The hours were creeping by and I was watching the clock constantly. At noon I would be free to leave work for the day and start my adventure! It was Friday, March 21st, 2003 and tomorrow I would be riding in my first LD, a 30 mile ride. I had only planned on working half a day in order to finish loading my gear in the trailer and meet my Mom, who was bringing her horse JT up from California, at my friend Dovie’s house in Lemmon Valley around 2 pm. Finally, I was free to go and I drove the whole way home with butterflies in my stomach. This was the SECOND time I had attempted to do my FIRST ride. Last time, I had arrived at the barn on Friday to find my mare Sugar standing on three legs with a framing nail almost 3” deep in her foot. 8 months and $2,500 in surgery later, I still had a permanently lame horse. I sold her in March of 2002 and had just recently purchased Sinatra, my new blue-eyed gelding, on February 17th. Needless to say, I changed into my riding clothes in a hurry, grabbed the last of my stuff from the house, and practically flew to the barn to check on my horse. Yeah! He was looking great and ready to go. I loaded him in the trailer and away we went.
This was a nice first ride since it was so close to my house. Lemmon Valley is just on the other side of the mountains from where I live, and I have been out there several times in the last month to pre-ride some of the course with Dovie. She had offered to let us keep the horses at her house, a few blocks from ride camp, and use her extra corral. It was nice being able to go home and sleep in my own bed and not have to worry about my horse getting loose. Plus I knew he would sleep better and be able to move about more freely. Although it was kind of difficult having two trailers in two different places and having to keep track of what went where when. My mom showed up about 5 minutes after I got there and we got her horse all unloaded and stuff transferred over.
We decided to haul over to the ride site and get a spot before it got too crowded and take a short ride before vetting in. Found a nice spot along the arena so I could block Sinatra in and he wouldn’t have cars driving behind him. JT is good about that kind of stuff so he got the driveway side. Sinatra was SO excited. We took a walk around ridecamp before saddling up and he was checking everything out. Everyone was checking him out also, he really stands out in the crowd. I got a LOT of “nice horse” comments; Mom said he was the belle of the ball. We went back to the trailer and saddled up. Sinatra was so excited he practically scooted out from under the saddle blanket in fear when I put it on him because he was so busy looking around at stuff.
Since I had ridden some of these trails before, I kind of had an idea about the “pre-ride” loop I wanted to go on. But one wrong turn found us cutting new trail through the sagebrush. At least I had a general idea of where another trail was so we headed that way and eventually came upon what would be the very first part of the ride tomorrow. We headed back to camp and decided on the way that since JT wasn’t conditioned for the deep sand, and Sinatra was barefoot, that we would take it easy in the sand and hard-packed roads and cruise along everywhere else. Made it back to camp with no problems and both the boys vetted in with all A’s. There was a scale there (3’ x 5’ wooden board between two PVC pipe rails) and we decided to weigh the horses before the ride. JT was a good boy and weighed 930 lbs. Sinatra edged up to the board, eyes bulging and snorting through his nose. Then he decided to come through the PVC rails, but JUMPED the entire board. He barely hit the front and back edges with one hoof. This caused quite the scene since the scale was next to the vet check line and there were quite a few horses waiting. Oh well, we had enjoyed other people’s antics while we were waiting. Maybe next time…
That night was the ride meeting where we learned that it would be 15 miles to the vet check (and first water) and then 15 miles on a different trail back to camp. Joyce, who boards her horse Alex where I keep Sinatra, was a volunteer for the ride and we put our vet supplies in her truck. We went to Dovie’s for dinner and had good food and great conversation with several other riders (Lou, Mike, and Sally) who had been in the sport for years. Dovie offered to feed in the morning for us, very nice, so we could sleep in more. One last check on the horses and we went home to bed, excited about the next day.
Our ride started at 8 am but we woke up at 6 and hurriedly got dressed and ate a quick breakfast of eggs and toast. It was supposed to be around 50 that day but really windy, so I wore my polar-fleece tights, a T-shirt, and a windproof jacket. We left the house by 6:30 and drove over to watch the start of the 50 at 7 am. There were almost 100 horses entered in the 50! We parked the truck on a side street and stayed warm in the cab, watching the horses mill about and then set off down the trail. When it was clear to go, we headed over to Dovie’s to catch our two and get ready. We had our halters and horses at Dovie’s but our saddles in my trailer two blocks away at ridecamp. Away we went to get saddled. Once we were almost ready, we realized we had left our water bottles in Mom’s cooler in my truck at Dovie’s. Great! I had some extra empty bottles so we went to find a hose to fill them. Instead we found one of the ride managers, who gave us some waters to take with us, they were for us at the vet check anyways she said. Thanks! Now we’re ready! No wait…. I don’t have my sunglasses! And I REALLY need them. So Mom rides and I walk Sinatra BACK over to Dovie’s house so I can get them out of my truck. Okay, now we’re ready. We ride over to the starting line and don’t see anyone else, it’s already 8:20. Off we go!
The boys are feeling good and since we’ve already walked all over the place this morning, we start off at a nice brisk trot/gait (Sinatra trots, JT gaits). Pretty soon we are starting to catch and pass other people who started after the “pack” and we even leapfrog a little bit with a couple of really nice girls from the Auburn area. We stick to our plan, walk in the deep sand, trot where we can. Unfortunately due to the dirt bikes that ride in this area, often where the footing is good the trail is all whooped out. That’s really hard on the horses’ legs so we end up walking more than planned. The trail was nice, well marked and easy to follow, pretty soon it lead us up a big hill and down the backside. We get off to walk the downhill. Mom learns that JT had a lot longer stride than her downhill and tries to keep him behind or beside her. Sinatra followed behind really well at the end of my leadrope, letting me choose the path.
The trail continues to follow the edge of a burn from prior years and meanders between and among the hills. There is a lot more up and down than either of us were expecting. One hill we encounter is REALLY big and REALLY steep. I get off and decide to lead Sinatra up. It doesn’t take very long of me trying to drag his butt (he’s too busy eating the bits of grass that are growing along the trail) to realize this is NOT a good idea. Mom and JT are now way ahead of us and the last two riders (who we had passed earlier) are now passing me. I try to turn Sinatra so I’m on the uphill side but that means he’s facing away from the other horses. He’s having none of that so I decide to mount on the offside. I get about halfway up when Sinatra freaks out (I hadn’t ever done this before) and trots off into the rocks, headed totally off trail and in a hurry. I don’t know what is worse, hanging with my belly on the saddle trying to stop my horse or worrying that he’s going to stub his bare feet on some rocks and be too sore to finish the ride! And we’re not even to the vet check yet! I end up trying to jump off but catch my feet on some rocks and land on my hands and knees. Sinatra pulls the reins out of my hands but doesn’t run away (good boy I guess). This time he’s willing to stand while I mount on the correct side and we head up the hill. I fish a band-aid out of my first aid kit and put it on the scrape on my pinky finger. It stays on long enough for it to quit bleeding.
Since I had pre-ridden some of this trail with Dovie, I thought we were a lot closer to the vet check than we were. I had told Mom that morning as we left that we had to be at the vet check by 11 am since we only had 7 hours, with a 1 hour mandatory hold, to complete the ride. That meant we had 3 hours to get to the vet check, and 3 hours to get from there to the finish. By 10 am I was starting to wonder how much further. I had ridden some of this trail before with my other horse Sugar, but always from the opposite direction. After we left the hills we had some BEAUTIFUL stretches that invited long trots and some nice canters. I kept thinking that the vet check was just around the corner; this was probably the longest part of the ride for me. Finally we could see the rooftops of the campers and trucks that were there and got off to walk our horses in. Sinatra was in the low 70’s as we came over the knoll and saw the check in the valley below. He immediately spiked into the high 140’s upon seeing all the activity. We walked down and let them get a drink and some hay. JT was pulsed in and cleared to go while Sinatra was still hanging right above 60 (the requirement). Finally he was cleared to go and we received our “In Time.” If they passed inspection, we would be free to continue in an hour.
It was REALLY windy at the hold. We were thankful that we had our windbreaker jackets on. Both horses ate and drank really well, although JT was more interested in a nap than food before too long. Sinatra was enjoying the hay until he found an apple and some carrots buried in it. After that he was more interested in looking for the “treats” and would only pick at the hay. He ate all of his mash and would have cleaned up all the apples and carrots at the check if I had let him. They also provided food for the riders, Mom had a PBJ and I had tuna. Also some chips and waters. I grabbed an extra bottle for out on the trail since I had drunk one on the first half of our journey. The boys vetted through just fine, although Sinatra would not trot away from the vet (Dr. McCartney this time). She did give him A’s though since he trotted well on the way back. It was nice to take a break but the wind made it uncomfortable and we huddled next to Joyce’s truck until it was time to go.
After our hour was up we mounted up and headed back out. This time into the wind, which made it hard to talk and our jackets blew up like balloons. The footing was good, although a little hard with small rocks, but we had walked so much that morning, both Sinatra and I were ready to trot more. We followed the dirt road and sand pipeline that I had ridden numerous times before on Sugar. At least I knew where I was for sure now. Soon we headed off into the hills to our left and through some narrow more rocky footing. We were walking along, getting passed by the top 10 riders in the 50. Sinatra always gave a good warning, he would see them coming from behind and start to trot a little. He wanted to get off the trail when they went by but never spooked too bad. It was amazing to watch them fly along (most were trotting or cantering) thinking they had already ridden 20 miles further than us. All of them had Easyboots on their horses, thus could go faster over the footing. Mom and I talked about how there was NO WAY we were ready to do a 50. We were getting tired enough, thank you very much.
After a little bit we came back out of the hills and followed dirt roads. We passed Hungry Valley and I knew it was not too much further into Lemmon Valley. The footing was good and the second half of the ride pretty much allowed us to trot or canter as we wanted to. At one time, Mom was in the lead and I was riding behind. Suddenly, the ribbon that was on the tree next to JT blew straight towards him. Although we had been riding past blowing ribbons for the past 3 hours, JT jumped about 3 feet to the left and Mom ended up hanging onto and over his neck. Sinatra jumped for good measure but I was ready for it, having seen JT go. Mom laughed and I congratulated her for staying on. Funny how they can pass something 100 times before they notice it.
Soon we could see Lemmon Valley and knew the finish was close. Mom got excited and hurried in across the line. I knew that our time wouldn’t officially stop until we pulsed down to 60 and with the delay I had at the vet check, I took my time and walked in. I look forward to doing a 50 though, so I can race across the line, even if only with myself. Sinatra walked in and straight to the water trough. He had done so well about eating and drinking all day, what a good boy! He was in the low 70’s when we crossed the line and came down to 60 in about 2 minutes. We ended up finishing at 2:10 pm, so total ride time was 4 hours and 50 minutes. Grandma, Grandpa, and Alissa showed up right as we crossed the finish line. Alissa walked the 3 blocks back to camp with us. It felt good to get off and walk for a while.
We unsaddled and brushed the horses a little bit. Sinatra was really sweaty but JT was only wet under his saddle pad. Sinatra is really hairy and shedding fast though. Went to our final completion vet check. If you do not pass, you do not get a completion for the ride, even though you finished the entire course. We had the same vet as our pre-ride check and both horses passed with mostly A’s and some B’s. Sinatra did really well and got compliments for completing the ride barefoot. The vet was actually kind of amazed. We walked the horses back to Dovie’s so they could eat and roll at their leisure. Once there, I realized that I had left the keys for the truck in the horse trailer back at ridecamp. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking back so Bob, Dovie’s husband, was kind enough to drive me over to get them.
We took the truck back over to ridecamp and hung out and watched other people do their completion check. We stayed until Dovie and her friend Lou finished. It was so windy though that pretty soon we were huddled in the cab of the truck, waiting for dinnertime and the awards. We put our sweatshirts on under our jackets and left our half-chaps on our legs to help keep warm. Dinner was excellent, even if it did get cold very quickly. I ate a TON, tasted so good. We got a nice sweatshirt as a completion award. We were kind of rude and left as soon as we got ours. I wanted to get inside out of the wind and get warmed up. We hitched up the trailer and took it over to Dovie’s, decided that we’d leave Sinatra for one more night and do all the tack/supply change in the morning. Hurried home and took a bath, where I promptly fell asleep in the tub. I dreamt of riding and falling off and kept waking myself up. I got out of the bath and went to bed. In the morning I mentioned my dreams to Mom and she said she had been dreaming of falling off as well. Must have been our minds reliving the secret anxiety we had from the day before.
Sinatra and JT looked great the next day. In fact, Sinatra looked ready to do it again. That’s good, cause I sure wasn’t! I can’t wait for my next ride, I’m definitely hooked. I plan on a few more LD’s (25 – 30 miles) but hope to attempt a 50 before the end of this year. For now, I know we have learned some invaluable lessons and finally embarked on the journey of a lifetime.