Tuesday, September 11, 2018

2018 Grand Canyon II

The Grand Canyon ride this year has been split into two, 3 day pioneer rides. In the past, it was a single, 5 day pioneer ride. The grand experiment for the 2018 season by XP Rides has been to turn all previous 5 day rides into two 3 day rides with a rest day in between. So far, I’m liking it.

On the rest day, Wednesday, I headed into the Grand Canyon North Rim National Park. Entry was $35, but with access to the internet at the Lodge, an excellent restaurant with a view over the rim *and* offering gluten free pancakes on the breakfast menu, plus a place to shower and do laundry, it was well worth it.

North Rim from the lodge
After I’d gotten my shower and done my laundry, I got ice and coffee and headed back to camp. When I went to put the ice and coffee in the camper, I discovered I couldn’t get the door open. I decided it was something I should deal with in camp, so headed back.

Once back at camp, I tried again to open the camper and was utterly unsuccessful. Using the key made no difference, either. Thinking I might have better luck from the inside, I got the step ladder out of the trailer and crawled in through the camper window.

It turned out being inside just meant I couldn’t get out rather than not being able to get in.

I tried removing the door knob, as the problem was clearly the latch not moving. This did not make things better and I had to call out for help.

Rebecca Florio helped me with the doorknob, putting the piece I’d knocked out back in place. Despite some effort, it made no difference and I was still stuck. She went off to find more help, coming back with some tools from Steve Bradley. After we’d worked at it awhile without success, Rebecca headed off to see if she could find Tom. In the meantime, Steve headed over with yet more tools and with a good deal of prying and cursing, we were able to get the latch out of the door frame. 

Now I had an open door. Fortunately we did not ruin it in the process. I was able to put the door handle (sans latching mechanism) back in the door and use the dead bolt to latch it.

DC had another catch rider for day 4, so I took her and Hoss to vet in for the next day. Hoss would be going on another fun ride. He was starting to look quite good. Still, I wanted to be gentle with him and me both so opted for the easy thing.

I talked about ride strategy with the new catch rider and sent them off in the morning. It turned out DC went quite a lot faster in the first half of the ride than she had any right to, and the rider allowed this. At 10 minutes in the vet check, her heart rate was still high, although once it started to drop she recovered quickly. They took the second half a little slower, losing yet another boot (5 glue on boots lost in 3 days of LDs, that’s gotta be some kind of record) and having to stop to put on a replacement. 
They finished in 5th place. It was clear DC had gone more quickly than she should have. She still had a higher-than-usual heart rate a few hours later, so we opted to take the 5th day off.

As for Hoss and me, we headed out the other way toward the East Rim. We had a lovely little ride, ultimately going 17 miles and using one of the nifty features of my GPS, which allows me to pick a waypoint and have it point me in that direction. We’d made a difficult climb up a hill and I wasn’t a fan of the idea of going back down it, so we headed along until we came to a road. I knew there was a road to the East Rim, so I knew we had something we could follow back to camp. Once we hit the road, I found a waypoint near camp and asked the GPS to get us there. It was a beautiful ride, though abrasive. By the time we got back to camp his hind shoes were nearly worn through.

The long road back to camp!
I decided to ride DC myself the last day. When I took her to vet in, the vet pulled me aside to talk about what had happened with the catch rider. It turned out I didn’t quite get the whole story. DC had come into the vet check in a full body sweat and shaking. The vet told the rider it was probably adrenaline and they needed to slow way down. Unfortunately slowing down as the vet intended did not happen, as shown by the 5th place finish.

Now, I do have to take some responsibility for my horse getting overridden. When we’d talked about ride strategy, I had said the rider would need to hold DC back. What I did not make clear was I meant that as an instruction, not advice. I’ll take my lumps for being unclear in my instructions. I had spent Friday quite concerned about DC. giving her electrolytes and food to get her back into riding shape. She was clearly much more tired than she should have been for going 35 miles.

We had a good ride on Day 6. DC was quiet chargy, having been allowed to set her own pace a couple of days earlier. It took some doing on my part to hold her back and keep her together. She developed a girth gall on one side. I was able to move the girth off of it by tightening the rear billets on her saddle more than the front ones.

East Rim
It was a long go to the vet check, solidly 19 miles, but we rode along the east rim of the Grand Canyon. I got a few pictures, when I could get a hand off the reins to take them.

At the vet check, I got off and walked in and realized DC had lost her right hind boot. Again. She was still wearing the Glove on her left front. After a bit, I realized the boot on her right front was mostly gone. The sole and rear of the boot had come off. Now she was missing two boots.

If losing 5 boots in 3 rides wasn’t a record, 7 in 4 has to be.

The remaining miles back to camp were primarily on gravel roads. Oh, boy. DC was not happy about walking. Mostly, she jigged. All the way back to camp. I was so beat up I couldn’t walk her in. Fortunately she managed to pull off a halfway decent trot out at camp and got a completion.
On Saturday, I headed back in to the North Rim to do my laundry, get a shower, and have a nice breakfast. It was simply gorgeous staring out the picture windows into the canyon.

North Rim
When I got back to camp, I packed up, hooked up, and we started on the way home, stopping in Las Vegas for dinner with my daughter and son in law.

North Rim Lodge, from the Rim
I have to say, the double pioneer thing works very well. It seemed like there was a good turn out for
all six days, and it made for a nice breather to have a day off. I do hope the format continues.

2018 Grand Canyon XP Ride I

Some set-up is called for in this post, as a great deal happened in the months between Montana de Oro and Grand Canyon.

As alluded to in the previous post, I underwent surgery on June 27. Early in the year, I had seen my orthopedic surgeon and, having decided injections were not effective, elected to go ahead with a second hip replacement. I had hoped to have the surgery by mid-March, to be recovered in time for the births of foals and to continue my ride year. This was not to be. The hospital was under renovation, and operating rooms were short. In the meantime, I continued with life as much as possible with a deteriorating hip.

I finally got the call to schedule the surgery, plus the pre-op class and final appointment with the surgeon. After jumping through all the hoops, I met with the surgeon, who told me he wanted to do arthroscopic surgery and repair my hip. This was fantastic news, while at the same time being quite frustrating. I had gone through the physical and dental clearance and had the class, all of which could have been skipped had he offered arthroscopic surgery in the first place. While pleased, I could also have cheerfully choked the life out of him.

Under the knife I went. It’s a one-day surgery, so once I recovered from anesthesia, I got to go home. I opted to rent a Game Ready ice and compression device, as I can’t take much in the way of anti-inflammatories, and the one I can take is not allowed post-surgery.

When I did wake up, I realized immediately the surgery had worked. By the time I got home, I felt really good. I never took one narcotic pain killer. I used the Game Ready mostly as a precaution against inflammation. I spent the 3 weeks of limited weight bearing pretending to be lame.

Once I was off weight bearing precautions, I started riding Hoss in the arena bareback. I started out at 3 times per week and felt very good about my balance before I started riding in our saddle again. The first time I put the saddle on, we went to the arena and really had a poor ride. I’d gotten so far as cantering a little bareback, so I was surprised when he was being difficult about it under saddle. 

When I took the saddle off, I quickly realized why.

Two giant dry spots, one on each side, demonstrated his saddle no longer fit.

This is the saddle we’ve done 7 years and 3,000 competition miles in. To say I was surprised is an understatement.

The next time we rode, I threw that saddle on him without a pad, and it was quite clear it’s not a fit. Fortunately, Demon’s Tucker western saddle is a good fit. So, with 3 weeks to go before a multi-day ride, I have a horse with a new-to-him saddle.

I was noodling on Facebook one day and saw a post from a person looking for a catch ride for Grand Canyon. I thought, well, why not, DC can be ready for LDs in plenty of time, and it’d be nice to get her some extra miles. Sarah Walton and I arranged to meet and for her to ride DC the first 3 days of the ride.

In the remaining 3 weeks, I needed to get some miles on Hoss to have him ready to do much of anything. So of course, when I brought him out for a ride on August 7th, he had blown a huge abscess out of the outside heel of his right hind foot. It was sore on palpation, and it bled if I looked at it too hard. I removed the shoe, trimmed out what I could to relieve the abscess, and put him in a small pen to start recovering. It would be another 2 days before I could put the shoe back on, and another week before the spot wasn’t sore to the touch. With just a week to go before the ride, he was going to be just as fit as he was and no fitter for the ride.

I got everything ready and packed to go. We left on the 23rd, the ride starting on the 26th. I wanted to arrive in camp by early afternoon on the 24th. Knowing the AC in the truck is not reliable, I wanted to cross the desert in the late afternoon or early morning.

Before loading up, I glued DC’s boots on. It was her very last set of Gloves. Never having had a problem with glue – and having attended more Vettec clinics than I can count – I was unconcerned about a lack of back-ups.

We were on the road by 6pm and had an uneventful drive to camp and arrived by midday Friday.

While unloading and setting up the horses, I noticed an unusual number of yellow jackets. The little bastards have always been a problem at this ride, just not in camp, historically. When I retired to the camper, I made sure to close the screen door in an effort to reduce the odds of one coming in.

Within two hours, I had killed three of the bastards. I’m very allergic to them. I’ve been under immunotherapy for 6 years and my odds of a serious reaction are quite low, but I’m not exactly eager to test the effectiveness of the treatment. Eventually I had to go ahead and close the door to keep them out.

Sarah arrived on Saturday afternoon. After sitting and chatting and getting acquainted, we headed out for a little pre-ride. We were having such a good time talking and riding, by the time I thought to look at my watch we’d been out for an hour and a half! Ultimately we were riding for over 3 hours. We got back to camp, untacked, attended the ride meeting, and vetted our horses in.

By morning, it was clear I was not in any shape to be riding. Besides, during our pre-ride, Hoss had looked not quite right on the opposite front from his abscessed hoof, and his heart rate half an hour after we’d come back was higher than I would expect.

While I was eating my breakfast, I glanced out the camper window and noticed DC’s left hind foot did not look right. She’d lost her boot in the night! I’d brought glue and spare glue on boots, but I didn’t have glue tips. I was able to get one from Dave Rabe and glued a spare boot on.

I sent Sarah and DC down the trail, having walked with them until we were out of camp and they were allowed to trot. I knew DC would never be able to walk through camp, and I also wanted to be sure Sarah was safely on.

Walking back into camp, I stopped to talk with another person. We were standing there chatting amiably when a yellowjacket started hovering about. By this point I was already getting a little paranoid about the things. It seemed whenever I stopped one would be nearby. No one else seemed to be having this problem. Just me. It was like they were hunting me. Me specifically. Like they could sense I was allergic to them and they were on a mission to get me. Well, while I’m standing there chatting, and thought that asshole had left, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my right ring finger. Sure enough, I was stung. I swear the little bastard was laughing maniacally as it flew away.

It was clear I wasn’t having a serious reaction immediately, but damn it hurt anyway. I headed back to camp and took a Benadryl and stayed in the camper while I made sure I wasn’t going to react seriously. It was clear within an hour or two I was going to be OK. I had numbness and tingling in the tips of my right ring and pinky fingers, itching on the back of my hand, and cramping in my forearm muscles, but nothing more than that. It mostly passed within two hours.

Hoss hanging out in camp
Before being stung, I had volunteered to help out, so I dragged my chair over to man the finish line. As I’m sitting there, watching horses come in, I overhear someone talking about finding a glue on boot. I’m thinking, uh-oh. The person brought the boot to where I was sitting and sure enough. It was one of DC’s front boots. At this point I’m thinking, well, she’s coming back on the trailer. There’s no way she can manage this with a boot off. After another little while, another rider shows up and hands me DC’s other front boot. Definitely, she’s coming back in the trailer.

Then, lo and behold, here comes my little mare, tail and ears high, looking just as pleased with herself as she can be. They got into camp and Sarah hopped down. I took DC’s heartrate and she was at a cool 52. Didn’t hardly look like she’d done anything at all. When Sarah trotted her out, she looked great.

Later I examined her feet and discovered they did not look appreciably different than they had when I’d glued her boots on.

Sarah explained she had been so worried about the hind boots she hadn’t really checked the fronts much. Besides, when she did try to see the fronts, DC decided she meant “go faster” and would start cantering. It wasn’t until they arrived in the vet check that the loss was noticed. Sarah asked for advice and after being given 3 affirmatives to continue, she did so, just staying at a slower pace. She hooked up with another rider and they came in together at the end. Had Sarah known the boots had come off within the first 5 miles of the ride, she would never have continued on. It’s a good thing she didn’t know.

Now I had a horse with no front hoof protection. I asked around a bit and came up empty on getting her another pair of boots to borrow. We decided instead to do the intro ride. I was still thinking I shouldn’t go super far, and worried a bit about the still exposed part of Hoss’s back foot.

During the night, I decided to try taping DC’s front boots on. In the morning, I did just that, not expecting them to stay on through even a casual ride. But, it was worth a try.

DC and Sarah

We followed the route the Duck described, and had some nice long trot sessions. Those boots stayed put. I still didn’t think they’d stay on for anything more strenuous, and figured in terms of sanctioned distances, her ride week was over.

Sarah and I decided to walk over to Steve Bradley’s trailer to look at her pictures from the previous day. He got three very nice shots of them, and Sarah bought them all. At this point she was not expecting to ride more than an intro ride, and said as much.

After we were done with Steve, we headed back to camp to find Dave Rabe with a handful of hoof boots. He had dug around and come up with a pair of glue ons and a Glove in DC’s size. Now, really, she’s a 00.5 on the front. Most days she can even wear a 00 on the front. She’s been going in 0s and when I talked to Dave that was the number I’d mentioned.

We broke out all the equipment, wrestled the taped on boots off, and started gluing new boots on. At one point I allowed as she could really wear a 00.5, and Dave asked why I hadn’t said so. I allowed as I figured he probably wouldn’t have that size. He went back to his trailer and came back with a 00.5. I said that shows what I get for thinking.

The glue took extra time setting up due to the humidity here, but the boots went on well. Sarah and I went and put in our cards for the third day, she for a 25, and me for another intro ride. We vetted the horses in and attended the ride meeting. The 25s would not start until 9am, making for a rather leisurely morning.

We took our time getting everyone ready in the morning, and I sent Sarah and DC off at the appointed time. DC looked quiet and willing at the start. I understand she became insistent and fast in short order. They had a very nice ride, for the most part, and I was glad I’d warned Sarah about DC’s terror of cattle. A calf wandered into the vet check while they were there, and DC was quite convinced it was going to eat her. One of the previous riders leaving the vet check chased it out, which was just as well as Sarah might have had a time trying to get DC past it.

In the meantime, I saddled Hoss up and we headed out for a leisurely 10-mile ride, going out along the power line until we had gone 5 miles and turning back. It turned out we were on the return path for the sanctioned rides, and two riders caught up to use moving at a good clip. This of course blew Hoss’s mind, and we spent the last mile or so having a fight about trying to race the other horses.

We had just gotten our tack off and I’d put Hoss back on his stake line when Sarah and DC returned from their ride. DC looked like she hadn’t left camp that morning. She’d lost the last of the boots I’d glued on before leaving and Sarah had managed to get the size 0 Glove to stay on that hind foot. DC made her displeasure over the gaiter known anytime they stopped, kicking that hind foot. At the end Sarah simply removed it rather than have a fight about the kicking. They completed the 25 in just less than 3.5 hours.

Sarah had to leave for California that night, so I made sure she got her completion awards before she left. DC watched her packing up, and I swear that horse was trying to figure out how to fold herself up and hide in the trunk of Sarah’s car.

Wednesday was the rest, and thus makes for an excellent break point for a blog.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Montana de Oro 50, June 2, 2018

Nothing quite like the last minute to get my thoughts written out. Here I am, sitting in camp for the Grand Canyon ride, and I realized I hadn’t done the blog for Montana de Oro. And if I didn’t get it done, the next 6 days of riding would very likely push a lot out of my mind before I got around to it. 

So, here I am.

I decided to take Demon to Montana de Oro due to the cancellation of our local Descanso ride. 

Coming up on surgery scheduled for June 27th, I wanted to squeeze in as many miles as I possibly could before going under the knife.

We managed to leave by about 8am on Friday. It was only about 350 miles, so seven hours drive time.

Except no.

Because of the area we had to drive through, there was delay after delay. Halfway there I seriously considered turning around and going home. By the time we got to ride camp I had decided this would be the first and last time I did this ride.

The camp is very tight and most horses stay in camp corrals. Because Demon is a stallion, he had to stay tied to the trailer, which is not a problem. Really, I prefer to keep my horses super close to me rather than in a corral. The biggest issue was finding a place to park my rig where he could stand tied to the trailer. We had arrived fairly late by the time all was said and done, so there was little parking available. I did manage to back it in next to the restroom, with the tack room door just accessible, and removing both Demon and his hay from the horse box before finishing.

In our little parking spot, standing in his feed pan

In the morning, I wrestled Demon’s tack out of the tack room, and got him groomed and tacked and his boots put on. This was his first ride with his new Scoot Boots on his front feet. We’d done perhaps 12.5 miles in them up until this point. We did test them at all gaits and I was feeling quite confident in them.

While waiting at the start, Demon was tense but well behaved. Rather than walk around, we stood carefully to the side while other horses pranced and walked around. At one point, a gray mare swung her tail right under Demon’s nose. He did not so much as prick his ears. Truly, he’s a great horse.

After we got chugging down the trail, Demon really wanted to run and keep up with everyone. I knew he wasn’t as fit as I would want him to be for how challenging this ride was, so I held him back quite a bit.

The single track helped keep Demon’s pace settled, but he wasn’t really in the groove when we got to the vet check at about 12 miles. So, as I led him in, he wanted to yell and call and be silly the whole way. He pulsed down within a few minutes, but it was longer than I’m used to seeing with him. However, considering he has mostly done 1 vet check rides and gone much further before a vet check, I wasn’t particularly concerned. He did not eat as well as I’m used to seeing, but again, he hadn’t gone very far per his own experience, so I wasn’t alarmed.

At the first vet check, wanting to watch everyone else
We left the vet check at a better pace than we’d come in. Sometimes these rides with 3 vet checks are good for separating horse groups and getting any given horse to chill. I let him take much longer getting back to camp for the second vet check than we’d taken getting to the first, making up for how quickly we’d done those first miles.

We were chugging up a steep climb when I started hearing a strange clinking sound. Eventually I was able to identify it. The center ring in his girth had ripped loose, and it was swinging on the end of his breast collar. When we got to the top of the hill, I pulled him off to the side and got off. As other horses continued on down the trail, I removed the ring, turned the girth around, and reattached his breast collar. I found a rock of sufficient height and got back on.

At the second vet check, Demon pulsed down much more quickly than at the first. He ate and drank well at the trailer and was raring to go by the time I hopped back on.

As we were preparing to leave camp, I realized I didn’t have my helmet. So I hopped off to lead back and retrieve it. One of the volunteers very kindly offered to hold Demon while I went back to the camper. I handed him off and got my helmet. When I got back, I discovered Demon had been feasting on carrots while the volunteer told him how handsome he was. I daresay that was his favorite part of the ride.

The start of the 2nd loop involves heading out for about two miles and passing right back by camp. While we were out, I realized I didn’t have my trail map or vet card. I must have left them in my camper.

We caught up with another pair of horses, one of whom was getting very unhappy about the stallion behind her. We passed them and trucked back to camp as quickly as we could to retrieve our map and card.

We trotted into camp and I got off and found the map and card. I got back on, and just as we were preparing to leave, our camp neighbor stopped us, saying something didn’t look right. I hopped back off and she was right.

The front left billet was gone from his saddle.

I stood there staring at this and realized quickly it was far too risky to continue with only 3 billets. The chances of saddle slippage or another billet failing were just too great to take.

While I was thinking this, our neighbor was rummaging through her trailer. Out she comes with a strap which I was able to rig up to reasonably work in place of the proper billet. I thanked her profusely and off we went to hit the beach.

When we got to the trail to the beach, Demon became tense. Evidently, despite living for a couple of years merely a mile from the beach, he’s never been there. Ultimately I had to lead him down to the beach proper so we could finish our ride. He wanted nothing to do with that funny-smelling water. Well, we both feel the same about the beach, so I can’t complain too much, but we did have to get through it. At least we didn’t have to go *in* the water, just by it.

Quite dubious about the funny smelling water
While we were on the beach, another rider caught up to us and we ended up spending the rest of the ride with Phyllis and George. We were both doing about the same pace and the horses got along so it worked out.

On the beach, not even thinking about sticking a toe in that weird water
At the third vet check, Demon again pulsed down quickly and tucked into his hay and water, while George took a little time. This was okay with me. I didn’t mind spending extra time in the vet check, and neither did Demon.

Back on the trail, we kept our pace up as much as possible. Toward the end, we had to really start speeding up as we were pushing the cut off. We once again caught up to the little mare who was so upset by Demon, so we slowed down in order to let her get away from us a bit. While I know I am not responsible for the behavior of other horses, I appreciate the difficulty of dealing with a horse who’s having a problem. If I can help ease someone else’s difficulty, I’ll do my best to do so.

We crossed the finish line with 15 or 20 minutes to spare. Demon again pulsed down easily and I took him to the trailer to untack quickly. Unfortunately when we left, George started getting upset and Phyllis’ husband came over to ask me to bring Demon back. I grabbed a handful of hay and brought Demon back over to hang out with George.

After George pulsed down, we vetted both horses through and took them back to their respective trailers. I was super happy with how Demon finished. He did well, even though he was more tired at the end than he usually is.

Before the ride meeting, the ride manager came up to me and told me someone had told her we hadn’t gone to the beach. Well, of course we had, and I had 10 pounds of beach in my boot to prove it, plus the “between the ears” pictures I’d taken. That was more than enough to satisfy the ride manager, indeed, just insisting we had was enough.

I can only assume someone who knew we’d been ahead of them when we passed camp didn’t realize they’d passed us while we were fixing tack and thought we must have cut trail.

After all of this, I found myself thinking, the next time we do this ride, we’re leaving Thursday before the ride!

I did, eventually, figure out what must have happened to that billet which went missing. It was put together in a manner which would allow it to come undone, especially if it were being interfered with by stirrup fenders. Being on a western saddle, it was quite easy. Now, I put them on the saddle the same way they came to me from the manufacturer. However, I do feel it was an assembly error rather than a design flaw. I still use the same sort of billets, put together the other way around, and don't fear the same issue reoccurring.