Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pre-VC100 - in which I try to get my ducks in a row

You always think you've got it together for a 100 - until about two-three weeks before when suddenly everything seems to be falling apart.

I've been scuttling around, trying to get my ducks in a row.

Fergus and I did the Tahoe Rim Ride on 29th August (two weeks ago) - lovely as always - and I came away with a shopping list of things to sort out (and wishing I had an extra month and an extra 50 miler between then and now to get everything squared away).

First of all - the Tahoe Rim ride. It went great and although I worried a little about Fergus' hill fitness (he was a little "bleah" on the steeper climbs), he bounced back in each case once we got to the top and never felt flat the entire ride. Not to mention he managed to finish the ride with a vet card entirely filled with As. I've never done that before - usually there's a B on guts or something. So my take-away is he's ready for VC100.

That said, I don't feel he's as fit as he's been in past years, which means I'm going to need to ride more conservatively than usual. Not a big deal. The goal is finishing – and finishing-looking-as-good-as-we-can – not finishing-as-fast-as-we-can, so this is a good reminder to me (the so-called brains of the operation) and will hopefully reflect in an equally impressive vet card.

Saddle Fit

Or should I say shim fit. My problem is that Fergus doesn't get sore from the saddle... but weeks later tell-tale white patches show up. I narrowed some of it down to pad material - unlike every other horse in the world, sheepskin pads don't seem to agree with him. This finally became blatantly obvious when he wore a fleece-bottomed Skito pad for the first 65 miles of 20 Mule Team 100 back in February and came in to the tack-off vet check with heat bumps the size of peas. I switched to the cotton-bottomed Sensation pad for the last 35 miles and the bumps were gone at the finish. Voila. Problem solved.


A month or so later we did NV Derby 50 in the same set up and shortly after that new white patches appeared. Apparently the FreeForm panels I was trying out weren't having the desired effect - in fact they seemed to be creating more pressure along the ridge of muscle either side of his spine. Nix them.

On to NASTR 75. By now, I'd started throwing money at the problem. I bought a set of Jen-X inserts - poron on the top to combat concussion and impact, and [other foamy stuff] on the bottom to cushion his soft tissue. Removed the offending FF panels and just used the Sensation pad with the new inserts (which, predictably, arrived the day before the ride, so no opportunity to try them out). They actually felt really good and I was very happy with them - we were, in fact, both so happy that we went much faster than we should have and he came up lame with sore feet. Ruh-Roh. But hey, at least the pad seemed to be working.

On to Tahoe Rim 50 - I was still happy with the pad, but now very unhappy with how much topline muscling he seems to have lost. He still has the difficult-to-fit ridge of muscle (now liberally covered in white hair) either side of the spine, but has lost muscle below it. He also developed a strange hunter's bump on his loin area. Something out of whack causing the hunter's bump and therefore causing loss of muscle? Or uncomfortable saddle fit causes loss of muscle, causing something to go out of whack and the hunter's bump to appear? Chicken and egg?

Tom Mayes is due to take a look at him on Friday, so hopefully he'll discover something obvious that I've overlooked and he'll be miraculously cured.

If that doesn't happen, the more likely scenarios is that I'm going to need to get really creative with shimming this coming weekend and come up with some way to protect his remaining back muscle for VC100.

How his saddle has been fitting most of this year. 

I tried a quick, five-mile experiment at the weekend. I'd concluded that the top edge of the insert was causing the most grief, so broke out the FreeForm Panels again - now also stuffed with revolutionary Jen-X inserts (instead of the felt + carpet underlay that was in there to begin with when I last tried them), took a felt-shim out of the saddle itself (hoping to remove that unyielding pressure point) and took all the shims out of the Sensation pad - so I was effectively just using the FF Panels as my insert and saddle support. In doing so, I was hoping that I could move the top edge of the insert further up, so the flat side of it was laying against the bulgy area. Like this:

 All that actually happened was the hair closer to his spine, higher up than the white hairs ended up getting really mussed and swirled. It didn't look promising. At  least not promising enough that I'm willing to risk it untried at a 100 miler.

What I think I need to do, is something closer to this:

which will entail finding some sort of shimming-insert material that I can stack, shape, and layer, while tapering the edges to fit in his hollows.

Horse Weight

Fergus isn't thin. But he's not exactly fat either. I was looking at photos of him tied to the trailer at VC100 in 2012 and he was positively round.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, he'd been living with Roo. About ten days ago Roo chomped him on the girth area and that was the final straw. Not only was Fergus not getting fat from this partnership, he also needed a dose of bubblewrap.

So Roo now has Small Thing as his new room-mate (ST has gained about 50 lbs in a week - this will need to be a temporary situation), and Fergus is living the life of free-feed hay - as much as he can eat. Get fat!

In addition, he's also getting a daily bucket of mush in the morning - three coffee can scoops of Elk Grove pellets, three scoops of LMF Gold, a Vit E/Selenium/Magnesium supplement, and, as of this morning, a loading dose of Cool Calories.  Any more than this and I start to feel like I'm completely overdoing it and will have an out of control monster come ride day. And on a horse as big as Fergus, that picture does not sit comfortably in my head.

(I considered getting a big bag of rice bran, but a) would then have to fret about calcium-phosphate ratios, and b) would stop feeding it after a while, keeping it for "special" - which actually means it goes rancid and is full of wugs and cobwebs... hey, I already have a bag of that!)

Horse Footwear

This is actually an area I feel like I might be winning at (famous last words). After his lameness pull at NASTR 75 in May, he got a couple of months off to heal up and since then has been wearing Renegades in front. I'm pretty happy with them - except for the amount of debris they seem to gather that regularly needs emptying. This weekend I'm scheduled to drill debris-holes in the front of the boots to let this stuff out - allegedly that will help.

I still wince when we trot on pavement (f'instance, on our way back from the powerlines on Andy Wolf, when he's super-motivated to get home) because he lands so hard, so that just reinforces the idea that I can't let him blast along at high speed on hard footing.

The boots worked very nicely for Tahoe Rim - but that is mostly very lovely, duffy footing, so not a huge hardship for him.

His spiffy front Renegade glue-ons with squishy gel soles have arrived and we'll glue them on the Friday before the ride. He'll be in Gloves in the back.

I'm a little anxious about the Ren glue-ons, mostly because I haven't glued them before and the protocol is slightly different than what I'm used to with Gloves. Also the glue surface area is slightly smaller, so I'm worried with my pathetic gluing skills he'll be more prone to losing them. But let's face it, he loses the Gloves just as easily when I mess up* gluing, so it's not like anything is actually that different. This is more pre-ride (and pre-gluing) jitters than based on any real problem.

(* At Tahoe Rim, I finally got back the Size 3 glue-on he lost and someone picked up on the trail at NASTR 75 back in May)

Horse Elytes

Yup, I'm completely out. Remedied this somewhat by purchasing a tub of Enduramax, but still need the ProCMC and some applesauce. Add to the shopping list.


Yes, I did get that Coggins last year specifically for VC100... and yes, that does mean that it has now expired. Took Fergus in for a new Coggins on Tuesday - it should be back by early next week. Disappointingly the vet used the white marks on his back as "identifying features". I am mortified.

My Fitness

Because of needing to keep Fergus to "normal horse pace" at Tahoe Rim, I came home sorer than I've been in a very long time - my quads were shot, my calf muscles stiff and unyielding, even my neck-shoulder junction hurt. My friend Sally came to visit the week after the ride and kindly gave me three mornings of deep massage release on my legs (as well as my arm - I've currently got a lovely dose of tendinitis in my left elbow, which means I'm doing everything lopsided, which really isn't helping). She was concerned that this seemed to be more than just post-ride soreness. And to be honest, I've felt sore for months - figured it was just age creeping in.

So maybe not.

It could be that I need to a) visit a masseuse after the ride, or b) learn rolling techniques (perhaps during the ride? doubtful) to keep the muscles loose.

Either way, I need to remember to stretch as much as possible leading up to the ride - and the morning of the ride. Which, of course, isn't happening yet. Must. Try. Harder.

My Fuel Intake

Did spectacularly badly at this at NASTR (but it was hot <whine>), slightly better at High Desert with Roo, and moderately at Tahoe Rim - and that was due to Renee feeding me sandwiches. In the meantime, I've acquired some Tailwind Endurance Fuel:

It goes like this. You add the powder to your water bottles - in a concentration that mirrors your water intake. So if you want to consume 200 calories in the next section but will likely only drink one water bottle, then the whole packet goes in that one water bottle*. If, however, you will drink three water bottles, then you divide it among the three water bottles.

(* I'm a little worried that an entire packet in a single bottle of water will make my eyes water from the concentration of it...)

The idea is that you don't even have to eat real food (a definite plus for me when I get pathetic) - you ought to be able to subsist entirely on this stuff.

The downside of this is, of course, I haven't tried this product. I have no idea if I'll even like it. I don't usually love flavoured drinks - water is my favorite drink - so I'm unsure how it'll work out. I'm supposed to try these three packets before the ride, so I can pick which I like best. The bottom, white packet is unflavoured... but surely I'll notice a funny taste? surely? The Raspberry Blitz flavour has the added bonus of caffeine, so wondering if that's something I ought to try at night? The lemony one seems like it'll be the least offensive...?

But you need to try them, Lucy!

And you need to formulate a dumbed-down plan as to how you're going to get this in your water bottle when you get stupid.


I broke down and rinsed my half-chaps that were totally caked in dried sweat and grunge:

Now they are clean. And now they are just as stiff and unyielding - only without the grunge caked on. I think I need to find some suede suppler... Or whatever it's called.

Occasionally, when Fergus trots big (as he is prone to do at rides where he can move out), my riding tights not only rotate around my legs, they also begin to creep up my legs until my ankles are exposed at the front - and then the half-chaps rub against the bare skin. Squeak. I need to remember to wear longer socks. Hasn't happened yet, however. Remembering to even bring long socks, that is.

A new helmet is needed. I read somewhere you're supposed to replace them every 3-5 years (assuming, of course, you don't fall off and whack your head). Since I know exactly when I last purchased my helmet (shortly after I fell off and whacked my head hard enough to give myself concussion, despite wearing a brand new helmet, and thus needed to replace said brand-new helmet), I was able to look back at when that Washoe Valley ride was... uh... that would be 2007... about 8 years ago. So yes, a new helmet is needed.

In the meantime, Tipperary opted to very-slightly-redesign their helmets so the "medium" is now just narrow enough for me to wonder if it'll give me a headache, while the "large" is just a bit too big. <sigh>.

My Ariats were coming apart during our trip to UT in July - to the point where I was having to hope that they'd still be together at the end of each hike. So ShoeFix (shoe menders in Auburn) to the rescue and $15 later they are good as new. Ish. Good enough. No longer falling apart. Footwear - check.

So in summation, the ducks are not in a row at all and I've got ten days to make it so:


  1. For half chaps, Leather Therapy makes a "laundry solution" that you use in place of laundry detergent, and you can throw your chaps into the washer (I've done this for years with mine and they're not dead yet):

    D'you have a local place that carries the Tipperary helmets (Chistensen's?) that you could go and spend some time playing around with the inserts on the large to see if you can get it to fit?

  2. Lucy, if you want to feed some rice bran, just feed a name brand versus generic. Not he name brands have all balanced the calcium and phosphorus, so it's no longer an issue. It didn't used to be that way, thus my foaming at the mouth rants of yore. All the name brands are also stabilized, a good thing. Unstabilized rice bran is cheaper, but not good for ponies, it goes rancid practically in the time it takes to carry it from the car to the feed room. Good luck with your ducks. If you see unidentified ones marching across your lawn, they're probably mine, also probably the one assigned to saddle and padding details. Every time I think I have them rounded up, one of the little bastards breaks formation. Thinking a shotgun might be in order.

  3. This is good to know, although it still doesn't change the fact that I've still got about 40 lbs of AlpenGlo, or whatever that stuff is - I think I bought it for Uno (since he would then eat anything at rides, provided it was top-dressed with yummy rice brain)... and that would have been in ~2010. Needless to say, the only reason it hasn't been tossed out is because – well – it weighs 40 lbs.

    If they sold it in 20 lbs bags, I'd be there.

    The Cool Calories, although expensive, are better for my short attention span. Plus they smell really good.

  4. Ash - I stood in front of the washing machine with the half-chaps in my hands and chickened out - ended up leaving them to soak in the sink, and then rinsing.

    D'you think that stuff is sold in "normal" grocery stores?

  5. I think you gave me a mile panic attack thinking how out of practice I am at getting ready for rides after reading this post!!!