Skymont – 2010

Skymont Nov 2010

The Cumberland Plateau is the southern part of the Appalachian Plateau that stretches into Tennessee.  The plateau averages 420 feet in height and while the views are fantastic, you definitely would not want to ride off of it on a horse.   Skymont is actually a Boy Scout ranch and only allows riding during this ride.

I had a chance to speak on endurance at the national FOSH convention in Louisville which was moderated by Rick Lamb, so Sandy hauled the horses in the big rig down to Tenn  by herself.   My little wife is amazing.  Camping is primitive at Skymont, so you  need to be self contained.  The ride is well attended with about 45 riders in both the 25 mile Limited Distance event and the 50 mile endurance event. Meals were provided by the Boy Scouts at the main lodge.  The trails where vintage old school and by that I mean you followed ribbons in what a friend calls
“bush wacking”  through woods where there was not really a trail.  This makes for a real need to pay attention. However, the trail was the best marked of any event we had ever done.  You would have had to fallen asleep in the saddle to get lost.

One of the challenges of these races is to get the horses ready in the dark pre start and that means getting up around 4:30 am.  We took Blues, my 16 year old MFT racking horse, who was looking for his 10th 50 mile completion for Sandy. The MFT mare she was planning to ride got a stone bruise and, fortunately, we have enough horses ready to provide back up possibilities.  I have been preparing a 5 year old TWH mare named “Jazz” for 6 months for her first 50 mile event.  Jazz is an alpha female.  We bought Jazz as a weanling because Sandy fell in love with her spunky attitude.  Boy , did she get that right.  I did not “break” Jazz, we came to a truce.  The little girl is as tough as nails. She is only 14.2 and 854 lbs but if you asked her, she would tell you she is ten feet tall.

Jazz had completed 2 LDs well and I had 500 miles on her this year going into the event.  I told Sandy to put a breast collar on Blues because of the terrain.  She thought that she would just go ahead and add a crupper.  Then she put a rump rug over it.  Since we had to warm up in the dark I didn’t notice it on him.  Blues had never had a crupper on and decided that something in the dark was trying to eat the underside of his magnificent tail!  During the warm up, he thought he needed to escape the evil butt eating monster and started to bolt off into the woods. Sandy checked him and he started kicking at the crupper.  Jazz was confused by this and thought it best to stand up on her rear legs to get ready to defend herself.

Well, this worked for us during the first pirouette, but during the second one, she decided to do a 180 spin to get ready for the imaginary horse eating bugger. I was on an English saddle and weigh about 170. Jazz weighs 854 and is spinning on two legs. We fell together. During the fall, I managed to clear both stirrups just before the ground greeted me.  I hit the ground solidly but was not seriously hurt. The fact that I was groggy the next day, and it made me glad I had on a helmet.  Did I mention that three people went to Chattanooga, to the hospital, over the weekend from falls?  One had a broken wrist and another had a broken hip.

The start was controlled and about 45 of us went off into the rising sun.  Blues understands what a race is and was pulling on Sandy to get going.  Sandy did not want her arms pulled out of the sockets for 50 miles, so she rode back and put him behind Jazz.  Jazz did super on the first loop and kept moving along easily in her little rack at about 9-10 mph at a heart rate of about 125. There was no problem at the first vet check and both horses were at 60 when we presented them.  We were mid pack and this was just fine with me for Jazz’s first 50.  Sandy was having some blood sugar issues, so I asked her to keep Blue’s with me and Jazz, partly for Jazz, and partly so I could watch Sandy.  One other issue is that Sandy really needs help at the trot out.

The second loop was more of the same.  Much of the “trail” was not really a trail, but was a very well marked jaunt between a series of points in the woods. The views were fantastic. There could have been more water on the course, but considering the drought and how cool the weather was, it was not an issue.

Both horses finished the 3rd loop in the same form and I knew Blues would finish in good form.  My only question was how Jazz would do over the last 13  miles, as it was her first time at the 50 distance.  At mile 45, Sandy and I picked up our speed a bit and carefully watched our heart rate monitors.  We bumped our speed up to 12 mph, which is nothing for Blues.  He has averaged 12.5 mph for 50 miles including stopping on the trail for water.   Sandy let Blues canter a bit on some uphills as it freshens him.  At one point, I even convinced Jazz to break into a gallop.  Her heart rate remained low.  The ride turned out to be 52 miles on my GPS and I did let Jazz walk about a mile at the 50 mile mark.

We finished with a 54 heart rate on Jazz and Blues was at 60 and dropping.  They both did great on their score cards and I was thrilled by Jazz’s performance in her first 50.  She started at 854 lbs and finished at 804 lbs.  I really think our training programs for each horse has worked well and that our supplement program has proven successful.  We have tried to tailor our supplement regimen to the individual horse.

We hope that they hold this ride again, because we want to go back.  The level of competition was very high and it was beautiful.  Jazz proved she could handle the distance and I was very proud of her.  She finished 26th out of about 45 starters and her lowest vet score was b+.  Sandy says she does not want to do another 50 on Blues where she has to hold him back the whole time.  She took one for the team this time.

The ride home back to Illinois had its own excitement as a new trailer tire blew out on interstate 24. I was following Sandy in my little Toyota and dodged the separated tire.  I then got to figure out how to change a trailer tire with two horses standing over it and cars streaming by on the highway.  It was amazing how many people rudely failed to pull into the left lane. The end result was a great weekend and good results and we will definitely go back to Skymont.
Rack on my friends.

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