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!

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