Saturday, May 31, 2008

2008 Owyhee Fandango Day 2

Owyhee Fandango Day 2

Sunday May 25 2008

Putting on an FEI ride really is like a 3-ring circus that a ride manager has to perform in - jumping through hoops in all three rings at the same time. The hopping starts way before the ride, filling out forms and following myriad technical procedures for USEF. Putting an FEI ride on in the middle of a 3-day Pioneer ride might prompt some people to call the ride manager crazy.

But that's Steph Teeter, and this was the 2008 Owyhee Fandango. Today's ride included a 100-miler with 25 starters (16 FEI), a 75-miler with 4 starters (1 FEI), a 55-miler with 20 starters (no FEI), and a 25-mile ride with 16 starters.

The 100 and 75-mile rides started in the dawn at 6 AM with a first loop of 15.5 miles up on the flats on both sides of Bates Creek Canyon. Dennis and Sue Summers, Cheryl Dell, and Joyce Sousa on LV Integrity lit out at a strong pace, with the rest of the field at a steady trot for a smooth start, all but for Bev Gray. Her gelding Amazing Ku stepped in a hole going over the bridge over the dry creek; he took a tumble and Bev took a tumble, giving her tailbone a good crack. But Amazing Ku was fine, and Bev climbed back on and headed out on the trail.

Gretchen and I were riding her horses together again on the 50-miler, and Connie was riding neighbor Linda's gray gelding Just Fly. Joining us would be the Belgian Caroll Gatelier - many of you saw her on Day 1 and 3 roaming around with her brand new camera and big lens, getting great pictures - riding Steph's horse Jose Viola. She was a bit nervous about her US ride debut; she didn't know Jose, she didn't want to hurt Jose, he had seemed pretty eager when she rode him the previous two days... Then there was the fact that she hadn't ridden in a while, and she'd never ridden 55 miles before, and there were likely some very sore muscles in store for her at some point during the ride, probably beginning somewhere near the 20-mile marker!

Connie and I assured her she would love Jose, because everybody (and every horse) loves Jose, but I think there were still a few nerves fluttering when Caroll woke up early Sunday morning.

The 50's had 3 'loops,' or stages, but the entire 55-mile ride was one big loop out to the Snake River and back home. Our two vet checks would be at the Sierra del Rio Ranch, at 18.5 miles and 35 miles. The 100's and 75's would follow this same trail and use the same out vet checks. We sent out two crew bags full of gear for the horses, goodies for us, and Ibuprofen for Caroll.

Eleven of the hundred milers, and two 75's - including Belgian Leonard Liessens, were already in for their first vet check and 40 minute hold as we 55-mile riders started on our loop out toward the Ranch at 7:30 AM.

Gretchen and I were happy to be riding with two other horses, as Spice and Raffiq, who always ride together, tend to get bored with each other and drag butt when it's just them, especially after their first day of a multi-day. Needless to say, they were not excited today. This was good for Jose and Fly; Jose was unruffled which kept Caroll's nerves calm; and Fly, who is used to being excited at the start of rides and going rather faster than his rider prefers, fed off our calm horses.

It was yet another cool clear sunny morning on the Owyhee trails, perfect for the horses, with just a hint of clouds over the Owyhee mountains, which were again supposed to build into thundershowers by afternoon. Our two-track soft roads took us northeast across the plateau to highway 78, which we paralleled for several miles. Along this stretch, we pulled off the single-track trail 4 times to let the first hundreds pass us - Dennis and Sue Summers, Cheryl Dell, and Joyce Sousa. At 8 miles we crossed the highway; Shaikha Madiya was there to stop traffic for riders, and a pair of radio guys took our numbers. Our horses weren't interested in drinking yet, so we continued on.

We kept up a strong trot for a good half hour or more, those of us in back (Raffiq and Spice) eating a lot of fine dust. The nice rain that fell on us yesterday obviously didn't hit this side of the highway. By now Caroll was starting to feel the ill effects of no riding, and her feet were going numb in her stirrups. Though she didn't complain, she sure was happy to hop off Jose and walk with the rest of us down a small hill that dropped us off that plateau into a little valley. It felt good for all of us to walk, using some different muscles, and the horses grabbed grass on the way down.

A nice (though dusty) two track road took us alongside a butte for several miles - a great place to let the horses roll - before taking a turn and opening up into another canyon and the dirt road to Sierra Del Rio Ranch.

We stopped to tank up on water at a trough 2 miles from the ranch, and there 100-milers Christoph Schork and Dean Conti caught up with us to do the same. We waited for those two to drink, then we headed on toward the ranch, passing some fine-looking ranch Quarter Horse horses, who were watching the endurance proceedings with what I'd call bemusement.

As we waited on each other to vet through (we all passed), Leonard arrived on Bev Gray's gelding AA Montego. We watched him trot out - oh no, he looked off behind! He was asked for a second trot out, and the vets consulted: he was lame behind! Tough luck for Leo, so early in the ride.

Valerie Kanavy and Flash Flame had just arrived for her second hold; her grooms Laura and Luis took her through the vet check where she trotted out nicely.

We led our four horses to one of the rich pastures of grass that had been opened up for the riders and horses. Connie retired under the tree-shaded lane, while her crew (Linda and Mike) fussed over her and her horse (I was not jealous, no, I was not), while Gretchen and Caroll and I: shuffled around holding horses who were dragging us all over in 3 different directions to get THE BEST patches of grass and trying to get into other horses' grain buckets, fetching alfalfa for Jose because he wouldn't eat anything at first, searching through the spread-out crew bags for our 2 bags, mixing grain for our horses, running to the bathroom, digging through our bags to find our human food, ripping off layers of clothes because we were suddenly hot in the sun and out of the wind, searching for more Ibuprofen for Caroll, hunting down bandages for Caroll's legs which were rubbing raw at the knees from her tights and the different saddle, fetching water for the horses, mixing them more grain, fetching water bottles for our saddle bags, and whew our 40 minute hold was about over, time to find the bridle and sidepulls we threw down somewhere and tighten girths and head over to the out-timers, where Linda and Mike were already holding Fly for Connie.

Did I say I was not envious of Connie having her own personal crew?

A bit of excitement ensued at the out-gate. A whirlwind zipped through the ranch, whipping a tarp straight up into the air, just as Dean Conti was about to mount up to leave on his 3rd loop. His horse King Sam FA naturally bolted, seeing this big white monster coming at him. Dean was drug along the ground a ways hanging onto his horse, skinning and cutting his arm. But, his horse was fine, and Dean didn't want to wait around to get doctored up, so he headed on out. He get his arm stitched up when he got back for the next vet check.

Our horses must have known we'd have a very dusty 16.5 mile loop ahead of us, because they all took a deep drink at the familiar water trough at the boundary of the ranch. Here we met 100-miler Mercedes Tapia coming in for her second vet check on another of Christoph's horses, DWA Millennium. He'd completed all but 2 of his 30 previous rides, including 2 of 3 100 milers, and winning 14 rides and 6 BC's over 5 seasons. He was fit and ready for this ride with a 50-miler under his belt three weeks earlier, so it came as quite a surprise to hear later that they pulled at this vet check, the horse having cramped up - another big disappointment for an international rider who'd come from a long way to participate in the Owyhee ride. We also learned that Chris Yost (on the 100, one of the two riders attempting the 'Triple'), had pulled his horse after he passed his first vet check at basecamp, because he just didn't feel right.

As we left the ranch, Valerie Kanavy rode up beside us - we got to ride beside her for about 2 minutes! "Take some notes!" I told Raffiq, of Flash Flame. Valerie appeared quite relaxed, intent on her goal of getting her WEC Malaysia qualification instead of racing today.

Heading toward the east and the base of Wild Horse Butte, this is where the trail indeed got very dusty - enough for me to make slits of my eyes and pull my shirt up over my mouth. I would have liked to hear what Raffiq had to say about this situation. Maybe something like, "Now remind me again WHY I'm inhaling all this dust?" We were following the historic Oregon trail again, and it always makes me wonder about those people who were made up of some real endurance bones.

We got a taste of what they might have travelled over with their wagons when we had to detour, for about a half mile, off our nice sandy roads, cross-country through a hilly section of lava rocks, due to an impassible full canal of water. Since we were walking anyway, I got off and led Raffiq till we got back down to the road.

Just about every 100-mile ride I've watched, especially in Europe, everybody says the same thing: "The trail was very rocky, technical, very tough." Well, nobody could have said that of this ride, because aside from this half-mile of rocks, maybe another 20 yards of rocks along the Snake River, a few sand washes that were not deep sand, and some very slight gradual grades that maybe covered 1000' of altitude over several miles, this 3-day Fandango really was a nice and easy 155 miles of trails for a fit horse.

Another few miles on, when we turned a corner in the road, Caroll caught her breath when she saw the Snake River spread out before us. It was a good quarter-mile wide, and as we got closer and saw the ribbons flagging a path into the Snake, Caroll couldn't believe we were going IN the river.

But it was only for a drink for the horses, not for a swim. The horses drank, and we sponged them off, but Caroll stayed right near the shore, just in case. Fly edged closer to the drop off into the deep and started pawing, as if he wanted to go for a swim. Gretchen, who always likes to jump in frigid lakes when we ride, was eyeing the Snake herself for a swim, but she decided to wait till we got to the next watering hole.

We trotted downstream beside the blue Snake for two miles till the next watering hole, where the horses grazed a bit on the grass and Gretchen got off to "get water to sponge the horses down." It was really an excuse for dunking her shirt in the water, which she did. Jose thought we were dilly dallying too much; he wanted to continue on the trail after the two horses that passed by us. He and Caroll posed on the little rise above us framed by a low line of cumulonimbus clouds rising out of the southwestern sky (the birth of the afternoon thunderstorms!) above the mountains. After completing the circle around Wild Horse Butte we rejoined the common trail to the ranch, and the miles just zipped by under our horses' feet, and we were soon back for our 2nd vet check.

There was a bit of confusion here - stay saddled? Unsaddle this time? Go into the vet gate? But we can't go till we unsaddle? I should help Caroll so she knows what to do; now there's a line; now we have to wait; where do we put the saddles? Just on the ground here? Oh, I have to take Raffiq's boots off, strip him naked for his vet check? Endurance rider Dwayne Brown, who was present at the ride as Steward for the concurrent 100-mile AHA Regional Championships (10 of the riders were also entered in this), was also helping out some of the riders going for their WEC qualifications. He jumped in to grab Jose while Caroll and I unsaddled him, and helped get us moving through the vet line since I couldn't seem to get my act together. I think I was in need of some food, and I was certainly dehydrated from the dry wind and all the dust.

Robert Washington got stuck vetting Raffiq, and when he told me to trot to the cone, well, I ended up running toward a barn door since I didn't even notice a cone. But hey, at least I ran in a straight line! I didn't want to change direction in the middle of our trot-out and run from the vet at an angle, so I ran for the barn door, and turned around and huffed and puffed back. Fortunately Raffiq looked much better than I did, and Robert just shook his head at me.

Enjoying the different atmosphere at the Sierra Del Rio Ranch was the ranch manager Craig Baker. I saw him at the water trough and buckets several times, filling it up, watching horses drink and get sponged down, and it looked like he was keeping the veterinarians entertained with some stories. Becky Hart was there keeping a watchful eye on the FEI riders and horses, taking mental notes, giving advice and a helping hand when necessary.

We all vetted through, Connie went to her nice seat in the shady lane with her crew taking over her horse, while we took our horses back to the grassy paddock, and scrambled again for hay, the horses' food, our food, the toilet, our lost vet cards, more water, going back to retrieve our saddles, another trip back to pick up Caroll's bridle that I'd tossed on the ground somewhere, and my helmet that I also left somewhere. I did get to sit down in the grass for five minutes, and it was quite heavenly. Tom Noll later said he enjoyed the break at the ranch so much he was thinking that a two hour hold would have been about right.

But quickly the 50 minute hold had zipped by again, and we barely had time to re-saddle, pack everything up, carry one of the bags to the bag pile (I yelled back to Bruce, crewing for Nance who had just come in on Jazzbo, asking him if he'd take our other bag up), lead up the 3 horses and grab water bottles on our way to an exit exam just before we went back out on the trail. Whew! (Meanwhile, Connie's crew took care of everything).

We set off on our last 17.5 miles toward home with Lynne White and her mare Agnes. Jose and Fly were doing so well together, and were still quite fresh, so they went on with Lynn while Gretchen and I dropped off their pace a bit. We kept our eyes peeled for antelope on this stretch before the highway crossing - we always see some here - but none of them appeared today. We had a good canter along the soft roads and soon arrived at the highway crossing and radio check. These two highway crossings today were the only pavement in 155 miles of trails. You've got to love riding in the wild west! The horses lingered for a drink and bites of cheat grass, and Gretchen and I downed bottles of water.

And then, there we were, last home stretch, the last four miles to go on another great day of riding the Owyhee trails, good company, good strong horses, great weather (no thunderstorms yet!). Raffiq was so strong and eager in the lead, I was almost sad to not have another 45 miles to go. (Though I didn't know Raffiq's thought on that.)

Gretchen and I came in 15th and 16th, and Robert Washington got to look at Raffiq again for his completion exam. And again the vet rolled his eyes at the groom who again missed the cone when she trotted out. But Raffiq passed his check, as did Spice; Jose got to show for BC.

Finishing just ahead of us was Joe Nebeker, riding Steph's horse Dudley (by Belesemo Image, the stud of Belesemo Arabians, one of the sponsors of this ride). Dudley looked fantastic under saddle and eagerly pulled Joe along the trail all day on his first endurance ride. Gone is the chubby boy that spent the winter here with me, having been replaced by a well-balanced, sleek endurance horse, though still quite full of character.

Gretchen and I grabbed our after-ride reward drinks (beer and Dr Pepper) and grazed the horses on the lawn for a while, then took them to roll in the sand pile.

I was just in time to catch the leaders in the 100-mile ride go out on their last loop: Dennis and Sue Summers, Cheryl Dell, and Joyce Sousa. They'd ridden more or less together the entire ride, and their plan was to stay together on the last 15.5 mile loop and cross the finish line four abreast, instead of race in. They were already well under the 13 hr 20 minute Malaysia qualifying time, and there was no need, really, to take any more out of their horses than necessary, and risk anything.

We had our own little version of a local crowd gather around the finish line an hour and a half later to wait: crews, USA Coach Becky Hart, stewards, photographers. The clouds had now moved in, and, up on the northwest plateau, thunder was rumbling and little showers passed over us. We kept thinking we were seeing dust up the canyon - the direction the riders would be coming - and we'd jump up out of our seats, but we had several false alarms before we finally spotted helmets emerging out of the sagebrush.

Instead of spreading out four abreast, the riders had drawn straws (sage branches?) out on the trail to decide the order they would cross the finish line. And here they came to the cheers and applause of a couple dozen people: Dennis Summers on SHA Ebony Rose, Susan Summers on Mags Motivator, Cheryl Dell on Reason to Believe, and Joyce Sousa on LV Integrity.

Leonard Liessens, at the finish line with his camera, who's used to bigger crowds and exciting racing finishes in the hot endurance competition in Europe, was a bit surprised, I think, to see the first four finishers in the FEI Fandango 100 come on trotting in a nice line across the finish, at the same speed they'd started the loop.

All the riders were of course happy, but I'd guess that nobody was more proud of their horse than Joyce and Dennis Sousa were of LV Integrity. He is one of the most amazing horses on the endurance trails today, and just the statistics of his record speak for themselves: 79 completions of 80 AERC starts over 10 seasons, including 19 of 20 100's milers - and that one ride he was pulled at the finish after carrying cholla cactus spines with him in his leg all day (the vet had pulled some 30 spines out at the first vet check), and he'd just stiffened up after the finish. And all this, after "Ritzy" had been a dangerous horse that nobody could ride, a horse that attacked children and the owner had to go after him with a pitchfork more than once. But that's another story.

All the horses vetted through successfully - hugs and handshakes all around - and went on to show for BC.

Meanwhile the weather had gotten worse, with a thunderstorm building up to the southeast, where the rest of the 100's were heading into, or were already on, for their last loop. It kept showering at basecamp, and Laura and Luis, waiting for Valerie Kanavy to come in to the finish, commented, "Hey! I thought this was supposed to be the desert! You said it hasn't rained in 2 months!" "It's true!" I insisted, as we shivered in the rain and thunder (that I could clearly hear) that rumbled up on the flats.

All but two of the rest of the 100-mile riders came in over the next two to three hours; heartbreaking was local rider Lynne Fredrickson and Tezero's Taconite's pull at the finish, the horse's first attempt at a 100. The last two riders, locals Jim and Vicci Archer, came in near 3 AM, tired but very happy, each having completed their first hundred mile ride.

Meanwhile it was Mexican dinner night at the Blue Canoe serving line, and since it was raining again, everybody crowded under what meager roofs were available. Steph gave a quick rundown for the short list of riders on tomorrow's 25 and 50-mile rides, and then called out the day's finishers.

15 of 16 riders completed the 25-miler, with Diane Simpson and Khadance winning the ride and Janet Tipton in tenth place winning BC with Lady Jasmine.

19 of 20 riders completed the 55-miler. You might have noticed one man riding with his hand in a cast - that was Dick Root, who won the ride, and Best Condition, on Flaming Will. He'd severed some thumb tendons and had surgery, pins, stitches, several weeks before, and when Dick asked his doctor if he could ride this weekend, the doctor said "Do what you think is reasonable; just don't bend your thumb back." Well of course any endurance rider would think endurance riding with a severe injury is reasonable; Dick got his physical therapist to design a better cast that would keep his thumb in place and prevent him from destroying the surgery he had.

It worked out well - for holding his reins for 55 miles, and for holding his ride awards, his Haf Equitation Pad and his Horseshoe Cowboy made by Chris Yost.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

2008 Owyhee Fandango Day 1

Saturday May 24 2008

A lovely cool morning greeted 66 Owyhee riders onto the trails for the first Owyhee Fandango: 45 50-milers, 17 25-milers, and 4 Trail Riders. One trail rider who moved here from the east, said that in previous home, LD'ers were frowned upon, much less Trail Riders. Here in Oreana, we love to have you, whether you ride 10 or 100 miles (heck, we'll saddle your horse for you), whether you're a rider or groom or volunteer. Just come on to the high desert and enjoy the wild west! Clouds over the mountains indicated we might have a bit of weather later in the day, but nothing to worry about. (right?)

The Raven hopped in his Raven bag, Gretchen & I saddled up for a leisurely 7:30 AM start - the sun having already been up for an hour, and we mounted up and moseyed up to the start.

A few of the 50-mile riders revved up around the out timer for a cracking start, but most of the field wandered up and walked around, stopping to chat with other riders. Dennis Sousa and LV Integrity - one of the most amazing endurance horses around - were watching the proceedings; Dennis would be crewing for Integrity and his wife Joyce in the 100-miler tomorrow.

The first loop of 17 miles took the 50-milers down nice sandy washes towards Brown's Creek, a loop we often do when there's a lot of wind to stay out of. Today we had no wind, though the trails were quite dusty from two months of no rain. We crossed Hart Creek, which, dry most of the year, is now flowing from snow-melt. Raffiq was raring to go beneath me today, happy to be back on the familiar Owyhee trails for the 3rd time. He was eager to catch up with Big Sky Quinn (ridden by Nance), a horse he's covered a few trails with. I believe Raffiq enjoys seeing horse acquaintances just like we all do at these rides.

We played leapfrog with Nance and Chris (the Triple Attempters), and with Connie on her beautiful black stallion (though he's really a gelding, but Black Stallion sounds good). Winding through more sagebrush-lined washes, and following a line of 'Badlands' hills resembling those in South Dakota, we made an easy loop in the desert and headed back toward home on common trail. On the way we met on horseback John Teeter and Eduardo Beccar Barella, the Argentinian husband of Mercedes Tapia, who would be watching and crewing for his wife tomorrow on the 100.

Both Eduardo and his wife are veterinarians in Argentina. Steph and John first met them at the 2003 Pan Ams in Washington, then again in Argentina later the same year. There Steph invited Mercedes to come to Idaho for the 2004 Arabian Nights ride, and since then, they have visited in Argentina. "They are as crazy as we are," says Mercedes. "We only see them at rides, when they are crazy or we are crazy!"

We also met Candace Kahn on the trail on her gelding Snickers, on his first LD; he was taking in the experience of horses coming and going very calmly, and going along boldly on his own.

Returning to basecamp via our little Tevis trail, we vetted in for our 40 minute hold. Most of tomorrow's FEI officials were helping with in and out timing (run capably by local rider Regina Rose) and pulse-taking and vet gates, to make sure the same procedures would run smoothly for tomorrow's FEI ride.

The 16.5-mile second loop took us up onto the scenic Rim Trail to the southeast, overlooking Hart Creek. Gretchen and I leapfrogged with Shyla Williams on her Thoroughbred Dash. Shyla got him off the Boise racetrack and just started him in endurance this year. He's almost as handsome as my Thoroughbred ex-racehorse Stormy (coming from someone with a completely unbiased opinion), but I must admit that Stormy wouldn't have the stamina or the mental capacity to do more than a half-mile ride. He's well into retirement and nothing will convince him otherwise.

We had a turn-around at a radio check point where the Radio Guys and Radio Gals in bright orange vests took our numbers and reported back to basecamp; then we turned back around and headed back home, under massing clouds in the direction of the mountains. They didn't quite make me nervous yet, but I was well aware of the good chance of thunderstorms today.

When it was time to put the sidepulls on our horses after our 50 minute hold, I was surprised by the decidedly dark clouds over the mountains that were definitely headed our way. Gretchen and I both donned jackets against the cool breeze. It usually didn't rain down here, but 15.5 miles on the last loop is a long time to take a sleeveless chance on not getting soaked. I was pretty sure they weren't thunder and lightning clouds, so I wasn't too worried about that... although 15.5 miles is also a long time for lightning bolts to develop, and we'd be high up on the northwest flat, very exposed, for much of the final loop. No, those had to be rain clouds. It's nice riding in the desert in the rain, and it had been so long since we'd had it.

Out of camp, climbing the twisting sand washes - where little bushes of purple flowers were VERY SCARY for Raffiq (anybody else notice this? I've been on 3 horses that are definitely wary of scary purple flowers in the desert) - up onto the flats, where, like clockwork, it started to rain. It immediately turned everything a pleasant, cooling, desert green, washing everything clean and bringing out hidden shaes of green and, I could almost swear, immediately fresh growth. The rain was coming a little from the side and rear, and the horses cruised on comfortably through it, until it started coming down a little more insistently. Raffiq, in the lead, wanted to turn his butt to the drops as he scooted along, so we were kind of crab-stepping along the trails. Behind us, the clouds were quite dark, but they still didn't look scary, and Gretchen said she didn't hear any thunder (which I can't hear unless it's really loud and close), although I can never be quiet sure people don't keep that knowledge from me, everybody knowing what a big chicken I am in a thunderstorm.

So we trotted along, at a pleasant pace in the pleasant desert rain, when suddenly... BOOM-BOOM-BOOM! Thunder! Right over the top of us! Even I couldn't miss that one! It even startled Spice! And if there was thunder, that meant there was lightning!

Well, what could we do? I was eyeing the cliffs to our right, that I could always dive off, (with or without my horse and Gretchen and her horse), but I convinced myself that it was not a scary Ground-Bolt-of-Lightning Thunder, but a nice pretty sheet or harmless-bolt-in-the-sky-lightning thunder. I wasn't nervous, but I did take note that we were in about the middle of our route along the flat. We'd still be up there a while.

Then the second thunder boomed above us, and I definitely flinched on that one. I started calculating the distance and time till we could get off this flat and down onto Bates Creek Road. Raffiq was trotting as fast as he could sideways, with his butt still turned to the big raindrops. I refused to glance behind me to see what else might be there. But no matter how I looked at it, or didn't look at it, here I was again, out exposed in yet another thunderstorm. And I still haven't gotten around to writing my will!

Other than the thunder, it was a lovely trail, and finally we made it to the end of of it on the flats, and dropped down onto the Bates Creek road, just as the sun was coming back out. No hair standing on end, no sizzling sagebrush, no harm done, and now our clothes would dry out too. We trotted down the road a mile and turned to cross Bates Creek, and headed up onto the southeast flats... out of the sunshine and into yet another dark storm cloud!

We could see streaks of heavy rain to the left of us, and rather scary banks of clouds in front of us, but we didn't hear any thunder. Or, rather, Gretchen didn't TELL me she heard any thunder. We zipped along this nice flat easy trail above, Raffiq's ears happily pricked forward, to the end of Pickett Creek Canyon. Raffiq stopped to pose and admire the scenery at the top of the trail, as he likes to do, then we dismounted for the trail that drops us down to the creek. Another rain shower passed over us, and Raffiq turned his butt to the rain again, using that as an excuse to munch on grass on the way down. We trotted the last 1 1/2 miles back to camp, where we vetted in for 14th and 15th place finishes. Shyla and Dash, and Connie and Phinnaeas finished just behind us, Birthday Connie with a big grin on her face.

Unsaddling the horses for the last time today, we took them to a great soft sandy spot that we knew they would love to roll in. And they rolled, and rolled, kicking up great clouds of dust, and we ended up with two ghostly white, formerly bay, happy horses.

The rest of the smiling 50's came in over the next two hours; the 100-milers were vetting in without a visible air of tension; and the FEI officials were ironing out the last minute details for tomorrow's ride. Naomi Preston gave a TTEAM massage demonstration on a horse.

At 6:30 John T rang the dinner bell (many times - he loves doing it), and a line quickly stacked up for the Blue Moon's roast pork loin dinner, everybody waiting patiently with Sawtooth Winery wine in hand, and visiting with friends.

This Owyhee Fandango evening we had special guests at the dinner and ride meeting. Foreign officials present for tomorrow's FEI ride were ground jury members Scarlet De Rodas from Guatemala, Clive Pollit from Great Britain, and steward Shaikha Madiya from the UAE. Fred Cluskey was chief steward, and Grace Ramsey, one of Shaikha Madiya's early endurance mentors, was also a steward.

Connie Creech, president of the Ground Jury, gave a rundown of tomorrow's ride procedures, and head vet Mike Foss spoke about the vetting procedures. Additional veterinarians were Tom Timmons, Olin Balch, Michael Peterson, and local vet Robert Washington as the Treatment vet.

One of the main reasons Steph decided to go to the extra effort (and from my point of view, agony) of putting on an FEI ride was the chance to provide an opportunity for riders to qualify for World Endurance Championship Malaysia in November, and for the small but gratifying reward of the adventure and friendship aspect of endurance riding around the world. Her World Endurance Exchange program was founded on this idea, a 'match-making service' for endurance riders around the world. You supply a horse for a foreign rider in this country, and in exchange, they will supply one for you in this country. It doesn't have to be a top ten high speed best condition horse, it can be a regular endurance horse. Preferably well broke : ) .

To recognize the riders who participate in this exchange, Jay Randle of Australia - who brought a group of Aussie riders to the US in February to participate in a few Pacific Southwest rides - donated a framed photo as a Perpetual Trophy for this. The photo is a specially framed page from a magazine from 1905, featuring one of the first French endurance rides, "A test of endurance for man and beast: the French National Military Ride from Lyons to Aix-Les-Bains."

Our first rider exchangers were Christoph Schork giving a horse to Argentinean Mercedes Tapia for the FEI 100-miler, Bev Gray giving a horse to Belgian Leonard Liessens for the FEI 75-miler, and Steph giving Belgian Caroll Gatelier a horse for the 50-miler.

Other special guests included Sierra Del Rio ranch manager Craig Baker, who since 2004 has allowed us to use the beautiful Sierra Del Rio ranch near the Snake River - one of the original water and rest stops on the Oregon Trail - as a vet check. Three-time World Endurance Champion and AERC Hall of Famer Becky Hart, newly appointed USA Chef d'Equipe, was present to watch the FEI ride with an eye toward helping prepare riders and horses for the WEC in Malaysia in November.

Finishers of the rides - 16 of 17 on the 25-miler, and 41 of 45 on the 50-miler were called up by Steph and given big hands by the crowd. Numerous sponsors provided awards for the weekend, and I'm taking a moment here to plug all the ride sponsors, because without them, just about any ride nowadays, but especially one as big as this one, simply could not be put on.

Haf Italia, who in the early '90's started producing saddle pads and high tech accessories for equestrian sports, donated Haf Pads, which were given to ride and Best Condition winners.

Belesemo Arabians, of Caldwell Idaho, select breeders of Crabbet/Davenport bloodlines, provided money to sponsor BC awards. One of Steph's own mares, Nature's Quicksilver, produced a colt (now gelding), Belesemo Dude, by Belesemo Image, who would be doing his first 50-miler tomorrow. (Note: this Belesemo Dude is THE Dudley, the characterFULL escape artist and comedian who provided so many entertaining adventures during my winter in Oreana.) donated 10 halters for the Top 10 finishers in the 100 miler.

Local rider Chris Yost created horseshoe cowboys for ride winners.

Fleeceworksdonated unbelievably soft and comfortable pads for ride awards. I was very lucky to win one in a random drawing, and the Raven quickly took it over!

Kerrits, makers of wonderful durable riding gear (I never leave home without my Kerrits tights), provided cooler scarf ride awards.

Leathertherapy donated product samples and goodie bags... many riders used these samples before the first ride day was over! I did the same on my partially disintegrating latigo.

TieRite donated a high-tie system as a ride award, and Toklat, distributor and manufacturer of tack and apparel for riders, donated gift certificates for top finishers and Best Condition winners.

Naomi Preston and Lee Pearce, of TTeam for Endurance, donated Renegade boots for top high point overall.

USANA Health Products provided products for awards, and Vettec, maker of hoof care products, donated money for awards.

And finally, Shaikha Madiya Madiya Bint Hasher Mana Al Maktoum of the UAE sponsored a Top International Trophy for the winner of the 100-miler.

Tim Floyd was the beaming winner of the LD on Jed; it was his 3rd ride, and, now, he says, "I'm hooked!" Shana Bobbitt finished 10th in her 3rd ride. Tammi Blomley finished last and received the coveted Turtle Award, which at this ride was a nice wood-carved turtle decorated with zodiac signs and with an internal compass that Steph picked up on her travels in the UAE. The only Junior in the ride, Ariel Macleod of Montney, BC, who travelled with her family and a big trailer full of horses, finished 6th on Cherokee Spirit and also won Best Condition.

Winner of the 50-mile ride was Bob Steller on Majestic Star. Gail Jewell of Kelowna, BC, finished fourth on NL Temptation and won Best Condition. It's the 5th BC award for NL Temptation, the third one with Gail riding.

Afterwards, it was off to walk horses and fill hay bags and water buckets one more time for the evening, then off to bed. For the long distance riders, anyway. The 100's and 75's would start at 6 AM, the 50's at 8 AM. The 25-milers didn't have to hit the trail till noon!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pre-Fandango: Friday

Owyhee Fandango: Friday

Friday May 23 2008

A whole slew of riders and officials arrived in Oreana basecamp Friday, including my pal Gretchen Montgomery from Bridgeport, California, coming to get her Merri fix. Gretchen and I used to ride together 3 to 4 times a week in the summers in Bridgeport, but now, I get to see her only once or twice a year. She brought two horses, and as it often goes in endurance riding, plans change. I was going to ride Bev Gray's horse True Colours on Day 1, but, it was decided that Amanda Washington could ride him on Day 2 since she needed a horse to ride, and since Colour only needed one ride, I could now ride Gretchen's horse Royal Raffiq - who I've done 750 miles on over the years - with Gretchen and Spice on Day 1.

Camp steadily grew bigger throughout the day as more riders pulled in with their rigs, from the fancy 5-horse trailer with living quarters up to the 70's campers pulling a 2-horse and the little truck and trailer with a tent on the side. Riders took their horses on rides or walks around camp, the radio crew worked hard on setting up their base station at the house, and horses were vetted in with the veterinarians Robert Washington and Michael Peterson.

I was dressed for a warm-up horse ride - chaps on and gloves in hand, when I was called on to make a last-minute chauffeur run to the airport. Connie Creech was my first pick-up; she would be serving as president of the Ground Jury in Sunday's FEI 100-miler. I've ridden with Connie on many Nevada trails and attended many of the rides she puts on there. We talked horses (what else) while we waited for the next person, Trish Dutton, who'd be the official ride secretary. Steph saw her in action at the New Years in New Mexico ride, and snapped her up for this ride. And, it turns out that Trish lives just down the road from my niece in Texas, where I first started my endurance riding 9 years ago.

I never seem to have enough time at endurance rides to visit with people - old endurance friends I haven't seen in a while, endurance friends I have seen lately but still want to visit with, and special old endurance friends from around the world - like Belgium and Guatemala, and new ones - like El Salvador and Spain. And this ride was no exception, because there were pictures to take and upload, horses to ride, horses to vet in, horses to gather and feed, gear to get ready, (like attaching my Raven bag to my saddle), an airport run to make, a ride meeting to attend, and of course, another great dinner to eat, catered by Owyhee ride regulars, Debra and Al of Blue Canoe Catering.

It was good to see international riders here, from Canada, Argentina, and Belgium, for the FEI 100-miler, and it was also great to see many of the usual local riders - including (among many others) Tom Noll and his famous Frank; Karen Bumgardner who'd be riding her gelding Thunder, the horse that got lost for 6 days in November (you can see the scars the girth left on him); Jim and Vicci Archer who'd be attempting their first 100s after 8 seasons of endurance riding; and Nance Worman and Chris Yost who would be attempting the 50 mile-100 mile-50 mile Triple, which they both accomplished last year. Let's take a minute to look at this closer.

Picture it: getting up early Saturday morning, doing a 50-mile endurance ride on one horse. Which in itself can be just enough to pleasantly tire you out. (And, by the way, after the finish, Nance would have to drive back to Boise for her step-son's graduation, and return to ridecamp late at night). Getting up earlier on Sunday morning for a 6 AM start (on another horse), riding 100 miles, finishing at least 14 hours later. Which, by now, would definitely wear you out, enough to curl up into a tiny ball in bed and not move for the entire night, once you got to bed, say, around midnight. Getting up early Monday morning, getting back on the horse you rode Saturday, and riding another 50 miles. These are a couple of obsessed endurance riders, no?

Tennessee Mahoney would also be attempting the Triple. When she left Colorado on Thursday with two horses, a few hours down the road she got a call that a tornado had ripped through her hometown, causing extensive damage to nearby property including her neighbors, throwing quarter-ton hay bales around, although luckily her house was not hit. What could she do? She kept on driving to Oreana.

New adopted local Connie Holloway, a Fairly Newbie, who just might soon become a resident of Pickett Creek here, would be riding her beloved Phinnaeas on a 50 on her birthday.

Fairly Newbies Shana Bobbitt arrived from 7 hours away with her horse MSF Sinwaan and her friend Lara Hall, for her 3rd endurance ride ever; Laurie Wells would be riding in the trail ride on Sunday, and attempting her first ride ever, the 25-miler, on Monday.

Then there was, of course, veteran endurance rider and local - the Raven, riding along with me in his Raven bag for his 3100+ miles.