The next 80km on our horizon was Kilkivan, to be followed by Nanango for the last of the three-part Blackbutt series of rides for 2015. Jasmine was chasing her last 80km completion. Erin was attempting her 3rd 80km in an effort to get her Open status in one 100% swoop. Adriana was on her first ride as a free-as-a-bird Open rider on a yellow-book horse and so were Milton and I!
I was still on a high from our completion at Murrumba. It had been an amazing experience for so many reasons, although there was one shadow cast when I got home to find out that Haze had gone to a new home and I’d probably never see him again. My heart broke, I had cherished the hope of buying him myself – I found out later that my dear friend Rob had even wanted to get Haze for me. But it was not to be.
I cried, and I cried some more. Then I dusted myself off and got back onboard.
Unfortunately, we were going to hit a snag at the Kilkivan ride. We had five horses – four 80kers, and Mizzy was going to be piloted by Kim Barker on her first endurance ride and his second in the 20km. The 80kers rode as a team, which is a lucky thing because as it happens, I was about to have a shock as I vetted in off the first leg – Milton was lame.
My boy had felt perfect out on track, nothing was out of the ordinary except that I had found myself trying to hold him back a little – he was very full of himself! But nothing untoward had happened otherwise so I was in a serious state of shock to find myself watering, feeding and watching my poor steed (who was, by the way, sound as a bell the following morning…) while my team mates headed out on the second leg. Through the haze of my exhaustion and sadness, I was delighted to know that Mizzy had made it through his 20km with Kim.
Jasmine was a bit under the weather, I was worried to send her out knowing she was feeling ill but she plucked herself up and got out there. It was a good thing as Adriana was not keen to lead and Koda refused to so Erin couldn’t have put her in front – they needed their bubbly blonde leaders!
I sat at camp with the strapping team made up of dads and husbands and my dog – who came and placed his new-found fetching-stick on my lap and asked me to play. Instead I picked up the 30kg German Shepherd Border Collie cross, slumped him across my lap in my camp chair and snuggled him until my girls and their horses came back into sight through the darkness.
Strapping was done quickly, Adriana and Erin were complete – but my heart broke for Jasmine as she and Hala were vetted out lame at the end of the ride. It was awful, knowing that she’d pushed through the pain of being ill to realise only 2kms from home that Hala didn’t feel right. It is never a nice thing to vet out – I sometimes wonder if it is worse knowing that it is going to happen, or dealing with the shock when it is a surprise. From my experience, its the surprise ones that hurt the most.
We were sad, but we celebrated two completions, especially Erin and Koda’s graduation to Open status with five successful completions in a row. It was getting late in the season and I’d never run my horses through a whole season before, I was starting to feel like it had been a long year, but we still had one more ride planned.
The South Burnett club had run two rides at Blackbutt earlier in the year, but for the third ride they relocated to Nanango. The three rides were being held as a series. Any rider who successfully completed the three 80km rides would go in the draw to win a Pandora saddle – and I’d already completed the first two!
I was one of several possible winners entering the ride. Erin, Adriana and I headed out in the afternoon light and powered through the first leg in 12kms per hour – which was still quick for us, though nothing compared to the eventual winner’s first leg of 18.1kph! We all vetted through easily – it was looking like a smooth completion.
As we chugged along through the darkness, singing along together to keep our spirits up, I glanced at Erin and Koda for a moment as I realised Erin had gone quiet. It looked strange – her gait was off. Koda was still stepping strongly and evenly with each of her powering strides, but something still didn’t look right. I asked Erin and she confirmed – not lame, but something wasn’t quite right.
In the dark in the middle of the track we stopped and I got off Milton, handed his reins to Adriana and turned to Koda. Equine Touch was always my go-to response and it was going to get Koda through the last few kms. I quickly did a few small moves on her and showed Erin how to do them from the saddle. We were back up and going in a few minutes and Koda seemed okay. Within a few more minutes of movement she was moving freely again.
We trotted into camp after a slightly slower second leg. Sirahh and Milton felt great but we were concerned about Koda as she cooled in the night air. Her woolen rug was only going to do so much. It proved to not be enough as her muscles stiffened while she and Erin were told to wait for the line up and were then held up in the TPR bay. I was feeling concerned for my young team mate on the brink of what could be her first vet out – unaware of what was about to hit me. Despite my efforts to keep Milton warm while waiting for the TPR and vets, he too had stiffened – four steps into our trot out and I stopped, not wanting to put him through the full run and knowing it was pointless. Both Erin and I ended our seasons on a vet out and I knelt by Milton’s knees in shock and just kept saying how sorry I was to him.
It was not an ideal way to finish our year. The fact that both horses had recovered by morning was a positive, but we were still feeling flat. Adriana and Sirahh had made it through though – so at least we had that to be glad about.
It had been a long year with a lot of positives and a few not so good things along with it. We’d learned a lot along the way and had a lot of fun and ridiculous stories to tell – from Adriana and I embarrassing our young team mates with our off-key caterwauling as our horses chugged up hills – to scary mannekins blocking fire escapes at scary country-town pubs!
2015 was done and dusted – what were we going to do with ourselves with the off-season at hand? Well, I was going to go stir crazy and realise just how much I rely on my sport to keep me sane. Sure, I had pony club events, hack days, sporting games, trail rides. But nothing beats endurance. Nothing.