11.30 at night and it was time to get ready. Joe looked pretty damn bemused at being saddled up in the middle of the night.. It is very weird to start a ride at midnight and I don’t think other countries do it… It seems to basically be tradition, given that the first ever Quilty ride started at 1 o clock in the morning! I guess either way you end up riding a good chunk of a 100 mile ride in the dark.
After being a bundle of nerves all week, I was surprisingly “zen” at the start – we had made it here, we hoped we were fit enough, now “what would be, would be”. Words of advice resounded in my head: “take it one leg at a time”, “ride your own ride”, “It’s all a mental game”. At the same time I was VERY aware that, statistically, only 50-60% of the 16 horses starting the ride would finish… Somewhere out there was a rock which just might have our name on it. Colic and metabolic issues can hit even seasoned horses. Maybe my veterinary knowledge wasn’t going to be so useful after all..
And then, we were off. We found Emma and Jeff with whom I had arranged to start, and we trotted off into the dark. Joe was strong but rateable, and the first 40km passed amazingly quickly. Joe was unfazed by being asked to ride 40kms in the dark and we were back at ride base by 3.40 a.m., covering leg one at an average of 11 km/hr: right on planned time. The track was lovely: a mix of rolling gravel tracks, twisty bush pathways, and sand tracks alongside a disused railway line. The vet check went as planned: Pete took charge of Joe, Chris took charge of me and stuffed a banana and a cup of tea into my hands and told me to “sit down already”.. Joe scored all As and 1s at his vet check, the 45 minutes flew by as it always does, and away we went on leg 2, a repeat of leg 1. he didn’t eat much at this hold which worried me, but he had an “A” for his gut sounds so I tried not to get too worried and away we went again.
The three of us were now playing a “10 things you don’t know about me” game: each of us had to come up with two things the others wouldn’t know about us for each leg… This was going to get pretty interesting and out there…! The horses were still travelling well together, taking it in turns to lead, pulling bad faces at each other and arguing about whose nose got to be in front. We had bets on when the sun would come up: I lost. We told bad jokes. As the dawn arrived, the temperature suddenly dropped very sharply and in rolled the fog… Suddenly I, with glasses on as usual, could not see a thing. For a good 20 minutes all I could really do was tuck in behind the other two and hang on..
This greeted us back at ride base: it was bloody cold and the hot water in the 44 drums next to the fire was a welcome help.
One of the 16 combinations that started one was out: an unfortunate trip on a tree root left the horse lame. The rider had donned a red vest and was now helping out as relieving chief steward! I would have been in my camp sulking…
Joe again vetted through well, taking only a couple of minutes to reach criteria and vetting through with a heart rate of 44! Due to the cold we walked the last kilometre in and basically went straight to the vet. He got a welcome wash down after vetting in, clean girth cover and sheepskin: he chose to eat this time rather than napping, which was a relief. He had hay, I had porridge. Yum. I was feeling pretty good so far, but that may have had something to do with alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen at vet checks..
Leg three… We had been warned at the ride brief that this leg had a “big hill” in it.. We climbed one, discussing that this must be it and “it wasn’t too bad really”… 5 more kilometres.. “OK, holy crap, maybe this is it!”. It looked pretty much like this:
Down was just as steep: we got off and walked.
Leg three passed at an average of 9.6 km/hr (6 miles an hour). Much slower, but still right on the times I had mentally mapped out for myself. Joe still looked good, with pricked ears and good gut sounds, eating and drinking well. I managed to eat a bacon sandwich and even drank some electrolytes. More paracetamol… We have covered 100km at a ride before in 4 legs, but from here on in we were in unknown territory…
One more combination out: the rider was in too much pain to go on.
Leg four: we climbed that bloody hill again. This time I think we stopped three times on the way up! The horses were noticeably tired now: trot stretches were getting shorter, walk stretches were getting longer and we were spending more time at checkpoints. Still, we averaged 9 km/hr, they were still bickering about who got to be in front, and we had plenty of time to finish. Joe was definitely getting tired and gave me a heart attack by having to be trotted out twice at this vet check: he got a “B’ for gait but was cleared to go out again. Nancy worked on his hind quarters a lot at this check and declared him feeling good, but tired.
Luckily for us, two very experienced endurance friends had turned up at this hold and were able to offer Pete some very good advice on how to trot out a tired horse at a vet check to make them look their best. They also suggested (well, OK, forcefully suggested!) that since Joe was still getting As for gut sound and hydration we should basically walk in at the end of the next leg, pull gear, throw on a rug, not worry about food and present to the vet as soon as he hit 60 beats a minute, keeping him moving in between. Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am..
Three more horses out at the end of leg 4: one lame, one an error of course, one with mild colic (he was fine after a couple of bags of fluids).
It was dark again by the time we left for the final leg. We had 6 hours to do 20 kilometres (12 1/2 miles).
The horses were very loath to leave camp, but once round the corner they were AMAZING. They had their focus back and we were getting a good strong trot, albeit only in short stretches. Every checkpoint greeted us with whoops and cheers (well, OK, they too were probably delirious with tiredness and needed to yell to keep themselves awake, but it was a lovely feeling nonetheless).
And then, 5km from the end, we got lost… Not horribly lost, but by then it was just about enough to leave me in tears. We stopped when we realised we had missed some numbers, and retraced our steps. Joe was NOT impressed with that as a theory! Still couldn’t see where we had gone wrong.. A phone call to the chief steward allowing us to get advice on how to get back on track (you need chief steward permission as that counts as outside assistance) and finally we blundered into the last checkpoint… Literally 5kms left to ride. At this point Joe said to me, as clear as if he could actually talk “YOU may not know where home is Mother, but I do, and it’s OVER THERE”! And set off for home at a 15 km/hr trot! He was NOT going to give me the chance to tun him round again!
And then we were coming down the back straight of the racetrack where each leg finished.. Three heavyweight riders, each of us doing 160km for the first time, had started together, ridden EVERY SINGLE FRIGGING STEP together, and were now finishing together. We held hands as we crossed the finish line to the cheers of a sizeable crowd that had stayed up to see us come home. It was an incredible feeling to be cheered home after 16 hours in the saddle and I was in tears when we crossed the line. Nancy and Pete grabbed Joe, Chris and someone else who I do not remember held me up, and we waited with bated breath for the vet check. Joe looked tired, but to me he looked sound… Long silence as the vet did her last checks… And a thumbs up and the precious words “that’s a pass”! More tears, and a round of hugs from everyone there. It was completely overwhelming. Even more overwhelming, both my companions also passed allowing the three of us to claim equal first heavyweight rider.
I don’t think Joe believed me that we were weren’t going out until I put him back in his yard in front of a mountain of food and turned out the camp lights!
I sat down by the fire and had a couple of glasses of port and a swig of champagne, forgot to eat dinner, and then limped to the best shower I have ever had in my life. I crawled into bed, but did not sleep – I was still too much of a mess of emotions and adrenalin to sleep. At about midnight I got up to visit the ladies and promptly started to shake so violently that I could barely stand up… I had to call Pete to get me back to bed. Muscle fatigue, adrenalin letdown and lack of a recovery meal I guess.
At about 4 a.m. I heard Joe lie down to sleep. Some minutes later I could actually hear him snoring….
We presented for Best Conditioned the next morning:
but Joe had a slight head bob at the trot out so we did not get to present under saddle. This was probably just as well as by then my right knee was completely seized up and I think Joe might have kicked me if I had put a saddle on him again!
So there we were: proud winners of both equal First Heavyweight Horse and Rider AND the equal Last Across the Line awards! A buckle and a tub of Tuff rock for one and a nice fleece rug for the other!
Most importantly, we are now qualified for the Quilty in October.
Joe looked pretty good the next day: legs a bit filled but that went down with a few minutes walking, and everything else looked good. The head bob at the trot out I think was just muscle soreness as I can’t see anything in his gait now.
And this is him at home 2 days later: he trots up sound, his legs are nice and clean and I think he knows he’s pretty special…
He’ll get a month off while I plan the build back up to the Quilty – a nice 40 km in August sometime and an a couple of 80s in September I think..
I still can’t quite believe we did it, but we did…