The finish line was in sight and Doc knew it was time to overtake these two gentlemen and their horses, but we were still on a single track trail and passing was dangerous with the boulders lining the sides. They knew I was close as they kept looking back over their shoulders seeing how much more ground Doc and I had made up over the last 12 miles…
Jill and I arrived at Antelope Island Endurance Ride Camp in the late afternoon of Friday, April 8th. Jill was leasing a sharp looking gelding going by the nickname Pinky from Christoph Schork at Global Endurance Training Center in Utah. I was teamed up once again on Doc who is owned and trained by Elroy Karius in Kelowna.
As we both were going to be riding in different equipment, we saddled up our respective horses to get stirrups set, figure out any possible rub spots and loosen up the horses from their travels. Pinky was hot and ready to race. Jill was finding him to be quite the handful and wondered if he would be a good fit for her riding by herself in the 25 mile limited distance ride. Elroy and I saddled up and rode up and down the road past the start line to get the horses accustomed to riding in a group. Pinky calmed down significantly if we rode on either side of Jill but it looked like he might be a bit too much to handle safely if she rode alone.
After we untacked, we met to discuss our game plan for Saturday. Elroy and I were registered to do the two day 100 mile ride, however, there were only two or three other riders registered. I’m still figuring out the points system with the AERC, but we would receive more points if we rode in just the two 50 mile rides separately as they had more entrants. That also gave us some leeway should something happen and we weren’t able to continue on day two. Jill decided that she had more than enough horse and registered to do the 50 mile with us and joined the Canadians.
5:30 a.m. rolled around a bit too quickly, especially since Jill, Elroy and I had a few too many glasses of wine the previous night. However, once the brisk morning air hit my face, I was awakened and ready to get started for the day. Although the start time for the 50 mile wasn’t until 8:00 a.m., we took the chance to settle our stomachs, warm up the horses and get organized for the “out vet check.” For an out vet check, you have to pack up everything you and your horse might need at the rest stop. This meant water and food for ourselves, plus electrolytes, hay, grain, sponges, towels, sunscreen, body glide for chafing and blister prevention, hoof boots, and any other supplies that might be needed after riding 28 miles – all packed into one Rubbermaid container.
We passed through the vet check area at mile 14, 28 and 38, although the official vet check stop was at mile 28. Mile 14 was a perfect time to pass through and we were able to feed and water the horses as well as electrolyte before heading out again. This short 5 minute stop was a perfect training session for what it will be like in Mongolia when I need to feed and water myself and get a new horse saddled up. It requires planning, coordination and team member cooperation. As this was Jill’s first experience with a short rest stop, she found herself being hurried along by us and forgetting to add water to her hydration pack and perhaps missing a few other items. I couldn’t help but laugh as she tried to get it all together as we kept calling her name, probably adding to her flustered state.
The scenery was absolutely incredible as we climbed the hills on Antelope Island. The Salt Lake wrapped around us and displayed the shadows of the clouds in an ever changing fashion. I was enjoying the scenery as much as the ride. I really can’t wait until the AERC Endurance Championships in September as they are being held in Antelope Island.
We climbed up the steep switchbacks for about an hour and we were continually amazed by our horses’ endurance as we touched the clouds. Finally, it seemed we would be marching down a rather steep and rocky section and we all dismounted and picked our way down, with the horses in tow. I heard a grunt and a bit of an avalanche of rocks and turned around just in time to see Jill come tumbling down. She quickly hopped to her feet and I figured she was fine to carry on. However, she was having a bit of a struggle getting back on her horse, and mentioned that she was trembling all over. We thought she might feel a little better as we walked on, but it was obvious she was not feeling well. Jill still hadn’t eaten anything since last night as she was dealing with an upset stomach, she had only drank plain water through the morning and was currently out of water, plus the fall just took away all her remaining energy.
When we arrived at the vet check for the 40 minute hold, we checked the horses through the trot out and they were all cleared by the vets and given “As” for condition. The horses all ate greedily from the alfalfa hay and mash and all had a good drink from the water tanks. However, Elroy’s horse Reo seemed a little more tired than Doc. He had a bit of a depressed eye, nothing really wrong as his hydration was fine and he was eating and drinking normally. Elroy decided that he would take a little longer time at the hold to make sure everything was good with Reo as well as to give Jill some time to recover from her fall. However, Doc was feeling good and was starting to get restless as he wanted to get back on the trail. We decided it would be better for Elroy and Jill to go at a slower pace and for Doc and me to get back on the trail and see if he felt good enough to top 5.
Before I knew it, Elroy was handing me Doc’s electrolytes for our next stop and was shooing me away. Doc did not care that he was leaving his herd behind and it took some convincing that he should only trot as we head out on our next loop up the hill side. Far out into the distance we could see the 7th and 8th place horse and riders. Doc set his ears and eyes on them and he was determined to catch up to them. I did my best to pace him as we still had 22 miles to go and I did not want him tiring too easily. This loop was about 8 miles and by the time we were finished that section, we were now in 6th place, exactly where we were meant to be. However, as I stopped to sponge down Doc with water, I noticed that I had lost my package of electrolytes somewhere on the trail. This meant that I had to change my game plan a little and ensure that Doc consumed his groceries for the final leg back to ride camp.
Doc seemed to know that he needed food and stopped at every patch of green grass as we climbed the gravel road. I gave him his time to eat, but being a competitive horse he also had his ears set on this beautiful little black Arabian ridden by Jacob (who I came to know as we were going about the same pace as we headed out of the last vet check). Jacob told me about an amazing ride called the Pony Express, which he participated in, which was a 50 mile endurance ride 5 days a week for approximately 8 weeks in the summer. I can’t wait to find out more about this ride!
We eventually caught up to a fellow riding a great big chestnut, who immediately broke into gallop when we got a little too close. That started a bit of a horse race between Jacob and him and off they went racing to the next watering tub about half a mile away. Doc really did not want to be outdone so it took all my strength to hold him at a fast trot which kept breaking into a slow lope. We met the two of them again at the watering tub and Jacob quickly took off while Doc and the chestnut quenched their thirst.
Doc and I headed out on the trail before the chestnut and continued at a fast trot for about half a mile when suddenly the chestnut went blowing past us at strong gallop through the grassland. We watched as he caught up to Jacob far into the distance and then they both disappeared over the hill. Doc and I were once again alone on the trail and we continued at a fairly steady pace.
We eventually saw Jacob walking along the trail. The chestnut was nowhere in sight, but most likely just on the other side of the hill. Once we caught up to Jacob, he started at a trot again and we kept up the pace until we caught up to the chestnut quite close to the finish line. The single track finally spread out into the roadway and we inched our way up until all three horses were nose to nose. We turned the corner onto the pavement and we all broke out into a gallop. The chestnut swung out wide onto the shoulder of the pavement, but quickly vanished from the corner of my eye as Doc and the black Arab raced to the finish.
A few horses were heading up the trail and caused Jacob’s horse to break his stride in order to steer around them. I thought this wasn’t a fair finish and held Doc back a little so I could see what happened to Jacob. But that little interruption didn’t break his spirit and they came thundering at us. I felt Doc’s powerful hind end gather traction as he leaped into high speed. It took a few (ok many, many!) strides to slow our horses down and to turn around. With huge smiles and laughing we high fived each other and walked back to the vet area. We had 10 minutes to pulse down after passing the finish line and since my crew was still out on the trail, my work was not done.
I did find out that the chestnut stepped into a hole as he swung wide on the turn, which explained why he dropped out of sight and did not keep up with us. A bitter disappointment at the end of 50 well-travelled miles. Unfortunately, Jacob’s mare did not pulse down within the required 10 minutes. Doc pulsed down and we were advised we would be showing for best condition in one hour.
About 90 minutes later, Elroy and Jill came strolling in. It was so nice to see that Jill finally had her 50 mile completion in the bank and there were smiles and high fives all around.