I didn't want to talk about it before it happened because I didn't want to jinx myself... But I have been scheming and planning to attend the Season Finale 50 Mile Endurance ride in Chandler, OK this weekend!
All day Wednesday, I was busy packing and getting food ready. I was also making a Thanksgiving dinner for John and I. I couldn't handle the thought of going without Thanksgiving food! This is by far my favorite holiday. So, I ruined the turkey, bought a rotisserie cranberry glazed chicken from Target, and everything else was awesome. The chicken was darn good too! We had a grand dinner and packed up the leftovers to take camping with us!
Thursday, John did his traditional Turkey Day 20 miler in the morning, then we packed up and got the horse. Once we were on our way, we just settled in for the 5.5 hour drive. Boomer was a great traveler for the most part. He was moving around a lot for the first hour, so we tied him up and gave him a hay bag. He was much better after that even though he didn't touch the hay. One minor mishap on the drive was a pesky little (HUGE) grasshopper in the truck. He kept flying up between the door and me and scaring the beejesus out of me. I tried opening the window, but he wouldn't leave. He finally perched on my seat to my left, I leaned forward while driving, and John smashed him on the seat behind me. Victory.
Once we arrived we set up camp and I took Boomer for a walk through camp to start getting used to things and also so I could figure out how to enter/get a vet card. Boomer was a totally different horse compared to last time we went camping at Clinton Lake. He didn't pace or call to the other horses at all. He just settled right in and started eating and drinking.
Since I was riding on the second day of the ride, I didn't need to check in and vet through until Friday afternoon. John and I set up camp as quickly as possible before sunset, had dinner and enjoyed a campfire. Because of the cold, we had decided to buy a space heater and rented one of the camp sites with electricity. John and Charley liked that very much! I slept in the backseat of the truck and was plenty warm under a sleeping bag and horse blanket. I woke up in time to see the 50 milers leaving camp. It was really exciting to see them all trotting off! Boomer watched with interest but wasn't over excited! I was very proud of his behavior so far. John and I walked around and watched people vetting through, we were still trying to figure this whole chaotic process out! I think that endurance rides are the definition of 'organized chaos'!
At 3pm, we took Boomer down to the vet area to get checked in. We got our rider card and were given a number. At the vet check Boomer did very well except for trying to kick the vet when she checked his muscle tone in the rump. Because of this tension, he was given a B for Muscle Tone and A's for everything else (for those who don't know, this includes: mucus membrane color, capillary refill time, jugular refill time, skin tenting, gut sounds, anal tone, muscle tone, back/withers, tack sores, wounds, gait, impulsion, attitude, and overall Vet impression). His resting HR was 40.
We went to the ride meeting that night and I headed to bed early! At the ride meeting we were told what the loops would be like. First loop was 17 miles out and back-use a hole punch to tag your card. Come back to camp for a 'trot by' check, head out on an 8 mile loop. Vet check and one hour hold. 17 mile loop again, 30 minute hold, 8 mile loop, and finish!
I woke up at 5:40 and gave Boomer a handful of grain. He had plenty of fresh water and hay the night before. I got all dressed, packed my saddle bags with a hoof boot, hoof pick, chapstick, granola bars, an apple, juice, and my rider/vet card, and tacked up the horse. We walked down to the timer table and checked in. We then walked up to the start area and stood around being nervous. Once everyone started, I mounted up and headed out at a walk.
17 Mile loop #1
Boomer was great at first. He was handling the trail like a champ. He was being his usual self that I had been riding out with Kelly. Until we started getting passed. There were a few late starters who passed us first. The the 25 milers started passing us. I wanted to walk the first part to make sure he had plenty left for the finish. In retrospect, I probably should have just let him go ahead and trot/canter. He wasn't so worried about people passing us going the opposite direction as he was the people who were passing to get ahead of us. It was like he would loose his brain until they got out of sight. Then he was back to him self. It took about 5 minutes for him to calm down after getting passed. Things started getting out of control when we got halfway and headed back. Suddenly he wasn't OK with anyone passing us in either direction. Added to this, we were getting passed more frequently than the 5 minutes he needed to settle down. So, I had to get off a walk a ways. Probably walked about 20-30 minutes, maybe more. I was really mad. Eventually, I caught up with a group of 5 riders, three juniors (top 3 junior LD riders in the nation, by the way) and their two sponsors. They let me fall in behind them and mostly kept it at a walk. We probably were with them for the last 5-6 miles into camp. That was a really good thing for Boomer, I think. We were the last 50 milers back into camp after about 3.75 hours and were OK'ed on our 'trot by' to head out for the 8 mile loop. This was where all of the 25 milers would have their hold time and many of the 50 milers were already done with the 8 mile loop and were on their hour hold.
8 Mile loop #1
We pretty much had the trail to ourselves at this point. The only people passing were headed back to camp. I had talked to the ride manager before this loop and she gave me a little pep talk and encouraged me to just let him go at his own pace until he figured out what we were doing here. So, I sent him off in a trot and only slowed him down for rocks or creek crossings. He powered along at a huge trot and sometimes cantered. It was awesome. I went from being mad at him for being an idiot for 17 miles, to having the most amazing time! He steered around that trail like a sports car and was so responsive. His ears were up the whole time and he was focused on that trail. No spook in him at all! I mostly stood up in 2-point position because he was trotting too fast to post efficiently. I would post when he would slow down and I could sit when he cantered. He was doing a great job. We finished that 8 mile loop in an hour and 10 minutes! We came in to the vet check and it took 3 minutes to pulse down to 60 bpm (the criteria was 64bpm). He vetted through with all A's this time and his CRI was 56/56. I untacked him and let him eat and drink for the hour hold.
17 mile loop #2
For this loop, I knew we wouldn't see much traffic again because of how far behind we were. At least we didn't have the 25 milers to worry about from here on out! Again, Boomer trotted and cantered quite a bit. He remembered the trail and began to speed up when we were nearing the halfway point. When we rounded the corner to the hole punch, he was so proud of himself! He was prancing and tossing his head like he was hot stuff! He seemed to be figuring out the point of this ride! On the way back, we alternated trotting and walking. He hadn't been drinking on the first half of this loop and I made him stop to drink at the water stop on the way back. There was a volunteer at the stop, emptying the buckets and waiting for us (yes, we were that far behind) and she helped me get him to drink by emptying a bucket halfway and bringing it to him since he wouldn't walk up to it. He did drink well, but I was still concerned. I let him walk the rest of the way in and got off to walk him for a few miles just to give him a rest. I let him eat any green grass we could find. He still wouldn't drink out of the lake though. I was concerned about him and wasn't sure he would have much more to give after this. We finally made it into the camp and vetted through right away. We were getting really far behind and it was starting to look like we might not make the cut off time of 7 PM. He pulsed down immediately at 60 bpm. We went through the vet check and he still got all A's except for a B on impulsion. His CRI was 60/60. I didn't untack, but I let him eat and drink all he wanted for the 30 minute hold. John ran down to one of the booths selling tack and bought me a helmet lamp. Best investment ever! We would have about 30 minutes of light after we started the 8 mile loop and I knew it would take us longer than last time because he was getting tired.
8 mile loop #2
This last loop was amazing. I think that people were concerned about me going out into the dark but I couldn't not try because of that. We were doing so well 42 miles in! I let Boomer trot for this whole loop. It was a much slower trot and I posted most of the time, alternating diagonals occasionally. As it started to get dark, we were approaching the halfway point. It took 35 minutes to get to the halfway loop, then 15 minutes to do the lollipop loop, and another 35 to get home. The way home in the dark was awesome. Boomer remembered the trail and took good care of us. He lowered his head to see the trail better and just went after it. I didn't have to urge him on at all. He just trotted along. He would slow for the rocks, and speed up afterwards. I was just along for the ride. Because I couldn't see the trail, I had to trust him. My LED head lamp help keep shadows out of the trail right in front of us, but didn't really help me see where we were going. Once, when he slowed down to a walk, I asked him to pick the trot back up and he ignored me, then I heard his hooves on rock. I knew then to let him take care of us. Another time, I saw a split in the trail, the left looked like it was a low rut and thats where we were headed. I steered him right to the high trail and he listened but had to climb up a rock to get where I had pointed him. I hadn't seen the rock ledge and at once knew that he knew the best way to go in the dark. After those two instances, I just dropped my rein hand onto his neck, held on to the horn and let him go. He was unfazed. Right at dusk, there were a lot of angry birds. I don't know what the deal was but every time we passed a big thick pine tree they would squawk and rustle around, then dive bomb us. Boomer didn't even flinch. I also heard a wild pig which really freaked me out. Boomer didn't flinch. I have never had to put so much trust in a horse before. I was just overwhelmed with how well he was taking care of me. Every once in a while I would see a white ribbon and tell him how amazing he was. I really had no idea if we were on the right track or not. Boomer knew and he got us home in time to finish!
The in timers weren't set up anymore when we got in with 40 minutes to spare. The vet tarted checking us right away and put our in time as 6:16. He was pulsed down at 60. His scored dropped for this check. He got a B for jugular refill, gut sounds, and a B- for impulsion. His CRI was 60/60.
I asked the vet if I should be worried about his gut sounds being a B and she said, "No, just feed him"! I think his B scores were because he was hungry, thirsty, and tired. I feel that is too be expected after 50 miles! In the future, I would like him to drink more and perhaps eat a beet pulp mash half way through the ride. I may also carry carrots to encourage him to eat while on the trail.
Overall, 21 started and 16 finished. I got the turtle award which was, appropriately, a flashlight!
After the ride we spent the night and headed out the next morning. The drive was uneventful and we made plenty of stops to rest and eat carrots.
I will post photos as a separate entry because this one is already long enough to be a novel!