Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Death Valley Encounter, Day 1, 50 Miles

After a very good performance in the 25 at the Coso Junction ride, I decided DC needed to do a 50 or two. She needed a little humbling. I've done Death Valley several times, so I had some idea what to expect. I decided it would be best to ride her on Days 1 and 4.

Day 1 is a big, long loop with an out vet check. It's a tough ride, but Days 2 and 3 have tougher trail I'm not ready to expose her to just yet.

In the morning I did my normal routine of feeding at 5am and getting my own breakfast. I was very fortunate to have my husband along, meaning I had a nice hot breakfast and  fresh coffee every day.

DC was quite nervous when the time came to saddle up. Now she really knew what's up. It's likely she's always going to be tense while we prepare. She settles down quite nicely once we're on the trail.

DC walked nicely out of camp and across the road, feeling a little conflicted with Hoss at camp calling for her. By the time we crossed the road, she got down to work and was ready to get after it.

We caught up with a group of riders I often ride with, including Laurie and Joan. I thought we might stick with them. It became evident DC is far too fast for that group, so I let her move on. I don't really want her getting into wanting to be with other horses anyway.

We were sailing along pretty well, and doing very nicely. I didn't realize at the time, but we were pretty close to the front runners.

At the top of a hill, I realized I needed to tighten DC's girth, so I hopped off and took care of that task. I didn't realize until later that in the process of getting off I had dislodged my phone, which remained behind.

I got back on, oblivious to the loss of my phone and we kept chugging down the trail. I had switched her recently to a hackamore, and now I learned that was a mistake. The idea was for her to get used to eating and drinking on trail and not have to contend with a bit while learning. Now I had nothing to drive her forward into, and she was over reaching badly. When another rider commented on the sound of her hind shoes clipping the fronts, I quipped, "At least I know the shoes are still on!"

Once we had broken free of other riders, we moved out some more with me trying to keep her together and not having much luck. At one point, her right front foot stopped hard, and she just kept moving on. I thought, she'd either hit a rock or pulled the shoe.

She had pulled the shoe.

It was only about 10 miles into the ride, and she wasn't about to slow down if she could avoid it.

We came to a dry creek crossing with a very steep step down. I decided she didn't know enough yet to try to carry me down it and hopped off to lead her down. As soon as I stepped down, the ground gave way underneath me. My only saving grace was that stupid hackamore. Since there was no bit in her mouth, I felt comfortable using the reins to keep me from falling completely, and she complied nicely by holding position and giving me something to brace against.

I recovered from my near-fall and continued leading DC. We were on single track trail, and she wanted nothing more than to catch up with other horses in the distance. I was eventually forced to get back on and hope that right front foot would hold up. She just would not walk compliantly and she was going to get me hurt.

Once back on, we were off and trotting again. I managed to keep her back some, but elected to dismount to control her on another downhill and she was determined to catch up. At least at this point we were on a road, so she was less likely to kill me. The absolute determination was beginning to get to me. For a moment I considered removing her bridle and letting her go and see if we ended up in the same place at the end of the day.

At this point I realized I'd lost my phone. Now I was thoroughly discouraged. DC had a shoe off. My phone was gone. All we were going to be doing at the vet check was getting a ride back to camp.

Another pair of riders caught up, and one called out to ask if I'd lost a phone. Why, yes, yes I had. Indeed, they had my phone. And, they offered me the use of a hoof boot. It was a size too big, but it seemed to stay on pretty okay.

We continued on our way, me watching our shadow carefully to make sure that boot was still on, her looking for horses to overtake. She would catch up and overtake horses, then keep going to be sure they stayed behind her. Occasionally she'd slow down, figuring she was far enough ahead to risk taking a breather. If another horse caught her, it was on again.

The boot turned out not to work. It would stay on until she over reached and stepped it off. By the time I gave up on it the gaiter was wrecked.

I finally led her into the vet check, having gone faster than I had expected and slower than DC wanted. If she'd had her way, we would have been to the vet check an hour and a half earlier.

I found our crew bag and got us set up. This was DC's first out vet check experience. She had learned enough in her last ride to know she'd better eat. Still, she was pretty amped and wanted to look around. I insisted she be reasonably still and not spin circles. She ate her hay relatively well, but ignored the bran mash.

After we'd been in for half an hour, I took her to Alyssa to vet. I mentioned the lost shoe and that she hadn't taken a lame step. She passed the vet check without taking a bad step. OK, so we were going to continue. If nothing else, even if she was disqualified at the end, she needed to learn a little something.

We finished our hold time and headed out. DC did a nice controlled trot for a time, and then caught sight of other horses. And we were off. She cantered just shy of a gallop for a good length of time across the valley floor. Other horses caught us when she slowed, then she'd get up moving again and pass. I managed somehow to keep her from completely running away with me.

What finally slowed her was the heavy climb out of the valley. We were now with two other horses on a rocky, treacherous section of trail. She was fine with staying behind Ann Marie and Woody at this point.

Never once did DC take a lame step as she powered back toward camp. Her only concession to maybe being a little sore footed was the switch to cantering on the other lead toward the end of the day.

Concerned about that foot, I got off and led her in the last bit. Consequently, we were passed by several horses and dropped out of the top ten. Had she not lost that shoe, she certainly would have been in the top ten. As it was, she still dragged me back into camp at the end of the day.

Did I say something about humbling her? Never mind.

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