At the ride meeting at Klickitat Trek on Friday night, Vet Mike Foss gave his usual speech about keeping your horse safe on the trail. His mantra is EDPPMF. If the horse is Eating, Drinking, Pooping, Peeing, and Moving Freely, then he is probably fine.
And then Mike said another thing he often says before a ride: Somewhere out there is a rock with your name on it. Just hope you don't find it.
Friday night was coldish and blustery. Tucked up fairly warmly in my trailer, I listened to the raindrops on the roof. Was Blue OK? He was out there in a fleece cooler with nothing to protect him if the spitting rain became a downpour.
I slept like the dead and awoke to the alarm at 7:10. Yes, that late. Marilyn, the ride manager, decided to experiment with the start times to see if it would alleviate congestion at the vet checks. So the 75s went out at 5:30, the 50s went out at 7:30, and the 25s didn't go out until a luxurious 9:30 start. It was cool enough this weekend that 9:30 was light but not hot.
Blue was absolutely wonderful to start. We had to do several single-rein stops walking up the long dirt road to the actual start gate, but he was level-headed about it. I had waited to leave our actual campsite until 9:32, in hopes that the worst of the crazies would be gone. As always, though, I wasn't the only person with this strategy, so we started with a few others somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Blue was aggressive but not uncontrollable. I insisted that he walk from the start gate to the first water crossing, a matter of a couple hundred yards, I would guess. I have done this ride enough times to know that the first water crossing will sneak up on your horse if he isn't paying attention. What I didn't want was for him to have his nose in some other horse's tail, and then spook when his feet unexpectedly hit water.
So we walked. And I insisted on a real, flat-footed walk all the way to the ankle-deep water. It was a fight, but not a bad one. Once across, I eased up on the brakes, and he flew.
I guess there is no way to know for an absolute certainty that a horse enjoys his job. But if Blue doesn't like long, fast rides, then he does a great impersonation of a horse who does. Once we were out there, we passed bunches of people. Marilyn had re-routed a fair bit of the loop, so we had some nice new singletrack in the woods that we helped break in.
We came down onto one of the many familiar dirt roads on this ride to find it puddled and boggy. That seemed really odd since no one had mentioned mud at the ride meeting. Nor had this part ever been muddy before. Riders ahead of us had blazed a sort of alternate trail that skirted the boggy part. We took that, and moved on. I didn't think much of it at the time.
Coming out of that section, we reached The Road That Never Ends. And yes, that infernal song played in my head as we just kept going and going. What's more, the road was in very different condition from years past. I'm not sure if it washed out and exposed more rocks or if the logging company came in and tried to fill the ruts with gravel. Either way, the road was hoof-deep sand and volcanic powder, strewn with golf-ball-to-plum-sized rocks. Normally, it is smooth, moderately packed dirt. Instead, it was really torn up out there this year.
As far as I'm concerned, this weekend had some of the worst ever footing for the KT ride. Not only was the depth making it arduous, but the rocks were just about unavoidable. And they were of that pesky size that can roll under a horse's foot, either wedging into a shoe or causing him to slide.
Blue was handling it OK, though it was a clearly hard work for him.
Just before the water stop, we caught up with Cathy and her akhal-teke, Galen. Blue was instantly smitten. I believe Galen is technically bay, but he is buckskin in the sun. Blue saw a long-legged buckskin horse, and the race was on. Just like Mt. Adams, he made it his mission to be with the long-legged horse. Blue matched Galen stride for stride for the next ten miles. I talked to Cathy a little, but was more preoccupied with my own problems.
For the first time ever at a ride, I was feeling sick in the saddle. Every bounce intensified my stomach cramps. I was just praying we'd get to the vet check so I could get down. Finally, unable to wait another minute, I pulled off the trail and went into the bushes for a bit. I relieved the worst of the pain, but even as we caught back up, I felt pretty green.
Somewhere between catching up and reaching the common trail into the vet check, we were coming down a moderate hill on the wicked dirt/rock combination road. Blue hit one of those rolling rocks going downhill about 10 mph, took a mighty stumble, managed to catch himself, and kept going. Looking back, I am almost positive that was the rock that had our names on it. Blue seemed fine, but then, he was going along with a horse he liked, and he's not exactly a wimp about injuries.
In the last mile before the vet check, there was a big water crossing. I only mention it because I heard there was a lot of drama down there for other riders. Galen and Blue went through it like it wasn't a belly-deep torrent of whitewater/chocolate milk. They really couldn't have cared less about fording the rapids.
Across the water and up the hill, we walked into the vet check.
I knew something was up with Blue pretty much right away. We had walked the mile into the vet check, but Blue's pulse was still at 72. He took several minutes to drop. Janis Pegg was nice enough to walk him around for me while I made another beeline for the bathroom. When I came back, he was pulsed down and we could get in line for the vet.
And then he didn't want to trot out. That was warning number two. Blue is not a fast trot-out horse, but he is always willing. At this vet check, we could barely get him to go, even with much clucking and encouragement. As we were coming back, the vet said she thought she saw something. Not a big something, but she wanted us to trot for her again before she'd clear us to continue.
Frankly, at this point, with his hanging pulse and his lack of enthusiasm to trot out... and with my gastrointestinal rebellion... I wasn't exactly heartbroken. We spent it like a normal hold. I electrolyted Blue and let him eat while I did the same. I thought we might as well stick to our routine just in case we were cleared. The check was 19 or so miles into the ride, so the loop back to camp would at least be mercifully short.
As I sat on my bucket drinking a vitamin water, I heard Darlene tell and retell how she had come off Rock at the water crossing. She was one of two riders who were in the check with me who had fallen into the water. I heard there were many more both before and after her.
As our hold time was drawing to a close, I took Blue back to the vet for the final verdict. Yes, he was mildly but most definitely lame. Probably the right-front foot. Probably nothing serious. But we'd have to get a ride back to camp.
The guy who was driving the "horse ambulance" took me and another woman who'd been pulled for lameness back to camp. There was only space for two horses in the trailer, though there were already two more horses lined up behind us waiting for the next trip. The driver told us that he had begun taking pulled horses out of that vet check at 9 a.m., and had not had a moment's break since then (it was nearly 1 p.m. when he picked us up). That made me feel better about our predicament. Misery loves company.
I haven't yet heard the final tally on completion, but I'm guessing it was unusually low. Between the rocks and the water, this was a much harder Klickitat Trek than in years past.
This morning, as I was preparing to leave, I heard a bit more gossip from Monica and Karen. I had missed the awards after the ride (sleeping! lack of enthusiasm!), so I was pumping them both for the details.
Monica had been very much overtime. The person she was riding with had some boot problems and elected to walk the last 10+ miles because of the rocky footing. Monica is a good person, so she stayed with her as they walked. I had seen her ride into camp in the evening, and had assumed they'd gone out a second time to stretch the horses. No, that was her completion. It was something like 9 hours, I believe she said.
I wonder how many horses were pulled for lameness or missed a completion because of the slow going in the rocks?
Karen told me that the reason the water had been so bad was that the gates on the irrigation were opened the night before the ride without any warning. So the water of course came rushing down and changed the dynamic of the crossing. She said that some riders who were more familiar with the trails found a wider (shallower) place to cross only 40-50 feet downstream, and eventually the loop was rerouted there. But not before we crossed in the dangerous spot. And not before Karen decided not to force Cartman to cross, turned around and went back to camp from the river. She said that she wasn't the only rider who made this choice, and that Marilyn awarded them all completions. I hope she tells about it in her blog [ed: she does!], because I'm really curious how "completion only" works.
I also wonder now if the boggy area near the start was a result of the sudden influx of irrigation water.
I have mixed feelings about Karen's completion, of course. Not sour grapes, really. More like contemplating what I could have done differently in order to complete the ride without the pull. If I had done the same thing as Karen (turning around at the water and skipping the vet check) I might have completed too. Or I might have just ridden an extra X number of miles on a horse who was already lame—doing more damage with every stride. There's just no way to know for sure.
As it was, I was mostly bummed to be missing out on the second day (well, that and the new sweatshirt). I won a certificate for a free ride at convention, but it was only valid for the second day of Klickitat. So that was down the tubes, but at least I wasn't out any entry fees.
To pile insult onto injury, Sunday morning dawned gorgeous. Perfect temp. Sun. Light breeze. It was basically perfect riding weather as I loaded up all of my stuff along with my perfectly normal, cheerful, not-apparently-lame-anymore horse and headed back toward Silverton.
I guess the postscript to this ride is twofold:
1. I turned Blue out when I got home, and he trotted off fast and sound. He remained perky all of Saturday afternoon/evening and was not off his food. He doesn't look lame to me today, so unless I see some swelling or bruising in the next day or two, I'm declaring this a freak accident and sticking to my scheduled rides. Next up: Sunriver.
2. The plan was to ride 25 miles both days of Klickitat as a prep for trying a 50 at Sunriver. Although I am still thinking this lameness thing is a freak occurrence, I am more hesitant than ever about upping our distance. A whole season of LD will not hurt Blue, and there's no particular rush to try a 50, other than the fact that I just kind of want to. Maybe it would be wiser to stick to the easier distance until I'm 100 percent sure that Blue's body can take the punishment of the sport. If the lameness is in any way a sign of strain or overriding, I want to give it a chance to heal and for his fitness to catch up to my ambition.
What say you, oh endurance friends? I love this horse and want him to be happy. I'd be perfectly satisfied to do nothing but LDs for the next 10 years if that's what is best for him. Do you think I should get pads in his shoes for Renegade? Do you think I should give him a break, skip Sunriver and set our sights on Renegade instead?
What do you do about a freak mystery lameness, anyway? :)
[Edited to add links.]