029. Mustang Memorial

Mustang… what a ride! I am happily couched and full after some food and a long nap. This weekend was an incredible roller coaster of emotions.

We loaded up the ponies early Friday morning in attempt to avoid rush hour traffic on the turnpike. It was a torrential downpour, so much so that it was a white-knuckle drive. Between the rain and the glare, it was almost impossible to see. We finally get there in one piece and start setting up camp. I learned after Foxcatcher that Nakai gets cranky afterward, so we set up two pens. We had an efficient little camp site and tested out our new tent! Ben came down with me to be support and crew. The only thing I wish we would have invested in was an air mattress or cot; a cornfield is not exactly the most comfortable arrangement!

We were the fourth trailer to arrive, so Mechele opted for a spot in the far corner of the field. Between the trailer, the corn, and my truck we had a nice little wind break. I’m sure we looked pretty anti-social, but it was really nice to be able to set up and relax without people right top of each other. We also go to watch the rest of the rigs roll in throughout the day as well as watch a couple get stuck and have to wait for the tractor to pull them out.

The horses settled in well, and I spent the majority of the morning following Nakai around his pen and taking corn cobs from him. Rose was politely eating from her hay like the seasoned endurance horse she is, and Nakai was determined to find leftover corn and get to it before I could. I wish I would have taken a picture of it, but I had a pile of corn cobs from his pen! At one point (after I thought I found them all) Mechele watched him sniff around and proceed to dig up a previously buried corn cob. If it wasn’t for his ERU, I swear I could set him loose and Nakai would survive just fine.

Nakai vetted in great with a pulse of 40 and A’s in every category. The only issue I had is that the vet marked him A- on both sides of his withers, saying he was a little back sore. She must have grabbed him hard with her nails, because throughout the ride he had consistent A scores on his back and didn’t have any changes, soreness, or other indications of trouble.

I find it amusing that some people think all endurance riders do is run their horses into the ground; I have never seen any other discipline thoroughly vet horses the way we do. Before you can even start, you have the pass the pre-ride vetting. Since I did the 50 miles, we had two holds where Nakai saw the vet two more times, and then we had the final vet check after finishing. You can’t complete unless you pass the final vetting. He saw the vet 4 times! Anyone who says endurance riders do not take care of their horses is wrong.

There was a 30, 50, and 75 mile rides being held here. Our loops for the 50 were easy – red trail first (20 miles), white (18 miles) and blue (12 miles). 75’s started at 7am, 50’s at 7:30, and 30’s at 8:30.

Our warm up ride was great! This was the first time I’ve ever ridden in New Jersey, and the sand and pines were a novelty. Mechele told me just wait – you’ll be sick of them soon! Both Nakai and Rose worked great for our warm up, and Nakai handled the footing well. It was reminiscent of the footing my previous boarding facility had in their rings, but I was not sure how he would handle the moguls or the deep(er) sugar sand. Although it was a serious bummer to drive down and set up in the rain, it did actually help pack the sand down and make it even nicer. The trail had some serious puddles, too, and at the ride meeting we were cautioned to go around the large ones.  Apparently, some of them have endless bottoms.  My little fiasco at the canal a couple weeks ago made more of an impression than I realized, as I was pretty tense and anxious the first few times we had no choice but to walk through some larger ones that completely blocked the trail.

Morning comes and I am a nauseous bundle of nerves. Ben kept trying to shove food into me and I kept feeling like I had to hurl. My mind is whirlwind of thoughts, everything from “can we do this – Can I do this??” to “Fifty miles. Fuck” and everything in between. Mechele makes me feel a bit better by saying she felt the same way and that eventually the nerves get better over time. We tack up and head over to the start to warm up. Instantly I’m feeling better! Nakai is just as much an emotional sponge as I am, but he seems to know when I need reassurance and politely warms up without an issue. Trail opens and horses leave. We wait a bit longer and then head out, both Rose and Nakai walking calmly.

The first loop flew by! Both Nakai and Rose were especially competitive for the first 8 miles. Kai felt great! He powered through the sand and handled the moguls better than I anticipated. At point though we had to stop and gather our brains as both horses were escalating. We kept up an over 8mph average through the first twenty miles and knocked it out in about 2 1/2 hours. While there were plenty of muddy puddles to drink from, ride management placed tubs of water throughout the loops and Nakai drank heavily from them. There wasn’t much vegetation available, so we kept our bags full of carrots and treats to  keep up gut sounds.

We were a bit mismatched for pace initially; Nakai has a longer trot and canter stride than Rose. He can extend his trot to match Rose’s canter, but I can’t keep him on a collected canter for more than a mile before he needs to stretch and move out. This proved a bit tricky as I tried to figure out how to rate with Mechele and Rose while making sure Nakai had enough varied speed. We like to trot for a mile or two, canter for the same amount, rinse and repeat. Eventually it all worked out and before I knew it we were coming into the hold.

Ben met us at the hold and helped distribute mash and coolers. We striped tack and went over to pulse. Nakai called a few times for Rose but still pulsed in at 60. While waiting for Rose to vet, Nakai whinnied and nickered and circled (and circled… and circled). Sigh. Ugh. I have no idea why he gets so bonded to Rose on these endurance rides. They don’t live together and he doesn’t care about her on training rides (or any other time for that matter), but here he was, making a spectacle and embarrassing me. We had a bit of a discussion during our trot out, as he did not want to leave Rose. Fortunately, the vets were very understanding and apparently see this often.He trotted back beautifully with an awesome expression. We passed vetting with flying colors and headed back to the trailer to spend the rest of the hold resting and eating.

Rose had a bit of cramp so Mechele worked on it, massaging it out and giving rose some more electrolytes before heading back out on loop 2, another 18 miles. This loop was so much fun! By now the horses had settled into a great working trot and canter without any of the exuberance of the first loop. I was starting to understand why everyone said the sand and pines were boring! Nakai had settled really well and was working fantastic. I had his brain, he was content and businesslike, motoring along when asked without an issue. Mechele and I had some great conversation and pounded out the miles in excellent time. This loop had some short miles twisting through the forest for a change of scenery.

At one point, we come trotting around a bend and Rose spooks, dropping like a cutter and spins teleporting only like Arabs can. Mechele sat the spook like a pro, not moving an inch! Nakai didn’t react to anything (he never does), trotting past whatever horse eating monster without so much as an ear flick. It happened so fast we didn’t even get to see what it was! Fortunately, that was the only excitement we had, and we knocked out loop 2.

We entered the hold again, pulsing down only for Nakai to plead his case again that surely he was going to die without his Rose! I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell people to please stay off his right side (his blind side) and that I needed his buddy back to be able to vet safely. There’s no point in suffering through a vetting when I know he won’t hold still  – and Nakai is NOT a horse you can push around. You can’t muscle him into submission, he won’t give and he’ll remember your impudence. I also have to manage my own emotions with him, and he sucks my energy up and feeds off of that.

Mechele had a bit a quandry as Rose had begun to cramp again. At this point Nakai was doing a bit better  with his buddy sourness, and we passed through our third vetting again with all A’s and a great report from the vet. We head back to the trailer, Mechele mulling over the best course of action for Rose. She looked fantastic out on trail and Mechele said she felt great, but that she started to cramp up as soon as we come into the hold. Mechele opted to dose her with more e-lytes, massage the cramp, and monitor. She wasn’t sure whether to continue or to pull.  Rose looked like she was doing better, and Mechele took her back down to vetting to get their opinion. I started to tack up Nakai in case I was going out on the third loop alone.

Mechele came back and said she was going out on the third loop but wanted to take it slow with lots of walking and quiet trotting. Since we did the first and second loops so well we had over 3 hours to complete the final 12 miles. We set out, taking plenty of time to warm up, drink, and eat. Rose looked great under saddle and if I didn’t know she had cramped I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything was wrong. This last loop was the loop that never ended!! I was thoroughly bored of sand and pine tress at this point, and I think the horses were as well. I was starting to feel the miles, at at mile 46 I finally hit my mental wall. For the first time ever, I wanted off my horse. My knees were achy but manageable.. but my hip abductors were killing me!  Every time we would trot off again I had about 4-6 strides where I was  grimacing, wincing in pain before settling into the rhythm. Nakai was also starting to get subdued! Even Mechele commented that this was the first time she had ever seen him tired. He was still willingly working and would trot off with a single cluck, but he was more quiet than he usually is.

After a billion miles we finally saw ride camp! Rose is still spooking at suspicious logs at mile 49.  It is dark and the hold area is quiet. The scribe didn’t write Nakai’s pulse down for the last hold and this final vetting, although I know it had to be below 60 otherwise they wouldn’t have let me finish vetting until it was. His final CRI was 64/64, and he had all A’s in every vetting category with an overall vet impression of an A! He did it! My 25 year old just completed his first 50 mile endurance ride with flying colors. We went back to the trailer and I bawled like a baby. I am so proud of him and overwhelmed with emotion.

(I forgot to start my GPS at the start and again after a hold, so it’s off by about 2- 2 1/2 miles)

I’m not sure if it was from the stress of the ride or just from my emotional state, but I ended up nauseous again and hurled that night. I barely slept that night, and in the morning we broke down camp quickly despite the wreck that it was. We stretch the horses out a bit before loading up and heading home around 8:30 Sunday morning. Thankfully, the ride home was nothing like the ride down and we had an easy, uneventful travel. It was raining at home, so I unloaded nakai, trotted him down the driveway (he was sound and looked great, yay!!) threw his sheet on and turned him out. His eye looked great this entire trip and he gets the next week or so off to rest, recovery, and be a horse.

I can’t imagine completing this weekend without Ben’s support and Mechele’s guidance. It was so fun (and comforting!) to have someone riding 50 miles with you. Ben was the perfect crew mommy despite having been thrown rather chaotically into the mess. I don’t know many people who have someone so attentive and calming in their lives. This was Honey’s first foray into camping and horsey weekends, too, and the poor pup managed well! I think she missed her couches, though, as she hasn’t budged much from them since we’ve been home.

So… what now for Nakai? I’m afraid to use the term “semi-retired”, as that implies cutting back on what we’ve been doing. He loves getting out on training rides, and he is in the best body condition he’s ever been. I ended this ride season on such a high note – I can’t top the scores he received on his first 50, and he deserves to enjoy his golden years. Right now, I think it’s safe to say that he’s done from endurance competitions, but we’ll still enjoy training rides and fun rides with the other barn ladies. Nakai is a horse who needs a job. Who knows, maybe we’ll dabble in something else. There’s always trick training, maybe some more cow work, or just doing what we’re doing without the pressure endurance rides put on us.

Either way, it’s always an adventure.

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