Yeah...I am still this excited.
The storms predicted overnight didn't hit until around 630 am. Then they hit in force. I was just finishing up giving Hamilton his mash, morning electrolytes and refilling his alfalfa tub when the skies opened. It was raining hard enough that I couldn't see past the front of my truck from the barn. It let up plus stopped the light show right as the 50 milers were getting on to warm up. It was a nasty start for them. Us 25 milers had an hour to wait until our start. By the time I mounted up it was intermittently spitting.
|A wet start for the 50 milers|
Typically the trail will be announced as open and you are kinda free to start whenever you want within reason. The clock keeps going, so you short yourself time on the trail but that is your choice. Most people are out quickly with the stragglers gone generally by 10 minutes past. The ride manager made a big stink at the meeting that everyone had to check in with her 15 minutes before the start or you wouldn't be allowed to go. We all took this as having to be mounted and present, so the ride start was pretty jammed. I think in retrospect I could have signed in on foot, then went and got Hammy ready but she had been a bit um...forward...about it and I really didn't want to not get to start so I played it safe.
|Hamilton was pretty chill getting tacked up|
Hammy got a long warm up walking around camp. I tried to stay away from everyone as we meandered around while still keeping an eye on the trail head for a good pocket to go. I was a bit worried about being overtime, so while I had no intentions of going out right away I also didn't want to lose too much valuable time pacing around camp. When I saw that most everyone was gone, with nobody left milling around, I pointed him at the trail head and we got started.
|The park had a lot of interesting ecology from lichen covered surfaces to grey sand to rich black soil|
Apparently half the riders had the same idea. We were overtaken by a huge group maybe 100 yards down the trail. Unfortunately this was right where the trail was the worst footing of the entire day. It was deep mud with large mud puddles cutting the two lane path to nearly single file. A big group had screeched to a walk backing everything up. We got stuck in the traffic jam, but Hammy was doing alright and I knew it would spread out again soon. Except a new group came up behind us at a brisk trot and flew through the puddles on our left splashing mud everywhere. Hammy started to feel quite tense but there really wasn't much I could do right then to relieve his stress. The final straw was a woman literally ramming her horse into the back of us - his chest hit Hammy's butt. Hammy lost it, striking out with a hard hitting kick that I felt no sorrow for. Never use my horse as your brakes like that.
|Lots of standing water everywhere. I was happy we had spent time working on water crossing or this ride would have been a nightmare|
Well, Hamilton was done. He flipped out. We stopped and let everyone go on ahead thinking he'd calm down but he was too far gone. He reared, all 4 feet left the ground like a pogo stick, he flew backwards. No amount of wide, loose reins, a calming voice, clucking, kicking...anything was getting him to move forwards. I made the choice to slide off him and let him chill. We hand walked just a little ways...not even a quarter mile...and he finally took a deep breath. I felt really bad for him. I think he just got really claustrophobic in there.
Right as I was about to get on a mother/adult daughter team came up and asked if I was alright. I explained he had a baby brain moment and I was just about to get back on. They were nice enough to wait a second and then even nicer to let me tag along with them. Hammy tucked between them (I asked them at least 1000 times if that was ok) and honestly I think that saved the ride for us. He was able to calm down. It took until mile 5 or so before he actually looked around at his surroundings again. Poor guy.
|More flooding. The center of this came up nearly to his belly.|
The rest of the loop was pretty perfect. We stayed in the middle for a bit then headed to the back and even lead a bit. The two ladies were super nice and the miles started to fly by. The footing was fantastic - mostly sand, a great mix of wide open flat lanes to canter followed by my favorite twisting forest single track to get them back under control. Hamilton started to loosen up too.
|Ok..so...the horse we rode behind a bunch had a crupper the same color as his body and uh...at first I thought he had the world's largest anus. It was hard not to stare. Once you see it you can't unsee it.|
Unfortunately around mile 7 things started falling apart on my end. For some unknown reason my left stirrup wanted to face in toward the girth. Like 90 degrees turned in. My lateral left ankle was screaming at me in agony. I kept losing the stirrup. I tried to 2 point. I tried to sit. I posted differently then I generally do. It was excruciating. I apologized to Hammy a million times for hitting his back harder than I'd like when posting. No matter how many times I twisted the leathers, it went right back. I thought about stopping to fix it but he really needed to be with others right then and I couldn't bring myself to ask them to stop moving for me to adjust my tack. No way was I going to impose to that degree, so for the last 8 miles I tried to have fun while not crying.
|WTH stirrup?!? This was painful. Thank goodness for the huge blocks on that saddle or I'd have eaten dirt and walked the entire 15 miles.|
But you know what? Even with that? I was having fun. Hammy was moving beautifully. We were covering some gorgeous trails. We were making way better time than I imagined. He was offering up gorgeous canters and never ever spooked, balked or refused to go happily forward. His ears were perked and I could tell he was starting to understand the game.
|Not much was around for grazing this early in the season. There was a nice buffet set out where all loops crossed and Hamilton took full advantage of that.|
Two funny moments happened on this 15 mile loop. We were going great with nary a disgusted head shake in sight (that is Hammy's go to when I do something that annoys him) when all of a sudden he started trying to stop and turn around. He hadn't been pig headed like that in a long while and I really couldn't understand it. We were 11 miles in - going back was way longer than moving forward. The lady upfront then informed me that we had just passed by the backside of camp but the trees obscured the view. Hammy knew and was sooo frustrated that I wouldn't let him cut through the woods to get back! He shook his head and snorted in disgust at me for a solid 10 minutes with all 3 of us laughing.
The second happened shortly after that. The trail started to follow the flooded river. We were 3 miles from home at this point. I pulled out my cell phone to get a picture of the swollen river. Hammy tried to take advantage of my lack of attention, turned 90 degrees and rushed to jump in the river!! I stopped him barely in time. I was not happy! There was no way I wanted to go swimming right then. The lades laughed the entire 3 miles back as Hammy kept trying again and again to go swimming.
|He tried to take me swimming in the marsh too. No buddy.|
The ladies I was with were planning to canter all the way in to the hold along the sand road, but I prefer to do a slower trot the last mile then walk the final 1/4 mile so that his heart rate is down when we get in. The temperature was steadily dropping each hour that day so I didn't really want to sponge a lot in case he cramped up.
|Coming in to the hold|
They went on ahead without me and we slowly came in behind them. It worked as he was at 52 right off the trail. Tack was allowed to stay on and with the lowering temps, I chose to keep it that way. He had a good vet in then settled into the hold like an old pro.
|His card at the hold|
Gem never did well being in the crew area. I always had to take her back to her own pen or she wouldn't eat, drink or relax. Hammy was fine being with everyone, actually I think he did better than had we walked to the barn by ourselves.
|All he cared about at the hold was eating and drinking.|
Thankfully Dusty and Wyatt showed up for me to crew. I had texted him 2 miles out to see if he could find me a spare stirrup somewhere as I planned to throw mine in the fire pit. The tack lady didn't have any and I honestly thought about rider optioning. I would have too had he not been there. But he was and he graciously offered to trot Hammy out then fixed my stirrup for me. It sat 90 degrees facing out (we never could get it to face forward like the right one) but that was better than in. Hamilton downed an entire bucket of water and ate half a pan of soaked alfalfa. He took his electrolytes politely enough. The 40 minutes flew by.
|I was having so much fun|
I managed to struggle back on and we were off again. All loops started the same way then branched from there, so we already knew the first stretch though the memories weren't good ones. We were alone for a while until the ladies from before caught us up - they had left the hold late for their time. They picked up the pace on us though - going 10-12 mph which was a lot faster than I wanted. We had 3 hours to go the 10 miles and while I didn't want to slow down too much from our first loop pace, I also didn't want to rush it either. We let them go on without us.
|Heading out from the hold|
From there we met up with a lady on a spotted saddle horse. We stuck with her a bit but she was actually going slower than I wanted. It was so so so so awesome, I can't really even explain to you all, that at this point I could finally ride my own ride fully, letting those go ahead who were too fast and passing others who were too slow. It felt wonderful.
|Riding solo was the best though I also thoroughly enjoyed the company on the first 15 mile loop.|
We ended up riding almost all 10 miles alone keeping up a decent pace around 7-8 mph. There was one section he started to lose it a bit. There were horses in the 50 up ahead of us on a shared section of trail, but I didn't see them. Hammy started revving it up to chase them down. I wanted a polite, dull roar and as long as he kept to 8 mph I was fine, but he started creeping up to 10 so we walked until he quieted back down which didn't take very long. I was really proud of him for listening to me.
|Towards the end of the loop|
This loop was my favorite. We cantered probably half of it. His canter is so lovely (even if he wont do it in the arena) and he will keep a nice even pace without speeding up so I let him canter when he chose. As long as we stayed between 7-8 mph I didn't care which gait he chose to use. I think it is important to switch up the muscle groups.
He really drank well this loop too. He chugged from nearly all the puddles I would let him drink from. He moved freely and happily. There was one nasty section on private land that was like a mini trash dump. There was garbage everywhere. He took a long look at that, but kept his forward momentum going.
|He was super thirsty on this loop so we pulled over for him to get a good drink from this puddle. His slurping sounds made my soul happy|
It wasn't long before we were back at the end. He vetted in great. I asked the vet to triple check his back as I was worried it may be sore from the 15 miles of poor riding, but he said he was perfect. He also double checked his girth area and no issues there either. At least I know his tack is fine for a 25!
|My favorite picture I took all weekend. He looks like such a derp here. I borrowed Eeyore's cooler which was ridiculously small for Hammy. I guess it is time to buy hm one.|
I put him back in his stall for a few hours to chill, eat and drink while I enjoyed sitting in camp watching others vet in. After a bit we all got cold so we packed everything up (also super easy and quick) then drove home.
|His final vet card|
Words can't convey how proud I was of Hamilton. That was a lot to take in. He is only 5 (will be 6 in April) and while I know OTTBs get a lot of exposure at a young age, I...I don't know...it still brings tears to my eye thinking about how amazing he was. I really don't know how I got so lucky to have him in my life.
|This guy reminded me of what makes me...well....me.|