by Tamara Baysinger
So. I decided to ride Acey on Day 1. Gotta get it overwith sometime, right? Besides, out vet checks and two holds looked like the way to go for a first-timer with a buddy in camp. Laurel and Buffy offered to let us join them, along with Linda and Ted, for a slow ride at the back of the pack. Perfect.
The night before split itself between wind and rain. I slept little enough to observe the passing storms, a victim of new-horse nerves, though I must say I wasn't nearly as restless as I used to get. I was confident that Acey was mentally ready for the trail itself, and that she'd eat and drink well throughout the ride. But how would her fiery, emotional side affect her at the start? What would happen when we reached the creek, only a mile out? Acey is a heart-on-her-sleeve kind of horse, and she doesn't always react calmly to new and intense experiences.
Near morning, the rain stopped. I let myself hope for a dry start. Alas, before my alarm went off at 5:30, the rat-a-tat tapping on the camper roof started up again. And increased in volume. And so, we tacked up in the rain.
I applied several wraps of duct tape to Acey's Backcountry boot gaiters, cursing the dampness that already threatened the likelihood of them staying on through mud and miles. Acey alternately shivered and danced in place, but at least she continued grabbing mouthfuls of hay. The chill and nerves were getting to her, and I was glad when the starters sent the bulk of the horses on down the trail.
Acey seemed fairly calm there by the trailer, so I mounted up...and quickly got off again as a glimpse of the departing herd sent her emotions skyward. Right. We'd start out in hand.
Along with Laurel and Linda, we headed down the road, Acey dancing and fretting at my side. She didn't resist leaving camp, but she was a nervous wreck and spooked dramatically when a couple other, late starters crested a small hill behind us. We walked on and the moment she was reasonably settled, I stepped aboard and asked her immediately to trot. All that energy needed to go somewhere, and a rational, forward pace made the most sense.
We reached the creek still jumping with nerves, but comfortably under control. I moved Acey close behind her new friends Buffy and Ted, and (glory hallelujah!) she walked right through the knee-deep stream without batting an eyelash. Soaked from above by falling rain, soaked from below by our saturated seat covers, but triumphant to have survived the toughest part of the ride -- the start -- we climbed out of the canyon and struck up a merry trot along the ridge.
Acey travelled with her ears up and eyes bright. She managed the early climbs and descents handily, and my only worry was the frequent clopping of her boots against one another. She doesn't forge badly barefoot, but the too-large boots affect her breakover and I feared she would lose them, particularly in the muddy conditions.
Sure enough, we weren't 5 miles out before we had to backtrack in search of a boot -- the left front. Or maybe it was the right front. Either way, it constituted an inauspicious beginning -- and belive you me, it was only the beginning.
We now had one boot with no tape. I tried re-taping with a roll of duct tape from my saddle bag, but Acey was in no frame of mind to stand still. The gaiter was hopelessly damp and sandy anyway. I strapped it on, sans tape, and crossed my fingers. [Note: finger-crossing is no guarantee of success.]
Somewhere around mile 7, I gave up on keeping that errant boot on Acey's foot. Having no room in my saddle bags because I'd filled them with water bottles, I managed to tied it to the back of my saddle, which wasn't easy because Backcountries don't really offer anything to tie around. It rode there for a while until the footing got rockier and I tried putting it on again.
A few minutes later, I found myself carrying the boot. It simply refused to stay put. I wasn't thrilled about sharing my hands between hoof boots and reins, but the vet check wasn't too much farther and the footing was soft. We'd make it. [Ha! Cue ominous music.]
Somewhere along the line, Linda's horse lost one of his Gloves.
And then, as we trotted briskly across another flat stretch, the real adventure began. Acey's head went up and her ears went back. Her hindquarters came up beneath me and I just had time to say "Guys, something's really bothering her" before she bolted.
Zoom! Up the trail we flew!
I chucked the hoof boot I was carrying and tried to rein her in. Not a good move, apparently. All that energy went up instead of out. I'm told we made a rodeo spectacular as we bucked through the sagebrush, circling back toward our companions.
I stayed on...stayed on...stayed on...aaaaaand came off.
I was on my feet again before I registered that I'd hit the ground. Acey waited nearby, watching wide-eyed and bare on yet another foot. I concluded that the boot had come off but the ring of duct tape had clung to her fetlock, causing her to spook in the first place.
We searched briefly for the missing boot, but gave up before long. The loop was taking forever and we had a good 40 miles to go! Now Laurel and I each carried a boot, Acey wore one, and the fourth was never to be seen again.
As we trotted on, I pondered the fact that I seemed to have landed right on the top of my head. Neck stiffness would surely ensue. Chiropractor, anyone? But first, we had to get through today. And tomorrow. And maybe the next day as well. All this assuming that I wasn't forced to pull due to equipment problems.
Sure enough, the second, 25-mile loop went off without a hitch. Halfway around, black clouds rolled over to drench us with rain and pelt us with hail, but the storm passed on a rush of wind and we arrived at the next hold with reasonably dry clothes and happy horses. Acey again vetted with all A's except a B for gut sounds, which I knew would rekindle as soon as she had a chance to dig into some much-desired feed. Indeed, she ate and drank well and continued to look content and eager to move on.
Only 12.5 miles to go. Home free, right?
Sure...until we mounted up and started walking out of the vet check, just as someone lifted a big water tub directly behind Acey. It wasn't too close behind her -- the person didn't do anything stupid -- but Acey's ranch-raised brain isn't used to all that human activity.
A replay ensued. Bolt, attempt to pull up, buck. Stay on...stay on...stay on...come off.
This time, I landed on my back. Again, I hopped up and back astride before Acey seemed to realize what had happened. She was still shaking and water tubs were still being loaded, though, so I got back off and led her a short way down the trail before mounting up again.
I'm pleased to report that the rest of the last loop went fine. No more lost boots, no more spooks, no more unscheduled dismounts.
Linda kindly kept Ted an extra distance back, since Acey was a bit shaken, and we'd picked up a junior at the hold because her sponsor was pulled. As we rode, I had time to ponder the connections between Acey's spooks -- always something from behind, always a bolt followed by major bucks when reined in. I formed my theory about the bucking be a panic reaction to being constrained. I began planning to teach her a single-rein stop (duh), and decided that if she bolted again, I would let her run a bit if possible and pull her up with pulsing instead of firm reins.
We all returned to camp in good spirits. Acey's energy remained high and she earned all A's again, though I could tell by a hint of unevenness in her gait that she was finally getting tired. I couldn't blame her! It was after 6:00 and she'd never travelled anywhere near that far before.
All things considered, I was downright proud her. All day long, she was nothing if not game. She covered almost the entire ride, including the rocky 2nd loop, barefoot in back, and never took a bad step.
Best of all, she had fun.
So we have a couple issues to work through -- hoof protection, behavior when spooked, excessive nervous energy in camp -- but, all things considered, my hopes for the wee little firecracker are higher than ever.
by Tamara Baysinger
Friday morning, May 10. I've taken the day off work. Ride camp is only a hour's drive away, but I'm ready for a little vacation and don't want any pressure getting settled in for Jammer's first endurance ride. I reckon we'll pull in early, set up camp, and spend the day basking in the sunshine while the rest of the trailers roll in.
We surely do get that sunshine! It's unseasonably warm for this area -- close on 90 degrees, and expected to be just as hot for Saturday's ride. And I've ridden Eagle Extreme before. It's deceptively difficult. Close to home, just in the foothills overlooking Boise, on the trails where many local riders condition their horses. But close and familiar don't mean easy. There are some long climbs ahead. And as I say, it's hot.
On the bright side, Jammer is a gem in camp. He takes in the sights calmly, eats and drinks, hollers some but doesn't fuss. When Karen Bumgarner arrives with her horse Blue, we set the boys up next to each other, and Jam's world is complete. He and Blue have only met once, but Blue and Karen are our babysitters for Jam's first ride. The pair of them appear to get along swimmingly.
It's good to see old friends at the ride meeting. I've been away from my sport too long! Management backs the start time up from 7am to 6:00, out of respect for the heat. That's welcome news. I'm all for saddling up by lantern light and trotting past the vet at daybreak.
Come morning, Blue is a bit doggy right out of the gate -- he's used to starting at a walk, but this vet requests a trot -- but Jam is feeling frisky. He prances along with his nostrils full, but his manners are intact and I'm not working overly hard to hold him in. We see horses ahead on the trail, but he doesn't rush. Before long, a few late-starters pass us and he isn't fazed. Oh yeah. I'm really starting to like this horse.
The second of the two loops features the real climb. Up and up and up and up and up! We trot much of it but walk some as we follow a creek bed, then a gulch, up from the sage desert to where the lupines grow. Near the top, we take a short detour to visit a water tank that fills from a slow spring; Karen knows it from prior years, so our horses get an extra drink without having to add more than a few extra steps to the ride. Lucky horses. It's really hot now. Sunscreen stings my eyes.
Finally, we reach the top. We'd be thrilled, except that we know what's coming. The long lollipop. And I do mean long. Lots of rolling hills of the variety that tend to slow you down unless you want to beat up your horse's legs. Looooooooong lollipop. Lots and lots of rolling hills. We ride all the way out to the Emmett highway before circling back, then have to go past the quickest route toward camp and come down the long way to add even more miles.
It's somewhere in that last stretch that Karen exclaims, "This ain't no lollipop -- it's an all day sucker!"
She's right. Boy, are we glad when we finally drop into the valley and hit the homestretch! Jammer knows where we are and trots in strong, all day sucker notwithstanding. Good horse.
The timers cheer us in and congratulate us on our turtle placement. "Ummmm...." Uh-oh. We can't have turtled. We know for certain (thanks to lollipop trails) that there were riders behind us when we came into the hold. Nobody passed us on the second loop. Something has gone wrong.
We pull out our maps, discuss the issue with management, and figure out a likely scenario. It appears that the three riders behind us missed a turn on the second loop, which brought them into camp too early, without having covered all the miles. Drat. The ride manager heads over to their trailers, where they are already unsaddled and changed into shorts, to discuss their options.
Meanwhile, Jam vets through with top marks. His pulse is low and he looks fantastic. The vet suggests we try for BC, but Jam's trot-outs aren't spectacular (training oversight, totally my fault!) so we decline. In hindsight, maybe we shouldn't have. Ah, well. Maybe next time.
Management re-appears to let us know that the mistaken riders have decided to head out again and finish the miles. They'll trailer out part way to save time, ride the missed section, and earn completion only. That puts me and Karen in 8th and 9th place, with a ride time of 8:38. It's dang hot and I feel badly for those poor teams that have to go back out, but I'm impressed that they've decided to do it. Real endurance riders do what it takes instead of throwing in the towel.
Back at our trailer, Jam drinks more water and dives into a pile of hay while we riders find a scrap of shade and some beer. First 50 done! It was a tough one, but Jam made it feel easy.
Yep. Sure do like this horse!
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