Pinetree Pioneer Rides were held at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds over 5 days from Tuesday, August 9 through Saturday, August 13. There was a 50-55 mile event and a LD (Limited Distance) 25-30 mile event every day for 5 days. The Pioneer Ride is the three middle days, and totals 155 miles of riding. This was to be Vicki’s first distance ride. Alex was unable to ride; Dakota has been lame and Alex was still dealing with a double ear infection and sinus infection.
The logistics required to travel and camp with your horses for an endurance ride are not to be under estimated. When it is a whole family going to camp and leaving the majority of the herd at home, it takes a few days of prep just to leave the house. We started making our packing lists weeks ago. Leading up to this trip, I printed the lists and kept making updates as we figured out what we needed to add. Sunday and Monday were spent going through the camping gear to make sure everything was there and loading into totes. We also packed the horse trailer with hay, shavings, tack, extra tack, and everything we could imagine needing. Once all the camping gear was loaded into the truck bed (around the gooseneck hitch), clothing and sleeping bags in the horse trailer, and tack in the trailer, we were ready to leave.
We hit the road on Tuesday morning at 0900 and headed to Maine! The first stop was 35 minutes into the drive for a couple of items we needed at Wal-mart. The second stop was only 20 minutes later for a bathroom break. We decided to skip lunch and just finish the drive (with no more stops) to get the horses off the trailer faster. That turned out to be a mistake, because once we got to camp, it took over an hour to get the horses settled and to the point we could unload enough to eat. In the future, we will ensure we have eaten before arriving at camp.
Once things we set in camp, we vetted in the horses for the ride and took a break. Our campsite consisted of an electric fence paddock for the horses, canopy for the horses, canopy for our kitchen area, stove, coffee pot, 2 tents, folding table…. The chuck box we used for storing food and such was built by my Dad in the 60’s when he was in scouting. I would say it has gotten some miles.
The ride camp had a coordinated dinner that you could participate in, so we did. After dinner each night, the awards for the day’s ride were given out and then the ride brief was conducted for the next day. We arrived on Tuesday, so we got to see the first day awards and hear some feedback about the trails.
We have learned from previous rides, the endurance ride camps get quiet early. It seems everyone wants to go to bed early. Of course, since we had just traveled in, our crew wasn’t as tired, so we didn’t fall asleep quite as fast.
Wednesday morning, the 50 mile ride started at 0530. Our camp setup was right next to the vet area and the start/finish. Anna and I were up at 4:45 with Vicki only shortly after. Alex and Amanda slept in a little. We cooked up some eggs and sausage for breakfast. While there is typically muffins or doughnuts available for a ride breakfast, it is important to fuel your body for the ride, especially when 1 of the bodies is an 80lb, 10 year old girl.
Vicki and I were riding the 25 mile, LD ride. We started at 6:30 and 1 mile into the ride, you cross a river. On the other side, you enter some potato fields where you ride on sandy farm roads for the next 5 miles. While the potato fields were pretty, calm, and fast riding in the morning, they were hot and hotter once the sun started baking things. The first hold was 15 miles into the ride, and was away from base camp at a covered bridge. Anna, Alex, and Amanda met us there with snacks for the horses, snacks for us, and to simply help out. We quickly determined that at this age, Vicki can handle the distance, but needs the support of someone to crew at the holds so she can take a break and fuel up herself.
When you arrive at the hold, your hold time doesn’t actually start until your horse has pulsed down below 64 bpm. In anticipation of that, Vicki and I walked in (us off and leading on foot) the horses for about the last 1/4 mile. Mojo can pulse down quickly, but we wanted to make sure Devil was ready to go. It worked great and Devil was below the threshold as soon as we arrived. 40 minutes later, we were back out of the trail for 11 miles back to camp, including the potato fields. We arrived at base camp and Mojo immediately met the finish pulse criteria of 60 bpm. 6 minutes later, Devil had cooled off and also passed a vet check as “fit to continue”. Vicki and Devil had their first completion with a ride time of 4:27 for 26 miles in the saddle.
Once the horses were taken care of, we hiked a mile down to the river and took a swim to cool off since the temps were in the upper 80s (I thought Maine was supposed to be cold?).
Some people at the Pinetree ride actually ride every day. However, many ride a day and then take a day off. Because we did our first ride on the second day, there were only 11 entries in the LD ride for our day. Even though our time wasn’t terribly slow, Vicki was the last finisher, which meant she won the “Turtle Award”. In the endurance world, the motto is “To finish is to win” and we have been teaching that to the kids as we train. Winning the turtle isn’t demeaning, because it is still a completion. There are actually some riders who compete to collect turtle awards. Vicki was all smiles at the awards ceremony as she collected her ride prize, her Jr rider award (a blanket she slept with every night since), and her Turtle.
No one in our family had trouble falling asleep on Wednesday. We took Thursday off, and I was glad we did! I listened to the sound of ~30 riders leaving camp at 0530 (all distances started at 0530 on Thursday and Friday due to the heat) and then I went back to sleep for another hour. After getting up and eating, I broke out the hammock. There were not a lot of trees available, but with the truck parked just so, the hammock fit nicely between the horse trailer ties and the stake pocket ties on the truck. Amanda and I tested it out for a nice hour nap. After, we walked the horses around for some grazing (Vicki decided to ride bareback).
Thursday was HOT! The camp thermometer broke 100F in the shade. We went out to get more ice for our cooler and some ice cream. We also went to a different part of the river for a swim to cool off again. In the late afternoon, Vicki and I rode the horses bareback down to the river. We took them into some deeper areas and Vicki and Devil actually got to swim (it wasn’t deep enough to cause Mojo to swim). Thursday night dinner was lobster night and after the ride brief, we went to bed for a 0400 wake up. While Vicki was very happy to have finished her first ride, she did talk to me about strategy before we fell asleep. She said, “Dad, can we ride a little faster tomorrow. I don’t want to Turtle. I want to Win.” I told her we would ride within our horses’ abilities and the priority was to finish with everyone in good condition, but yes, we could go faster. She was ok with that. On Friday, we were riding the same LD course as Wednesday.
The temperatures on Friday were definitely hotter than Wednesday. While we did ride a faster first loop, we slowed down some on the second loop and ended up finishing within about 5 minutes of our Wednesday time. Again, both horses were in excellent condition and we both had smiles at the finish. As Vicki and I hand walked our horses the last 1/4 mile, she was already talking about her plans for the next ride. To say she is hooked on endurance is an understatement.
While the temperatures were high, we had nothing but an amazing week. Amanda was talking with everyone about her pony Huey and how she planned to ride him at Pinetree next year. Alex didn’t get to ride, but is still interested in trying it out. Pinetree was definitely a top-notch, family friendly event. Our thanks go out to Tom Hutchinson and Sue Niedoroda for managing the ride and to all the volunteers who put it on. We will see you again in 2017!