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Gunlock/Dammeron Valley 60 - Ride Story (LONG)

Realizing that the LD vs. endurance arguments are quite interesting I thought I'd throw in a ride story and include my contribution to the LD argument, 2 for 1 so to speak!

My horse, Bak, and I headed down to do the 60 at Gunlock (St. George area of Utah).  My sister and her horse Steppin Softly (aka Lady) were going to do the 25 since Lady has been having a little arthritis in her hock.  They decided to do the 25 just to if Lady's hock was going to make and also brought down a friend who wanted to try endurance to ride a 25 on our other mare Valenya.  Since you all heard about my experience at Outlaw trail without my sister's horse for my horse to buddy up with I was kind of curious as to how Bak was going to feel about leaving his buddies at the trailer and possibly seeing them along the way.  

At the ride meeting the vet, Dr. Dave Nicholson (the Duck) proceeded to tell us that endurance rides in the "old" days were 100s and that's all there was, this discussion was instigated by some 25 milers that were riding their first 25 and wanted to know how FAST they should go.  Dr. Nicholson politely told them they had 6 hours and they should take their time and that it was not a race.  Apparently the riders weren't listening and asked again how FAST they should go, and shouldn't they try to go faster than 6 hours even though they had 6 hrs to complete?  Man o' man, I slightly pleaded under my breath that these riders get a clue!  

There was also some talk about how if you kill your horse it was your fault and not the vets, that if you wanted to hide stuff or push too hard it was your doing.  Now this is the second time I've heard the "if you kill your horse speech" this year and I have to admit the first time I was a bit put off but upon further thought I think it was to add some fear and responsibility on the rider.  These "how fast should we go" 25 mile riders are the exact riders that  the vets are trying to save from themselves.  These riders wouldn't give it a rest though and we ended up with if you push your horses too hard at these shorter distances that a backhoe would be brought in to take care of the remains!  

So on that somber note we all proceeded to vet in.  My poor sister felt that she had to justify the fact that her horse is a 50 miler horse that is having some arthritis and she was doing a 25 to see if the cortizone injection was working.  My first time rider friend was wondering what on earth she'd signed up for and we assured her that no backhoe would be needed for her or the horse she was riding.  ;)  My sister has been riding since she was a junior (over 10 years ago, not as long as some but long enough to have learned a little) and would SAFELY take them through the 25 at a reasonable pace.  

This ride also had a 100 miler and the 60s and 100s were starting together at 6:15 am, what a awful time.  Why is it that the further distances have to leave so much earlier, it doesn't seem quite fair.  Whine!  Bak and I have never ridden in the dark, except for coming off the trail as the sun was going down a time or two, so this should be interesting.

Bak was really perky that morning and although I did follow one of my new rules (wear sports bra with no zippers!) I broke another one by changing his french link snaffle to a uxterer kimberwick bit for the ride.  (ps thanks Jasmine for all the bit info)  I did try the bit on the night before and Bak managed to eat and drink with it on so I figured he was okay with it.  The ride started with headlights and a controlled start.  I found out pretty early that if I pulled on the reins too much Bak felt rather explosive (read as ready to bolt or buck), too much pressure with the curb, so within the first mile and half I figured I'd better lighten my hands a TON or I'd be on the ground.  The head tossing seemed to subside though, more of a leftover habit than anything else, so now I don't have people commenting on how much and how often he can toss his head, oh yea isn't it neat!  Those comments were getting so tiresome, well and rather embarrassing!
The controlled start was on a hard packed road and we had a half moon out, the sky was clear and the stars were bright, it was truely beautiful -almost reverent.  I was talking with a gal named Dee and neither of us had ever ridden in the dark before and we both agreed it wasn't near as bad as we had imagined it.  Now Dee had riden this trail as she lived near by and so she knew it pretty well.  Dee and I found ourselves in the lead, both our horses were trotting out really well and feeling good.  Note to newbies:  Find someone who knows the trail and make friends with them, follow them or take turns leading but stick with them like glue.  Dee and I were apparently pissing off some other riders who thought we were going to fast, I guess the 100 milers thought the pace was too fast.  Now I don't know anything about 100 milers but I'm kind of thinking that if you have a 100 miler horse that you should be able to control your pace at that point in you and your horse's career and ride your own ride.  But I soon learned that some people just take this way too serious.

I've never ridden in the front of the pack so I was a little unprepared for some of the bickering that goes on.  I was so throughly enjoying myself and that Bak was happy and it just felt SO good that I actually found the bickering quite comical in a rather ironic sense.  I was following Dee and before we could even make it to the first vet check at 15 miles I had people jockeying into position, cutting in front of me, etc.  Well, when they all missed a turn and someone from behind yelled so the rest of us noticed I turned right and ended up in the lead again and lead the group into the first vet check with Dee right behind me, gave me a small smile to myself at the justice of it all.  The vet check was totally not prepared for the group of about 10 of us and getting P&R was rather slow and the vet line was long.  Dee's horse had a bad reaction to his blanket and proceed to take out the back of a Montero with double barreled kicks, plastic light parts flying everywhere and other than some paint on its hooves the horse was amazingly okay!  Now as for the car, well, I guess Dee's going be paying for that one.  

After the 30 minute hold we all took off again, only to find our group lost and headed back to the vet check.  I turned around in time to see another horse and his rider, Bob, going on the correct trail and headed back to the stop where we came off track.  Later on poor Bob was accused of cutting trail by the riders that we had followed off track.  Ridiculous!  Bob was riding slower and paying attention and he also knew the trail.  I'm making Bob another one of my friends!  Well our group passed Bob and got lost one more time and had to catch back up to Bob AGAIN.  You should of heard the bitching!  I really don't think it's any particular person's fault if you get lost in a group then that means that not everyone is paying attention and helping out, but just drafting along.  

Dee, Dean Jackson and I came into the hour hold together and I was the last one to P&R so I lost about 6 minutes behind Dee.  This would have to be the most inconvenient time for my sister and friend to show up with Bak's pasture buddies.  ARRG!  They were in for their 30 minute hold and I had 1 hour.  Now at the pre-ride meeting the Duck had told us that he didn't want to see our horses until at least half way through our hold time and he was very serious about it, if you came in early he sent you away!  The part that ride management forgot to tell us was that you couldn't get an out time until the vet signed your card and that they did do not yell your time out when its' your turn.  For you ride managers out there, please tell us this stuff the night before, why on earth you want EVERY single rider out to ask the same questions ALL day long is beyond me!  Pick a system, stick with it and be consistent, oh and share it with the riders!

Bak and I left the vet check alone and we were both kind of lonely, then I realized that there was three hoofprint tracks in front of me and since I was supposed to be the third rider out I was completely pissed off.  I had specifically asked the out timers if I was out, actually hung around until I was out to make sure I left right on time.  So basically someone else just looked at their watch and said "Oh I'm out" and off they went.  I later found out it was a 100 miler but still don't think that was appropriate, my small amount of justice there was that the 100 miler rider got lost and we found the rider wandering around a couple of miles from the check (ha ha ha) and actually came into the third vet check with me and Bob and Bob's friend.  Bob had left the noon check about 10 minutes behind me and had caught up with me.  

As I came into the 3rd vet check my position in this race has dawned on me pretty much full force.  I have NEVER top tenned a 50 before.  I think I may have once or twice on a 25 only to find out that that particular ride didn't have a BC or in one case only took the top 5 finishers, anyway nothing really earthshattering.  I've spent the last two years doing really slow 50s and I mean really slow, barely coming in before time sometimes and I've had more than my fair share of cold dinners, if there's any left at all, and have ridden in to more than one awards ceremony because they got tired of waiting for me, I guess it was obvious I was last!  Truely leaves a bad taste in your mouth I assure you.  So maybe today's our day, maybe lucks on our side today.

Anyway Dee went out 15 minutes before me and Bob was out 1 minute before me.  Bob was going for first heavyweight only.  I caught up with Bob and then there was a group behind us closed in.  I was glad that a couple of them were 100 milers because now I really wanted that top 10.  Bak had done excellent all day, eating and drinking and paying attention and he deserved to finish well.  Sharon Dumas, Dean Jackson and Bob's friend were now in our group.  Bob lead us through really well and then I took a turn, Sharon kept telling me not to get lost now.  Boy, no kidding, not a time to get lost.  We saw Dee in the distance and managed to close in.  

At the turn back onto the main hard packed road, we had 2 1/2 miles to the finish.  Dee saw us coming and started to pick up her pace.  Sharon turned to me and said if you're going to run with the big boys you'd better be prepared to run!  (or something close to that effect) and off she went!  HOLY COW, how did I get here!  Well, I swallowed hard trying to get rid of the lump in my throat and off Bak went, I didn't even cue him.  It was a mad three horse gallop.  I kept checking the heart monitor to see if Bak was okay, even though I could feel he was holding back because I was asking him to, I just couldn't believe the amount of horse still under me.  I kept thinking that hitting the ground at this speed could cause a lot of damage and prayed and finally just trusted him to place his feet well.  

Well Sharon and Dee were side by side in front of me and I didn't feel like squeezing in between, we saw the pie plate for 1/4 mile left and Sharon kicked it up a notch and Dee matched it.  I decided that third place was a fine place to finish and that I was not crazy enough for this sport, somewhere before that pie plate I left my "new found" competitiveness on that hard packed road and went back to just trying for a top 10 and not 1st place.  Sharon seemed to settle into second place and Dee finished first.  When Sharon let up for second I thought about trying to slip into second for a fleeting moment.  The thought left as soon as it entered and Bak loped easily across the finish line in third place.

WOW!  It was definetly neat, a lot of people had told me all day how good my horse looked, Bob even asked me what I was feeding him!  I got a really nice comment from Dean Jackson that meant a lot to me, Dean has seem me finish last more than once for many, many years, even on 25s.  I was incredibly proud of Bak and in awe of him and what he'd just accomplished.

My top 10 soon turned out to be bittersweet.  As I vetted in for BC Bak was slightly off on the right front.  The Duck told me that it pretty much took me out of the running for BC, he also told me to come back later after he was done with BCs and he would look at Bak a little closer to see what was exactly wrong.  On a positive note, Bak stomach was excellent and we had great gut sounds, good movements and a very bright-eyed happy horse, so we have begun to manage the stomach and now I guess I get to work with lameness.

I went back later and the Duck was really nice and said that Bak was less off than at the BC but that now it was his left front not his right.  Great.  He found a little tendonitis in the left and told me pretty bluntly that it's a small problem now but could become a bigger one if I don't take care of it.  I really appreciated his candor and went off to pamper and care for my sweet Bak.

Bak and I got first middleweight and got a nice saddlepad which I would have gladly given back for Bak to be completely sound.  Basically I pretty much felt like pond scum, the guilt is incredible.  Dee took BC and 1st lightweight and I'm so glad for her since she had lead us for a good part of the day and she earned and deserved it.  The Duck also gave us a wonderful explanation of BC judging after the awards, he was actually surprised that everyone stuck around for it <g>, and it was very interesting.

As for the 25s, my sister and friend finished just ahead of two other gals.  They came in time to see the awards for the 25 being handed out, kind of disheartening, you figure they could at least wait for everyone to finish.  They rode a safe and sound ride of about 4 1/2 hours and didn't need the backhoe!

If you don't want the 25s to race or hurry then why do you do the awards before everyone finishes?  I think that it would be nice if the ride management and vets were a little more on the same page, especially considering the nice horse blanket the 25 miler BC got.  If you do what the vet says then you ride a nice conservative ride, miss the awards and get handed a plastic scaper for your horse as completion.  My sister and friend had a glorious time and they rode the ride they wanted to ride and accomplished what they wanted to accomplish and were very proud.  Lady did great and my sister is pumped to go back to 50s.  My friend thought it was great fun and decided that she needed to learn a lot more before her horse would be ready for LD but loved having a seasoned horse show her the ropes.

I took Bak to the vet on Monday and he has a swollen check ligament in his right front and a swollen tendon sheath in his left front, I cried all the way home from the vets.  My vet thinks that his feet were a little too long, we were due for a shoeing but I didn't want to have his feet too short for the ride as Gunlock is really rocky.  Basically it was a bad decision and next time I'll have the trim and easyboot him instead, live and learn I guess.   Bak's going to be fine and is patiently putting up with the ice wraps on his legs and me fussing over him.  Last night as I turned him back out, he did a lovely spin and floated away to his hay I realized that he was going to be okay and he'll forgive me.

As for the moral of this story, riding in the front of the pack is very exciting but I think it was a little distracting also, if I ever get there again I hope to not become one of the sour ones that bicker and complain, maybe I just had some bad examples.  I have heard stories of people deciding who was going to cross the finish line first, etc. so as to avoid the racing in part.  Food for thought anyway.  I know that I'll be riding my next ride differently and am so very glad that I'm going to get to do more rides and that I didn't permanently injure my beautiful hunk of a horse.  As for the LD thing, ride your own ride, for your own reasons and enjoy it heartily, every minute of it.  I want to be thought of as a rider that was enjoying the ride, my horse, etc. irregardless of distance because that's what it's all about in the end.

Happy trails,

Valerie and Bak (yeah I still love her, she gives great treats, where did those apples go!)
No. Salt Lake, Utah

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