Wednesday April 25 2007
I was awakened early by a kookaburra! If I must wake up early, that’s a good alarm clock.
I was happy just to hang around the barn and take pictures, maybe get in a ride tomorrow or next day, but the riding started today! I was suddenly one of the farm crew busy getting horses for clients to look at.
Five of us saddled up, and rode horses down to the Fairgrounds about 2 miles away, for the clients to look over and try out on the bullring track. I got a young gray gelding Olymbus; we rode down the hill, past some dry paddocks of horses and cattle and onto the Fairgrounds. There I handed my horse off to Peter and Sharon, got in the car with the other 4 riders and rode back to the barn, dropped off the 4 riders so they could ride another set of horses down, and I drove the car back down. Not only was I reminding myself GAUCHE!! I was saying Oh S***, it was a stick shift, shifting with the left hand. Yikes! I managed not to grind gears or hit anything on the way back, and I was glad when Peter then handed me a big white mare to get on and ride back to the farm with Brooke. This mare had just arrived from New Zealand; she was a big (must have been) Anglo-Arab, with a HUGE walk, which left me wondering how huge her trot and canter were. I talked with Brooke while we rode back. She rode in the Junior Championships in Bahrain in 2004 when Australia got team Gold; she’s done the Quilty (the US equivalent of Tevis) twice, and she also did Tevis in 2004 at the age of 14 with Penny and Peter, and she loved it. She’d like to go back and do it again. On the way back, we met 3 more horses being ridden down, including Electra BP Murdoch, Peter Toft’s appaloosa endurance wonder horse. Murdoch wasn’t for sale; I think he was out to show his big spots off, because one of the buyers was a fan of his, and because it sounds like Murdoch likes showing off and being the center of (well-deserved) attention.
When Brooke and I got back to the farm, Sharon drove us back down to the Fairgrounds. Peter handed me my gray horse to get back on and take back. “Before you go,” he said, “take him around the track with these two guys.” Eek! As I was going onto the track, Peter said “Merri you keep your horse in front and don’t let these guys win.” EEK! My eyes got even bigger than they already were. I said “OK,” but then I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. I finally had to ask, “You serious or joking?” He said “Joking” even as he was talking to one of the Arabs.
Now, riding on a racetrack always brings to mind my first ride on a little bullring in Washington state, where a fit Thoroughbred racehorse named Fred ran off with me and completely scared the desire to be an exercise rider out of me. And here I was, 19 years later in Australia, vividly remembering Fred and the feelings he left me with (terror, desperately weak knees and arms, the distraught desire to fall off a horse galloping at 40 mph), moving from a trot to a canter with 2 guys used to running flat out in the deserts of the UAE… And did I mention I wasn’t completely comfortable in the saddle I was using, a dressage saddle that made me feel like I was perched up on a stool way above the horse, and I just couldn‘t quite get my stirrups the right length - they‘d been a wee bit short, so I let them out one, and now they were a wee bit long…
Well, none of the Arabian endurance horses I have been on have ever fun flat out on training rides except when I’ve asked them to (in the desert in Egypt, where I felt safe), and these guys had already cantered their mounts several times around, so those horses were in no mood to run off and take Olymbus with them and scare Merri. So Olymbus fell into a canter with them, staying with them, thankfully not feeling the need to get in front and race them. Once or twice he did put his head down as if he were going to buck - and with me perched high on this saddle with my stirrups not right I really didn’t want that to happen - but I snatched it back up. On the second lap, Brooke joined us on her horse, and as we went around again, and entered the homestretch, we picked up speed into a gallop. Whee! I was just at the point where my horse could have started running off, and that little prickly feeling of fear was beginning to tingle slightly through the center of my arms and legs (Brooke said on the way home, “Man, I thought we were going so fast!”), when the guys pulled up at the gap past the finish line. Olymbus’ brakes were slow to apply, I pulled and pulled. We came to a stop past the two guys, and Sharon said, “Yay! You won!” Well sure, Peter told me to! (It’s just a matter of not being able to stop your horse till after the others stop.)
Peter than sent me and Olymbus back with Brooke and her horse, and Jaimee on Murdoch. The appaloosa indeed thinks he’s special. He kept swinging his butt over in front of Brooke and I if our horses got too close and invaded his space.
He’s an amazing horse. Easily recognizable for being one of the few appaloosas in endurance, and certainly the only one competing at the World Championship levels consistently, he‘s got a saucy attitude to match his accomplishments. Peter had gone to Tasmania to look at another horse, saw Murdoch, and bought him. His sire is Arabian, his dam appaloosa. He turned out to be a phenomenal endurance horse - he has had only one vet out (pull) early in his career, and it was actually a vet secretary slip up. He’s had no vet outs since then; by 2005 he’d done over 3000 km in the middleweight/heavyweight division; he’s won top heavyweight and Best Conditioned many times; he’s done 16 straight 160 km rides, missing the top ten in only 2 of them. He travels very well - Murdoch has been to the US twice (finishing 4th and 6th in the Tevis; Peter would like to go back and do the whole trail on foot, studying it, because he’d like to win it with Murdoch), the UAE, Europe a few times, New Zealand, and Wales. And he’s only coming 11 years old. Needless to say, Peter adores this horse.