You know how it goes . . . the best laid plans and all. I have a big goal for this next year with lots of steps along the way but have hit a stumbling block and need some opinions. First some background: I’ve got over 1000 endurance miles now and have done 50s on 4 different horses (my first endurance horse was retired due to DSLD but he sure taught me a lot!). I am a completer, not a competer, and tend to finish near the back of the pack, especially when on a new horse. I’ve owned horses for over 30 years (I was in the womb when I got my first . . . .yeah right!). The horse I have the lofty goals for is Boomer. He’s about 12 now and had done some long trail riding in his previous life but I don’t know much more than that. He’s an Arab cross of some sort. I call him an “Auctionabian” since I bought him on impulse (gut instinct really) for the grand sum of $425 at a local auction in late April 2006. He has completed 4 for 4 50s prior to now, with the 1st 50 occurring Feb 9th, 2007. As I started conditioning him, I decided to just start him in 50s because I was concerned that he had some “quit” in him. My concerns were justified when in the 3rd loop of his 4 loop 1st 50, he stopped and refused to go forward when the trail came into sight of camp before going back out for the last 3 miles of the loop (he did back up quite well though!). I led him down the trail for a bit and then got back on and he went fine. He did go out with some urging for his final loop that day and finished in fine, albeit slow, form. At his 2nd 50, he decided he knew the game and fought me for 42 miles and then had problems recovering. We walked the final 8 miles and eeked through the final check for a completion with 30 mins left on the clock. Fortunately he learned his lesson and he was most cooperative at his next 2 50s! He has been very business-like whenever I ride him; playing up just isn’t something he does (maybe on a rare occasion but it’s short-lived) and I was able to walk out at the start of the ride this past weekend on a loose rein and he was perfectly content to watch the other horses leave ahead of him. So the brain is trained and I think the body is there with it from the way he recovered this weekend after the first loop of the 50. We’ve spent a lot of time doing long (15+ miles) 6-7mph conditioning rides over the summer with an occasional “blazing” 8mph pace thrown in (except in August when it was just too darn hot!).
The first of the big tests was to be the 100 at Goethe (FL) on Dec 15th. The plan was to ride a 50 miler on Oct 27th and then do the 55 at JD’s ride in SC on Thanksgiving weekend and then go for the 100 at Goethe. After nothing in January, then it was a 100 at Far Out Forest (the toughest 100 in FL due to sand). Next ride after that would be Leatherwood in the NC mountains (gotta see if my FL horse can do mountains; he handle the north GA hills during the GERA ride in June without a problem) the last weekend in March. I had also planned on a ride on Memorial Weekend since historically I’ve had that Friday off but I just learned today that this may not happen in 2008. That leaves me with the final ride and the ultimate goal for the year—Tevis. But for me to consider hauling 3000 miles across the country, I would need to know that my horse could handle a 100 and preferably I’d want 2 100s under his hooves. And, in order to do Tevis, I have to save 19 days of vacation out of the 27 days I get from Nov to Sep. This limits the # of rides I can do but I also know you don’t want to ride your horse’s legs off before attempting Tevis either. I think the plan for rides that I made was reasonable with plenty of time off between the rides. There are other rides during those months I could go to as alternatives but I tried to pick those that I thought would best prepare us for the demands of Tevis, especially since mountains aren’t found in FL and even finding a good hill is difficult. I have to use the heat, humidity, and deep sand to the fullest extent possible in order to prepare.
So why am I now questioning this carefully thought out plan? Well, we went out of the 50 this past weekend after the first loop of 17 miles with a right front lameness. You could have knocked me over with a feather as I was so stunned. I had started the day planning on a 7 hour 50 but wasn’t too pressed to do that since a friend was riding her and her horse’s 1st 50. But things started great and we moved easily along, completing the loop in 2 hours. Boomer pulsed right down and was at 52 when we went into the PR after pulling tack. I was very happy with that since it was extremely humid with little air movement and a temperature around 80 under overcast skies. Boomer tends to invert as he’s a bulky kinda guy. CRI was 52/48 so that was good too but the vet gave him a B for gait. I asked what he saw and he said a few head bobs. I had a moment on the trail a few miles back when I noticed a nod too but it was short-lived, probably less than a minute before Boomer trotted fine. My card was held for a recheck. We went back to the rig and I pulled Boomer’s Easyboot Bares. He’s barefoot and I use the boots for competitions and training rides. I didn’t boot the hinds for the ride because the weekend before during a training ride, one hind really twisted, digging into the top of the hoof and cutting in enough to cause bleeding. No sense in risking it on a ride that you really could do completely barefoot. I’ve had instances in the past when the boots found some way to irritate the horse and make them limp but Boomer had never had any issues with them.
We went back for the recheck at the end of the hold, sans boots. Boomer seemed OK on the out but coming back there it was, that head nod again. We were out. The vets again thought right fore and Boomer did protest when flexed. I was in tears. It wasn’t the pull; it was the entire dream gone in a nod. By the time I got back to my rig, I was really sobbing and inconsolable. I’m sure people thought I was crying about being pulled. That wasn’t it at all. Been there, done that plenty of times already. After the first one, it’s not that big a deal . . . kinda like getting that first scratch or dent on your new truck. I’ve been pulled at the end of a 50 due to a nasty stumble a few miles from the end that left my horse limping for days afterwards. I didn’t cry then. Went out at 65 miles last Feb on my first and only attempt to date at a 100 after feeling great and thinking all was well with my horse. I was bummed but I was OK (well, I was OK until I was part way home and remembered I left stuff at the vet check area; this was after I got stuck in the sand and had to be pulled out. Leaving my gear at the ride was the final straw that day!). I cried this time because I truly enjoy riding Boomer and the thought of losing him as a partner broke my heart. I believe of all the horses I have ridden, he’s the one who could do Tevis and other such tough rides. And due to a number of things, 2008 needed to be our year to make the trip west. So I poulticed and wrapped Boomer and called my friend Cindy who was home sick in bed when she wanted to be riding the 50 that day to whine and cry some more. We discussed starting a couple of my young horses and just regroup and replan the year, minus the end goal of Tevis. Guess I could always go back and crew for someone again. After all, Chip and I are LUCKY crew as we have had all 4 of our riders from the last 2 years complete. I hung out the rest of the day and helped out and got over the whole disappointment.
I went home Saturday night as I only live 35 miles away from the ride site (it’s by far the closest ride to me). I turned Boomer out in my barn paddock so he could move around. I never was able to find any soreness in his tendons or suspensories. Even his shoulders and back checked out OK. The next morning he has some filling in both tendons but it was equal. I turned him out in his big pasture for the day after chasing him to trot. He looked fine although he wasn’t very eager to take off trotting. When I brought him back in Sunday night, I decided to do some more checking. The words of someone from the ride kept nagging at me . . . . “It might be in his hoof.” Still nothing in the tendons or ligaments. The right digital pulse seemed a bit stronger than the left but it could have been my imagination. I got out the hoof testers and started checking. Bingo! I found a spot on his right hoof. Out came the hoof knife and a few swipes later, there was a small pocket of blood. Could it be just an ill-timed hoof abscess?? It would make sense. Two of my other horses had had hoof abscesses in the last few months and a third was still dealing with them. It’s just that time of year in FL when pastures get wet from the afternoon thunderstorms. This year, everything seemed to run later. My lower pastures didn’t hold water until September; usually by July they are getting nasty and some years become unusable during the rainy season. Boomer likes to stand in the creek. I think he thinks he’s hiding down behind the banks. Between that fun activity and the wet muck in parts of his pasture, plus the amount of work he’s been getting, the conditions are ripe for an abscess, especially in a horse with less than great hoof quality. I slathered on some ichthamol, covered the area with gauze topped with plastic wrap and then duct tape and finished off the job using a size-too-large Easyboot Bare to keep the bandage and drawing salve in place. Then Boomer went into the stall for the night.
Monday morning I decided to again leave Boomer in the barn paddock area where it was dry. When I let him out, he took off, cantering, bucking, trotting, spinning, shaking his head, just the whole “I feel good” routine. I’ve not seen him do that in months. It’s been too hot for silly stuff. The morning wasn’t cool—probably low 70s—so I was surprised at all the antics. His trot was without a bobble, even though he was only wearing one boot over a wrapped hoof. Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for things yet . . . . I suspect I’ll be able to ride Boomer this weekend if everything continues to check out.
So now to the jest of this long rambling dissertation (hey, it’s part of my therapy after the trauma of the weekend!): Is the 100 at Goethe in December still do-able? If so, would you haul to a ride 500 miles away to do a 55 3 weeks before after having a pull at a ride 4 weeks before the 55 (and 7 weeks before the 100)? Our last 50 was June 21st at the GERA ride in north GA. Due to my schedule, the ride schedule in the SE, and the plan for a 100 in 7 weeks, the 55 is the only ride that sounds reasonable. Or would you just stay home and continue conditioning and go for the 100? (Driving on I-95 on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend is a nightmare and the already long trailer ride could really become stretched out if you get caught in the traffic jams that often occur.) If you pick stay home and condition, what would you recommend for a conditioning program such as the mileage for a long weekend ride? As far as the ultimate end goal for the ride year, I think if we can get through 2 100s in good shape plus do a “mountainous” 50, I’ll have a good idea of what Boomer can do. If he completes all the rides planned from Goethe on, he’ll have 500 endurance miles. But first things first and that’s the 100 at Goethe. It’s flat and can be fast for those who like to go fast. Some deep sand but probably only about 10 miles max worth out of 100. The holds are all in camp (or at least have been). I’ve done the 50 there a few times plus have done other rides using the same forest.
I worry about Boomer’s low competition miles both for his 1st 100 and the Tevis attempt but on the other side, the lower miles may not be a bad thing in a horse that handles a ride OK. Lower miles means less stress on the legs and body. He’s not a 7yo either. He’s been around the block. And I’ve spent time this past summer amping up our conditioning rides, riding them at a bit faster pace than I’d do a first 100 with the added fun of the heat and humidity from summer. And I’m witness to another low mileage horse completing Tevis after completing the OD weeks prior so competition miles are everything if the conditioning is there.
And as another note, Boomer will be getting shod before any 100. I’m not anti-shoe; I’m anti-sloppy-farrier-work which is the road my horses were going down due to my farrier wanting to be doing something other than working on my horses’ hooves. I have access to another farrier that a friend uses; I’ve ridden beside his work so it’s not unknown. For the most part you can get away barefoot at FL rides. Two people did the Far Out Forest 100 last year on barefoot horses. And I’ve had good luck with the boots for the most part (there is quite a learning curve with them though and there seems to be horses they don’t work well for). But on a ride that is critical for a grand plan, I think I’d feel better just going to the old tried and true shoes. I just hope I have better luck with a farrier doing his job right and showing up when he’s supposed to!
So tell me what you think—is it worth trying the 100 at Goethe? And would you go to a ride before then or just stay and ride locally to limit wear and tear from a long trip? Those are the important questions out of all of this. I can worry about the rest later!