Our last ride for 2016 was set to be Sparkler, held at the new purpose-built endurance facility in Imbil – Stirling’s Crossing. It had recently hosted it’s first event, the 2016 Equestrian Australia Endurance Championship where I had attended to strap for my lovely friend Sue in the AERA 160km – but I’ll tell that story another time since the Marvels technically weren’t there for that one!
Sparkler is run by the Faraway Endurance Riders Club and is usually held at the Imbil Showgrounds, so this was the first time it was being held at Stirling’s Crossing and the first time we were riding there too! In the lead up, we had intended to take Koda, Sirahh and Mizzy for the 80km ride, Kat had lined up a ride on an 80km horse for another team and would be camping with us too. However, Mizzy had other ideas…
About a fortnight before the ride Mizzy cut himself at his elbow, we assume by catching it with his shoe. It was swollen and sore, but we hoped that with a bit of rest the little golden pony would come through well enough to attend the ride. In the end it was decided to let him sit it out – there was no hurry to get him through another ride, it was unnecessary so Mizzy stayed home. Thankfully, the lady Adriana and I had ridden the last leg of Murrumba with had a horse spare, so Bec also had a ride for the 80km on Clare’s beautiful big gelding.
We had Rahh and Koda loaded up and ready to go. I was getting my new Holmbro saddle at the ride too, so I was extra excited! Take note, I was going to regret a gear change, don’t change important things like saddles at a ride!
We arrived, set up and then I went to meet up with Peter Holmes to pick up my new saddle. He fitted it to Koda and I went for a stroll around the facility to try it out. Koda was feeling fit and funky, she moved well under the saddle but she was still her usual spooky, nutty self – just with more freedom in her shoulders, which I am not sure is really a good thing for me or not.
Adriana had finished washing Sirahh by the time I got back to camp, so we decided to go and vet in. That’s when we hit a wall – Sirahh vetted out pre-ride with a slight temperature. Nothing in the lead up to the ride had indicated any trouble, standing in the vet ring even the vets said he didn’t appear to be unwell. His colour was good, his heart rate was normal, he was hydrated, had normal gut sounds and he was very bright and perky – but as a precaution he was put in a yard alone. I was anxious, Adriana was devastated and terrified – and I sure as hell didn’t want to go out on track by myself. Yvonne and Scott were both adamant that Sirahh was fine – as the vets had said, he was a healthy horse with a temperature – and that I should get on my horse and go. There was nothing I could do to help at camp, Spencer and Adriana were there for Sirahh and Yvonne was nearby too.
Adriana saddled up Koda and Spencer packed my waterbottles while I quickly got dressed and fifteen minutes after ride start I rode out the gate alone. All other riders had already left – Bec and Kat were riding with the teams of their respective horses, so I was well and truly alone unless by some chance Koda took a liking to one of them when we caught up.
It didn’t happen. Koda was like a horse possessed, completely out of her mind with panic at being out on track alone. She would spot a horse in the distance up the trail and like a bat out of hell she would race to catch them, tearing my arms out as she went. In what seemed like a flash we caught up to Kat on her horse Scout. But Koda didn’t stop so I think I managed a wave as we passed but that would have been about it.
Less than five kilometres in we saw Bec and Clare, but again, Koda was not interested in stopping. I managed to get her to stay by them for a few minutes and we talked briefly but she was too agitated to stay beside them. Her eye was still on the horses ahead, so I once again let her go and hoped that I wasn’t going to die. She spooked, bolted, lunged and slammed on her breaks before leaping into a canter, all in constant repetition until we passed the first 10km mark and I began seriously hoping to find a checkpoint so I could call the rescue float and withdraw. It was a disaster, after Sirahh’s vet out I couldn’t mentally handle the stress of trying to stay onboard this monstrous little horse who seemed hell bent on scaring me to death. Then we found a friend.
Jacinta had been a fixture in my endurance life from the start, we had met at my second 40km at Fernvale in 2012 where she was doing the 80km on her spunky chestnut gelding Stanley. She had been there the day Bart died and at pretty much every ride I’d been to since then. In fact, I’d seen her earlier in the day when I was trying out the Holmbro. And now Jac and Stanley appeared on the trail ahead of us, every bit as alone as Koda and I were now that her riding partner had pulled up to withdraw. It was like it was meant to be.
Koda and Stanley powered along beside each other, he’s more than a hand taller than her but she kept up and she wasn’t remotely tired. My worries faded now that I had Jacinta with me, to say I was terrified before I found her would be a massive understatement. We had a good rhythm going and it felt like we were moving at a good pace. When we made it back to base we split up to strap our horses and met up again in the vet ring. Koda had strapped easily despite my stressing about her heart rate. Spence and Adriana were very well organised and we were vetted through easily with a heart rate of 48bpm.
Bec and Kat were both on novice horses and the track was tough, but they were both between fifteen and twenty minutes behind Koda and I on track. They both vetted through with their horses too and ready to get out on the second leg.
Jac and I met at the out gate a few minutes before we were due to head out – thankfully we had given ourselves a little time, because as we were talking and laughing and the time gate keeper was almost about to release us – Jac’s helmet light went out. She tried clicking it a couple of times but nothing happened so she quickly dashed back to her camp to get her spare battery. Thank heaven it worked and we were on track just a minute or two behind our time.
The horses powered along, it was a tough track judging by the fact that both Koda and Stanley are strong horses and we felt like we were moving quite quickly yet the 30km leg felt like it dragged on. We were back in a little more than two and a half hours and again, we split up to strap and vet.
As soon as I was back at camp, my first question was again to ask how Sirahh was – he was fine – and then Spence and Adriana went to work on Koda again. We vetted sound again with a lovely steady heart rate of 46bpm, which shocked me somewhat considering it was not an easy track and Koda is not used to hills. But I was taking it!
On track again we only had 20km to go. We headed back out the gate and rather than going down across the creek this time, we went right along the back fence of the complex and headed out into a different section of the forestry. It was a steady climb up and we met up with a friend on the way when Anthony and his gelding caught up to us. We all jogged along happily and in the back of my mind I was glad that we hadn’t brought Mizzy to the ride.
After 7H and 02M in the saddle I was glad I had listened to my friends and gotten on my horse. I was especially happy that we had caught up to Jacinta and Stanley because I wouldn’t have survived the ride without them! Then I discovered the bruises on my legs from the Holmbro that had developed through the ride – I was going to learn my lesson about not changing gear at a ride.
The next day we had best conditioned workouts – mounted. So I had to get back in my Holmbro, and let me tell you, when I did, I felt like I was going to die. Don’t get me wrong, the saddle was comfortable so my butt did not hurt and the saddle fit Koda like a glove – but my thighs were bruised and raw from where my stirrup leathers had cut into them constantly over the ride. Bec was living a similar nightmare after riding in an unfamiliar saddle herself. We were both in the top 5 of our weight divisions so we were both presenting in the mounted best conditioned workouts.
I managed to alleviate the problem somewhat by shortening my stirrups which changed the positioning of the bruises just enough for me to survive the workout. Koda was a terror and seemed to have conveniently forgotten her previous life as a show horse. Thankfully she at least remembered how to pick up correct leads, because my lower leg control was less than perfect that morning!
We ended up being awarded Best Conditioned LWT and 2nd place, though 1st place had not presented for BC. It was nice just once to win it, it’s not something that comes around every day after all. Sirahh was completely back to normal the next day, though his only abnormality was the temperature the vets said he was probably fighting off a slight cold. It certainly never came up again so we could finally relax. Our three riders had survived the ride, and each of us finished in the top five of our divisions, Bec in 5th place MWT just one placing behind Jac and Stanley, and Kat in 5th place LWT only a little over half an hour behind Koda and I.
The holidays were here, Adriana was heading straight off home to Toowoomba and on to her European holiday, while the rest of us were headed home. Kat and Bec were now another 80km into their novice status with just one more to go! Koda had toughed out a hard year with flying colours and amazed me, so it was about time I set a new goal – the Quilty 2019. But before I could get there, I needed to qualify by successfully finishing a 160km first.
Our 2016 season was over – onward to 2017!