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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

April 19, 2009

Completion & Complications

We arrived at The Chicken Chase on Friday morning. I set up camp and installed Phebes in the electric pen. She was pretty calm being her first time camping, munching along on hay and taking in her surroundings. Chris Eickleberry was the person that has mentored me over the winter, and she was camped next door as we were riding together. Our horses have trained together all winter. We got ourselves signed in with ride management and later Phebes was vetted in. She had all A's at the pre-ride but got a B on muscle tone. I looked at the Vet and thought he was kidding. I said huh? You're kidding right? As this vet is known to like to pull some capers, but he was serious. He said she's a little tight in her rump muscles. Phebes is pretty uptight and feels like a rock generally so I thought, okay...she's in heat, and she's at her first ride-camp and she's uptight. We did some walking around and sight-seeing so she could acclimate herself to all the activity and munch grass. She ate and drank well over-night and in the morning all systems were go. Nicole was the scribe for my vetting in. She was there with her ever-ready beautiful smile, and offered to help crew if I needed her on Saturday. If you ever get the chance to meet Nicole you will know she is just an extra special young woman.


There were fifty riders for the Saturday Limited Distance ride. And visions of the start were rattling in my brain all evening, but I just told myself to not get excited and go with the flow of horse traffic as we moved out that morning. She did get pretty wound at the start, but didn't try to kick anyone, didn't really do anything that would have endangered her, myself, or anyone else, but did canter down the trail sideways for a little while. She was very difficult to rate for the first eight miles. We did the first ten mile loop in about an hour and forty minutes, however it took her about ten minutes to pulse down. Her pulse was hanging at about 71 bpm, it would start to come down, but anytime someone new came into the pulsing area, it would pop up to 70 again. I got her head lowered, and then the pulse incrementally started ticking down. She vetted in at the half-way with all A's, except for muscle tone which was again a B. She ate well at the break, and she drank from the water trough (will not drink from buckets) before we headed out again.

The second loop is very hilly, we were going up, or going down, with only a few ridge tops to move out on. She rated better on the second half of the ride, but as the 50 mile riders would blow past us, she would start pulling again. I struggled keeping her in the trot as various riders passed us. She did walk up the long strung out hills, and she walked the steep downhills. She started drinking out of the creeks on the second loop, but was really bothered and would quit drinking if any of her companion horses moved around or got too close. She seems to need a really quiet relaxed pocket of time to take in her surroundings, then drink. Any activity disrupted the whole process and we had to start all over, or she would abandon the water altogether. She did trot most of the fifteen mile section of trail, but did canter some of the flats when other riders came zooming along and rating became pulling.

At about the twenty mile point, going through an area of pines there were exposed roots in the trail. She caught the toe of her left front boot on a root, and nearly went down. As her left, and then right shoulder did I, sliding along in the dirt. Thankfully she did not run off this time, and doubly thankful that no horses were pulling along in front to suck her on down the trail.

As we came within a mile of the finish we did walk the horses, and a quarter mile out dismounted and hand-walked them in to the finish. She pulsed down within a minute to 60 and we got our time, and on to the vet check. The vet check was all A's except muscle tone which had dropped to a C. She was still eating, still drinking, and trotted out in hand great. The muscle tone issue had my radar up that something may not be right. I kept encouraging water, and she kept chowing out on hay. By then an hour had passed and we started to make our way back to where we were camped. I was a little worried because I hadn't seen her pee. About a third of the way back she hesitated, wanted to stop and peed. Her urine was almost black. My horse was in trouble. That has to be the most helpless, devastating feeling on this earth. I turned her back around and headed back to the vetting in area. They sent us back to camp and about an hour later the vet came down and gave her fluids, then banamine after her urine began to clear. All the while she was eating, and drinking. The vet left and I started to feel not so good...

During the process of taking care of her and the ride itself I had become dehydrated, and was just on the verge of passing out. I sat down on my mounting block and Chris brought me a bucket of cold water which I pretty much drowned myself in, with a wet cold dripping towel on my head. After I got control of myself I locked myself in my trailer and just worked at cooling down, getting out of my riding clothes and into shorts and a tank top. It took me about an hour to get control of that, and in between hand walking Phebes once per hour, I crashed on my cot with a cold wet towel, and downed fluids.

I wasn't sure if Phebes would get her completion because there is a timing issue. If you need a vet within a certain time frame within your finish you don't get a completion. As it turned out we were outside the windown of time and she did get her completion, but of course none of that mattered too much by this point. My priority and worry being my horse, where I went wrong in getting her ready, and really a lot of uncertainty about the future. A day later I'm thinking that things went wrong in several areas.

She was in heat.

We trained all winter, but it was almost 80 degrees yesterday.

We trained for hills, but not nearly enough long, long, long hills.

She rated better than she has done in the past, but the first loop was just too fast for a first time ride. She actually trained on this loop last month and did it in a faster time with no ill effects, but the temps were cool. Yesterday I tried to rate her, but with the chaos of 50 horses clambering down the trail...I failed her. I figure now that she was already set up for a problem by the half-way point. If her vet scores had indicated something, I'd have taken a rider option then, and tried for another day. But nothing had changed at the half way, and by all outward signs it was still a go.

She won't be having any work for two weeks. Then I'll need to get a blood draw to determine if her enzyme levels from the rhabdomyosis have returned to normal. Then a strategy to bring her back into slow work and move forward. Top of the Rock is out, and I'm not going to try again on the hottest ride of the year which is the Salamonie Sizzler. So we will be looking at Fall before we can even consider to try again.

Yesterday was a real eye-opener for me how difficult this sport is, and the risk involved for the horse. It is a very delicate balance and though you plan...and you work, it can all go bad at the ride. I'm humbled by this experience, and that my assurance that my horse was ready was somehow misguided. Mike Habel was the vet that treated her. I told him point blank that I wanted to know where I had went wrong in my year long process to develop her fitness. His answer was "you probably didn't do anything wrong", that sometimes a horse will tie up and if I had the answer to why, then I'd be worth a million dollars. One of the horses that tied up this weekend did it in his electric pen, the horse had not even set foot on the trail yet, and it had never happened to him before. Linda Hamrick came to camp and talked to me about it. She's had it happen to her, and she is one of the top riders in this part of the country. The answer is that there may not be an answer, but I do believe that her lack of rating, the air temperature, the hills, and her heat cycle all combined to create this scenerio. But still she is my horse, and our horses do not ask to do this sport, and rely on us to keep them safe. My horse, my responsibility.

So how to solve this? Mike said that it is possible that next ride she will do the same thing, or she may never do it again. This leaves me with the responsibility of seeing that I take every measure I can to eliminate the risk factors.

The plan moving forward is a two-week rest period. Then if her bloodwork comes back alright, I'll start her back into some very slow work. Next is to get up with a riding instructor & / or trainer to assist me with getting her to rate 100% of the time at a nice easy relaxed trot. I may not canter her for another year. Her job has to be to trot, and trot relaxed and if she can't do that she's in the wrong line of work. I'm not going to risk my horse for my own purposes. I'll do all I can to fix this, but if ultimately she's too hot and nervous to do the job I ask her, we'll give it up. She didn't sign on for this adventure, I did.

I want to thank Chris Eickleberry for being such a source of inspiration for the past couple of years. Her boy Toby's first LD ride was a beautiful success. He kept a steady little pace ALL DAY LONG. He had a middle of the pack finish, and beautiful recovery. He's such a bright eyed pretty boy, and is going to make a fantastic LD horse. Chris knows her stuff.

Thank you Linda Hamrick for the encouragement. She went out of her way to find me, and to let me know that sometimes the best layed plans go haywire. Her gracious smile and "it happens" was like a warm hug from an old friend. But we'd only just met yesterday.

Kari was there with her little bay horse. I don't know how they finished, or if they were even entered, but they were moving down the trail so perfectly. That girl has an astonishing beautiful way of riding, like she is just part of the horse. If only I could.

Thank you to the folks that just said "hey! Endurance Granny. I think I felt more a part of something for maybe the first time in my life.

Thank you Doug, my long suffering E.G. husband for driving down two days in a row to check on us, and to crew for me, and serve as my ride photographer all at the same time. Doug has been so supportive of my desire to live the "dream" of riding limited distance. He's been kind and tolerant of my many training rides, purchased a lot of our gear, and put up with my mean little horse that has caused him a lot of grief over the past four and half years. If you are married, and you are active in this sport, you better have a husband who supports your happiness. I do and I'm very grateful to be loved so much.

All said and done, we had a middle of the pack finish, completion, and a big wake up call. ~E.G.


  1. OMG! I'm sorry you had such a rough time! I didnt get a chance to really talk to you because we just barely made it here before dark and left very soon after I completed. Finished 18th of 50 with all A/B's on the vet card which is better then I expected. Is there maybe a phone number I could reach you at tonight? I'm headed o work right now and will be there until about 7pm but please email me your phone # ; )

    And thank you for the compliment on my riding! I must not have looked as bad as I felt because I was pretty sure I was going to die of sore muscles, lol!

  2. Kari, you can reach me at 812-852-2010 bit not tonight. I'll be dead to the world by 7 as I'm a little sleep deprived, not a good camper I guess!

    Yes, you look like you are absolutely molded to your horse. I'd love to be able to get a seat even half that good rather than two pointing and hanging on. If I could afford it I'd come to you for lessons, but Louisville is out of my range for the present. You ride nice.

    My fall was pretty dramatic, but hey! I'm getting good at it, as I don't hurt too bad today.

    I don't feel good about Phebes 25th place completion at all. My goal has always been horse first, outcome second. I didn't want or care about higher placing, but I sure did care about finishing healthy. The vet check gave me a false sense of security. Will have to change my thinking as the vet check is only one component of the whole. That was my mistake.

    Congrats on the finish! That is awesome. This was your first LD, right? If you can do this and keep at it you'll be a kick butt points earner! If you have any tips, try me tomorrow (Monday). I'll be all ears. ~E.G.

  3. Oh, I wanted to mention that Michelle had a nice finish too. Can't remember for sure maybe 11th or 12th? She'll know, but good job Michelle!

  4. E.G., I've been following your blog for a few months now, and I love how you truly care about Phebes and put her first. I'm sorry to hear about your ride troubles, but I'm glad that it came out okay in the end and it was a mild episode of tying up. I used to ride a mare that was prone to tying up - her owner liked to race her and inevitably the mare would tie up. I spent a lot of time working on rating, and while it made her mad, I could safely get her through LDs and 50 mile rides without her showing any signs or symptoms.

    There are so many contributors to tying up that it is hard to control them all, just like the vet said, a horse could easily tie up in the pasture as they can on the trail. We are involved in a sport that does have its risks, but luckily, it's a sport full of caring people who love and understand their horses to help keep causalities at a minimum. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for you and Phebes!

  5. Every time I saw you and Phebe you both looked FANTASTIC. Especially for her first LD. She looked very calm and I would have had no clue anything was wrong.

    So she tied up and was dehyrdated? Or was the black urine just from tying up? I took care of a QH that was HYPP in IL and he tied up a few times. It was scary. His muscles got all stiff and he would sweat profusely. The vet said no more alfalfa for him. He was getting straight alfalfa. And was not happy to switch to grass. But it seemed to help.

    Even though you finised 25th, it was still like a 5 or 5 and a half hour ride time wasn't it? Every body was just going kind of slow in the LD.

    I know we started at least 15 to 20minutes after everyone and then ended up passing a lot of people. Really the horse I was riding and Michelle M. shouldn't have even been there. They did a 100 last summer, did a 50 2 weeks ago and are doing a 100 at Biltmore in two weeks. She just thought it'd be good conditioning and good for the new horse she was bringing along who had never did a competition until that day. She had the new horse superbly conditioned I could see as we went along. He pulsed down to 48 after the first loop and 50 after the second. Plus, he was a pleasure to ride Laura said.

    Michelle said the horse I was riding was worth a lot of money to her and that if I fell off, which she strongly warned me not to, that I was not to let go of the reins! She said she was offered a lot of money to sell him to Dubai this fall but didn't do it. She said he's worth even more to her.

    She was worried, because she had never seen Laura ride before. But luckily, all went well and she relaxed and let the horses go a little faster after she seen that Laura was a balanced rider as well.

    We got 11th, 12th and 13th place. The horses were so good we probably could have won it if we wanted to. But that was not our goal at all. Our goal was to get Hollywood (the new horse) thru it without any troubles. And keep the other two in shape for Biltmore.

    She said Friday in the 55 she got 6th and Best Condition.

    I think you did everything right. Things just go wrong sometimes and it is a difficult sport. Did you give her electrolytes? That usually helps to get our horses to really start gulping in the water.

    Have fun working her this summer and I bet I'll see you this fall at some more LD's. Even if she tied up this time, with the right care, you can get it figured out how to prevent it and should be able to get her back out in competitions.

    From what I seen Saturday she didn't seem too nervous or badly behaved to not be a good endurance horse. And when we passed you on the trail, I watched and it didn't look to me like she even minded at all. Don't feel bad at all. Just live and learn and go on from here.

    Oh, and one more thing that I don't think was real great about the ride. The first loop was the shorter loop. That's the first time I've ever seen that. Usually the first loop is longer or the same distance. I don't think it's best to have the first loop shorter. It's better to have the first loop longer so that the horses have the advantage of the coolness of the day, and can work off more energy, etc. at the beginning of the ride. And if there are any problems they will be noticed at the first vet check and not at the end when they've already did the whole 25 miles. Other than that it was good. A good mix of rocky sections and then dirt-mud. Terrible for a booted horse. Did your boots stay on or cause any problems? Michelle M. uses shoes.

    Michelle Detmer

  6. Michelle,

    Her boots stayed on fine, but they also caused my fall. She caught the toe of the boot on a root, which I don't think she'd have done bare.

    Her hydration was actually fine, she scored A's on all that. They gave her fluid to help her kidneys deal with the effects of exertional rhabdymosis. Her big glut muscles were tight as a drum. It was most likely the combination of going a little too fast, and some other things.

    Interesting that you mentioned alfalfa because I've only added alfalfa to her diet within the last month. Because she eats it so readily I thought it would encourage her to eat at vet checks, so I had added a flake per day to her ration, and then gave it to her throughout the weekend. We are going to cut out most of her concentrated feed on non-work days from now on. The build up of glycogen also contributes to the onset tying up, among many other things. Studying on this thing mentally I've found several things that may have set her up. I was so upset that I honestly can't remember my finish time, but I think we were under four hours. I'll know for sure when they post it. If I can turn her around for Cave Country or Spook Run I will plan on using the whole five hours of ride time if. If we are in a quiet little back pocket, perhaps not so many will blow by us...and I can work on the rating, as I think that was the big factor. She went too fast those first ten miles. Granted, we've done it faster, but then we didn't go out for another fifteen either.

    Phebes has come a long way this summer. It hurts me that I almost hurt her. But it took a weight off of me this morning when I got home and she trotted around her paddock, rolled in her favorite spot, got up and twirled her head at me to tell me YOU STINK! Means she's feeling better.

    Glad you guys did well. I was pretty close on remember where you finished, I knew it was close to a top ten! As for me, I'm gonna turn into a pokey butt. ~E.G.

  7. I bet Phebe likes competing more than she likes staying at home. She seemed really pretty comfortable in the ride camp environment. I've seen many horses do terrible at camp. Your girl was an angel.

    I see no reason why, with just a little studying about tying up on your part, you can't compete easily by this fall.

    Michelle said she had a horse tie up at the begining of a ride once, a long time ago. And she determined that she just needed to let him warm up more before the ride. It was a case of him just standing for 24 or more hours before the ride then taking off at a canter, without much warm up.

    But I would think if it happened at the end of a ride, it would be more so maybe caused by diet. But I have no idea really. I'm sure you'll research everything out there that there is.


  8. So after seeing the trail, were you glad that you booted up?? (except for the root fiasco!)

    Did you pretty well ride with Chris or did you and Phebes go solo?

    So glad you got the completion, and also that Phebes is okay!


  9. Nicole, as far as the booting, under the circumstances of her wanting to forward, and all the extra concussion she was causing herself I was glad I booted. If I could have paced her at the rate I'd like (turtle speed) we would NOT have needed boots at all on that particular trail configuration.

    Phebes is a little off on her left rear this morning, but I'm sure it is stiffness in those big tied up muscles.

  10. EG - I'm so happy to hear you are OK after your fall during the ride! How very very scary - I've never come off during a ride, but I've had a couple of close calls. Of course, having Phebes tie up is even sacrier....

    Sorry this is going to be so long. I just have a lot of random comments going through my brain right now.

    It sounds like you have a good handle on some of the things you can elimiate/do different for next time. For me, I think the biggy would be eliminating all grain products except the days she's working. I feed beet pulp and oil on the days she doesn't do anything, then I add an high fat feed (LMF gold) on days we do work.

    About the "wake up call". LOL!! I think we all go through that, even if we've competed before but it's been a while....I still remember my first endurance ride (a 50) that I was sure I had prepared adequately for......yeah right! This is not an easy sport. I laugh at some of my training "back in the day".

    Making a decision regarding the horse and whether this sport is "for them" can be hard. In the last 6 months before she died, I had come to the conclusion that Minx enjoyed the trail, but didn't enjoy 50 miles. My plan was to cut down to LD's with her and focus on driving. You are right - it's about the horse enjoying it. Now that I have a horse that does enjoy going 50 miles and further, I know what that feels like.

    Take care of yourself E.G.! If you don't take care of yourself on a ride, you can't take care of your horse.....Do you have a plan for staying more hydrated on your next ride?

    I TOTALLY second the hot weather thing. I've done that twice (it's been cool and at the last minute it gets HOT at the ride) and both times it ended in near disaster. I've made promise to myself that I will not start a race if that's the circumstances (hot at the ride, but I haven't had a chance to do heat training) rather than risk my horse. I haven't had a chance to test my adherence to this, but hopefully I will make the right decision.

  11. Mel,

    Can you clarify one thing for me on the feed for "working days"? Are you going to give that ration before work, or after? Or do you split it between both to minimize carb load?


  12. I feed her ration after work. Someone once said that's it's easier to put the feed into the horse than take it out of them.

    I'm not working her on "empty" since she has hay. If I was really worried about the "carb load" I would feed beetpulp/oil pre ride and any other "grain" after ride. Since I feed beetpulp/oil on non-working days, I would be comfortable with this.

    I feed a high fat ration to try and minimize the amount of carbs, especially sugar. I don't feed apples and carrots except for when I split an apple with her after a run. The LMF Gold is what I feed. If you look it up on the internet you can see the nutritional break down. It's base is mostly beet pulp, ricebran, "cool calories" (freeze dried soy oil), sunflower seeds etc.

    For my girl here's what I give her:

    on non-working days she gets 3 pounds beet pulp+1 cup oil.

    On light days (I go jogging with her, arena work, ground work etc.) she gets 2 pounds beet pulp, 1 cup of oil (this is the portion I would give her prior to work if I wanted) and 1 pound LMF.

    On normal/heavy days (strenous trail ride, extended amounts of work etc.) I feed 1 pound beet pulp, 1 cup oil, 3 pounds LMF.

    I started feeding some beet pulp on the heavy days with the LMF because she doesn't eat the LMF as well if it's "straight". I feed the 1 pound LMF during the light days so that it isn't a total change in diet when I introduce it in bigger quantities on the "heavy" days. LMF has quite a bit of beet pulp in it, so I know some endurance riders feed it "stright".

    A feed like LMF is quite concentrated so it's important to read the label and not over do it. I think the reccomendation is 5-12 pounds daily (for 1000 pound horse). At rides I'll make ~ 5-8 pounds of LMF available to her with ~4 pounds of beet pulp. She never eats all of it, she perferrs the hay, but she has that choice.

    Hope this helps. Constant experiementation and reading. Once you think you have it figured out, it changes!

  13. Besides only feeding her grain on days that you ride her, I would also keep her out on pasture as much as possible. Horses don't really sleep much. They don't need to be in a stall at night. They doze just a little here and there all day/night long. So there are times at night when your girl wants and should be out walking/grazing/moving around that she can't get when she's in a stall. You will be surprised how much self conditioning she can get if she can have pasture turn out 24/7, with access to something like a run in shelter that she can go in and out of on her own free will.

    I never build up grain before a ride. I may grain them the night before the ride a bit. And then if I think I need to, a day or two after the ride, but I haven't done that yet. And I'd say no more yummy alfalfa. That stuff is for young foals, broodmares and dairy cattle. I know SOME people can do it, but I sure wouldn't chance it.

    So sorry to hear about your dog. It has been a bad weekend for you, but it will get better. And it could have been much worse.

    My bad day was when Sasha got hurt. She is still limping. I think my dreams of her being my next endurance horse are over. I'm just hoping she can maybe be a trail/riding horse.


  14. A little late getting to comment but first thing, don't beat yourself up so much. Just learn from it and move on. I know you are going over and over these things in your head wondering what you could have done different. Things can happen that don't make sense and all of us trying to do this sport will have our battles from time to time. It is tough sport... no doubt about it. Keep you chin up and keep working at it. And keep yourself hydrated for gosh sakes!!!

  15. Hey Jacke,

    Sorry it didn't go as well as you'd hoped! I really appreciate your attitude about it, though. Phebes is one lucky horse to have a mom like you. :)