Tickled Pink: 2008 Pink Flamingo Classic, Day Two
Want to read about Day One first? Click here.
On this second day of the ride, both horses and riders were more subdued. Fewer neighs rang through the meadow. Riders clutched coffee mugs, waved the 50-milers off with good luck wishes, carried on with the munching of bagels and saddling of horses as sunlight spilled down the hillside.
Aaruba stood alert but calm in his pen. Tacking took only a few minutes, as we’d decided to forego his Easyboots on Day 2. The earthen trails rendered boots quite unnecessary, and a gaiter rub from Day 1 was all the encouragement I needed to try this LD completely barefoot.
At the starting line, horses milled up and down, warming up, waiting for 7:30. Aaruba and I walked, then trotted amid the field of what seemed to be about 20 horses; not until that evening did I learn there were actually 45 horses in the race.
Aaruba was so mellow that we started down the trail almost as soon as it opened. Ten or twelve horses trotted ahead of us, led by a gaited stallion that wasn’t actually entered in the race. This was the horse that had colicked Friday evening, and he was hotter than snot after spending Saturday pent up while his buddies raced. Apparently due to a misunderstanding of the vet’s instructions to go ahead and ride 10 or 12 miles on Sunday, the rider took her horse along on the first loop of the LD instead of out with the trail riders.
The stallion set a raging pace along a rutted track that wound up the forested mountainside. Warmed up, full of air, charged by excitement and the still-cool air, Aaruba charged along among the close herd. Riders worked to settle into positions according to pace and preference, horses arched their necks and begged to run, some pairs passed while others fell back. I was impressed by the manners of this group, all of whom seemed to care for the safety of other horses and riders, but I was still glad to see the front runners disappear over a rise as the group strung out along the trail.
Having let Aaruba work out a little of his early energy, I asked him for a slower pace as we continued to climb. He fought a bit but complied, though at one point we were passed by a faster horse and I chose to dismount and lead Aaruba until he shut off his race brain and deigned to listen to me again. Back astride, I guided him through a cross-country section of trail, picking through stumps and forest litter at the head of a short line of riders also content to walk the tricky stuff.
When we reached better footing, we trotted again, still uphill, and caught up with the crowd clustered around the mile 5 water stop. (Mile 5 already?) Waiting for a turn at the tanks, I shed my fleece jacket and sponged Aaruba’s neck and shoulders. Thankfully, he drank despite mild indignation upon being left behind as the front runners continued along the trail. We carried on alone, in a kind of bubble between groups of other riders, which is my favorite place to be.
At the mile 10 water stop, we caught up with a pair of riders who’d elected to give their mounts a grazing break. Aaruba still felt strong and full of air, so after a quick drink, we moved on. Soon, the trail turned downhill for the 5 mile journey into the hold. I’ve said before that Aaruba is a great downhill horse. We don’t practice much during conditioning, as it’s hard on the joints, but this was a perfect time to let Aaruba cruise along at a smooth but enormous trot, eating up trail at what must have been about 14 mph.
When ride camp came into view, I dismounted just as the horse in front of me spooked, dumping his rider over his shoulder. Thankfully, the rider was unhurt and we all walked in together. Aaruba pulsed down immediately, vetted through with all A’s, and bounced happily down the trail at the end of our 1-hour hold. Little did he know that were were headed straight into the Pasture of Doom.
Our fluttering line of orange and white ribbons led us across a grassy meadow and into a cluster of scrubby trees. A pair of gaited horses passed us on a narrow section of trail, just as a small group of spotted calves came into view. Concentrating on steering, especially since one of the other horses had a red “kicker” flag in its tail, I failed to notice that the calves stood on the fringes of an entire herd of Carniverous Cows from Planet Horseflesh.
Aaruba’s head flung skyward. His eyes bulged. His shoulder dropped in the frantic sidepass that precedes a bolt. I pulled one rein to my hip and dug a heel into Aaruba’s ribs, disengaging his hindquarters long enough for me to jump off and avert a panicked charge across a field pockmarked by ground squirrel burrows. Whew!
Leading Aaruba past the cattle was not unlike rolling a keg of dynamite through a burning building, but we made it. As an added bonus, the gaited horses had disappeared up the trail, leaving us alone again. Aaruba’s frayed nerves knit themselves back together as we left the cattle behind, and we set a brisk but controlled pace along the relatively level trail.
We caught the gaiters again at the water stop, which consisted of a wide creek with firm footing. Little did I know that said creek would later contribute to the Bad Day award, earned by another rider whose mount would spill her into the water! Aaruba waded in above his knees to splash and drink before lighting out again for the second half of the loop. The gaiters had gone on ahead, but we glimpsed them frequently as we jogged along a section of trail made treacherous by holes hidden in deep grass.
I still had plenty of horse — so much, in fact, that I had to dismount and tighten the noseband of Aaruba’s bitless bridle for extra control in the slow sections. Knowing were were near the end, we picked up a fast trot soon as we arrived on safe footing, catching up with the gaiters to finish the race in a group.
Aaruba headed straight for the water and drank so much he hiccuped, but he pulsed down within a minute to secure 8th place. Surprise! Like at the Owyhee Fandango, I’d top tenned without realizing it, simply by choosing the pace that felt right for my horse. This time, however, Aaruba had a lot more gas left in the tank. He breezed through his CRI and seemed to perform well when we showed for Best Condition an hour later, though the vet made no comment.
Then began the part of endurance riding you don’t hear much about: waiting. With a ride time of 2:55, we were done by lunch time and had the entire afternoon to kill before dinner and awards. Travis and I carried our chairs into the shady horse trailer during the heat of the afternoon. We read novels, snacked on granola and grapes, took Aaruba and Wyrsa for periodic walks, packed our camping gear for the drive home, and chatted with other riders as they came in.
Finally, it was time to gather for a dinner of enormous pizzas from a restaurant in Cascade, then settle in for the awards. I must say it was nice to hear my name called for a completion award — a handy three-legged, folding stool from Cabelas. We didn’t get the 2-day completion fleece vest I was hoping for, so I guess we’ll have to try again next year (oh, darn).
When the time came to award Best Condition, which this ride offers through third place, I settled back in my chair to clap for the winners. Having come in 8th and tacked out at just 146 pounds, I supposed that, as good as Aaruba looked, we weren’t in the running. Wrong again!
You guessed it: Third place BC! Aaruba’s score of 651.5 won a nice grooming tote embroidered with the PFC logo. It’ll be handy at home for organizing farrier tools, and we’ll add brushes and the like to take to future rides.
Best of all, we redeemed ourselves from Day 1’s foolishness. As the ride manager said, “training ride one day, BC the next!” It could be worse, my friends, it could be worse.
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