After Muckleratz, I was originally invited to ride Romeo again at this event but his owner changed her mind and decided not to attend. L provided a glowing recommendation for me though so I was able to find another mount, a handsome dark bay Peruvian Paso named Hombre, about a month before the ride. My experience with gaited horses is extremely limited so I was looking forward to meeting up with Hombre's owner, N to see how he and I did together. Unfortunately N had to cancel our trail ride last minute so my first time on Hombre was the morning of the ride....Not ideal but this seems to be par for the course with my catch rides.
I took a half day off work Friday and made my way south to Maryland, my undergrad college stomping grounds. I arrived at Fair Hill at 4pm and met N in ride camp. I was hoping to go for a spin on Hombre and talk game plan, tack, etc for the ride but the former never happened and the latter...well, let's say it wasn't a totally lucid conversation since N had already gotten started with the drinking. So I did what I could to get to know my horse for the ride- spending time in his stall and doing handgrazing walks. While Hombre is experienced with CTRs and trail rides, I noticed he could get rather pushy so we also did some basic groundwork forward, back, yield hindquarters.
The ride meeting took longer than usual since there were multiple distances happening and there were around 80 riders total between the 100s, 80s, 50s, 30s, and 15s. L and I were the 3rd group out on the 30 mile ride: pink loop then orange loop, pulse 64, 20 min hold, 5-5:30 hours to complete.
After dinner, I still didn't know what tack I was supposed to use for tomorrow nor did I get any specific instructions about what to do at the holds so L and I went to locate N for her help. N decided to use a different saddle than the one she used normally for Hombre and tasked L and me with changing out the billet straps since alcohol and manual dexterity= not a good mix. The saddle uses center fire rigging which is a first for me; that part was no big deal since I'll always first opt to ride in the saddle that the horse normally uses to make as few changes as necessary but I was hesitant about making the last minute tack changes.
Then N started to set up the holds. She was going to be riding her other Peruvian Paso, Polo, in the 30 with her friend A who was doing her first CTR ever with her green horse (that N used to own and actually sold to her). A was busy braiding her horse so I did what I could to help set up holds for three horses. It took little awhile to get everything organized and it was pitch dark when we finally got done. The laissez-faire attitude was different than what I was normally used to but N was an experienced distance rider who knew the drill and knew what her horses needed, plus she was letting me ride her horse completely gratis as well.
The next morning I woke to ride camp swathed in pea soup thick fog. The Fair Hill rides are infamous for rolling grassy hills with trecherous footing during the first loop- it's very picturesque on a clear sunny day but they are a distance rider's worse nightmare early in the morning when the long grass is slick with dew and there is a fresh and excited horse ripping at your arms to move out.
When I went to tack up Hombre, the new billet straps ended up being way too short for the girth so N and I had to scramble to change two straps back to the original ones. Finally tacked up, I walked over to L's trailer and we mounted up. Hombre immediately began dancing and whirling around in the dew-covered grass. N had told me to put him in circles if he acted up but I really did not want to risk a slip and fall so we danced our way to safer footing and walked until he settled down- which actually happened rather quickly. I was very glad with how nicely Hombre quieted down; even when L's horse started to get ansty, we stood quietly to one side while Jack figured things out and waited to get called to the start.
As per plan, L and I walked our horses out of the starting area though Jack definitely raring to go. L asked if we could move out and I gave the okay. Hombre immediately settled into the famous gait unique to Peruvian Pasos, the paso llano. And oh my gosh...it was SO freaking cool!!! We were moving as fast as a trot but my entire upper body was pretty much motionless. I couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear at how neat the experience was. Here's a good video of the gait being demostrated:
We picked our way very carefully through the misty rolling hills at a walk and gait while I busied myself with figuring how my horse worked. It took a bit of adjusting on my part to figure out how best to stay out of Hombre's way while he moved since the paso llano rocking action is totally different from riding a posting or sitting trot. A couple miles in, we hit the sweet spot and I was confident enough that Hombre and I were on the same page to do the rest of the ride with one hand on the reins. I found out that he had a very comfortable canter and loved to canter up hills and sometimes on single track trails if wide enough- it was slightly unnerving at first but I couldn't help grinning from exhilaration as Hombre weaved through the trees never missing a step.
The trails were very well marked and took us on a nice tour through Fair Hill- we saw the wide open expanses of field, cross country courses with intimidating jumps, the show jumping stadium, the driving courses, and of course the trails. It was like a theme park for equestrians.
The first 15 miles flew by. Hombre was great for sponging, drank and snacked very well on the trail. We passed the two groups ahead of us and were the first ones into the hold. Sponged, scraped, pulsed down, trotted out, and were cleared to continue. We were just about to leave the hold for the second loop when N arrived in. I informed her Hombre was doing great and had been drinking/eating very well which she was super pleased to hear.
The skies were still overcast when we set out on the second loop but the reprieve didn't last long and sun soon came out in full blazing glory. The heat combined with the humidity was starting to get oppressive and both horses were very unmotivated after about 10 miles in. Hombre still ate and drank, sponged well but his dark bay coat was doing him no favors in cooling down so I slowed our pace and walked as much as possible. Hombre's long flowing heavy mane was tied up in braids at the start of the ride but as the day went on, the braids started to fall out and his mane cascaded down his neck in thick waves; while he looked drop-dead gorgeous, it trapped a ton of heat against his neck so I started to use my free hand to pull his mane away from his neck to try and aid cooling. Since we were walking so much, L and Jack soon left us behind on the trail. My top priority was taking care of Hombre so we were going to ride our own ride. The last 5 miles were rough but we did it and crossed the finish line within time parameters.
Arriving in the hold I noticed that N's Polo was in his stall but N herself was no where to be seen (I found out later that N had rider optioned when the people she was riding with decided to pull). We had 20 minutes before presenting for final P&R so I stripped tack and began sponging and scraping while Hombre dug into his food with gusto. We walked over to get final P&R right before our elasped time was up.
The trot out went without a problem, respiration was fine but pulse was a 70...I felt my stomach drop in shock. Hombre had been eating and drinking very well all day, why was his pulse still so high? CTR rules allow a recheck to achieve the 64 pulse parameter within the 1-hour arrival window so I took him back to the hold area to sponge, scrape and get more food and water into him. N showed up and I filled her in on the situation. When Hombre started showing signs of being uncomfortable, another rider had a syringe of calcium gluconate to see if that would sort him out. Within a couple minutes Hombre was looking much better and we got an offical pulse check. It was a 54 and since it came down within the hour well within parameters, we got our completion.
After the hands on evaluation, I still worried about metabolic issues cropping up so I decided to skip dinner and took up watch by Hombre's stall for the rest of the evening. L sat with me and I confided in her that despite the "completion", I felt awful that Hombre had to suffer for something that could have been easily prevented. L told me not to beat myself up over it- I took great care of him on the trail and at the holds, N did not say anything about e-lytes, and Hombre was doing fine. L was right on all accounts but it didn't stop me from feeling bad about it though.
I watched over Hombre for as long as I could (he ate, drank, pooped, and peed so all was well) but I had a 2.5-3 hour drive ahead of me and had to hit the road soon. I had not seen N since getting Hombre settled into his stall and I finally found her sitting in her trailer when I went to say good bye.
All in all Chesapeake was a great ride- the trails were very diverse and I'd love to ride there again. This experience was also lot of firsts for me and certainly taught me a lot of lessons that I will be taking to heart from this point forward. One being to set up holds in advance (and perferably in daylight) with everything you need and more importantly to be proactive with questions and not assume that owners will always tell you everything you need to know to take care of their horse successfully.
Despite the insane whirling and spinning around when I first mounted up and his reputation for being difficult and a grouch at times, Hombre never acted up once on the trail with me and didn't put a foot out of line. He was a pleasure to ride and gave me his absolute all from start to finish. I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to partner up with him.