Sunday, March 1, 2015

20 Mule Team 2015 Endurance Ride: 50 Miles

The Good, The Bad, and The Great
Photo credit Baylor/Gore
My dressage endurance horse, Caartouch CS (Rio)
We arrived at The 20 Mule Team Endurance ride, located in Ridgecrest, CA., on Friday 2/27/15, and we were set up by 4:15 p.m.  Ridgecrest is only 2 1/2 hours from where I board Rio (in Bishop), and Rio and I have done this ride more times than I can remember, the first time in 2007.  Two 100 mile distances, finished the first time time sponsoring junior, Rachel Lain, and her horse, Cody,when she was Rachel Shackleford then, (Rio and I did not finish our second 100 mile attempt) as well as numerous finishes in the 65 mile distance.  This year, Ride Managers, Melissa and Robert Ribley, changed the 65 mile distance to 50 miles.  They also had a 35 mile distance and 100 mile distance. We would be riding the 50 mile distance this year. 

Partial Photo of Some of the Riders at the Ride Meeting Friday Night.

There was a huge turnout this year.  30 or so starting the 35 mile, 69 starting the 50 mile, and 53 starting the 100 mile!  We found a nice, quieter area in the back to set up camp. I was happy to of parked just 2 camps away from Mike Shackleford, (Rachel's father), who was traveling with another friend of mine, Amber.  I knew that Amber would be riding, but not Mike.  Amber would be riding the 100 the next day and Mike, the 50. 

The Good

There was a 30% chance of rain for Saturday, but it did not rain.  It was a beautiful, crisp and cool day, with snow on the Sierra Mountains.  Recent rains had brought the desert alive with grass and wildflowers.  The scenery was gorgous:  the desert was a carpet of green grass with large patches of yellow wildflowers and/or purple flowers, with a splash of white wildflowers.  The heavy winds did not seem to be a challenge for Rio.  Even with the strong headwinds, Rio powered through it with the strongest impulsion I have ever felt riding him in an endurance competition.  There was a lot of other good stuff, but I will write about it in The Great section.

The Bad

Rio did phenomenal all day (except the bolting incident), but I was seriously challenged by two separate issues that caused me huge pain.  The morning started out with a bang.  To my hip.  With the high winds, Rio was feeling very anxious.  When I got on him, he bolted before I could get my right foot in the stirrup, and I came off hard on my left hip and bum.  My helmet/head only lightly hit the ground, as my left rump took most of the impact.  I instantly got up to fetch him, and I felt fine.  Rio stopped about 100 feet away and was caught with the help of a few fellow endurance riders.  Rio was fine too.  That was the first time that Rio had dumped me when trying to get on him. 

With 69 horses starting, we went out in about 15th-20th place or so.  I'm not going to go into too much detail regarding my first issue.  Briefly, I developed a painful rash on a sensitive part of my body about 10 miles after the start.  Rashes, especially in that sensitive area, are bad enough without having to make contact with something over and over.  I did more two pointing on this ride than usual! Thankfully, Peter surprised me by meeting me at the first vet check (mile 16).  I was glad it was a 50 minute hold.  After vetting Rio, Peter took care of him for me during the hold, and I was able to go in our camper and take care of myself.  

The next section was 23 miles to vet check #2.  My next issue/challenge started at about mile 20.  I started feeling terrible pain in my left hip area, and within 20 minutes it had traveled down to my entire left leg.   It was from my fall off of Rio that morning.  I soon realized that I was riding completely unbalanced, with my left foot much heavier in the stirrup than my right foot to the point where my saddle was off balance as well as me.  This was pointed out to me by Mike Shackleford, who I had been riding with since mile 6 or so.  He suggested that I focus on putting my weight more on my right side, which I was barely able to do.  Every mile was worse and worse, and we still had 19 miles to go. When we moved out, I did a two point and had to hold on to the pommel of the saddle with my left hand, something I had never had to do before.  I also had to lean forward in order to try and balance myself versus sitting straight and balanced.  I had the worst equitation for the most part of that day.  I'm glad/lucky that my lack of balance did not affect Rio to be off balance and be lame like me.   I was taking many more walking breaks than normal.  I told Mike to go ahead;  however, as this was his horse's first 50, he was not in a hurry.  Rio took the lead, as he is a good leader horse.  There were a lot of good places to canter at in this section.  When we weren't taking walking breaks, we covered a lot of ground.  I was weakening, but I had a lot of stamina and strength despite the pain that I was experiencing.  We still made good time.  Out at vet check #1 at 10:28 and in at vet check #2 at 1:01.  It only took us 2 1/2 hours to go 23 miles.  We averaged over 10 miles an hour, which included a lot of walking breaks because of my pain.  I told Mike that he should go ahead of me after vet check #2 if I didn't feel any better.  I was determined to finish even if I had to walk the entire last 11 miles.  However, walking was not much better for me than trotting or cantering pain wise, but it gave me a chance to rest.   My plan, once we arrived at vet check #2, was for me to go lay down in our camper, eat, and take a lot of Advil during the 50 minute hold while Peter took care of Rio.

It got worse before it got better.  I normally get off Rio and walk in the last 1/4 mile or so to cool Rio down before arriving at a vet check, but I could not get off of Rio by myself at this point.  When we arrived, Peter found me thanks to Mike and one of his crew, John, and he helped me down while a volunteer held Rio for me.  I could barely walk.  Peter had to trot Rio out for me at the vet check.  I could not even stand up.  I sat in a chair while Peter vetted Rio.  I told Peter that I would stay with Mike, (Mike's crew met him at this vet check), while he went back to the truck to get Rio's crew bag.  I knew that Rio would be more comfortable having his lunch break near his new horse buddy.  One of Mike's crew was holding Rio while he ate, and I decided to head on down to our camper to lay down.  I took about 2 steps and then my chest/lungs started seizing up.  I walked about 2 steps back to the shade of Mike's crews' camper, and I called out that I needed help as I sat down on the ground.  I had to repeat myself two or three times because I could barely breathe, much less talk.  Within seconds I was surrounded by the most caring people in the world, most of them people that I had never met.  Many thanks to all of you. Mike's crew, Hillorie and John, were especially helpful, as was Mike, who was so worried about me that he wanted to call 911.   John was with me first and I was trying to tell him I was having a hard time breathing, but I could barely get the words out because I was struggling to breath so badly.  Hillorie and others went to get the assistance of one of the vets.  For about 2 minutes it continued to get worse, and then it started subsiding.  As it was subsiding, I was letting John know that it was getting better.  Sitting down in the shade and focusing on breathing to relax helped whatever had happened.  Someone who was with me yelled to someone else to tell the vet that I was O.K., but someone else suggested that I get checked out if needed.  As this was all happening, Peter was coming back from the camper with Rio's crew bag and was understandably upset upon seeing all the commotion going around me while I was sitting on the ground.  The vet asked me some good medical questions, and as more time went by, I started feeling better.  I was only down for about 10 minutes at most I would guess.  It was the strangest thing.  Nothing like this had ever happened to me.  I do not have asthma, but I think this is what someone with asthma would experience when they are having an asthma attack.  John helped me up, and Peter and the vet walked me back to the camper to make sure that I was ok.  I was able to walk on my own and my breathing was back to normal.  I think that what had happened is that being an endurance rider, I had pushed my energy level over the top with all of the pain that I was enduring, with the combination of the morning issue and then the afternoon issue.  Even though I was determined to finish with only 11 more miles to go, I would of rider optioned out unless I felt stable.  Riding in pain is one thing, but there was no way that I would of taken the chance of something like that happening to me while riding my horse and not been able to get down by myself.  I ate and drank, took Advil, and relaxed in the camper.  Peter was taking care of Rio with help from others and checking on me every 10 minutes or so.  He saw that I was back to my more perky self, more stable as well as not being in as much pain as when I had arrived.   Although I had told Mike to go ahead of me if I was going to slow down to a walk if needed for the last section, he decided that if I continued that he would ride with me.  What a great guy!  I'm really glad he did, as I would of much preferred to ride with someone else to help me if needed.  If I were to of continued without Mike, I would of waited to find a sponsor to ride with me for the last section.  I think it would of been irresponsible for me to ride by myself at this point with the challenges that I had experienced that day.

I took an extra 5 minutes+ of my 50 minute hold time before heading out so that I could continue to rest and walk around some to move my stiff, hurting lower left side.  That helped me loosen up, and along with the Advil now kicking in, I was in much less pain.  I felt well nourished and hydrated. The last section of this ride was great and kept getting better.

The Great
Photo credit Baylor/Gore
Lucky for me the ride photographers took their photos before my physical challenges started. 
Rio and I feeling and looking good here.
Even when I was in pain, I still had a smile on my face (some of the time). 
It was such a beautiful day and beautiful place to spend a day with my much loved horse, doing what we love best. 
Starting from the beginning, I already wrote about what a beautiful day and trail it was that day.  Another great thing was ending up riding with Mike.  I never plan on riding a whole ride with others.  I ride my own ride.  If it happens that me and others are pacing the same, then that is great.  Rio loves to ride with others, but he is also great riding alone.  If the people I rode in with in a vet check happen to ride out at the same time, then great.  Mike caught up to me at mile 6 or so, and we were pacing similar.  Although Rio was pulsed down upon arriving at the first vet check and Mike's horse took 7 minutes or so longer, I had no problem taking extra time at this vet check since I had to deal with issue number #1 at this hold.  It was also a real plus for me to have someone to ride with on the next section when my pain started.  It was also helpful to me that he pointed out my unbalanced riding so that I could adjust the best that I could.

Another great thing was how great Rio did and felt that day.  He will be 15 this June, and he has never felt more fit and strong.  His impulsion is more powerful than ever, and his attitude is great!  He loves these AERC competitions!

An additional great thing was Rio's recoveries.  We did the same thing as usual that we do on these competitions (with the exception of not getting off and walking the last 1/4 mile at vet check #2), and Rio was not only pulsed to criteria when arriving at a vet check, he was below criteria.  I am sure that the wind and cool conditions had a lot to do with it, as well as him being quite fit starting out the season, but I think the biggest difference is that for the first time since I have owned him, Rio has a trace clip.   His pulse at the vet checks were 44 and 48 with great CRI'swithin a few minutes of arriving. 

One of the greatest parts of the day were the last 11 miles.  Feeling better, but still in some pain, Mike and I and our horses flew home.  With Rio in the lead, we passed a few groups of people.  We only took about two 1 minute walking breaks, and we cantered the flat parts and trotted on the gradual down hills and steeper up hills.  Cantering past the finish line, I yelled to Mike, Woo Hoo,  we're (Rio and I) the winners of 35th place!  Our actual placing was 23rd and 24th.  Excellent with there being a total of 69 starters, and a few super competitive FEI riders riding, and me having my physical challenges on this particular day.  This being Mike's horse's first endurance ride, I think he's got a good one.  The horse, a mare named Giddion (I think), had just as fast of recoveries as Rio, with the exception of the first vet check. (Mike's bad as he was feeding her carrots while getting her pulse taken with the result being 64 versus 60.) Her pulse was not as low as Rio's at the vet checks, but I think it is quite impressive that she pulsed down just as fast.  Michael is also a heavier rider than me, and Giddion is not clipped.   It was a privilege riding with Mike and catching up a bit.

Another yay, I was able to get off Rio without any assistance at the end as well as do his trot out.  Thirty minutes later I took Rio for his final vet completion.  Horses still have to meet the criteria to be fit to continue in order to get a successful completion.  Rio received the same "grades" as his pre-vet check:  all A's.  Pulse of 44!

Rio is starting out the season fit and conditioned, as well as with a great attitude! 
A little fleshy with a body score of 6 versus his more ideal past scores of 5,
 but I'm sure that he will be back to a 5 by summer.
This ride has the option to be a team of 4 for each distance at no extra charge.  The team with all four members completing with the best combined time (you do not need to ride together) wins and receives an extra award.  I was on a great team with two endurance riders I vaguely know and admire very much:  Lori Olsen and Barbara White, and well as one other rider who is a well know rider who I have not met yet, Jennifer Waitte.  Unfortunately, one of our team members' horse was pulled before finishing for lameness. It was fun to be part of this team, and it was also part of the reason that I had the goal to finish despite my pain. 

This is a great AERC ride that I highly recommend.  The 100 is very doable as a first 100 for either horse and/or rider.  The footing is great for the majority of the trail for all distances.  The base camp is at the Ridgecrest fairgrounds, which has free hot showers!  The ride meetings, meals, and awards are in a large covered area.  The dinner is good, the breakfast is really good!  Great trail marking, ride photographers, vetting, volunteers, and ride management. I give it an A! 

I am very appreciative of all who helped me at vet check #2, who I did not know or just met the evening before.  Special thanks to Mike and Peter.  I don't see how I would of made it without Peter meeting me at both vet check holds as well as Mike for his company.  Mike kept my spirits up, and Rio loved riding with his mare, Giddion.   And of course, for Rio, who was strong for the both of us this day.  He finished his last 11 miles faster than his first 11 miles. However, he did know that he was going "home", and the last 11 miles has as much  gradual downhill as the first 11 miles has gradual uphill.  Extra good news:  Amber and her horse, Blaze, finished the 100 mile successfully in 4th place!


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