Saturday, July 28, 2012

More Bandit pics

April Depuy was standing very near when Blue had his meltdown. She was nice enough not to send me any pics of my butt hitting the dirt, but she did send a few demonstrating the one-rein stop. Enjoy!

The mother of invention

So I said I was going to always have enough electrolyte on board to dose every ten miles... plus a spare.

What I didn't mention is that I have the tiniest saddle pack in the world. I can carry two bottles with just enough room left over for a power bar and a hoof pick. So where will I put those two extra giant syringes?


Gorilla glue, needle and thread, elastic, scissors, sharpie, tape measure and syringe (for sizing).

Step one: Hold syringe up to bottle holders and mark attachment points.

Step two: Make little loops of elastic (left over from some long-forgotten sewing project).

Step three: Glue and sew loops onto bottle holder.

 Step four: Congratulate yourself on amazing endurance innovation!

Please tell me I'm not the first person to think of this.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Complainy Complainerson

Perhaps it is just that I am more than a week out of it, but I have to say, Bandit wasn’t so bad. I could for sure ride 50 miles. Yes, pain. Yes, tired. But 50 miles is absolutely possible in the basic, literal sense of the word.

This is a Thing That I Can Do.

Sorry I was such a Negative Nancy in my last post.

I think we’re going to try again at Santiam Cascade in Sisters in a couple weeks because it is so close.

I’ll try very hard not to embarrass myself this time.

And lest you worry that I’m going to cry “breed bias!” every time my horse gets extra scrutiny, trust me that I don’t feel that way at all. Talent bias is more what I was feeling. I mean, there were only 12 of us riding in that 50-miler, and YES, my ability and my horse’s ability DO suffer in comparison to Dennis Summers and his horse. That has nothing to do with breed. :) Bandit, like most ride camps in the northwest, was super diverse. Many mustangs and appy butts, plus haflingers (!), misc gaited, mules, paint, QH, STB…

I just hope that three weeks off will be long enough for Blue to be fully recovered and ready to roll at Santiam. His recoveries were so excellent at Renegade, I expected to see that pulse dropping like a stone again at Bandit. Perhaps it was just a little too soon and not enough electrolyte.

New motto: To eternally tinker with your training, feeding, tack, etc… is to win.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Arnold Palmer

Blue watched the cars when we stopped for lunch outside of Sisters. Every time we go through that town, I get this song in my head.

Sometimes, it is the little things that make the difference at a ride. On Sunday at Bandit Springs, attempting our first 50-mile ride, it was the applesauce.

Or rather, the lack of it.

You see, Blue does not care for straight electrolytes, so I have to hide them in a sticky-sweet blend of applesauce and molasses which I syringe onto the back of his tongue like dewormer. It isn’t exactly healthy, but I figure it gives him a jolt of calories and minerals when he is most likely to need them anyway. I can put the electrolyte powder directly in a mash and hope he eats it all, or I can squirt them down his throat and know that he does. So I opt for the squirting.

But this weekend, at Bandit, I forgot to bring the applesauce. And instead of driving down to Prineville and buying some, or begging people in camp for donations of commercial paste, I MacGyvered some up by myself. I mashed watermelon, added molasses and electrolyte powder and hoped for the best. What I got, in the end, wasn’t sticky enough. He didn’t so much spit it out as let gravity do the spitting for him. (Imagine my adorable horse with pink foam dribbling out his mouth and down my arm. Lovely.)

Bandit is a beautiful ridecamp with a great manager. The trails were in very good shape, the views were amazing, the weather was fine, the wildlife was mostly well-behaved. I have no complaints about it, and you’d better believe I’ll be back again. That said, it was a comedy of errors for me right from the start.

First of all, I fell twice in the first 15 minutes. It is possible that the 6 a.m. start was just too early for my body to be fully functional. More likely, I have poor balance and an overly excitable horse. MOST LIKELY, is pilot error. You have perhaps been told by endurance books, blogs, social media, magazines, online videos, newsletters, skywriting and passenger pigeons that you should never, Never, NEVER try anything new on a ride day. I did two new things right at the start. Three if you count the lack of applesauce. Four if you consider the very act of doing the 50. Five if you count Blue spending almost all day on Saturday in his pen before the ride on Sunday.

Fall number one, I thought I would mount from a mounting block (a log in this case). This is something I never do, but I was trying to be extra-kind to my horse since we would be having a long day. I put a foot in the stirrup, my horse went one way, the mounting log went the other, and I went splat, right in the middle of the vetting area, right in front of various vets and volunteers. *sigh* I think it was that point that the head vet mentally marked me down as potentially incompetent.

Fall number two, I thought it would be OK to head out before the other horses were out of sight. We avoided this before with reasonable success using the one-rein stop and just waiting it out. It was actually going pretty well. Yes, we had done like… 20… one-rein stops, but I thought I was winning the argument. Somehow, though, as I was reaching down to pull him around *yet again* as other horses disappeared in the distance, he crow-hopped at just the perfect moment to dump me off. Splat on the gravel road. He took off for the hills, and I started walking. Of course, EVERYONE who was awake in camp saw this happen, so Adam came and picked me up on the four-wheeler, and some kindhearted person caught Blue when he came thundering back into camp at a full gallop. Pretty sure that little incident was the second black mark next to my name in the head vet’s book. It’s true; I’m no cowgirl. But I mounted right up again, and we left on a loose rein the second time.

To his credit, Blue was a perfect angel the rest of the day.

April Depuy got this great shot of us looking dignified leaving camp. Don't we seem very capable in this picture?

I wish I had a public relations officer in camp who could tell everyone that I know what I’m doing and have been doing this for years. Without my own marketing department to do incident mitigation, I was utterly humiliated in front of a lot of Oregon people who don’t know me yet. And so I spent the rest of the day feeling like everyone in camp was playing “let’s humor the newbie.” I know that I am by no means an expert yet, nor a celebrity, but I would appreciate being treated like I have at least a modicum of common sense. Seriously, there was one person who saw both falls (and who I will not name here) who told me, as I came into the first vet check, that I might want to let my horse drink. Uh, thanks for the tip. While you’re at it, which end is the front again?

Blue took seven minutes to pulse down after the first loop, which everyone seemed to think was excessive. (It doesn’t seem all that excessive to me for a demanding, hilly loop of about 13 miles. What do you guys think?) I do wonder if I was being unfavorably compared to my competitors, who included both experts and celebrities, all mounted on Arabians who have been doing 50s for years now. Sure, we looked bad next to them. But judged against others like ourselves? I personally thought we were doing awesome. It was disappointing to receive so much scrutiny from vets, pulsers and the people who were just sort of hanging around.

Once we finally escaped the gawkers at the vet check, I proceeded to give Blue another dose of watermelon electrolyte smoothie. About a third of it dribbled back out of his mouth, but there really wasn’t much I could do. I had time to pee, down a vitamin water, refill my water bottles and take off my sweatshirt. Then it was back out to do the second—and longest—loop.

Blue was only mildly skeptical about leaving camp, and we made awesome time for the first ten miles out of camp. I turned on my phone’s music player since we were all alone (we rode alone ALL DAY LONG), and my exercise mix really helped me keep going. Blue’s favorites were Modest Mouse and the Dandy Warhols. He is Northwest born-and-bred, so this makes sense. He did not care for Violent Femmes.

So there we were, roughly 25 (?) miles into the ride, and Blue started to hit the wall. I knew to expect this. People have told me that a horse who has done a lot of LD will expect the ride to be over at the 25- or 30-mile mark. This is also usually the point where physiological changes start to happen. The horse has burned through his first blast of energy and needs a boost.

Unfortunately, this was happening right at the base of Coyle Hill, a long upward slog on rocky footing. And, since we were going relatively slowly, we reached that hill right around noon with the sun beating down on us without pity. Blue was just barely walking, stumbling along like he was hopelessly exhausted. He had been eating and drinking like a champ all day so far, but now wasn’t even interested in green grass. I got down and started walking. We trudged up the hill. I was having trouble catching my breath. Nausea and dizziness were creeping in. My horse was tired, I was sick, we were all alone in the wilderness of Central Oregon with no one else coming behind us on the loop.

I think if I had to do it over, the applesauce would only be half of the fix. The other half would be an experienced 50-mile rider sponsoring me. What I really needed more than anything else as I sat down on the side of the mountain with my head between my knees was another person to tell me that I was going to be OK.

I forced myself to eat a protein bar. Every bite was exhausting and tied my stomach in knots. I drank water. I force-fed Blue handfuls of grass until he grazed willingly. We sat there for a while. I texted Brian that I loved him. (On top of that mountain was the only time all weekend that I had signal, and I wanted my last words to be important.)

Eventually, I decided it was time to pack up the pity-party. I apologized to Blue and made him carry me the rest of the way up. He continued to trudge, but at least he went.

With every step of his walk, my hips and knees protested. They had hinted in a stage whisper during the first loop, but now they were shouting, waving signs, and threatening to quit if I didn’t give in to their demands.

Literally, every step was agony. The only relief came when Blue was trotting and I could post and stretch. But he didn’t trot much. He was very much over this whole endurance thing.

…until, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. We came to a water tank where he drank copiously while I sponged his entire front half. He seemed to be perking up, except that he was not sweating. I mean, yes, slightly wet until the saddle pad, but his neck and flanks were dry. This worried me, but without an experienced person along to ask, I really had no choice but to continue. I also didn’t have any emergency electrolytes on board, which was dumb. (Next time, I will be sure to have enough on board to syringe every 10 miles, plus a spare.)

The perking up was for real, though. I am pretty sure he sensed how close we were to camp, as he was both much more energetic and much more determined to turn in a particular direction that wasn’t necessarily down the trail. He powered through the last five or so miles of that loop and came into camp with what felt like renewed vigor.

But again, because I was alone, inexperienced, and at the back of the pack, I was the target of much skepticism.  Initially, it seemed to me that Blue was in a pretty good place. They asked if I wanted to pull his tack since it was hot, and I said I would prefer to leave it on—if possible—since Blue would think we were done if I pulled it. For that, I got an eye-roll. Yes, the unnamed person rolled his or her eyes at me. Not, I think it is probably worth it to pull tack. Not, he looks hot, let me help you with that. But, *eye-roll, sigh* and then whisper-whisper to another pulser: “She’s not going to pull his tack.” “Ugh, but she really needs to.” *Whisper-whisper*

It felt like I was in high school again, only worse.

Yet again, I wish I just had another person along with me to tell me what to do and be my advocate. It’s my first time. Please just help me without assuming I’m an idiot or a Dude.

Blue was dropping to 64 pulse or so, then going back up, so I did pull his tack and sponge some more. It took him 7 minutes to pulse down. Just like the first time, except this loop had been longer, hotter and hillier. I was extremely proud of him.

But still, everyone standing around the vet check felt that he was hanging awfully long. The head vet examined him. He was mostly A’s with a couple B’s. She told me that his guts were quiet and asked if he had been EDPPMF. I told the truth—that he had stopped eating for a while, but had been pretty consistent throughout. He’d pooped a lot, but hadn’t peed and hadn’t been sweating as much as I’d like. She said that since his back was sore (score = B) and his guts were quiet (she said B-minus, but wrote down C) and he had been so slow to pulse, she’d like to see him again before we left for our last loop.

So I took him back to the trailer and gave him a huge, wet, sloppy mash of beet pulp, senior feed, COB, electrolytes, carrots and watermelon cubes. He dove into it like a starving animal, then ate the rest of the hay in the hay net too.

I took a couple more ibuprofen and tried to stretch. I drank a lot of water, ate more protein, took some people electrolytes, and told myself that if I had gone this far, I could certainly go another 13 miles, even if we just walked the whole loop. I was exhausted and my hips and knees felt like raw hamburger with spikes jamming into my bone marrow. My brain was fried. But I was ready. I walked back down to be rechecked.

I told them that he had eaten (evidence was all over his face). No, he hadn’t peed yet, but he looked OK to me. The vet went through the checks again. Listened to his guts (still very quiet, she said) and his pulse. She asked where his pulse usually is. This is somewhat hard to quantify. He usually vets in initially in the mid-40’s, but I have no idea where his pulse typically is after a hold, since they don’t take it again once you’re at 60 and I am morally opposed to carrying my own monitor. And I have zero data points for where he should be when we’re 36 miles into a 50-mile ride, given that this a first attempt for both of us. She says his pulse is still at 56, even though we've been in camp almost 40 minutes. This is technically within the acceptable range, but she is concerned. She just has a feeling.

Again, it would have been nice to have someone with me who knew what to ask the vet or what to say at this point. So I just asked the obvious question…what is best for the horse? She said she guessed I could go out and do the loop very slowly and maybe complete, but she didn’t recommend it. She just had a bad feeling.

I had bad feelings too. I was feeling like a failure—a failure whose hips and knees had ceased to work.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I said, “Ok, but can it be a rider option?”


I still don’t know if this was the right decision. I had almost four hours left, and we probably could have walked the whole last loop in that time. Would a more experienced rider have advocated to take the chance? Would they have challenged the vet on her hunch? Should I have stuck up for myself more?

I feel like there were a lot of small signs, little things that maybe weren’t 100% perfect, but I also know that 36-plus miles is new territory for us, the farthest we’ve ever gone. Maybe the way that Blue was at 36 miles on Sunday is the way he always will be at 36 miles. I have exactly one data point.

The only thing that makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I was right to pull  is this: About half an hour after I handed in my card and went back to the trailer, Blue finally peed. And it wasn’t exactly yellow. It was more of an deep amber shade. Like lemonade with iced tea mixed in.

Next time, I will remember the applesauce.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Why would anyone want to ride 50 miles?

Honestly, I don't really want to. It is a long-ass way and it will probably be hot and there will be bugs and snakes and I will hit the wall and get cranky... etc.

But I want to leave the door open for this:

So we will do what is necessary. I hope we will do it on the first try.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Social Network (AKA: PNW Endurance Matrix)

Endurance in the PNW can be an eerily small world. For instance, my husband is first cousins with a certain vet/rider endurance power couple from Idaho. And at my new job, I have a co-worker who used to compete and knows all the “famous” riders in the Portland area. (Famous in the sense that they have been doing the sport long enough to give useful advice instead of straight-out-of-the-ass speculation, which is what I give. I am not famous.)

I did not know about these connections when I chose my husband or my job, but somehow, there they were… knitting me into the fabric of endurance.

And it was in that same spirit of interconnectedness that I ended up making even more new friends this past weekend at Renegade.

Kara posted on PNER Facebook that she was coming up the I-5 corridor and looking for a trailer buddy for Sunny. It just so happens that Blue and I live in the aforementioned corridor and really couldn’t afford to make the trip alone. I knew Kara in the way that most PNER members know each other. She’s the one with the flaxen chestnut gelding who usually rides with the girl with the matching mare. She is co-tagged with me in some pictures from Grizzly and Klickitat this year. We had met, we had ridden together, but there was no way I could identify her without her helmet and her horse before this weekend.

But of course, the knitting would get tighter. Mary K posted that she needed a horse to ride as a sponsor on the 50. Brenda (whose farm is just around the corner from me in Molalla) had just such a horse available. So Brenda brought her mare, Bonnie, to my boarding barn to catch a ride with Kara. I talked to Brenda. Now I can identify her without a horse or helmet, too. She is going to show me where I can do a 20-mile loop in the winter.

This kind of clicking into place continued when we arrived at ride camp. Mary K, who would be riding Brenda’s horse, is the same Mary that rode back from the Klickitat vet check with me in the ambulance trailer. Since she didn’t have her own horse with her, she brought David Lewis and his horse. David is part of the team rebuilding the PNER website.

I went to the registration table to enter. There was Laura, who did her first LD with me and Otto at Elbe Hills two years ago. Aarene took my entry, and (BlogOf) Becky offered to number my horse. I didn’t let her, though, because she was in the middle of dinner. It is hard to paint a horse and devour a gourmet meal at the same time. She did sharpen the stinky yellow crayon for me, though.

Oh, to eat a gourmet meal at a ride. But no. Because here is another thing that I had in common with Kara (other than endurance). We are both pretending to be on Medifast. I say “pretending,” because we are terrible influences on each other and may or may not have eaten a pair of king-size almond Snickers bars on the drive up. I admit nothing.

Becky's blog post's treatment of the food issue brings up lots of questions for me, since I do not bring dishes to rides, let alone wash them. I had some peanuts in a baggie to munch on and by Saturday afternoon even that was too much work. “Uhhhhhhgghhhh. Do I HAVE TO throw this empty plastic bag away? Maybe if I sit here and look pitiful enough, someone will take it off my hands.”

I know Becky is right that there are people who take the time to really cook at these things. I smelled so many things being grilled and fried and roasted and BBQ’d all weekend. And here I had various soy crisps, soy powders, soy drinks, nuts, jerky and diet soda. I would have KILLED for some Dinty Moore, Becky. You are lucky you weren’t in a more isolated part of camp or a dark alley.

But let's get back to the ride.

Laura asked how fast I was planning to go. I said I hoped to take six hours… or maybe like six hours and three minutes. A newbie who was sitting nearby asked what the time limit was. “Six hours… and maybe three minutes.”

(BlogOf) Becky asked me the same question about speed, which lead to a pretty funny conversation about how I was planning to trudge through the ride and how trudging is not a generally accepted gait for endurance but that’s what I would be doing so everyone would just have to deal with it. (As it turned out, we didn’t do a whole lot of trudging except up that one dirt switchback that took us up to the ridge with the white dirt where I had to dismount and lead and let David pass me AGAIN.)

It was hot on Friday night. We slept with the tack room door wide open.

View from my REAL MATTRESS in Kara's gooseneck trailer. So this is how the other half lives.

It was still oddly warm at 6 a.m. on Saturday. And it looked like we were going to get rained on or burned to a crisp depending on which direction you looked. This is probably what endurance rides in the Midwest are like, full of humidity and the knowledge that the weather could totally go to hell at any moment.

I dithered about my wardrobe choices, but mostly just got ready in the leisurely way that allows me plenty of time to re-remember all the things I need to do before I am ready to ride.

  1. Feed horse
  2. Go to bathroom (nearest porta potty was roughly 1000 miles from our trailer)
  3. Change into breeches
  4. Drink VitaminWater
  5. Go to bathroom
  6. Eat protein bar
  7. Take sponge bucket and towel to finish line
  8. Stop by bathroom on the way back
  9. Talk to (BlogOf) Becky while she’s doing Aarene’s dishes
  10. Get horse out of corral
  11. Apply tack
  12. Stretch rider
  13. Stretch horse
  14. Take Rescue Remedy
  15. Consider another bathroom break… but then see that the race has started without you
  16. Walk horse to start line
Blue, Sunny and Kara getting ready on Saturday morning

The only thing I forgot was “take three ibuprofen,” which is an important step but not a deal-breaker until the ride has been over for an hour and my knees start to congeal.

Blue was embarrassingly good at the start. Back when I was riding Otto, I used to get sort of mad at the riders whose horses could just walk or trot out of camp. Blue walked easily, getting only ever so slightly jiggy when the horses beside the road called to him.

If you haven’t been to Renegade, I guess the thing to know about the start is that it's a gravel road about the length of a city block that skirts ride camp followed by a fast, rocky water crossing. There is always a big pileup of horses at the crossing because not everyone has a lot of practice with water and horses can be especially idiotic on ride mornings.

As I was nearing the crossing, I could see a couple such horses balk-balk-balking, so I stopped Blue to wait. I mention this because it was impossible to stop Otto in the first 5 miles of a ride. And now I can present photographic proof that my horse is a cool, sensitive boy who can plant all four feet at the start of a ride and wait his turn:

Ain’t no thing. (Photo by [BlogOf] Becky)

The spectators saw us waiting and directed us to a second crossing option just over from the one the other horses were balking at. Blue was more than happy to get moving again. He could not have cared less about that scary little creek.

If horses could text: SRSLY, U GUYS? JUST WATER (Photo by [BlogOf] Becky)

If you don’t know me in my non-horse context, you may not realize that I am one of those people who has a Simpson’s quote for every situation. EVERY. SITUATION.

I know you already know that guy who speaks entirely in movie quotes or song lyrics of the 1980’s or whatever. And you totally love that guy, right?

So here’s the little piece of Simpsonia that was playing in my mind most of Saturday morning:

I apologize for the lousy quality. What he says is: “My fellow Americans, as a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball.  But tonight I say: We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

So yes, there was a lot of forward, a lot of upward, and a fair bit of twirling on Saturday. You know I was worried about walking too much, so I’ll tell you that we did finish within time. We cantered when we could, walked when we had to, and trotted the rest of the time. Time wise, that probably broke down to roughly 2% percent cantering, 60% trotting and 30% walking. I did have to dismount and walk more at the end than I would have liked. I was passed by enough people in the last two or three miles to push me out of the top 10. But that’s OK. Bragging rights are not worth dying for.

Pictures aren’t worth dying for either, so I didn’t take any on the trail. There were times when I thought I should get a shot of the steep, narrow terror so I could back up my last post with photographic evidence, but I’m not crazy enough to lean over and grab my phone. I’d probably drop it (or me) down into some gorge instead. 

Luckily, we had ride photographers to prove that I was on my horse in the high country.

(Photos by Horsin’ Around/Andrea Hurn)

I think Blue looks pretty good in these photos. Especially considering that he’s toting my ever-expanding ass up a mountain at the time. Doesn’t he look strong and brave and sensible and handsome in these photos? Out at the barn, everyone is worried that he’s underweight because he isn’t nearly as round as the other horses. I think part of the problem is that he has the skeletal structure of a galloping hat rack (Who else read Old Bones?) but the bigger part of the problem is that your average recreational horse owner isn’t used to how a fit distance horse looks. 

I think the more interesting thing about these photos is my leg position. I decided to experiment with taking the screws out of my fenders so they would swing free. Since this ride is a lot of up and down, I thought the flexibility might be a good thing. I think it was. I didn't have the hip and knee pain nearly as bad as I thought I would, even without the ibuprofen. But good riders will note that I'm in a little bit of a chair seat here with my feet too far forward. What say you, dressage experts?

Here’s a video that David took. It is mostly him with Clara and Benny the Wonderpony, but I make an appearance at about 1:30. I don’t think the video does justice to just how steep the dropoff was, how sloped the trail was, and how brave I was being to ride down it at a fast trot. (Where's my parade?)

I really only lost my nerve toward the end of the ride, and that was something I planned for. The part of the ride that gives me a heart attack every year is the downhill approaching the finish, where the dirt and rocks are loose, and a tired horse could trip over his own feet and take you with him. Kara and Sunny passed us just as that section was beginning, and what I really didn’t need was Blue charging down the hill trying to catch Sunny and not paying attention to the footing. It was treacherous enough that there wasn’t a safe place to execute the SRS. Knowing that, I stopped him, dismounted, and let them pass.

We had great metabolic signs all day. Blue pulsed down immediately at both the vet check and the finish line. He ate and drank willingly all day long and never seemed to hit a wall in his energy supply.

And he didn't stop eating all weekend. It was a chore to get him to stop long enough to do anything else, including riding 25 miles. He loved the fugly CWF bales that we had to use because we were on public land. He loved the green grass (of which there was much). He loved all the various concoctions of beet pulp and senior feed and carrots and apples and watermelon rinds that I gave him. He ate a mountain of hay overnight and on the way home Sunday morning.

The only bad mark on our card was gait at the finish. Dr. Vanzwol said he looked a little off in the right front. Not bad, but noticeable. This worries me a bit since that is the same foot that the vet pointed out at Klickitat.I am hoping that once I resolve the mud fever completely, that will be the end of it, but it could be structural, I suppose. Only time will tell.

For now, we are moving forward and upward towards doing our first 50-mile ride at Bandit Springs on July 15. Until then, Blue will be taking it easy at home, and I'll be all over The Social Network trawling for advice about how to survive 50 miles.