Monday, April 8, 2019

Hillbillie Willie: Running with his Tough Sucker Outlaws

April 8 2019

I'll admit to a little case of the nerves before the start of some endurance rides on Hillbillie Willie, the off-the-track Standardbred racehorse-turned-endurance horse. On some of his last few rides, I haven't had a riding partner, so I haven't had a plan. He's not an easy horse to partner with; while he's not going to buck or rear, he can be hot and too fast (and, depending on how excited he is, rough to ride, and tough), and so big-strided that not just anybody can comfortably keep up with him. And on Willie, I can't worry about making the other rider comfortable - i.e. riding their ride.

I've got to start near the front with him, otherwise Willie will be in perpetual hot pursuit and I'll get a rough ride till he settles down and smooths out, which kicks in at about, oh, about 30 miles or so. (Loop 3 is usually fabulous!) He doesn't yet have the sense or experience to settle down and take it easy on himself, and not go out and kill himself by going too fast on a loose rein.

Last ride of last season - the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies in our back yard - we started with the front group and luckily sorted ourselves out with the perfect partners: Naomi Preston and Fire Mt Malabar (7200+ miles, 47 Best Conditions). Forever after known as "Uncle Mal," young Willie and 19-year-old Malabar matched strides and speeds just about perfectly and got on well together. Willie learned some tricks of the endurance trade (namely - calm your a$$ down, it's OK to stop and grab grass along the trail, it's perfectly fine to let other horses pass us on the trail, chill out and drink up at the water tanks, bub, etc), that hopefully absorbed into some memory cells to be called upon down the years.

In our Owyhee Tough Sucker ride here this weekend, the first ride of the season, I had no plan and I had a touch of the nerves the night before. Willie was fit, but I didn't want him racing with the front runners, who I expected would be smokin' fast. At the start, I let the group of 5 or so charge out first and fast, and we found ourselves setting out on the trail with - guess who - Uncle Mal and Naomi, and Cousin Hawk (GAC Winterhawk) and Lee.

The start was perfect - relaxed and easy - and the middle was perfect - relaxed and easy - and the rest of the ride was pretty much perfect. Willie's in-laws/out-laws didn't mind the company, so we stayed with them the entire 50-mile ride, and I'd say that was one of Willie's best rides ever. He's always a work in progress, but I could see and feel so much improvement in him - the calm start, very few moments of over-excitement, going along pretty much the whole ride with a lowered, relaxed head carriage (we have been working on this hard for over a year), no tailgating, not minding when horses passed him on the trail, eating lots of spring grass along the trails (he got an A on gut sounds at the finish!). He learned so much from his mentors on this ride.

Willie looks like a million bucks the day after his first ride of his third endurance season, and while I feel like I've been run over by a wild range cow ( ), it was all worth it!

You can see more photos and get a ride recap here:

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