Sunday, May 31, 2009

Owyhee Fandango Day 3

Monday May 25 2009

About half the riders that were signed up for the 55 didn't start today. One rider suggested that probably had to do with the fact that several were FEI riders who were burned out and worn out after two days of riding and trying to qualify horses, topped off by yesterday's 100 and the hours of standing around afterwards waiting for their horses to be tested.

As it was, the rest of us went out just to have fun in the desert. Only 2 riders started the 75-miler at 6 AM, 16 started the 55 at 7 AM, and 8 started the 25 at 8 AM. One on the 50 was Tom Noll... not on Frank, and not on Whiskey, but on Karen B's extra horse Blue Lightning. Another guy was going to ride her gelding with Karen on Thunder, but right away, he got bucked off at the start and said forget it. Karen left on the 50 with Lightning tied to her trailer and her friend Linda Ballard about to unsaddle him. However, Linda spied Tom Noll and asked him if he wanted to ride the horse. "Sure!" he said, never having even seen the horse before, and he hopped on Blue Lightning, and away they went down the trail on Blue's first endurance ride (with not a bit of bucking.) Karen saw them later : ) and was happy Tom was riding him.

It was another great day on the trails for Jose, me, and the Raven. The first 15 mile loop is one of two trails we take visitors on that we really like: the Hart Creek Homestead loop, south into the Hart Creek drainage, following the creek, then climbing back up onto the flats on a steep and sharp ridge past the narrows and overlooking the upper canyon. Gretchen and Mickey and I hooked up with Tinker Hart on her gray mare RTR Quiet Riot, on a morning that was just about perfect in temperature.

Crossing through the old Homestead at the creek we had a big surprise - a camper! Never in my years of riding here have I ever seen anyone camping down there. It's a sweet spot, but not many people know about it. By the time we came through, he seemed rather resigned to the fact that his quiet morning had a lot of drop-in-pass-through visitors. "How many more behind you?" he asked. I said "Oh, about a dozen or so." I didn't think it appropriate to yell, "Where the bacon???"

After our 40-minute hold back at camp, we had new trail to blaze: a 25 mile out-and-back loop west to Regina's place. We crossed the highway into the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, trotted over little hills, around little bluffs, through washes, Jose nimbly zipping along eagerly with his ears pricked, curious to see what was around every next corner.

I almost had some serious trauma on this loop: we were trotting along the twisting trail through the sagebrush when Gretchen behind me yelled, "Oh NO! Merri, your Raven fell out!" We all four screeched to a halt, I turned Jose around, and there was the Raven, laying upside down in a sagebrush, enjoying life. I hopped off and grabbed him, stuffed him way down in his bag and cinched it down tight. The Raven bag was also carrying horse treats, and I'd just reached in to give one to Jose and hadn't tightened it back up! Good thing Gretchen spotted the Raven's dive, or Jose and I would have had to backtrack miles or dozens of miles along our trail till I found him! What do you think our pull code would have been if I'd gone overtime looking for him - RO - LR (Rider Option - Lost Raven)?

The miles flew by, with the different scenery, and just as we got to Regina's, we caught up with Christoph Schork, who was the only rider left on the 75. Tracy Kaden had been pulled after the 1st loop.

We had an official 'Snack Break' at Regina's. Steph was going to have us all stay 20 minutes on our honor, but 2 of the radio people went out there, to take numbers and hold us. Regina had set out two wheelbarrows, with hay and alfalfa, and she'd hauled crew bags out there. She said we could all go in and help ourselves to the beer and snacks in her fridge, but I don't think anybody did.

Our horses crowded around the wheelbarrows helping themselves, spilling hay all over, knocking over the pitchfork, and trying to avoid Regina's fat goat who was trying to horn his way in close to anywhere a horse was eating grain. All except for Jose, who was very curious and wanted to investigate.

We took the same trail back, but in this direction it was completely different scenery. It was warm in the washes, pleasant breeze up on the flats. Jose and I moved on ahead a while by ourselves until we got to the water troughs near the highway crossing. He drank, I got off and dunked my bandana in the water, and Jose watched, transfixed, as the other 3 horses come down off the flats and up to us at the water trough. Jose loves to watch things. Seven more miles to go, and we arrived back at basecamp for our second 40-minute hold.

Spice was out on lameness here, and Dublin waited a bit to go out, so Mickey and I went out together on the last 10-mile loop. This is the other trail we take visitors out on if we like them: the Hart Creek Rim Trail. It follows the edge of the bluffs along the northwest side of Hart Creek canyon, looking down on what we rode in this morning. There were no scary thunderstorms this afternoon to deal with, just a few clouds that kept the heat at bay, a nice breeze, and miles and miles of easy trotting in the Owyhee desert, wildflowers lining our passage and and lizards and horny toads shooting ahead of us.

Mickey and I came in with happy mounts (and happy riders), the 55 miles having flown quickly under our swift horses' feet.

Local rider Amy Weidner won the 25 on Angel of Mercy (all 8 finished). Michael Thomas of Auburn California won the 55 on Luanne Holmsen's gelding Kasino GM. Michael can remember the exact date of his first endurance ride: "July 27 2007!" The reason it was so memorable is because Luanne talked him into an 80-mile ride for his debut! He didn't do another endurance ride till Death Valley in December, but he confesses he enjoys endurance. Kasino GM also won Best Condition. 11 of 16 horses completed the 55. Amanda Wilson finished on Jubals Boot Scootin Boogy, making her the only rider to complete all 3 days on the same horse.

The final finisher of the day was the winner, turtle, and Best Conditioned horse in the 75: the stallion DWA Express ridden by Christoph Schork. Express is one of several DWA horses - Drinkers of the Wind Arabians - Christoph and Dian Woodward have had over the years at their Global Endurance Training Center in Moab, Utah. "We like them," Christoph said. "in general they have good bone, good recoveries, good minds, and perform well." Express and Christoph won the Big Horn 100 last year.

The last Blue Canoe meal was a homey affair, mostly the usual local group of endurance riders. Steph's head was still spinning from the weekend, and the results of the 55 miler were a bit out of whack. She pointed to her head. "There's nuthin' left up there!"

It was mostly a good time over all (since we survived it), the 2009 Owyhee Fandango. It wasn't TOO chaotic, except for the two runaway horses, and, on the last afternoon, a turned-over radio guy's RV on Bates Creek Road (he'd pulled to the side of the road to let a horse trailer pass). And all the paperwork - the mounds and mounds of paperwork involved in putting on not just a 3-day AERC ride and not just an FEI ride with its OWN rigmaroles of paperwork, but a 3-day AERC and FEI ride with 4 different distances, and also an AHA Region 4 Championship 100 ride, and a Pioneer ride, (so, if you want to get technical, that's 21 rides, more or less) and whatever else I might have missed. I'm sure we'll be discovering lots more things as the weeks pass. It was certainly a unique experience!

I got to spend some time with friends, get reacquainted with old friends, meet new people, and best of all, the Raven and I got to do some of our home trails on my pal Jose. (Did I mention I love Jose?)

Next year we've already got the Motto for the new 4-DAY ride Steph has planned: All Party, No FEI!" As Steph said, "At least we went out with a Bang!"


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Owyhee Fandango Day 2

Sunday May 24 2009

I'm not sure how or why it works this way, but it was one of those nights I was so exhausted I couldn't sleep. Another night with no sleep - darn it!

Today was the Most Momentous of Days: not because I was riding Jose again, but because Tom Noll was NOT riding Frank! In almost 4000 miles since 2002, nobody had ever ridden Frank on a single AERC mile. Everybody knows how Frank likes to go go go - that head up in the air and the black mane flying, pulling incessantly on Tom's hands double-wrapped around his reins - but today Frank and Connie were going to be babysitting Frank's 'pupil,' the mustang Whiskey, who did his first endurance ride at the Tough Sucker in April. I thought maybe since Tom rode Frank in the 50 yesterday, that might take some of the wind out of his sails, but Tom just laughed at me. Never happen. To top it off, it was Connie's birthday.

The 100-milers (29 of them) and 75-milers (9 of them) were on the trail at 5:30 AM, just as it was getting light. By 6:30 AM I was driving Tim Floyd and Tracy to the Sierra Del Rio ranch to get set up for the two vet checks out there. Tim had ridden the 25 yesterday (with a broken rib) and volunteered to help today; Tracy was glad to get out from behind the computer and help at the in-timer's table out of doors. I was happy to be at the in-timer's table because I could run out and take pictures of horses when we weren't swamped with little timer cards from riders.

The Sierra del Rio Ranch, formerly the Nahas Ranch, was a stop on the Oregon Trail in the 1800's where travelers could water their stock. Today, it's still a working ranch, and the manager, Craig Baker, happily and generously opens it up for our endurance ride every year. I'm not sure why he does it, but we are glad he does. We do make an effort to really clean it up after we leave. The center of the ranch is surrounded by rich green pastures (I've never seen it so lush), some with perplexed ranch horses watching the endurance horses do their thing, and towered over by the high buttes typical of the area along the Snake River. One of the cliffs holds a golden eagle nest (endurance rider Karen Steenhof took me to see it last year), and though I don't know if that one was occupied this year, I did spy two eagles flying around it way up high in the morning.

The last two years Craig has opened up a big pasture for the endurance horses and riders and crews to hang out in during their stops; there was also a tree-lined lane if anybody preferred the shade. It was overcast and a pleasant breeze was pushing through the ranch, keeping the heat and the bugs away.

Half of the 15 horses in the 50-miler were in for their first vet check, at 18 miles, by the time the hundred milers started rolling in for their second vet check (33 miles). Cheryl Dell and TR Reason to Believe, Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity, and Joyce's daughter Jennifer Niehaus and MC Gallantly led the 100's.

Now there was a trio of amazing horses. "Reason" has 1155 miles over 6 seasons, with 20 completions in 22 starts, and 8 wins and 4 Best Conditions. Cheryl and Reason were on the US team for the World Endurance Championships in Malaysia last November, and were thought to have a great chance of completing, when Cheryl was stricken with a severe intestinal virus during the ride and had to withdraw. "You know endurance riders can ride with anything - the flu, broken bones; I once rode with a cut on my face down to the bone, blood everywhere, but I had to complete the ride, so I slapped on 10 bandaids and went out and finished and won the ride (and went to the hospital for stitches afterwards, and got chewed out by the doctor)... but this came on fast and it knocked me out!" She ended up in the hospital on IV fluids, sleeping for 24 hours. Reason had had the winter off, and was back in training for this ride for just 2 1/2 months; he'd won the American River Classic 50 mile ride in April as a prep. But Cheryl wasn't bent on winning; she had a plan on the speed they would go, because their ultimate goal is the World Championship in Kentucky 2010. Everything else is preparation.

Between LV Integrity ("Ritzy") and MC Gallantly ("Gallo"), these 8 hooves have covered almost 10,000 miles between them. Gallo, 14, has completed 70 of 78 starts over 7 seasons, and 7 of 12 100's. Rizty, 16, has completed (this is not a typo) 88 of 90 starts over 11 seasons, 21 of 23 100's, including Tevis in 2006.

Joyce and Jennifer didn't come to win either: they came on a family vacation. Jennifer wanted to ride her dad Dennis' horse, and he agreed to crew. Gallo hadn't done a hundred in two years, and Jennifer hadn't ridden him in two years, so Joyce was the pacesetter for him.

"I LOVE 100's," Joyce said. "To me, 50's are like going to the door of Macy's. 100's are like getting to go in and shop." She loves them because of the work and the challenge. "I think it's more difficult to win a 50, because there's so much speed involved. 100's are safer too, for horse and rider, not as much risk because you don't go so fast, and working never hurt a horse."

The Sousas give no adequan to their horses, they don't do accupuncture or chiropractic work. "If a horse needs that to keep him going, then they need to be doing something else." Their horses certainly do look to be thriving, and they looked excellent every time I saw them throughout the day.

At times there was a lull between riders, so I could run out and take pictures, and at times it got busy at the in-and-out table. After the first 40 minute hold there, all horses except those on the limited distance 35 mile ride (who took a different 16-mile loop back to basecamp) went out for a 15 mile loop around Wild Horse Butte and beside the Snake River before returning for their second 40 minute hold at the ranch.

Regina Rose helped us at the timing table until she got a full load of 4 horses (pulled for lameness) at the holds, which she then shuttled back to basecamp (about a 45-minute drive one way.) One rider was pulled for lameness, didn't think the horse was lame, got impatient having to wait for so long for a trailer ride back to camp, saddled up the horse and apparently rode 18 miles back to camp. No comment.

Visiting Japanese rider Yurika Tachibana, riding FLF Federalee of Tracy and David Kaden's Flight Leader Farm, was passing a horse on trail when it kicked out at her horse. Federalee shied and dumped Yurika, and took off running in the desert. Details back at the ranch were sketchy, and rumors abounded, and the only thing we knew for sure was it was a chestnut horse with yellow tack. Christoph Schork, riding the 100, later said, "I was out there trotting along, when I heard this horse galloping up behind me. I didn't turn around to look, but I was very surprised that somebody was running that hard. Then suddenly this chestnut with yellow tack blew by me, kept going, and was out of sight. There was no chance of stopping him or catching him. Then a little bit later, I heard another horse galloping up behind me - it was the same horse that blew by me. I figured 'Well, they'll probably catch him now, since he ran in a big circle.'"

But it turned out - now there were two chestnut horses wearing yellow tack loose in the desert. Jeanette Mero and Triassic were knocked into by Federalee; she got off to try to catch him, and her horse got loose, and they turned into a runaway train for a while. Last place riders in the hundred, Connie Creech and Carolyn Dawson saw them too; Carolyn couldn't figure out either why some rider was galloping her horse down a narrow rocky trail. But it turned out to be one riderless horse - followed by another one. They got off the trail to let the horses sprint past.

Steph was racing in and out of camp on her 4-wheeler, looking for horse-less riders and rider-less horses; Tracy Kaden and crew went out to look, and Tim Floyd jumped in the van with them, since he was a doctor and his services might be of use. (Fortunately they weren't.) Jeanette's horse was caught first - he had made his way back to the ranch, where he stopped like a good endurance horse and drank from a water trough before someone caught him. Federalee was gone for hours. They'd tracked him a ways in the desert before losing the tracks. Someone later spotted him not far from the highway, grazing, and they were able to catch him; he got a ride back to basecamp. Both horses had only minor scrapes.

It got hotter at the ranch as the day went on, though a breeze kept things bearable. Tracy and I packed up around 2 PM to head back to basecamp, as the last of the riders were completing their last hold.

I had been heckled last night at the ride meeting when I gave the weather report: "30% chance of thunderstorms during the day, 20% chance of heavy rain tonight." "You could have said 70% chance of good weather!" Sure enough, late in the afternoon it clouded over again, heavy gray and blue clouds and some more thunder, but the rain stayed away. The clouds actually cooled things down by 10 degrees which helped the horses on the trail and the volunteers in camp, some who'd been at their posts all day, like Tammy Bromley and Marla, and Neil and Liz Smallwood.

The winner of the 50 had already come in: Canadian Jan Marsh and Morning Line. This duo had won 2 days (and got 1 BC) at the Owyhee Canyonlands last September. Jan brought him with her when she moved to Alberta 7 years ago. "He is a very special horse. He's laid back, but he's not as sleepy as he looks!" Jan likes to ride fast, but says, "My horses are precious to me and always will be and come above a desire to ‘win’ at any cost!"

Coming in last in the 50 were Connie and Frank, and Tom Noll and Whiskey. When Whiskey did not pass his final vet check, that left Connie and Frank the turtles... but don't tell Frank! If he knew, he would be appalled.

Coming in shortly after that were the winners of the 75, Canadian Gail Jewell and Apache Eclypse. Another horse with an excellent record, Eclypse, 13 years old, has completed 48 of 55 starts over 7 seasons. Gail has been riding 'serious' endurance for three seasons, after vetting it for 20 years. She realized one day the riders were having more fun than the veterinarians. Gail and husband Elroy Karius and family friend Kate Coady laugh at the character-full Eclypse's antics. "He's very self-absorbed. If he was human, he'd stop and look at himself in every mirror he passed." He was quite wound up at the beginning of the ride and during the first loop - "he does the tranter" - but they hooked up with Susie Hayes on the second loop, he settled down, and was "fabulous" the rest of the day, most of his CRIs being 44/44.

The evening sun had emerged from the storm clouds as the first 100-mile riders came in to the finish line: Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity, Cheryl Dell and TR Reason to Believe, and Jennifer Niehaus and MC Gallantly. None of them wanted to race, none of them needed to, and they'd already decided on their placings coming in. They walked across the line together in that order. Cheryl said she was antsy at the final vet check - "the vets voting at the finish made me very nervous." But there was no need to be - each horse looked terrific. Final ride time was 9:49, on a not technically difficult course. Jennifer's mount Gallo won the BC award.

Meanwhile, as more hundred mile finishers came in during the evening, the dinner bell rang, tomorrow's course was discussed, and eventually awards were handed out. By no means take this as a sign things were running easily and smoothly. There were still mounds of paperwork and vet cards and timing slips and BC scores to sift through, some of the results were tied up on an official's computer, people were still making changes for tomorrow's ride, some people were leaving so wanted to pay now, there were horse chores to do, Jose to be vetted in for tomorrow, pictures to post (OK, I didn't even get those done), people to talk to, people to find, errands to run, and on and on. Not complaining or anything, just pointing out that this was really only halfway through an FEI weekend ride.

And a little glitch happened with the FEI horses in the 100: after they finished their ride (after being on the trail from 9 to 11 1/2 hours, since 5:30 AM) they were all required to remain near the vetting area to have their blood drawn... and to wait till they peed for some officials to collect urine samples. Some horses did not have to pee for two hours. Some people understandably got a bit irate. Several people had ridden the day before, had planned to ride the next day, and had other horses to take care of, nevermind the horse they'd just ridden. If the horses didn't pee after two hours, they were allowed to leave, but you can imagine the mood around the vetting area.

Meanwhile, the non-FEI horses kept trickling in off the trail; around 12:30 AM, Nance Worman and Jazzbo, Chris Yost and Turbo BLY, and Lynne Fredrickson and White Zin came in and got completions. It was a big finish for Lynne, who'd attempted this hundred 3 times before. Last year she was pulled at the finish - ugh! This year - hooray!

And finishing last at around 2:30 AM were Connie Creech and LS Steele Breeze, and Carolyn Dawson and Orzo. How about Carolyn Dawson: 70 years old, "been riding since oh, a hundred years ago," hadn't completed a hundred-mile ride since 1999, but finished tonight on the laid back gelding Orzo, who used to be a rocket ship ridden by Dabney Finch in the Pacific Southwest region 1999-2004.

The Dawsons got Orzo in 2006 with free suspensory problems... but they've taken their time with him and gone slow, and completed all but 3 100-mile rides with him since then. (Two were rider option, one was lame.) And Orzo's not crazy fast anymore, or crazy, like he used to be. "At one ride down south, he was racing so fast into the finish with Dabney, it took a half mile AFTER the finish to pull him up!" Dabney won the 20-Mule Team 65-miler on him one year in 5:30. (To compare, our fastest 50-mile ride time here at the Fandango was 5:14, and the 20-Mule Team course is a little tougher than this one.)

Both Carolyn and Orzo also looked great the next day. Orzo was dragging Dick all around basecamp in the morning.

Carolyn had a great time on the ride: "It was magical out there at night! I'd call out to Connie ahead of me, 'I've got this mad grin on my face!' It was so neat to be here, I really enjoyed it. It was beautiful." I suggested maybe now she's gotten the hundred milers out of her system. "Maybe I've gotten them back INTO my system!" Orzo was "Mr 44" all day - his pulse at the vet checks all day. "The horse just went along and did his thing."

18 of 29 hundred-milers completed; 1 was pulled at the finish. (One was pulled at the finish of the 75, one at the finish of the 50). 6 of 9 finished the 75, 12 of 14 finished the 50, and 4 of 6 finished the 35. Many people felt the vetting was pretty strict; one rider said he thought the vetting was tougher than the Tevis.

Joyce Sousa commented on the ride: "The trail was so well marked, the vets were a class act. So nice and so helpful and kind, a wonderful group of vets, they know their job. It's great to hear them say, "your horse looks great, go have fun.'"

Go and have fun indeed - I'd be doing that again tomorrow on Jose in the 55.

Owyhee Fandango Day 1

Saturday May 23 2009

How could that alarm be going off already - I was still exhausted and I didn't remember sleeping at all! Well, no matter - up and out of bed, drink a cup of coffee, force down some breakfast, and get ready for a 50-mile ride on Jose! It's always a good day when you get to ride Jose.

Seventy-six riders hit the Owyhee trails today. That might have been a record. The 75 milers started at 6 AM, Jose and I (and the Raven) left at 7 AM with 50 other horses and riders, the sun already up and starting to warm up the earth. The LD riders left at 8 AM.

Jose was raring to go - he'd had a hard hilly ride at the Eagle Extreme two weeks ago, and here he was on flat ground and here he was on home turf, and he wanted to go! Fast riders and FEI horses were up front and moving out fast; we tucked in afterwards with Gretchen and Spice, my old riding pals from Bridgeport, California, Mickey and Dally, another old pair of riding pals from my winters in Ridgecrest, and local riding pal Nance and Quinn. Up a wash onto the northwest flats, the 15-mile loop followed the rim of Bates Creek Canyon along a nice single-track and two-track (dusty) trail. We crossed Bates Creek road and worked our way back along a ridge to the head of Pickett Creek Canyon, and back home into basecamp.

Sometimes it's a blessing when you are on your home turf, because your horse knows every step of the way. Sometimes it's not a blessing, because he knows every step of the way, and isn't going to slow down or dilly-dally around to do something as unimportant as taking a drink in the flowing Bates Creek or the nice water troughs put out by neighbors Rick and Carol. Sometimes the home horse just wants to cruise right back home to camp, with his friends and his piles of hay and beet pulp.

Jose ate and drank the whole 40-minute hold, and when we headed out on the 25-mile second loop, I thought he would be more casual. Wrong! He was really revved up now. We stayed with Gretchen and Nance till I just started fighting him too much, then we moved on ahead.

Jose thought he knew the way, but Steph had flagged a new route, partially due to a new fence going in > : ( and partially for variety. We headed down to Hart Creek (also flowing with water), crossed it and did a loop to the southeast in the Brown's Creek drainage.

Some of the trail was common trail, and some of the front runners coming back passed me yelling, "Were you one of the lost ones?" No, not us... but a half-hour later, Bob Stellar caught up with me. He's usually riding in the front - and he had been in third place today, till his little group got lost somehow. We were on the orange loop, and some of the ribbons were orange-and-black... and Steph hadn't mentioned that, and some of the riders thought they were on the wrong loop. I myself had to pay attention when I was on Jose, as it was new trail to me, but Jose and I had no trouble. Jose seemed to enjoy the new trail and the new perspective of the Hart Creek Rim we rode under. Bob called me "the Bird Lady," and I called him "the Bird Man." We'd talked birds the previous night at dinner after he heard me mentioning screech owls.

On one part of the trail by Hart Creek, we spotted a horse coming towards us. Wait - I knew that waving tail, it was Rhett! Connie was out riding Rhett, flagging the last bit of trail for Day 3. Jose was a bit confused when we parted - why wasn't Rhett going our way??

We had a nice breeze to cool us up on the flats, but down in basecamp it was still and hot. I moved Jose to some shade for his 40 minute hold. I kept dunking my bandana in the water troughs to keep my head cool.

We had one 10 mile loop left, along our scenic Hart Creek Rim Trail. Jose left camp at a more lazy pace now, and Dian Woodward and Deborah Whorf of Moab, Utah caught up with us. Deborah's legs had been bothering her a lot on the second loop because of an unfamiliar saddle, but they changed at the last vet check, and though she was still hurting, she was (like most crazy endurance riders) gritting it out to the finish.

Our trail along the rim led us towards the Owyhee Mountains to the southwest... where a biiiiiiiiiiiiig dark cloud was building, with poofy cumulonimbus clouds around it. Most of you know how I feel about riding in lightning (if you don't, I'm TERRIFIED), so I was keeping a suspicious eye on those growing clouds. I know a building thunderstorm when I see one! It wasn't a question of If, but when. We reached the fence where we turned around to head for home, with those clouds at now our back, but steadily moving to blot out the sun.

As we moved along at a steady trot, I kept peeking over my shoulder to make sure no bolts were falling out of the sky. Most of you also know I can't hear thunder unless it's right on top of me (i.e. Way too late). Finally I couldn't stand it, and asked Dian and Deborah if they'd heard any thunder. "No, haven't heard any." When I ride with people and ask them this, I never really know if they are pulling my leg or not. I hear them saying "No, don't hear thunder," and picture them whispering, "Let's not tell Merri it's thundering!"

Jose isn't afraid of any dark clouds. We cruised on in down Pickett Creek Canyon as a trio for the finish, just as it was getting dark - and thundering! Even I heard it now. But we finished before the lightning - it was a good day on good trails on a good horse. (I love Jose... have I ever mentioned this?).

The skies stayed dark and stormy, with thunder booming all around, and whirlwinds of dust whipping through camp, blasting the vets and the riders trotting their horses out and the volunteer in timers, but the rainfall missed us altogether. Nobody came in screaming to the finish line, so either there were no lightning bolts up there, or else nobody else gets as scared as I do.

This is what's so great about endurance: you can do it at any age. Today we had the oldest and youngest riders on the trails: 7-year-old Spencer Falk and his mom Jannelle Wilde rode a 15-mile trail ride; 9 and 11-year-old sisters Burkleigh and Kennedy Yost rode the 50 with their dad Gentry, and 79-year-old Dot Wiggins rode the 25. Steph said at the awards dinner: "As far as I'm concerned, when you ride endurance when you're 80, all ride entries are free!"

Head vet Mike Vanzwol was surprised at the number of lameness pulls today (9 in the 50), several of them more than a one-leg lameness. The finish percentages were still great, however: all 18 horses finished the 25, 39 of 51 finished the 50, and 5 of 7 finished the 75. The only treatment today was "a horse who tried to open a barbed wire fence by himself" - one of the hazards of riding out here in the Wild West. Once the horse got back to camp - he was about 5 miles out - and got cleaned and doctored up, he was okay.

Ginger Head won the 25 on JLA Slew, crossing the line together with Amy Palmer and Navaar, and Rick Glass and DA Al Rasan. She's a local who just started endurance riding this year... our April Owyhee Tough Sucker was her first one!

Cody Boysen was the winner of the 50. Another relative newcomer to endurance, he did his first ride in 2007. He did some showing, then was about to get into cutting, but found endurance instead. He hauled in a couple of horses from Iowa to the Fandango, and hadn't planned on winning, but only moving out fast the first loop when it was cooler. But his mare was moving so well, she just kept going fast all day.

The turtle in the 50 was Carla Richardson from Colorado, venturing out here to our Owyhee rides for the first time. Carla's been following some of my stories, and she knew all about the infamous Dudley (who's always getting into trouble). I couldn't wait to point out Dudley to her, but she'd noticed him as soon as she arrived - and who could miss him. He was front and center pen at the Teeters, tossing his head in circles, (think Angus Young of AC/DC), sticking his head through his gate and trying to lift it off, banging his feed trough, reaching a big barrel through his fence and pulling it in closer to play with, then of course knocking it over - in general annoying everybody within earshot (especially the vets in the vetting ring) ALL WEEKEND. I believe I was not the only person yelling at him, or throwing things at him all weekend.

Jeanette Mero of Mariposa, Caliornia, was going for a win in the 75... and she got it, with her horse Maksymilian. Jeanette is a veterinarian, and started riding endurance in 2003. Maksymilian had 18 finishes in 20 starts before this ride, including a 10th place finish in the Tevis in 2007, and first place and BC in both the Californios 100 and the Swanton 100 in 2008, so she knew he was capable. Jeanette was very athletic in high school and college, and with endurance, she's able to combine her love of horses with athletic events. She used to do some showing, but likes endurance because it's so objective: you aren't paying for someone else's opinion, and it all falls on you to take care of your horse and get the best out of him. Her goal (like many of the FEI riders) is to ride in Kentucky in October, with a long-term goal of the WEC in 2010.

Turtle in the 75 was Tinker Hart, who brought 3 horses here from Minden, Nevada. "If I'm going to drive this far, I'm riding a horse every day!" Her ride time was... well, "It was really really long," Tinker offered, when Steph couldn't come up with it at the awards dinner. She got a cool colorful wooden turtle Steph brought home from Malaysia.

Things seemed to run pretty smoothly all day, on the trail (except for the few who got lost, and the Barbed Wire Fence incident), in camp, in the vet checks. The Blue Canoe dinner was great as usual, and my friend Tracy had caught up enough on most of the ride paperwork (though people were still arriving today, and some were changing mounts for tomorrow) so she got to actually sit down and have some real dinner.

My day wasn't over after my ride; I still had pictures to take, people to talk to, horses to feed and water and check on, (including one of Steph's mares, Princess, due to foal yesterday), Jose to give treats to, dinner to eat, shower to take, things to get ready for tomorrow (I was working, not riding), pictures to upload, and, a glass of wine or two to help things along. (And Brian Malkoske brought with him from Canada a batch of homemade Klondike bars that his wife Darla made, so I HAD to eat some of those too.)

Steph and John's day wasn't over either... between the paperwork and officials and paperwork and people asking questions and trying to get results done to have a ride meeting and organizing things for tomorrow's 4 rides (with two out vet checks at the Sierra Del Rio ranch), all I saw of them was a blur. I wouldn't call it a relaxing weekend for any of us. Not complaining... just an observation. And this was only Day 1.

It was an early night for most people, with an early 5:30 AM start scheduled for the 75 and 100-milers tomorrow. It was a quiet night in camp, with the crickets chirping and the screech owls tooting and Pickett Creek running in the background - one would never have known there were some 130 horses in camp.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Friday May 22 2009

Geez - where to begin!

The 2009 3-day Owyhee Fandango is over - and I'm not sure about Steph, but I sure feel like I've been hit with two freight trains going in opposite directions. Steph's probably about the same, although for different reasons, because her voice and body posture was the same as mine on the Tuesday morning after: gravelly and dragging!

The first big rigs started pulling into basecamp on Wednesday, and from there things went non-stop. I'd talked my friend Tracy into coming from L.A. to do all the secretarial work for the ride. She'd worked on rides for Jackie Bumgardner in southern California, it was a break from her routine, and it was Owyhee county in Idaho with all our famous celebrity horses - who could refuse that! It sounded good to her, so Steph flew her in... only neither of us had happened to mention the incredible amount of work she would be swamped with: instead of a "3-day multi-day ride," she got buried under, technically, 18 different rides, when you count all the distances, AERC, FEI, AHA, and OMG (as Steph later put it).

I picked Tracy up at the Boise airport on Thursday (and we ran errands
for the ride) and she immediately went to work as soon as she got to
basecamp. As more rigs steadily pulled in, and as USA Chef d'Equipe
Becky Hart and USA Team veterinarian Jim Bryant Jr held a couple of
USEF clinics for international-aspiring riders, and Christoph Schork
gave a hoofcare clinic in the morning, and as the local radio club set
up their equipment, I was busy with our horses and helping set up for the ride.

It didn't slow down at all on Friday, and neither did the steady stream of horse trailers pulling in, most of them carrying more horses than people. Basecamp was almost full, and there would probably be a few more riders trickling in on Saturday. The regular local riders brought their usual one or two mounts, and those FEI riders hoping to start or continue qualifying their horses (since FEI changed the qualification rules beginning of this year, much to the disgruntlement of many riders) brought multiple mounts. Christoph Schork and Dian Woodward of Moab Utah hauled in 9 horses! You'd often see one rider taking three horses at a time on a walk.

FEI requires you have all these extra vets and officials, so there were extra runs to the airports and shuttles to the hotel in Grandview or to Regina's house where at least one person stayed every night.

Tracy was drowning in registration papers - a 3-day ride with two distances is busy enough, what with people riding different horses on different days, then deciding to switch at the last minute, but add in the (ridiculous - I'm sorry, any way you look at it, it's ridiculous) amount of paperwork for the FEI horses and riders that ride management has to sort through, and switching rides with those at the last minute, and one person coming in with 4 horses and/or riders to register or change for 3 days, well, some people were waiting for several hours to just check in. But what can you do when there's so much paperwork required? People kept setting food and drinks in front of Tracy because she did not leave her desk from 11 AM till 11 PM.

Vetting in for Day 1 went on during the afternoong. There was a Wine and Cheese party at 6 PM sponsored by VETTEC, with wine from the local winery, Sawtooth Vineyard. Our regular caterers, Deb and Al of Blue Canoe, provided a hamburger and hot dog dinner for everyone.

I couldn't imagine why I was so tired by 9 PM - I'd felt like I'd ridden 50 miles and I hadn't even been on a horse! Only later I figured I'd probably walked 50 miles all day, what with moving horses around, feeding horses, running to find things for people, fetching this, setting up that, running around taking pictures, meeting up with Gretchen who'd come up from Bridgeport, vetting in Jose (who I'd get to ride tomorrow : ), and, oh yea, fetching horses all day for the shoers in the middle of everything.

If I was this tired already, it was going to be a loooooooooong weekend.
Fun, but long...

But where else would I want to be!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hot Horse

Tuesday May 19 2009

How do you stay cool on the first 95* day of almost-summer? How do you keep the biting bugs off on the buggiest day of almost-summer?

If you are one of The Others, you stand motionless with the least surface area facing the sun that's beating down, and you try to use somebody else's tail to fend off the bugs.

If you're Jose, obviously you walk up to where the sprinklers are going, and you hose yourself down.

You pivot in circles so you get all sides covered,

you spray your chest really well where the bugs bite the worst,

you spray your head,

you get your butt,

you spray under your head,

you spray your cheeks,

you get one last sprinkle from the top.

Then you go have a good roll in the dust, so you have a nice coating of dirt and mud that keeps the intense heat and the bugs off.

What kid doesn't like playing in the water sprinklers and dirt and mud?