The Making of a Monster: Owyhee Canyonlands 2009, Day 5
All right, all right — I’ll write, I’ll write! You guys crack me up with your comments.
But I’m warning you, it’s like I told Ironman shortly after dismounting on Day 5: I have no story to tell. No one kicked or bucked or ran away or fell off or won or got lost or came up lame. It was just a plain, old, marvelous, enchanting, exhilarating ride.
… … …
Oh yes. The question of the 50. Well.
“What are you doing today,” Ironman asked for the benefit of his video camera, aiming the viewfinder at me and Consolation as we strolled toward the starting line.
“We’re doing the fifty.” I said. “At least, we’re going to try. You never know what will happen.”
Consolation certainly thought she knew. Milling among the other horses, she quivered with controlled excitement. When the trail opened and we all took off like a herd of turtles, walking along the gravel road and the steep hill we’d climbed at the beginning of Day 1, she pranced along at the back of the pack. It’s only 30 miles, Mom. Let’s go!
You don’t know what you’re in for, little lady.
She listened (mostly) to the repeated “no” of seat and reins, and I didn’t have to work too hard to hold her in. All the same, we were both delighted to reach the top of the ridge and take off trotting under an expanse of iron-clouded sky. The endless wind swirled her mane around my hands dust rolled away in clouds from the line of horses strung like beads along the trail ahead. It filled her nostrils with fuss and snort, but she responded willingly enough when I planted her behind another horse to help moderate her speed.
Still, the first seven or eight miles flashed by. I felt we’d scarcely begun when we found ourselves already at the first water stop. Horses clustered around a pair of large tanks set a few yards off the trail. Among them was a lovely, chestnut sabino I recognized as Amanda Washington’s new mare, Replika.
“How’s it going?” asked Amanda, whose response when I’d told her the evening before that we planned to try the 50 was, “About time!” (Incidentally, Karen Bumgarner said exactly the same thing minutes later, then proceeded to reassure me that what I’d heard time and again is true — it’s not the miles that beat up young horses, it’s excessive speed. I must say, their confidence in us was inspiring.)
“She’s fine,” I replied. “Doing great.” (I did say that I have no story, remember?)
Indeed, Consolation looked happily around, ignoring the water. Cool day, early in the ride, no cause for concern. We headed back down the trail, now alone in a gap between riders. Within minutes, however, Amanda and Replika caught up to us. The mares paced each other nicely, Consolation drawing on Replika’s speed, and Replika on Consolation’s calm. Amanda and I chatted our way on into the vet check, where Consolation vetted through with all A’s.
I threw a fleece blanket over her hindquarters to stave off the chilly, moist breeze that had the volunteers shivering. She ate samplings of various hays and wild grasses while I consumed a handful of nuts from my saddlebag, but she showed no interest in her beet pulp or water. Ah, well. Still early, still cool, and I’ve learned that she generally doesn’t drink until we’re at least 15 miles in.
“Ready?” Amanda called, appearing nearby with Replika in hand. I offered Consolation one, last chance at the trough — no go — before stuffing her blanket back into its plastic bag, in case of rain, and mounting up.
The second loop took us down the sandy wash we’d ridden on Day 1, then all the way out to the Snake River. On windier days, I’m told, the river flashes with whitecaps, but today its waves sloshed more gently toward shore. All the same, Consolation wasn’t interested in drinking along the muddy, buggy beach.
By the time we reached a second river access point, this one with a bucket waiting for horses that prefer not to drink from natural sources (not that such is typically a problem for Consolation), I was really ready to see her take in some water. Alas, she was far more interested in ridding her ears of the riverside gnats while chewing mouthfuls of grass than in drinking. All the same, her attitude and energy level remained normal, the weather chilly, and our pace very reasonable. I figured she’d drink when she was good and ready.
Boy, was I right! About five miles from the vet check, I felt her flagging a bit and commented to Amanda that she finally felt like she needed water. Sure enough, the moment the pulse timer declared us “down” at the vet check, she spotted the trough and dragged me there so fast that I accidentally bumped into another rider who was peaceably watering her horse at the crowded tank.
Finally, and to my great pleasure, Consolation drank so much I thought she might drown. (Perhaps she learned a lesson, eh?) She earned all A’s from the vet again, then steadily munched hay right up until it was time to leave again. Her ribcage felt discernibly wider between my knees as we walked the first half-mile, warming up slowly under a sky darkened by increasing threat of rain.
Taking turns in the lead, Consolation and Replika carried us back across the desert, across the highway, across the ridge where the storm pulled their tails horizontal and wrinkled their noses with displeasure at a spattering of icy drops. We dropped off the ridge, trotted along the road, then bounced back up and across the bluff behind ridecamp. Consolation swept toward the finish on a wave of energy, snorting playfully at clumps of sagebrush and the tiny creek where Ironman waited with his camera.
“Looks like you have an endurance horse,” Amanda said as we dismounted and led our ponies in for 24rd and 25th place out of 32 starters and 30 finishers. She’s right, I realized, feeling a grin creep across my face. I do have an endurance horse again. At last.
“I’m not sure this is right,” the ride manager said as she came across our names. “Did you ride the fifty?”
“Sure did,” I said, as Karen Bumgarner called out, “Amanda and I forced her into it. I think we may have created a monster.”
Yes, ma’am. I think you just might have. Perhaps there’s a story in my little gray mare, after all. Ride on!
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