Endurance Riding

Apr 05 2016

I Couldn’t Save Her…

Published by under Endurance Riding

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I usually give myself a few days after any event — happy or sad — to formulate my words and process. Usually, when I sit down to write immediately, the words that come out are much more suited for my journal, because what comes out are choppy sentences, irrational phrases, and often I don’t even find healing in that kind of writing. But, today, I just decided to write this blog post, without holding back, not caring who is going to read it, who might judge me for my words or decide that I am, in reality, a horrible writer. I don’t even care to edit this post, so forgive me if I misspell a word or forget a period.

So, that’s my disclaimer.

And now I want to yell out to the universe, FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK FUCK YOU!

My last two blog posts were about losing horses. Why? Why am I writing another? There is a huge gigantic hole in my heart that I don’t even know how I am going to begin to fill.

Fifteen months ago, a young gal from my endurance family called me up. I still remember the first message she left me. I was in Orange County, visiting family. We were at Disneyland with the boys. I remember being really intrigued by her message — because while I knew her, I didn’t know her well, and wasn’t sure what it was she was calling about, but it was obviously for a very specific reason.

When we touched base, I discovered she had a little Arab mare she had grown up riding — the mare she completed Tevis on as a junior rider. She was looking for a new home for Ember and thought she’d be perfect for my students and my schooling program.

When Ember arrived on January 2, 2015, I thought she was just the sweetest, cutest pony ever. But after she bolted with my son on the trail — and ran all the way back home — I had my doubts. She head tossed too much, and she was quite possibly too forward for my young, beginner students. But I decided to give it some time…

I don’t know what happened, but Ember became one of my favorites around here. She was the least intimidating horse in my herd, she was so easy to groom, and to teach the kids how to pick hooves. She would just follow the horse in front of her on the trail. She rarely spooked. She tolerated all those who were still learning their balance, who maybe pulled on the reins at the wrong time, and those who didn’t quite know what to do around a horse. She was always healthy and sound, one of my easiest keepers. She never got herself in trouble, and she was just the sweetest. I never worried about anyone’s safety around her.

Ember wasn’t just an incredible asset to my business, she was also my friend and a fellow teacher, my partner. I trusted her, and was constantly in awe of how well she took care of my students. I loved having her around.

Last month, when a schooling horse I was trying out for my business didn’t work out, I remember thinking, I still have Ember. I thought that when Forest died. I still have Ember. When Lady died, I still have Ember. I always had Ember. Ember was mine. She wasn’t going anywhere. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t as old as Lady. I always, always had Ember. Every time another free horse was offered to me for my business that didn’t work out, I still had Ember. She was the free horse that worked out. I still had Ember.

I don’t have Ember anymore.

I don’t have Ember anymore. And the hole in my heart is so big right now, I fear my heart might just stop. I am so broken. I am so lost.

I do not understand. I don’t understand Forest’s loss, I don’t understand Lady’s loss, I don’t understand Ember’s. Why all three? Why all three in less than a year? Why Lady and then 18 days later Ember. 18 days. 18 fucking days. FUCK YOU, universe. 18 fucking days.

It was a nightmare watching Ember suffer. It wasn’t a peaceful death like Forest’s, it wasn’t her time like Lady’s. I caught her colic early. I called the vet immediately. Between myself, my family, a few special students, and Haily, Ember’s beloved previous owner, she was never left alone. I was in constant contact with the vet — I had her out twice in a 24 hour period. I made the best use of my nursing skills, constantly monitoring her vital signs, administering oral, IM, and IV meds. I spiked fluid bag after fluid bag, bolusing her with LR just like I’ve done in the ICU with my human patients. For more than 37 hours, I tried to save her life. I didn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Moments when she was too quiet, the silence woke me, and I’d check just to make sure she was still breathing. When she wanted to walk, I either walked with her, or stared up at the sky, listening to each hoof beat pass me. Every time she peed, or her behavior changed, or her vitals were different, or I treated her with medication, I wrote it down, recording every little note of her progress, or lack thereof.

The first night, Nyah and I lay under a star laden sky in the arena with Ember. We could hear the sound of the rushing Feather River behind us, down in the abyss of the canyon that called itself home across the street from my house. I tried hard to manage Ember’s pain with the best veterinary medications money can buy, though I don’t know how successful I was. Ember moaned, she sighed, she groaned, her lips and muzzle curled up tight. But I was hopeful. Five years ago, I had gone through an impaction colic with Forest, and after 4 days of fluids, Forest recovered and never colicked on me again. I didn’t believe that after Nyah just lost Lady, we could possibly lose another horse so soon. I’m a nurse. I have a great vet. We can figure this out.

Ember couldn’t take anymore after 38 hours. Her gums turned bright pink, her breathing was irregular, she had difficulty swallowing, she started drooling foamy white drool. Her abdomen was so distended it looked as though it would just pop like a balloon. It wasn’t until I ran my hand down her neck, trying to comfort her with every stroke, that I realized she was sweating. Haily was holding Ember, and when I looked at her, I knew. I knew. After 38 hours and 30 minutes, I knew I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t put her through anymore. I couldn’t let Haily see her childhood horse like this anymore. I frantically called the vet; she was already on her way up, but I wanted to see how far out she was.

When the vet arrived, I asked her to re-assess Ember, even though I knew. I knew. But still, I had to have one last assessment. I had to hear the vet say it. It’s time. This wasn’t a simple impaction colic — something else was going on. Ember was dying from the inside out. Every time she breathed out her nostrils, a rotten smell filled the air. I had smelled that smell the night before; it wasn’t quite so strong as this morning. Necrotic bowel. I knew. I knew. I can’t fucking save this horse. Just like I couldn’t save Forest.

Ember was given a lethal dose of medication to end her suffering. Haily and I were by her side, as she went down and gasped for air. She gasped and gasped, as I stroked her face, quietly telling her that it was okay to go. It was okay to let go. It was okay. She died under the great madrone tree in my beautiful field. Under that great fucking madrone tree.

Haily and I laid with her body for a long time. Haily cried and cried into her neck, finding it difficult to catch her breath. I bedded down next to her front legs, lying up against her heart girth, her beating heart no longer there. I stared blankly out into the field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, and all I could think of was the first patient that had died on me when I was a brand new nurse. One minute she had been talking to me, sharing stories and smiling, the next she was bleeding out, a violent, terrifying death. We tried for hours to save her life. I hung fluid bag after fluid bag, I pumped blood transfusion after blood transfusion into her. Suddenly, her blood pressure dropped until it was no longer there. The doctor took off his gown and walked out of the room. Just like that. It was over. I was so overwhelmed with grief that I sobbed and sobbed as two other nurses helped me clean up her body before her husband arrived.

As I sat in that field, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, I thought about cutting down the great madrone tree. That great fucking madrone tree. I thought about violin and painting and dance and all the other things I could have chosen instead of horses. I thought about opening a shoe store or a music shop or a breakfast cafe, where losses would just be merchandise, not living, breathing, soulful beings.

I sat there, watching the sunlight touch every blade of grass, condemning myself for choosing horses. And the more I thought about selling all my horses, and closing my business, the more I realized I didn’t chose horses. They chose me.

Ember 1Ember 2Run Free, Sweet Ember. You will be remembered not just by me, not just by Haily, the first girl to love you, but by every student and child you taught along the way. You are missed so.

 

Mar 20 2016

Another Farewell

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I will never look at the madrone tree in our field the same way again. While it has always been my favorite tree, I suddenly have a new appreciation for it. It towers above the black walnut tree, reaching the sky almost as high as one of our tallest pines. Its orange-red bark so smooth, branching out in spindles, curling its fingers out to give life to its tips. I imagine it is older than my grandparents would be if they were still alive. Much older. The way it withstands the most wretched winds and the most torrential downpours with such grace and ease tells me that tree is much wiser than anyone I know. That tree has many stories to tell, and on March 17, 2016, I watched another story unfold underneath those age-old branches.

 

A horse named Lady died beneath that tree. I watched as her sixteen year old owner buried herself in her chestnut colored neck and cried while Lady lay quietly still, letting the medicine release her of her pain. She never seized, she never heaved, or coughed, or gurgled. She left us so still and peacefully, and I watched a girl’s heart crumble as she said goodbye to her first love.

 

With Lady’s last heartbeat, I joined her and her owners underneath that tree, sitting in a mixture of grass, leaves, and the comforting sight of dried-up horse manure. I sat along her spine, in silence, as a young woman mourned, with her mother by her side. I stroked Lady’s hair, thinking how soft and warm and alive it felt. I was devoid of any concrete thoughts running through my head, but I did feel. My heart ached. I felt bad and sorry and strangely relieved and comforted and in all the sadness, I felt alive. And while the three of us sat in silence for a long time, it was a calming silence, and the three of us were connected through that silence, interrupted only a couple times by the calls of a single bird, sharing the sky with that great madrone tree. I began braiding Lady’s mane, tying each braid off with a colorful band, knowing those braids, once cut, would later become treasured keepsakes.

 

It was some time before I made us lunch, or rather breakfast at lunchtime. A feast of scrambled eggs, warm tortillas, salsa, yogurt, bagels, and juice. I carried it all outside, and we ate under the shade of the madrone tree, with Lady right there, in her resting state. I wanted to pretend we were enjoying a relaxing, joyous picnic at the park on a leisurely Sunday. But an air of grief surrounded us in all that beauty, as we stroked and stroked Lady’s neck, her soft ears, the tuft of her forelock, and the just-braided mane.

 

Another hour passed with few words before good-byes, hugs, more tears, and kisses were exchanged. I promised I would stay with Lady’s body until it was carried away.

 

I bedded down into the soft ground, stretching my legs out and burying myself into Lady’s neck to wait. It was then that I realized the shade of the madrone tree had left us. The sun had peaked in the sky and was directly overhead, warming me to a state of discomfort. I removed my long sleeve shirt to reveal my tank top underneath, and used my baseball cap to shield my face from the sun’s rays. When the flies came out, I fly sprayed Lady. I lay in the sun with her, as if we were both tanning on a summer day at some exotic beach. I could hear every buzz of every bug, and suddenly realized I could distinguish between the buzz of a fly, and the buzz of a mosquito, and the buzz of the bees pollinating each flower on each branch of that great madrone tree. The bees gave off a hum, more than a buzz, harmoniously going about their work, their purposeful, useful work that was crucial to life. I watched as they moved about, flying with tiny wings from one white flower to the next. When a breeze kicked up, little white round petals rained on Lady and me, there in the comfort of the great madrone tree.

 

As I lay there with Lady, intermittently reading a book I was more than half way through, I thought of Forest. I imagined Lady meeting up with her old friend, and the two of them running through endless green pastures, up and down soft hills, kicking up their heels, both of them free of any suffering. Memories flashed through my head as if I were watching an old home video, each image bringing me back to a moment in time that sometimes I wish I could relive. From where I lay with Lady, I could see the beautiful flower garden that was planted a few days before, a remembrance garden planted in memory of Forest and Lady, their very own manure feeding those flowers. As I stared at that garden and the plaque my husband had hand painted, I caught sight of ZaZa just beyond the garden, drinking from the water trough. Everything was quiet, the buzzing of the flies, and the mosquitoes, and the bees had left us, and I was suddenly chilly, the shade of the madrone tree beginning to again creep over Lady and me. I thought I might cry, sitting there watching ZaZa drink and hearing the sounds of the other horses alive on the property, but I was instead filled with gratitude, and this overwhelming sense that everything was just as it should be. While a small part of me was terrified of the next time I will have to say goodbye to a beloved horse, I knew this was my life. My life is right here, under this madrone tree, with these horses. It was then that I knew, regardless of why, Forest left me when he was supposed to. He gave me the knowledge to recognize when it was time to let go. He gave me the strength to hold a girl while she grieved over her own horse, her very best friend. He showed me that love exceeds boundaries, in so many ways, and that sometimes the deepest bonds aren’t made through words, but through time — time and just being.

 

The sun continued to move throughout the sky, and in the cool evening, I had to put on a sweater, and then a jacket. My youngest son joined me, placing himself on top of Lady, spanning himself across the length of her side. He talked and talked, filling the air with happy stories, commenting how “warm and soft and comfortable” Lady was, saying he wished we had had Forest this long after he had left us. We stood watch over Lady’s body, until her owners rejoined us with dinner, another picnic, but this time in the setting sun, to a loud chorus of frogs.

 

When the big black rendering truck roared into my driveway, it was past dusk. Lady’s owners had left as he was arriving, hours later than we had expected him. It was then that the calmness that had surrounded me all day suddenly left. The engine noise was disruptive and rude, and the finality of it all suddenly overwhelmed me. I had spent the last 7-odd hours with this horse, this horse named Lady, leaving her only to tend to my own horses. I had stayed with Lady, under the madrone tree, watching the sun rise and fall, feeling every minute temperature change, as the bees went about their daily work, until they were done and the frogs came out to welcome the night. And now, so abruptly, it was all coming to an end and Lady’s physical form was leaving us too. I began to cry, real big tears, one after another, the kind of tears that are difficult to talk through. I kissed and kissed and kissed her, saying childlike nonsense over and over about how she should say hello to Forest for me. I felt young and exposed when I handed the check to the man from the rendering company, the man with the big black disruptive, rude truck. I ran into the house, yelling at the boys to blast some music, as I jumped in the shower. I didn’t want to hear that big black disruptive, rude truck.

 

I stood in the shower, the warm water soothing and cleaning my body, as I cried exhausting tears, singing along at the same time to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. I laughed and cried and laughed and cried, and the next morning when I went outside to feed the horses, Lady’s body was gone. The field looked so still and empty, except for the great madrone tree.

 

tree

Dedicated to the memory of My Fair Lady and the girl who loved her so.

 

Aug 19 2015

And He Left Me With a Broken Heart…

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It was a Saturday when I knew. It was warm out, slightly muggy, and my skin felt sticky under my worn T-shirt. He didn’t follow me around the horse paddock as I mucked. He didn’t try to tip the wheelbarrow over. He stood in the corner, hanging his head low.

That’s when I put a call in to a woman who I knew would know the answer.

How do you know when it’s time?

When he has more bad days than good.

On Monday, I called the vet at UC Davis who had been following Forest’s case for months. He, too, agreed it was time. Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

The days leading up to Thursday were sad, so sad, but so very beautiful. Many of my students who had learned to ride on Forest came to see him, came to say goodbye. They came with handfuls of treats, bags filled to the top with sliced apples, carrots, watermelon rinds. Forest was allowed to eat all the alfalfa he wanted. We took him off his treatment meds, but gave him an increased dose of pain medicine. Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

On Wednesday night, Melissa (whose mother had been Forest’s original owner) brought her 3-year-old son, Hunter, to meet Forest. Hunter spent time with “Grandma’s horse,” brushing him and gingerly handing him treat after treat. A group of us sat with Forest, brushed him gently, combed his tail until it shined, and took him for a walk.

The next morning I awoke just after dawn. I got Forest out of the paddock, brushed him, and sat on his back as a friend walked us around the field. I closed my eyes, locking every last step in my memory. I lied down on his back, my head on his rump, counting the clouds in the sky. I put my arms around his neck, and I kissed him all over.

The haul to UC Davis with Forest and Beauty (who was going to be re-evaluated for her splint bone fracture) was quiet. Gary drove, the boys slept in the back seat, and I stared out the window.

When we arrived at UC Davis, the boys and I spent more time with Forest, offering him more of his favorite treats. Declan quietly sat on his back, as Gary stroked his neck, and Jakob laid sweet kisses on his muzzle.

When it was time, the vet tech placed a catheter in the vein in Forest’s neck. As she did, I spent a moment with the veterinary students, sharing Forest’s story. I told them about Randi, Melissa’s mother, the reason Forest had found me. We had lost Randi 6 years previously, in the same month, July.

The walk to the lawn was quiet. I led Forest by the handmade rope halter and lead I had made him years ago. He was sedated, and comfortable. I slipped him the heart shaped horse cookie I had in my pocket, and the boys and I gathered around him, whispering to him, touching him all over. I knelt down in front of him, wrapped my hands around his face, and kissed him over and over. His muzzle was soft, and I continued to touch my lips against his until I realized it was time. I suddenly had this overwhelming feeling that I just wanted to get this over with.

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

Dr. Prutton approached Forest with a large syringe. I remember seeing a pink fluid, a bright and happy color, like bubble gum. Tears flowed down my face, as my fingertips gently stroked Forest’s face. I saw his legs wobble, and I suddenly turned away, yelling that I didn’t want to watch. I wanted to run, I wanted to run so far away from the pain.

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

Moments later, in the time I took only one breath, Forest had found the ground. The world around me disappeared. I do not remember the vet standing near, or the students observing, or my family around the corner. I wanted to throw myself on top of Forest, and beg him to take me with him, but someone gently touched my arm. Soli. She told me to be careful of his legs, because he wasn’t gone just yet. I leaned down and buried my face in his neck. I was suddenly filled with an immense sadness as I felt him leave. The sobs choked me, almost stealing my breath, and the sadness suddenly turned to anger as I cried over and over, “I am so sorry, Forest.”

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

Dr. Prutton put his stethoscope on Forest’s heartgirth, quietly announced that he was gone, and I continued to cry. My family joined me, gathering around Forest, and as I sat there, buried in his neck, my tears finally slowed. The sun warmed my back, the softness of the grass stroked my legs, and I was suddenly so comfortable there in Forest’s neck that I wanted to close my eyes. I wanted sleep to find me. I knew I could find it here, and I would sleep for hours, dreaming beautiful dreams, and awake, and all would be right in the world again.

I looked up to see Declan picking flowers from the grass, little flowers with purple tops. He carefully placed each flower on Forest’s face, arranging them just so. It was then that I knew it was over, but it was going to be okay.

Sometimes, the only thing we can offer is relief from suffering.

We picked ourselves up off the grass, and went to find Jakob’s Beauty. We received good news about her – she is healing well. Her destressed whinny called out for Forest as we loaded her into the horse trailer without him. We put Forest’s fly mask on her and hung his halter next to her, hoping his sweet smell would bring her comfort.

The drive home was quiet, and I did find sleep, off and on, as Gary drove.

A few days after Forest’s passing, I posted this on Facebook:

Six years ago, a little black and white Appaloosa gelding came into my life. I wasn’t looking for a horse. In fact, I already had a horse. But this little gelding found his way to me, and into my heart, after his original owner, Randi, lost her courageous battle with breast cancer.

Tonight, as I was reading some past entries in my journal, I found a short paragraph I had written back in 2011: “Forest is my rock. He is my friend, my confidence builder. He constantly challenges me. He is like a young child who questions your authority, but you can never stay too mad for too long because he wins you back every time. I enjoy being with him – sitting with him in the round pen, going for a slow, Sunday ride, grooming him. He is my big lap dog, honestly. I always seem to love myself a little more when I am with him.”

Is it possible to love another being, one not from the same species, as deeply as one human loves another? The answer is yes.

Forest left us on July 23, 2015, and on that day, I was filled with a sadness I did not know existed. But I imagine Randi is riding carefree now, galloping astride his back. And for that, I am truly glad.

“The love for a horse is just as complicated as the love for another human being… if you never love a horse, you will never understand.” ~ Author Unknown

RIP Forest Gumption

March 1, 2004 – July 23, 2015

Forest

Jul 15 2015

My First LD

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July 11, 2015, the day of my first LD.  I was up before the alarm had even gone off and ready to go as soon as my feet hit the ground.  I could barely contain my excitement and I could feel myself shaking as I put the tack on my horse.  I mounted Dippi, my companion for the weekend, and followed Jaya towards the starting line.  8:05 we began, and the next 5 hours would be one of the most amazing things I have experienced.

Before I met Jaya, my amazing riding instructor, I began riding in February of 2014.  I rode a horse name Memphis for about 2 months.  In April, we went and bought another horse, My Fair Lady, who would later become one of my best friends.  I was introduced to Gymkhana that same month.  I enjoyed it very much, but soon discovered that it wasn’t for Lady.  Before I met Jaya, I had no clue what endurance riding was, so I never saw it as an option for my energetic Arab.  I continued to ride in Gymkhana, but I still felt like this wasn’t quite for Lady.  Then during the school year I started taking lessons and I learned about a whole other world of riding.  I went on my first all day trail ride January 1, 2015, it was amazing.  I have always loved being on the trail and being on it for 7 hours felt great.  I expressed my interest in endurance to Jaya, but I had no clue that I would be doing a ride so soon.

I moved Lady to Jaya’s house in May of 2015, and she is so happy.  Lady didn’t have enough weight on her, so she wasn’t able to compete in this ride.  I hope to ride her in the KC Memorial ride in September.   For this ride, Jaya let me ride her green-broke arab, Dippi.  I felt so honored to be riding Dippi, it meant a lot that Jaya trusted me with her horse and was confident in my ability to handle her.

I have to be honest, in the beginning of the ride, I became a little frustrated.  Dippi was a lot more forward than I was used to and I was getting blisters on my fingers.  We stopped and put some medicine on my fingers that helped a bit and switched reigns.  Jaya reminded me that I needed to trust her and let her do her job.  After that I was able to enjoy the ride that much more.  Dippi may be green, but shes honest and she took great care of me. On the trail Jaya’s horse, Asali, threw two boots, which we were able to recover.  And Aurora’s horse, Ember, threw a boot, which the gaiter had ripped off of.  (we recovered that later on)  Then we stopped a few times to tighten the girths on our saddles, Jaya was a master of mounting and dismounting by the end!  On our ride to the vet check we went through beautiful terrain, it was nice and cool and you couldn’t stop looking around you!  At one point manzanita bushes were all around us, I’m pretty sure they were out to get us!  We got into the vet check at 11:14, we stopped and let the horses eat and drink and did so ourselves.  We all vetted through, even with Dippi not wanting to trot after eating her mash! :)  And then we were off again at 11:50.

There was this one hill on the way to and on the way out of the vet check that was crazy!  The first time was the craziest since we were going so fast!  The time back to the finish line seemed to fly by.  When we came around the corner to the finish line, Jaya and I wooped and held our arms up.  1:09 pm, I had just finished my first LD.  When we crossed we were greeted with cheers from the people standing there.  The supportive and positive atmosphere blew me away, it made me feel even more incredible about what I had just experienced.

I could try all I wanted to describe the feeling of the whole experience, but it’s something you have to do yourself and I strongly encourage doing.  I am definitely hooked and will be doing many more rides in the future.  I hope to do Tevis one of these days, but I’ll take it one step at a time. :)

— By Nyah Herndon, age 16

Gold Country

Jun 30 2015

My First Endurance Ride: June 27, 2015

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I had my first of many endurance rides on June 27, 2015. It was supposed to be at Lake Almanor, but ended up at Camp Far West where the Gold Rush Shuffle is held. This was actually the 3rd endurance ride that I had applied for; the 1st one was cancelled due to weather, the 2nd , my horse I was riding (Forest) got his ulcers. I got so nervous when they said this one was cancelled. I hoped that they would find another place to hold it and they did!

After I got to Jaya’s, we loaded up and headed out for an hour and a half drive with Soli (the puppy) clambering all around the truck. When we got to Camp Far West, we unloaded our horses and vetted in. We then took a bareback ride (in shorts and tennis shoes) to the lake which was only about 2 minutes away. We saw many of Jaya’s friends in camp and said hi to some. After, we had dinner and a ride meeting and then we tried to sleep. Trying to sleep was the hardest thing!

The next morning, we got up and put our horses tack on and headed out for our controlled start. The trail we rode on went through woods, fields, and around the lake. The best part of the trail was cantering through the fields. At our vet check, Ember passed very well. We then set out for our final loop around the lake. We then took our last vet check and both Jaya and I showed for BC (Best Condition). We finished an hour before cutoff time. Our whole ride was from 7:30-12:30 (cutoff was 1:30).

We waited until 7 pm for the awards. Ember and I got 4th place, first junior, and senior horse award. Jaya and Dippi got 5th place and a sponsoring a junior award. We then loaded up and headed home with Soli curled between us.

So, if you want to do endurance riding, you shouldn’t be afraid of dirt or sweat and drink LOTS of water.

 

— Aurora Copp, age 12, riding Haily’s Ember, age 18

1

Aurora allowing time for Ember to drink her fill at the first water crossing.

2

On the last loop — Aurora and Ember just a few miles from the finish!

4

Happy and Proud — and Hooked on Endurance!

3

Haily, Ember’s original owner, came out to see Aurora and Ember on their first LD together!

Apr 14 2015

I have a story to tell.

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I have a story to tell. But, even as I write, I am terrified to tell it. I have shared bits and pieces of my past on this blog, but mostly from the perspective that I have “overcome” a painful past and been “healed.” What I haven’t shared is that my personal struggle isn’t over yet, and it may never be.

I have been struggling with anxiety since November. It’s been a struggle of mine before, but something that I have learned to manage pretty well over the last few years. I know what the trigger was back in November, and it was multiplied by the stressors of a sick horse, working night shift as a nurse and managing an exploding business, being a wife, mother, daughter, mentor, friend, and then, as silly as this sounds, coming down from the high last competition season left me with.

Lack of sleep, slacking on my workouts, and eating poorly didn’t help either, and ten days before Whiskeytown, I experienced a panic attack. I was driving, and as I was, I realized it was the first time I had really sat down in a long while. It occurred to me how exhausted I was, and I feared falling asleep at the wheel. The fear of not being able to control my physical body suddenly got me thinking… What if I just lost my mind too? Right here, right now? My entire body was overcome with this tingling sensation and flooded with dread. Nobody around me knew what was going on, but my mind was racing, and I was left feeling weak when the panic finally subsided.

For days following, I beat myself up. For not being stronger. For not taking care of myself. For allowing myself to go back to that place I had left behind years ago…

I also felt guilt. Here I was, with a seemingly perfect life — a great marriage, a dream job, healthy kids, six wonderful horses, multiple personal successes — and I couldn’t handle it.

I love endurance. It’s my passion. And I couldn’t even get excited about Whiskeytown. So I beat myself up for that too.

When DJ arrived on Friday morning, ready to load up Dippi and Zaza and head to Whiskeytown, I was an emotional mess. She told me it was okay if I didn’t want to go, but I told her I had to go. I just had to go, even if I cried through the entire day, the entire ride, and the entire drive back home.

Friday was a struggle for me. I had moments where I felt okay, and then I had moments where I had trouble holding back the tears. I didn’t feel like myself. I was carrying around this fog that, for some reason, just wouldn’t let me go. My mind kept replaying that moment in the car — my moment of weakness, which I just wouldn’t let go.

On Friday night, after the ride meeting, despite my fierce desire to beat everything without pharmaceuticals, I gave up and took a ¼ tab of Xanax. Throughout the night, I’d wake up and take another ¼ tab, until the entire pill was gone.

Saturday morning was completely methodical. As a seasoned endurance rider, it was easy to go through the steps of tacking up, mounting up, and riding on.

The first several miles were quiet. DJ checked in with me, and I admitted that I was “alright, but I just didn’t feel like myself.”

I don’t know what happened, but right before the vet check, I suddenly began feeling a little more like myself. Dippi had gotten herself into the groove of this great little pace, and up, down, up, down, I just posted on down the trail. My little green broke Arab, the one who had two non-completions last year in the only two LDs I took her to, was taking care of me. I had taken care of her last year after a tendon injury, and here she was, taking care of me.

And every now and then, DJ and I would look around at our beautiful surroundings, breath in the fresh air, and yell out, “Present!” when we felt completely in the moment, right there, right then.

After Dippi passed the vet check and DJ and I settled in to our hour hold, taking care of the horses and ourselves, I suddenly realized whatever fog had been following me around was gone.

We headed back out, and as we were trotting down the trail on our last 12 miles of the day, I looked back at DJ and said, “I could go 50 miles today.”

I was back in the game.

The tears came again when we received our completions for the ride. But this time, they were happy tears. Tears of relief. Tears of triumph. And not for completing a 25 miler necessarily, but for not giving up. For pushing through and overcoming. And for allowing myself to be human.

I am slowly learning every day that I can’t always be this superhero I would like to be. I am simply human. And that is okay.

__________

Just a couple nights before Whiskeytown, I had written this down. I never published it on my blog, but it seems appropriate now to share a bit of what I wrote:

My greatest struggle has always been being present. Years ago, beginning in my late teens through my mid-twenties, I was tortured by my past. I could never shut my mind off. It was always running wild with thoughts — the “could haves,” “should haves,” the “what ifs.” I blamed myself for so many things — many things I actually had no control over, and at the end of the day, I had no idea who I was, what I was doing, or where I was headed. I was stifled, and lost. And I managed my anxiety in some destructive ways, which only increased my level of anxiety to a state of panic.

And then came Asali. I can’t tell you exactly what happened when I returned to horses. But, I can tell you that, being on an animal close to 1,000 pounds, who could possibly kill me in a moment, if I fell off or was thrown or kicked or many other things, made me be present. Suddenly, I had to be calm, I had to be quiet, and I had to pay attention. The more I rode Asali, the more she became a mirror image of me. She constantly gave me away, and I’d be forced to step back and ask myself where I was right in that moment — because I certainly wasn’t right there, with her.

Today, my struggle isn’t with the past, but with the future. I’ve always had this deep philosophical mind that questions everything, and this keen awareness of my mortality which keeps me striving for perfection — or at least “better-ness.” While it’s important to have goals and plans for the future, we must also learn to live in the present. Be here, be now. Seems simple, right? So, why is it so difficult?

There are some out there who think my love of horses, and my relationship with them, is more than a passion, but an obscene obsession. Maybe that’s true. But on the back of my horse, with the wind in my hair, the sky caressing my cheeks, the chill taking my breath away, I am nowhere but right there at that moment. Suddenly, the world around me has faded away, and I am a part of the being that is giving me her wings, if only for a moment.

So, my struggle continues to capture that “present-ness” during my daily routines. To quiet my mind of the future and the fears and the unknown…

A quote by Amit Ray says, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, life in the breath.”

And so I ride.

Dippi and me

Mar 15 2015

2015 AERC Convention

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The boys and I enjoyed our quick trip to Reno for the AERC Convention over the first weekend in March. The highlights for the boys were, of course, go-kart racing, laser tag, and video games galore in the hotel’s arcade. I, on the other hand, enjoyed attending two different seminars on Friday. The first one was on 100-mile horses and what makes them successful in the longer distances. Several horses were surveyed at various 100-mile rides. Here’s what was discovered:

  • The biggest cause, representing 55% of the pulls, was lameness (front limb lameness was more common than hind limb lameness)
  • Rider Option was the second biggest cause of non-completions in the 100-mile rides
  • Lameness pulls (and this isn’t a surprise) were 8 times more likely if the horse required corrective shoeing
  • Training more days per week increased the probability of both lameness and metabolic pulls (take home message: Do Not Overtrain!)
  • Cross Training and Fat Supplementation largely DECREASED the risk for lameness pulls
  • Interestingly enough, a 4 year study conducted overseas showed no relationship between speed and lameness elimination
  • While feeding grain and beet pulp the morning of a ride (which, after attending an equine nutrition seminar a few years back, I stopped doing) decreased pulls, it is beneficial to decrease grain in the off-season.
  • Here’s a no-brainer (although not always feasible): Trailering for a shorter amount of time (i.e., attending closer rides) decreased the chances of lameness pulls
  • Competing in the fall, after Spring competition, increased chances of a pull (in other words, the longer the competition season, the harder it was on the horse – REST is important!)

Lameness pulls are more often than not associated with higher heart rates and poor overall impressions. Lameness pulls usually occur later in the ride (averaging around mile 70) versus metabolic pulls (metabolic pulls often occurred around mile 48). The second seminar I attended was titled “Gastric Ulcers in the Endurance Horse.” For those of you who do not know, I discovered a few months ago that my schooling horse, Forest, an 11-year-old Appaloosa, has Grade 4 gastric ulcers. He is not an endurance horse; he has the least stressful life of my entire herd, so we’ve (meaning my personal vet, the vet team at UC Davis, and myself) have been unable to ascertain why he has ulcers, but we have been able to successfully treat him. I was particularly interested in this seminar to see what the recommendations are for managing a horse with ulcers. Here are my cliff notes on the subject; taken from my several pages of notes:

  • Vague signs of ulcers in the equine include (but are not limited to):
      • Dull hair coat
      • Picky eating
      • Lying around
      • Sour attitude
      • Being “cinchy”
      • Poor performance (reluctance to train)
  • Unfortunately, some horses with ulcers show no clinical signs whatsoever, BUT after treatment, show improved performance.
  • Clinical signs increase with the intensity of exercise.
  • The more severe the ulcers, the more likely it is for the horse to show signs.
  • The only definitive diagnosis is through GASTROSCOPY.
  • Why do horses get ulcers?
      • Small stomach
      • Constant acid secretions
      • Manmade conditions
  • Risk Factors:
      • Intense exercise
      • Extensive hauling
      • Changing environments/routines
      • Limited turnout/grazing
      • Stall confinement
      • Diet: high grain, low forage/roughage
      • Poor teeth
      • NSAIDS (giving Bute/Banamine too regularly)
      • Hypertonic oral electrolytes (a catch 22 for endurance riders!)

There are two kinds of ulcers: Squamous ulcers and Glandular ulcers, and these ulcers are rated from 1 (Reddened or thickened areas, but no actual ulcers; think pre-ulcers) to 4 (Extensive, deep ulcers). The glandular region of the stomach is a very susceptible area to ulcers, and unfortunately, ulcers in this area are difficult to treat and require a much longer treatment cycle. How common are ulcers???

  • It is estimated that 75-95% of Thoroughbred racing horses have ulcers!
  • 60-70% of endurance horses have gastric ulcers. Because of the aerobic exercise endurance horses experience (which increases gastric acid, and the motion of movement which splashes this acid around, coupled with decreased blood flow to the gut during exercise — similar to marathon runners; they experience ulcers too), they are susceptible to gastric ulcers.
  • It is believed that 36-48% of Thoroughbred racing horses have Grade 3-4 ulcers.
  • Ulcers are so prevalent in horses that Grade 1 (those reddened, thickened areas) is now considered normal in all horses.

SO, what do we do about these ulcers???

  • Treat with a full dose cycle of GASTROGARD (omeprazole) for a minimum of 28 days.
  • Sucralfate can help coat the stomach and decrease pain.
  • Include some alfalfa in your horse’s diet (alfalfa contains calcium, magnesium, and protein — all which work as buffers)
  • Give free choice hay using slow grazer feeders (grass hay is best — this is closest to mother nature; grain hay has too much starch)
  • Eliminate large amounts of grain and simple carbohydrates from the diet
  • Feed a small roughage meal 30 minutes prior to exercise to act as a buffer and reduce the splashing of gastric acid

Horses should not live on omeprazole every day, so following the initial 28-day treatment, re-scoping is recommended (to see if the ulcers have healed). A preventative dose of omeprazole can be given before competition or a known stressor by treating with low-dose omeprazole 5 days before the stressor and continuing seven days afterwards. Good news: Horses can, sometimes, self-heal ulcers with:

      • Time off
      • Grass
      • Turn out

It was an educational and fun weekend! Of course, the ultimate highlight of the weekend for Jakob and me was receiving our Regional Awards:

award 1 award 2

Dec 04 2014

End of Season Notes

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It is difficult to describe the feelings I am feeling right now. There are many who, looking in from the outside, did not see the effort, the trials, the tears, the doubts, and the great fear that I have experienced in the last few years. And there are many more who know little of my life before Asali, for before her, I was a girl searching for a direction, but constantly losing my way. JayaMae is not my given name, you know. It is a name I gave myself. It has great personal meaning and I adopted it at a time when I wanted to leave behind a very painful past and take on a metamorphosis. I shed my skin, picked myself up, and moved my family 500 miles away, to begin a new life. That is when, quite by accident, I found Asali. What I have discovered in the last few years since we have entered into a partnership and taken on a sport I never thought I would endure – endurance – is that I am the same girl, in the same brown skin, that I was years ago. The only difference is that I have found a strength within myself I did not know I had before. I have learned to believe in myself.

 

Endurance is a sport that stretches beyond just knowing how to ride. It requires a true partnership with an animal ten times your own size. It is a sport that challenges your very core — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Endurance taught me to overcome the elements of the backcountry, to learn to be alone and comfortable in silence, to trust my mount and to trust myself. It taught me to take things as they come, that the best fun in the sport is when, despite a fall or a runaway horse or getting lost on the trail, you can smile through it all and keep riding anyway. The rides we did not complete forced me to reevaluate my training, my riding ability, and my horse’s ability. It was each non-completion that taught me that change is okay. And it was in those failures that I was hit with something very valuable, in the name of humility. Every ride, even those that are successful, somehow humbles me, for it is more than my own talents that get us to the finish line.

 

This last month has been especially meaningful to me. Jakob and I attended the Lake Sonoma 50 mile endurance ride on November 1st. Jakob rode his horse, Beauty, and I rode Nicole Chappell’s horse, Savannah Knight, a gorgeous part-Friesian mare. Since I met Nicole, a well-known and very successful endurance rider, at the Tevis educational ride a couple years ago, she has been someone I have looked up to, taken advice from, and watched for on the trail. When she offered her horse to me for Lake Sonoma, it was a touching compliment, and while I was nervous about managing someone else’s horse, Savannah and I successfully completed the ride. It was Savannah’s third 50-miler, and I hit my 1,000th endurance mile with her. It was a fun ride, being out there with my son on a beautiful day, and I gained a lot of confidence riding a horse I knew next to nothing about. Nicole had said something vital to me just days before I picked Savannah up for the endurance ride. You know how to ride. Those simple words made me realize I just needed to trust myself. Often times, the only thing that holds us back is our own self-doubt.

 

This past weekend, Jakob and I attended the 3-day Gold Rush Shuffle Pioneer Ride. Although I took a rider option at mile 27 on Zaza the first day, Jakob successfully completed 55 miles with Beauty. And then he went on to finish Days 2 and 3, with me and Asali. Jakob, my 12-year-old son, rode his mare all 3 days, completing more than 150 miles. He was one of only a small few who completed all 155 miles on the same mount. And he did it on a rescue horse, an Appendix mare who stands at almost 16 hands tall. Jakob smiled through the mud and the rain, slowed down when he needed to, dismounted and walked to give Beauty a break on Day 3, and he galloped on a loose rein, allowing Beauty the freedom to run when she asked him to let her fly.

 

Jakob is the only equestrian to have competed on Beauty, and he put most of her conditioning miles on her himself. There were times I doubted that Beauty would ever make it past a limited distance ride, but Jakob never doubted her. He believed in her and he believed in himself. Witnessing their partnership, trust, and hard work brought tears to my eyes as they crossed the finish line on Sunday. Jakob and Beauty are now in West Region Standings for the Junior Division. Asali, my little Missouri Fox Trotter mare, and I are in standings as well, in the Lightweight Division, after completing three 100-mile rides this year. We finished this season far surpassing my original goal and I learned more from my own horse, my son, and his horse than I ever thought possible.

 

As we move into the next ride season, this little grasshopper (as one of my many mentors fondly calls me), has just a few small words of wisdom for anyone who has a dream:

 

  • Believe in Yourself. Self-doubt will destroy you faster than anything else, but when you simply believe, you are one step closer to reaching your goal.

 

  • With a Lot of Hard Work and Determination, Anything is Possible. I mean that. Four years ago, the 100-Mile Tevis Cup ride seemed like such a HUGE feat. And here I was, trying to complete it on a non-Arab, knowing very little about the sport of endurance. But I kept riding. I competed. I trained. I read. I researched. I trained. I trained. I trained. I failed at my first attempt. I reevaluated. I trained. I trained. I trained. I pictured crossing that finish line. I played it out in my mind over and over again. I trained. I tried again. We finished.

 

  • Be Patient. Everything takes time. Rejoice in the small victories and recognize how each one is getting you closer to your ultimate goal.

 

  • Attitude is Everything. Don’t fall victim to fears. Laugh at your failures and keep going. Those who refuse to give up eventually see success. After all, when you’re at the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.

 

  • Enjoy the Journey. Because when you’ve reached your goal, you’ll realize it isn’t over yet. And you may just travel beyond your wildest dreams…

Nov 22 2014

The Tevis Cup

Published by under Endurance Riding

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Last night, I received a text message from one of the juniors who crewed for me at Tevis. It read: “I know it’s not Thanksgiving yet, but I am very thankful to have you in my life. I know it was meant to be when we parked next to each other at Whiskeytown Chaser that day. You’re so brave and inspiring, and motivated my mom and me to believe in ourselves enough to attempt Tevis! I consider you and your family as family. I could go on, but I hope you know you’re an amazing friend.” She also wrote: “I’m so happy I got to crew for you at Tevis. That was one of the best life experiences so far.”

 

I have flashbacks sometimes. And I never know when it’s going to happen. I could be driving on a long, windy road, seeing open fields on either side. I could be riding, on top of any one of my horses, through the woods, surrounded by the red barked manzanitas. Or I could just be sitting with my family, at dinner, and the silence of everyone eating quietly, or the chatter amongst the boys, will trigger my memory. Suddenly, I am transported within my mind to that moment of crossing the finish line. I am hand walking Asali; she’s by my side, under the lights of the stadium in Auburn. The cheers around me are muffled and I am walking as slow as possible, in hopes of stopping time. As soon as we cross under the banner, I stop, lay a kiss on Asali’s cheek, and in the distance, I spot a friend — a member of my endurance family, a woman who helped carry me and Asali across the finish line of our first 100 mile ride. My feet begin dancing, my entire body moving in pure merriment, and the tears begin to flow. I have just experienced the most amazing journey of my life, and in the last 24 hours, I have discovered more about myself and my partner, the beautiful mare who shared the journey with me, who carried me just because I asked.

 

To those that have never experienced the Tevis Cup, it is a journey that is difficult to describe. For me, it was a journey that spanned more than 3 years of preparation. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would be riding outside the comfort of my fenced arena and the well-known trails near my house, which I could ride almost blind-folded. I had to overcome the fear of knowing that I would be out in the back country, on unknown trail, for miles and miles, with no cell phone service, no access to the comforts of home, and for many miles, I would be alone, with just my equine mount, and I would need to be competent enough to make sound decisions that would keep both myself and my mare safe. I knew I would be riding on somewhat treacherous terrain, and some of that trail would be covered in the blackness of night. I had to learn to trust not only my horse, but myself.

 

Asali and I set out on August 9th, just before dawn, headed towards Robinson Flat, on the first 36 miles of the famous Western States Trail. We rode alone, through the Granite Chief Wilderness area of Tahoe. It was some of the most gorgeous country I had ever seen — the stillness of every shade of green spanned generations in front of us, behind us, and around us, losing itself in a sky of blue I could almost reach out and grab. Two loose horses and a couple of riders falling from their mounts shook me up a bit, but I continued on, enjoying my ride. Right before Cougar Rock, a gust of wind sent a tree cracking, bursting into flames as its great trunk hit the ground. I was riding with a gentleman and his mare at the time. Both horses stopped dead in their tracks, but no one spooked. We carried on.

 

Cougar Rock stopped my heart. We had ridden it without incident the year before, but the sheer size and steepness of the rough gray-white granite had me forgetting to breathe again this year. Still, I signaled Asali to move forward. She lunged, hesitated, I encouraged, and up we went, my heart pounding and my hands shaking. At the top, I felt a thrill — the kind of adrenaline that you can feel pumping through each vein. Suddenly, I became more aware of my aliveness than ever before. I took a deep breath in, filling my lungs with a chill, and I was higher than I’ve ever been on any manmade drug.

 

Cougar Rock 2

Diana Hiiesalu ~ Gore/Baylor Photography

 

We made it to Robinson Flat. My crew greeted me with smiles and cheers, a welcoming sight. We vetted, rested, ate, and drank. With each tick of the clock during our hour-hold, I became more and more anxious about the three canyons ahead of us, in the hottest part of the day. My husband had encouraging words for me, however, and so, I looked at him and said, “I’m going to put my big girl panties on.” And so I did.

 

Asali and I made it through the first canyon, the one that had kicked our bums the year before. I did most of it on foot. And this year, Asali let me tail. We reached the top and her heart rate was 44, proving her fitness. We vetted through, once again, and I mounted, once again, and we carried on.

 

We hit El Dorado Canyon, my shoes filled with river water from crossing Devil’s Thumb on foot. I was not chilled, however, but rejuvenated. We were heading towards Foresthill, further than we had made it on our first Tevis Cup attempt. At the Chicken Hawk vet check, I stuffed brownies and every other sugar filled treat in my mouth. I high-fived some familiar faces, remounted, and once again, we were on our way. As we climbed out of Volcano Canyon and up Bath Road in the little town of Foresthill, I began feeling emotional.

 

The sun was setting as I vetted Asali at Foresthill, and once again, she had great vet scores. We were fit to continue. I handed my vet card to a crew member, and the tears came, in gobs and gobs that stung my face, altered my voice, and almost blinded me. I sat down as Asali ate at the horse trailer and cried into the sandwich my dad handed me. The junior members on my crew taped glow bars to Asali’s breast collar and placed a head lamp on my helmet. I continued to cry, saying simply, “I love my horse.” It was in that moment, when we passed the vet check at Foresthill, that I knew we were going to finish. My little mare, a Missouri Fox Trotter, the underdog, was a Tevis horse.

 

Riding at night was a thrill. It was pitch black under the tree cover and each green glow stick that marked the trail cast an eerie hue. At one point, a rider became disoriented in the canyon, pulling her horse off the trail and down the mountain. That was when Asali and I took the lead. I led a group of more than a dozen riders through that first night canyon. I rode on a loose rein, letting Asali choose the way, knowing she knew where her feet were. She picked up her pace, and I let her go, never thinking to slow her down.

 

We reached the river crossing in good time. I threw Asali’s rump rug over her hindquarters, and as we approached the water, a volunteer put her hand on my thigh. She said something about admiring us all, being in awe of our horses, and of course, a good luck was somewhere in her words. As I rode away, I wished I had grabbed her hand and squeezed it. Her words had touched me deeply, but in the excitement of it all — the volunteers cheering, the music blaring, the glow sticks strung in the water, drifting slowly side to side by the light of the moon – I was frozen in that moment. That river crossing, in the dead of night, with the water reaching up to the horse’s belly, was my favorite part of Tevis. You are so close to the finish line, you can taste that buckle in the water, as you lift your feet to stay dry.

 

Six miles from the finish, at the Lower Quarry vet check, I left with a huge smile across my face, as once again, tears flowed down. Asali and I rode the entire last six miles alone. When the trees parted and I could see the moon, in all its fullness, I tipped my face to the sky in gratitude.

 

When we reached the turn that shot upwards and out of the canyon to the Auburn Overlook, the official finish line, I couldn’t keep quiet. The excitement that had been building over the last 24 hours reached my throat with a force I could not hold back. “HEEELLLLOOOOOOO, AUBURN!” I repeated it over and over again. We crossed underneath the colored lights, the arch that congratulated us, as my family and friends cheered and yelled along with me.

 

The moments between the Auburn Overlook and walking to the Fairgrounds, where we took our victory lap, are a complete blur. My body moved in slow motion, with my muscles working on a sort of autopilot. My family was with me, and all but three members of my crew (the others were waiting at the fairgrounds to take care of Asali) walked with me, but I do not remember what was said in that darkness. I do not remember what I was thinking or feeling. I don’t remember anything, until I made a conscience decision not to remount, but rather, hand walk my mare under the banner. At that moment, I wanted to savor the feeling, that feeling of accomplishment that comes only when you’ve overcome every doubt and fear you have ever had about yourself. I had been a girl who had grown up feeling as if I was good at a lot of things, but I was never great at anything. It was in that moment, as we stood under the finish line banner, together, the two of us, that I felt I was maybe, just maybe, finally great at something.

 


Madison blankets Asali in ride camp, a couple days before the start of Tevis.

Madison blankets Asali in ride camp, a couple days before the start of Tevis.

Ready to vet-in at Robie Equestrian Park!

Ready to vet-in at Robie Equestrian Park!

Just arrived at Robinson Flat!

Just arrived at Robinson Flat!

Ashley tightens my girth, before we head out of Robinson Flat.

Ashley tightens Asali’s girth, before we head out of Robinson Flat.

Leaving Robinson Flat - got my big girl panties on!

Leaving Robinson Flat – got my big girl panties on!

Crew waits at Foresthill.

Crew waits at Foresthill.

My son, Jakob, has encouraging words for Asali, before we leave Foresthill.

My son, Jakob, has encouraging words for Asali, before we leave Foresthill.

The Tevis moon, during our last six mile stretch. Moments after finishing, this moon became a spectacular Super Moon.

The Tevis moon, during our last six mile stretch. Moments after finishing, this moon became a spectacular Super Moon.

Does this need a caption?

Does this need a caption?

Hours after crossing the finish line, I received my legacy buckle from Barbara White.

Hours after crossing the finish line, I received my legacy buckle from Barbara White.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I would like to thank my amazing crew: my good, good friends Ashley Law & Heidi Martindale; Madison MacPhail, a very special junior rider & young woman I love; my husband & confidant, Gary Gregory; my son & inspiration, Jakob Gregory; and sweet Bella Martindale. You each helped me, in your own way, to get to the finish line, and fulfill a dream in a moment. Thank you.

And to my father, who cherishes his poster size photo of Asali and me climbing Cougar Rock: Thank you for supporting me financially, so that Tevis could become a reality. And thank you for always cheering me on, even though you worry about my safety at times.

And to my little D-man, my youngest son: Thanks for waking up to be at the finish line. Thank you for your jokes, encouraging words, and brilliant insight. I need you everyday.

And to Asali: the little Missouri Fox Trotter mare who stole my heart, keeps me sane, and broke a record with her 2014 Tevis Cup Finish. Thank you for the ride of my life.

A and me

Lisa Chadwick ~ Boots ‘N Bloomers Photography

Jul 13 2014

The Sport We Call Endurance

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We are less than a month away from Tevis and my mind is filled with all kinds of thoughts. At night, I dream of crossing the finish line on my gallant mare, Asali, a horse I now know can do 100 miles.

I put together invitations for my crew to attend a pre-Tevis dinner and meeting. Inside, a quote by Julie Suhr reads, “I have never regretted a Tevis Cup start.” Julie continues by saying her best Tevis Ride was on a horse named Rumadi, on a day they did not finish. I was reminded of a ride, just a couple months ago, on my green-broke Arab, Dippi. It was our second attempt to finish our first limited distance ride together. Back in April, we had been pulled at Whiskeytown at the 12.5 mile mark when Dippi started cramping in the hind end. She recovered beautifully after some water and electrolytes, and I took her home for more training.

The weekend of Mother’s Day, we arrived at Cache Creek, ready to sponsor Jakob and his new horse, Zaza, feeling confident we wouldn’t let this 25 miles get to us. However, Dippi came up lame about 6 miles from the finish. I dismounted, and hand walked her in the entire way. As we came up over the ridge, it began raining on us. I stopped momentarily, took a deep breath, and was almost brought to tears by the beauty that spanned miles in front of us. I felt blessed to be alive, to be healthy enough to walk my injured horse however far I needed to, and to watch as my son completed his ride, demonstrating good judgment and horsemanship with his new mount. Another non-completion on our record, but a ride that left me with many more fond memories. A photo of Jakob and me, on Zaza and Dippi, from that exact ride, sits on my desk as I write.

Only two weeks later, I loaded Asali in the horse trailer and took her to Run for the Gold 50, our last ride before Tevis. We went alone, without Jakob, and we finished without incident. We had an enjoyable ride, riding almost the entire 50 miles with a woman named Laurie. The ride reminded me of our own training grounds at home and I spent a good deal of the ride on foot, not because I had to, but because I wanted to stay fit for Tevis. We returned home the day after the ride, and I spent the following month with Jakob, getting Beauty and Zaza ready for the Weaver Basin Express 50, as well as trail scouting and mapping for the endurance ride I’m managing in September.

It is now one week post the Weaver Basin Express, and I am once again, left with a pride I can’t explain. The Weaver Basin Express 50 was held out in Weaverville, in the Trinity National Forest. It was a gorgeous ride, with the trail being almost entirely single track. But it was a hot and technical ride, and we experienced some challenges on the day of the ride. Jakob was my saving grace. He didn’t complain, and when I expressed my frustration with the heat, the trail sabotage that occurred, leaving us guessing on the ribbons, the lack of water, or the thrown boot, he continued to remind me that everything was going to be fine. He and Beauty kept pushing me and Zaza forward. And when we found the finish line, 10 minutes before ride cut-off time, I was brought to tears. Jakob turned around, asking, “Mom, are you okay?” I smiled, said yes, and hid my tears behind my sunglasses. Jakob was the only junior to finish the 50 that day. And he was the only junior, after finishing both days at Whiskeytown on Beauty, to receive the Shasta-Trinity Triple Crown Award. Furthermore, the two horses we chose to ride that day were the two we know don’t usually do well in the heat. But they proved us both wrong, finishing just fine in almost 100 degree weather. The Weaver Basin Express 50 was one of the toughest 50 mile rides I have ever done, but it is only with those rides that you receive the greatest sense of accomplishment at the end. Despite its challenges, Jakob and I plan on tackling it again in the future.

And here I am, just weeks away from Tevis, feeling blessed beyond words, for the life I’ve been given. For the rides we’ve finished, and those we haven’t, for the wind that calls us, the trees that surround us, the friends we’ve made out on the trail, in the middle of nowhere, for the family that supports us and listens intently to the stories we come home with, to the horses who give us the chance to fly… to the sport we call endurance…

 

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