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    [RC] Ride volunteer becomes a competitor - C. Eyler

    After crewing and volunteering at AERC rides and ECTRA CTR's for several
    years, this is what I learned riding in my own first distance competition --
    [Note:  The Doncaster Renegade had a 50 mile AERC ride on Saturday and two
    distances of ECTRA CTR on Sunday.]
    - Never scribe at an endurance ride on Saturday when you are entered in your
    first 25 mile CTR on Sunday, even though you always enjoy it so much.  It's
    *helpful* to be able to care for your horse after 8:00am Saturday and before
    your own pre-ride exam late that afternoon, especially when you haven't
    trained him to trot in hand from both sides and you thus plan to circle him
    on a line.  There is no way that his joyful antics (e.g. cantering and
    bucking), after finally being released from his small corral, are going to
    make him look anything but hang-dog at the post-ride exam.
    - Never put anything else you care about in the same pouch of your pommel
    pack as the ziplock baggie that contains your e-lyte dosing syringes.  It
    sure didn't do my emergency knife any good (was trying to balance the weight
    of the Rubbermaid squeeze bottle of e-lytes on the opposite side -- a small
    rock would have served the purpose).
    - Never accept and hold your slip from the timer in a gloved hand you've
    been using to sponge your horse at water troughs out on the trail.  Be very
    apologetic when you hand that disintegrating piece of paper back to the
    timer as you head out again.  (I actually knew this all too well -- it's
    sooo much fun trying to record the vet's assessment of a horse on a soggy
    vet card that's falling apart at the folds -- but I was so focused on what I
    needed to do for my horse that other parts of my brain were just not
    - Never have your beetpulp slurry anywhere that your horse can see or smell
    it while you're trying to cool him out in preparation for P&R.  We'd only
    done 12.5 miles at that point, and I'd fed mini-meals throughout the
    preceding night, but some horses are just very enthusiastic eaters.
    - Never forget to swap new, filled drink bottles for your mostly empty ones
    before you head out on the next loop, especially when you're in hot and
    humid southern Maryland.
    -  Never undo your girth and start rooting around under your saddle pad at a
    water stop to check your non-working HRM leads before first verifying that
    those leads are actually plugged into the transmitter in the little pouch
    hanging off your breastplate.
    - Never sign up for a beautiful flat-land 25 mile ride when your
    conditioning has included weekly 20 mile rides, at ECTRA competition speed,
    on terrain with many long steep hills.  By the time we were into the second
    loop, I was wishing we were entered in the 35-miler.
    - Never, never allow a horse with less than really good feet, and who can be
    stumbly at times, to trot through rocky, uneven patches of trail when you
    could easily walk those bits.  We did get a completion, but my poor judgment
    put that at risk.  There was no need for us to trot there -- I had become
    cocky because we'd been going so well.  We ended up losing lots of time, and
    getting time penalties, because I then had to let him walk a good deal. I'll
    never forget the sound of that rock hitting his sole.
    - Never be intimidated by the fact that your horse looks so different from
    nearly all the other animals in camp, and that a few people seem to assume
    that only particular breeds are attractive and their riders deserving of the
    pleasantries offered to other first-timers.  (My experience over the past
    few years, recording at a lot of AERC -- and a few ECTRA -- rides, is that
    the vets go out of their way to encourage and support riders of breeds not
    usually seen in distance riding.)  My fit, eager, one thousand pound, 15.1
    QH was sucking up water at every opportunity after the mid-point, and just
    churning out the miles until we hit that rock late in the ride.  And, he
    even entertained anyone else at the troughs out on trail by sticking his
    face into the water up to his eyeballs -- he's no dummy; he knows what feels
    The collision with the rock was sobering, but, all things considered, we had
    a blast.  Can't think of anything better than zipping through narrow,
    knee-knocker single-track (well-marked!) trail, interspersed with stretches
    ideal for an occasional canter, on a horse who's having fun and is
    responding to my cues.  Even though he lost his conditioning buddy at the
    mid-point (pulled), he never hesitated when I took him back out of camp
    again by himself for the second loop.  What a trooper!!
    (who's looking forward to our next competition in three weeks *if* Jack
    doesn't end up with a bruise that morphs into an abscess, and planning to
    use Easyboots in competition from now on)
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