I’m part of many endurance ride related groups on the old Facebook, and in one I mentioned my twin ride goals for the season of completing my first 50 mile ride and not embarrassing myself in ride camp.
I realized that while I wrote up and shared the story of last year’s sad attempt at Grizzly, I’d never shared it wider than the PNER newsletter. So here it is again in all its glory, or don’t follow the Bad Idea Fairy!
I’ve had better weekends. I’ve had worse weekends. Overall, I’m chalking this year’s attempt at the Grizzly Mountain ride up to the as the ever exciting ‘learning experience’.
I first tried to complete Grizzly for the first time a few years ago, on Nicole Miller’s incomparable Arab Cid (who had given me my first ever endurance completion at Home on the Range earlier that year). I ended up pulling out via rider option at the first vet check, as through nearly 18 miles and a 30 degree temperature change, I hadn’t really drunk any water & ended up with heat stroke.
This year, Nicole had the amazing patience and trust to offer me another of her Arabs, this time Reno, to again attempt the LD at the now first ever EDRA ride. I felt quite a bit better about things this time; I’d been riding almost every weekend for months, including solid rides on a beautiful Appy/Arab cross (many of you may know him; Vicki Nelson’s Jokker is a stand out kinda guy!). I had my Camelbak all packed, my riding clothes dialed in, neither too hot nor too cold, I’ve been biking to work for months so I felt stronger than I had in years, & I was familiar with the rhyme and rhythm of Nicole & Jala’s work, if not Reno himself. I’d even brought two friends along, Adriene & Sarah, lifelong horse people but endurance newbies to volunteer, crew & provide what turned out to be critical emotional support.
So it should come as no surprise that Murphy bit my ass hard, in the form of the valuable maxim “Never do anything new on ride day.” I hopped up on a horse I’d never ridden, in a saddle I’d never seen, to do a nice 30 mile ride in the sunshine with friends.
I should take a moment here to fill a gap: I’m a catch rider. I have no horse of my own currently, so I’ve tried my best to build a solid reputation as a good horse person, a decent rider and a trusted friend. I was two of those three things at Grizzly. It’s only due to the open generosity of the endurance community that I have horses to ride at all! I always try to go the extra mile, from cleaning tack, stalls & trailers to working on any training issues as asked. There’s a delicate balance between my desire to ride endurance, the need to put conditioning miles on an ‘extra’ horse, and not straining friendships.
Back to the ride report that turned out not to be: We blitzed out of camp after Reno nicely bucked me off as his test (failed that one but popped right back on), took a wrong turn, futzed with my stirrups while Nicole’s Dancer lived up to her namesake, then crossed the highway & headed up the road for my one sweet spot of the ride, Reno alternating between a Hackney pony trot & a beautiful canter that I loved. As soon as we left the road I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t find the sweet spot of the stirrups; either too short & they popped me up with every stride, or so long I couldn’t sink my weight into them. Reno’s saddle had a tree, but I’d been riding almost exclusively treeless all winter. I felt perched above his movement, & coupled with my shiny but comfortable running tights, I had no grip on the saddle & lost my balance with every shift, unable to sink into the saddle & wrap my legs around him as I normally did.
At the first real downhill at the trot, I did the predictable thing & came off again, this time rolling over his shoulder in painful slow motion. After a stunned moment I collected my glasses & left my pride on the trail. Nicole & Cassie headed on & I took my sweet time hiking back to camp, explaining to every rider who passed that I was an idiot & not to worry about us. Of course the first rider to pass was the woman who got me in to this dang sport in the first place, Brenda Casebeer! I will admit, I didn’t feel so bad about leaving the proper place on Reno’s back when I learned Brenda’s up & coming gaited mare, Grace, had also dumped her a little farther up the trail.
I will be honest, even though only Reno saw, I did cry a bit on that hike back to ride camp. I’d never encountered a saddle I just couldn’t suck up & deal with, at least for a few miles. It was just a bad combination, & an expensive lesson to learn. By the time I handed in my ride card, I’d at least accepted I had made the right choice for the horse. We avoided a sore back by not hauling around an unbalanced rider, & not holding up my friend’s ride. My friends back at camp talked me through from sadness & self-guilt to the mentality of ‘lessons learned, you lived to ride again another day, here’s some things to try’ via a trip to Dairy Queen in Madras.
The main lesson I took from Grizzly is I have to control everything I can, so ride day is as smooth as possible. Things I can’t control are always getting a pre-ride in (due to distance between me & the offered horse), or the saddle (which endurance riders are rightly very specific about). I did go out & find a new pair of actual riding tights (slightly sticky seat Kerrits & half chaps on the way from the UK, the only company to make them in my size), find a seat fleece, & pick up dressage lessons again.
To follow up the ride that wasn’t, I had a fantastic ride the following weekend on Vicki’s Jokker. We managed a nice 13 mile ride at a decent clip, in a saddle I love on a horse I adore, only getting hailed on at the end of the ride. Heading up a long gravel road at a just right trot, just me & the big spotted horse in the woods following Vicki on her mare, was one of those sweet spots which remind me why I’m putting in the work to make myself a better rider.
I strive to keep people trusting me with their amazing horses & the open trail, all in pursuit of a completion & a nice t-shirt. I’ve been biking ten miles round trip to work several times a week since January; riding as often as I can; filling in walks around campus & Wii workouts (Dance games & Biggest Looser) during the worst of the winter weather, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, & wearing my Fitbit & tracking what I eat. These actions have helped me drop 30 pounds & turned my calves into rocks, & I’m hoping adding in dressage lessons will get me closer to this season’s goal of my first fifty mile ride.
From my end, the trickiest part of being a catch rider is the relationship building. I’m lucky enough to ride mostly with people I also consider friends, which makes it a little easier to keep the conversation flowing on long rides & the communication open during trickier moments. I always offer to pay full ride fees & half gas & food for any trips or events, & I fully embrace the “take what you need as it works for your current horse, store the rest for later” policy around any advice I give or receive. I take pains to question & learn as quickly as I can how each owner handles their horses, their setup & routines; the goal is to minimize aggravation on both ends & maximize riding time.