Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Rainbow Bridge: ZAYANTE, ? - 2013

Originally published in Equus Magazine, 2004

And Miles To Go...

Glancing at his papers (he has none), he’s just another gray Grade gelding, who used to first have no name, which became Paco, which morphed into Taco.

In the horseflesh, he’s a brilliant white, utterly obvious Arabian piece of class, one who has left many broken hearts along his way. With big knowing eyes, one competitive attitude, and a legion of fans rooting him on, he is about to leap into the pages of Endurance history books as one of only eight horses who have ever reached 10,000 endurance miles in their career.

His complete origins remain a mystery, but the story of the horse with no name begins somewhere around 1983 – or 1989, depending on whose story you choose to go with. Back then a horsewoman/trainer/trader named Laddie with a keen eye for horses spotted a young gray stallion in a field across from a fancy Arab show barn near San Luis Obispo, California, the now non-existent Baywood Arabians. The gray’s owner hadn’t paid his board bill for 2 years, and so the gray was left alone to rule his pasture kingdom with an iron fist. The 4-year-old (so she was told) hadn’t been handled at all, no shanks, shots or shoes; in fact he was barely halter broke and he did quite well at intimidating the girls who had the chores of just feeding and watering the almighty horse daily.

Laddie took him off their hands for $100. She immediately had him gelded, and in a couple of weeks was headed to Bishop, California with a few other colts where she was going to start his training. On the way down Highway 395 she had the misfortune to break down. 

Fortunately a northbound trailer turned around to help, and it happened to be Laddie’s friend Billy Martin. Billy took one look at the gray on the trailer, and said, I want that horse. They made a deal, and the no-name gray became Paco and landed at Red Meadows Pack Station near Mammoth, California, a far cry from the show ring for which he’d been supposedly well-bred.

There Billy worked with Paco on occasional summer evenings after work, breaking him to saddle and bridle. 

In the fall the pack station horses had to be rounded up from the mountains they had been turned out to graze upon, and the job fell to Billy, who was by some mix-up left no horse upon which to do it… except a recently broke gray gelding, completely out of shape, with no more than sixty hours of training in him, who’d never been up and down hills, never been over rocks, never done much of anything but trotted around the flat meadows a few times when Billy wasn’t too tired after a long day of work.

Billy saddled up in the early morning and headed out on Paco, up and down mountains, over rocks, through streams and bogs, cross-country following horse and mule tracks through forests that might have scared an ordinary inexperienced horse. At one point Paco had to leap four feet straight up onto a rock shelf to get them out of a tight spot. 

When Billy and Paco did finally find the herd, they all headed back up and down and through those same mountains and rocks and streams. A few miles from the pack station, near dark, the herd took off toward home at a dead run. Paco kept up with them, but by the time they stopped in camp, Billy was afraid he’d overdone it on his little horse. But all Paco did, says Billy, was huff and puff a few times, then take a deep breath, and his eyes lit up and that son-of-a-gun was ready to go on again. It scared me, he said, I’d never seen that Look of Eagles before. 

That was when Billy knew he loved this horse, a feeling he’d never developed before for a horse or mule. 

After that, Billy packed him down the Pacific Crest Trail from Bishop to Inyokern, a week-long trip leading 2 loaded-down mules. Billy just rode Paco in a bosel, never having to ask him anything but to slow down a bit for the mules to keep up. At night Billy hobbled the mules but let Paco loose; while the mules went off to graze, Paco was much more interested in hanging out in camp with his buddy Billy.

The next person to utter the words, I want that horse, was Jim Bumgardner, who with his wife Jackie, rode and sold endurance horses. Jim shod horses at the place Paco lived, and he eventually talked Billy into selling him the gray - a sale Billy regretted immediately, and still does. To this day he’s glad to hear the horse is doing well, but he won’t even look at a picture of his beloved Paco.

At the Bumgardners’, Paco became Taco; and after a few months of riding, Taco was on the move again. In 1991 Bob and Julie Suhr, an older couple of serious endurance endeavors, called Jackie looking for an endurance horse. After trying Taco in a ride, they bought him.

And so began the endurance career of Zayante, (no longer known as Taco!) Esteemed Endurance Horse. As there were no papers to prove his breeding, he was registered as a Grade, although you couldn’t find a horse anywhere with a more classic Arabian look and build. 

Bob and Julie owned and rode their superhorse for five seasons, going 5000 miles without a pull – that’s 89 straight rides, on distances of 50 to 100 miles, including 4 straight Tevis finishes, 42 Top Ten finishes, and 5 Best Condition awards.

In 1995 Bob and Julie decided to sell Zayante because at their age – a youngish 70’s – the ground was starting to feel a bit harder when Zayante spooked and Bob came off. They offered the champ back to Jackie Bumgardner, under the condition that she no longer call him Taco. She readily agreed – Zayante no longer resembled anything like a taco. He looked like and carried himself like royalty.

Jackie and Zayante continued on Julie’s original quest to reach 100 rides without a pull. Not only did they accomplish this; in Zayante’s 100th ride, the Gambler’s Special in April of 1996, Zay and Jackie finished in first place.

Since that special day, Jackie has racked up 3325 miles on her gelding. Nine others have been privileged to get on his back to continue piling on his miles. We all love him and fight over who gets him next.

Nick Warhol, self-described as “Zayante’s Biggest Fan,” has logged 1300 lucky miles on his back. 

I am Zayante’s Biggest Buddy. I’ve put only 100 miles on him, but they were the best rides of my life. I was lucky to still have my life after a serious horse accident, and Zayante was my first two rides back. I told him to take care of me out there, and he did so with aplomb and pride. 

Zay can have his bad days. Like when you ask him to pony a younger horse. Such a task is far beneath his dignity, and he proves your decision wrong every time by acting worse than the green horse you’re ponying.

He can throw in some annoying spooks, and can jig till the cows come home if you aren’t going the speed he prefers. He can make a terrific “Meany Face” meant to scare off lesser horses; it’s a sneer that many an endurance rider has come to know well. 

He can be a real bear when, for example, he wakes up the morning of an endurance ride thinking he’s going to Top Ten, but his job that day is to escort a less fit horse on a slower 50 miler. Take it from me, Zayante can stay extremely mad at you for 8 straight hours.

You forget those minor disturbances, however, when you ride him. He’s the Energizer Bunny: he keeps going, and going, and going. He thrives on multi-day rides, looking as good at the end of the last day as he did at the beginning of the first. He’s a champ at the vet checks, saving his energy, never excited, looking pleasant and interested and polite. He’s push button to ride – after all, at 21 or so years of age and nearly 10,000 miles, (and easily triple that in training miles) he’s pretty much seen and done it all. He knows which way to go, how fast to go, where he is in regards to the pack. He won’t let you take a wrong turn on a trail. If he’s tired (never) or a bit arthritic (a little more now in his twenties), he lets you know, although he’d just as soon keep on going down the trail regardless.

He loves endurance. You can see it in his eye, you can feel it when you’re on his back. I have never been on a better horse – he’s simply a joy to ride.

This spring, March 16th, in the Geo Bun Buster endurance ride in Coso Junction, California, Zayante should hit his 10,000th mile, with Jackie aboard. Those of us in the Zayante Fan Club hope to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of this amazing horse - although, we are sure, it won’t end at 10,000.

There’s a record of 19,000 miles to top, and Zayante won’t hear of retirement.

 - Merri Melde 

Farewell, Zayante

November 7, 2013

Destined for the Arabian show ring in the early 1980's, but instead picked up for $100 by a horse trader because of an unpaid board bill at the now-defunct Baywood Arabians, the paper-less gray gelding nicknamed "Paco" first started his working life as a pack horse in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

A lucky twist of fate landed the gelding - renamed Taco - on the Fire Mt Arabian ranch of Jim and Jackie Bumgardner, in Ridgecrest, California, in 1990. Lucky, because he ended up where he was meant to be: on the endurance trails.

He shortly found a home with Bob and Julie Suhr, in Scotts Valley, California. "We put him in a corral overlooking Zayante Canyon, named after an Indian tribe that once inhabited it," Julie said. "Taco let out this gigantic bugle call to tell everyone he was here and he had a new name as of that moment."

For five seasons, Bob and Julie owned and rode their Superhorse, who went 5000 miles without a pull – that’s 89 straight rides, on distances of 50 to 100 miles, including 4 straight Tevis finishes, 42 Top Ten finishes, and 5 Best Condition awards. He gave the Suhrs' daughter Barbara White - she's the leading finisher of the Tevis Cup, with 32 buckles - her 20th Tevis completion in 1994.

It was the 1992 Tevis ride on Zayante that was one of the fondest memories of Barbara's life. She recalls: "Except for passing two other riders, I rode those miles from Francisco's to the finish line alone.  It was so strange to be out there in the dark by myself, on a bright white horse who wanted to go with such eagerness.  I remember frequently slowing him down and turning a flashlight on my heart monitor to make sure his pulse was still recovering, then letting him go again. 

"It was a special night for me - warm, moonlit, and solitary, except for Zayante. And, except for the sound of the river and his footsteps, it was quiet and personal. It didn't seem that it could be the very same day that had started out in a mad rush of horses from the point of beginning, full of trail gridlock, jumpy animals, nervous people.  Instead it was a very special evening, not an organized event, just me and a very special equine partner racing through the darkness to a finish line in Auburn. 

"I get emotional simply reminiscing about that magical night." 

In 1995 Bob and Julie decided to sell Zayante because he was rather spooky. They offered him back to Jackie Bumgardner, under the condition that she no longer call him Taco.

Jackie and Zayante continued on Julie’s original quest to reach 100 rides without a pull. Not only did they accomplish this; in Zayante’s 100th ride, the Gambler’s Special in April of 1996, Zay and Jackie finished in first place.

Jackie and Zayante hitting 10,000 miles in the Geo Bun Buster on March 16, 2002

Zayante went on to reach 13,200* miles, 5th on the all-time mileage list, over his 15-year career. His record stands at 241 completions in 252 starts, with 20 of 25 100-mile rides completed, and 5 Best Condition awards.  He excelled in multi-day rides, and he gave 19 different lucky riders memorable rides over his career.

After he retired in 2005, he lived at Jackie Bumgardner's ranch until 2011, when his best buddy, Sierra Fadrazal +/ (8430 miles, Pardner's Award with Jackie in 1998) died. Then he went to live with Nick Warhol and Judy Long in the Bay Area of California, until November 5, 2013, when he passed on from a bout of colic.

He was probably born in 1979 or 1985, which would make him 34 or 28.

Zayante, you will be forever missed.

*Zayante's AERC records say 13,200; the list of high-mileage equines says 13,255.

No comments:

Post a Comment