Wednesday, May 29, 2024

2024 Mary and Anna Memorial Ride: Year #8 on the Way to Decade Team

May 29 2024

After Hillbillie Willie’s last ride at Eagle Canyon, where he was on crack for the start of the ride, then got pulled at the first vet check for hind end lameness, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect of him at the Mary & Anna Memorial ride in Oregon. 

I wasn’t worried about his soundness or fitness; the Eagle lameness was very slight, I gave him a week off after Eagle, and when I next rode him, he was sound. 

My main concern was his mental state! At the Mary and Anna ride, he’d be again leaving behind his BFF DWA Barack and his frenemy DWA Papillon in camp while he went out and started the 50-mile ride on Saturday. And when he gets 10 feet away from Barack, he whinnies. So, apologies to everybody in camp :) , we practiced many, many times on Thursday and Friday, leaving our camping spot by ourselves, walking away from Willie’s BFF/notBFF and walking through camp, visiting, grazing, practicing separation. He got a little better each time, but always, even while eating grass, he’s thinking about his buddies and whinnying for them.

Connie and I both wanted to come to the Mary and Anna ride, one we’d never been to, and the site of this year's AERC National Championships in August. My main goal with Willie is reaching Decade Team with him - at least one 50-mile ride a year for ten years. We’d done seven years together. 

So. Saturday. Connie would also be riding Papillon on the 50-miler, but since Willie would be going faster, I saddled him up early and took him out of his pen to ride around and warm up and loosen up 15 minutes before the start. It’s much easier taking a horse out and walking away from his buddies than to be left behind in a pen when his buddies leave.

I still had no plan; was I going to try to ride by myself? Probably not, because Willie would just want to catch every horse in front of him. Later in the season after a few rides, he doesn’t do this, but I knew he’d be raring to go and he wasn’t going to be relaxed at the beginning of this ride.

I didn’t want to start in front nor in back, nor in a big group, and I wasn’t sure of who might be riding our speed and if they might or might not want company. So I just played it by ear, and would wait for what looked like a good time to head out on trail once the trail was open. 

Willie kept his warm-up down to a walk around the other horses, but he whinnied for Barack a few times, and he was getting himself a little more wound up as the minutes ticked down. Finally the starter said “Trail’s open!” and the front-runners headed out. We kept walking around, but the more we walked, the more wound up Willie got, and I spotted a group who walked out, with another single horse or two heading out at a walk, so I pointed Willie to the trail, at a walk. This was where Williie would explode if he was going to do it, but I just hoped and assumed he wouldn’t…… and he didn’t! He was cranked up for sure, but he was not on crack. We settled into a trot as the other riders ahead of us did, and while Willlie was pulling on his reins, he wasn’t pulling TOO hard.

We quickly moved up on Lindsay Fisher and her daughter Hailey and two others, I sure didn’t want Willie interfering with their ride. We were able to safely pass them, and we continued on with a number of riders strung out on the two-track ahead of us on this 20-mile loop, with an out vet check halfway. We motored along, Willie full of beans and pulling, but not crazy (thank goodness!!!! I could handle pulling), a faster pace than I wanted to go, but with Willie, once I’m committed to a place and pace in the ride, we’re committed and I have to deal with it. Besides, it was a chilly morning, so it was okay to move out the first loop or two. 

After a few miles, we ended up matching strides with young rider Laura E; she was catch-riding a friend’s horse and it was her first ride unsponsored. Her mount Wolf turned out to be a Saddlebred, and he and the Standardbred Willie matched strides and pace, and we ended up riding together the whole ride and all four of us enjoyed the company! Willie loves the forest, and he trotted along either ahead of his new buddy or beside him much of the way. After 90 minutes or so, I could finally take one hand off the reins now and then. We still moved out, but he wasn’t pulling anymore, especially since he had good company.

Willie usually doesn’t drink on a ride until after 20 miles or so, and he didn’t drink at the 20-mile vet check. I knew this was normal, but you sure wish they’d just take a drink already. He isn’t a voracious eater either, and he didn’t eat much at the 45-minute hold. This isn’t unusual either, but just eat something already! He did prefer the communal Horse Crack (soaked rice bran, carrots and oats) to his own grain, and when we could find some, he wanted alfalfa. 

We had five minutes left of our vet check when Connie and Pappy arrived; Pappy was getting his pulse taken and Connie shaded Pappy’s eye from Willie, and I stood between Willie and Pappy so they wouldn’t see each other and start whinnying! Pappy walked on to the vet, and I climbed on Willie and was just about to head back out on trail when Willie saw Pappy and whinnied, but we started out onto the trail with Wolf, and Willie quickly forgot about Pappy and got back to business.

The next 20 miles back to camp passed by easily and quickly through the Deschutes National Forest. Willie *finally* drank at the second water tank after the vet check, dunking his nose in and gorging like a thirsty camel. We had a climb up to the crater a few miles out of camp, circling the rim and looking down into the pit (full of ATVers zipping around.) Wolf and Willie cruised into the second vet check back at camp just behind some of the 100s coming off their 40-mile first loop. (We started at 5:45 AM; the 100s started at 5 AM.)

Willie’s gut sounds got a C…. Not good but not surprising, since he didn’t eat much at the first vet check, and no grass along the trail, as he is all business on the trail. But I wasn’t worried because his pulse was 56, and I knew he’d eat back in his pen beside his BFF Barack. I watched his pulse back at camp while he ate (nibbled the whole hold, as usual), which stayed below 60, (when he’s fit, it will stay below 50), and once dropped below 48.

We picked up Laura and Wolf back out on trail for our final 10 mile loop. Five miles into it we had a good climb, up and up a sandy road, and up again to the rim of the crater, around it, and back down into camp. We took a different path to the official finish line…. A finish banner stretched out by the trail, with Jala waiting with her camera, and a finish timer off to the side. Laura said, “You go ahead, my horse is going to spook at the banner.” I said, “OK, Willie won’t spook at it,” but as we got closer, the banner turned into a long wind-flapping stretchy monster, and Willie got bigger and taller like a giraffe until he finally spooked 20 feet to the left! Fortunately my long-legged Standardbred can’t throw an Arab spook, so I rode him to a stop, got off, and escorted him to the banner so he could see it really was just a banner, and he touched it with his nose and sighed, and we walked across the finish line.

At the final vet check, Willie trotted out sound (and smartly, we’d been practicing at home not to dog it!), his gut sounds had improved a little, and his final CRI was 44-44! Icing on the cake of the day! 

This was Willie’s kind of course - pretty flat, with no steep hills, just a few climbs, and dreamy footing, 90% soft two-track with very little rock under foot so he could move out in his big Standie trot. Darlene and Max Merlich had the trails so well marked, and water everywhere we needed it on course. This will be a fun, fast course for the National Championships in August. 

And so, we now reached year 8 of our 10-year Decade Team quest!

Connie took this one!