Jersey Devil 25 mile CTR 2014

After a full season of phenomenal showing by Miss Daizy, (who has earned her Versatility with ECTRA in 2014) I’m kinda running out of steam.  It started with the let down at attending Ride For The Ribbons at the beginning of October.  Then I got sick for four days and it took another four days to fully recover from that.  Now it’s getting dark at 6:00 pm and I’m starting to enter “hybernation-mode”.

The last two rides of the year that I have planned (Jersey Devil CTR and Mustang Memorial END) are both in the sand at New Jersey.  After competing on Miss Daizy a full season as her rider, I have come to realize that she is a “mountain” horse.  She prefers the ups and downs and twisty single track trail of those rides to the flat and straight monotonous trail.  Could that have something to do with my own feelings on that kind of trail?  Probably.  Could that have something to do with the way I ride in the saddle?  Even more probable.

I am on the hunt for a new saddle to help Miss Daizy with my out of balance riding.  I really want a Specialized Saddle Eurolight, but at the moment, I surely do not have the $2,500 to spare to buy a new one!

We didn’t make it to the Jersey Devil as I came down with a high fever of unknown origin.  For five days I ran a fever which reached as high as 104 on the second day.  Steel went to the ride, picked up by Cindy, for Dom to compete.

What?  I don't get to go back out on trail?

What? I don’t get to go back out on trail?

Alas, the night before the ride, a horse got loose in camp and took down Steel’s corral.  Steel went running around and then spent the night tied to Cindy’s trailer.  Apparently, she weaved all night long, wearing two deep grooves in the sand.  Steel was pulled at the first hold, lame.  Her shoulder was dipping and she had some swelling in her front pastern.

When Cindy brought her home, she trotted all over the yard, not taking a single lame step, however when she would turn to the right, I could see her dipping her shoulder and not moving square.  I suspect the all night weaving combined with the deep sand did her in.

Steel messed up Dom’s 3 1/2 year running streak of never being pulled.

SORRY DOM!

On a  high note, Cindy and Bailey earned Grand Champion for the ride on Sunday.  WAY TO GO!!!!!  It’s a little funny, actually, because when she found out I was not going, her comment was .. “Oh, good, now someone else can get Grand Champion.”

And Cindy did!

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Here is Dom’s blog posting about The Jersey Devil ride.

Jersey Devil 2014

I suppose I should talk about what happened at the Jersey Devil. Or rather, what didn’t happen. *sigh*

After our successful 50 at Big Loop Boogie, Steel and I were lined up to do the Mustang Memorial this coming weekend. The Mustang is my annual ‘birthday ride’. It’s local and well-run and was both Ozzy’s first endurance ride and his last fifty. Last year was the first year that Mustang was FEI, and I rode Diesel to a tie for first place, which was epic. I have never ridden like that in my life and it was a rush. I was looking forward to going back to Mustang this year, albeit at a more sedate pace.

After the Illinois ride, I took a month off of competing to treat Ozzy for his EPM. The treatment was daily for 28 consecutive days, and I didn’t trust anyone but myself or Mike to do it. Silly, perhaps, but that’s the way it was. I didn’t go to Chesapeake. I didn’t go to Shut Up and Ride. I also didn’t go to Fort Valley, but that was for different reasons.

At the beginning of October, I talked to Dodie about our Mustang plans. She mentioned that she was taking Daisy to the Jersey Devil (which happens to be the last ride Ozzy and I ever did). She didn’t have a rider for Steel, however, and the mare would be coming off a two month break to compete at Mustang. It’s a long story, but they all  missed Ride for the Ribbons (which I was the photographer for, but more on that later). Steel was still in regular conditioning, but she hadn’t done a competition since Big Loop. (Steel did compete at Chesapeake, she did 100 miles in her stall and then 30 miles on trail)

On a whim, I volunteered to ride Steel at Jersey Devil. I’d been itching to get back to distance riding after my hiatus, and I do adore Steel. Plus, I’d been dying to ride with Dodie again. We have such a grand time together, and it’s nothing if not totally fun.

It was settled. Dodie would ship the horses down on Sunday morning and we would ride the 25 together, treating it as a last conditioning for Mustang.

Sandy and I briefly contemplated taking Lilly and Mickey down to do the 10 mile CDR on Saturday, then staying to party all night before I rode a second day on Sunday, but that didn’t pan out. Neither horse was really fit enough physically or mentally to be competitive. That was ok by us, and we had agreed that we wouldn’t mind walking the whole ten miles and losing a ton  of points for being over time. But when we threw in Lilly’s feet, transportation logistics, and all the vet bills we’ve both been dealing with lately, we decided to throw in the towel on that plan.

Instead, I would give my regular lessons on Friday and Saturday, sleep in my own warm, cozy bed on Saturday night, and drive down bright and early on Sunday with Mike to meet Dodie and the horses in camp for vetting.

It turns out that plan wasn’t meant to be either. We were coming down to the wire on the Devil and nothing seemed to be going according to plan.

It rained and rained and rained the week leading up to the ride. As a result, Mike was asked to come into work on Sunday. Being the sweetheart he is, he offered to tell his boss he couldn’t do it, but I told him not to worry about it. The Devil is a CTR, which means no crews are allowed. Yes, I love that he takes photos of me on my adventures, but I could bring the point and shoot and make do. I’ve ridden these trails a million times and I was sure the group of us would end up taking pictures of each other regardless of whether we had our stellar photographer with us or not. Besides, Mike’s boss has been amazing all year about letting us go all over the country, often with little notice. I could survive at trip all the way in south Jersey by myself. I would be needing Mike for the Mustang way more than at the Devil. I told him not to worry about it and sent him off to work.

The Friday before the ride, I suddenly started to panic. I couldn’t 100% remember whether I was riding Saturday or Sunday and I started to second guess myself. I dug through my emails and Facebook messages, but couldn’t find an answer either way. I messaged Dodie in a tizzy on Facebook, but she didn’t reply until after I’d gone to bed.

Grinning, mid-rant.

As it turns out, Dodie wasn’t going to be making it to the Devil either! She had been battling some crazy death flu and still wasn’t healthy enough to ride. She had messaged me on Facebook about it, but I didn’t get to the messages in any sort of a timely fashion. If I had, I would have told her not to worry about it and we all would have stayed home, relaxing. By the time I finally got to the messages, however, Dodie had already arranged to send Steel ahead with Cindy. (Thank you, Dodie, for bending over backwards to get the horse to the ride for me, and thank you thank you thank you, Cindy, for going out of your way to get her AND taking care of her AND everything else that weekend.) With all that heart-warming effort from everyone, I couldn’t back out. Still, I had a sinking feeling about the weekend.

No lucky charm Mike. No fun-filled, cheery, sunshine Dodie. No Daisy the Incredible. *gulp* I was just hoping I’d at least get to ride with someone I knew. From the looks of everyone’s posts on Facebook, everyone I know had been there on Saturday and was already done riding.

So I gave my lessons, went home, and tried to go to bed early. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I had every sort of nightmare imaginable. Dying in a car crash on the way to the ride. Getting lost on trail. Getting dead on trail. Steel being bad. Me being lame. Not having the right address for ride camp. I tossed and turned and worried, which is very unlike me. I get excited coming up to rides, but I don’t get jittery or nervous. What the heck?

I was up at 4am and out the door by five. The drive was just under two hours, but I know the route well. Down 206 to the Red Lion circle, along 70 to mile marker 32.5, right into the cranberry bogs, and follow the hoof prints to the gun club.

The drive was uneventful, though I was surprised at the number of cars on the road before dawn on a Sunday. I arrived safely in camp (no fiery crashes to be seen) and found Cindy’s rig parked right where she told me it would be. (Thank you Cindy for your excellent in-camp directions.)

Steel in her pen. Photo by Cheryl.

I got out of the car and greeted Cindy with a grin.
“You can have your mare now. I’m done with her,” she scowled. She was half-joking, I think. Ok. Maybe not.
“O no, what happened?”
“I don’t even know how you put up with her…” Cindy hissed. Uh oh.

It turns out it had been an eventful night in camp. Another horse had gotten loose around 1am. He took down the pen that Steel and Cindy’s horse, Bailey, were sleeping in. Thankfully, Bailey is a good boy and didn’t go very far. Also thankfully, Steel didn’t want to leave her buddy. Cindy was able to grab both of our horses within a few minutes, but she wasn’t taking any more chances. She, very wisely, tied both horses to the trailer for safe keeping.

Unfortunately, Steel is not great about tying to the trailer. It must bring back some sort of horrible memories from her former show horse life. As you may remember, she flipped herself over while tied to the trailer at Cheshire this past spring, and she hit her head so hard that I was convinced she wasn’t getting up. She sort of has a history with trailer tying. Now, I will say that she has come a long way since then. Nonetheless, she spent the whole night weaving on her tie. When I arrived in the morning, she was standing in a two-foot-deep rut that she had paced into the sand.

Not a good sign.

“I hope you didn’t wear yourself out before we even started,” I muttered, untying her and rubbing her face.

Steel did seem happy to see me, and she settled down quickly as I walked her around camp.

“You’re here awfully early…”

I went up to the gun club to sign in, and found out that there were even more complications to be had before the ride even started. There was no record of my entry. (!!!) I had received a confirmation email and a ride information packet, as well as directions to the ride, so I was stunned to hear this. Ride management handled this snafu very well, for which I am grateful. Since Dodie had pulled her entry, they were able to simply swap my name into her place and give me her ride number. They were also kind enough to transfer her unused entry fee to my name, and lower my outstanding balance, which was over-the-top lovely of them.

After what felt like a decade and a half, I finally got my paperwork done and went back outside, where Cindy was very patiently holding my antsy little gray horse. I thanked her for the millionth time, and took hold of Steel to go for the vetting.

I had been warned that the vet at this ride was being extra hard on everyone. I recognized her from some other events. She’s new to the sport, and seems to generate a lot of complaints from participants. She also can’t seem to judge soundness on gaited horses, which is a very frustrating attribute to have within the distance riding crowd. Still, good ride vets are hard to find, and it’s so important to be grateful for the ones we have. It’s also important to welcome any vet who is willing to give vet judging a go. Seriously, we were lucky to have a vet at all on the weekend of Fort Valley in Virginia (the third jewel of the east coast triple crown, and where my Endurance Trifecta cohorts were partying it up without me that weekend).

I will say vetting went much more smoothly than it had last year. We were in line for less than three hours, which was a big improvement on its own.

Seriously, though, Steel and I vetted right through. Perhaps my favorite part about this mare is that she makes me look like I’m capable of trotting circles. Steel stood quietly while the vet poked and prodded her. Her pulse was low, her gut sounds were good, and she wasn’t sore anywhere. The vet noted the scuff on her forehead and some old marks on her legs, and I was pleased to see that her interference wounds have closed up entirely.

I already knew the answer, but I asked if I could use bell boots at CTR. No go. Damn. I wasn’t sure were the line between leg protection (not allowed) and hoofware (ok in some circumstances) was, and it didn’t hurt to ask.

We trotted down, circled left and right, trotted back, and completed our vetting. I thanked the vet judge and went back to the trailer with my mare in tow.

The ride briefing had been delayed while all the horses went through, and I was happy to see that Kara had pushed back the start times accordingly. We would be going out in the first group, at 9 o’clock on the dot. Good. I might even be awake by then.

Meanwhile, I joked with Kara about my ride entry mix up.
“I hope I didn’t screw up your whole system!” I laughed. “I seem to wreak havoc everywhere I go.”
“What ride number are you?” she asked.
“Eleven.”
“Good. Then I don’t care about your name, your face, or what horse you’re riding. As long as you have a number, we’re good.” We had a giggle and moved on to the subject of ride t-shirts (they had a great design this year). “So do we get one for completion or do we have to buy them?”
“I don’t know. Did you bring the boyfriend?”
“Sadly, no. He had to work.”
“Well then, I have to charge you.”
“It’s funny you say that,” I told her. “I told him you’d miss having him help around camp, and he wasn’t sure you knew who he was. I told him you probably only know me because I’m with him!”
“Pretty much!!”

Mike, boosting my name in the endurance world since 2011. Hahaha.

The ride briefing was short, informative, and to the point. After they explained trail markers (orange stakes with arrows at turns), someone asked, “How will we know the difference between the ten mile loop and the fifteen mile loop?”
“You can’t get lost at this ride,” I chimed in. The markers NJTRA uses should be the new AERC standard.”
Seriously. If there’s one thing NJ does best, it’s marking trails. I’m sure it helps that they’re all flat sand roads that are easily accessible by vehicle (trucks on the main stretches and dirt bikes on the side trails).

From there, we went to the trailer to tack up. I ride Steel in my saddle with Dodie’s pad, girth, breast collar, and bridle. I briefly debated just riding her in her rope halter. Unfortunately, the girth that was sitting on top of the saddle at Dodie’s was a dressage girth, and my saddle is an AP. For a second, I was worried I wouldn’t have a girth to ride in! Thankfully, Cindy came to the rescue once again, and offered me her brand new fleece girth, which happened to be sitting in her trailer. It was a little loose on Steel, but I was able to get it snug enough for me to mount safely, and that’s really all I need.

Before I knew it, we were mounted up and ready to start. Ben was doing the timing and we chatted amicably while we waited for 9am to roll around. It turned out Cindy and I would not only be riding together (hooray!) but we would be riding with Cheryl (double hooray!) Cheryl and I haven’t ridden together since Cheshire and I was excited to see her TWH, Crash, in action.

At nine o’clock, we were given the go-ahead and we were off. Crash and Bailey went up the powerlines like bats out of hell, and I held Steel back. She is not fussy about being left behind and I was determined to ride this ride at our own pace. For a moment, it seemed like we would be riding the day alone, but I caught back up to Cindy and Cheryl at the lake-side water stop.

Even when it doesn’t go well, distance riding is my happy place.

After that, the footing was much better, and we were all riding at about the same speed.

The first fifteen miles flew by, partly because I know the trails, and partly because I was in great company. We laughed and gabbed and ranted. We talked about Mike and the story behind Crash’s name and the drama that went down at the Ribbons ride.

We trotted along for most of the loop, but there were a few places where we could really move out, including the long stretch next to the railroad tracks, where we saw a big raccoon ambling along the trail. At one point, we reached a particularly broad stretch of access road and we let the horses go.

We were shouting back and forth  about the ability to gallop on a loose rein, and I waved my arms like a bird and shouted, “Like this? Look, ma, no hands!!!”  Steel, being the good girl she is, didn’t change stride for a minute.

“Dom, you’re a nut,” Cheryl laughed.

At one point, we came galloping past a spotter, and shouted our numbers as we flew by.
“Wait!” the woman shouted after us. “I have candy!!”

Steel and I almost did a roll back.

Sweet girl.

“Note to self,” Cindy giggled, “Dom only stops for candy!”

Seriously, though, we had a great time. The horses were moving out beautifully and we were eating up ground on the flat, sandy terrain. The only technical part of the ride was the dirt bike moguls in the woods, and Steel figured those out in the blink of an eye. She rode over them with more grace and coordination than any horse I’ve ever sat on. I was thoroughly impressed.

Cheryl was keeping an eye on her GPS and informed us that we were averaging 8mph when we weren’t galloping. Our game plan at that point was to let the horses keep moving on the first loop, then go really slow and steady on the second loop so the horses would be fresh and rested at the finish.

The trails, as usual, were beautiful. There was enough variety in the sand and pine trees to keep things interesting, and riding the narrow paths between cranberry bogs never gets old. There was just enough fall color to be festive, but the pines threw in splashes of green. As always, there was plenty of water on trail, but there weren’t huge puddles that required us to stop frequently, as there have been in years past.

We also had a lovely time at the five mile to go water stop at Elsie’s farm. They had beautiful, sparkling clean troughs out for the horses, and when none of them seemed terribly interested in drinking, they floated apples in the water. Bailey was a pro at bobbing for apples! I really got a kick out of it. Steel, of course, doesn’t eat apples and couldn’t be bothered to fall for the silly human tricks.

With that said, Steel was taking better care of herself on that first loop than I’ve ever seen her do. She drank deeply at the water troughs, and even stopped to slurp out of a few puddles, something which is unheard of in her world! She was also eager to munch grass on the few occasions we saw it, and when we got back to the hold, she was ready to eat her food and everyone else’s.

We came into the hold going strong. Steel felt great, and with plenty of sass left. I was grinning from ear to ear and having a good time.

We waited the requisite ten minutes before going to pulse down and vet. Steel was at 52bpm despite being very excited about her buddy leaving her. Her respiration was slow and steady. The vet ran her hands over her and there wasn’t an ounce of soreness. We could hear her guts without a stethoscope.

I had heard Steel forging out on trail, and had given up monitoring it after several miles. No matter how fast or slow we went, the clack clack  clack of hoof against shoe echoed beneath us every few strides. I was scared to death to see the damage she’d done to herself, and was hoping she wasn’t interfering badly enough to cost herself the Mustang in two weeks.  I was delighted when I dismounted to find Steel standing happily without a mark on her! This was the first time we’d ever gone a loop without at least a rub. Things were looking good!

And then I trotted down and back, and when I got back, the vet was shaking her head.

“Your horse looks worse than she did this morning,” she told me. “I cannot let her continue.”
I was in shock. “What? She’s lame?” I glanced at Cindy, whose brow was furrowed. They offered to have someone else jog her down and back so I could see for myself.

Sure enough, there was a visible head bob. She was off in her right front. My heart sank.

The vet was ready to defend herself, but I put her mind at ease, “I wouldn’t ask her to go another step, even if you were willing to let me continue. We have a fifty in two weeks. Or not,” I frowned. The vet seemed grateful that I wasn’t putting up a fight. Getting pulled sucks, but it’s part of the sport.

To be honest, though, I was ready to cry. I have never been pulled on any horse but Ozzy. Prior to the Devil I had only ever been pulled twice. Never on a catch ride. Never at a non-AERC event. And not in three and a half years. I was taking it pretty personally.

I texted Mike, and he thought I was messing with him.

I let Steel hang out in the hold with Bailey. She ate, drank, and looked like a million bucks. When Crash and Bailey went out without her, she looked confused and upset. I hand walked her around camp while she settled down, and while I gathered my thoughts. I was seriously, seriously bummed.

Eventually, I took Steel back up to the vet in between competing riders. The initial vetting hadn’t revealed any cause for the lameness, and I wanted her to take a closer look before I contacted Dodie. Sure enough, her right front tendon was starting to swell. There was no heat, but it was definitely puffy. There was also some asymmetry in her shoulders, and she seemed a bit tender in the right one, which she hadn’t been when we first got pulled.

The vet’s advice was to ice the leg and give her some bute, but I opted not to do either. I wanted to make sure Dodie saw the full extent of the lameness so she could make an accurate assessment of her own horse.

Riding in the sand of NJ is sort of a roll of the dice, as far as I’m concerned. One one hand, it’s flat and not at all technical. On the other, depending on the weather, the sand can either be packed rock hard, or turn into tendon-ripping deep fluff. There are a lot of horses who simply can’t handle it, and I know there was a high pull rate for lameness at the Devil this year.

However, I suspect Steel set herself up for this pull before we even started. The fact that her shoulder was out makes me think that weaving all night long did take its toll on her, and the stress of working through sand for fifteen miles was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Either way, I felt terrible when I called Dodie, “I’m sorry I broke your pony.”
Dodie, as always, was understanding and laid back. She didn’t freak out or point blame or get upset. For that, I love her. I tend to over analyze and stress out, and Dodie tends to bring me back to earth. Thank you, Dodie, for being a great owner to ride for.

When Kara saw me in camp later, she quipped, “At least it’s not your horse that’s lame!”
“I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse,” I pouted. At least with my horse, I’m not letting anyone down but myself.

Eventually, I grew tired of walking Steel around aimlessly in camp. I was also super hungry (I suck at packing for rides, and without Mike to nudge me along, I really hadn’t taken care of myself). Cindy had given me a PB&J (thank you, Cindy!), but it had worn off.

Finally, I decided to give this trailer tying thing another go. I wasn’t sure how Steel would cope by herself at the trailer, but there were a few other horses within sight, and I was hopeful. I tied her and hung out with her for a bit. Then I walked out of sight and kept an eye on her. She seemed happy to munch on her hay and nap. I asked another rider to keep an eye on her while I ran to grab a bite to eat, and when I came back, she was still hanging out peacefully. By the time Cindy and Cheryl came back, she was totally at ease, and I wasn’t the least bit worried about her.

I took the opportunity to park myself at the finish line to wait for my friends to come in. There was no photographer on Sunday, and I figured I could at least get pictures for them if I wasn’t riding.

They came in grinning from ear to ear, and informed me that they had walked nearly the entire second loop to make up for the lightning-fast first fifteen miles. The horses definitely didn’t look tired!

I hung out with them while they pulled tack, fed the horses, and waited twenty minutes for P&R. To my relief, both Crash and Bailey passed their vet checks with flying colors! I was thrilled that they both got their completions, especially Cindy who has been battling some metabolic issues with Bailey this year. I also stayed for hands on, and noticed that the vet seemed to really like Bailey, both because he had come through the ride really well and because he was so well-mannered (unlike a horse who had tried to kick the vet’s head off earlier and lost several points on attitude).

Once Cindy, Cheryl, and the horses were settled, I got my stuff put away, helped Cindy wrap up the pen and her gear, and excused myself from camp. I would have loved to stay for awards, but I still had to take care of the horses at home, and I was hoping to get there before Mike was done with work. Plus, I was emotionally exhausted. Cindy dismissed me and gave me a big hug before I hit the road (thank you, Cindy, again!)

I really should have stayed for the awards. It turns out that Cindy and Bailey got GRAND CHAMPION!! I am 100% thrilled for them. Cindy must be over the moon.

As for Steel… she rode home in Cindy’s trailer and was met by Dodie. She trotted sound up and down the driveway, and the swelling in her leg had reduced even without treatment. She did dip her right shoulder for a few days after the ride, confirming our suspicions about the root of the lameness. One week later, she did nine miles of mostly road riding and was sound as a dollar. We were ready to give the Mustang a go.

…and then Julio had to have an unexpected surgery and Dodie texted to tell me that I didn’t have to feel obligated. I decided it would be wise to spend my weekend making money on lessons instead of spending it on competing. This will also give Steel more time to rest. I would be curious to know how she’d do against the sand again. I’m wondering if it was a fluke, or if it’s not a footing she does well in in general.

Over all, I have gotten over the pull. It was going to happen sooner or later, and it’s better to get it over with. It would be way more disappointing to get my first pull on a catch ride five years from now thank currently. The only thing that’s still a big bummer is that this might have been my last ride of the season. I’m pretty disappointed that I had my best season to date, and it may have gone out on a sour note. Still, I can’t complain, and the fifteen miles I did get to do were glorious.