Wow. Where to even begin? A huge thank you to EasyCare and Ride Management for the Cooley Ranch Rides for the opportunity to win a ride entry. I'm so glad I got the chance to attend this ride! It was a wonderfully run and beautiful event and if it wasn't such a long drive from Reno I would for sure be back every year.
My horse Dream Makker, or Diego as he's more fondly known, is a 6 year old Arabian gelding. He is currently barefoot and Easyboot Gloves are our boot of choice. For this ride, I wanted to add some additional cushioning to the Gloves, after a lameness pull at NASTR from sore feet - most likely a combination of trimming too much too soon before the ride, and the hard packed rocky footing. So to help increase our chances of success for two days at Cooley, I opted to add Goober Glue padding to the Easyboot Gloves. Friday before we left for our six hour drive to camp, I carefully cleaned hooves, applied my standard three wraps of athletic tape, and then installed Dig's Gloves. I had predrilled a hole in the bottom of each boot and then just pumped the Goober Glue into the boot from the bottom once it was on my horse. While this was a fairly clean and easy way to add the glue, it was also not the recommended method. It did work okay, but the downfalls were that 1) I couldn't see how much glue was actually going into each boot, but rather was having to judge by pumps of the gun and 2) it was very difficult to actually pump the gun, since I was creating pressure with the glue and then having to hold the foot and wait for it to spread before I could manage to squeeze the next 1/4" on the trigger. Next time, I'll add the Goober Glue directly to the Gloves before putting the boots on the horse.
Diego in his Easyboot Gloves.
Diego in his Easyboot Gloves.
The drive over to the coast from Reno went smoothly but took longer than expected due to hitting some traffic in Napa. My son decided to come with me on this trip, as my dad and step mom decided that it sounded like a fun time camping and hanging out and decided to drive over from Auburn and meet me as well. For someone who attends most my rides solo, this was a welcome change. Got to camp and quickly checked in and vetting through, installed Diego with his food, water, and a mash, just in time to hurry over for the ride meeting and to get my map for the next day. I've never done a Bay Area ride before, so while there were a few faces I recognized, I did feel a bit out of my element. However, my social butterfly tendencies, and the wonder family atmosphere created by Ride Management, Cynthia Ariosta and Forrest Tancer, who had laid out a huge long row of picnic tables and hosted a Friday evening potluck dinner and wine tasting, soon had me chatting with others and asking for tips on what to expect over the weekend.
Saturday morning I woke up and got saddled. Having sold my saddle and shipped it off three days before the ride, I rode in a friend's borrowed Freeform Classic with a borrowed (from someone else) smaller seat. Thankfully I had been demoing the saddle from her for a few weeks, so knew it would work for us. Dig was UP in the morning. He dumped the saddle off once before I could get it girthed on and was in general being a pain. Thankfully he already had his Easyboot Gloves on, all I had to do was tighten up the gaiters and we were good to go. I hand walked him around in camp for about 10 minutes before the actual start, and at about 5 minutes after, started off on foot in that direction. Cynthia (RM) had warned that "this is the most difficult start of any ride I've ever done", so I wasn't exactly thrilled to be hiking up the hill with a pony flotation device in tow. At least he has enough manners to not pull me, although he does push with his shoulder. I stepped off the trail in a couple of spots to run him around at the end of my reins, and then continued walking up on foot.
Somehow, magically, he has this little good behavior reminder that seems to click in right at about 1 mile. So after hiking to the TOP of the first hill, we hit that mark, he sighed, shook his full body, put his head down, and I knew I would be okay to get on. I pulled off the trail and had just gotten mounted and on my way when a group of three ladies came by. I tucked in behind them and followed them down the top of the hill, across the paved road from camp, and up into the next set of hills. They were setting a nice pace, trotting some but walking anything overly steep (which was quite a bit at this point). We started chatting a bit, I asked if it was okay if I stayed with them for a while, explained I was from Reno, didn't really know anyone, hadn't done the ride before, Diego likes buddies, yadda yadda and they were totally fine with me riding with them as the little caboose for the group. The first 3-4 miles are a blur of steep climbs followed by short rolling descents. Eventually, we came to a long down hill where everyone got off and we continued down on foot. Very steep, loose scree footing found us all, human and equine alike, slip sliding our way down into the river valley at the bottom. There we remounted and followed a winding trail through the lower portions, crossing the rivers and adjoining creeks off and on, with smaller more rolling terrain (this ride has very little actual FLAT). We came to a large crossing where the photographer, one of my favorites Rene Baylor, was shooting and I got some lovely shots. A couple of miles later, and we arrived at the first vet check which was at around 9 miles.
Still in his first season, and only his second 50, it seems to generally take Diego about 5 minutes to reach criteria (60 bpm) after arrival and we headed over to the crew spot my family had secured for me. We had a 30 minute hold at this point. Diego ate his mash and nibbled some alfalfa, but didn't truly hoover the food down. He ate pretty well for about 5, maybe 10 minutes, then noticed some sheep in the adjoining pasture and became very focused on them. I took him over to be vetted, where we cleared with all A's from Dr. Jamie Kerr. The group of 3 had pulsed down a couple of minutes faster than I had, so left the vet check just as I was getting ready to walk over to the out timers. So when it was my time, I left and trotted down the road solo. Dig knew there were horses ahead and had his little after burners going, power trotting along the road parallel to the river from the vet check. Crossed the river again and powered up the opposite bank and along the rolling road for what seemed like a very, very brief amount of time, until catching the group of three at the next water stop. We rode that bit of trail from the river to the house where the water stop was again the next day, and I was AMAZED at how far it actually was. It was probably at least 3+ miles, and at the time I would have sworn it was hardly anything - I was so blissed out on my horse powering along the trail all by himself so strong and focused.
Alas we were reunited with our buddies. As I came trotting up, they exclaimed "There's Reno!" and thus I was dubbed for the entire weekend. We hadn't bothered to exchange names until this point, so I guess as they were leaving the check, one had asked "Where's Reno?" and it stuck. All had ridden the ride before and were planning on going again the next day, and Dig seemed very happy and comfortable with the steady pace they were setting. Plus they didn't mind me tagging along at all, which was appreciated. The second loop (as was true both days) was the most difficult loop. We had several long climbs that resulted with us riding along the ridge tops. You could see for miles, even see the steam plumes for the geysers in surrounding towns (guessing Geyserville). The weather could not have been better. It was definitely humid for us desert rats (Dig & I) but at low 80's and often a breeze, I'll certainly take it. I guess it was around 100 degrees for the ride last year in June. Everyone was gushing about how lucky we were with the weather.
This next loop was about 18 miles and I'll just say it was steep and hard. Diego's and my opinion of what was considered a trottable hill was certainly altered. We got in off the 18 mile loop and Diego was HOT. He again took his 5 minutes to pulse down to 60 and we got our in time. Once again the other 3 were a couple of minutes ahead of me, but I was so pleased with how well Diego was doing. RM provided sandwiches, chips, cookies and fruit both days at the away check. I grabbed another handful of carrots from the volunteers, and went back over to Dig. We went over and vetted around 40 minutes into the 60 minute hold, and he received a mixture of A's and B's. Gut sounds were a B as I recall. I saddled back up, Diego with an expression of SHOCK that I had the NERVE to put the saddle back on him (!!! It was only his second 50) and kept an eye on when the others were getting ready to leave.
We had a 20 mile loop back to camp at this point. It worked out that the other 3 vetted a bit late, so we were all able to leave together from the check. This last loop went south and did a big sweeping loop through the hills, climbing to the top of the ridge line and back down several times, before taking us along the edge of a newly planted vineyard and then dumping us on a fairly exposed and somewhat flat dirt road. You could look down onto a lake (Lake Sonoma?) and it looked so cool and inviting. We eventually came into some of the ranch houses where there was a trough with a hose and all the horses got sprayed and cooled off before leaving. After leaving the houses we continued along the road for a bit until there was a cattle guard, where we crossed a field and then came out onto the paved road that lead toward ride camp (it's on a private ranch so traffic is very very light). OMG what a climb this road is!!!! Just up and up and up and up. A real strong grade that goes on for what's probably about 2 miles or so. Thankfully there's a trough about 1/2 way up, where all the horses drank heartily. When we neared the end of the paved bit, the group trotted off and Diego just kept walking. He neighed once or twice, but that was it, still on a loose rein just going along. We turned off from the road and climbed the last of the hill on the dirt trail. The other 3 had gone on ahead at this point, so Dig and I trotted that last mile down off the hill and into camp and the finish all by ourselves (beaming) and crossed the finish line at 3:17 pm for a ride time of 7:47. We ended up finishing 28 out of 50 finishers, with 52 starters. That was the lowest pull rate in the history of the ride, I'm sure the mild weather was a huge factor.
Took Diego back to the trailer, pulled tack and checked the boots, the first time I had touched them all day. With all the water crossings and the dirt, I was scared to mess with the velcro overmuch and have it quit sticking. He had one teeny rub on the lateral heel bulb of his left rear, and that was it. I put a bit of Desitin on it and the backs of his pasterns for good measure and left the gaiters fastened loosely. I checked again the next morning, and could hardly tell anything was ever there. I cleaned up a bit and visited before having an extraordinarily excellent catered paella dinner, got a super cute completion T-shirt (Cooley Ranch - Got Hills? Which, BTW, the answer to this is YES!), and packed to go for Day 2 (riding the 30-mile LD).
Before I had even left to go to the ride, I was waffling on the idea of riding two 50's back-to-back. Considering Diego had only done ONE 50 to date, at Rides of March, in 11-something hours, and knowing that Cooley Ranch was considered to be one of the harder rides in the region, I was somewhat doubtful as to our ability to actually complete 100 miles that weekend. At the end of the day Saturday, Diego was obviously tired so I elected to just ride the 30 on Sunday. I had been toying with the idea off and on Saturday, that I would maybe try to ride the LD alone. While Diego was happy to keep up with the group, I wanted to see how he would pace on a ride entirely on his own. Having started Dig under saddle, I can state he has truly only ridden out on the trail by himself a handful of times, ever. Most of our conditioning rides are done with company of some sort or another. And while Diego is happy to lead, be in the middle, or follow behind, I wanted to see how and what he would do without having a buddy along to help encourage and/or tow him with any sort of pacing. Plus I figured I'd be pretty safe to try my experiment on a Day 2, when he was a little less enthusiastic all around.
Sunday morning saw a much calmer Diego. Getting tacked up was no issue, his slight rub from our Easyboot Gloves the day before was barely noticeable and not tender to the touch at all. I only had to walk him around a bit to just get him moving and ensure that he looked good and wasn't any worse for the wear and was indeed ready to go again. Diego was relaxed but forward, I was able to mount up and ride out of camp a couple of minutes after the actual start. The start was the same as yesterday for the first 3 miles, up the hill, down the hill, steep up hill, gradual small down, another big up, etc. The cloud cover was pretty thick and it as actually misting on us. I had a moment of hoping I wasn't going to need a rain jacket, but continued on undaunted. Initially, I was riding off and on with a couple other horses, passing and/or being passed, but I kept Diego to a walk on the up hills while they were trotting some of them so we started to spread out. At the top of the hill, we went right instead of straight/left to get to the vet check in a shorter course than the day before. As I crested the hill, I got off to continue down on foot until things started to level out. After remounting, it was just a short bit until we went past a volunteer who was manning the gate into the sheep pasture. After having seen Dig's reaction to the sheep at the vet check yesterday, I was keeping my eyes peeled for the little buggers. We were happily trotting along when we crested a hill and the sheep were laid out like a fuzzy gauntlet on either side of the trail in a flat open grassy area. Dig stopped and took stock of the situation. I hopped off and started to lead him through. Once he realized that the sheep were scared of the big bad horse, and were in fact moving AWAY from HIM, he didn't care anymore and I remounted and rode the rest of the way through the flock. In just a few hundred yards, we arrived at the gate out of the pasture and at the vet check for a quick trot by (no check at this point ~ 5 or 6 miles).
We got the okay clear to go from the vet's and headed over to the water troughs. Dig didn't want to leave just yet, thinking it unfair that we were AT the vet check and no goodies had yet been dispensed. I managed to convince him that, indeed, he needed to carry on down the trail, and rode him across the wooden bridge and out the trail we had come in on yesterday. Rene Baylor shot a new favorite photo of mine here. Speaking of trotting along, Dig was doing awesome!!! He had been on task and just motoring down the trail all morning. Happily walking along when asked and trotting where ever the trail allowed. We had some common out-and-back on this section, so it was a bit harder to encourage him along UP the hill while being passed by all the 50's coming DOWN and back to the check, including his 3 new BFF's from yesterday.
This next loop was very enjoyable, up a big climb out of the vet check and then through some rolling hills and past a small pond on the property. The pond setting was so beautiful, cattails all along the bank, still as glass, with a large grassy area, all dotted with large oak trees. There was an aluminum row boat overturned near the bank, and all I could think was that if I had a book and some hobbles how enjoyable it would be to just spend the rest of the day floating in that setting, listening to Dig crop the grass. Sheer bliss. There was one sketchy creek crossing that I had to dismount for, since Diego decided to show off his jumping prowess and I could tell it was going to happen, and a couple of others that were nice and deep where I let the pone splash to his heart's content and thoroughly soak both himself and most of my legs. It's nice to have a "self-sponging" horse on occasion. ;) We hit the downhill off this loop, taking us lollipop like back along the same trail to the vetcheck, and the grin splitting my face as that boy tucked his butt and jogged down the hill should have won me some bugs in my teeth! He is a downhoill horse! It was just like Donna Snyder-Smith talks about, jogging on a trampoline, legs pumping up and down, collapsing into the hip, while my rear stayed nestled in the saddle and we just cruised down these hills with seemingly no effort - I couldn't see Dig but I think he was smiling as much as I was.
When we reached the top of the steeper longer hill into the vetcheck, he stopped and turned to look at me, "Um remember Mom, you got off here yesterday, twice." So I obliged him and dismounted and we continued on in. It was warmer and a bit more humid today. I scooped water on him at the troughs and then continued over to the P&R area. He was close but still a bit high, hanging around 64 when criteria was 60. I told the lady it seems to take him about 5 minutes, and sure enough, at exactly 5 minutes from our in time he pulsed down to 60. Vetted through with all A's on the card too! Everyone in ear-shot had to listen to me gush on about how fabulous he was doing and how proud of him I was and yadda yadda. I did manage to shut up long enough to eat most of a sandwich. At this point, we were around 12 miles or so into the 30 and my out-time after the hour long hold was 10:30-ish something as I recall (7 am start).
We left out and followed the same trail as loop 2 from yesterday, down the road, across the river, and then parallel to the river on a fairly flat road up to a house with a trough and hose, another mile or so past the house, and yesterday's trail turned left while we continued on straight. I think this was new/different trail from past years as management has been working hard to make Day 2 a bit easier, or at least not harder than Day 1, as in the past. The loop 2 that the 50's were doing today (not the LD) was still challenging, but was all new trail and quite beautiful from what I heard. While this portion seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye the day before, I realized how far it actually was today. Riding by ourselves was a bit of a challenge as it gives you so much more time to be exactly in the moment and focused on every small thing. I think I multi-task pretty well and enjoy watching the scenery, monitoring the footing, while also chatting with my fellow riders - which helps the time pass more quickly. Instead I had to just chatter on at Diego or in my head to myself - totally doable but it did make things seem to take longer. Eventually, we reached the lollipop portion of this loop and turned left into the creek bed, following the river, crossing multiple times, going along through the deep sandy/gravely footing for about a mile or so before starting up the one (and only) big climb on this portion of the loop. Dig just put his head down and started marching. At a walk but up and up and up we went, until finally reaching a glorious old weathered and half falling down barn at the summit of the hill. This ranch must have been beautiful and very interesting back when it was in full-scale running herds of livestock.
At the top, we had another of those hills that you look at and wonder exactly how you are going to get down. So I slithered down. I honestly considered just squatting and trying to slide down half on my butt. It was steep. Like a dysfunctional slinky Dig and I managed our downward descent. I would slither ahead and then stop to catch my footing, he would just keep trodding along behind me, his Gloves performing flawlessly. Eventually it wasn't as steep and I was able to walk more normally. Down, down, down we went until we reached a creek crossing at the bottom. Since I was already off, I grabbed my scoop and poured the water on while Dig drank deeply. We hit the road and Dig just happily settling into his brisk trot again - and away we went. I was starting to get a bit concerned about time. It was noon and we had to finish the ride, and be pulsed down by 2:15. I knew we were going to have to hustle it in and keep going in order to make it on time.
Finally reached the large river crossing. At this point, it was 1 pm and I had an hour and fifteen minutes to go the last 4 miles, but these miles included the huge 2+ mile climb along the paved road to the vet check. We set off, trotting where we could, following the paved road away from the vet check and toward camp right after crossing the river. Dig objected a bit to the left hand turn, knowing food and goodies were at the check to the right, but continued on when told to do so. We walked off and on, and I was so grateful to have on boots so I could just trot down the asphalt road when needed/wanted rather than having to deal with the narrow shoulder in some spots. We went through a small grouping of houses and then started the climb. And so we walked, and walked, and walked, and climbed that monster hill. Dig was hungry and would head toward the side of the trail for grass - I would steer him to the larger clumps of long grass, where he could grab a big mouthful and then eat it like a child slurping spaghetti, chewing the stalks down as we went. Shortly before reaching the halfway mark, we were passed by the first place 50 mile horse, just trot, trot, trotting up the hill. I was impressed. Wow! The next 2 horses in the 50 knew they couldn't catch the guy in front of them and were more concerned with the lady coming behind, who had a strong downhill horse and they thought might push that final mile down hill to try to over take them. So they also were trot, trot, trotting up the hill. Dig and I were suitably impressed, but neither of us felt much compulsion to join them in that endeavor.
I'm watching the time this whole climb wishing I had paid attention yesterday to how long it took us. I know I have a mile of down hill into camp from the very top. I'm wanting to reach the finish line no later than 2 pm, to give me a full 15 minutes to pulse down if needed. So in the sun we continue our march up, and up, and up the hill. Finally, there's the dirt turn off from the road! It's 1:35, maybe another 5 minutes of climbing maybe to reach the actual summit. Up, up, up - you can do it Dig! I'm so proud of you! We finally crest the top and I ask, "Can you trot?" and he says, "Sure! It's downhill!" and off we go, down off the mountain. I got a little teary-eyed - so overwhelmed by what we had accomplished this weekend. We trotted down the hill and walked into camp around 1:45 or so. I took him over to the water trough and scooped him, and sure enough, in just about 5 minutes he was pulsed down and we had our official finish time, and after vetting, completion. He did it! 80 miles in two days on a tough, tough course. So impressed with my horse! I honestly cannot say if I am more proud of our mid-pack finish in the 50 on Day 1, or the fact that he went out there and conquered the Day 2 30 totally solo and a bit tired, riding our own ride, in such a relaxed and impressive manner.
I'm still blissed out and in awe of what we did.
Mark your calendars: Cooley Ranch Rides in 2012 are June 9 & 10.