So we were off…
Joe was pretty calm as we walked out round the campsite and off up the road. There was a road crossing to negotiate about half a mile out and then we were off and trotting in earnest. Joe was strong but rateable and the three of us who had elected to ride together were three abreast across the road. I had a brief moment of sentimentality: “OMG we are actually here, we are actually DOING THIS” and then the first direction arrows loomed up out of the dark and it was time to concentrate in the dark.
Which I did for about 2 hours… then the fog came down in a solid blanket and because I wear glasses… Here we go again – I couldn’t see a thing. I could only tuck Joe’s nose behind Emma’s horse, Chloe’s, butt, and hang on and follow. Bless Joe for accepting last place in our little group of three, looking after his rider. Good thing he is not spooky as I had no idea what was coming into view! (I really need to get this glasses issue sorted as this is not the first time this has happened to me. But contacts don’t work either…)
Joe didn’t even spook at the several hundred sheep someone had seen fit to yard at the top of a hill.. As we got to the top suddenly there they were, hundreds of disembodied glowing eyes in the dark. The horses barely gave them a second glance but they scared the hell out of me.
Moving on, moving quickly through checkpoints with thanks and waves for the volunteers. The organisers had set up a new system, with drinking and strapping water in place about 100 metres before the checkpoint proper, giving everyone time to offer feed and water before then moving on and calling your number to the volunteers. This worked really well and reduced congestion.
Leg one was not without events: one horse broke his bridle, threw his rider and headed off into the bush in the dark. We came upon the rider near a checkpoint: he was remarkably sanguine about it all. (The horse was caught eventually, having gone through a few fences and taken a LOT of skin off. He came crashing though the bush and nearly ran over a professional photographer on course, who, bless his heart, threw his arms around the bridleless horse’s neck, used his coat to restrain him, and even threw his own sleeping bag over the horse to keep him warm while he was waiting for the rescue float!)
We came in off leg one in 3 hours and 16 minutes: exactly as we had planned. It was quite the spooky scene in the vet ring, under the arc lights with the fog.
All three of the horses vetted through OK. Joe scored all As, apart from a B for gut sounds (pretty normal for him off leg one).
We were doing better than a lot of people… 15 combinations went out at the end of leg 1. 15% of the starters. Unbelievable.
No time to think about that now. we were off again. Yet again, tuck Joe in at the back and hope he behaves himself… A couple of hours into this leg though, the sun came up (although the fog did not lift) and life became much more enjoyable!
There was even time to marvel at the view as we had backed off the pace a fair bit.
Eventually the fog lifted and the day began to promise to be quite warm. Luckily a breeze kicked in as the sun came up properly. This also blew the fog away, much to my relief: I was able to wipe my glasses for the last time, and swap to a pair of sunglasses.
Back off leg two in 3 hours and 54 minutes and straight to the vet: all still going to plan.All As in the book: the gut sounds had picked back up too. I remembered the comment from somewhere that “all endurance horses get dehydrated over the first 25 miles, then spend the next 25 miles catching back up again” Certainly seems to hold true for Joe.
But another incredible 14 horses out: 13 lame and 1 with a metabolic problem. Two of them were my ride companions, both lame.
Crap. Joe and I would be going back onto leg three (another 25 miles – legs 4 and 5 were the short ones) in the warm part of the day, on our own. I knew from past experience that this would not go down well, and that I needed a new friend.
I RAN around camp looking for people I knew would be close to us in time, or who we had passed on the way in off leg two: I would happily wait some extra time if it meant we had company. But SO MANY people had vetted out I couldn’t find anyone. Time to suck it up and go out alone, and hope we caught up with someone on the way round..
Meanwhile Joe was getting last minute attention from Nancy our extra special bodyworker:
I clambered aboard, nudged an unwilling Joe into a walk, and got most of the way to the out timer before someone yelled to me that I had forgotten to put on my number… Crap. I turned round and trotted back to the float. Joe was VERY happy about that, and much less happy about turning back around.. But the Gods were smiling: that delay meant we metup with Lynn and her lovely gelding Syiib, also heading out alone.. Both horses were pretty happy to find a new friend, and away we went.
This was a LONG leg. It was the last full 40km leg, and it ran into what turned out to be the warmest part of the day. About 1 o clock the breeze dropped completely, and hid for about an hour before backing round to a new direction. It was suddenly VERY warm out there: and yet still cool when the sun went behind a cloud. Tricky weather for this game. This coincided with Joe’s usual “wall” at about 100km. We hung out for a long while in some shade letting the horses eat, then pushed on again. At last we came to a common section of track, both horses worked out this meant we were headed home, and they perked right up.
So much so that, when confronted with a wide, but shallow, mud puddle, Joe decided, despite slowing to a walk for it, that he was going to jump it… Unfortunately, after 100km, that message did not reach his back legs and we ended up straddling the puddle and floundering in a very ungainly manner out of it.. I felt the front legs slip and jerk, and immediately thought “well that’s us stuffed”… (Well, it may have been a ruder word than that). Even if we got through the first check by keeping him moving, before going out on leg 4 we had a compulsory represent which meant he would have a full hour to stiffen up.. And I wouldn’t have the heart to walk him for the entire hour’s hold.
Sure enough, we came in looking OK (and I honestly didn’t feel him take a wrong step over the last 10km):
but by the time we got to the vet he was clearly lame on the left fore, and out we went. Further poking and prodding by me and Nancy showed some serious pain in the left armpit: presumably he did the splits in front and pulled something up there (note for Mel of http://bootsandsaddles4mel.com/blog/ :yup, one of those “uncommon in everyone else but common in endurance horses” style upper limb muscle injuries).
I shed a few tears, and gathered lots of hugs, had a REALLY big drink of water, fretted over my horse until Nancy told me to go and sit down, she had it all in hand, and then sat down and shed a few more tears.
But in a funny sort of way I was GLAD to have a reason to be out. Me and 16 others at the end of that leg. It was bloody tough out there, one horse was seriously ill in the hospital (and later died) and mentally I was spending too much energy worrying about the numbers of people going out, and the weather, and how we would cope over the last 40km. I didn’t have either of my usual mates to jolly me along, as we had done for each other in the qualifying 160 back in May. I was exhausted and still had 25 miles to go (albeit I had 10 hours to do it in!). I can’t completely remove my vet hat when it comes to these rides: it’s OK to worry about other people and their horses over 80km, but over 160km there really isn’t room for ANYTHING that may sap your reservoir of emotional energy: it has to be just you and your horse. I was worried also for the organisers: what the hell was going on to cause all these vet outs? (For the record, I still don’t have an answer for that: it didn’t seem like that tough a course).
With hindsight, would I have done anything differently? Nope. We were doing well until a stupid accident happened.
Overall, the completion rate was only 37%. Historically the Quilty only sees about 50% completions, so this was low even by Quilty standards.
Hence the after party was pretty subdued, but hey, we were there, sporting our rider’s tan along with everyone else!
My congratulations go to everyone who finished a tough ride, especially to this amazing combination:
That horse is 25… This was his second Quilty completion (the last was in 2007 when the Quilty was last in Western Australia!) and he has competed all his career with heavyweight riders. Truly amazing.
Joe is fine now, which is when all is said and done, the main thing. This was his first EVER vet out in 1,140 kilometres (712 miles) of rides at 80km (50 miles) or more. He has done an additional 665 km (415 miles) at shorter distances, all without a vet out. So.. crap timing, but he has a record so far which I think we can both be proud of.
What next? Well, for Joe, a summer holiday while I pound out the miles on foot… I want to ride Middleweight again, so diet and exercise it is. It’s more competitive, but it’s fairer on my horse I think. Then there’s a baby horse to teach to float, and the big guy to get fit, and a ne wpony for Lauren, and, and, and…
But no more 160s (I think).. Not on Joe anyway. He is good at, and LOVES, 80s. But being a good 160km horse requires at least a small dose of bastardry, and Joe doesn’t have that. He walks out of ride starts on a loose rein, which I LOVE about him, but the flip side of that is that he is not competitive enough to be happy digging deep at 150km..
At least I don’t have to qualify for a Quilty ever again. When it’s back in WA, I can just enter. I don’t have to do another 160km between now and then! As long as the horse I ride is an Open horse (i.e. has done at least 3 x 80km) then we are good to go.
But by then I’ll be 53.. Joe will be 15, which is in some ways perfect. Faith will only be 7, which is pushing it too much.
Maybe I’ll stick Ashleigh on Joe and send them off into the distance (she’ll be 16). Maybe she’ll need an escort round the track on Savannah. Who knows?
I do know I won’t be trekking interstate to ride another. I would still LOVE a Quilty buckle, but spending thousands of dollars on travel and using all my annual leave for a no better than 50% chance that we’ll finish…? Doesn’t seem smart to me.
Then again, maybe the two I regularly ride with will yell “ROAD TRIP!!” and away we’ll go to South Australia (which is 2,700 km away!!) in 2016…
In the meantime, I plan to get Ashleigh and her mare up to the 80km distance, and I plan on getting Joe faster at 80s (more drinking time then!). Roll on 2015.