The Sweaty Equestrian
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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The Sweaty Equestrian