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.


  1. Awww...sorry your day didn't go as planned. I was there Saturday, but left when it started raining since my accommodations were in a tent. :-) I want to meet you one of these times. I'm found with a chestnut Arab and a grey Arab. Descriptive, huh? :-)

  2. omgosh this is almost my story of my first 50. baasha just ran out of gas, for the first time in his life, he didn't leap into a trot when i asked. i panicked. i took off his bridle (i didn't have a fancy biothane one yet) and sat down in the grass (on that mountain top you were at?) and let him graze 15 minutes, feeling total despair. but then, he recovered - he just needed to eat. i was also alone (because baasha's an idiot in a group).

    i wonder if people are more critical of blue because he's not arabian? do you get that feeling?

    i'm sorry you were in such physical pain, that sucks. i honestly don't think you did anything wrong. using watermelon instead of apple is fine if he takes it. a RO is a noble thing: )

  3. Ruth,

    Use it as a learning experience, keep trying, and the eye-roller people SUCK.



  4. I'm sorry to hear all this, but live to ride another day with more experience, or some platitude like that right?
    But coming from a horse starved housewife, I'm still 10 time jealous/happy for you and Blue :)

  5. Your story had my heart in my throat, worrying for you! And annoyed at the crabby people. Your start sounds difficult, and then I think you did the right thing, even if it was hard. But I am laughing at "Remember the applesauce." Because now everytime I say it I think of "Remember the Alamo!" and giggle.

    P.S. Have you thought about electrolyte cookies? I made some and the horses really love them, feed 8 cookies (I think) for a serving. Easy to carry in your pack or have in your crew bag. But use whatever works!

  6. I've never attempted a 50 before, but for what its worth- I think you did the right thing. Just think of it as a training ride for your next 50! (Easy to say, hard to do:)

    You came home with a healthy horse and that is the most important thing.

    The photo of you and Blue leaving camp is wonderful, you both look very fit and ready to go, I bet you guys do it next time!

    And to the eye-rollers- bah humbug.

  7. Sounds to me like an RO pull was a good call. The key to success in this sport is listening to your horse and learning. You did that, so it's good.

    7 minutes to pulse down isn't horrific, but I prefer 2 minutes. Anything beyond 5 minutes is a lo-o-o-o-ong time unless there's mitigating circumstances. For example, at the in-vet at Renegade, there was no shade and there was bright sun and tons of humidity. I'm not sure how long Fee's pulse-down took, but ALL the horses were pulsing down slower at that check because of the conditions. Fee took longer than usual for her, but not longer than the other horses (who were mostly Arabs, obviously). Under normal circumstances, she pulses down almost immediately when we arrive at the check--and she's a LOT bigger and darker than Blue!

    I don't think that there is inherent anti-arab sentiment at Bandit--quite a few of the management and crew ride non-arabs. Non-arabs DO take different management skills. Not necessarily MORE management, but not the same. As a pulser, I will offer advice to riders whose horses don't pulse down promptly--things like removing the tack, giving the horse a bite of grass, and sponging-sponging-sponging. If a rider seems in need of help and the rest of the ride crew isn't swamped by folks needing a pulse, I'll often help with the un-tacking and sponging. Can't always do it that way, and not every rider wants help, but that's what *I* like to do, esp. when a rider is new to the sport or new to the distance.

    If you've got time to read it, I can send a few chapters of Endurance 101 to you privately--there's some hints and tricks in there that might make your next ride easier. Let me know!

  8. ;LAKDGHA;DGLHA it ate my comment! It was a great comment too!

    I totally know exactly what you mean about wishing your posse was there. I had some snarky jerks at my ride, and they were snarky POPULAR jerks, and I so wished there were Nevada people around to be like "hey she does know what she's doing." :(

    Dixie always takes 10 minutes to pulse down. I keep hoping that we'll get the perfect combination of clip job + cardio fitness + me knowing how far out to get off and walk her in, but so far we haven't. It just takes time to know your horse and know what's normal.

    I can't stop giggling about you sitting down to die on top of that mountain. Gold Country was the first ride I've ever done - in three years! - where I didn't mentally sit down to die. At least you sent your husband a sweet text message. Awwww :3

    Also, I got pulled pretty much the same way at my first 50 attempt. It'll get better!

  9. Oh Ruth, so sorry to read that your first attempt at a 50 didn't end with a completion! Sounds like you did the right thing and learned a lot in the process... not all a waste! I am aggravated to read about the snarky person, one of the things I love about this sport is all the great ones! Keep at it, I bet you complete one before me still! :) Set the bar!