Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Old Selam - Day 1

Saturday August 30 2008

Remembering Mac's great anxiety at the Pink Flamingo ride when he started by himself, this morning I parked him right behind August's black and white butt, ridden by Carol Brand, and a cute gray mare ridden by Chris Sampson, and we intended to stay there for 50 miles. We started out in a small group which included Steph and Rhett, Nance Worman on a rascally Jazzbo, and Tom Noll on the forever going-too-slow Frank (this is Frank's opinion).

You know how, at the start of a ride, all the things your horse SHOULD know go out the window for the first few miles (or, in some cases, the first 50 miles)? A lot of our horses were doing this - Mac forgot legs and reins, although he wasn't bad at all, just pulling and tossing his head in the excitement of the start. Jazzbo tried unsuccessfully to buck Nance off twice, one of them a very sneaky move when he came to a dead stop in the bottom of a gulley that the trail crossed. Naughty horse! Frank naturally thought Tom's idea of pacing at the start was RIDICULOUSLY too slow, ("Come on Tom, this is a 2-day ride, not a 5-day ride, I can go much faster!") and for the first oh, 7 miles at least that I saw, Tom was double wrapping the reins around his hands while Frank motored along with his head up in the air and cocked sideways. But I expect that continued much of the two days, as Frank knows much better than Tom the faster pace he should be going at!

Mac settled down nicely after a few miles, and remembered how to slow down when asked. He has a big, high action trot, but it's pretty smooth, ground covering, and very efficient. One really nice thing is he never stumbles over rocks, always places his feet just right, so you don't have to pay as much close attention to the trail as you do with horses that trip over rocks or ruts.

We overlapped several people on this first 15-mile loop, including Tammy from Hood River riding a gorgeous gray Tennessee Walking Horse stallion, and Diane and Tony Dann who were mostly behind me. They had the big responsibility for a while of riding Raven Drag - keep an eye on my Raven in my saddle bag. "Your Raven fell out! Just kidding!" When they were no longer behind me, I had to keep reaching back to make sure my Raven was still there!

We rode with Tom and Nance enough to get into one of those odd, entertaining conversations that often pop up during endurance rides - this time the subject was underwear. "I wear biking shorts." "I'm not wearing any!" "I forgot to pack extras!" "I have some extras you can borrow!" "The second time I met X, I was coming around a corner on my horse, and there he was in the middle of the trail, cutting off his underwear with a pocket knife." And so the stories go.

We were on great trails - mostly old soft logging roads winding along the contours of the hills through ponderosa pine forests on private, federal, and state forest lands. You could imagine how, a hundred and fifty years ago, there were some huge trees here - until all the mining activities started wiping them out. Now they're all second-third-fourth growth modest trees. The morning sunlight slanted through the trees, golden shafts of light defined by the dust kicked up by the horses' hooves.

Ride camp - on the private property of Oscar, who kindly let us use it - was at 4150'. We climbed to 5000' at some parts of the ride, and there were a lot of ups and downs all day - strenuous for horses not used to hills, and as riders our muscles felt it too. Loop 3 was the hardest - lots of whoop-de-doos (that the motorcycles make : ( ) so we did a lot of walking, which made for a long loop, and it sure seemed like a looooooooong 10 miles anyway. And then we had an hour vet check.

After the hungry horses ate and ate and ate, then they dozed, and then we had to wake them up to do another 10 miles - and already it was near 4 PM! (Now is when that 7:30 cushy starting time didn't sound like such a great idea). Mac felt a bit tired on the last loop - but once he got going, he got right back into that efficient rhythmical trot and cruised right along. He showed how smart he was by cutting the corners all day - taking the shorter route - of every logging road turn with no prompting from me.

Now, I have to emphasize again that Mac is from Nebraska, flat, grassland Nebraska, and he's become a bit spooky here in the Owyhee desert, especially when he's in washes among tall sagebrush. I mean, Horse Gods only know what kind of Boogie Horses could be hiding behind or under the big sagebrush that could EAT HIM! And here - we were in a FOREST for Horse Gods Sake, so just imagine HOW MANY Boogie Horses that could be hiding behind and up in those big tall standing up things, and especially those laying down dead things and body stumps of dead things (I mean - what killed them??) that could also EAT MAC!? But Mac of course had no problem cruising along behind two horses, since August is a friend of his, and the other was one cute mare, and especially since those two would have gotten eaten first, being out front.

Now despite all the monsters out there, Mac showed tremendous bravery by taking the lead, on his own, on the second loop, without spooking, for, oh, about 30 yards! He then dropped back, and I praised him for his initiative and daring. Then, on the 3rd loop, about a mile out from camp, he cruised to the lead, on his own again, for about 1/2 mile! Well, okay, maybe it was 1/3 of a mile, but he did it without spooking! Then he let himself be overtaken again. That was great progress - leading, in a spooky forest, by his choice! Next time, maybe we can double our progress, with Mac leading 60 yards, and then a mile!

The scary parts of the trail turned out to be behind us before I realized they were scary - the cross-country was no problem at all, and we timed the roads right. Well, except for the last few yards of one...

A truck was coming towards us pulling a very noisy flatbed trailer. We had a steep drop-off on our side, and just before Mac and I got to our turn off the road, the idiot driver sped up (some drivers think scaring horses and riders is funny, haha), and Mac started dancing sideways and backwards - back end toward the drop off - as the loud scary monster suddenly got closer and louder. I talked him and petted him through it, even as I pretended there was no way Mac could back up over the edge and flip us over backwards. It was really a close one, but Mac made it safely to the turn off without any disaster - so next time some idiot driver tries to haha, make the horsie flip over the cliff, maybe Mac won't be as scared of it. (Ride manager Cini Baumhof was right about the danger of some of the peabrain drivers!) But that was it - we timed the other road crossings right (it seemed that on this dirt road, every driver is required to pull a very noisy trailer of some sort), no dangers lurking under logged areas we had to cross, no stormy weather (in fact, it was quite warm in the afternoon).

Now, on the fourth and final loop, we were all getting a bit tired as it was getting close to 6 PM - long hot day, hard ride. I was fondly reminiscing about the last ride, where, at the perfect spot on the trail, some fine young man was standing on the side of the trail with an ice chest full of frozen Otter Pops, which went down mighty smoothly on a very hot day. "Oh, remember how," I said, "at Pink Flamingo in the middle of that one loop, someone was out there with an ice chest of Otter Pops? Oh, I wish..." and we came around a corner, and there, on the side of the trail was an ICE CHEST (sans the nice young man) - "Oh my god!" - I slid Mac to a reiner stop and jumped off and opened the ice chest - full of "OTTER POPS!!!"

I grabbed and ripped open an orange one and almost collapsed from the first bite. Mac thought it was a carrot, but, sadly, I was so greedy, I did not share. (I did at least give him and August carrots throughout the day). I confess I had another Otter Pop as we rode off, getting juice all over my hands and reins and saddle packs, oh my, they were so good. I'm going to be spoiled at all the Northwest rides from now on...

We got into camp just before 6 PM, and Mac passed his final vet check - he'd completed his first 50, on a tough hilly ride. Yeahoo!

A potluck meal with some great food accompanied the lively ride meeting conducted by Liz Smallwood. 21 of 24 riders finished the 30, and 52 of 56 finished the 50, and several trail riders participated today on a 15 mile loop. A big milestone was reached by Canadian rider Brian Malkoske - he got his 5000 miles today, although at one point he almost came off his horse... A coyote shot out of the brush and right under his horse's legs as they were trotting along. Brian landed up on his horse's neck, but managed to stay on. Maybe it was one of the coyotes I heard last night!

It was quite a lovely trail today, marked very well, with good company - a fun day on my first Old Selam endurance ride.

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