Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2008 Pink Flamingo Day I

Saturday July 26 2008

Well, you learn something from every ride.

My lessons from the Pink Flamingo Classic were: never, ever, eat another muffin before an endurance ride; and, don't just assume your horse will follow your plan for the day.

Steph and Jose, and Carol and August, left on the 50 mile ride at 5 AM. I had plenty of time to get ready for my 7:30 AM start, stuff a muffin down with a few cups of coffee. Only I looked at my watch, and it was 7:20, and I still had to get my helmet and chaps on, and I'd planned to ride Mac around a bit to warm him up, because it was a chilly, very damp, morning, and Mac had cramped up once before at a ride on a cold morning in the hind end, even after a very good warm up.

Well, it wasn't that big of a deal, I'd just start out on the trail walking a ways, then gradually take up a slow trot until he was good and warmed up, then go on from there. I led Mac up to the starting area and mounted him, all the while wishing I hadn't eaten that muffin for breakfast.

Now, Mac is from Rushcreek Ranch in Nebraska, where there is nothing but grass, more grass, and a handful of scrubby bushes no higher than horse fetlocks, with maybe a few scrubby 'trees' along a creek (like we have at home in Oreana, along which Mac sometimes grazes). He'd never seen a real TREE, much less a FOREST. I was prepared for that, expecting he might be spooking at first. Mac had done 3 LDs in Oreana (the one of which I pulled him from when he cramped up), so he had some idea of what an endurance ride was all about - horses coming and going at different speeds, passing and being passed. He'd handled Jose and August leaving him at the horse trailer early in the morning quite well. However, he'd never done an endurance ride away from home. With some horses that doesn't matter; with some it does.

The first oh, forty-five seconds went according to my plan. We let other horses go out onto the trail, then started off ourselves, just walking... but it sort of disintegrated about 30 yards from camp. I was riding a different Mac from the one I knew, one who was getting himself more wound up and excited and fretful every step further from camp. I had worried slightly about showing off on a horse with pink ribbons that might just buck me off, but it wasn't the ribbons that were stirring him up. If I had WARMED HIM UP PROPERLY, I could have let him go on with other horses for company, you know, the horses who had been properly warmed up before the start and were able to take off at a good trot. Since I hadn't done that with Mac, I worried about him going too hard right at the start, and cramping up again in the cold.

The further we went, the worse he got, and then we came to a big steep hill. Which he wanted to run up. I tried to keep him moving forward, but that turned into a climbing leaping half bolting, which expended 4 times the energy he should have been expending at this point in the ride. Robert Washington's words were echoing in my head, TAKE CARE OF YOUR HORSES. Then when a horse came galloping up the hill behind us - that was all she wrote, full panic Mac attack.

I jumped off (Mac did come to a - frantic - standstill when I said, "Whoa!"), and I started walking him on foot up the hill. Did I say this was a very steep hill? And my stomach was disagreeing with the muffin? Mac was much calmer now, and when we had a break from a view of the horses in front of us and behind us, I got back on him. We continued more forwardly (rather than the up-and-down bouncing) until some more horses came up behind us, and Mac panicked again.

I jumped off again, and kept leading him up the hill. The steep hill, which, with the exertion, was really making me regret my breakfast. Bruce Worman and Joni Cornell on Zippy and Quinn were coming up behind me. They slowed down and offered to wait for me, but I told them to go on, I'd keep leading Mac for a bit.

Mac settled down some when they were out of sight, and - I figured we were last by now - I got back on him, and he was more manageable. He was still keyed up - but at least moving more forward instead of up-and-down, and slowly we caught up to Bruce and Joni - Mac was so focused on catching the horses he knew were ahead of us, that he hadn't noticed yet he was in a forest. Which was probably a good thing.

Mac was now doing much better with some babysitters, so we stayed with Bruce and Joni the rest of the day - thanks guys! I did worry a bit that we were moving too fast for Mac, and I still kept hearing TAKE CARE OF YOUR HORSES in my head, but I knew I was expending less of Mac's energy than I would be if I tried holding him back. And I didn't want to be the tag-along whiner, "Can you slow down for me? Can you go slower here? Can you ride my ride and not your ride?" I took my chances letting Mac move on out, hoping he'd warmed himself up properly. I just didn't want to be the only person whose horse was treated today!

So Mac was settled and moving along better, but my stomach still wasn't happy. I was still expending lots of energy keeping Mac at a steady pace with my legs, and riding his big trot - he really picks his front feet up, which was bigger on the slight downhills. It wasn't till we'd covered about 14 miles that I really started to feel more normal, and notice the trails we were on. We'd climbed up into the mountains on soft logging roads and a few cross-country trails - and I didn't recall seeing one rock. Wow. Every endurance rider's fantasy - a trail with no rocks! The towering firs and Ponderosa or Jeffrey pines kept us in the shade most of the day, and we got a few scenic glimpses of the valley below.

We cruised into the vet check all of a sudden - seemed like a short loop in distance, but then, I was on a horse with a big trot, and we'd moved right along over much of it. We walked straight to the pulse taker and Mac's pulse was already down (criteria was 60), and we went on to the vet line where Nance Worman was waiting for us. She was crewing for Bruce and Joni, (and me too by tag-along rules : ), and she trotted out all of our horses for the vet. In fact, Nance generously trotted out many horses for many people all day, and Susan Favro, assisting the vets, noted that Nance probably did her own 50 miles on foot today.

It was in the crewing area that Mac found religion - Vet Check Horse Treaties! Ohmigod there was the natural meadow grass, there was hay and alfalfa, there was a BIG BUCKET OF FLOATING OATS WITH BRAN ON THE BOTTOM (!) and there was a BUCKET OF FLOATING CARROTS! It was pure Horse Heaven. Mac didn't even notice at first that Quinn and Zippy had gone on to their horse trailer, nor did he care when he did notice. He gave one little nicker and turned his nose back to the floating oats. Mac stayed and ate and ate - not knowing which Treatie was best and which one to eat next!

I finally drug Mac away ("Come on Mac, leave some for the other horses!") to the Wormans' trailer, where Nance held onto Mac (and plied him with more bran and alfalfa) while I walked back to our trailer. First thing I did was hide those wretched muffins so I wouldn't have to look at them again, and get some cold drinks, because I still didn't feel like eating anything.

On the second loop, Mac was so much more settled, he wanted to take the lead! And now, he was settled enough that he noticed the TREES and the FOREST. He was pretty brave leading in front, albeit pretty slowly and cautiously. He was so overwhelmed with the huge trees everywhere they didn't register individually, but he sure noticed some of those laying-down trees, and tree stumps, and big boulders. The 4-foot tall trees tended to be a bit scary too, especially when they were in the middle of a two-track logging road. Horse Gods only knew what those things were or what they were hiding!

A group of 5 riders caught up with us and passed us, and then Mac was happy to follow, having done his brave stint in the lead for, oh, a half mile. We passed this group again, but with the braver Zippy leading the way.

Zippy did encounter a scary cougar which produced a HUGE spook, which Bruce stayed on by flying up onto Zippy's neck, hanging on, and muscling his way back into the saddle. Zippy waited patiently for Bruce to straighten himself up, partly because I think she was embarrassed by the cougar turning out to just be a rock. It could have been a cougar though; we'd heard rumors at the ride meeting last night of a bear sighting, and prints - either wolf or feline - bigger than a man's spread hand.

This loop was 12 miles, but part of it was tough: a Big, Steep, Long, hill, and just when we thought we were done with climbing, it continued upwards. The horses were huffing and puffing and sweating just walking up it. Mac was using muscles that he probably didn't know he had, to propel himself up that steep hill.

And what do you think was at the top of that hill as a reward for our efforts? Not just the beginning of the long winding downhill, and not just a big water trough for the horses, but a nice young man handing out frozen OTTER POPS - and he even cut the tops off for us! Mac dove his nose into the water, and we humans eagerly grabbed our Treaties and groaned with pleasure. With all the great trails, the plenty of water on the trail for the horses, the great Horse Treaties at the vet check, and these Otter Pops, we decided this was one of the best rides ever.

Horse flies started coming out around noon on the trails, but they weren't too bad for us. The 50 milers later in the afternoon got swarmed at places. Luckily, there were none in camp.

We headed on down logging roads at a mostly gentle angle, at one spot passing a group of Drill Team Gaiters - a drill team from Boise riding gaited horses (a good number of Tennessee Walkers were at this ride, like last weekend's ride at Bandit Springs, Oregon). I couldn't talk them into doing a little performance for us at the ride meeting and dinner tonight.

We came to a right turn off the logging road - that we almost missed, and that several people did miss, going by the horse tracks continuing on straight - a steep long downhill trail, using the other muscles Mac never knew he had (we got off to walk), coming out eventually on Diann Simpson's ranch. Diann's an endurance rider, and since her main endurance horse was off right now, she was helping with the ride. A couple of easy flat miles through the grassy valley, passing a herd of cattle that Mac looked at inquiringly ("are we going to go round them up now?"), we quickly came back into Horse Heaven (Ride Camp) and the finish.

Mac's pulse was immediately down again, Nance vetted him through, and we went straight back to the Horse Treaties. The Raven, who'd had a great time in his Raven bag, with his own pink neck ribbons flying in the wind, got his own vet check. Dr Danny Borders checked him over thoroughly, and marked him down with all A's! Go Raven!

Mac chowed down on the Horse Treaties before I dragged him back to the trailer. He ate more there, then fell into a doze in the hot sun. As a reward for his strenuous performance, I took him for a walk - back up to the vet check for more Treaties. We did try to leave some for the other horses who were still out riding - but I was so pleased that Mac was eating and drinking so well. When Jose and Steph came in from finishing their 50 mile ride, Mac and I escorted them to the vet check - where Mac sampled the Horse Treaties again. (Really couldn't help it!)

The ride dinner started at 6:30, with a long line of hungry people waiting to be served chicken and sweet beans by one of Sally Tarbet's sisters (several of us had asked her, are you Sally's sister? They could almost pass for twins.) Then for dessert - what - only 1 small box of brownies?! I confess I was one of the ones who ran, shamelessly ran, up to grab one of those brownies, leaving many people behind me with an aching sweet tooth (I did at least grab the smallest one! Does that make me a slightly better person?)... but plenty more brownies were soon brought out for the rest of the crowd (and I did not go get another one!)

66 of 68 starters finished the 50-mile ride, the only pulls being a horse lame that had been kicked, and a rider option. 41 of 43 starters finished the 30-miler, with the 2 pulls being the riders taking wrong turns. The trail was very well marked, but if you aren't paying attention (as almost happened to us), you might miss a turn. I believe these two riders were pointed in the wrong direction and ended up following different colored ribbons. Happens to many of us at some point in our endurance careers. Best of all, no horses were treated, and I sure was happy that my horse and I were included in that statistic!

All of the finishers got nifty camping chairs as ride awards - perfect for sticking into your crew bags for out vet checks, so you don't have to sit on the ground (like at Steph's Owyhee rides) and get stickers in your ride pants - and there were awards for the youngest rider, oldest rider, and riders who came from the furthest away (which was Canada and California, both over 1000 miles).There was the best Flamingo Camp award, and the Best Dressed award: Vicki Green, who looked like an inflated walking flamingo. There were Mid-Pack awards, and Bad Day awards. I think there could have been a Handsomest Horse award, which would have gone to Dick Root's huge half mustang half ? (surely part draft horse), Rocky. He's near 17 hands - Dick gets him to lower himself by moving forward his front legs, so Dick can mount a little easier. He's "a little heard-headed," said Dick, and he uses one big bit on him, but he sure is one good-looking horse.

And then came the Raffle drawings. Sally's sister-in-law Theresa, a breast cancer survivor, headed the raffle, to raise money for the American Cancer Society Strides Against Breast Cancer Research. It turned into one rip-roaring, jolly good party, all for a good cause. It was expected that close to $2000 had been raised here at the ride, and, that amount would be added to by entry fees from this Pink Flamingo Ride, and by Sally Tarbet's husband's company. Raffle prizes - including plastic water tanks, artwork, restaurant dinners, horse blankets, gift baskets, etc etc - were donated by so many companies and individuals.

It was like Christmas for Naomi Preston - who had been crewing all day, so she had much spare time to keep buying tickets and dropping them in the buckets - and a handful of other people - like Steph Teeter. Steph had left me at the raffle, while she and Carol walked our horses, to "pick up anything she might win."

Well. Steph won so many things, and of course, nothing small, that I had to borrow the big Hot Pink Wheelbarrow (won by Sally Tarbet) to cart all her things back to our camp - where Steph was really shocked when she saw her loot!

And so concluded Day I of the Pink Flamingo Classic. I learned a few things at this endurance ride - about horses and breakfasts, and Mac learned a few things too: there are a lot of REALLY REALLY big plants out there that stick way up, like 210 hands (!) into the sky, and some of them lay on the ground and might attack you or hide things that might attack you; and, Vet Checks are the best things since cracked corn, because they have Really Great Horse Treaties!

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