Way back when the nights were still frosty, I hauled Tarma solo up to Tacoma and we more or less calmly puttered through a 15 mile intro ride. Just over a month later, we rode 24 miles on our last day with the Cross State Ride, and Tarma had three weeks off for a badly sored back. Next Saturday, I’ve signed us up for the Ft. Lewis Challenge, the actual limited distance ride of 25 miles, back up in Tacoma on Joint Base Lewis McCord.
I’ve spent a good chunk of the summer adding distance to our rides, but mostly slow and long so as not to over stress Benny. We’ve packed in beautiful camping trips and tough elevation climbs, and she’s never taken a single lame step or bobble. We’ve had our arguments and a couple tumbles (always my fault, she was never trying to get me off). Situations have cropped up that I’m proud of how I handled them and other’s where I failed, in the moment, to be the best I could for Tarma, for friends, for myself. There are so many things still to work on, from further gym workouts for my stability to side passing under saddle. There are a lot of things that crop up only at an endurance ride that we haven’t really practiced all year, such as being passed at speed and controlling race brain.
The single biggest pressure at an actual endurance ride is time, you only have six hours to complete the course, minus the 45 minute vet hold. This means in order to turtle (come in pretty much last), you have to have an average on trail speed of about 4.5 miles per hour. Our fastest pace all summer was about 4.2mph total. Despite this, I have every confidence we can complete the distance. We have a few things on our side for this ride. I’ve been holding Tarma back all summer from her desire to go faster, but 25 miles of me posting is different than 19 miles at the walk. I did extensive PT for my ankle and can now actually post without pain, and my foot no longer goes numb after a few miles. JBLM is flat as a pancake somehow, so there’s no big climbs or mushy footing to consider. We’re also taking her favorite gelding as a ride buddy, he’s a gaited Paso Fino and he and Tarma egg each other on and both have naturally faster paces.
I’ve also spent all summer with Tarma, observing her, noting how she eats, how she recovers, how she thinks and feels about what I’m asking her to do. There’s always more to learn, and I don’t always know why she’s irritated sometimes, but we usually manage to work through everything. I recently offered her Purina RepleniMash after a few trail rides, as she can tad unmotivated by my usual beet pulp/alfalfa cube mash, and she inhaled it so we’re definitely taking that along. I have new front Scoot boots in the mail that will hopefully be here in time, as her current size 1s are a tad small for her newly grown heels, they fit her hoof decently but can dig into her heels on long rides.
The Great Saddle Hunt (and gathering finances for) continues, the single biggest hurdle we face. I love the Wintec for it’s indestructability, but we’re never going to do a 50 mile ride in it. Tarma has such a unique back shape, and it’s so dynamic under movement, she really needs and deserves a custom saddle, especially as even when I’m fit and riding well, I’ll always be a heavy weight. Ever since she recovered from the Cross State Ride (including increasing body work and massage sessions), she’s not back sore immediately after a ride…but occasionally, a few days after a tough ride, she can twitch when I test her. Never as bad as before, not as noticeable. I know it’s a combination of my lack of balance, the Wintec not being quite right for either of us, and a lack of focused body building for Tarma, all things I’m working on. If it was any worse or consistent I wouldn’t have signed up, but it’s still my top concern for managing during the ride (I recently purchased a Thinline half pad to complement my usual Mattes pad to hopefully absorb some of my motion) and after (liniment, cold hosing, body work, keeping her warm while camping).
I’m reasonably certain I’ve set us up for at least a shot at success. Rachel and I will go out this weekend, sans dog, and rock through a mock ride, letting Cody and Tarma really move out with a short break at the trailer between loops. Aside from a short warm up we won’t walk much, really trying to nail that almost five mile an hour speed we’ll need. We’re heading to the vet on Thursday for health certificates and the farrier on Thursday and we’ll be as set as can be. I know there’s a bit more I could have done to prepare us, mostly speed and strength building, but I also think we can cruise through a fun 25 miles and we’ll see what Tarma thinks of moving out at speed for longer than she’s used to. It will be our last big trip and event of the season probably, so I’m also hopeful we’ll learn what we need to focus on over the winter to come out stronger and more prepared for the Cross State ride next spring.
If we do complete with a good vet card and she unloads at home safe and sound, it’s going to be a huge accomplishment. All those years of catch riding, the too short time with Flash as my first actual horse, and almost two years of working and building with Tarma will pay off in the form of a T-shirt. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and everything we’ve accomplished, but to bring my own horse along into endurance has a special flavor for me. As much as trail riding requires from both horse and rider, in terms of fitness and trust and try, endurance requires all that and more. My main love will always be moving down a beautiful trail with my pretty mare, whether at the speed endurance calls for or Tarma’s version of a slow walk (which is a fast hustle for most!) Wish us luck!