Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Grizzly Mountain Endurance Race – Part 2 – The Trail Ride.

 All you REAL endurance riders, feel free to laugh about my 10 mile "adventure ride." I have been wanting to do an endurance ride with this horse for five years, so I guess I was just pleased to actually get out and do something even if it's the very definition of greenbeany.

The trail ride at Grizzly Mountain is 10 miles and I was very confident the distance would not be an issue for Deli despite the fact that our regular rides at the time averaged around 5 miles at a stretch on less challenging terrain. Despite multiple injuries and bad luck, she is an athletic and capable mare who has a good judge of footing and does great with technical trails.

Friends leaving on their LD on Sunday, the day after our ride.
I opted to delay leaving in the morning so I could “ride my own ride” away from the other group of trail riders. This was both a good and a poor decision, depending on how you look at it. My husband wanted to hike with us the first mile or two, which I welcomed because the loop we were to ride had a couple gates that I was nervous about opening because they would require a dismount. I can’t mount Deli from the ground – not because she’s too tall, but because the saddle slips. She has low withers and a wide flat back, so this isn’t an unexpected problem. When riding in Western Oregon trails I almost always was able to find a log or rock to scramble up on, but I wasn’t so sure about my luck in the Eastern Oregon sage land. I did end up dismounting 4 times on the trail and the first three times I was able to find something to stand on, or have Deli stand in a deep rut in the trail while I swung up. The last time I was so close to ride camp that I just decided to jog back.

Deli was in good spirits as we set out. My PLAN was to walk the majority of the trail ride – enjoy the scenery, take pictures, and see how Deli would be in such a different environment. Almost immediately she turned on her speed walk, showing she was more energized than she usually is at home. My husband, Brian, is a very fast walker (around 3.5-4mph) and he has a hard time keeping up with her when she is grooving that walk. Ironically her slug walk is around 2mph and he normally leaves us in the dust on home trails unless we are trying to make time.

She felt curious and forward and happy. One horse passed us politely and she stayed 100% with me – she didn’t care. We crossed the highway and Brian opened the gate for me, and then he headed back to camp, leaving us on our own. Deli wasn’t the least fussed by being alone in the sage. She was definitely alert, but I was very happy to feel that her alertness was more from excitement and curiosity than anxiety (though there was a very small amount of that too, which was eased by moving FORWARD).

As we wound through some lovely juniper forest she suddenly spooked forward, and I heard someone call behind me. I rushed to get her off the trail (which was luckily wide enough in this spot). The front runners of the 50 mile race galloped past us with a wave, calling out “beautiful horse!” as they left us in their dust. Deli was NOT happy to be bum-rushed, and at this point I realized what others had been telling me: you can practice all you want, but nothing will give you the experience of actually BEING at a ride.

I let Deli trot, which seemed to ease her anxiety caused by strange horses galloping past us like a bear was on their tails. Our trail split off from the path the front runners were taking, but Deli wasn’t bothered that we weren’t following them: she just needed to MOVE and was not happy when I asked her to walk.

We got to the second gate and I dismounted, deciding to lead her in-hand across the next highway crossing and find a place to pee. I am very very prone to heat exhaustion and so of course I had drunk quite a bit of water before leaving camp. I had to GO and I figured it would give me some time to find a place to re-mount and let Deli grab some bites of grass.

After peeing I walked back to the road only to have more fifty-milers pass us. I used the rut in the road to mount Deli again as she trembled with excitement but stayed put for me to mount with a stern word.

At this point it became clear to me that we might not be walking quite as much as I had planned on this trail ride. Deli was very excited, and while I could rate her at the trot and FORCE her to walk by hanging on her mouth (I’m very glad she had a bit in her mouth, honestly, because her side pull would have hurt her), she was very dissatisfied by walking. And dissatisfied, I mean her brain stopped functioning when she wasn’t trotting. At one point, trying to hold her to a walk she started kicking out (her version of bucking in annoyance) and getting VERY wiggly. At this point we were around 1.5-2 miles into the 10 mile ride, and about to head into the hilly bit. In fact, from what I could see right after re-mounting, this is where the trail went UP and UP.

I decided that at this point letting her trot was the safer compromise, and that if she felt off or lame at all I would be getting off her and hand-walking the rest of the ride – remember I was worried about her soundness since we hadn’t done anything like this since her last collection of injuries. In fact, if I hadn’t been worried about HER, I probably would have been much happier to trot because my saddle was hurting me at this point and trotting is by far more comfortable.

So we trotted. And Deli felt great. I kept us at a fairly conservative pace, asking her to collect up when the footing was iffy, and letting her go a bit when the footing smoothed out. There were three main groups of fifty-mile riders that we kept leap-frogging with as their trail met with and split away from ours. Seeing other horses on the move ramped up Deli’s excitement level by several degrees every time, but I was still able to steer and tested to make sure I had an emergency halt twice.

At the first water trough we discovered that a gang of cows had taken up camp and they were not giving up their spots to my chickenshit mare (she has lived with cows before, but I think the mommas with their babies were being threatening enough that Deli didn’t want to test the waters). In the end we left that water tank without Deli drinking. She wouldn’t get close to it, with all my coaxing. She didn’t seem at all dehydrated at this point, though it was definitely warming up. She was VERY aware of where the trail continued and wanted to GOGOGO.

Before the "race" started when we were still in the flat lands.
 So we went.

While less than pleased that I couldn’t get her to walk calmly on a loose rein and forget all the excitement, I was happy that she didn’t seem to get herd bound. Just excited. And the only cure for that excitement was FORWARD. Forward always cures her anxiety, too, and looking back I have encouraged that (when she is spooky or anxious I always push her forward and it helps her brain come back to me).

At any rate, we pretty much trotted the remained of the ride, slowing for steeper downhill and technical bits. She did great on the technical bits, including one spot where the soil was loose and somewhat rocky – she just tucked her bum at my request and power forward. Literally chomping at the bit the whole way.

One of the most thrilling moments as a long straight wide stretch where I let her open up her trot and also asked for some dressage “lift” in the back. She dropped down into the contact, lifted her back while I did my hover-half seat-posting and power trotted the whole stretch. At this point I had turned on my GPS on my phone since I had good reception (without dropping it, amazingly – the simple work I’ve been doing to teach her to neck rein is helpful) and that trot clocked in at 13mph! The canter I asked her for a bit later was only 10mph.

She was still feeling good ¾ of the way through the ride, but I was starting to regret not sticking around at that first water trough to sponge her. She was very sweaty, and with most of her winter coat still present, very hot to the touch. I tipped her nose regularly so I could make sure she wasn’t breathing too hard (she did start breathing in time with her steps, which was kind of cool), and she wasn’t in distress in any way as far as her respiration was concerned. She also didn’t seem dehydrated based on the pinch test on her shoulder. At this point I decided to dump the remaining water from my water bottles on her shoulders, and spread it around on her flanks with the sponge I borrowed from Melinda after drinking half of the bottle myself. All at the trot!

(I undid her noseband so she could graze more easily in this shot)
We came into camp, finally, with Deli still raring to go. We pulsed in immediately just to see where she was at – and she was down despite being totally amped still. I then took her back to our camp to untack her and remove her Easyboots and DUMP water on her while she drank, and grabbed mouthfuls of grass and hay. Then, after my husband forced me to drink (I was definitely more dehydrated than my horse) I ran her over to the vet check. She got all As and superb gut sounds except for attitude (B) because she was an absolute BITCH for the capillary refill and decided flailing around was a good way to make friends. No, pony, it really isn’t. It’s something we really need to work on, still, because she’d gotten fine with it at home for me. Clearly I need to have more strangers poking her mouth on a regular basis. Her trot-outs are stellar, and other than having a hard-to-find heartbeat she is good for everything else to do with the vetting in.

So that was our ride. I opted not to take her out again because I didn’t want to push our luck – I was immensely satisfied with the fact she was able to trot a good 7+ miles without any negative consequences other than me being a worry-wart. As for my health only my arms were slightly sore the next day, which is to be expected as I don’t think I’ve ever had to hold her back so much in the history of our relationship.

So do I think this horse could do 25 milers? Yes. Given a healthy body and some needed tack and booting tweaking, I think she would have no issues eating up those miles.

I actually think energy-wise she had another 15 miles in her that day. But I am conservative. I am cautious. And I’m working with a horse with lots of ongoing and/or potential soundness and health issues. Her welfare comes first and it always will.

And of course the day after we got home from Grizzly Mountain her girth-skin issues flared up again BAD and I haven’t ridden her since. It’s healing, but I’m not sure what my next step is as I don’t know how I am going to afford more expensive treatments that (according to my vet) are unlikely to make a difference. It’s possible the Grizzly trail ride irritated her skin just enough, but I don’t think the irritation alone was the cause of the flare up (hint: I was riding her regularly when it was dry and warmer in late winter/early spring without issues). This is the frustrating tug-of-war my horse life plays with me – hope and excitement and planning quickly replaced by disappointment and limbo.

C'est la vie?


  1. What a rockstar she is! So glad you guys had a good ride. And sorry about the girth stuff -- what a pain -- but at least having a great partner who likes the job is a good foundation. :)

    1. It seems the girth stuff is... allergies. Insect, specifically, and it shows up most in that area and between her front legs & chest, because of the nerve damage and those areas get really really sweaty. Allergies are annoying but somewhat more manageable than her actually having serious skin issues.