AT THE BILTMORE ESTATE
Asheville, North Carolina
September 20th and 22nd
So this is what I have been working towards all ride season – making it to the National Championship in North Carolina, and the time is finally here! The Biltmore hosts an endurance ride one to two times per year and it has been on my “list” of rides, so what better year to go than when it is hosting the Nationals, right?! Woohoo, very exciting! Because I am planning on riding the 100-miler and it is a 1000-mile drive, I am going to take my time and split the drive up into three days so my horse doesn’t arrive travel-weary, and I want three full days prior to the 100-miler to acclimate, rest and check out the trails and enjoy the Estate. This is going to be a long adventurous trip… Woohoo!
Friday, Sept. 14th: Departure day; I am ready to hook up and load when, once again, the jack on my trailer decides to magically not work – same old *&^ – will go up but won’t come down… really? Again? But I fixed this on my last trip to CO and it has worked fine for the last two months! WT…?! Sigh… three hours later and a new solenoid and wiring, I am on the road slightly past 12 noon with the first stop just short of 400 miles in Hazen, Arkansas.
We pulled in to our overnight stables as dark was setting in with some drizzle. There was a mix-up on the reservation and someone arrived prior to me, so they got the pasture turnout… so my horses got the round pen. Oh well, at least they are not locked up in a stall after traveling and the farm is beautiful and the people very nice. Tomorrow is a short travel day of just over 300 miles to Fairview, Tennessee.
Saturday, Sept. 15th: Tennessee is gorgeous!! Just beautiful… another great overnight place with plenty of pasture and beautiful weather. We had plenty of daylight left so I enjoyed sitting outside watching my horses relax before making dinner and turning a movie on. Tomorrow, Ashville, NC! Yippee!!
Sunday, Sept. 16th:Tennessee really is beautiful, but I’ve been traveling through this very long State for two days; I’m ready to be there and I’m positive the horses are. We started on our last leg of the trip with less than 400 miles to go, but the last 100 miles it was sloowww with rain, winding up and down highways and tunnels. We arrived at the Biltmore Estate late afternoon, early evening and we were the first to arrive in ride camp. The rider manager, Cheryl Newman, pointed us in the right direction and explained all the flagging, ribbons, etc. in regard to where to park. I got the horses settled into their nice half-acre paddock with plenty of grass and set up camp. The horses look fabulous, as if they just went for an easy one-hour trailer ride – perfect! We are here!! In North Carolina! For Nationals! Awesome!
The next two days it rained and rained and rained and poured and rained some more… this gave me an opportunity to check out the Estate, taste their wine, eat their food, and catch up on movies! Some riders came in on Tuesday, but most came in on Wednesday. There were two other central region riders there to do the 100-miler and all three of us from Texas, so it was nice to see familiar faces. There is one downside here… absolutely no cell service for AT&T so I had to drive to the “town” area about 15-20 minutes away to make calls, check e-mail, etc. But, hey, who’s complaining?! I’m at the Biltmore!!
The skies finally cleared and dried up on Wednesday – thank goodness! I was getting quite worried about the trail conditions for Thursday… still was actually, but at least it had stopped. I have never seen so much rain – and I’ve never seen it dry up so fast either. Even with all of the traffic coming and going, the ground held up for the most part. Wednesday evening entailed the 100-mile ride meeting with all the details of the ensuing day. Kenlyn Pristine vetted in great with all A’s and looking full of energy as usual. Off to bed early – tomorrow is going to be a long, long day! So excited!!
Thursday, September 20th: 6:30 a.m., we are off on our first loop of 15 miles. It was a “controlled” start – hmmmm… this is what SE riders call a controlled start? Really? Trotting, passing – that’s controlled? Interesting. All was well though, no crazy antics or anything. There were close to 50 starters in the 100-miler and there was just a hint of lightness on the horizon when we started, a little fog, and plenty of dew from the humid air and wet ground. We finished the first loop in an hour and 45 minutes, vetted through with all A’s except for a B on gut and we were somewhere mid pack.
After a 40-minute hold, Pristine and I were off on our second loop of 17 miles. The weather is just great, the first loop is out of the way, and now it’s time to really enjoy the ride! We settled in with two other riders, Bob Walsh and fellow Texan Amanda Fant. The scenery here is absolutely gorgeous, the weather is perfect, and the ride very well organized with trails marked perfectly! Pristine feels AMAZING – this is going to be such a great, great ride! It’s surreal.
And then it happened. Again? No… really? Oh, yes, that really just happened.
We were at approximately mile marker 12, headed down hill. I was leading our “pack” at the time and as the trail curved to the right, there was a very large tree blocking our view of the multiple rutted out tree roots that we were about to be ontop of… it felt as if someone took Pristine’s front legs and yanked them out from under her. In slow/fast motion, her knees went to the ground as her hind legs scrambled to stay upright, her nose dove into the ground in front of her, and eventually her belly went down and slid with an oomph. I’m still in the saddle, feeling the ground underneath me and the roll of Pristine’s belly up against me and the embankment of the trail. She got up a little faster than I got up and she began to trot off, slowly at first, looking left and right, as if to say “What just happened?” And then, in usual independent Pristine fashion, she took off! OMG OMG OMG – I just traveled all the way to North Carolina to lose my horse on the second loop of the 100-mile National Championship… this has to be a dream!
After reassuring the other two riders that I was okay and, graciously, Bob riding ahead a little ways to see which way Pristine headed, they took the right-hand turn on trail and I followed Pristine’s path to the road, hoping she would be just around the corner grazing or something ridiculous. When I got to the road, there was no sight of her, but only a couple of minutes passed before a driver came by and picked me up (she just happened to be a spotter headed to her “post”). She dropped me off at the “Big Rock” where the next spotter who was already communicating with management about the accident. She pointed me in the direction of where Pristine ran and I was on foot again. A Biltmore security guard then stopped me and went on ahead to see if he could find Pristine. Stagg Newman then came by as he had also been informed of what had happened. Amazing communication going on here – they were really on top of things! It was quite impressive! Pristine had made it to another spotter at a bridge on a completely different trail where she was eventually caught. After Stagg watched her trot for me and gave me instructions on how to get back to the spot where she fell, we were back in the ride and continuing on. This 17-mile loop turned into a 25-mile, 3+ hour loop… we went from 17th place to dead last by 30 minutes. Wow. Oh, well, there’s a lot of day left.
An interesting note here is that I later found out the particular place my horse fell down is a notorious spot where several horses and well-known international riders had fallen before… would’ve been nice to know that beforehand. I got to be the lucky next one to “happen” upon it.
Pristine vetted through with A’s and we had just a 40-minute hold before going onto our third loop, which was 20 miles. Maybe I can make up a little time and catch up with someone – company would be nice to have for both of us right now. This 20-mile loop took FOREVER!! Eat, eat, trot, eat, trot, eat, walk… nearly 4 hours later, we were back in camp with an hour hold. Although we had done approximately 60 miles, we had 50 miles left to go. And she really wasn’t liking the downhills – hesitating and taking short steps. She just was not herself. She vetted through great with all A’s and a CRI of 64/60, but I was not convinced. I told the vets of my concerns and I was reassured that she looked great and was not sore anywhere. I was also beginning to get very concerned about time… it was going to be getting dark soon and I had three full loops to go yet, 50 more miles with most of it being through the night, the slow portion of a 100-miler. Everyone kept saying, “You’re doing good – you have plenty of time.” Me: You are all crazy. But, I didn’t come all this way to quit…
Apparently, my crazy-logic caught up with everyone else because as I was sitting and resting before heading back out, the
ride manager and two vets, one of which was the head vet, came over to talk to me about what they called “Plan B.” I heard something I have never, ever heard in the endurance world (or should I say, AERC world)… “you don’t come to Nationals just to complete.” What? Say that again… Me: Oookaay, well, when you travel 1000 miles one-way and spend umpteen amounts of money, not to mention all the money and time spent throughout the year planning and preparing for this one trip, you absolutely DO go to JUST complete! I just found that a little mind boggling… probably very true for the international, FEI-type competitor, but… and hey, I’m competitive (okay, conservative competitive), but…that’s just not the mindset right now given the circumstances. No hard feelings, just thought that was interesting.
Anyway, so they told me my horse looked great and that if I would “Rider-Option” out of the 100, they would offer me an entry in the 50-miler two days later; basically, call it a day, save my horse the extra miles, and try again for better luck in the 50. I thought that was a very generous offer and after some thought, I decided it was the best choice and was thankful for the option.
Friday, September 21st: To make an already long story a tad shorter, my soft tissue soreness set in at 24 hours and worse at 48 hours; I have felt better after 100 miles, way better. But I didn’t come to NC to go home empty-handed, so I vetted Pristine in for the 50-miler and went back to the trailer to get ready for Saturday. While I was grooming and loving on Pristine, I found her girth area had some gouges and swelling where she fell, and she had some back and hamstring tightness from the fall as well. I knew something was wrong. I really don’t want to go home empty-handed but I am not going to put her through 50 more miles if she is not up for it. And I am okay with this. It wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t my fault, it was just bad luck. I would rather go home with a healthy and sound horse, mentally and physically, and make the next ride than to risk hurting her after all she has done for me. I know she was ready and I prepared her perfectly for the task at hand – sometimes crap happens and it really was just plain ‘ol bad luck; no one is exempt from that! It was still a great experience to ride at the Biltmore Estate and I met some great new people. Maybe someday I’ll make it back there with better luck and success. I’m going home with a healthy and sound horse and I’m intact as well, so life goes on and the next ride goes on… hopefully I’ll y’all there!
I found out a very inspiring story about my mishaps on that Thursday. Apparently, the three spotters that were there to help me and to witness which direction my horse went were not supposed to be there. They had been scheduled to man their posts an hour and a half early and the person in charge of this was going to tell them, but decided to just leave it the way it was. Had that driver not been on her way to her post, she would not have picked me up. Had the next spotter not been at the “Big Rock,” she would not have seen which direction my horse went. Had the final spotter and the one who eventually caught Pristine not been at the bridge, who knows where Pristine would have ended up… I do believe in guardian angels – I hope they stay with me! ☺