A bit of a delayed post, but here goes:
Ozzy's first time competing alone.
On Friday afternoon I left work early so Jen and I could ship Ozzy down to Fair Hill, MD for the 2009 Foxcatcher Endurance ride.
The night before, Rob came out to the barn with me, just in case, while I clipped Ozzy. My horse is hairier than any other one I know right now. I was going to give him a trace clip, but wound up just doing his neck, chest, and shoulders. That alone took two and a half hours... with brand new blades and a clean horse. I'm proud to report that Ozzy was an absolute saint. He looked at me funny when I first turned the clippers on and touched his shoulder.
"Mom, that's not where the clippers go..."
He's never been body clipped in his life, and I usually just hack his bridle path off with scissors.
Then he stood still and dozed while I slaved away.
My poor horse...
Unfortunately the clippers blew a circuit in the barn before I could even him up. Sad.
In any case, I left a sheet on my horse to keep him clean so he was ready to go when I arrived at the barn around 2pm. He loaded himself, but look somewhat surprised when Sunday didn't get on the trailer with him. Jen would be riding her friend's mare, Samarraa, in the fifty.
What followed was Ozzy's longest trailer ride to date. We stopped at Panera along the way and left the side door open so he could look around and get some fresh air. He spent the whole time poking his head out and trying to make friends with random people. That horse cracks me up. From there we drove through Philly traffic during rush hour. This is something I could never, ever do with a horse trailer. I would honestly rather extend the trip by two hours than weave through there, but Jen had it under control. Once we were past the traffic, the trip went quickly, and before long we arrived in gorgeous Fair Hill. If I DID move to Maryland, that would be the part I'd pick. Gorgeous rolling landscapes dotted with horses and state of the art equestrian facilities. *drool*
We pulled into base camp well before dark and Jen quickly found her friend Jenn (confusing no?) We parked our rig next to theirs, got Ozzy unloaded, and set up his pen for the night.
From there, I marched right down to the main tent to sign in and get vetted.
Originally, we were registered for the fifty, but I had had a dream that we didn't complete and it left me with some second thoughts. In the end, I dropped him down to the 25 miler instead. It was the first hot weekend of the year, we were further south which made it worse, and Ozzy still isn't at the weight I'd like him to be at. I wanted Ozzy to have a good experience, and would kick myself if I ran him into the ground. Besides... he's still not eating like he should.
I made the change and gave them my AERC number. My mom got me a membership for Easter and our numbers arrived via email the night before. Perfect timing! His miles from last year have already been logged.
The vet check went smoothly. I handed over my ride card and the official took Ozzy's pulse. Her eyes widened and she double checked. "Wow, he's really fit!" she exclaimed a second later.
"He is? I just dropped him from the fifty..."
"Yeah. His pulse is at 28
. He's the lowest we've had all night."
Straight off the trailer, in a strange place, first time shipping alone, and the farthest he's ever gone in one haul, and my horse pulses at 28! I may have underestimated him.
He trotted off beautifully (without falling on his face this time) and got A's all across the board.
We had just enough time to get Ozzy settled in for the night before the ride briefing and dinner at 6pm. The vets explained the course, the holds, and vet check requirements. I was glad I had opted out of the fifty. The first loop was 25 miles with only a ten minute hold (no crewing) along the way.
After dinner I fed Ozzy. Then, we crawled into the trailer and bedded down for the night.
I was up just after 5am to feed Ozzy his breakfast and make sure he made it through the night ok. The combination of fresh air and the excitement of an upcoming ride got my blood pumping and I was wide awake almost immediately. Jenn was also up, getting her three horses ready.
The start was at 7am. I bid Jen good luck and rode across Gallaher Road to the start of the 25.
Ozzy is usually dead asleep at the beginning of any ride. He just doesn't seem to care about what the other horses are doing. Last year at the Mustang, whena nearby horse was flipping out and trying to buck his rider off, Ozzy just stood by and looked at him funny. Well, this was Ozzy's first time competing alone and he just wasn't having it. All of a sudden he didn't know what to do with all of his pent up energy. He spent the minutes leading up to the start spinning in circles, backing up, and threatening to rear.
I managed to keep him contained until the ride official called, "START!!!" At that point, Ozzy lost it. I wanted to let him warm up by walking the first mile or so, but he flat out exploded. All of a sudden, the horse who didn't know how to buck without falling on his face was a bronco beneath me. He pulled one of those moves where they leap off the ground, throw their head down, twist, and snap their back all at the same time, and he nearly unseated me.
"Where did THIS horse come from?" I stuttered out loud as he pulled two more bucks before I could get him stopped. "KNOCK IT OFF!" I bellowed at him.
I managed to pull him to a halt, but he was throwing his head and fighting me for it. Finally, I decided to let him trot a little to make productive use of his energy. That nearly ended in disaster. He pulled out the racehorse trot then broke into a headlong gallop down the hill.
"NOOOO!" I screamed at him, trying to pull him to a stop.
Every time I tried to slow him down he threw his legs around so badly I thought he'd break a limb, fall down the hill, and kill us both. It was getting to the point where it just wasn't worth fighting him any more. I still had a strangle hold on his face as I tried to control his speed, but I gave up trying to get him to walk. We wound up galloping the first two miles or so, sideways with his head straight up in the air.
"You're going to wear yourself out right at the start," I muttered through gritted teeth, as I realized that I'd never be able to complete the ride if he didn't settle.
The first stretch consisted of me alternately reprimanding my horse and apologizing to other riders as he tried to plow over top of them.
Then, as suddenly as he had lost his marbles, Ozzy came to his senses. We reached the first of several bridges and he just sort of went, "O, a trail ride. I know how to do this."
From there on out he was all business and we covered the first loop (15 miles) at a blazing pace. Ozzy had figured out that he can catch horses and he was on a mission to see just how many of them there were in front of us. I knew we were going at a good clip when I started recognizing riders I'd seen in the top ten at the ride last fall.
As I passed another group of riders cantering through a field, I heard cries of, "My god! Look at that trot!"
Ozzy was now behaving beautifully, but I didn't get many pictures because we were going way too fast to focus with my point and shoot. We crossed more bridges than I could count and Ozzy did great. There were wooden bridges, concrete bridges, and covered bridges. There were tunnels under streets and bridges way over them. We crossed water, ravines, and roads. After the first bridge (which looked an awful lot like the one he fell off of this winter) he didn't even hesitate. We also had our biggest water crossing yet. The water was belly deep on the horses and the current was strong enough to make white caps around the rocks in the river. Some of the other horses snorted uneasily, but Ozzy splashed right in and waded across. Mostly we were just trotting and cantering over beautiful, green, rolling hills. It's a landscape that is very soothing on the eyes, but it's not easy on the horses. I was impressed with Ozzy's willingness as we crested hill after hill without slowing. On top of that, the weather was gorgeous. Sunny and 75 with a refreshing breeze. It was a phenomenal ride.
My only complaint was that the trails weren't as clearly marked as they should have been. There were several times when riders, myself included, started up the wrong trail only to retrace their steps and look again. At one point during the first loop, my cell phone flew out of my chaps and I had to turn around, dismount, stuff it in my cantle bag, and go back to riding. This wound up being for the best because we had missed a turn and gone up the wrong trail. The riders who were with me at the time were glad for the interruption that led to us being back on course.
Ozzy spent the entire ride drifting from one group of riders to the next, gaining ground the entire time. He's hilarious on rides and thinks everybody is his new best friend.
Before long, the first loop was over and we returned to base camp. Our trailer was parked right next to the in timer, so I gave them my number (83) and pulled Ozzy's tack immediately. I poured cold water over him and let him have a drink before walking him down to vet check. It only took him a few minutes to drop to the required 60bpm and he vetted clean again, with all A's down his card. I praised him and put him back in his pen to pee, eat, and relax for the required 40 minute hold. Forty minutes flew by and soon I was back in the saddle for the last ten miles.
Ozzy was still perky and the last loop went much faster than I had expected. Ozzy had settled significantly, but he was still perky and we stayed near the front. The horses around us were beautifully toned and energetic, and I was delighted when I got compliments on his muscling and attitude.
I was getting ready to slow it down when I came around the corner to spot a rider on the ground, grass stains on her pale-colored breeches, no horse in sight.
"Are you ok?" I called out.
"Yes. Thank you... but my horse took off!"
Her friend was going after the horse, and I double checked that she was ok before I rode on. I came to the top of the hill and spotted the loose horse
on the horizon. The fallen rider's friend was gaining on him on his own mount, and I got my camera out, thinking I could get some cool video.
For a moment it looked like they had him caught, but then the loose horse
pulled away. It was clear that the chasing horse wouldn't be able to catch up. I urged Ozzy into a canter. He protested (it had been over 20 miles already) but moved out for me. The rider in front of me, a man named Kent on a Morgan gelding named Jay, was galloping up to help.
Suddenly it was really clear that they needed help, and I dropped the camera, picked up my reins and kicked Ozzy on. As if he realized we were on a mission, Ozzy pricked his ears at the distant horse, and kicked it into gear. We were gaining on the loose horse and Kent and Jay went left as we went right in a sort of high speed pincer movement. Kent managed to put Jay in front of the loose horse and slow him down for half a second. At that moment I let Ozzy go, leaned sideways out of my saddle, and made a grab for the loose horse's reins.
"Ho, bubby!" I called as my hand connected with neck, then rein. "I've got him!" I called to Kent.
I thought frantically. I have ponied horses before, but I had never done anything of the sort and Ozzy has never even BEEN ponied.
"Woooah..." I murmered. Ozzy flicked his ears back and slowed down. The other horse tried to pull away, realized I had a hold of his head, and stopped. "My horse, by the way," I called to Kent, "is afraid of other horses!"
Moments later, the fallen rider's friend caught up to us, and I handed the loose horse over to him. It was only then that I realized my camera was still running. I had caught the whole thing on tape.
What I hadn't realized was that we were only about a mile and a half out from the finish when the whole scenario unfolded. Kent and I decided to let the horses walk. After all, they deserved it after that headlong rush and their heroic efforts. But as we came over the top of the hill, I spotted the finish line. Typically, riders cool their horses out for about a mile before the finish, but we obviously hadn't had the chance.
"I hope he pulses," I groaned as we passed the timer at the finish line.
I had a courtesy check done and Ozzy pulsed at 72... not bad considering the excitement and effort he'd just experienced. Luckily, horses get half an hour to pulse down after they finish, and Ozzy was down to 60bpm about fifteen minutes later. He vetted sound and got his completion... with all A's across the board (gut sounds, impulsion, attitude, soundness, back/wither soreness, capillary refill, skin tenting, etc).
I cooled him out, gave him more food, and left him in his pen to rest. He spent the afternoon napping in the sun and munching grass and hay while other horses came and went.
We had gone so fast that we completed our ride before Jen and company finished their first loop. I went up to the tent in the afternoon to check the result board. To give you an idea of how fast this course is... Jen told me that if I got top ten she would flat out kick my ass, because that's WAY too fast. There were 80+ horses
entered in the 25 miler. Ozzy and I finished 22nd
. I am NOT complaining.
By then I was sunburned and tired, and I spent most of the afternoon lounging near the vet check and watching riders come in and out. Jen, Jenn, and Jenn's cousin were taking it slow because this was Samarraa's first 50 mile ride so it was hours before they were done. Afterwards, we helped them get the horses vetted, cooled out, and put away. All three completed. By then, Ozzy was rested up and he loaded easily into the trailer for the long ride home.
We stopped at Ruby Tuesday's for dinner along the way, and Ozzy made more friends in the parking lot.
"Do you ride him?"
No, I just trailer him to random parking lots to see what people think.
From there we were just a hop, skip, and a jump away from home. Ozzy was still feeling good and ran out eagerly to see his friends. We unloaded what we absolutely had to then went home to crash in real beds.
Overall, I'd call the weekend a success, but it was definitely much more exciting than I had anticipated.
Camp the first night.
The shot I managed to get of the start before Ozzy lost his brain.
Lots of rolling hills.
Lots of gorgeous properties.
Trotting out at the vet check.
I believe this horse won Best Condition for the 50.
Sleepy ponies at vet check.
More sleepy ponies.
Ozzy... not quite the same head as everyone else.
Resting between loops.
Shadow's really cool coloring.
Really cute puppy ;)
Ozzy's buddy for the night. They kept having staring contests.
Camp the first night. Ozzy and co are on the right by the van.
Ozzy, Jack, Shadow, and Samarraa in nearby pens.
Ozzy's clip job.
The finish line.
Ozzy waiting to go in the morning.
Kent and Jay.
Jen trotting Samarraa out after the first loop.
Ozzy looking tired after completion.
Enjoying a good scratch on a break.