After two successful training rides to begin our 2017 season, we were in full swing and ready to get to work on our open rides. We had so many goals for the year, starting with getting Aston through his first ride back (check) and Rock through his first rides ever (check and check) and making sure Mizzy was back to himself after the minor injury that had ended his 2016 season early (check again!). Koda and Vegas were having an easy go for the start of the season. The only horse we didn’t really have any major goal for in the short term was Sirahh – ironic, really…
We were off to the annual Faraway Easter Carnival for a few days. The goals for the weekend came out swinging once we had sat down and nutted out the plan. Adriana would attempt to tackle the 120km mini-marathon with Sirahh. Kat wanted to take Vegas around a couple of steady 40’s if she could get there. Bec would attempt to get herself to open while piloting Mizzy around his second 80km. Chintzia was eager for her first 80km which she would do aboard Aston. And lastly, I would ride Rockstar in his first 80km.
Faraway has been unkind to me personally in the past, but I make it a mission in my life to fight back. I was determined to have a good weekend – determined! We (myself and Spencer) headed down to Imbil on Friday the 14th of April with Rockstar and Sirahh aboard so that Adriana would have time to nominate and vet in for the mini – she had a plan of colourful outfits for each of the three rides through the weekend! Rock would spend the day learning about staying sensible when your friends leave you – a lesson he was in desperate need of!
Early on Saturday morning I got up with Adriana to help her saddle up for her first 40km leg of the mini-marathon. I walked Rock away from the yards once Adriana was mounted in an effort to help him settle – by the time Sirahh went by the outer gate he was happy enough to call out to him before digging back in to his breakfast bucket! IT felt odd having only one horse chowing down in the row of five yards. Adriana and Sirahh were back from a steady ride around the first leg at almost half past ten. Along the way they had found some friends to ride with so Adriana was a happy chappy!
After a successful vet-through, we settled in for a nice calm afternoon of waiting for Kat to arrive with Vegas – Kat owned her own single float now, but she had no car to tow it so a friend was driving down to drop her off and her dad would come back to pick her up for the return trip. She was nominated and vetted in for the 40km that would start with the mini-marathon the following morning so that gave us something to do that afternoon!
The next day, I again got up early and helped get the horses ready for my friends – and walked Rock away while they headed off. Adriana was bedecked in purple for the second leg – it had been pink for the first – so pretty, poor Sirahh! Vegas was keen as a bean with Kat aboard and I was glad that Adriana had company since her riding partners from Day 1 had withdrawn. They plodded out nicely together – though I think Sirahh was a little confused about going out again…!
While they were out and about I hung around camp waiting for the rest of the team to arrive and walked Rockstar around the grounds every hour. Chintzia and Bec were due to arrive with the other horses during the morning. The yards were ready so the horses would be able to go straight in for a nibble when they came off the float at least – and Rock would appreciate the company even though he was surprising me with his composure at being left behind by his friends for the second day in a row! He was usually such a stress head, it was nice to see him handling things so well for a change.
Day 2 of the mini saw Adriana and Kat finishing after a ride of 5 hours and 21 minutes with one of the more challenging legs but they had a marvellous (no pun intended) time. Both of the horses plugged through vetting nicely and with the last of our team arrived we decided it was time to nominate and vet for the Monday 80km. The horses all looked great and Rock had certainly benefited from being at the ride base a few days early!
Day 3 of the mini-marathon would begin at 6am again, while the 80km was intended to start at 4am but it was eventually re-scheduled to being half an hour earlier. The surviving 320km marathoners were due to begin the last day of their grueling challenge at 2am so I set my alarm for 2.30 knowing that an hour before ride start would be more than enough for me to be ready – I usually sleep in my ride clothes the night before a morning start to save dressing in the cold! Adriana had already had an alarm clock scare, so I was setting not just my alarm but Spencer’s and my mum’s also, just in case! I managed to fall asleep easily enough for once.
I was woken by the sound of hoofbeats on the road passing our tent and I swear I hit the roof – literally, I hit the roof of the tent. It look a split second for my brain to register that it was the marathon riders leaving, but the surge of adrenaline that had thrown me sky high had me very much awake now! I laid awake intermittently laughing and sobbing over the loss of an extra half hours’ sleep, at least it would be a funny story one day…
We three 80kmers were up and about and ready to go on time. There was a brief struggle with Aston’s hind boots – he was never fussed on them, having them fitted in the dark was not helping – but he was such a troll for the farrier having just his front shoes done that I would never ask for the hind ones, so boots were the fallback option!
We jogged into the darkness, lights bobbing in the fog. It was the same leg that Bec and I had done a year earlier in her second 40km, it had seemed more difficult then but looking back I suppose there were reasons for that. The horses were fresh and happily plugging through the kms and we made it a good 15kms before we hit a hurdle. Well, we didn’t hit anything, and it wasn’t technically a hurdle I guess – it was more of a projectile and it almost hit me! Mind you, I wasn’t sure what was even happening, all I knew was that Aston appeared to suddenly spook or buck and then bolted!
He spooks, he’s been known to rear on occasion, but he’s not a bolter or a bucker so what the hell had happened?! And what was that thing that had whistled past me in the darkness?? We all managed to pull up and a quick survey revealed that one of Aston’s boots was gone and the other was hanging by the strap, flapping but loose on his ankle. Justified spook and bolt, I’ll admit I’d have probably reacted the same way had I been him!
Bec held Miz and Rock while Chintz and I wrestled the broken boot of the very kicky Aston. Thankfully there was no damage done to him and we somehow managed to locate the lost boot a few metres behind – in the dark. I strapped them both to my saddle, said a quick prayer that Aston’s hind feet would be tough enough, and on we rode…
We managed to complete the first leg in a little under four hours. The horses had managed well enough, but Aston and Rock were holding the heat. They took a little longer to strap than Mizzy, but they made it through and we got them back to camp for a rest and a feed. Adriana was out on track for the last leg of her ride – Spencer was all ready for them to come in to strap Sirahh.
We headed out on the second leg a little before 8.30am – it was already getting hotter than expected, I was starting to worry that Aston was a bit fat and might struggle with the heat, which proved a necessary worry because by the time we hit the 30km mark we had to slow way down. He had struggled up the hill and now refused to drink. His skin was rippling and he was panting but we had no reception and by now we knew we were the last on track – I knew where we were, I knew how far a walk it was – it was time to get off and take our time.
After another couple of kilometres we decided it would be best for Bec and Mizzy to ride on ahead and finish – who knew how long it would take for us to get home, but I refused to risk pushing Aston. He had perked up now that we were walking in the forestry and he was eating at every opportunity we offered as we briskly walked along – but my gut told me to keep him steady. I was pretty sure we’d not make it back by the cut off time, but I didn’t want to stress my sister out by telling her that – it was already proving a much tougher first 80km than I’d hoped she’d have and she was desperately trying to take care of her horse.
As soon as we walked into a spot with reception I called Spencer back at base to tell him that we were walking as much as we could and would hop back on to ride a bit more soon. He relayed the message to the ride base so that they knew we weren’t lost – he called me back shortly after to tell me that the head vet was on his way out to the last checkpoint to check Aston over for me quickly.
We made it to the checkpoint at a steady jog having got back on a couple of kilometres earlier. We were met by the vet who assessed Aston and said he was okay but we would need to be careful – time was not on our side. We had to hurry back in to beat the clock and we only just made it – with ice and water dousing them both, Rock was soon ready to vet, but Aston’s heart rate just wasn’t dropping enough. After fifteen minutes Spencer took Rock and my ride number to vet him in before he spiked, I managed to catch a glimpse of their trot out while I kept on working on Aston – I hoped that he at least had made it but I couldn’t be sure.
I strapped Aston to the last possible moment. The last time I took his heart rate I had read it at 59bpm – the allowed rate was 60bpm. I prayed and I prayed but it wasn’t enough. As he stood in the heat with no water on him, Aston heated up again and he was read at 62 and finally 66bpm for a vet out.
I was devastated – and I wasn’t even his rider. My poor little sister had just vetted out of her first 80km after struggling through, loyally working with her beautiful horse, to end like that was so awful. Rock had somehow made it, but his success did nothing to dull the pain of Aston’s vet out. The only silver lining was that he was sound – his old injury had not flared up at the very least and he had managed to survive the terrain without shod hind hooves. A testament I think to my 13 year old sister’s determination to keep him on safe ground the whole way around.
Adriana and Sirahh had vetted through sound in the mini-marathon. Bec and Mizzy had made it through the 80km and finished about 45 minutes before we had come across the line. Rock had made it through. We were 4 out of 5 completions so looking back I suppose it wasn’t that bad – but it didn’t feel like it that day as it happened. The head vet came and checked on Aston again before we left at my request – he happened to be the same vet that had treated Bart several years earlier on the worst day of my life, so I think he knew how stressed I was. He even called me on the way home to check how Aston was travelling, and again a couple of days later for an update. It was nice to have someone who really cared checking in.
It was a harrowing day – amplified by the horror of the journey home that had us detouring two hours out of our way to avoid being caught in the traffic jam caused by a serious car accident that blocked the highway home. I don’t even remember getting home, but I know that when I woke up I had Aston and Rock at home so I hadn’t made it so far as to take them back to their paddock. Imbil had kicked the stuffing out of me once more – but I wasn’t beaten. I’m not beaten. That is endurance, after all.