A change in perspective

Giving up on a dream hurts, but there are times when discretion really is the better part of valor.

Three weeks ago was the Man Against Horse Endurance Race, a ride that ended up being a serious wakeup call for me. We were pulled by management 40 miles into the ride for being far overtime, and the last 10 miles included a very steep, hazardous decent down off the mountain. So for our own safety (and the convenience of everyone else), a trailer was sent to retrieve us.

It was a ride that solidified one thing in my mind: I will not ask Mimi to compete in Tevis. That pony is 110% heart and go, and I cannot bring myself to push her as hard as it would take to finish Tevis, because I know she would try it, to her own detriment.

The 50 miler at MAH is known for one thing – the 1800′, 3 mile climb up Mingus Mountain. What I didn’t realize is that this climb also entailed a very technical trail involving lots of tight switchbacks, rock climbing, and supreme efforts on the part of the horse to make the climb.

The ride started out well…at the starting line, at least. We headed out of the heels of the pack, but Beamer was a powder keg, ready to explode. He perfected a mincing, 3 mph trot going down the trail, more interested in going up than forward. And just about the time he’d get going, he’d spook. And we couldn’t put Mimi in front, because he would just die if he had to cover our flank, the boogie man might jump up and grab his haunches. *sigh* So the part that we should have been making decent time at, we were crawling.

And by the time he settled down, Dad was already worn out and couldn’t sustain a trot for more than a couple minutes. Meanwhile, pony hasn’t been a picnic for me, mostly because she was so pissed at being held back so sssssssllloooooowwwwwwllllyyyyy. So my shoulders and legs were feeling it, too. Again, time slipped away from us in an area that we should have been using to make time.

The front running 25ers caught up with us going up the Grapevine hill, about 10 miles into the ride. Unfortunately, this was one of my major complaints about the ride. Several of the 25ers were very rude and obnoxious in this section, trying to pass us. It is a very narrow, winding trail, and there’s not many places to pull off, and they were not very patient in allowing us to do that. Just because my horse doesn’t wear a red ribbon doesn’t mean you can run right up her tail end. One lady did just that, and I am so proud of Mimi for not kicking, when she was being crowded from behind with nowhere to go.

And then a group of half a dozen riders passed us very quickly when we pulled off, and really upset Beamer. If it hadn’t been for Mimi’s stability, and him backing into her, I’m not sure what would have happened, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. Does it really take that long to slow down to a slow trot or walk when passing in tricky terrain?

The vet check was without incident…Mimi flew through with all As, and the lowest pulse they had seen all day. Dropped to 48 within a minute of coming in. Clearly, we weren’t pushing them. Unfortunately, we paid for it, time-wise, in the end, but I can rest a bit easier knowing that I wasn’t pushing her too hard.

Up to the 16 miles check, the trail was the same as the 25 I had done here the 3 previous years, but it split right after the check. Mimi was quite excited about the new trail. Beamer slowed down even more. The new section was really pretty, and we started climbing even more. There was one phenomenally beautiful section, a single-track trail that ran alongside a small stream, with green grass all around and pine trees. Unfortunately, I was too busy actively riding to get pictures.

The pretty little single track soon ended, and turned into what ultimately would be about 10 miles of hardpack, rocky, doubletrack road. The views were amazing…the clouds had been coming in all day, and it was grey and overcast, and amazingly windy. I had to keep reaching back to fix Mimi’s rump rug (she wore it most of it day, it was so chilly) because it kept blowing off. And I have one with weighted corners. The oak trees were changing colors, so there were patches of vivid red and orange leaves that would show up on the side of a mountain.

At one ppoint, we could look out and see the red rocks of Sedona. And the storm clouds that were moving in. About 5 miles into this road, the skies opened up and we started getting rained on. Fortunately not pouring rain, but not a light drizzle, either. Between the road, and the rain, I felt like we had been out there forever without getting anywhere. That road just kept going, and it was hardpacked enough that it dissuaded us from going too fast on it. And it was rocky enough that we had to walk section of it. And Beamer was spooking. And we fell further behind in time.

Finally, we got to “The Climb,” as it is known. Fortunately, it was no longer actively raining, but the rain had left the trails wet, and a little bit slick. We were maybe a mile, a little less, into the climb, Mimi and I were leading, when I had what has been the closest I’ve ever come to having a really bad wreck on a horse. The trail was a sharp switchback leading into an uphill jump and short, steep climb. Mimi went around the switchback, but slipped a bit on the wet trail, and didn’t have the momentum to finish the climb. She tried to make the jump up, but she was thrown off balance from her slip, and started sliding backwards down the trail. Beamer was right behind us, and he couldn’t go anywhere. She stopped, and I had to bail, climb up, practically on hands and knees, up the trail, then clear out far enough for her to make the climb on her own.

We then spent a good ten minutes relearning how to breathe. Note: panic attacks at 7200′ elevation are not a good idea. It’s very, very tough to breathe. Beamer made it up fine, Dad jumped off as a precaution. I walked a little bit further, but I was still having major issues with trying to breathe (elevation and I aren’t really a good mix), so I eventually crawled back on the pony, who was still bright-eyed and looked none the worse for our near-disaster.

It was at this point that Dad and I were about done. We couldn’t make up any time, we had no idea how tough the trail was going to be, we felt like we were woefully underprepared for the difficulty of the ride, and we didn’t want to put the ponies through any more. Unfortunately, the only way to go was up, to the vet check. So we did, at a very abbreviated pace, enjoying the scenery, letting the ponies take their time to negotiate the tricky stuff. We thought we were through the worst of it…NOT! There were parts that involved jumping over and between rocks, on a narrow, singletrack trail. I was so emotionally and physically wrung out by the time I reached the vet check that I just wanted to collapse. We figured we’d never make it back in time, but the volunteers convinced us to at least vet the horses through…again, something like a 48 on pulse and A on everything except a B on gut sounds said that Mimi was still feeling good, even though her rider was trashed.

We were eventually convinced to keep going, at least to the next vet stop, which was easier to reach with a trailer . So we did. Mimi about leapt out onto the trail…I pointed and clicked to her , hoping for a nice walk…I got Power Trot. So she was still feeling great. Beamer was more sluggish, but he was keeping up fairly respectably.

We got down the the next checkpoint…some really pretty single-track trails through the forest…where they told us that management was sending a trailer, because we wouldn’t make it back in time. I was crushed. I had already quit in my head once, and then been talked out of it, convinced I could finish, and nwo to be told that I didn’t have the option to even try? Majorly disappointing. Looking back, I know we never would have finished in time, or anywhere close, but at the time, it really pissed me off. So we kept going down the road (more doubletrack, hardpack dirt road…ugh) where we’d eventually meet up with the trailer.

We got back to camp just fine, the chauffered method. Both ponies were starving when we got back. We were wiped out, and we missed dinner. :( At least I had leftover pasta from Friday night to reheat. And then I crashed. I was a bad mommy and didn’t do anything to Mimi’s legs other than splash some Sore-No-More on them. The next morning, she was quite stocked up, but perfectly sound, and very bright-eyed and more than willing to boogie around camp, goign from water trough to water trough.

Beamer went lame overnight. :(

I heard, and Dad told me he heard the same thing, a loud banging on Beamer’s side of the trailer, so I wonder if he laid down and then whacked his leg when he got up. It was sore and puffy right above his fetlock, but it didn’t seem to be a soft tissue thing. He seems to be fine now, but was sore for about a week. Mimi’s windpuffs finally went down, almost 3 weeks later.

The weekend after the ride, I escaped to San Diego for a vacation and some well-needed thinking time. There’s something about the beach that gives me a lot of perspective, and going out there was a great motivator for getting through school, because that’s ultimately where I want to move to is San Diego. One of my best friends lives out there, and I essentially have a job out there, as soon as I finish school.

I’ve coem to the conclusion that I need to step back from distance riding, and I most definitely will not be doing Tevis on Mimi. She showed me she will do anything I ask her to, regardless of the wear and tear on herself. I have to be the better person and say, “No, enough is enough.” I’d rather have her around for the next ten years, doing smaller rides, than break her over one big ride.

So I am most definitely NOT quitting, but I am stepping back, back down to LDs. It won’t take up quite as much of my time as conditioning for 50s does, it’s a little bit cheaper, and they’re easier on Mimi. I don’t ride 25s fast, I do them just to finish, a nice 6mph pace, typically. So in that sense, it won’t be as much wear and tear on her as doing 50 miles. And it’s less mental stress on me, because I constantly worry about her during 50s, whereas I know she can easily do 25s.

Doing this will allow me to really focus on school right now, which needs to be my first priority. The faster I get through school and start working, the faster I can afford a second endurance horse, one that will be my 50-miler, 100-miler, and Tevis horse.

Temporarily giving up Tevis hurts, but permanently giving up my pony would hurt a lot worse. I’ve anguished over this a lot in the past several weeks, but I’m clear-eyed now as I write this. I know I’ve made the right decision.

A couple good things did come out of the ride: I got my Renegades custom fit by Kirt Lander. He poured an Equithane insert into the sides of the boots, custom fitting them to Mimi’s hooves. They did fantastic through the whole ride, no rubs, no straps coming undone, no problems!!! And our slip on the mountain would have been a lot worse without the boots! And second, I got the world’s wildest, most obnoxious day-glo yellow-lime green ride shirt. I love it. :)

We live and we learn. You don’t know you can’t do something until you try it. This ride told me a lot of what I needed to know, without the expense and risk of Tevis, and I can rest easy with my decision.

That’s probably it for me for 2008…I’ll be out of town at the time of the McDowell Mountain ride, and I’ll still be in school during the Sonoita ride, and I’ve already missed enough days this semester. So I’ll see everyone in 2009, most likely at Land of the Sun. Until then, I’ll still keep riding and training, exploring new trails, and embracing my fuzzy psychologist/psychiatrist!

3 thoughts on “A change in perspective

  1. Hi Ashley- I’m sorry your ride and your dad’s ride ended the way it did, and for your fall. Glad nobody was hurt, though I know how scary that can be. Don’t feel bad about not wanting to do Tevis on Mimi. I still haven’t attempted it on Chief, and heck — his name is “Granite Chief” — but, I just don’t think that mentally I want to do that to him (I’ve completed it twice). You do have to push really hard in the first 1/3 of that ride and if he is stuck in a group of horses he wouldn’t be paying enough attention to me. Guess I’ll just keep being a volunteer!

  2. Whew! Finally caught up on all the posts!Don’t despair…I understand how you’re feeling. I keep thinking I’m having to give up on my dream of ever getting to do endurance, and every time I think it’s over, something happens to prove me otherwise. You should be proud you’re doing the right thing for Mimi. She’s lucky to have such a good ponyMom.Great blog! Your stories are riveting and your determination inspiring. Keep on truckin’.Elly

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