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2023 Antelope Island - Dane Berry

September 24 2023
By Dane Berry

It has taken me a while to write this recap, mostly so I could find the words to properly give credit to the amazing veterans, juniors, and everyone else more experienced than me in this sport (which is basically everyone!) who do these rides as a matter of routine. This, my first 50 mile ride was an eye opening, grueling, difficult, amazing, rewarding, and ultimately uplifting experience that has to be lived to truly be understood. I therefore don’t write this post pridefully, but rather in full humility that I truly only succeeded due to support from friends, family, I suppose a little personal insanity, and of course my amazing horse Nico.

Overall, let this preface suffice: I am in awe and respect all of you riders who embark in this sport; I have so much to learn from all of you. Conversely, I can confidently say as probably one of the most inexperienced beginners that just decided to go and attempt a 50-mile ride as my second ever event, that ALL of you looking to get into the sport of endurance CAN DO IT. If I can, you can… Hear me out.

Antelope Island 50-mile endurance Ride, Sept 16 2023 Ride Report

Exactly two years ago, Sept 23rd 2021 was the first time I swung my leg over Nico. It was that first ride that I felt an immediate connection and so I purchased him about a week later. In today's horse buying/selling market, I consider it a miracle that he is the horse I found! I don't recommend to most people doing it how I did it... I had not ridden a horse in about 16 years, and even when I had ridden as a teenager it was very minimal experience with no lessons; just a few odd rides basically. I just loved horses my whole life so I made the plunge and just bought one (as opposed to maybe smarter avenues of pursuing horses, like lessons or leasing!). On top of that, I decided to purchase a fresh trained 8 year old Arabian… A friend of mine retroactively told me that they legitimately thought I was going to die, inexperienced as I was going and buying an Arabian out the gate!

The whole story is too long for here, but know that for two solid years, Nico and I worked hard together to build a bond and develop a relationship. Fast forward to Sat 16 2023, exactly 1 week shy of our two-year anniversary, 5am in the morning. I walked over to Nico’s pen at Antelope Island. I would like to say that we had a special ‘moment’ where he ‘told’ me that he was ready to do this penultimate event… but true to his nature he mostly just ignored me in favor of the fresh hay I had thrown into his pen. Giving him a pat I readied myself for the day.

The first 5 miles are on a smooth, slightly gravely road. This is of note, because I’ll set the stage here for you to understand Nico’s hoof situation. Nico is barefoot and has been for our entire season. Knowing the terrain we would face, I did everything possible to try to get shoeing options worked out before the ride, bought some glue-ons and everything, but it turned out to be impossible. The situation for trying to figure this stuff out leading up to the ride were on my mind persistently and a constant stress. All you need to know, however, is that on ride day all we had was a pair of front scoot boots, my knowledge of the course, and Nico’s amazing mind to protect himself and his hooves (Update FYI – I finally have a farrier coming out this week to help me for the first time all year! This will be game changing for us moving forward).

We conquered these first 5 miles by alternating areas where we could ride just off the road, or when we were on the road I would dismount and we would run together on the ground; anything I could do to save a little pressure on his feet. After these 5 miles, I knew the next solid stretch was amazing trails so I decided to take off the scoot boots; as his movement is much more freed up without them (they fit decently well, but he’s always told me he likes it better without them). We made solid time through the miles but to my chagrin we had lost the boots from my saddle. I have secured them to the saddle previously in training with no mishaps, but in my own human race-brain I must not have attached them adequately enough. I tried to back track to find them but to no avail. We ended up doing the entire rest of the ~45 miles completely barefoot.

Completing the first 15 miles was tough but we managed it by being smart on the hills and taking our time over any rocks, making up time wherever there was good footing. Taking a brief water break back at ride camp (not an official vet hold), we gritted our teeth and headed out on the remaining ~12ish miles to the vet hold at White rock.

While this portion is vastly comprised of amazing hoof-safe trails, Nico still seemed to be struggling to me. It was getting hot, and his impulsion was at an all time low which is rare for him. Every time someone passed us in either direction, he would stop cold, as if they were there to save him. It was interesting, because as opposed to City of Rocks where I had to work a little bit with his ‘race brain’ this whole first segment of the ride I had to overcome the opposite. He seemed unmotivated, hot, and not wanting to go out. I had been monitoring his electrolytes and water intake so I knew that theoretically he should be fine. I also know my horse very well and have definitely put in the time and effort in training, so I was very worried about pushing him too hard especially with my hoof concerns. These 12 miles for me were a matter of grit and a true gut-check, as almost every step I was very worried about him and I was loosing energy myself. My inexperience was definitely showing!

We crawled into the first vet check. I was emotionally exhausted already, as I definitely wasn’t taking in enough elytes and nutrients for myself (yes a huge learning experience). I told my concerns to the ride manager, vet and volunteers. I have to admit that in my mind I was definitely teetering on the decision on whether to pull from the ride. We were going slow enough that we were on the cusp of not making time and in my inexperienced and concerned state I was worried that Nico’s hooves and impulsion couldn’t hold up. Despite my negative internal thoughts I told myself I wouldn’t make a decision until of course the vet check, and if we passed that I would wait the entire hold to refuel myself so I could be in a better state of mind. Transparent honesty to everyone reading this though – I was struggling!

The pulse down and vet check was telling… Nico pulsed down immediately, and passed the vet check with flying colors, not a lame step or hint of soreness. Volunteers and experienced people there commented on how well he was looking. One amazing lady (don’t know her name) mentioned that based off of my comments she figured that maybe he was just slightly sore on the more rocky portions, but probably the main issue was that he was being a little lazy, bored, and needed to strengthen his mental toughness. These, and other expert observations gave me the internal steel I needed. I know I have taken care of him, I know we have trained, I know that he (we) could do this! Overhearing the conversation, a very kind rider that happened to be getting water at the check on their way back home offered me her riding crop, just to give Nico a little encouragement. I decided that we would set out on the next 8 mile loop; and if things looked good, we would make the effort!

Aside: I can’t say how grateful I am for everyone at that hold – Jeff (ride manager), my mother, volunteers, and the vet. They listened to my concerns and acknowledged them. They were non-judgmental of me, and I know they would have supported my decision if I chose to pull. However, even while having amazing support, they also expertly advised me and encouraged me. I’m not sure how they did it, but they pulled off giving me the perfect balance of understanding and ‘push’ that I needed. As a person and an athlete I am extremely hard on myself already, and no one there made me feel weak, embarrassed or any negative emotion. It was a wholly rejuvenating environment and gave me what I needed to continue. I literally couldn’t have done it without them all.

Nico and I set off, and while the crop helped immensely, I only really needed to use it the one time at the start, and all the sudden the entire rest of the ride was completely different. He set off with amazing strength and confidence in each step. We still walked cautiously on rocky portions; but everywhere else there was not a hint of the previous lethargy or lack of impulsion. He was breathing great, and seemed to be growing in strength even though we had already gone over half the ride in the ~80degree heat. We did the 8 mile loop in just about one hour, made up a ton of time and more importantly had found a new determination… we could do it!

After another brief water break, we set off! We ended up riding a portion back with some great riders – Amy and Amanda who were out on two of Jeff’s horses. It was a much needed mental boost for Nico and myself. We stuck with them for about 5-7 miles or so, at which point Nico had made such a mental turn around that he was actually NOW – 80% done with the ride – getting stronger and stronger and even starting to exhibit some ‘race brain’. I pulled him off of the other two horses just to recoup his mind, and once we were ¼ mile off, I let him continue to push strong and open up when he wanted to. He immediately reconnected mentally with me, and we made the entire rest of the way at a trot/canter, Nico never missing a beat and showing amazing strength the whole way home.

We got 8th place, turtle award, finishing in 8:47. We had gone from almost not making time and worried about pulling, to finishing stronger than I thought possible. Nico pulsed down quickly (I think 5-10 minutes max), and vetted out with his CRI being a solid 48/48 and still having no lame steps. Our only health issues at all were on myself, as I ended up throwing up and having a hard time recovering over the next few hours, something I gladly accepted because my horse was safe and sound, and my own inexperienced self can learn how to eat/drink better for next time haha.

TLDR/Summary.

Jeffrey, ride management, volunteers, family, friends, vets, Nikki, Amy, Tanya, Matthew, Merri My Green-Bean Team Heather, Joy, Tennielle (if I didn't tag you doesn't mean I don't appreciate you!): Thank you so much to everyone who made this ride possible and got me through to the end. I literally would not have made it without you.

Veterans and current participants in the sport: I respect you and admire you. From those who do intro rides, LD’s, to 50’s, 100’s and everything else, you (we) are a gritty and amazing group of people and athletes. Pat yourself on the back, because you are pretty cool just by attempting this sport!

Those of you entering the sport – make friends, talk to people, their support and experience are invaluable. Also give back and help those around you! I see often the comment ‘what can I do to get into the sport.’ Some great advice I hear is ‘just go and volunteer’ etc. I have one thing to expound on this excellent advice: Do something that is ONE STEP outside your comfort zone. If your comfort zone is to just stay home and not go at all, then go volunteer at a ride. If your comfort zone is to volunteer, then go and volunteer but also bring your horse to ride camp so you can learn together. If your comfort zone is maybe camping with your horse but you are unsure about the ride, then go and do an intro or LD. If your comfort zone is an LD; don’t be afraid, sign up for a 50 and see what happens! After two years of training, my comfort zone was to make it to that first vet check… yet with those around me and Nico we survived and excelled at that one step beyond my comfort zone, and grew because of it.

Whatever your comfort zone is, or whatever you can achieve know this: I support you whatever level it is!

This is a singularly amazing sport with amazing people. Go to your barn or pasture, give your horse a treat, and start making plans on how you’ll achieve your goals. Nico and I will see you there.