This ride recap is brought to you by Andy Dunlop, as Darice Whyte is off to race Tevis 2018!!  I hope her faith in my storytelling is justified and you enjoy this recap from a LD (limited distance) rider’s perspective.  I had done endurance with DRM when Cynder was 5 for a few years and then a back injury took me out of riding for a while.  Well he is now 16 and I’m back to riding and driving regularly and decided this was our year to get back in the game of Endurance Riding!

After Souris, which was an awesome but difficult challenge, we looked forward to the relatively easy trails I had been advised were at Belair.  Having never been to this venue my QH, Cynder, and I didn’t really know what to expect.  It was incredibly beautiful and while much easier than Souris, still enough challenge and technical aspects to keep it interesting.  Huge shout out to Iris for marking the awesome trails for us at Belair.  What an incredible weekend it was!

Saturday, my day began at 5:50am with getting myself and Cynder ready. I mixed his electrolytes with apple sauce (if I add it to his feed he believes it’s poison and refuses to eat any of it) and proceeded to suck it up into a big syringe, that is until the plunger decided to separate 🙁 I manged to dose him with it but had to ditch my only syringe after. He then refused to eat the beet pulp I had prepared and gave me a thoroughly disgusted look so as to ensure I knew how vile the electrolytes were.

Vetting began at 7am, the 25’s leaving at 8am. Cynder pulsed in at a resting heart rate of 40 bpm… awesome for him as he’s usually closer to 50 (must be 60 or less). He received a perfect vet score with all A’s and 1’s and we were cleared to go.

There was a mass start of 10 riders for the 25 and we set out at the front of the pack. He was going strong and steady and we hooked up with an awesome young rider, Avery, and her Arabian horse E.J., and travelled a comfortable but fast 8-9mph trot together in the lead.

Cynder was moving out beautifully and seemed fresh and energetic but relaxed without his usual “losing his mind” that happens at most big rides. I think because he was in the lead, actually ahead of E.J. for the first few miles, he wasn’t stressed about anyone getting ahead of him and pushing him to the back. Although, he believes no matter what horses we are with that he should always be #2. I think in his brain the first horse is bait and while they are being eaten by the horse-eating-whatever (insert boulder, tree stump, ATV tire, etc.) he will have enough time to run to safety.

So, then came a wrong turn where we assumed some tree-hugger removed our ribbons (I was sure I heard “there is only one left into the bush” when a 50 mile rider had called about being lost at our ride meeting and Avery and two other riders wrongly followed me in there. But we backtracked and got going the right way eventually) and later there was the tree that tried to take my arm off but otherwise, we had a rather uneventful and really fast, for me, probably average pace for Avery, first 15 mile loop.

When we get back from loop 1 we untack and sponge the horse in cold/ice water. Cooling helps them pulse down to the required 60bpm. Then we get another vet check to ensure the horse is fit to continue.

Avery vet in first and got a 3 minute lead over our time but because Cynder is dark and heavier muscled I took the hit on time to make sure he was cooled down enough to Vet in. We arrived back at 9:34am and pulsed in officially at 9:45am at 56bpm. The first thing the vet checks is your horse’s heart rate because he needs to record your CRI (Cardiac Recovery Index). Once he has the pulse then he sends you down a straight line to a pylon at a trot, you turn at the far end and come back at a trot and he continues the exam until 1 minute from when you started, then he checks the pulse again to see how well the horse is recovering.

He pulsed in at 56/48 (so that’s 56 before he ran and 48 after) which is INCREDIBLE for this horse!! Often he will pulse higher after a jog but for him to drop is an absolute sign of his fitness level. He is usually on the rolly-polly side, or “fluffy” as my friend says, but this year we worked hard training to do our first 50 mile competition this fall and at 16 years old he is in the best shape of his life. Again he scored all A’s and 1’s (a perfect score) and we settled into camp for our mandatory 45 minute hold period from when we pulsed down. For Cynder this means eating, drinking and/or snoozing. For me this means waiting on him hand and foot, running around like a chicken with my head cut off and sitting for maybe 2 minutes to scarf down the 2 boiled eggs I forgot to eat a breakfast and a chocolate milk to keep my legs from cramping (preventative measure as I was just fine, but who doesn’t love chocolate milk?!)

In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed, my 45 minutes was nearly up and I was once again tacking him up to do our last 10 mile loop. I had spoken to Avery and said if she didn’t mind we would try to catch up with her and run the rest of the race together as he was doing so well. With a 3 minute head start we would have to hoof-it (pun intended) to catch up as E.J.’s floating trot covers ground fast, but I though we could do it. That was until I was a little ways down the trail and realized I had forgotten to restart my GPS app. I slowed Cynder down to get my phone out of my horn bag (I had forgotten my horse holster at home 🙁 ) and once I had the app running again I asked for him to resume his fast trot….

Well, Cynder had other ideas. He couldn’t see E.J. so my telling him to catch up fell on deaf ears and he felt that we were most certainly going the WRONG way and decided we should turn back immediately. Many circles and urging later I won out and we were back on track and moving at a decent pace again. Unfortunately, I knew at this point that we were not going to catch up to Avery and E.J. as the effort, now that we had fallen behind further, would be too great and he would not be able to finish the race strong if I pushed him hard to catch up. So, I made the choice to continue on alone and do the best we could. He was once again strong and forward and I was following the flags, or so I thought, until I got to a part where there didn’t seem to be any.

We pushed ahead a little more and I still didn’t see one, so I backtracked him and pulled out my map. I didn’t want a repeat of Souris and get going the wrong way for miles. On inspecting the map and where we had come from there was no other way to go, so I pushed ahead again but also called a fellow rider, Tammy, that I thought may have passed me at that point if I was on the wrong track. It went to voicemail. I hung up and kept going and right away she called back… just as I saw the flag that I must have missed the first time around. Funny enough as I’m telling her I’m now fine she says she can see me ahead and catches right up to us. Her little Arab mare, Kaliyah, followed for a short distance and then when I offered for her to pass, they did. Cynder perked right up at being in #2 spot and we finished the loop together quick and strong. Kaliyah, of course, pulsed down quicker and I got back to the business of cooling my comparatively big guy.

Our in time was 11:47am and our final vet check was 12:02pm. He pulsed in at 59bpm, just under the max. We trot out and back (I’m impressed my knees held up) and his CRI was 59/52!! The only blemish on an otherwise perfect score card was a 2 on skin tenting (evidence of slight dehydration). Then the vet says he will do BC (Best in Condition) evaluations immediately as we all came in so close together.

I am used to it being an hour after we are in, but it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to wait an hour after the 50 miler’s so at least everyone was on a relatively level playing field. I knew Cynder would not be able to touch the Arab’s BC scores but it was awesome to even qualify to be evaluated for it. Part of the BC evaluation is getting on a scale with all your tack…everything the horse carried… I knew what my saddle weighed (37.2lbs – yes, that’s quite heavy but it fits him like a glove) but had no idea of the rest.

All together me and my tack weighed 240lbs. I decided to step on the scale again without it all and came in at 185 (boots and all! Yippee, don’t miss the 40lbs I’ve lost since last fall!) That means poor Cynder had to carry 55lbs of stuff around plus me on the trails. To compare, a much smaller rider came in at 140lbs including her tack. So, I’m what would be called a “heavyweight” rider (210lbs+ including tack).

The BC is scored entirely separate from the rest of your card. They make you trot your horse in a semi-circle instead of a straight line to ensure any slight lameness that may not appear otherwise is detected. Cynder’s movement was good, but his CRI bounced from a 48 to an 80!! Not a good recovery 🙁 but given the hard work he had done and the heat of the day 30+ at that point we were not terribly surprised as he had not really rested since we got off the trail.

Saturday night is always potluck and awards. I stuffed myself silly with amazing food from all of our awesome competitors and crew, half of which brought desserts….mmmm….it was all sooo good. When it came time to call out the placings I heard of our 10, one horse had been pulled for lameness. Then they called the rider’s names and placings. I was happy not to hear my name at #’s 9, 8 or 7… but it felt weird to hear them call other names for 6, 5 and 4… I sure didn’t think we had beat a field of mostly Arabian horses, but we took 3rd!!! I was ecstatic. This was by far his fastest ride time for a 25 mile race and his best recovery (save for the BC trot out). What a way to start what was our very last competition weekend ~ a memory I will cherish for along time.

Cynder has been sold to a friend who needs a steady-Eddie riding and driving horse and I am on the hunt for an Arabian so that I can be competitive at the 50’s.  But Cynder proved that ANY fit horse can do this sport competitively at the LD and still place high in the rankings!

We have many non-traditional breeds in our club, some want to compete to win, others just look for a clean completion, and still others viefor the Turtle award(slowest qualifying ride) which is an easy average of 5mph for the course.

Not ready for LD or Endurance distances? That’s okay – come out for a mentored 10 or 15 mile ride and ease into the sport – I promise you won’t regret it.  We are a ton of fun to hangout with and if Darice is there, there is sure to be ice cream!  Even if there isn’t, our potlucks are always amazing!

Thanks again to all the minds, hearts and hands that come together to make our DRM rides as amazing as they are… we couldn’t do it without our dedicated board and volunteers that work hard to put them on.  As someone who participates, I am in awe of all you do for us and happy to give back when I can’t ride by volunteering too.

Best of luck to Darice at North America’s Toughest 100 Mile Race this Saturday, the Tevis Cup!! Come home with another buckle and all your teeth!  We can’t wait to hear a recap of that ride!!

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