We went to Lake Oologah for the first ride in the Hotter Than Hell series. It really was hotter than hell. On ride day, the high was around 103 and the humidity was upwards of 80%. It was bad. 13 or 14 riders started and 7 finished. Boomer and I came in 4th. We were last all day until the last loop and people were just really dragging. Boomer was doing well and we passed three riders by the time we got to the finish. We finished with about 25 minutes left to spare and were less than 45 minutes behind the leaders. The loops were all the same 16 mile loop with 2 miles added on a lollypop at the start of loop one. I finished the first two loops in about 3.5 hours and the final loop in about 2.5 hours.
The reason the trail was so slow was not just the heat. It was also the HUGE amount of water on the trail. The trail went around the lake and the lake went up 9 feet in the few days before the ride. Parts of the trail were totally submerged. We went through water up to our knees while on horseback. It had to be 4 feet deep in places! These were not just 30 foot wide river crossings either. They were entire sections of trail. We were knee deep for 5-8 minutes at a time for probably 8 times during the ride. The water was deep enough that the horses tails were floating out behind them. I have NEVER seen anything like it in my life!
The water was both a blessing and a curse. It was the reason that we were out in the sun for so long, but it also saved many horses from heat exhaustion. Without the water, I don't think anyone would have completed. Though, because of how much it slowed the ride down, we had to trot or canter everything else to make time. The downside to this was that walking through chest deep water isn't exactly a 'break' for the horses.
At the vet checks everyone was taking almost the full 30 minutes alloted to reach pulse criteria. The horses were all hot and panting. 5 riders pulled on their own and two were pulled for not reaching pulse criteria in time. None needed veterinary treatment. Everyone rode this ride very well and was smart about taking care of their horses. Those who finished truly learned the difference between and endurance race and an endurance ride. This ride was not a race. People stopped being competitive after the fist loop and just focused on riding their horses within their limits.
On the final loop, I noticed that my right stirrup fender had a small tear in the leather. I joked to John that I would be back in camp without a stirrup. Guess what happened 5 minutes into that loop. Yup. Lost my right stirrup. My plan had been to ride loop 3 as fast as I could to make time because we had an hour to pulse down at the finish. I was suddenly so thankful for all of the riding lessons from my childhood. We used to have to post the trot for an entire hour long lesson while the instructor shouted out 'drop both stirrups', 'pick up the left stirrup', 'post with right stirrup only'. The reasoning was that if we were in the show ring and lost a stirrup, our posting trot should not lose tempo and we should pick the stirrup back up without faltering so that the judge would never know what had happened. Well, that was a well learned lesson. At about mile 12, my legs started getting sore and I started sitting the trot more. At mile 14, my left stirrup broke. I went the final two miles to the finish line with both of my stirrups hanging on my saddle horn.
Upon arrival to the final check, it took just over 30 minutes to pulse down and we vetted through with mostly A's and a few B's.
This was the hardest ride I have ever done and I am so proud of Boomer for being such a trooper! He worked so hard and encountered a lot of new things. He learns so much every time we do an endurance ride. There is nothing like the stresses of competition to get a horse well trained.