|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.