Double Eagle 2010

Double Eagle 2010

The Double Eagle Ranch is just outside of Elsberry Mo which is north of St Louis.  It is privately owned and, although the camping is “primitive”, the grounds are immaculate and the trails spectacular.  Sandy and I had one concern, and that was the weather.  It had been over 90 degrees and the humidity had been oppressive the week before the ride. Sandy really worried about the weather and I promised that if it was too bad at the start, we simply would come home.   It was not promising when our truck said it was 99 degrees as we passed through St. Louis.

We were one of the first to arrive and secure a camping spot.  It was looking like the weather as scaring off riders.  Eventually, 23 horses showed up with riders and crews.  Next door was Dawn Corbin-Deutsch and her able husband/crew, John.   Like my wife Sandy, Dawn has a serious health issue, and John told me that they were celebrating every day that she could be active by doing endurance on her Missouri Foxtrotter Navigator.  John went to start his generator and the cord came off in his hand. We took a crash course in generator tear down together.

I warmed  Blues and Kate up the night before and they both passed the vet in with straight A’s.  The vets were gaited horse knowledgeable and we were both very thankful. After the pre race pot luck, we headed to bed. We also discovered that our Honda 2000 generator would not power our trailer’s air conditioner.   It was a very hot night…  The weather changed in a minute around 2:30a.m. The trailer started rocking from a high wind. We got up and put up the canopy just in time for the monsoon to start.  We ended up getting less than 4 hours sleep, which is never a good thing before a 50 mile ride.

I was glad to see my friend Paul Sidio. Paul is a class act and a rider I really enjoy spending time with and riding with.  Paul and I share a love for playing music and if you share a ride with us you are warned that our discussion of music history might prove boring.

The morning started off looking like it might be a cool if not a rain filled day.  Lisa Sargent, the race director did a fine job of flying by the seat of her pants and changed the course to allow her and her crew to check on areas that might have had damage from the storm.  The course became two 7 mile loops and then two 18 loops.  One horse was DQ’d during vet in the night before so 10 horses started the 50 and 12 started the 25.  Sandy and Blues went out with the lead group and in fact led the first 14 miles.  I settled back with Kate to about 5th, as I did not want to push her over 10 mph. I was concerned about both what might happen to the weather and her gait. I love this little horse, but she is the most challenging gaited horse to ride that I have ridden.  With about 2 miles to vet check, I felt my left stirrup break and I reach down and caught it before it hit the ground.  I knew I had a replacement in my cantle bag but I did not want to stop before the vet check. I got to balance while finishing the first loop.

Both horses did fine at the 14 mile vet check but the vet asked Sandy to watch Blues. I asked her to pull him back a bit and ride with Kate and me.  The temperature was rising as was the humidity.  The second loop had lots of turns and Lisa Sargent had done a great job of marking the course.  As the temperature rose, so did the difficulty of the course. About half way through the loop, I felt Kate roughen in her movement. I got off and checked her hoofs.  Both front shoes were gone and both back shoes were loose.  I had one boot with me on the horse, but the other one was back at the trailer.  We watched the heart rate monitors closely and found as many creeks as we could find for sponging and drinking.

Sandy and Blues

After slowing our pace due to the rising temperature, we came to a hay field. We met a rider coming out of the field as we were going in.  He was on a very fast Arabian but was actually turned around a bit and had stopped under a shade tree. We told him that he had ridden past the exit of the field and was starting a second loop of the same field. I asked him how big the field was and he told me that it was between 25 minutes and an hour. I thought he must be confused.

The field came to be known as the “field of doom” from the other riders. It was about 4 ½ miles of winding bush hogged paths that curved and crossed an occasional creek.  Very little shade offered itself.  We came into the 32 mile vet check with both the riders and the horses sweated up and ready for a rest.  Both horses did fine at the vet check but Blue was a little rapid with his breathing.  We took them back to the trailer and gave them their electrolytes and a beet pulp mash. They both ate great but Blues did not drink.  The vets were asking all the competitors to bring their horses back due to the heat and the humidity.  We did that before we left on the last 18 mile loop.   Blue’s respiratory rate was high after trotting him out and Sandy elected to opt for a Rider Option for Blues. It was wisdom.

Kate goes looking for the “Hay Field of Doom”

Kate and I went out by ourselves and I tried not to think about the numerous horses that were being pulled from both the LD and the endurance ride. The temperature was now into the 90’s and the humidity was soaring.  Kate was not thrilled with her Cavello boots, and although one of the vets had tightened the rear shoes he had told me there were no guarantee that they would stay on.

While watching her heart rate, I needed to watch her respiration rate and any other signs that she might be struggling.  While standing in a creek a few miles into the last loop, we were caught by three Arabians.  Knowing that horses often do better with another horse around them, I decided to tag along behind them.  It became obvious to me that they did not want our company.  On top of that, many Arabians and their riders seem to ride in less than a steady pace.  It has been my experience that many of the trotting horses have a real tendency to speed up on flat ground and then slow to a flat foot walk on up hills or at the sign of mud or rocks at creak crossings. An advantage I think our gaited horses have is that our horses are not supposed to have a time of suspension. They are usually very sure footed, and, while allowing for differences of individual horses, they can usually be rated at whatever speed I want them to travel.  The GPS watch is a critical tool for our riding.

So, we spent a few miles of speeding up and slowing down.  After a while, Kate and I eased past and gaited on.  The temperature continued to rise and we slowed down and took frequent breaks.  Sometimes we stopped in a creek. Sometimes, we stopped and ate grass.  The heat got worse and much of this loop was up and down, with no moving air.  I became even more concerned.  We walked. We walked a lot.  However, we just had to speed up for the up hills and then rest at the top of the hills.

After a few miles we bumped into the Arabian riders behind us at a turn. I spoke to them as we passed and the strangest thing happened. Kate perked up. I checked our time and saw that the walking was putting our 12 hour finish in jeopardy. I prayed and suggested to the Lord that we could use a little rain to cool us off.

A few miles later, the trail passed over the highest part of the course, and this point offered a good view in several directions.  The most astonishing view was the sky.  It was incredibly dark and ominous and a very strong wind came up.  The wind and the sky suggested a severe storm.  The temperature dropped at least 15 degrees within a few minutes.  I knew someone was praying, but thought that they were doing too good a job with their prayers.  The only thing missing was a plague of locusts and the death angel!

We came to the “hay field of doom” and I knew we had to move faster than a walk or we would not make the cut off time.  Kate just could not gait smoothly at this time with two easy boots, two loose shoes and 11 hours of heated competition under her belt.  I tried her at the lope and she freshened.  She also raised her speed to 10-11 mph and her heart rate steadied at about 120.  We loped the hay field while watching her heart rate and watching out for the riders behind us.

We came into the finish line very thankful to be finished… Kate was hot but her heart rate went to 60 in a few minutes. I gave her electrolytes.   Sandy and the vet techs hosed her, and after a few minutes of sponging, she cooled down.  We got our completion and it turned out that we were 2nd out of 4 finishers.

Sandy and I learned several things.

1.   This is a great ride!   If they move it to a cooler time in the fall, we will definitely come back.   Lisa Sargent did a fantastic job, as well as the vets, vet students, and volunteers.

2.   We need to stay away from rides that will be over 90 degrees with a high humidity.

3.   You could override your horse early in the cool part of day, and not know it until it shows up later when the heat and humidity rise. ( Even though one of the leading riders took a rider option, because of a thrown shoe, only one of the leading horses finished.)

4.   We have to get a second generator.

5.   Gaited horses are awesome!

Keith and Sandy Kibler
Shawnee Sunrise Farm

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