Tuesday September 25 2007
It was a day of firsts - namely, Connie's first 50 mile ride. We had the Very Important Job of being drag riders - gate-closers. Here in the West, the general rule of thumb is, leave the gates how you found them. Some of the gates were left open for a few hours today for the convenience of the riders, but we had to follow and close some of them to keep cows in or out.
It was a chilly morning - a little bit of ice down on Pickett Creek - and 41 horses were puffing steam for the 7:30 AM start. I hiked up the steep badlands hill just before the start to catch the horses scrambling up to the ridge. Then I hiked back down to the yard, where Connie and I saddled our horses, Jose and Rhett, and we headed off onto the trail at 8:30. We wanted to give the last riders plenty of time to get ahead of us and through the gates, so we could cruise right along, and I really didn't want Rhett to get a glimpse of the horses ahead of us, because he's one horse that knows how to pull.
We didn't have to worry about catching anybody, because Jose (aka Chunky Monkey), was a little out of shape. And it was only his second 50, so we used this ride as a training ride - for Rhett, (learning to relax and go at a slower pace, be patient for closing gates, and be patient for Kodak moments), for me (learning how to ride better from Connie's instructions), and for Jose (learning to be patient for Kodak moments and closing gates , and a variety of other things that you'll see).
After 2 hours we'd only gone 12 miles, and Connie was getting a little concerned about making it another 16 miles to the lunch vet check, where her bag of goodies was waiting. But the breathtaking high desert scenery, the wide open spaces, the canyons and plateaus, and the amazing quality of the Arabians that so easily (even if they are out of shape) carry us to remote places on the planet, took her mind off her lunch (as did the chocolate expresso beans in my butt pack). By the time we poked into the vet check, there were a few workers left - Regina the timer, Bruce the shoer, Paul the pulse-taker and portapotty driver (who threatened to drive off with me in the facilities), and Owen Balch the vet, waiting patiently on us and the 4 horses still there finishing up their hour hold time. Jose and Rhett dove into their oat soup, Connie got her treaties, and I was very happy to open up the Starbucks coffee drink I'd stashed for us.
Our horses took it easy on the 22-mile loop back, trotting when it was easy, walking when they needed to (Rhett being the judge). We 2 girls worked hard, closing many gates, many of which took the two of us and a bit of good old fashioned cowboy cussing to close without ripping skin on tightly strung barbed wire. On this day of firsts, Connie also broke Jose to pulling a wagon , chased a rattlesnake (we cantered past a rattling one, and we stopped, and I held the horses while Connie ran back with the camera to try to find it and take a picture), and broke Jose to handstands by his rider (on the ground in front of him, holding his reins).
It was near 5 PM when we made the last dogleg into camp. The last 1/8 of a mile was one mighty Horse Race. The night before at the ride meeting, John had said to work it out if you're going to race in, for the safety of the horses. Well, Connie and I worked it out right then and there who was going to be the slowest to poke in. I enticed Connie to be last by bribing her with the coveted Turtle Award that I knew Steph gave out to the last finisher of the day. She fell for it, and a few people cheered for us as we galloped (rather, trotted) for the finish line, and I kicked Rhett in front of her right at the last corner. I don't think anybody noticed us crossing the finish line, since we were a good hour and ten minutes behind the last finishers, and the vets had all but gone to the Blue Moon Cafe for dinner.
Dinner and the Awards Ceremony, always a big deal at the Owyhee rides with great food and lively prize-giving, ranked up there with the best of them. I'd heard of the partying South Africans at last month's Championship Ride, but they couldn't have outdone the Canadians and Pacific Northwesterners (and a few Californians) at the Owyhee Canyonlands Multiday Day One. All 41 riders and horses finished, setting off a great cheer from all in attendance. Everything set us off laughing, from someone filming someone's rear end (she meant his horse!), and how many Canadians were here (Victoria said, "We can spray for them!"), the Turtle Award and special cheer for Connie and her first 50-mile endurance ride, and special hugs for special riders... and then there was Michael Peterson the head veterinarian.
A quiet man of few unnecessary words, he spoke passionately about the horses' welfare. This evening he explained why hay in the water troughs was not a good thing (dry hay stimulates a horse's salivary glands, which is necessary for the balance of acidity and alkalinity in different parts of the horse's stomach, especially for stressful long distance horse activities). He held everybody spellbound, and then launched smoothly into an extraordinary Moonshine Cowboy Poem. People were in stitches, hooting and hollering, howling at the full moon that had just risen over the ridge to the east, and cheering the artiste hidden in the quiet veterinarian from British Columbia.