Phew! We are back and (almost) recovered from the State Fair Express 50 mile Endurance ride. The ride is along the Katy Trail which used to be the Katy Railroad. Thanks to a 'rails to trails' program, the state of Missouri now has over 250 miles of crushed gravel trail for bikers, hikers, and horses to share! Well, the horses are only allowed on 25 miles, but thats really all we need, right? I had anticipated this ride to be pretty easy. Flat, straight, no difficult challenges. Unless you count the weather as a challenge. The forecast was for a 10% chance of rain on Saturday. But, I'll get to that later.
In the days leading up to the ride, there was about an inch and a half of rain. Luckily, base camp was at the Missouri State Fair grounds. All of the horses were assigned stalls and we camped in a big paved parking lot across from the stalls. I really liked the ease of mind I had with Boomer in a stall. I didn't feel like I had to 'babysit' him the whole time. I got there about 6 hours before John did and I made friends with some of the other early birds. One couple, Emma and Dave, helped me out with a bag of shavings since I didn't bring any. Another couple, April and Sean, let me hang out in their awesome LQ trailer while it poured rain for about 20 minutes. John arrived and we set up our tent and got organized for the ride. The checks were out of camp, so I packed up everything I wanted in the truck and got the GPS primed and ready to go for the morning.
We got up early and started getting ready. I was a nervous wreck, as usual. Doubting why I even put myself through something that makes me so nervous. The start was uneventful, but Boomer was full of himself and was barely containing his energy. He was going more up and down and swinging sideways than he was going forward. I pushed him up to a trot and then let him canter for a little while and he finally settled in after about 3-4 miles. By that time, I had relaxed and was really looking forward to the day. Little did I know what was in store...
By mile 10, we stopped at the first water stop and the thunder had started. Low, deep rumbling thunder. No lightening though. I asked the water volunteer if it was going to rain and he said that it was just supposed to be cloudy and blow over. At about mile 10.5 it started to sprinkle. It wasn't bad. I wasn't cold and the rain wasn't that big of a deal, even without a rain coat. At about mile 12, it started raining harder and the wind picked up. I was getting to the 5-6 miles of trail where there was no tree cover and the wind was brutal. I still wasn't cold, but sideways rain is never fun. Boomer was a trooper and really wanted to turn his but to the wind, but we carried on. At the first vet stop, he drank a little and ate his beet pulp/grain mash. I covered him with a cooler and kept him walking so he wouldn't cramp. Our vet scores were good with all A's and a B on Gut sounds.
We went out on the next loop and were mostly in tree cover. At this point I had put on a dry sweatshirt and windbreaker jacket. We were still doing well and were in a pocket by ourselves for the most part. The trail was really beautiful, improved crushed gravel footing-8 feet wide, neon green carpet of grass on either side, trees, and a stream. Really enjoyable. That loop was uneventful and we made it back in camp in great time. Again, all A's on the vet score except a B+ on gut sounds.
Out on the last loop home, was when I started having trouble. Boomer was fine, but I was getting cold. The rain hadn't let up and the temperatures were dropping from the upper 60's down into the low 50's. I was so done with the ride by about mile 40. Boomer was still doing fine and I was stopping to let him graze at every mile marker. He would eat 5-8 bites of grass then we would walk about 10 strides while he chewed, the back to trotting. By about mile 47, he started asking to walk. I was so done with the weather that I pushed him on. At that point, I was confident in his vet scores and knew he had been getting plenty of grass and water from frequent grazing and I made the decision to push him to trot for the last 3 miles. Honestly, I didn't really have to push him that hard. He only dropped to the walk twice in those last three miles and I think it had more to do with grazing than it did fatigue.
We arrived at camp and I was so happy to be done. I was soaked to the bone. My boots were squishy, my saddle was squishy, I had water pooling in my sleeves, my helmet was squishy, my glasses were covered in rain. I was done. Luckily, we vetted through right away and Boomer did great! He got a B on gut sounds, impulsion, and attitude. I covered him with a cooler, wrapped his legs and left him with a bunch of hay and water.
This ride was really fun despite the rain. Boomer did awesome and I was SO thrilled with his performance! We finished in 7 hours (8.5 including vet hold times) and were in 10th place out of 20 starters! We legitimately top tenned!!! Boomer kept up a trot the whole ride and didn't need any walk breaks! Because the trail had mile markers I was able to figure up our pace and were were consistently traveling at 7 or 8 minute mile pace!
Of course, I did learn a few things this ride. I seem to learn something every ride. It is really fun to figure all of this out. You can only learn so much from books and the internet, the rest is about learning what is best for you and your horse. So cool! First, I think that the beet pulp at the checks really helped. I didn't feed it pre-ride, but I will in the future. I'm thinking it will be easier to keep his scores up than to try getting them up between checks. Second, we had a minor tack issue. Boomer had two small girth galls develop. They were not enough to lower his score, but he did have some heat and swelling on either side of his rib cage. I use a Pro-Choice Neoprene cinch, so the buckles are not in contact with his skin. However, there were a few things different this ride that contributed to the rubs. One, I only used one pad, so the girth sat at the same place the whole time. Two, I didn't untack at the checks due to weather so the saddle wasn't repositioned between loops. Three, water isn't the best lubricant and I think that contributed as well since we were both soaked to the bone. Currently, I have only one saddle pad but I have two cinches. I will alternate cinches and make a point of untacking at vet checks in the future. I hope to get another pad soon, that will help to be able to alternate.