Yall know that I've had a rough year - 2012 went absolutely perfectly, then 2013 has been a seemingly neverending series of "learning experiences." I don't regret a single attempt this year, but I really wanted one nice smooth successful ride before the end of the year!
When I first started thinking about endurance, I was living in Memphis with no plans to ever leave. I remember seeing the Desert Gold Thanksgiving ride on the AERC calendar, and thinking it would be pretty cool to ride endurance over Thanksgiving weekend, especially in California where, I don't know, it's sunny or something. When we came west to Reno and then to SF, I kept meaning to go... and then they quit having it. Sadness!
Shawn Bowling and the Chappells stepped up and took over the Thanksgiving slot, and I wasn't going to miss out again. I'm planning on taking Dixie down to Ridgecrest in February to
So I sent in my entry and watched the weather and headed up to Camp Far West. It's a reservoir outside of Wheatland, north of Sacramento. The reservoir land runs beside Beale Air Force Base, and there's a shooting range (infamous among endurance riders) and an archery range. Most of the Central Valley is as flat as Kansas, but the lake is nestled in some gently rolling hills that make for surprisingly gorgeous views.
Dixie and Fergus alternated leading the way. Dixie was quite happy to walk big or gait big, and Fergus is a half-TWH with a big walk, so I don't think UNO got to walk more than a couple miles total. UNO didn't seem to mind, but poor Lucy had ridden on Friday too, and she got quite tired of trotting!
PFT and Fergus, who really didn't appreciate Dixie's disrespectful attitude. Whenever he was in front and she'd pass him at a walk, he'd make the most ridiculous grumpy faces. She completely ignored him, too. Poor disrespected Tevis pony.
The worst thing I can say about the ride is that there are a lot of low-hanging branches. There were tons of gates, but we only had to close a couple of them behind us - and Patrick was a long-legged gentleman and took care of them for us. There's loose barbed wire in the grass beside some of the fencelines, but if you know that, you will stay on trail and be fine. And of course we rode by the infamous shooting range!
The maps were really terrible, but the trail marking was so good I never once doubted we were on trail. Seriously, bravo on the trail marking, guys! We rode out for a while, then went under the road and did a loop, picked up a token to prove we'd been out there, went back under the road, and continued down the trail to a trot-by. Dixie didn't want to drink, but she ate hay while we hung out for a few minutes, then we looped on back to camp.
One of the things I've been working on this year is consciously trusting my horse to take care of herself. I mean, horses are idiots, and she'd happily gallop ten miles and then graze for the rest of the day, so I have to set the pace. But she drinks when she's thirsty, and she eats when she's hungry, and she rests when she's tired, and I'm trying to respect that. I wish she'd drink at every puddle, and I wish she'd graze the unappetizing dead grey grass along the trail, but I can't make her do those things. All I do is worry needlessly and irritate her if I try to force her to drink.
So once she started drinking, the last little worry I had subsided. At the hold, she scarfed down some mash, then napped and watched the horses headed out of camp. I wandered around eating and filling up my camelbak and whatever else it is that I do that takes me an hour - I don't even know, really.
Horses don't get a shout-out in the magazine til 1,000 miles. A thousand miles is a truly huge accomplishment, and I think Dixie's got a good shot at getting there, but I'm still quite proud of her for making it to 500. I felt like our first fifty was a total fluke, and I've felt like every fifty since then has also been a total fluke, but maybe not. It's just another part of the "trusting the horse" lesson I've been learning: she really is an endurance horse.
I didn't run at all; I wanted to see how Dixie would do if she really had to carry me the entire day. My knees were killing me by the end of the ride - in the future I am going to get off and jog for at least five minutes every hour. Since I wasn't running, I didn't wear my compression socks, and my legs are actually MORE sore than they were after the 25 at Briones. I ate a lot, I drank a lot of water, and I took my electrolytes - I'm stiff today, but it's the least sore I've ever been after a 50.
My feet were numb/tingly off and on all day, which is a sign that I'm not riding correctly, but I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Dixie goes with great impulsion when she's out with other endurance horses, but she's a lazy-ass slug when we're alone, and I only get the tingly feet when she's motoring along. I must be bracing somehow.
I put Dixie in properly-fitted 0 Gloves on the front and too-loose very old 0.5 Gloves in the back, and once I'd pounded them on I never touched them again all day. Mostly the trail was dry, but there were a few creek crossings followed immediately by hill climbs, and I was pleased that I didn't lose boots there. Boots that don't fit are nightmares, but boots that do fit are a thousand times better than shoes. I put her compression socks on her fronts after the ride, and the next morning she had no fill in either the wrapped fronts or the unwrapped hinds.
I rode with a crupper for the first loop, but it rucked up her hair pretty good and I started to worry about rubbing, so I pulled it at lunch. I have an interesting bruise on my inner thigh, because I started the ride with a carabiner flapping around the pommel and I slammed into it for an hour straight before I really noticed, but once I got my pommel bag properly secured all was well. Dixie started flipping her head on the way into camp at lunch, so I put the running martingale on and that put an end to that nonsense.
Also, very early Sunday morning, that horrible monster stepped on my foot, PIVOTED, and froze there. Sorry if I woke you up yelling "fuck, ow, get off my foot!" at 6:35. But after I got my foot back she let me hang on her neck and sniffle into her mane - we have the most beautiful abusive relationship :)
Next: Year-end wrap up and goals for next year! Or maybe a story about my Souvenir Tumbleweed I brought home when I was 12.