As we get closer to the Forresthill vet check, again, people line the edges of Bath road, welcoming us to the check. Cheers, clapping, and words of encouragement. I always get a tad choked up, knowing that my horse has made it this far, and people are acknowledging him in his efforts. Not far from the top, one of the neighbors along Bath road always has a garden hose strung out, and volunteers will spray off your horse to your specifications. Whole horse? Legs only? Neck? Just tell them what you want. So, as Hank drank, I had him hose off on his neck, chest, and legs and girth area. Not only does he get cooled down, but cleaned up.
I see my husband up ahead with the little wagon again. I strip Hank of all tack, and head to the in timer as quick as I can. No need to linger yet, until I get timed in, and vetted through. Straight to pulse checker, then to vet. I am sent to Dr. Greg Fellers, who vetted Hank at our first NATRC ride last year in Colorado where he got his first perfect score. He remembers Hank. Not all the vets check both side of the horse for gut sounds, and those that only check fore-gut (left side) I ask them to also check hind-gut (right side). They are a little down at this point, but not that much, and I know he is about to chow down on his dinner. With my doing a little "Whoop" verbal command to Hank, he trots out quick and sharp for the vet. No signs of lacking enthusiasm. I am amazed I have the energy to be able to trot him out myself. I head to the horse trailer that was parked there early that morning. Hank has his hay and mash waiting, and my hubby has all my crew stuff out. I'm actually feeling pretty good. Originally I was going to take a shower, but I decided just to clean up with a wash cloth, and change to a clean shirt. I get my glow bars on the breastcollar, change helmets to the one I have set up with a head lamp, and my Ipod. My hubby checks Hanks tack again for dirt. I had a breastcollar strap break on one of the canyons, and had done a quick fix with a Carabiener snap. I get a new strap put on. During the day, Hank was getting irritated at having rear leg boots on, and I had to remove them. I had stored them around my stirrup fenders, so I had to take them off the saddle. I use the boots just to protect him from the rocks and such along the trail, and for the most part, we are through the crappy footing.
Hank is eating with great enthusiasm, and I know I ate something too, but I can not remember what it was. I change from my sunglasses to regular glasses, check over my Forresthill crew bag to make sure I am not forgetting anything. I remember hearing about Roger Yohe going off trail the previous Tevis, and someone tossing him a flashlight. So I make sure I have a light on ME in case of a problem, or heaven forbid, I get separated from my horse in the dark. Hank has glow sticks on his breastcollar, but I also have reflective Velcro tape on my stirrups in case he gets loose, and a light is needed to find him. Maybe a tad over cautious, but so quick to put on the saddle.
As the moon is rising above the vet check, it is time to saddle Hank back up, and start heading towards the out timer, which is across the parking area.
Hank is cheerful, and while I thought he might be unhappy to leave the vet check, he actually seemed pretty agreeable about it. I head out walking, knowing Dolly and Chance are not too far behind. We cross the road, trot along the trail, and cross the road again. We are trotting along on the dirt when I hear his shoes hit pavement. Debbie from Florida is right behind me as I shout "PAVEMENT". We both pull up, maybe a tad quick. Hank slips some, but stays upright. Boomer slips, and hits the ground. Debbie is fine, but Boomer has some scrapes. I knew the pavement was there, but forgot about it. I think in 2005, it was a tad more light, and maybe I saw it. Tonight, it was dark. We walk along through town, with the locals sitting out on their front porches, steps, and in lawn chairs to cheer us on yet some more. I catch up with another rider, and we head towards the trail together. A couple more turns through the streets of Forresthill, and we are finally back on trail. Chatting with her, I find out she is riding a horse I sort of know, who came from the same ranch our pinto Flag came from. This is her first Tevis, but the horse has trained on the trail, and has ridden the ride in the past, but had not finished. I tell her to lead the way, since her horse knows the trail. While I have glow bars on Hanks breastcollar, that shine a soft white light down on the ground, she is using a hand held head lamp, and turns it on and off as needed. But at some point, she dropped it, and it rolled down over the edge of the trail. I volunteer to take the lead, as Hank is feeling like he knows the trail perfectly well, and is also feeling very strong. As I take the lead, on almost the very first sharp turn, he starts to walk straight, and not make the turn. I stop him, and ask him "what do you think you are doing?" I think he was just seeing if I was paying attention. That was the ONLY bobble. We pick up an easy trot, and start to get in to the groove of things. I really did not feel Hank would be a horse to make up any time along the trail this late in the ride, but he was proving me wrong. I let him set the pace, and I don't think he was trotting any slower than we would in the daylight. We went miles with just the two of us, chatting about random horse things. Her horse seemed happy to follow along, and paced well with Hank. While the day time heat never seemed that bad to me, I did notice that it was just not cooling off like I remember from our previous trip along this section of trail in the dark. We are above the river, and I had hoped it would start to cool, but it stayed rather warm and thick air all the way to the end. I remembered to reach down and feel his neck, and pull him up to walk a bit when he was feeling warm. We crossed some creeks in the dark, but he preferred the water in the troughs over the natural water. We came through the Cal 2 intersection, gave out numbers, and headed off again into the darkness. From Forresthill to Fransisco's, I was feeling really good. I was not tired, sleepy, or that sore. I was being amazed at how forward and strong Hank was. At times, I could not see squat. Not even a glow of the trail when in the deep trees, yet, we trotted along quickly. There was sort of this odd adrenaline rush to being going that quickly in the dark, along a trail that has drop offs one does not want to find out about. In fact, Hank actually tripped in 2005, and went off over the edge, but as I bailed off him on the uphill side, I yanked his rein, and got him re-directed back on to the trail. Hopped back on, and we continued on. Tonight he was being perfect, and I had no doubts he could see the trail well, and knew we were heading towards the fairgrounds. My attitude had changed, and I was truly enjoying ever step he took through the darkness. The moon was spectacular, and had risen much earlier than in 2005, shinning on the trail from the moment we left Forresthill, except when we got in the thick trees. The reflection of it on the river below, the deep shadows it case of our horses shapes as we trotted along next to the hillside. It was magical, and for the first time I was 100% glad I was there, and had lost that feeling of "What had I gotten myself into?"
Finally the lights of Fransisco's came in to view, and we could hear the generators. A welcome oasis in the darkness, but such a shock to enter the bright lights when one first arrives. The volunteers here are really special, as they are dealing with tired horses and riders, often who are not thinking well, are in pain, sick, or have just plain had enough. Hank pulsed down, and I headed to the vet. It had taken is 3:20 to do the 17 miles between Forresthill and Fransiscos, making the average pace including stops for water etc. 5.1 MPH. I figured he would need a bit of time here to eat some, and I was right. Don't think the speed we go into Fransiscos would make a difference. Just the fact he has gone about 85 miles, and he needs a break. His gut sounds were a C, and the vet wanted him to eat, but did give me my vet card back. Some riders might have blown it off, and left, but I went and found him some hay, and sat down to let him eat awhile. We had time. He was not happy with the mashes they had, as they were just oats and bran, but he would eat handfuls of straight oats, and the alfalfa hay. After a bit, I went back to the vet to have him recheck him. Guts better, but he could use a little more time eating. His attitude was good, just hungry. Dolly and Chance came in about 15 min. behind me, and Dolly was not feeling terrific. One of the volunteers vetted Chance through, and found he was off a little, and their ride came to an end. She was pulled at about 1AM, and did not get to the fairgrounds until around 5:30AM. Tough spot to be brought out of, as the road is long, steep, and slow for the trailers. The rider who I led through the darkness had been waiting for Hank and I, but I told her to head on out, as Hank needed a bit more food. I wished her luck, and told her I WOULD see her at the finish. Finally we were happy with his gut sounds, and it was time to head out again. A rider from South Dakota wanted to ride with someone, and I volunteered to lead the way again. We picked up a local rider on his KY Mountain Horse, and set off towards the river crossing. We had been moving along well again, with Hank setting his steady pace, when we got behind some horses who were not moving as quick. When they walked, they were super slow, and I could tell Hank was frustrated being asked to slow down to a crawl at times. Finally they found a spot to pull over, and we passed them, and got back to that nice free moving trot to the river. I had to chuckle as they commented they were local riders, and that this part of the trail was not really that good for trotting anyway. Hank felt different, and was anxious to get moving out again, never indicating the trail was anything but great to do so.
The river crossing can vary year to year. I have crossed it pre-riding weeks ahead of the ride, and had to swim the horses some. It was wider than I remembered, and they had the glow sticks floating in the water, marking the path to take. The horses drank well, then we headed across. This year, I only got one foot wet. Hank went exactly where I asked, and never took a wrong step, or drifted off course. Some where on the other side of the river I lost the two riders who were following me, but we had gotten to a point that there were many riders on the trail, and they were not alone. I later found out the KY Mountain horse got pulled, but did see my South Dakota rider finished!
At this point, the trail is mostly wide, with some sections in the dark trees, but often out in the super bright moon light. The moon was so bright at one point, that I could hardly see the glow stick down on an important turn, because it was almost as bright as daylight. As we made our way towards the final vet check at Lower Quarry, I thought about our day, and how strong Hank had been. He never told me he had done enough, and looked better over all than he had in 2005. All day, when I wanted to trot, all I did was give him a kiss or cluck. That is my indication on if he needs to walk a bit more. if I ever NEED to squeeze my legs or heels in to him, then I know he has had about enough. But he was always willing to move off with just that kiss. His ears were still up, and I knew he was thinking about the stall and his feed waiting for him.
You ride up above the Lower Quarry check, sort of past it, then swing down into it. So as you ride above, you can get an idea how many are there, if you might have a wait etc. I had passed about 10 horses between the river and the Quarry. I got in, gave him a little drink, and headed to the vet, as we had no line. His pulse was down, his guts were back up, and he very willingly trotted out for me when I told him "whoop". When I got back to the vet, he said he thought he saw something on Hanks left rear. I had not felt anything, but decided to take it easy on the way in. After I was cleared to go. I saw Dave Rabe, and asked if I could ride in with him. No problem, and we let the horses eat a tad more, and then headed in for our last stretch. Trotting easy on the flat, and walking anything with a slope. Having a vet tell you that your horse looked a tad off at 94 miles can really make you worry. What if he is lame at the end, and after going 100 miles, gets pulled???? I still had not felt a thing. The volunteers were at the Highway 49 crossing, and then some folks were at No Hands Bridge. Crossing the bridge, with the reflection of the moon in the river below is always a special moment. I imagine what it was like before the rails. I picture those strong front runner horses cantering across. And I look at Hanks ears, alert as we cross, making the home stretch over the trail he pre rode just 4 days earlier. I flipped on my Ipod for the last few miles, and again, thought about our day as I hummed along to some music.
There is a small spring, and a little mini trough a few miles from the end, that we stopped and cleaned out while pre-riding. It was full of rotten leaves, mud, and yuck, and the horses would not drink it. After cleaning it, they drank. I had a feeling Hank would stop on the way past as we headed towards our goal, and sure enough, even as the horses he was riding with, passed it by, he paused, and took a nice drink. My Texas contribution to Tevis trail maintenance. Up to Robie Point, and another good drink from the water troughs placed there. So many volunteers to take care of things that many riders take for granted. I tried to thank each and every one all day with not just a casual "Thank you", but "Thank you so much for coming out and volunteering today"
Finally, we could hear the generators, and see the glow of the finish line through the trees. I gave out a nice loud "Whoo Hoo!!" and heard a random reply from crews waiting. I was not sure my husband would know it was me, but I did not care. I have sat there waiting for friends, and love to hear a rider announce their near arrival. A little more, and we could hear crews talking. 'Whoo Hoo!!!!" Again, a reply, some shouts, clapping, as a horse ahead crosses the finish line. The final turn, and we have the last little hill, as we enter the lights, and see the tired crews, bundled in blankets scattered around on the ground. Dave Rabe is ahead, and many know him and give congratulations. It is his 10th buckle, and I rode across the line with him for his 8th, and now the 10th. I see my husband waiting, and as I cross the line, give Hank a hug on the neck, and feel my eyes well up with pride.
But, I have one more vet check to pass, and that "slightly off" from the Quarry has me concerned. I head to the vet area, and have two of my favorite vets there waiting for a horse. Jim Baldwin, who is from our region, and Mike Peralez, who is also a NATRC vet, and one who I have known for years. A hard choice, but I head to Mike, telling Jim how Mike had vetting Hank the previous year when we were doing the NATRC rides. He checks his metabolics, and all is well. i told him about the slightly off, and that I was NOT going to trot him out as enthusiastic as I knew the horse would, but rather slow and easy. Out and back, and he said he did not see a thing, and "Congratulations". I give him a big hug, Hank a hug, my husband a hug, and head towards the fairgrounds. I can not believe that I am able to not only trot out my own horse, but lead him the 1/2 mile to the arena, and climb back on him for his victory lap.
It is funny that some riders do not want to take that victory lap around the arena. But I have been waiting in the stands till the wee hours of the morning, watching the riders, and I enjoy sharing that moment of victory and success with them. The riders ahead of me walked, but when it was my turn, I asked Hank to pick up a canter. It was rather comical, I am sure, as he was looking at everything, trying to spook, and then I saw the white line across the ground, and was hoping he would not slam on the brakes, pitching me over his head. He did not stop, but he sure looked at it. The photo tells it all, with the concern on my face too.
The ride is over, and now it is time to take care of Hank, then bring him back down for a 1 hour recheck by the vets. Up to his stall, where feed and water, and shavings await. We strip his tack, and I get his leg wraps, poultice etc. out, and start to set his legs up. I started doing the clay poultice last year on the long trailer rides after our competition. While my husband was more than willing to do this, I decided I'd take care of Hank myself, as he took care of me. Hank ate, as I took care of the legs and checked him over, and got out of my half chaps and neoprene knee supports that I put on some 27 hour earlier, and had not removed during the whole ride. Then our hour was up, and we headed back down for the recheck. All was well, and it was now time for me to get some rest. I knew my friend, Roxanne Greene would be by to check on Hank during the morning.
On the way to the hotel, I told my husband I was hungry, and only one thing would be the right breakfast. Something from Jack in the box, which is what I ate after finishing in 2005. It just seemed right, and was pretty tasty after all the "trail food" I ate. Then a shower, and bed.
Awards and some random thoughts to follow...............