Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009 Owyhee Tough Sucker

Saturday April 18 2009

Owyhee Tough Sucker

They don't come to this spring ride for the frills: the showers aren't working, there are no catered meals; ride awards are not donated by sponsors and are somewhat improvised. You might find that trail pie plates with arrows on them pinned to sagebrush have blown away, or half blown away so that the arrows are pointing the wrong way (so watch for the ribbons, and bring your map), and you might find ribbons pinned to cow pies instead of stakes in the ground. And if you show up a day or two early, expect to be recruited for chores: marking trails (use the rides to condition your orse! Or bring your dirt bike!), getting the lawn mower started (sometimes you get to mow the lawn too!), fixing an outhouse, putting out water troughs or setting up pens - just depends on timing and how lucky you are.

They do come here for the thrills: perfect weather (this year!); excellent trails; easy first ride at the start of the season (for most horses); a choice of 3 distances: 25 miles, 50 miles, 75 miles; and just the great company here in this part of the Pacific Northwest.

I was going to get to ride John T's horse Rushcreek Mac in the 50, with Steph on Rhett, meaning we were going to go FAST! But Mac colicked on Thursday night (!). Mac was fine on Friday, but riding him was out of the question. So, I pulled Jose Viola off the bench and took him on the 25 mile ride. Jose hasn't been ridden much since September, and by December he was already out of riding shape (like me). I knew he could handle the 25, but I didn't want to push him, or let him go too fast like he'd want to on a 50... there's always more endurance rides down the road.

The 2009 Owyhee Tough Sucker was the first time in Owyhee ride history that local Owyhee celebrity Frank was not present. What - Tom Noll without Frank?? Instead, it was the Debutante Debut of Whiskey a large, stout, big-headed original Owyhee County mustang.

Six years ago, Tom and some friends were out riding near Wilson Creek. On their way back to their trailer, they ran into some ATV guys who said, "We found your horse loose and we tied him to your trailer." "Our horse?" they thought. What they saw tied to their trailer was a less-than-one-day-old mustang colt who had probably gotten left behind from his mama during a BLM roundup that was going on right then. Geez - what to do with a tiny mustang colt?

You put him in the back seat of your truck and you take him to Tom's house. They straightened up the BLM/ownership details later, and in the last 6 years, Tom has been getting Whiskey ready for his endurance debut. Tom sent his entry in the mail with a debutante card - Whiskey's Coming Out into (Endurance) Society party.

I'd heard some Stories of Whiskey the last year or two... like he knocked other horses and riders off the trail once (or twice), he was freaking out on a ride once when another horse was wearing a fly mask, he's very opinionated, friends had a Mustang Intervention with Whiskey and Tom and they made Tom send him to a trainer... things like that. When Tom brought him to the vet in on Friday, he was carrying a little riding whip. I saw him waving the whip at Whiskey, and Whiskey staring at him. "What are you doing, swatting flies?" "No, I'm training him!" Tom laughed.

Ask anybody who handles mustangs regularly, and they'll tell you that mustangs are just a little different than all other horse breeds, that you handle them a bit differently. It was Whiskey's first endurance ride, and Tom thought 50 miles might be a little stretch for him, but he knew that 25 miles would be too short. "He'll just have to Toughen Up at the Tough Sucker!" They'd be riding with Nance Worman and Quinn - their occasional riding partners. (And Nance didn't show up until 7 AM Saturday, just in time to saddle up for the 7:30 AM start.)

It was a good turnout for the ride: 21 riders on the 25 miler, 30 on the 50 miler, and 7 on the 75 miler. Several people were here for their first endurance ride ever, in the 25 and 50 milers. Several horses were doing their first endurance ride. Neighbors Rick and Carol, who helped ribbon the trail and put out water for the ride, got out early Saturday morning to check on water, AND they rode their first-time horses, Performazon and Boon, on the 25.

The 75-milers started right near sunrise, 6:30 AM; the 50 milers started at 7:30 AM, and us 25-milers hit the trail at 8:30. I prefer doing 50 mile rides, but now and again, I sure don't mind sleeping in late, and getting finished early in the day! Especially when I'm riding a great horse like Jose.

When you do an endurance ride, do you choose to ride with somebody, or by yourself? There's good and fun reasons for both. And I did both today. Jose and I (and the Raven) started off near the back of the pack with a group of 4 horses - I knew Jose would want to go faster than was good for him, and he's better about rating with a group. I sure didn't want him to get in any hot-shoe race with any fast horses up front. He's such a good horse; he always listens, and even when he does get excited (which is not too often), he doesn't pull.

The first 15-mile loop for all distances led onto the northeast flats, following the rim above Bates Creek canyon. What a perfect morning: 55* and a slight breeze, not a cloud in the sky, snow on the Owyhees to the southwest, an enchanting layer of green all over this desert, the occasional deep pink Indian paintbrush and the yellow arrow-leaf balsam root, and a couple of purple flower carpets along the way.

Jose and I hung with this group, Yvonne, Mary, Pam (riding a huge Shire-Thoroughbred mare), and Lew, for a couple of miles at a slow steady trot. Lew had been talked into doing his first endurance ride by ride manager Regina. He was riding his wife's horse, and after he finished his first ride today, he decided that he had enjoyed himself quite a lot, and he might be back in May to do it again at the Owyhee Fandango. "This is a real good group of people here," he noticed.

Then Jose and I moved on ahead with Tammy Bromley and Ali for a while, crossing Bates Creek road and trotting our way back up onto, and along, the southwest flats. Then we went on ahead by ourselves, me and Jose, moving along at his choice of pace and gait, until we got to the top of Pickett Creek Canyon. I got off and walked him down into the Canyon, and then I got back on and let him go the last 1 1/2 miles back to camp. He trotted big, he cantered, and I only slowed him down right before we came in. I figured it would take him a while to pulse down, but as soon as Regina checked him, she said "Oh, he's down!" Well - good for Jose! Maybe he wasn't that out of shape after all.

We had a 30 minute hold, and just as we were going back out on our second loop of 10 miles, Rhett and Steph were coming in off their 3rd loop. Oh darn! Jose whinnied after his buddy for several miles as we went along the trail away from base camp. But nevertheless, Jose is always quite willing to do what you ask, so we kept moving along by ourselves, trotting slowly but steadily until we got to the little climb heading up onto the scenic Hart Creek Rim Trail. Jose had a bit of sweat going on under the breast collar, and though I knew we weren't moving too fast for him at all, we slowed to a walk all the way up the hill.

Once up top, we saw a couple of horses ahead of us, and Jose decided they needed passing. We steadily caught up to and passed the first pair, and while we set aim on the next single horse, I swear Jose was enjoying the view off to our left of Hart Creek Canyon. He's a looker and he likes to take in everything around him. He

The trail took us back onto Spring Ranch road and Jose caught up with Carrie Thornburn, doing her first endurance ride on her Arabian mare A Little Jazzy. Carrie was a trail rider, and decided to try endurance when she realized her mare would be good at it. And they both looked great, just trotting on down the trail like they'd been doing it for thousands of miles. She said later they'd both had a great day.

We stayed with them a while, then Jose chose to move onward as we turned for home the last time, along the ridge above Pickett Creek. The cool wind blew my hair in the Owyhee sunshine, and Jose's hooves clipped rhythmically along the dirt road. I thought of how lucky I was to be here today, with my buddy Jose, a strong and willing and sure-footed partner carrying me along the trail on a day like this.

Once up to
I got off for the walk down into Pickett Creek Canyon again, and when I got back on Jose, I let him cruise home again. Jose is just the coolest horse! We cantered much of the mile-and-a-half back, never breaking a sweat, and his pulse was down as soon as Regina checked him at the finish. AND we'd come in 5th place, only 11 minutes behind the winner!

"Geez Jose, we coulda done the 50 today after all!" But there's always more endurance rides. I gave the Joser a big hug and took him back to eat. "You want to show for BC?" asked Regina. "Sure," I said, though with my weight we wouldn't have a chance (heavier riders have the advantage in the weight percentage of the BC judging). "Jose wants to do it!"

I stepped on the scale with my tack, and somebody yelled, "What does that bring you to, 100 pounds?" Heck, Jose carried a lot more than that! 150 pounds with my tack. That puts me into the UPPER end of the featherweight category, almost a lightweight, thankyouverymuch. Jose got to eat and eat, and got cleaned up, then we went and trotted in circles, then Jose got to eat and eat and eat some more, hay and beet pulp and treaties sprinkled liberally with hugs.

Steph and Rhett came came in just a few minutes after we finished our 25 - they tied with Richard White and Kats Kite for first on the 50 - and while I would have had fun riding Mac fast with her (he'd probably have kept up the whole way), man, I just had the best ride on Jose.

Another good thing about these Owyhee rides, besides the good company, are the good riders - we usually have good finishing percentages, which can only mean we have some good riders that take good care of their horses, and listen to advice from more experienced riders and from the vets when they need it (with a few exceptions). 18 of 21 riders finished the 25, 28 of 30 riders finished the 50, and all 7 riders on the 75 miler finished, and all of them before dark. Only one of the first timers didn't finish.

Craig Van Engelen chose to do his first endurance ride in the 50 miler, on a big gorgeous palomino. Several riders saw him cantering along the trail with a big grin on his face, having a great time. Jose and I passed him in Pickett Creek Canyon, coming off our last loop. His palomino wanted to come with us. "He'd gallop all day if I let him!" The vets advised him to slow down for his final loop because his horse was looking pretty whooped... and Craig did slow down, and he finished the ride in 13th. I saw his horse trot out at the finish, and he looked great. Craig was still grinning at the awards dinner.

There were two familiar mules at the ride: Ann Kock's Lamplighter Hot Stuff, who did the 50, and Max Merlich and Junior, who did the 75 with his wife Lisa Anderson. Junior has over 2600 miles under his big girth, including 3 100's. Junior's rarely fast, but he's nearly always there - only 5 pulls in his 61 rides.

Cindy Bradley finished 15th on her Morgan, Bogar Tucker. After some serious health problems over the last couple of years, Cindy is finally riding steadily again. The Tough Sucker made 355 miles (plus 50 miles of LDs) just this year already! She's back!

Annerose Carlile, long-time Northwest rider - over 9000 career miles - finished the 50 on JAC Ginger, a horse with over 4000 miles, all but 200 of them with Annerose.

There were also 5 gaited horse riders who showed up after noon to do a 15-mile trail ride - go gaiters!

What did Whiskey think of his first ride? "At 40 miles he was thinking it was already too far!" said Tom Noll. Whiskey came to a stop up on one of the ridges... (a few times, I think) he decided he wasn't going any further. Eventually Tom got him going again (and again), and they completed the 50-mile ride, alongside Nance and Quinn, in just under 8 1/2 hours. Not bad for a mustang who hasn't yet figured out the thrill of going down the trail like his horse mentor Frank has.

Michele Unsworth won the 25 mile ride and BC on Morgan; Melinda Sands in her first endurance ride was second, just behind her. Richard White and Steph tied for first on the 50; third place Ernie Schrader and his big paint, Captain Calypso, got BC. Dick Root won first place and BC on Bubba in the 75.

You just didn't hear too many complaints from people - even from the 2 riders who got lost (Steph went out on the ATV to search for one) and were overtime. "I always count it a good ride if I came away with no bruises!" "It was a good ride because I didn't fall off!" Those were words of wisdom from some experienced riders. Then there was an overdose of "It's a beautiful day!" and "The people here are just great."

It was a pretty easy ride for 58 Owyhee Tough Suckers - it really couldn't have been any better.

The only thing I have to add is: the Raven and I love Jose.

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