Distance by the Numbers

So I started playing with some numbers today (yes, I was bored) while waiting for my best friend to get out of class.

I’ve been doing distance riding now for 6 years since 2001. In that time, I’ve competed on 3 different horses – 1 I have owned, 2 have been borrowed. I’ve only ever finished rides on the horse I’ve owned.

I personally have an 80% completion rate. I’ve competed in a total of 25 rides, with pulls in 5 of them:

5/5 Limited Distance rides
0/1 Endurance rides
15/19 NATRC rides

Conclusion? I’m a neurotic wimp, as 4 of the 5 pulls have been rider-optioned. The 1 pull that was not my choice was my first NATRC ride, when the horse I was riding (borrowed), did not pulse down in time. Pulled 2 miles from the finish. What an intro to distance riding.

3 of the pulls have been because I chose to save my horse, all on Mimi. Could she have continued on? Maybe. I chose not to risk it, though – 2 of those pulls were at the end of the first day of 2 day NATRC rides. One time I didn’t like how she looked, movement-wise at checkout. There had been a lot of grassy hills that day, and she was slipping a lot on her half-round shoes (this is prior to me going barefoot and booted). The second time, she acted like she was colicky, and had spent the entire ride ADR (Ain’t Doin’ Right).

Third time was less than 7 miles into a ride (NATRC) and there had been a lot of deep sandwash, and I didn’t have a chance to adequately warm her up for the cold, rainy conditions, and I felt she was trying to tie up a the vet check, so I pulled. I hate to admit this, but I was almost glad for the pull – it was cold and windy, with freezing cold rain, and I didn’t have waterproof rain gear. And I’m supposed to be an endurance rider?

Finally, my endurance pull was a true rider option – I hate to say I wimped out, but the fact is, I did. Yeah, my ankle was hurt, and yeah, I literally couldn’t support my own weight in the saddle, but I should have duct taped it, swallowed half a bottle of Motrin, and kept going! Okay, so I probably sound extremely off the deep end there, but that had to have been one of the most disappointing moments in my life, knowing that the horse was fine, but I wasn’t. Made me feel really bad because it wasn’t even my horse, but an experienced endurance horse offered to me by a friend so I could get some endurance experience. I still feel awful about that, and 1) have a score to settle with that trail and 2) still have to try and make it up to Cindy. :) So far, I’m failing miserably as an endurance rider, I haven’t even been able to complete one 50!

I’m not quite sure what these numbers say about me, other than I’m conscientious to the point of being neurotic and quite possibly overprotective, and that I haven’t yet learned the fine art of endurance “toughing it out”, even when you’re about to fall off the horse from being broken…

Now onto Mimi, who, I have to admit, makes me look the “the weakest link” in our little game show…

Mimi has an 87% completion rate. She’s competed in 23 rides, with pulls in 3 of them:

5/5 Limited Distance rides
0/0 Endurance rides (we haven’t yet managed to get to one…my own little comedy of errors story)
15/18 NATRC rides

Her pulls have all been initiated by me – she wanted to keep going. She’s had pulls for pretty much all of the reasons – lameness, colic, and metabolic. Hind-end muscle soreness, mild colic, and a mild tie up. None of them enough to keep her off for more than a week. We’ve had to miss rides because of some interesting reasons…bad shoeing, getting into a fight with the fence gate – and losing, saddle issues, bites on the back from (former) pasturemates…but those were all in advance.

Ironically enough, her pulls have all been in NATRC rides, most at a level that I consider to be “easier” than LD rides. Her first 2 pulls were at the Novice level -a slower pace, and at the end of the first day of 2 day rides. And you wonder why I thought she couldn’t do higher level NATRC, let alone endurance?

I’ve since come to the conclusion that I can pin exactly what caused each pull, which takes a lot of weight off my mind (but not off my shoulders, since I’m to blame).

1) Chino Hills NATRC – hind-end lameness. This ride had a lot of big hills and climbing. Many of the climbs were on some slippery grass. She was shod, at the time, in half round shoes on her fronts, regular old flat shoes on the back. The half rounds gave her no traction, so she was compensating by using her hind end to balance herself a lot more than she was used to having to do. We also missed one of the turns, due to markers being tampered with, and went about 2 miles out of the way, which tacked on an extra 4 miles to the ride. Our mistake? Trying to make up for all of our lost time right away. There were a lot of hills, and we were trotting and cantering jup a lot of them.

The “Hindsight is 20/20” Lesson Learned: Use Easyboots on slippery terrain (not a problem now, since that’s all I use!). Don’t try to make up your lost time right away. Spread it out over the ride, and take a chance at getting time penalties, rather than pushing your horse. When a ride is called Chino HILLS, the Hills in the name is probably there for a reason. Try to train in what you plan to compete in.

2) River Romp NATRC – mild colic. I’m not going to get into the long story of this ride, which culminated in a veterinarian error and me almost having a dead horse. This happened almost 4 years ago, and I still shudder at the memory of it. Short story: It’s almost a 12 hour drive out to Santa Ynez for us, so we go out a day ahead of time and stay at a ranch that’s nearby basecamp. At that point, Mimi just wasn’t quite “right” – ignoring her food, essentially, and looking kind of droopy. That alone should have been enough, but I was focused on the thought of “we just drove for 12 hours to do this ride, I’m going to do it.”

She was ADR for the whole ride…nothing I could pinpoint, but something was off. It was really humid and foggy most of hte ride, and she was sweating, a lot, and not drinking normally. The ride was also timed super-fast, much faster than what we were used to. By the time we got to the two mile point, we were behind on time, and cantered them the last mile in. We made time, with no penalties. See lesson from above, and the “take the time penalties.” Clearly I’m a slow learner. When we got back to the trailer, she decided to make up for her lack of drinking by nearly draining an entire 8 (I think?) gallon muck bucket that was her water bucket. Didn’t think much of it at the time. She checked out great at the vet out. Got back to the trailer, and started acting a little uncomfortable, pawing and looking like she wanted to roll.
Mind you, I’m super-paranoid at this point, because we were camping with friends of ours who had to deal with a colic earlier at one of the spring rides.

Scrable for one of the vets, who says she has “diminished gut sounds”, and he can give her some Banamine and make her more comfortable. Mind you, she’s a wimp when it comes to discomfort. I mean, get her Comfort Pads in her EasyBares out of alignment, and we’re talking heart rate spike! Never mind that she probably just drank too much and is uncomfortable from that, but acting like she’s dying (note: this joke will not seem funny in a moment). So I okay the vet to give her Banamine…long and short of it, he injects her in the wrong place. Instead of taking the time to put the needle in her neck first, then attach the syringe, he just stick it in, misses the vein, and gets her artery. Needless to say, Banamine+Horse Brains=Bad, and the idiot could have killed Mimi is I hadn’t yelled at him to stop what he was doing. Fortunately, he only got about half the syringe in before Mimi started staggering around and trying to fall over. I had no idea how my father, who is only about 160lbs himself, held her up, but he did, which probably saved her life. All I know is, I was screaming, quite hysterically, at this vet, and it took two of my friends I was camping with the hold me back from beating the living shit out of that guy. <:\ <- my best effort at a raised eyebrow "Hindsight Lesson": Take the timing penalties versus pushing the horse at the end. When your horse "Ain't Doin' Right", don’t ride. I should have left her at the trailer, let Dad ride, and spent the day at the P&Rs. There’s always another ride, unless you don’t have a horse to ride. Don’t let strange vets you don’t know and aren’t familiar with do IV injections. Insist on intra-muscular. Unless it’s a life or death thing (which this almost was…ah, me and my sardonic, dark humor) you have time to wait for an IM injection to kick in. I’ve unfortunately been left with a distrust of anyone with needles after this experience, and the only person that can do anything IV with my horse now is our personal vet. I’ve since learned they make Banamine paste. I also never intended to go into this story. I’ve tried to push it to the back, dark little recesses of my mind. Clearly, it wanted out. Fortunately for all involved, I don’t know the name of that vet, which is probably just as well. Mistakes happen, but when they are made at the expense of me or my horse, I tend to be rather unforgiving. I don’t even want to go into a checklist of how many things were done wrong at that instance.

3) Desert Forest NATRC – tie up. My fault, 100%. I take full responsibility for this screw-up, and again, feel really bad that my mistake could have hurt my horse. This ride had the weirdest weather…threatening to rain all Friday afternoon, then cleared up by evening, still clear early Saturday morning, but right about the time it started to get light out, it started raining. Not downpouring, but a persistent, freezing cold rain that saturated everything. Gotta love the fine art of tacking up under a horse blanket.
My mistake here was that I was waiting for Dad to finish getting ready, when I should have been on my horse, at least walking her around on my side of the trailer. I hesitated to do so because I knew it would probably get Dad’s mare Kelly worked up. The problem was by the time we were mounted, we had about 2 minutes until our out time, so not much time to warm up.
I also wrapped her rump rug up at this point because I didn’t want her to get too heated up. Ah, cold weather riding naivete… We start out, and Kelly is fired up because of the cold weather, so she’s walking fast. Mind you, she’s a gaited horse, so she knows how to do this when she’s motivated. Mimi has to scramble to keep up. There’s maybe a 1/4 mile of smooth road, then the trail picks up with a lot of up and down, steep climbs before you drop down into a deep sand wash.
In an effort to not have this story be a long-winded repeat of the above, let me just say, we had a long trot into the P&R in deep sand wash on a horse not properly warmed up. What’s this a recipe for? If you guessed tie up, you’d be 100% right. My first tie-up, oh goody.
Mimi didn’t even truly tie up – I pulled before that could happen. She just didn’t come down to her typical, low pulse of about 10 (40bpm) at the first check, she was hanging around 18 (72 bpm), so I knew something was wrong. She peed at the check, and it was a bit darker than usual, so I pulled her.
The vet was another one of questionable competence, at least in this case…he didn’t even have a stethescope with him, he had to get someone to hunt one down for him. *eye roll* So needless to say, my gut instinct was telling me something other than what the vet was saying, so I opted to pull. And my inner wimp was happy to get out of that cold rain, and cold, soaking wet clothing. I heard some of the riders got snowed on later in the day. “Hingsight Lesson”: WARMUP WARMUP WARMUP. No matter what, you always have time to giveyour horse a proper warmup. You can stand to go out a few minutes late. Rump rugs on in cold, rainy weather. Get waterproof rain gear (I have a beautiful Goretex packable jacket and pants now, gotta love Cabelas). No matter how many layers you have on, they will all get wet without this remarkable invention called Goretex. My pony stayed dry, cause she’s had a nice Goretex blanket for the last 2 years. Teach your horses to back out of trailers. We had a hell of a time with Kelly, because she didn’t want to get out of the trailer back at camp. Dad’s always pulled when I’ve pulled…I tried to force him to keep going, but Kelly said “no way.” I think she wanted out of the rain. :)

So what have I accomplished with this incredibly long (and long winded!) post, other than managing to depress myself?
– For being at this for 6 years, I have been to surprisingly few rides. I know people that do 25 rides in one year!
– I coddle my horse. She’s a tough little bugger and I need to start loosening the kid gloves. She’s done better with the faster speeds of LD endurance than poking along at Novice NATRC.
– NATRC is a good place to start, both horse and rider. It gives you the experience in a more controlled environment, so you learn to pick up on the subtle signs of oncoming problems, such as a tie up, in a setting that won’t have you pushing your horse quite as hard as endurance requires.
– You always keep learning. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been to a ride, or ridden the same trail, something is always different. For example, I’ve done the First of Spring NATRC ride for the last 5 years. 4 of those years have been at the Warner Springs location, on the same trail every year. Yet something always changes. This year was the first time Mimi has ever “lead the pack” at a ride, and I found out she’s a lot more spooky when she has to clear out all the animals from the underbrush.
– I’m a crazy distance rider! Even with having some speed bumps along the way, I’m still hopelessly addicted to this sport. What am I doing right now? Planning out my ride schedule through July 2008. (In case anyone’s curious, the culminating ride on my schedule, July 2008, is TEVIS! [Yeah, Tevis after I just spent the majority of my entry talking about how me and my horse have messed up at rides.])
– Don’t keep making the same mistakes. I appear to be a slow learner in this regard, as far as timing goes…I’ve gotten better at it, though. This year’s Desert Forest NATRC was a good example…I was behind on timing both days from technical difficulties with Easyboots, but I did manage to make up time, without pushing the horses too hard or too fast. I’ve also learned the joy of “claiming time” in NATRC…trust me, every minute does count when you’re held up at an obstacle or vet check.
– Half the challenge is just getting to the ride. Julie Suhr says Tevis is 1/3 rider, 1/3 horse, and 1/3 luck – I propose that this can be extended to all of distance riding, not just Tevis! I swear, half my battle is just reaching ridecamp. If not for my compedy of errors, I would have another 5 (I think?) rides added to my list. No promises of having completed them, but there would be more on there…at this rate, I’ll have a family before I have my first mileage milestone. (Actually, not true, because at Desert Forest, Mimi earned her 250 mile patch for NATRC…well, technically we both did, but she did the majority of the work!)

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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