We finally did it - after a several year hiatus, and buying my (much too young for me) next endurance prospect, DB Hula Mayya, and waiting for her to mature and finish her training, we bit the bullet and entered and FINISHED our first endurance (well, just Limited Distance) ride. Eep! How did this happen?
Of course I didn't do it alone, and couldn't have done it without some amazing people helping me. First there is the barn where I board, where she was born and trained. The trainers there (thank you Sarah and Jamie at Desert Bred Arabians!) have been phenomenal at helping us work thru our growing pains :). And there's been the endurance veteran Sheri who's been exercising and competing horses for them, and took Hula under her wing this summer. Sheri spent some quality time on Hula on the trails, and Hula's experience and maturity grew in leaps and bounds as a result.
And then there's Paula, who in between winning first place and BC's, has been quietly urging and coaxing me to get back into endurance, boosting my confidence when I needed it, babysitting me on the trails when I've been too chicken, and a constant whisper in my ear with "you can do it"!
At first we thought we'd go to the Lincoln Trail ride in IL for our first LD try. Had it all planned out - nice easy flat trail, close by. Hula wasn't exactly in endurance shape yet, was still a bit plump and had only done a few longer training rides that were 2-3 hrs of trotting. But at those training rides, after 3 hrs of trotting, she was pulsing in at 60 within a couple minutes of stopping. Hmmmm!
The plan was I'd follow Paula and her steady eddie gelding, Ibn Desert Dhelall. We'd do the Sunday ride, which would have fewer riders, so minimize the risk of being swept into oblivion by a herd of galloping horses (or that's what was in my nightmares :)). But the weather turned snarky and I gave up on that plan.
The next ride coming up was Paul Sidio's Ozark Trail Ride, the first time it was being offered. It was being held from Brushy Creek Campground in Black, MO on the Ozark Trail. Paula had been there before and was familiar with the trails. I didn't think Hula was fit enough for that, since it was in the Ozark hills. But Paula assured me that the trails were very gradual, full of switchabacks, single track trail (no one whizzing by - a plus!) and We Could Do It she insisted. Sure, that sounded great, I thought in a delusional moment.
Wait, what did we just agree to? PANIC!!!!
Did I mention how I was a big fat chicken? That if there is something to worry about, I'll find it? First, there were the not so stellar rides I had on Hula the last couple times we were out. She started crow hopping a bit, couple times I thought it was happy feet (although that doesn't help you stick to the saddle any easier), but a couple of other times it was triggered when we were trotting down a trail sloping downhill. And we just agreed to go to a hilly ride? gulp.
Leading up to the ride, constant worries nagged at me. What about the start of the ride? We'll get swept up in that craziness? What about people passing us on the narrow trail and if she tries to kick them? What if she sees her pasture buddies in the ride - she'll want to gallop up to catch up with them! How will I hold her back? eek! And camping! I had only taken her camping once before - I really should have done much more camping with her before a ride! What was I thinking!? What if she's a crazy mare the morning of the ride - how will I be able to handle her? This was crazy! We weren't ready for a ride. OMG! Please God, make it rain in Black MO so I don't have to go! Earthquake? Tornado?
It didn't rain. Weather was gorgeous. We went. A good size group from our barn came - Paula and her two geldings, DB Dahman and Ibn Desert Dhelall, Sheri and DB Arabians' mare - DB Al Amhara (her first ride as well), and Lori Zackrie and her horses Ehmirah and DB Bolero. The four of us were entered in the 25 on Friday. Saturday we had Paula and Dahman competing in the 50, with Lori and Bolero, Katie Davis and DB Airs Aidah, and Elena Macia and DB Bint Dahmah in the 35 LD. Katie's and Elena's mares are owned by their families' farm, DB Arabians. It was Airs Aidah's first ride as well, and B. Dahmah's 2nd LD.
I can't count how many times in the days leading to the ride I badgered Paula to assure me we were going to take it slow, that everything would be OK, that it's just a trail ride in the woods....I just hoped hoped hoped that the day of the ride I would have a sweet mellow horse and not a fire breathing demon :). Maybe if we did a nice long pre-ride on Thursday, that would help take the edge off. What was too long? Maybe we could do the whole 25 miles by ourselves and get credit? :)
Thursday we arrived and everything went along smooth as silk. Basecamp was Brushy Creek Campground, and it's just lovely. You're on the edge of Brushy Creek, have your choice of cabins, electrical sites in the trees, or primitive camping. Stalls were available for the horses, and our site was right next to the stalls - perfect! They had shower houses too- sweet! And a lodge that offered breakfast and dinner - cushy digs!
Brushy Creek pastures pictured left.
Brushy creek has it's own private trails with miles of trails, and they have access to the Ozark Trail. You can go forever on the Ozark Trail, it's a great place for an endurance ride. The footing on the trails drains fast, so even the T-storms they had the night before didn't affect the trail conditions.
Thursday we got settled in, did a nice long pre-ride. Hula was very steady following Ibn, the narrow technical trails kept her attention, so that was nice not to have to worry about rating her. Paul had warned about all the downed trees (they had an inland hurricane last year) and all the rootball holes along the trail so you had to keep your eyes open. But Paul and the oodles of trail volunteers (I can't begin to give list all those people who helped) spent weeks clearing trail and it showed. They had done a phenomenal job and I can't rave about them enough, all their efforts hiking the trails, loaded down with chainsaws and brush hogs, Cheers to you guys!
We vetted in after our pre-ride (with a pulse of 32 - awesome!) and I spent the rest of the evening in severe panic mode - sick to my stomach, shakey with sweaty palms, no appetite, mulling over the many ways I was going to meet my demise on Friday. And just hoping hoping hoping that Paul had arranged for port-a-potties at 1/2 mile intervals along the trail, as I was positive my stomach wouldn't last the 25 miles.
Next - Part II - The RIDE!!!!