Leverett will probably always be my favorite competitive trail ride. In 2010, this was the first ride I ever competed in. Not only did John win rookie horse, I won rookie rider. It was a great day, fabulous trails and got me completely hooked on 25-mile competitive trail rides.
I mailed my entry for the 2012 ride back in February, to make sure I didn't end up on the waiting list. I was really looking forward to it. On Friday, May 4th, a lot of us trekked to Bert's farm at the base of Mount Toby in Leverett, Massachusetts for our favorite ride of the year.
We arrived and set up camp and headed off to vet in. All four horses (I traveled with Team Thompson) vetted in great and we went back to finish setting up camp. Meg and I were coming back from hauling water when Burnie came and told us there had been an incident between John and Dolly, and Dolly had kicked John's hock. Ever since Secret's hock injury a few years ago (a kick right on the bone on the inside of her hock), I am very careful about hocks. I called the vet as soon as I saw that one, and she was still on stall rest for days.
I took John back over to the vets and had them check him. He seemed fine, but since Leverett is a challenging ride, they said to come back in the morning and check again.
In the morning, he got cleared to go (trying to run me over in the trot-out). They said they would keep an eye on him during the ride, especially at the hold, since we would be riding Mount Toby on the second half of the ride.
His behavior as we waited to ride out of camp was a huge improvement over last year. I was really pleased with how our off-season training had helped. When it was our start time, we set off at a nice walk. When we got to the dirt roads, I picked up the trot.
About three minutes into the ride, I felt my left stirrup slipping down every time I posted. My first thought was that the leather had come off of the bar. I assumed that I had not snapped the bar locked. I halted John and looked down and was horrified to find that my stirrup leather had broken.
I tried holding the stirrup leather as I rode along. That seriously didn't work! I tried riding with one stirrup, this was another bad idea. John's behavior has gotten better, but he is still a really fit horse at the beginning of a 25-mile ride. I was seriously considering calling it quits, and I probably would have, except I know that as difficult as John can be to ride, it would have been much harder to hand walk him past all of the horses trotting the other way.
Finally I got off. There is a rule in ECTRA - our trail ride organization - that no forward progress can be made unless you are mounted on the horse. So I couldn't go forward, I had to try and fix the stirrup, mount and continue.
As I was trying to rig my rope from my sponge bag, my friend Esther rode along and gave me baling twine. Her husband's stirrup broke at a ride last year, and now she always carries baling twine.
I took the twine and rigged the stirrup up. I mounted and continued. I didn't have it right, the stirrup was way too long. But I kept riding anyway. I figured that if I could get to the first manned water stop, someone would probably have duct tape. I got to the water stop and they had duct tape. I taped the stirrup up, and cut the baling twine off. I was trying to cut my sponge bag rope off but wasn't having any success. I finally gave up, having lost quite a bit of time already, and mounted back up. By this time, we had been passed by a lot of horses and John was raring to go.
About five strides later, I felt my left stirrup getting longer with every stride. Duct tape is not invincible. And it does not work as a leather repair tool. Now I was really frustrated. My last ditch effort - the rope from my sponge bag was still attached to the stirrup. I bought the sponge bag from another competitive trail rider, Jenny Kimberly from Vermont. But I really wasn't sure it could hold my weight. It was the only choice I had left. I wasn't wearing a belt, and had to ride uphill for a few miles before the next manned water stop.
I wrapped the rope around my stirrup several times and clipped it to the d-ring on the front of the opposite side of my saddle, trying to get it the right length. I mounted back up and tried again. Besides being a little uneven, the rope held my weight. I got the the water stop, the vets gave John the go ahead, and we headed into the three miles of woods trail before coming back to the water stop.
When I got back out of the woods, Linda was waiting for me with a stirrup leather. I gratefully accepted it. One constant thought I had, riding along on my sponge bag rope, was that both stirrup leathers were the same age. How long is the right one going to hold up?
Sum total, I lost fifteen minutes on the trail, playing with my stirrup, and rode about 8 miles with the rope from my sponge bag as my stirrup leather. But I am very grateful to everyone that helped me, especially Jenny Kimberly, for making such a strong rope for her sponge bags! From now on I will be wearing a belt and carrying a sponge bag when I compete.
I should mention, that during all of this, I was riding up and down hill on some beautiful dirt roads, along a stream/small river with waterfalls, picturesque New England houses and barns and all sorts of great scenery. Don't feel too badly for me!
After the hold, we rode Mount Toby. This is jeep trails and woods trail, but I think it gets tougher every year. Usually I ride the first loop fast so that I can take my time on the mountain. That didn't happen this year because of the stirrup. Add on that I was worrying more than I needed to about John's hock, and the second loop wasn't quite as much fun for me as the first loop. But we did it and finished on time. At the end of the day, John completed with a score of 97 (out of 100), so I was very pleased with him.
And once again, Leverett has me hooked. I can't wait to go to our next competitive trail ride! In the meantime, I have ordered new stirrup leathers...