issue and I *think* with what I tried on Saturday SUCCESSFULLY will work if I get into a bad spot in Tevis with that issue.  If you are a reader of Funder’s blog you will remember her revelation at the Tevis ed ride, that when she gets too hot she makes really bad decisions like “I should get off my horse and walk because she must be really hot” when in reality she should stay on the effing the horse because it’s HER that is getting into trouble.  (I told her if she came into an afternoon vet check leading off her horse, delirious with the heat and her horse looked fine I would literally kill her and she was to stay on the gosh darned horse if she started to feel too hot and not make stupid decisions.  I am such a helpful crew member).  Apparently my MO when my electrolytes get out of balance is to decide that I’ve been drinking too much water and the solution is to stop drinking and everything will magically correct itself.  And yes, I do have a tendancy to over hydrate, but the answer to correcting the imbalance is to continue to drink and ADD electrolytes. 

One more note about crewing, and then I’ll probably save the rest for another post.  I got to see an up close look at a crew that took a slightly “different” approach to the crewing experience and the toll it took on the rider.  It’s not my story to tell right now, although I think it would be an interesting post in the future to discuss some of my observations, but it is sufficient to leave it at this point: having a crew that has been properly instructed and trained that is focusing on the rider and horse and supporting them through a 100 can make all the difference, not only between finishing and not finishing, but also in the safety and well being of that rider if the trail goes to shit. 

Anyways, I digress. 

Funder kept a VERY respectable pace.  6mph on the first loop which is perfect because it was cool and put some miles in the bank.  5mph on the next couple loops, which was the target pace for a 20 hour finish.  4 mph on the hottest afternoon loop, which was perfect since Dixie looked really good and hydrated and looked like she could easily pick it up to 5mph again once it cooled off. 

At 10 hours she had 50 miles in the bag and Dixie still looked great.  WE SO GOT THIS.

At 62 miles, after the hottest part of the day, they were still on track for a 2am finish, which was a full 2 hours faster than I had expected.  The horses coming in before them looked tired and hot, and several of them were pulled. Dixie by contrast was hydrated, eating, and never once did that “stare into the distance” thing and looked down right perky. 

Funder had requested an “adult beverage” and after finishing that, a red bull, and other not-to-be-named-if-we-give-you-this-will-you-get-back-on-the-horse “supplements” they left the last out vet check at 6:30am with 15 miles to camp.  It was rapidly cooling off and we decided that we would probably see them in about 3 hours (5mph) and because they went out of the check at a good non-walk pace, at the most 3 hour, 20 min.  That meant that I expected them anywhere from 9:30 to 10p.

Crew mistake #2: Maybe a mistake, maybe not.  We took Funder’s GPS to charge it for the last loop because based on how Dixie and Funder looked, this was really going to happen, so that she would have a GPS for the entire last 20 miles.  On retrospect, it probably would have lost juice for the last half of this 15 miles and she wouldn’t have had it anyways - but I’m not sure.  I should have brought/borrowed an extra so she had a GPS on her at all times, since they were turtle with no one coming up behind them.

After helping clean up the vet check, we took off and prepped the camp for Funder’s arrival at 80 miles, and for when she finished sometime between 2 and 4 am.  :).  We prepared her back of the truck “nest” and then agreed to lock the doors and not let her see it until she finished. 

The art of crewing is how to bribe and manipulate your rider into getting back on their horse at 80 miles when they are already in camp and are faced with 20 miles in the dark and cold either by themselves or with their buddy (they had been riding with another TWH all day that was also a first 100) as turtles with no one in behind them and everyone within 3 hours of them having been pulled. :)

At 8:30 Amanda went up to wait for Funder to come in in case the trail was short and she came in early.

At 9pm I finished boiling the water for her shower and headed up as well.

At 9:30 it was dark and we were anxiously awaiting her return.  I heard rumors that a quad with ride management had gone out to pull ribbons on that loop and had to their surprise met them on the trail.  The in timer definitely knew they were out there, but apparently poor communication? Anyways, at least I knew they were still mounted and moving and not injuried somewhere.  The comments around the fire started at this point. 

Of course they are going to pull when they get to camp.

They are going too slowly.

I wouldn’t want to ride that loop in the dark.  The footing is terrible.

It’s way too late for them to go on.

I felt like screaming as I politely smiled and I tried to explain that as long as they came in before midnight, they could WALK the entire last loop and STILL FINISH before cutoff.

This statement was met with unbelieving stares and puzzled astonishment.  As if it was an entirely foreign concept that a 100 might take place in the wee hours of the morning. 

What were these peoples' PROBLEM???????????

I had this conversation over and over and over.  More than a dozen times. I bullied my way into conversations when I overheard them talking about how slow they were.  I smiled, introduced myself as their crew and exclaimed how proud I was that they were taking care of their horses, and how good Dixie looked, and how a 20 hour first hundred is a worthy and good goal. 

As the minutes and hour ticked by I finally gave up and me and Amanda sat, looking into the darkness, overhearing the whispered and quiet murmurings of the other riders still having the same “can you believe they are still out there?” conversation.

At 10:00p I was pretty anxious. Amanda and I agreed that if Funder wanted to pull, even if Dixie looked great, we would reaffirm her decision.  I told Amanda that if I was riding the ride, even if my horse looked great, I would probably RO at this point too.

At 10:15p I knew something had gone wrong.  Where I was sitting I could only see one glow stick marking the trail.  Based on my experience, when you reach one glowstick, you should be able to see the next.  I told Amanda that I was going to walk up the trail a bit and see if I could verify that there were glow sticks marking the trail in a way that made sense.  I would be gone no more than 10 minutes up the trail and 10 minutes back.  If they weren’t back at that point, and the trail seemed like it was properly marked, it was time to start talking to ride management about my concerns. I headed to camp to grab a headlamp, and some food and water. 

At 10:30 I had gotten back to the HQ ready to head down the trail and Funder and her riding buddy came in.  Funder proclaimed that she was done.  We immediately vetted Dixie in which was a requirement for a rider option.  She looked great.  Really really good.  Better than 80% of the horses that I saw vetting in at that point.  Better than the horses doing their exit CRI’s to go back out on the last loop.  Better than Farley has looked at any of her 100‘s at that point.  The vet said that he couldn’t pull and it would be a rider option. 

The ride manager assured Funder that there were glow bars on the last loop, but I believe Funder responded something along the lines of it wouldn’t matter if it was an effing runway, there was no way she was going back out by herself, in the dark, with no confidence in ride management that they had adequately glow bar marked the loop, or with any assurances that they would come looking for her if something happened and she was stuck out there. 

I agreed with Funder 100%

If you want to hear Funder’s account of what that last loop was like, with no moon, overcast skies, an average of 1 glowbar per mile, being forgotten, with a very tired riding buddy and her horse, shitty footing, no ride map, and one crappy flashlight between the 2 riders, read her blog.  If anything she completely understates the experience. 

I was desperately afraid that Funder was going to proclaim she was done with 100’s after this experience. This isn’t how it’s suppose to be.  You aren’t suppose to get into a vet check with a horse that’s ready for more, feeling good because you took care of yourself, hours before cut off, and rider option because you are afraid that no one is going to be there for you.  You get through the heat of the day because of that dream that you are going to ride under the night time sky, glow bar to glow bar, on your incredible horse, in just a couple of hours.  But she’s willing to try again and I’m glad. 

We eventually went to bed (Crew fail #3: I asked Funder if she wanted Dixie’s boots off, and didn’t argue when she said nah.  I should have insisted on at least unvelcroing them.  In the morning we found 2 small rubs.  Did I mention that the crew is as tired as the rider and doesn’t make the best decisions?  Make a protocol for the ride BEFORE the ride and stick to it.  If the boots need to come off after the ride, DO IT.  Don’t try and make that decision at 11p after a long day).

We collectively as a group decided to pack up and leave as soon as it was practical.  It was going to be a 12 hour drive home, and doing an 8am awards meeting would put us back really late.
Additionally, none of us were in the mood to be social.  I had taken Dixie for a walk around camp in the morning and had to have yet another inane conversation that ended with me wanting to punch someone in the face (I didn’t because that would have been crew fail #4) as they expressed concern with how slowly they were going and it was a really good idea that they had pulled because they were so “late” and making excuses for RM lack of trail marking, and how it’s so easy to “second guess” yourself in the morning and that the horse was probably too tired to go on last night after such a long 80 miles etc etc. 

Funder took pity on her crew and didn’t make up go to the HQ to pick up the $5 Walmart folding chairs we had left up there the night before. 

We found a truck stop and paid for 3 glorious showers.  I’ve never been so dirty and filthy in my life.  It was a glorious shower, yet slightly unsatifying.  Even with scrubbing and multiple soakings and rinsing I still felt I was only able to get about 50% of the grime off my body.  What I needed was a hot bath and about 3 hours to nap in it until I was all wrinkly. 

I drove part way home and then handed the wheel over to Funder.  It was a long drive.  We ate some good food, some crappy food, and laughed hysterically until we were in danger of peeing our pants.  We stopped less to pee, had incredibly conversations about stuff and life and endurance and beyond.  It was the most incredibly road trip. We were drained, exhausted, and yet still pretending to be sane when we got to Funder’s place and then ordered tacos.  It was pretty clear how far gone we were as we wrapped up our night, eating tacos, and trying to explain to the husbands waiting for us some aspect of the ride, but all three of us laughing and crying and only squeezing 2 words out at a time, none of which made sense. 

I climbed into my car sometime after 10pm and drove home, arriving sometime around 12:30am.  My eyes didn’t close until sometime after 2am, thinking and rethinking about the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And trying to find the words to express the conflicting emotions - how proud I am of Funder and Dixie for keeping it together when it all went to crap.  Which was because she ate and drank and made good decisions.  The ride cannot be counted as a success, but there is one thing that there is no doubt about: Funder did good by her horse.  And that is always a success story.