Did you miss Part One? Click here to catch up.
Promptly at noon, a ride official signaled the start. Bob Steller took off aboard Markoss, but the rest of us hung around, clearly waiting to avoid the often-chaotic rush. After a minute or so, several more riders headed up the trail. I followed on Aaruba, first walking, then trotting past a few riders who opted to walk a bit longer.
Eager and obviously feeling good, Aaruba settled into a medium trot up the road. About the time we reached our first turn onto a sandy track into the hills, he'd loosened up and wanted to move out. Holding him in took a bit of work, but I wasn't about to let him go faster than our training pace, especially in sand. All I wanted was to finish within the 6-hour time limit, with a sound and healthy horse.
The trail climbed up a steep hill, then led across the top of a ridge where low tangles of sagebrush, battered by many passing hooves, hunkered along the trail. Somewhere along that ridge, Aaruba stumbled a bit and I thought I saw something fly into the bushes. A hoof boot? I glanced down to check. One, two, three, four boots, all present and accounted for. We cruised on.
Not until we slowed to walk through some deep sand did I realize that what I'd seen on Aaruba's off front hoof (yes, the one with the injured heel) was not the boot itself, but the back of the gaiter spun around to the front of his hoof. The boot was gone.
When we broke out onto a gravel road minutes later, I thanked my lucky stars for all those hours of barefoot conditioning. Aaruba picked up speed, quite sound despite the missing boot, and we briefly joined the group of riders we'd been tailing. One of them let me know that Aaruba seemed to have interfered in back and was bleeding, so I hopped off at the nearby water stop to have a look. Fortunately, it was just a scratch, but as this is the second time his hind boots have caused such a wound, I'll be buying a pair of interference boots soon.
We crossed the creek with no problems, despite it being Aaruba's first attempt at a real water crossing, and continued on through the hills. There were a few short, steep uphills that we walked to conserve energy, but for the most part we trotted along. Being unfamiliar with the trail, and having forgotten to punch my stopwatch at the start, I was glad to come across a view of ridecamp in the valley below. A look at the map told me we were about two-thirds through the loop.
Having had the pleasure of chatting earlier with Shana (of Sinwaan) and Lara, riders from Washington who did the Saturday LD, I expected a steep downhill before the end of the loop. Sure enough, the riders ahead of me slowed, then seemed to disappear over the edge of a cliff. I arrived shortly thereafter to see the trail drop sharply to the creekbed far below. The trail looked safe enough, but as Aaruba was still inclined to rush, I elected to lead him down just in case.
We reached the creek just as the other riders were leaving. The water was faster here and Aaruba wouldn't settle to drink, so we carried on after wading up and down to ease any stinging in his interference wounds. He never took a sore step, even on the rocky sections of road with one bare forehoof, and again we caught up with the trio ahead. To see if Aaruba would settle down if he was in the lead, I guided him past them at a wide spot. It made no difference -- he still wanted to power along faster than I would allow.
Quite suddenly, we were back at camp. I hopped off, loosened the girth, and led him in to pick up our yellow slip on which our in-time, pulse-down time, and out-time would be recorded. Aaruba drank and ate some hay while we waited a couple minutes to pulse down to 60. He vetted through with all A's except for gut sounds, which earned him a C and instructions to come back for a re-check at the end of the hold.
So, forty minutes of eating, drinking, and boot-replacing later, we returned and were cleared to depart, now with gut sounds at B+. We were delayed several minutes by heeding the vet's advice to remove some tape we'd used to secure vetwrap over Aaruba's interference wounds lest it be too restrictive and cause a bandage bow, but I wasn't worried about it. This was a training ride for us, not a competition.
I was pleased to take off quite alone, as our bandage-removal delay had given the trio ahead of us get a longer lead. As expected, Aaruba was more settled now and we relaxed into our usual long, cheat-rein for the remaining 9 miles. Most of the loop retraced the same trail as the first loop, so pacing was easier. This time I stayed aboard for the steep downgrade, which Aaruba handled admirably. Once again, however, he refused to drink from the fast-moving creek even though I dismounted to give him plenty of opportunity. Just as I swung back into the saddle, a couple riders appeared at the top of the ridge behind us.
We trotted on until I saw the finish line. I dismounted to lead Aaruba in again, loosening his girth and noseband as we walked. The finish line steward said he thought we were the 5th or 6th horse in. Talk about Surprise #3!
Back at the recovery area, Travis and I pulled Aaruba's tack, then had his pulse checked to get his official finish time. We had half an hour before we needed to present for his final vet check, so we let him eat and drink to be sure he'd pass on gut sounds. Sure enough, he finished with mostly A's.
Though I figured we weren't really in the running for it considering my weight, our placing at 5th, and Aaruba's interference wounds, we presented an hour later for Best Condition. I weighed in at 134 lbs including tack (hmmm...maybe I should eat more!) and our BC score totaled exactly 600 -- acceptable, but not enough to win.
During the awards, we got a nice T-shirt for completing, a scarf from Malaysia for top-tenning, and a Malaysian fan and a kind round of applause for our first-ever LD.
So, what's next?
I'm thinking LD's on both days of the Pink Flamingo in July. After that, perhaps we'll start talking 50's.