Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009 Owyhee Tough Sucker

Saturday April 18 2009

Owyhee Tough Sucker

They don't come to this spring ride for the frills: the showers aren't working, there are no catered meals; ride awards are not donated by sponsors and are somewhat improvised. You might find that trail pie plates with arrows on them pinned to sagebrush have blown away, or half blown away so that the arrows are pointing the wrong way (so watch for the ribbons, and bring your map), and you might find ribbons pinned to cow pies instead of stakes in the ground. And if you show up a day or two early, expect to be recruited for chores: marking trails (use the rides to condition your horse! Or bring your dirt bike!), getting the lawn mower started (sometimes you get to mow the lawn too!), fixing an outhouse, putting out water troughs or setting up pens - just depends on timing and how lucky you are.

They do come here for the thrills: perfect weather (this year!); excellent trails; easy first ride at the start of the season (for most horses); a choice of 3 distances: 25 miles, 50 miles, 75 miles; and just the great company here in this part of the Pacific Northwest.

I was going to get to ride John T's horse Rushcreek Mac in the 50, with Steph on Rhett, meaning we were going to go FAST! But Mac colicked on Thursday night (!). Mac was fine on Friday, but riding him was out of the question. So, I pulled Jose Viola off the bench and took him on the 25 mile ride. Jose hasn't been ridden much since September, and by December he was already out of riding shape (like me). I knew he could handle the 25, but I didn't want to push him, or let him go too fast like he'd want to on a 50... there's always more endurance rides down the road.

When you do an endurance ride, do you choose to ride with somebody, or by yourself? There's good and fun reasons for both. And I did both today. Jose and I (and the Raven) started off near the back of the pack with a group of 4 horses - I knew Jose would want to go faster than was good for him, and he's better about rating with a group. I sure didn't want him to get in any hot-shoe race with any fast horses up front. He's such a good horse; he always listens, and even when he does get excited (which is not too often), he doesn't pull.

The first 15-mile loop for all distances led onto the northeast flats, following the rim above Bates Creek canyon. What a perfect morning: 55* and a slight breeze, not a cloud in the sky, snow on the Owyhees to the southwest, an enchanting layer of green all over this desert, the occasional deep pink Indian paintbrush and the yellow arrow-leaf balsam root, and a couple of purple flower carpets along the way.

Jose and I hung with this group for a while, then moved on ahead with Tammy and Ali for a while, crossing Bates Creek road and trotting our way back up onto, and along, the southwest flats. Then we went on ahead by ourselves, me and Jose, moving along at his choice of pace and gait, until we got to the top of Pickett Creek Canyon. I got off and walked him down into the Canyon, and then I got back on and let him go the last 1 1/2 miles back to camp. He trotted big, he cantered, and I only slowed him down right before we came in to the vet check. I figured it would take him a while to pulse down, but as soon as Regina checked him, she said "Oh, he's down!" Well - good for Jose! Maybe he wasn't that out of shape after all.

We had a 30 minute hold, and just as we were going back out on our second loop of 10 miles, Rhett and Steph were coming in off their 3rd loop. Oh darn! Jose whinnied after his buddy for several miles as we went along the trail away from base camp. But nevertheless, Jose is always quite willing to do what you ask, so we kept moving along by ourselves, seemingly the only people out here in the desert, trotting slowly but steadily until we got to the little climb heading up onto the scenic Hart Creek Rim Trail. Jose had a bit of sweat going on under the breast collar, and though I knew we weren't moving too fast for him at all, we slowed to a walk all the way up the hill.

Once up top, we saw a couple of horses ahead of us, and Jose decided they needed passing. We steadily caught up to and passed the first pair, and while we set aim on the next single horse, I swear Jose was enjoying the view off to our left of Hart Creek Canyon. He's a looker and he likes to take in everything around him. He especially likes to stop on the tops of hills and gaze around. He's a feeling soul, that horse, and I know he appreciates the scenery.

The trail took us back onto Spring Ranch road and Jose caught up with Carrie and A Little Jazzy, on their first endurance ride. After staying with them a while, Jose chose to move onward as we turned for home the last time, along the ridge above Pickett Creek. The cool wind blew my hair in the Owyhee sunshine, and Jose's hooves clipped rhythmically and confidently along the dirt road. I thought of how lucky I was to be here today, with my buddy Jose, a strong and willing and sure-footed partner carrying me along the trail on a day like this.

I got off for the walk down into Pickett Creek Canyon again, and when I got back on Jose, I let him cruise home again. Jose is just the coolest horse! We cantered much of the mile-and-a-half back, never breaking a sweat, and his pulse was down as soon as Regina checked him at the finish. AND we'd come in 5th place, only 11 minutes behind the winner!

"Geez Jose, we coulda done the 50 today after all!" But there's always more endurance rides.

You just didn't hear too many complaints from people today - even from the 2 riders who got lost (Steph went out on the ATV to search for one) and were overtime. "I always count it a good ride if I came away with no bruises!" "It was a good ride because I didn't fall off!" Those were words of wisdom from some experienced riders. Then there was an overdose of "It's a beautiful day!" and "The people here are just great."

It was a pretty easy ride for 58 Owyhee Tough Suckers - it really couldn't have been any better.

The only thing I have to add is: the Raven and I love Jose. Thanks for the great ride (again).

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