I spent all last week waffling about whether I should go to the Flesherton ride or not. Diego and I have been doing short easy rides all season. 12 or 14 mile set speed rides at very slow speeds. He’s been fine of course. He’s done a couple of fifties and has something like 300+ miles in OCTRA. So he fits up quickly. I’m the weak link in this partnership. I didn’t do much from late last summer until this spring when the surgeon cleared me to ride.
The shortest distance available at Flesherton was 36 miles. And it was a silver level set speed ride. So the minimum speed to complete would be 5mph. Manageable on a normal trail. But Flesherton has some remarkably big hills. It’s ski country and the trail crisscrosses the Beaver Valley, going right up to the top of the hills on either side several times. Those hills are killers, and you have to do a lot of walking, which really cuts into your average speed.
There’s also a lot of rocky footing, and some gravel roads. Diego has boots, but only for his front feet. So I was pretty worried about him getting footsore behind.
All that is not even to mention that saddle fit has been lurking over us like a distant dark cloud. He has not been back sore for the most part, but a couple of times I’ve found a bit of a skin flicker in his loin area after longer rides. I’m using the same saddle that I had custom fitted for King, and then later rode Dressy in. Diego is a completely different shape though, and I have been padding like crazy to make it work.
But in the end, I decided to go. Knowing I could always quit at the mid vet check if we were falling apart. Saturday morning I loaded Diego up on the trailer and headed out. Veronica came along as my pit crew, and her husband Brian went to be the head timer.
It had stopped raining, and the weather was sunny and warm on Saturday. But by Sunday it was really hot and humid. There was not even the slightest hint of a breeze. Diego’s kind of weather, but not mine. I’ve already proven, time and again, that I’m a heat stroke waiting to happen.
There were not too many starters in the set speed (8). Most of the entries were in the 50. To enter the silver level, both horse and rider must have 250 miles of distance competition. So the field is limited.
I asked Julie if I could start out with her for the first couple of miles. The Flesherton ride starts by going around several big hay fields, which can be a bit more exciting than optimal. Julie is very very experienced (with nearly 10,000 miles to her credit), and her horse is quite steady. So we walked around ride camp until all the other horses had left, then went out walking. Diego was happy to have a buddy, and went out quietly and very politely.
Diego has been a bit insecure and until lately has not liked to be in the lead. But we alternated the two horses on the lead and following, and Diego was willing and cheerful. Roy (Julie’s horse) has quite a lot more confidence and has no issues with leading. They paced well together and both seemed happy. So I tagged along with her all day.
The first loop was 22 miles. After the hayfields and a bit of road work, the trail goes up a steep, winding, rocky hill. All the way to the top of the valley wall. Then it goes across and back down a gravel road to the bottom of the valley, through a shallow river, and back up the other side to the top of Talisman ski hill.
Veronica, and Julie’s husband, Ron were both there waiting to crew for us. Veronica browbeat me into putting sunscreen on, gave me some gatorade, electrolytes for Diego, and sponged him off. She also gave me a cold, wet cloth which I wrapped around the back of my neck and left there. Instant cooldown.
We’d caught up with Erin and her horse Brego at the top of Talisman (I think she was hoping her pit crew would show up), and she rode along with us from then on. And her pit crew found her shortly after we left the check.
There was a new section of trail later in this loop that was just gorgeous. Mowed trail around a small lake. It was just gently rolling and we had a lovely long gallop around it. Then back into the winding forest trails. There’s a lot of variety in the trails. Open fields, huge hills, winding forest trail, gravel roads, and open meadows at the top of the ridges with views for miles. It’s a truly beautiful trail.
There are quite a few water crossings, and although he didn’t drink for the first 10 miles or so, Diego drank at every opportunity thereafter. And wow, did he ever drink a lot. He wasn’t as keen on the water troughs, but he loved all the creeks and rivers. He didn’t get an unusual amount of electrolytes either. Just about his usual one syringe at each water trough and two at the mid check.
When we came into the mid check, Diego pulsed down quickly. He was not nearly as hot as I was. It took minimal sponging to get him to 48, and the vets gave him A’s on everything. He was very well behaved. Veronica trotted him out for me since I was having a bit of trouble figuring out if the water was going to stay down after drinking it. Nancy made me take some Tums, and Marion gave me Rescue Remedy. I drank a couple of bottles of water and a gatorade, and eventually started to feel a bit less queasy and disoriented. Diego ate and drank well through the check, and seemed in good order when we left.
Erin was a few minutes behind us out of the mid check, but I think her little horse was on a mission to catch back up. He was back with us well before the water stop at the top of Talisman. We went back down the hill. And for a few minutes I worried that Diego might have taken a bad step behind, but he seemed to work through whatever it was and felt fine by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. We went through the river, and then up the hill to the top of the other side. Then across and back down into the valley again. I could tell as we started up the ride n tie hill that Diego was getting tired. One log that he had to step over was just too much effort and he sort of tumbled over it ungracefully. But he kept his feet and carried on. Every time Roy picked up a trot ahead of us, I could feel Diego’s disappointment “he’s trotting AGAIN? Can’t we walk? Oh… FINE!” and he’d motor to catch up. But his relief was palpable whenever Roy slowed back to a walk. I think Erin’s horse Brego was having similar thoughts behind us.
Admittedly, at that point, I was probably more anxious to be done than Diego was. I tried to drop my feet out of the stirrups at one point and realized that any stretch at all was going to result in serious cramping in my calf muscles. I was wiping my face, neck and arms with the wet cloths that Veronica was supplying at every stop, and I think I’d just have toppled right off the horse without those. I’ve never been so glad to see a gate as I was when we got to the cow pasture at the very end of the trail. (Fitness counts… lesson of the day!)
At the end, Diego pulsed down well within the 20 minutes. We went into the shade to wait for his 30 minute vetting, and Marion did some of the TTEAM ear work on Diego and let him graze a bit. He was very relaxed and although I know he was tired, he really didn’t look it.
He got all A’s on his final vetting and a pulse of 49. That’s high for Diego, but I figured it was the heat and the hills. However, a couple of hours later, it became apparent that his back was really very sore. I’m not sure if the vet actually checked his back (I was pretty foggy at the time) or if that came up later as he stiffened up. But he definitely needs a better fitting saddle before he does any more serious rides. In hindsight, I think that coming down Graham’s Hill with a sore back on slippery gravel was what made him feel odd behind. And it’s probably why his heart rate was 49 and not a bit lower (though his 49 was better than most of the other horses in the set speed).
I really could not have asked for a more perfect horse through the day. He behaved perfectly in the checks, perfectly for crewing, and perfectly on trail. He led and followed, and he wasn’t spooky. He trotted and cantered, very relaxed, on a loose rein. He has really caught on to the neck reining and was doing tight trail easily. No tripping (well… except for the big log!) or ADHD silliness.
However, I have Julie to thank for getting us in at a good speed. I didn’t have any energy to encourage him, and I think we’d have flagged badly in the last five miles. That of course is my fault though, not Diego’s. He’s had minimal conditioning, and he was just a little superstar out there despite being tired, and having an overheated and even more tired rider.
Diego got a grade 5 set speed finish. Given that I didn’t expect to get all the way around the course, or make the required speed even if I did… that is just spectacular 🙂
Oh and last but not least. My amazing pit crew. Veronica drove all over the place, out in the hot sun and humidity, and make sure that Diego and I were both drinking, eating, and cool enough to carry on. She trotted him out at both vet checks, and had my camp all packed away by the time I got back from awards. It was her first really serious pit crewing session, where she had to travel around meeting me at various points, and I could see her developing a system through the day. She was a total pro by the end of it. I’d never have finished without her either!
Veronica’s husband Brian, who was the head timer, sat out at that ride in the hot sun ALL day. Long after I was finished, waiting for the last of the 50s to come in. He had a touch of heat stroke I think. Nancy (the ride manager) thinks Brian walks on water. And maybe she’s right!