Our horse transport arrived right on time to pick us up to take us to Sartilly ride camp. A short two-hour drive and we arrived…into the mud. The rain over the last week had resulted in our car park being closed and needless to say, with all of the vehicles coming in, the ones that remained were well used. And I didn’t bring rubber boots!
A quick health and paper check for Sam and we settled him into the barn with the other Canadian horses. Then we checked into the hotel and two-bed container for groom and crew, team meetings, locating everything and to bed. The next day was vet check day and time for a quick ride. Sam was full of energy. We powered down the trail to the big mud/water hole and back before vetting in. Then it was time to prepare feed/supplies for the main vet check and road crew before heading back for something to eat and bed.
Up at 5:00 a.m. to feed Sam and get ready for our 7:00 a.m. start. I originally planned to start mid-pack, but altered that to ¾ of the way back after the mud on the trail I had seen the day before. I got on Sam at 6:30 a.m. He was calm but ready as we walked/jogged around the warm up area just outside of where the front runners were warming up….very busy in there and I didn’t want to get caught up in that.
Then we were off! We set off exactly where I planned and Sam was moving. I kept him on a very tight rein for the first five miles and passed a lot of riders. Finally I gave him a looser rein, but every time we passed a group and he settled, we would catch the next group and speed up. I saw several riders off their horses and passed the horse that had run off trail into a tree. It was a very sobering and saddening sight.
There were spectators cheering us on at every road crossing – almost every couple hundred feet. It was an amazing feeling to wave and say bonjour. I had told my road crew not to worry about the first two crew points as they would be chaos, which they were! Sam was hot in the humidity and heavy work load of the mud and I was starting to wish for water for his neck. Then a surprise! At the second crew point in the first 25 mile loop, I heard my niece call me. Melissa was there in the chaos, and I was able to marginally slow to grab the water for Sam’s neck.
We came into the first vet check and my crew worked fiercely to cool Sam down. He normally takes only a couple of minutes, but it took almost the full 20 minutes to get his pulse down. The humidity and work on the trail are already taking its toll. We vetted through and 40 minutes later head back out for loop two.
The mud was incredible, over knee-deep in points. At one stage, we walked with over 20 other horses for almost a mile through swamp land, only to have to go faster on asphalt to make up the time, which is also wet and slick. Many horses were slipping and sliding. I saw my road crew again and then Sam pulled a shoe in the mud. It was then that I noticed he wasn’t himself and was slowing down. Jessica passed us and warned my crew that I needed an easyboot. Crystal helped me to get it on at the next crew point (10km from vet check), but Sam was no longer happy. I got off and walked the last 4km into the vet check knowing that our day was probably over. My boy had given his all and just didn’t have his normal reserves to keep going. We did get his pulse down at the vet check, but it had gone back up by the time we hit the vet. He just couldn’t get cool enough in the humidity.
We went out to win….that meant speed. I think even if we had gone slower, the trail conditions and humidity would have stopped us, just later on in the ride. The tough trail was Sam’s ideal , but the preceding month of feed issues just didn’t supply him with enough reserves to continue.
I am proud of my boy for all he gave me. My crew were amazing, I couldn’t have asked for better. The experience and memories of representing Canada on an international stage is something I will treasure for a long time to come.