Northeast Challenge Endurance Ride

“It’s called Northeast Challenge, not Northeast Walk-in-the-park”
-Dr. Art King, as quoted by Sue Niedoroda

First, I want to say a huge thank you to Sarah Jack for stepping up and being the ride manager this year. Without her willingness to volunteer to take over from her parents, we wouldn’t have had a ride to attend. That said, Sarah outdid herself with emphasizing the “Challenge” portion of the ride legacy.

Riding endurance with a whole family is all about the logistics. I took Thursday off work to load the horse trailer and the travel trailer so we could leave on time. In this case, we were taking 2 tow vehicles and 2 trailers for 4 horses and 4 riders. Since Teddy is still recovering from EPM, he wasn’t attending the ride. Alex stayed home with him to take his SAT test, but that was cancelled due to COVID, so Alex had the weekend to just hang out at home with Teddy and the dogs.

Northeast Challenge is held in Buckfield, Maine, which is only about 235 miles from our house. The Jack family generously hosts this event in their hay fields and marks the trails on surrounding public and private land.

On Friday, 8/28, we hit the road about 9:00 and headed towards Maine. Our lunch stop at a rest area took longer than desired, but we were on track to make the trip with only 1 stop and about 5 hours of travel time. Unfortunately, about an hour from the ride, we got a flat tire on the horse trailer. We use a Doran 360RV tire pressure monitoring system for our horse trailer. Coming home from our first endurance ride in 2015 we got a flat tire due to a broken valve stem. It turns out you need to have solid valve stems if using a TPMS on the end of the valve stem. We had that corrected, however, when we bought new trailer tires 2 years ago, the tire shop changed out one valve stem to a rubber one and I never noticed…. until we got a flat in Maine.
I figured out a long time ago it pays to be ready for flat tires. We travel with a Jiffy Jack in each trailer. I also invested in a Ridgid impact wrench and set of impact sockets that travel with us. So, when Anna got the alert on the TPMS that a tire was losing presssure, she was able to pull off the road before it went fully flat and ruptured. We had the flat off and spare on in about 12 minutes. We dropped the flat at a tire shop that was 20 minutes from ride camp to get a new, SOLID valve stem, and then continued on to camp.

When we arrived at ride camp, we discovered there were only 21 entries for the ride (10 for the 50 miler and 11 for the 30 miler) including our family of 4. Needless to say, there was plenty of room to set up camp. We chose a site next to our CT friend Mary Palumbo and Stacey Stearns. We set up the hard panels for Eli and Amira to share since they don’t respect electric and electric pens for Mojo and Huey.

We went to the vet-in and all horses were just fine to start the ride. I took a trip back into town to pick up the repaired trailer tire. We attended the short question period (not a ride meeting), had dinner, and started tucking into bed a little after 8pm. Reveille was held at 0430 because the ride started at 0630.

Now would be a good time to discuss the weather. All week we had been watching the forecast, as Hurricane Laura made her way up towards New England. The predictions had ranged from 50% to 80% chance of rain for Saturday. As of the ride meeting Friday evening, the estimate was rain showers in the morning with about 0.5″ throughout the day. Since temperatures Friday night were close to 50F, we decided to put light blankets on the horses because they hadn’t been gettting that cool at night. We were pleased to wake up to about 52F and cloudy skies, but no rain.

Tacking up for the start was uneventful. We had eggs and bacon with plenty of coffee for breakfast and were ready to head out when the trail opened at 0630. We walked the horses for about the first mile to make sure we didn’t have any issues since it was Eli’s first ride and the trail started with a climb uphill. The whole day was basically spent going up or down; there were very few flat areas.

The 50 mile riders and 30 mile riders were all riding the same first loop, but since the field was so small, everyone spread out pretty quickly. Our family of 4 was basically alone for most of the loop. The horses were all moving well, however, we were struggling to maintain speed. The area we live in doesn’t have significant hills for climbing. While we can average around 100′ of elevation per mile, Northeast Challenge had multiple climbs of 300-500′ at a time and totaled over 4100′ of elevation. Overall, we weren’t too worried (yet) because we only had a completion as our goal for the day. The horses enjoyed the stops for grass and the cool weather was very pleasant.

Then it started to rain. We had less than 4 miles to go on our first loop when the rain started. It wasn’t very heavy at first, but the temperature immediately dropped back below 60F and visibility was reduced. Right about this time, we started riding around a corn field and we lost the trail. In the end, we rode over a mile back and forth trying to figure out where the trail was supposed to exit the field. The problem was a turn marker had blown away and a ribbon had tangled in some brush making it hard to see. As we were riding back and forth, Amira spooked as some other riders came around a corner in the field and Anna had an unplanned dismount, landing on her left hip. She was dirty, but able to continue the ride. We eventually called the ride manager and found the exit from the field and headed back to ride camp for the vet check.

We don’t have any pictures that we took after this point, because it rained the entire rest of the ride, which was about 5 more hours including the hold. Less than a mile from camp, there was a creek bed to pass through. This had been discussed at the pre-ride meeting and there were 2 options. 1. Go through the mud and rocks. 2.Cross a wooden foot bridge. Anna took Amira through the creekbed. I took Mojo across the bridge. Vicki and Amanda followed me. Eli spooked on the bridge and slid off the left side of the bridge. It didn’t seem significant at the time, however, when we arrived at the vet check, Eli was quite lame on his right front. My theory is when he slipped, his right hoof actually slid to the outside and stressed his shoulder. There were no visible injuries to his leg and no swelling. Unfortunately, even with some icing, Eli was too lame to continue and he was pulled.

We had an hour for the hold after the horses met the 64 beat per minute pulse criteria. It was pouring rain. We put fleece coolers and blankets on the horses to keep them warm. They all ate mash and hay. We grabbed some food and hot coffee (prepped at breakfast and stored in a thermos). Some of us changed into dry clothes, but that only lasted a few minutes. Mojo had a sore back (got a B from the vet) at the vet check. This was my first competition using the Ghost treeless saddle and I had brought an extra saddle just in case. I made the risky decision to change the whole saddle and saddle pad for the second loop. I put a Skito pad with Big Horn endurance saddle on him as we tacked up to leave.

Due to temperatures (now in the mid-upper 50s) and constant rain, we put rump rugs on Mojo, Amira, and Huey to keep their upper leg muscles warmer for the second loop. As we headed out of camp, it was miserable. The rain was creating constant runoff and the mud was making it slow going. Our pace suffered and after an hour of riding, we had barely covered 4 miles. Anna and I were getting quite concerned about the ability to finish within the allowed time (7:15 total elapsed time, including the 1 hour vet hold). There was nothing to do but keep pushing and make up time where we could.

Eventually, we hit a relatively flat area and were able to pick up some cantering and consistent trotting. Gradually, our average speed picked up and we became more confident in the ability to get a completion. The loop was lasting longer than we hoped and around 2.5 hours, we had to convince Amanda to eat some extra food and keep the calories going into her. I personally felt the impact of the fatigue and decided to consume about 300 calories in short order though a combination of Sport Beans, gels, and Honey Stinger chews. The calorie boost worked for everyone and suddenly we found ourselves rounding the last corner and back at ride camp! We made it with a total elapsed time of 6:53. Almost exactly as we crossed the finish, the rain stopped (much to the relief of the 50 mile riders who were still competing).

Mojo, Amira, and Huey all passed the final vet check without issue! Huey had a great cardiac recovery index (CRI) of 52/48, which means his pulse dropped by 4 beats per minute from the initial check to after a trot-out, which is awesome. Additionally, Mojo got an A for his back score after the second loop and didn’t had any of the soreness he exhibited at the first vet check.

We spent the rest of the evening drying out, resting, eating, and hanging out (at least 6′ apart) with endurance riding friends. We camped over and headed home on Sunday morning. The drive home was uneventful (except for the extra 45 minute detour when Anna got on 95N instead of 95S). On Monday, the front brakes on the F350 failed at our house. If our drive had been 40 miles further, we would have broken down with the horses in the trailer (I got the brakes replaced without any issues). Count your blessings!

Wanda Clowater was at the ride taking photos and got some good pics of us. We will be buying some of her images. You can check out her photos here. Check out pages 3, 4, 6, 11, 13-15, and 18 for pics of our family.

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