100's FOR THE REST OF US
By Patti Carey
For me, a lesson I learn again and again is that people take up endurance riding for wildly different reasons — for ego, for the sights, for money, for the fun, for the challenge, to win, to finish, to prove something to someone (likely themselves). Like everyone else, I have my own motives.
A friend of mine, an eventer/dressage rider/foxhunter whom I keep threatening — I mean offering — to take on an endurance rides, reminds me to always keep my “ultimate goal” in mind.
Anyone who checks my ride record with AERC will quickly discover I’m not in it for the thrill of reckless speed or the glory of winning. When I chance on stories about FEI rides and COCs and sub-12-hour 100s and passports, I feel as if I am reading about an entirely different sport. And in some ways it is. A sport I admire, but don’t actually participate in, nor aspire to.
For me, riding 100 miles is about so many things, the least of which is winning or finding an international caliber horse, or going abroad to compete.
For me, riding 100 miles is about asking a profoundly challenging question of myself and the horses that I happen to own.
Learning about the horses
Riding 100 miles means learning about your horse with an intimacy that borders on obsessive.
There is no better way to stand out amongst the veterinary staff at a ride than to have a 16+ hand horse who presents with his penis dangling at nearly every check, including the vet-in. The vets who know Ned just chuckle and give him a B for impulsion (it’s hard to look inspired when your privates are hitting your thigh with each stride). Those who don’t know Ned scratch their head at the oddity, but pretty well “know” him by the third or so check. As for me, other than the lackluster trot-outs, I hardly notice anymore.
I know Ned so well that I know what he’s likely to want to eat at various points in the ride, and that his low point is probably going to be at around 60 miles and/or at the hottest time of the day. I know that if he asks to walk there is not much sense in trying to convince him to trot. Ned is walking, thankyouverymuch.
I know that he’s extremely picky about the company he keeps on trail. I learned it the hard way running up front in the Vermont 100 this year, and then leaving the vet check one minute late. Late enough to have lost sight of Ned’s new best friend, Patti Pizzo’s Hot Spot.
Perhaps it is anthropomorphic to think so, but I am convinced Ned was steamed at me; I’d ruined his day of running up front with Spot. He pouted, he was unimpressed by other horses with whom he could link up, he gave me an equine earful in several non-verbal ways. It was several miles later before horses meeting his scrutiny came by, inspiring him to leap into a trot and motor along with them into the next hold.
Ned. My magical, opinionated friend.
I know that Ned refusing a peppermint is a problem. I know that refusing a carrot is the absolute norm when he is even vaguely stressed. I know that he prefers his slushie and hay held to his muzzle toward the end of a ride but is insulted by the notion during the first few holds. I know he’ll rarely drink water out of a bucket or a clear-running stream but if you can find a stagnant puddle with a petroleum sheen, he can’t resist.
I’ve learned that when all else fails with Ned, I need to give him a vacation. For Ned, rest is far more important than conditioning. And not just physical rest, but mental rest. I think the hardest part of the sport for him is being hauled. He’s a good traveler, a vigorous eater and drinker, but he takes one look at the big trailer and pouts. (Carrot? Thank you, no, says Ned.)
I know that his topline exemplifies several conformational faults, all captioned “don’t buy this horse” in horsemanship books. I know that I’ll probably always have to switch saddles with him during a 100 to keep him happy and comfortable.
I know that the best thing for Ned after a 100 is plenty of rest, a good going-over with the percussive massager from Wal-Mart (about the only thing you’ll find me revving up my generator to run the day after) and lots of handwalking to graze and stretch.
Would I know all of these things about Ned without 100s? Perhaps.
But to know a creature so well that you can guess his next move before he makes it is an exquisitely precious thing. Sometimes thinking about our connection takes my breath away.
Learning about myself
I still contend that the challenge in 100s is primarily mental, for horses and humans alike. It is the will to go on, the ability to pace one’s adrenaline, to make prudent decisions in the face of exhaustion, pain, heat, adversity, chafing, general stinkiness and sometimes all of the above. I’ve learned that having my crew area all organized and stocked up is critical for me. Who, me? Control freak? Yes. If you’re looking for a towel, they are of course in the Rubbermaid container labeled “Clothes and Towels.”
I’ve learned that I can do a 50 on a handful of nuts and a few bottles of Gatorade, but that for 100s I need to eat “real” food. Sandwiches, crackers, Pringles, cheese. (I didn’t say “health” food, I said “real” food.) I’ve learned that V-8 is the closest thing to food when you can’t bear the idea of chewing at 1:00 a.m. Gatorade jelly beans are a marvelous thing, but don’t make the mistake of chewing and swallowing a whole handful of them in a hurry because Ned decides you need to do some trotting and cantering. (Heartburn, anyone?)
I’ve learned over and over again to ride my own ride. I’ve learned not to promise to ride with anyone else, no matter how much I think I’d enjoy their company. My standard reply is, “Well, sure, let’s see how they pace together.” Which is secret code for, “Let’s see if your horse is one Ned cares to stick with.”
I’ve learned that the miles between 70 and 100 are the ones where I most profoundly appreciate my horse. There is a sense of well-being that I don’t think you can fully describe, being mounted on a fit and willing horse moving forwardforwardforward into darkness and beyond. There has not been a 100 yet where I have not asked him during those miles, “Was this too much to ask?” And none yet where he’s replied “yes.”
I’ve learned that I am at my best riding by myself or with people who are mostly quiet. Chatty and social off a horse, I never fail to notice that nearly every photo of me mounted has me looking absolutely, well, constipated. It’s not constipation, however, it’s concentration (similar sounding, vastly different meaning). I am utterly focused on staying straight, watching the footing, feeling each snort, each footfall, assessing how my horse feels, looks, moves, smells, behaves. And I hate to be distracted from it.
I’ve learned I can haul myself and my horse several hundred miles to do a 100 without my husband. Without hitting more than a few stray objects. And that if you look pathetic enough, you can get your male ride camp neighbor to hook the trailer up to the truck so you can leave. (Thanks, Skip.)
Are these things I would know about myself without doing 100s? Maybe.
Learning about people
It takes a good crew to get Team Turtle through a 100. I’ve had endurance friends and dressage friends and eventing friends and completely and utterly non-horsey friends crew me through 100s. You don’t know how good a friend is until you send them to bed at the 86-mile vet check, planning to vet through the final on your own, and find that same friend perched on a cooler waiting for you when you finally drag in at 3:00 a.m.
I’ve learned that nearly anybody’s crew will help you when you’re out there. I’ve had water, electrolytes, carrots, slices of watermelon, gallons and gallons of cold sponging water, parts of slushies and handfuls of hay from other people’s crews.
I’ve learned, again and again and again, that there are no horse people in the world quite like endurance people.
Learning about life
A few years ago, in the midst of my delight at realizing that Ned could and would be a 100-mile horse, I felt a small impending panic in my heart.
If Ned was, indeed, my once-in-a-lifetime horse, how would I ever again have this same relationship?
A 5-year-old National Show Horse with several melanomas, a bit down on his luck (a fresh gash on his hindquarters left us a large scar that remains as a souvenir of the day we decided to buy him). We found him on the Internet, and took a drive “just to look” one Saturday morning.
Wide-eyed and twitchy, he watched his owner every moment we were there, and looked positively distressed when she walked out of sight.
Ah, here’s a horse that can bond.
Three lovely gaits.
Sold, ostensibly to pass on to a friend who was looking for a prospect.
Ned is cocky. Ace is earnest, constantly seeking approval, and trying so hard he turns inside out. Ned figures he’ll do what he wants, and if I want to come along, that’s fine by him.
Unlike Ned, Ace will go out happily with anybody on trail, but gets wigged out about where his friends are at the holds. Ned waves goodbye to his equine buddies at the in-timer and says, “I’m off to go eat and be waited on, see you in about, say, 45 minutes?”
Ned is a Cadillac, Ace is an all-terrain vehicle, far cattier than Ned, but he will never have that ginormous, ground-covering trot.
Who is the better horse? Honestly, whichever one I am sitting on at the moment.
Ace has all his LSD under his belt, is a handy little dressage machine, travels like a trouper, has done CTR handily and several mid-pack 50s. I am antsy to start him in his first 100, and figuring how I’ll manage to compete two horses in 100s each season.
No expectations from Ace, no promises other than to quit if it’s too much to ask that day, just another profoundly challenging question of a horse I am coming to know ridiculously well.
And as always, it is not about the destination, it is about the tremendous, life-affirming up-and-down journey that will get us there.