Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gold Rush Shuffle 2014: Dr Jekyll and Mr. Horsey

If I have learned anything in the 12 years since I first rode in an AERC event it is this: pack everything, be prepared for everything, and most crucially, leave a corner of your coping brain available to engage when your plan goes completely sideways. Because it will. Inevitably, perhaps gloriously, and definitely whether you want it to or not.

The backstory and plan?

Attending a 3 day multiday ride a mere hour from my house. Scrappy and I were signed up for back to back 50 milers, looking to test our fitness with our first 100 miler on the docket for February. We'd had a frisky but still sensible completion at the Nevada Derby 50 in April, which told me I needed to play with saddle fit and get Scrappy working on the bit, a  bit, any bit, since he Hi-Ho Silvere'ed  through the hackamore I'd been riding him in since purchase. We spent May-November riding LSD miles and working in the round pen, and it was showing to the point where a friend riding him remarked on his change in attitude and body, admiring his recognition of half halts and proper carriage where previously he jutted his jaw and motored on his way how he liked. I felt like we had our shit together physically and mentally, I had back ups for my back up gear, copious rain gear for both of us for the storm predicated to roll in Friday night, a dry bed promised me in a friend's horse trailer negating need for my tent--surely nothing could go too wrong? (somewhere, endurance elves are snickering..)

I even cleaned up my pinto poopaloosa a little before we left for camp
wide open spaces...scenic but not ideal as we discover..
Ride camp was literally an hour away and a place that I've trained at fairly often if not actually attended rides at, so it didn't take long to find the spot buddy J had saved us and settle in.

ET phone home from on high
Scrappy and J's new gelding Shiner settled in nicely
 cozy bunk in back of J's trailer
 J bedazzling her pony, as one does! 
I'm sad over the lack of photo evidence of our vet in trot out, as the trot out has been one of our projects over the summer. When I bought Scrappy in summer of 2013 he had already done a few rides including a 100 miler, and was entirely unimpressed and mostly unwilling to Trot Out as needed for vet checks, resulting in me dragging him like a dead thing at our first ride together. Mortifying and unacceptable, so we practice and at our last 50 we managed 2/4 decent trot outs. We've practiced literally every time I've handled him all summer and his barefoot trot out on this Friday afternoon was the bees knees, though I didn't exactly see it, I could hear and feel it, and I heard others say he floated.Why spend a paragraph on a 20 second occurrence? Because small victories matter, especially when the larger picture didn't get painted exactly as the human artist intended.  

nomming a thanksgiving potluck hanging out with friends around the fire in ride
 camp was a great way to spend the holiday!
Friday morning tack up was uneventful, Scrappy moved around a little but was pretty cool. I was concerned about getting J sent out in my spare Renegades as she was having boot issues, but otherwise all seemed well.
Dr. Jekyll chilling in his office
 J and I headed for the starting area a little late and Scrappy stood politely at a kindly stranger's offered mounting block and off we walked, with impulsion but still operating in Dr. Jekyll mode. Despite being a bit late there were a couple of horses visible heading out into the flat open spaces and a couple more getting on trail behind us. If you hear increasingly loud whispers of trouble!  in your head when you read that last sentence, you probably know where this story is headed and may well have been there/done that yourself.

I do believe that he continued his bold polite walk for all 3 steps after crossing the official start line. Bold walk became shuffling trot which turned into excited surge, stepballchange, canter in place, stepballchange, undetermined gait sideways, then everyone's favorite Jot (jig trot!)--wait hey, there's a buck! No rearing to be had since we had lateral control and I was already serpentine-ing and half halting, to no avail.  I can really speed up this ride story right now if I tell you that Scrappy and I did some version of that, plus circling and hand walking (and a lot of swearing) for the next 27 miles straight. If you're surprised there's still a few decent trail photos (or that I managed to eat or drink anything), let me assure you that only my years as a multitasking-to-survive trail guide allowed me to. The Dr. was out, Mr. Hyde was in residence,  and the little human on board was effectually relegated to nonessential annoying accouterment.

Aurora: "hole! bog! ditch! We're gonna die!!
photo credit Baylor/Gore

Aurora: sonofabitchinhors--oh SMILE
photo credit Baylor/Gore
besides being a jackass about it, Scrappy was moving great and did all the 
important EDPP stuff just wonderfully, I was feeling great and non-nauseous myself. Eventually we'll put that all together into a Finish!
a little pre-storm sneak peek weather way out on first loop

The loop was every inch of 27 miles as promised and I was feeling it by the time we were climbing back up into camp (just one short steep hill, more of those would have been useful!). Scrappy hadn't flagged even a little bit and somewhere deep down a small part of me was impressed at his fitness. But mostly just extra, super, extraordinarily irritated. No one likes their horse checking out on them for even 1 mile let alone an entire LD distance, and I was concerned about how quickly he was moving as he rarely exhibits a power trot at home, let alone for MILES. We do train at the canter so I threw some of that in to try to switch up/save his muscles, as well as hand walking when able. I had a new problem of somehow jamming my right big toe so painfully riding the Scrappy rocket that I wasn't all that able to walk very far at a time, actually, which was a lovely bonus. In the saddle I was focusing on switching diagonals and not curling into a defensive ball as he roared along (yes, he was THAT strong, I know my friends who ride with sleepy Scrappy at home are like whaaaa, really?).

once you leave on one long loop, you don't get to run back to the 
trailer for gloves, real bit, etc. so...OWW
Despite his frisky fresh performance and nearly dragging me into camp, Scrappy pulsed in immediately in the 40s and after drinking and a few hay bites we vetted in with the same vet as the day before. I cued him up for our trot out expecting something at the very least decent, after all I'd just about died riding his rather impressive power trot for nearly 30 miles and his vet in trot had been lovely--but what I got was the sound of Scrappy apparently falling over himself (I was being good and not looking at him but I sure heard it!), recovering, and then trotting out NQR. Not lame, but NQR, something about the left front or hind maybe, the vet thought. I felt his rump under the cooler and immediately felt how knotted tight his power trotting muscles were. It was subtle enough in gait that the vet said continuing was up to me and to come back at the end of the hold if I wanted a peace of mind recheck, but I knew right then and there that I was going to Rider Option pull us. In the same instant I knew that it would be a bad training decision, as Scrappy was essentially a raging shite for an LD and then would get to quit, but my gut told me that physically the risk wasn't worth it. With his complete lack of brain, my terrorized hands and foot, 28 miles of the same flat open terrain to go and a week long rain storm rolling in that night, I felt no need or desire to push a NQR to something else in search of a training win. Feeling the knots in his hindquarter muscles, shaking my head, I handed in my vet card that read all 40s pulses and all As, untacked, and that was that.

Dr. Jekyll was back & open for sympathy visiting hours as I massaged his hindquarters & hung out with other riders who's days had gone sideways
Cute, contrite, quiet, not a whisper of the terror he had been. Oh Scrappy.

So what went "wrong" you ask? Let's recap:

1.Scrappy now has around 400 AERC miles (made up of LDs,50s, and 1 100) with a variety of riders (3 different people competed on him previous to my purchase) and has gotten some sort of (inconsistent) notion about what this "trot for a while, get checked, do some more" thing is all about

2. Scrappy is on his 3rd year of a few rides and lots of LSD miles, so he's pretty darn fit despite his sleepy cow eyed exterior

3. Aurora needs to stop thinking that because Scrappy is quiet for conditioning and used to be quiet on the first few e-rides we did, he'll be that way again. That is, I DID attempt to do my homework over summer, working on control, proper body and bit carriage, **but all that jazz done by yourself or with one friend just doesn't translate to the herd on trail scenario.**

4.Snaffle bits are for home training (for now) and merrily starting the ride in any sort of group, or even with a partner, is a bad idea (for now). Scrappy had a combination of buddy sour and camp sour going on mentally it seemed. Even when trotting with J and Shiner he bugled back to

5.*everybody now!*  Aurora needs to wear gloves!

Ready to go home haul home Friday pm
I think we are both ambivalent on feelings for each other in this pic, I just fake it better..

 So there you have it. Best laid plans gone awry and a totally different outcome than what we'd trained and planned all summer for, but lessons learned and horse and human returned home in overall good health which, in this crazy game of life and endurance, is something to give thanks for indeed.

Regroup, retry! See you on the AERC trails in 2015.


  1. Oh, honey, I have soooo BTDT, threw the damn tee shirt away.

    Gloves. More practice in large groups, preferably large insane groups, which can be hard to find. Gloves, gloves, gloves.

    Or at least, Band-Aids in you packs.

    You'll get there, I have no doubt!

  2. I know how absolutely frustrating that must have been. You had a very positive tone in your post, and I very much admire you for that. All your hard work WILL pay off in the future, and your setbacks along the way will make it all the sweeter. Thank you for sharing your stories: good, bad or otherwise. I live vicariously through you (and others) as the snow starts to fall and school rumbles on here for me in WA. Lastly, take care of those hands! I have done it though---blisters on nearly every finger, no gloves and only that white athletic tape for band aids.

    1. Thank you for reading, so glad you enjoy. If nothing else I always try to be prepared, do my best, and be honest about every screw up, haha! :) I had taken that effin white athletic tape you mention out of my pack for something Thursday night and it didn't make it back in, poor me. I put it on immediately back in camp and certainly could have continued it was only a question of my torn up hands, but there were too many other factors at play.

      Gloves, oh yes, they are on order! :)

  3. Damn. Glad he's in such great shape, but sorry he was an ass for 27 miles. And your poor hands! Your RO sounds like the best plan, but still sucks. I get ya on the can't train for "herd on trail," mentality, you sometimes just survive the ride and regroup. Great story anyway, thanks for telling all the highs and lows...

  4. LOL - I seem to find something new to say everytime I read a version of the I've already covered the whole start at the back thing, and "Oh yeah Farley was a shit after 200 AERC miles too" but here's my "ah ha" moment for this read through......I TOTALLY HAVE A BIT I DON"T USE ANYWHERE BUT THE START OF RIDES. It's that myler kimberwick with a chain and since it's a solid mouth when I pull back, that curb chain actually does something. I seem to remember my life becoming much more manageable once I found that bit. LOL.

    You WILL get there. You'll find your way. The slow at home and raging beast at the ride is always a challenge (having one of those monsters myself) and the hacks that you use will undoubtably be unqiue from what I found, but I have total confidence in you that you an him will figure it out (and in the meantime, I am completely LOL'ing at your sense of humor about not having a sense of humor during the *actual* event).

    1. I second all of this!!

      While I've ordered an S-hack for Q finally, I'm hesitant as to whether I'll be able to use it for the first loop of rides. She pays mind to the kimberwicke without me having to haul on her face to make her realize she should, and in fact MUST, slow down. The ride when I didn't start with the Kimberwicke this year resulted in poor me being SO SORE through my biceps/triceps/traps/shoulders post ride. SO SORE. The personality swing of endurance horses from home to rides is the most intriguing of things, FOR SURE.

      I also laughed at your sense of humor throughout. Humor through times like this definitely makes them more bearable methinks. =)

      Cheers to learning something and marching onward down the path of Figuring It Out.

  5. Thank you for your honesty :)
    And well done on staying positive - it can be so hard when you are feeling low after having one of those days!

  6. I got up and read this at midnight and then lay there in bed forever pondering it (and keeping my husband up talking about it). It sucks, it's perhaps the only bad thing about endurance - the fact that you cannot simulate the start of a ride while training, so as perfectly prepared as you can be, it's not enough. I mean, if we did horse shows, say dressage, that environment can be pretty stressful, but there's a simple solution - go to the show and don't compete.

    I like what Mel said. Curb chain! Those who say relying on a stronger bit reflects a training failure probably haven't been at the start of a 50 on a horse with two personalities.

    It crossed my mind recently as a possible solution for a freaky horse - volunteer to ride drag. It wouldn't work for many, but it might help for some. Then one day ride turtle and see if the horse notices the difference. Well, Scrappy would: )

    Curious, how did you get that photo of your hands, with no hands?

    1. "Those who say relying on a stronger bit reflects a training failure probably haven't been at the start of a 50 on a horse with two personalities." Amen to that!

      The hand photo was taken "post war" by my husband that evening ;)

  7. Oh my gosh I couldn't have read this at a better time. I just did my very first LD about 2 months ago on my 4 year old Mare. I was ready!!! until the start happened... I really considered quitting and saying forget the entire thing! I trained my horse in just a halter and we have just moved to a Dr Cook, that morning it got tangled and I said "forget it we are going in a halter".... I had no idea what the start would hold... I got left behind and she did things I had never seen her do before. Never ever ever has she reared or bucked with me. That morning she did, and was an insane maniac for the first half. we finished and it was so awesome, when it was over. There is another LD this weekend and I want to do it so bad but I have so much anxiety over the start. My friend saw your blog and sent it to me...So many people since then have told me that is "normal".... Geeze normal can be so stressful.. lol I just got a bit to try on her for the first time ever this week. I know this will be a learning process and for now I will take the suicide run in the Dr Cook this weekend... Pray for me...pray real deep! lol

    1. don't feel bad, I've even been there done this before and didn't learn my lesson! Started a ride on my little teenage LD gelding a few years back in a hackamore and barely managed to cram the bit in his mouth as he whirled around me. At least I had an alternative that time...this time being out with no gloves or alternative bit for the 27 mile loop was pretty brutal! It's definitely a common occurrence for horses to be fired up at their first rides, but what I forgot or hadn't had a long standing enough endurance horse to see was when they've done a few hundred miles+ and start to know the game just enough to be trouble, like SCrappy was. Anyway I feel your pain and I hope that you have a safe and okay weekend! Maybe don't even untie your horse from the trailer until everyone else has left, then handwalk out of camp if she's still peppy? I know that leaving for the start even late and with only 2 or 3 horses around was enough to blow Scrappy's mind and this wasn't his 2nd ride by any means..good luck, wear gloves! :)