If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen that my husband completed his first 50 mile endurance ride this past weekend. Since I wasn’t along for the ride, I convinced my husband to do a guest post about his experience. Please be nice in the comments or I’ll never get him to do another one. I’ve interjected my own comments in italics.
One of my hopes when getting Eugene last spring was that he’d make a good endurance horse since I couldn’t do endurance with Shasta anymore after her injury at the Fireworks ride in 2015. Our initial outing to Run for the Gold in June went well, and the Weaver Basin Express in July seemed to indicate that he could do a 25 with energy to spare, which was great. So, where to next?
Of course, I was also trying to turn him into an eventing horse, and with both Olivia and I having full-time jobs, time seems to fill up fast. After our adventures at the beginning of the summer, our goals for endurance got put on the back burner, with plans to come back to them in the fall, starting with the Quicksilver ride in October, where, after quite a bit of back-and-forth, I decided to go for trying a 50.
The ride was originally supposed to happen on October 1st. The week before, the Loma Prieta fire blew up in the hills south of where we live and not far from the ride; on September 28th, ride management decided to postpone the ride. We ended up going camping instead that weekend, but didn’t exactly get a lot of conditioning done because Nilla’s shoe was coming loose. (What is it about Grant Ranch and Nilla’s shoes? This was the second time shoe issues have curtailed our riding when camping there. I’m starting to suspect a conspiracy…)
I don’t remember having issues with Nilla’s shoes at Grant Ranch previously, but she does frequently have shoe issues so it seems pretty plausible.
The new date for the ride was announced as October 22nd. Given the orchestration that goes into our weekends, it was clear that this was going to throw all of our plans for a loop- we had talked about a couple of other potential rides that we could do, but with other plans already in motion and Nilla’s uncertain state limiting her options we ultimately resolved to just go ahead with Quicksilver on the new date. Had I been really planning well, I’d have used the extra three weeks to get some conditioning rides in; in reality, of course, I rarely strayed from the arena in the interim.
Fast forward to Friday, and we took off from work early to get Eugene loaded up and down to the ride. A nice thing about the Quicksilver ride is that it’s only about 45 minutes from the barn- one of the few nearby rides. We got there with plenty of time to get parked and get Eugene off the trailer and eating. He’s gotten a lot calmer about trailering to new places, especially by himself, and he took the whole trip in stride.
Fig was also at the ride with Confetti, and it turned out that we were conveniently parked right across the aisle from her, which worked out well since we were planning on riding together. She already had a 50 under her belt, and I was definitely on board with letting her guide our pacing for my first real endurance ride.
One wrinkle that we were going to have to deal with, though, was the ride’s requirement that the horses have hoof protection on all four feet. Our farrier was actually the ride farrier for the original date, but he couldn’t make the new date. Ride management still assured us that there’d be a farrier around Friday afternoon. We’ve had easy shoes on Eugene’s fronts since Run for the Gold, and we’d measured and bought the same to fit his backs for this ride. The farrier, however, was a no-show. Ride management was great about trying their best to find an alternate – there was a lot of calling around, but unfortunately to no avail. The ride managers were caught between a rock and a hard place: they wanted to enforce their hoof protection rules (which I agreed with, I wanted to get the shoes put on!), but at the same time they felt bad that they’d said there’d be a farrier available and that didn’t end up happening.
A photo posted by Olivia @ DIY Horse Ownership (@diyhorseownership) on
We ended up vetting in while all of this was still going on, and Eugene did great; he even trotted out like a proper endurance horse. In the past he’s been unwilling to bother with this silly trot-out thing, so I was happy that I didn’t need Olivia chasing along behind him.
After a lot of running around and wringing of hands (and after we’d taken a quick drive out to grab a bite to eat), one of the managers was kind enough to find some easy boots that fit him well enough. Not really the best solution to the hoof protection problem, but I appreciated the effort that they put into trying to get it solved for me.
By the time all of that got finished up, it was time to head to sleep. The start for the 50s was 6:30am, and I can tell you that neither of us were pleased to be setting our alarm for 5:30- we are definitely not morning people.
That alarm went off much sooner than I was hoping it would, and we dragged ourselves out of the warm bed and into the cold and dark outside. We tossed Eugene a flake of alfalfa and made up some beet pulp for him, while I ate a quick bagel and started getting everything ready. Fig and I were planning on leave a little after the 6:30 start to avoid getting caught in the initial rush – we knew full well that we weren’t going to be winning, so we didn’t feel any need to get involved in that craziness.
We got on the trail only about 5 minutes after the official start; the first pack cleared out pretty quickly and we had quite a nice little bubble for the first few miles. Riding in the near-dark was a new experience — sunrise was still nearly an hour away when we started, especially with the hills to the east — but the sky was light enough and the trails wide enough to at least ensure that we weren’t going to get lost.
Before I continue, let’s talk about the trail that we’d be riding. Harvey Bear is a decent sized park, but it’s not big enough to do a 50 without repetition, so the ride really only has one (slightly short) 25-mile loop. The LD ride does that loop once; the 50 does the loop twice, going the opposite direction the second time. The park is on the side of a hill, and the out vet check is about 2/3 of the way through the loop at the park’s upper parking lot. For our ride, we’d have a 20 minute hold each time we reached the out vet check, with an hour hold at base camp after the first loop. The park is mostly open grazing land, so shade is in pretty limited supply for most of the ride and some of the riders try to move fast on the first loop to get the most out of the cooler morning hours. Most of the trails are open fire roads, but a decent portion of it is on single track including one stretch that is usually closed to horses. It’s generally a pretty easy ride: one loop is about 2500′ of elevation gain, with only a few sections that are steep. The only real obstacles are the fairly frequent gates between pastures that have to be opened and closed and the potential for mountain bikers on the trails.
Anyway, we got started in the dark and there were volunteers holding the first two gates open for us, which we appreciated though Eugene was not a fan of having scary flashlights pointed at him. Both of the horses had a lot of go in them and were moving well; Fig made good use of her GPS to keep us to a comfortable 7.5-8mph trot up the winding hills of the first part of the ride. The one part that didn’t go so well was the set of boots that we borrowed for Eugene’s back feet; they were both gone within the first couple miles of the trail, unfortunately.
We trotted most of the first 6-7 miles. Eugene led, with Fetti following, which was the order we maintained for the whole ride. Eugene starts getting frustrated when he wants to go faster than the horse in front of him, and Fetti doesn’t mind following. Fig kept an eye on Fetti’s heart rate and called for walk breaks when it pushed up too high; otherwise we kept moving at a reasonable clip, averaging a little over 5.5mph despite the walks and despite the fact that we were going uphill pretty continuously. We got passed by a few more 50s who started after us, and around the 7 mile mark got passed by the first LD rider (the LD started at 7am, which had given us a comfortable bubble before they caught up).
Around that same point, we came across a couple riders coming back down the trail at us. They mentioned they’d gotten lost up the hill, which I thought a little odd, but they didn’t stop to ask for directions so we didn’t think too much of it. A little while later, though, we found the explanation for their confusion when the one of the LD riders who had passed us came trotting back thinking he, too, had gone the wrong way: there was a tree down across the trail. Fortunately, Fig has done the ride for several years now, so she was confident that we were going the right way. We pressed on until we came across the tree ourselves. Sure enough, the trail was pretty well blocked. The downhill slope was reasonably steep and pretty impassable with the crown of the tree blocking the way; the bottom of the break in the trunk was just at the side of the trail on the uphill side, but the slope was pretty steep and the footing not great. There was a clear path where the horses ahead of us had gone up and around it, though, so we followed in their tracks, complete with some rather unhappy slipping and sliding as we did so- Fig managed it even while talking to one of the ride managers on the phone so that they could come out and get it cleared up.
No pictures were taken of this tree. In fact, my husband took a whopping 2 pictures all day. One of sunrise and one of sunset. So I only have my pictures and the pro pictures to add. Pro pictures are used with purchase.
We’d gotten quite bunched-up with other riders by the time we passed it, but we soon spread out again. We did have some fun about a half mile down the trail when we passed the ride photographers. Eugene isn’t quite so deathly afraid of them as he was at Run for the Gold – no 10 foot leaps sideways, fortunately – but he was definitely going to stay on the opposite side of the trail from those scary cameras.
The trail from that point on was a nice set of gently rolling hills for the 6 more miles into the vet check, and we arrived maintaining our average 5.5mph pace. Definitely not going to win anything, but that’s enough to finish, which is what we were going for!
Eugene pulsed down to 60 pretty quickly, and I went straight to the vet check, which in hindsight was a mistake. He was doing well, but the first vet thought he might have heard some thumping when listening for gut sounds as a result of his still-fast breathing; that got another vet called over for a second opinion. The end result was that they thought he was doing fine but that we needed to make sure he got some electrolytes and stayed cool. That’s where my mistake was; I really should have taken the time to cool him off with the sponge buckets as my first step. I made sure not to repeat that mistake for the rest of the ride. That started our 20 minute hold, though, so we gave him the beet pulp that Olivia had brought up along with a flake of alfalfa that the ride management had provided and let him eat the whole time.
I was freaking out at the mention of thumps, but he didn’t look like he had thumps, just like he was breathing heavily. I need to do a whole other post on how we only managed to shave a bit of him because he was such a nightmare to clip. I think he was just really hot.
Fetti had taken a bit longer to pulse down than Eugene had, so we ended up actually having closer to a 30 minute hold at the vet check. She also had some pretty fast breathing that wasn’t really slowing down. Her heart rate recovered, though, and she was otherwise doing fine, so we resolved to keep an eye on it and set out on the way back to base camp.
The second half of the loop was much shorter than the first half, and outside of a climb at the start was also pretty firmly downhill. We again kept an eye on Fetti’s heartrate and breathing, using that as our guide for when to drop back to a walk to let the horses recover some, and otherwise trotted anything that wasn’t too steep. All four of us were feeling it by the time we got back toward camp and we were all looking forward to a break.
One of the water troughs available was only about a half mile out of camp, and we used that to cool the horses off and let them drink before getting in for the lunch hold; Fetti was still breathing rapidly even with the stop, so Fig hand-walked her in while I rode Eugene in at the walk. We made it back and Eugene pulsed down at 11:19, with Fetti following shortly thereafter.
The lunch vet check was supposed to be tack-off and within 30 minutes of pulsing down, so we took the horses back to the trailers, pulled their tack off, and let them get to eating. Eugene did great at the vet check. The same vet who’d had the concern about his breathing was back at base camp and looked a him for this stop as well, and he was very happy with how Eugene looked this time, which was quite a relief. Fetti got sponged with ice water to help her cool down, and both of them were ready to go by the time the hour was up.
Around this time, Eugene decided he didn’t want to eat beet pulp mashes anymore. Thankfully, I had read enough ride stories to know this could happen and had brought some other types of food. One thing he really liked was hydration hay. I used up the last block of it at this hold and drove to tractor supply to see if I could get more on my way to the out hold. Eugene continued to eat hay happily the whole time so I was never very worried, but I like them to eat the wet mashes since it gets more liquid into them.
Off we went, retracing our steps in reverse. Eugene benefited from the hour lunch stop, and he was raring to go, but we were still concerned about Fetti’s breathing. That meant we took it pretty easy, alternating between walk and trot to keep her pulse down and keep on eye on the respiration rate. Since we were going in reverse, we were on the short section of the loop again, but this time headed mostly uphill. About two-thirds of the way up, Fig hopped off of Fetti to help her recover and hand-walked for a ways as we neared a water trough. A couple minutes of letting very thirsty ponies drink and and pouring cold water over them – not Eugene’s favorite activity – and we were back off to crest the last hill and head down to the vet check. Fig hand-walked most of the way in, and I hopped off not too far out from the hold.
This time Eugene’s tired nature really started to show, and his first pulse was still high, 78. A few minutes of drinking and sponging did wonders, though, and when I next had it checked he was down to 52. I learned from the morning’s stop and gave him a couple more minutes to recover before heading to the vet, which seemed to help; his vitals were all good except for gut sounds (which I wasn’t too worried about given his enthusiasm for eating). He was not so enthusiastic about the trot out this time, however. Olivia had to end up acting as a chaser. We’ll have to work on that. Fortunately, he looked fine once we got him moving.
Tractor supply was sold out of hydration hay, but Eugene was happy to eat the stable pellet samples I had with me and he continued to eat hay. One bonus to my Tractor Supply excursion was that I got my husband got a cherry slushy from Sonic to enjoy during this hold.
Fetti wasn’t recovering quite so well, and so there was a question for a bit of whether or not Fig would end up pulling. In the end, it was decided that she’d continue on and we’d just take it easy, since we had a good 3 ½ hours left before we needed to be back and only 14 miles to go. The plan was to trot on the flat and downhill sections and just take the uphills at a walk, and for the first few miles that went pretty well. We maintained a little under 5 mph on the initial rolling section.
Unfortunately, Fig and I completely forgot about the amount of uphill we had to do as part of that 14 miles. The section along the lake was nice and rolling, but after that we had a long uphill climb to make, and Fetti was not so happy there. Fig ended up hand-walking again for a good part of the hike, but Fetti was still breathing pretty hard and we’d lost a fair amount of time.
I need to interject here to say that I told both my husband and Fig that there was a big climb after the vet check and both of them told me I was imagining it and it was just a short uphill and then all downhill to the finish. Does this look like a small uphill to you?
We were pretty close to the back of the pack even when leaving the vet check, and by the time we reached the crest almost all of the riders who had left after us had passed us. I was definitely thinking that I might end up heading out ahead a few times, but Fig kept pressing on, and when we got to the top she made the determination that we might as well trot what we could from here on out. Fetti’s breathing was definitely still fast and shallow, but nothing we did seemed to have much effect on it. Trotting, walking, uphill, downhill – it stayed at the same (elevated) rate regardless. Given that, Fig decided that the best thing for her was to get back to base camp as quickly as possible, using her heart rate as the best guide for when we needed to let her recover.
With that decided, off we went- and both the horses seemed to know they were headed home, because they went right up to a nice 8+ mph trot on the winding downslope that we maintained with very few interruptions for the next couple miles. The ground we made up did wonders for our confidence, and it was looking again like we’d make it in on time after all!
The remainder of the ride was mostly more of the same, and the horses did great for it. The long downward slopes (those parts not too steep for Fetti to trot, anyway) seemed pretty close to effortless for them, and once we rounded one of the last bends and saw the ride camp in the distance we knew we were in the clear. At the final hill we both hopped off the horses to walk them in, and I know I crossed the finish line and got my time – 5:56pm, nearly 11 ½ hours after starting out – with a big grin on my face.
The first order of business after getting back to camp was getting Eugene untacked, cleaned up, and fed. Olivia gave me a hand with that, fortunately, since I was definitely feeling the effects of the ride. We only gave Eugene a portion of the sponging we intended, though, since he wouldn’t eat while we were messing with him and we figured that it was better to get some food in him than to get all the salt off right away.
There was a little confusion over the post-finish pulse and vet check. The night before we were told at the ride meeting that we needed to pulse down to 64 within 30 minutes but had an hour to vet. For us stragglers, though, it seemed like they were trying to get things over faster. We took Eugene over about 25 minutes after crossing the finish, and outside of not wanting to trot again he looked great. The vet even commented that it looked like he could have a career in endurance, which made me even prouder of my Mustang than I already was, and we got our first completion for 50.
Dinner was already in full swing at this point, since the awards for the 25 had been done at 4:30 and they were just waiting for us final stragglers to do the awards for the 50s. Amazingly enough, we didn’t end up turtling, though we came awfully close; Eugene and I were 27th out of 29 completions. I’ve got absolutely no complaints: Eugene was great the whole day, especially without any serious conditioning work and without shoes on the back feet for nearly the entire 50 miles. After completing this one, I can definitely get behind the endurance ride motto of “To Finish is to Win!”
All that was left was to load up and head home. We normally don’t like trailering after endurance rides since the horses are so tired, but given the short distance we thought it was still the best choice. We got back pretty late, but got Eugene unloaded, into his stall, and provided with all the food he might want. We did have some concern over the fact the he hadn’t pooped since finishing the ride, so we asked the barn owner to keep an eye out when she fed the next morning. Fortunately, all was well by then, and he’s been doing great since!
He had been pooping on the trail, was peeing, was drinking, and was eating basically nonstop, so I wasn’t hugely worried, but I was a little concerned.
The whole thing was a great experience. Tough, certainly – I’m still sore a couple days later – but I’ve got a great horse and I really appreciated having Fig as a riding partner for the day. The ride was well run and extremely well marked, and the sense of accomplishment when I got the completion from the vet was a great feeling. I’d like to do more in the future, but perhaps with a bit more conditioning ahead of time. In the meantime, we’re probably done with endurance for the season, but seeing Eugene go from the green mustang we brought home in April to doing a 50 mile ride this month has been a lot of fun.