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Chapter 8 - Long Distance Ride

Posted by greygelding , 22 April 2016 · 619 views

So now that I had a horse in great shape it was natural for me to take the next step and try my hand at a long distance race, a 25 miler. I increased the Bo Horse's food intake and supplied everything needed to prepare an endurance horse inside and out. The work outs were varied and he seemed to really thrive on them. An endurance horse must pass several vet checks and his pulse and respiration (P & R) would be checked before it would be allowed to continue. I spent countless hours in the saddle and really enjoyed seeing a lot of country in a short period of time. As the day was approaching fast I was satisfied that Bo Horsey was really ready. His P & R's were great and he would be under the probable criteria in less than 3 minutes. He was a trotting machine, not too fast but could trot forever.
The race was on a Saturday morning and we arrived on Friday afternoon. I had never been to an endurance ride much less ridden in one. You can only learn so much by research and I was about to find out that there was nothing like experience. We set up our camp, checked in at the ride control point, and Bo breezed through the vet check. I looked around at the horses and saw a lot of horses who looked like they had missed some meals. "Is he too fat?" I inquired. The Vet replied, "No, he's amongst the best horses out here weight wise". Reassured I saddled him up and gave him a short easy workout. Next came his dinner and we went to get ours. After our meal they were holding the pre-race meeting. Here they were to cover the trail conditions and route, as well as any other items we should be aware of. I had two goals in mind. First was to finish the race and I really didn't care as to what place I finished in. It was to be an easy fun ride. The second goal was actually the most important to me, to finish with a horse in perfect condition. I had already made up my mind that at the very first sign of a problem I would pull him. I wouldn't wait for a Veterinarian to pull me, The Bo Horse would come first. At the end of the meeting came a question and answer session. Someone asked if it was OK to feed an endurance horse sweet feed. "An endurance horse should never be fed sweet feed, AND if you do they should NEVER be fed it before a ride!" Mortified I looked across the camp ground where Bo was just licking the bottom of his grain bucket to make sure he got every last drop. I had the sinking feeling I had killed my horse. I had worked the daylights out of him while on that diet so I figured we might as well start the race and see what happens.
The race was to start at 6:00 am and it seems that no one else besides me could sleep either. The place was a beehive of activity at 3:30 am. Feeding Bo his breakfast, time seemed to crawl at a snails pace and then as it came time to saddle up time just raced by at warp speed. Nevertheless I was ready on time. The 50 milers started at 6:00 and we were to start at 6:30. It was a controlled start as the trail was too narrow for a bunch of horses to jockey for position. We followed a pace horse for a short while until the trail widened and then the race was on. After my experience at the ride and tie I was prepared for him to want to blast off. It was a battle that I won and the eager beavers were off like a shot. As they vanished down the trail I managed to get him to settle into the work and I was really having a blast. I held his pace back and concentrated on keeping him on course. As we swiftly trotted down the trail we started to overtake and pass a horse here and a horse there. There were two vet checks in the race at 10 mile intervals. A horse would be given a time when he came in and 15 minutes later he would get his P & R's and his lameness checks. If it failed to pass they would have to wait an additional 15 minutes before being rechecked. When passed there was another 15 minute wait until they could continue. As I approached the vet check there were several horses being led around in circles by their riders. Not knowing any better I asked if they were OK. "No problem" was the reply. As I trotted into the check point and was given my time slip it occurred to me that they were lowering their P & R's to ensure they would pass the first time. Was I making a major mistake?
I checked Bo at 3 minutes and he was under the criteria but was I correct? Time arrived and I reported to the proper place. He was checked and the lady checking him said "This can't be right". Misinterpreting her comment I immediately replied "I'll pull him right now!" She said "No, no. You don't understand. The criteria is pulse 68, respiration 50. He's at 50, 32! You're not even working this horse!" Dully I replied "That's good isn't it?" "You bet it is! All the 50 milers have gone through and some of the 25 milers and nobody has been under 60 except you." He trotted out eagerly with no trace of lameness.
Thanking her we waited our 15 minutes and we were off for round two. I had no idea where I was in the standings and didn't care. Bo was doing great. I continued to keep him at a decent pace and he seemed resigned to it and ceased to try to increase his speed. I found myself passing more horses and soon we arrived at the second vet check. The result was identical to the first. As we departed I had two thoughts. First was I should have asked someone where I was in the standings. The second was that maybe, just maybe, it would have been a good idea to tighten my girth. Bo had a habit of swelling up to keep us from tightening the girth too tight. As I mounted to continue to ride he swelled up so I gave no thought to check to see if just maybe the girth might need tightening. The thought occurred to me as the saddle started to slip to the right as we trotted down the trail. I put weight in my left stirrup and straightened it out. We were trotting along and passing more horses so I thought that since I have a nice sense of balance, and my competitive nature was rising within me, I'll just ride centered to the finish, after all it wasn't that far. I didn't want to take the time to stop and lose placing, whatever it maybe. Suddenly there it was - the finish line. There was one horse right in front of me and then we were neck and neck. We both figured that with about 100 yards to go it wouldn't hurt to pick up the pace and make a race out of it. With people we didn't know cheering both of us on and us urging our horses to move faster, a real race was in the making. Well not really. I had spent most of the last 25 miles keeping Bo at a comfortable pace and he saw no reason to change that now. He had no idea how much longer we were going to go and if I didn't like this speed I surely wouldn't like the other one. Meanwhile the other horse in this race had the exact same idea. My horse was just one half length less reluctant than hers. After my "victory" I carefully dismounted, remember the loose saddle? I could place my fist in between the horse and the girth, I forgot to account for water loss during the ride and he was a trimmer mount than at the start. He recovered in 3 minutes and the check at 15 minutes was exactly the same as the other two. Only then did it occur to me that I had no idea where I placed. Third, I had held him in and still placed third! Not bad at all for my very first long distance ride.
Apparently there's an active grapevine in the camp because that afternoon we had a series of visits by what seemed to be everyone in camp. Most of them were of the opinion that Bo was the odds on favorite to win the best condition award. This was something that never crossed my mind but now I found the thought quite tantalizing. I even received a few offers to buy him which I quickly declined. One rather persistent gentleman returned a couple of times with his last offer $5,000! That would be a nice profit on a $500 gelding but Bo was family now and not for sale. Later I was glad I didn't as it turns out that he had just lamed his third horse in three rides. I found myself surprised by what extremes people would go to just to win a belt buckle in a race too short to even be considered an endurance ride. Another person apparently brought his horse all the way from Las Vegas. The horse had dislocated a hip one month ago and was advised to give it six months rest. He was riding hard to win and I overtook him around the 17 mile mark. The horse could hardly walk and they had to bring the vet and a trailer to him. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of wonderful caring competitors there who were as appalled as I was.
I was basking in all the attention that Bo was getting and he seemed to be eating it up as well. It seemed in addition to being third we were only 7 minutes behind the two leaders who were riding hard to win while I was holding him in all the way. Hmm, what if I had let him go? No, no regrets here. I had run my race as planned and the fact that I was not just top 10, which was just a dream at the start, but top 5 was icing on the cake. I was also learning a lot from the others and had made some friends as well.
It was approaching 6:00 pm, the time for the top 10 vet inspection for the best condition award. They checked us one at a time under the watchful eye of all the attending vets, and everyone else was watching as well. Bo was really fired up and was sure we were off down the trail again. I had a hunch when they frowned as they were taking his P & R's. He inverted which is where he was breathing faster than his pulse. Then I trotted him out so they could watch him move. It didn't help that I hadn't actually worked with him on this. He was so excited that I had trouble turning him. Once I got his attention and he got the idea he moved fluidly. Next a vet came and squeezed his front legs really hard, pressing in with his thumb and forefinger which brought a reaction from Bo on his left leg. I wasn't sure where we would place but I wanted to talk to the vets after all was said and done to gage his condition. I lost the best condition award to a horse that finished 47 minutes behind me and placed 7th in the race. When the awards were finished I talked to two of the vets. The first one told me that I got him is such great condition they couldn't give me the award. He said that I should have either entered the 50 miler or ridden him harder in the 25 miler, that way he would have been tired and wouldn't have inverted. The second vet said he was lame but stated that also all the top 10 horses were lame. I immediately became alarmed as that was the last thing I wanted to do and also I had been unaware of any problem. I had him show me what was wrong. This was the same vet that had examined all the horses legs by pressing hard. He lifted one of his front legs, pressed, and Bo reacted. "See how he reacts? He's sore in that leg. Let me show you the other one". He reacted the same on that one as well. "He's lame in both front legs now. Let me show you with your other horse". We had brought Sandy with us and he had spent the whole day either eating, walking around, or sleeping. He proceeded to check him the same way he did Bo. "This horse is lame in both front front legs also". Now I was beginning to wonder, something didn't seem right.
The horse trailer we used was one we were half owner with another horse owner who wanted to use it first thing in the morning to go to a horse show. So we loaded up our two lame horses, said our goodbyes, and headed down the road into the darkness. This led us to the conclusion that we needed our own trailer. The next morning I called my vet to come and check Bo for any damage I might have done. He arrived and gave him a thorough check. Seeing the concerned look on my face he smiled and gave me a mini class on lameness and feed. I learned a lot about how hard not to press on a horses legs and got a thorough explanation of nutrition. The bottom line was Bo was in perfect shape and weight, not lame, and continued to enjoy tasty food. Oh and Sandy was well rested and wasn't lame either. I wear my belt buckle with pride and am still to this day very proud of The Bo Horse's performance.

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