Friday, March 26, 1999

Rookie Horse, Rookie Rider: Part III The end of the Trail - Howard Bramhall

So we back track, I find my mistake, the yellow ribbons are now on my right and all is well. But we just added three miles to our original 15 and I`m felling really stupid (Hey, I heard that). My exuberance has left me and Dance seems off too. Somehow I think he knows I messed up; lucky for me horses are the most forgiving creatures on earth. We finally enter the vet check from the right direction. I spot Joe talking to a woman, most likely his wife, and wave hello. He waves back, whispers something in his her ear and they both start laughing hysterically. I`m sure it`s a private moment between the two of them and has nothing to do with me. Yea, right. She then mounts her Arab horse and leaves the vet check area. Since I know there is a 30 minute hold before you`re allowed to leave, I figure I`m way behind the leaders now.

I doubt that many of you reading this are nonriders, but for those two or three of you who may be (Mom, Dad and sis), I`ll go ahead and explain the vet check, in my own abbreviated fashion. First thing that happens is one of the volunteers checks out your horse`s pulse rate. This count has to be down to a certain number before you are allowed to proceed, usually 60 beats or so per minute. I expected Dance`s to be high, but by the time someone gets to me (and it wasn`t that long), she takes it and tells me it`s 56. We are then allowed to go on to the next part of the check. (Exciting so far, don`t you think?)

We proceed to an area where riders and horses are jogging in a small arena, making turns around trees and markers with the whole thing bordered by a red rope. This part is not fun for me and Dance cause we didn`t train on this enough and I knew it. The rider must get their horse to trot, not walk, along side them for 20 yards or so. I have yet to master the "along side" aspect of this operation. When I do it I end up either in front of my horse, running for dear life, or I take a dirt bath with my horse dragging me till he feels like stopping.

The vet will tell you the purpose of this is to check out the horse`s legs and flexibility, but my belief is they want to see if you (the rider) are still crazy enough to continue. Either that or the vet is just bored and needs a laugh or two to make it through his long day. I mean where else do you get to watch middle aged, out-of-shape men and women running in circles, tugging on to a thousand pound creature, who usually doesn`t want to cooperate, cause they`re darn tired. I`m speaking for myself here, of course. Not all endurance riders are middle aged AND out-of-shape. I just happen to be blessed with both.

You get to perform this trotting-with-your-horse two different times, making sure to turn to the left and then to the right. Now on this particular day Dance, with his long legs that reach up to my neck, decided he wasn`t going to trot at all. So one of the kind assistants gets behind his butt, makes all kinds of noises, and Dance takes off loping around me. This maneuver pulls me off balance and down I go. He continues moving, steps on his reins, snaps them in half, and then trots beautifully right up to the vet and stops. The vet says, "That was lovely, now one more time. This time to the left." The laughter from the riders watching is still ringing in my ears.

Each rider has what they call a vet card, where the vet writes down numbers for the heart rate, and the respiratory rate. And he actually grades your horse in areas such as recovery, hydration, gut sounds (mine were fine), tack sores, and quality of movement. The vet added a special category on the card just for me. He gave me an A in "comedy of movement." The riders watching actually clapped when Dance and I had finished our show. But even this did not make me happy. Going the wrong way on the trail and a sloppy vet check had bought me down. Plus my face was caked with dirt from taking a fall behind my horse. I felt grimy, dejected and looked worse than that kid who always has that cloud of dust over his head in "Peanuts."

After the vet check we had to wait 30 minutes before we were allowed to continue. I went to my campsite, which was just on the other side of a dirt road from the vet check area. I sponged off Dance Line, loosened his saddle, threw him some hay and went to my cooler for a sandwich and a beer. I knew the beer was not a good idea but at this particular moment I just didn`t care. I was starting to relax and had just opened my second beer, when, all of a sudden, I heard screaming and cursing coming from one of my next door neighbors. I realized that 9MM had just paid the remains of her tent a visit and was very upset that it was dead.

I was amazed at the words she was using in her grief and when I heard her say, "Gonna kill that ******* firebug!" I knew it was time to leave. Luckily I was on the other side of my horse trailer and she hadn`t spotted me. I dropped the beer, ran towards my horse, tripped over my cooler, got up and grabbed what was left of Dance Line`s reins. We both ran as quietly and quickly as a horse and human can together. Actually, we tiptoed out of there, kinda like the horse and Bugs Bunny do in that cartoon (come on, I know you`ve seen it). I think Dance was afraid of 9MM as much as I was. We were both hoping she wasn`t going to shoot one of us in the back.

So I go back to the new clipboard lady, still wearing her football helmet, and she checks my card for time. She makes a mark on the card, hands it back to me and announces I can now leave. "Wrongway," she says "you know you`re following the white trail now, right?" GRRRRRRR. "Yes Ma`am," I respond holding in my frustration, "I know the way." "Sure you do," she says with an all too knowing smile on her face. And we`re off again. Back on the open trail with no one to follow. And, as par for the course on this day, I have no idea where that first white marker is.

Well, we only have ten miles left but my buddy, Dance, is burnt out. He just doesn`t have the lope or even the trot left in him. I`ve learned my first important lesson as a Rookie Rider. Control your horse at the start, don`t let him fly down the trail cause he`ll pay the price later if you don`t pace him properly. So we walk. He`s so darn tired I`m starting to think we should turn around and call it a day. This is some sport, this endurance thing I`ve gotten us into. And a 25 mile run isn`t even considered an official endurance distance. The official term for the 25 is Limited Distance and I think they call it that cause it`s just about the limit old farts like me can do on a horse.

I`m just about to turn around and quit when Dance`s ears perk up (Linda Tripp would be envious at the things he can hear) and he glances back, hearing a horse and rider approaching. And when I hear it I can tell they are coming fast. I turn around to see who it is and then I spot her. My stomach turns in a knot and the acid starts churning. It`s 9MM and I know she`s carrying. She`s still wearing that coat (to hide the gun, I`m sure) and I see it flapping in the breeze created by the speed of her horse. And, as the coat flaps away from her waist, a bright glare shines in my eyes from the reflection off her heavily polished revolver. "Dance, we got to get moving here. This woman is not well." Somehow he understands, and off we go. Almost as fast as when we started this race. Horses sense danger better than anyone. Even better than chicken humans like me.

I get the urge to play hide-and-seek with 9MM but I reconsider. She seems to have tracking blood in her and I don`t want her spilling any of mine. So Dance Line and I do the only thing we do well. We run like there`s no tomorrow. I`m just hoping he can last so we can see another day. Right now my burnt out forest back home doesn`t seem so bleak. I`m counting on her horse being more tired than Dance since I know they`ve traveled at least ten or fifteen miles more than we have. And even if she does not catch up she wouldn`t really shoot us, would she? I mean over a cheap tent and maybe a few minutes of lost sleep?

We`re loping and occasionally galloping. I keep looking back but don`t spot her. But I know Dance is tired and maybe we should trot or walk a bit. Suddenly, up ahead I see the Paint and know we`re right behind Pantyhose Joe. I`m thinking she probably won`t shoot me in front of a witness. So behind him we go. "Hey Joe, (I omit the Pantyhose) how you two doing?" He looks back at me and smiles. "Hey," he says. Another talker on the trail. His Paint is still loping, must be part rabbit this horse. Dance and I slow down to a trot and get into Joe`s pace; just like old times, except now I`m not so relaxed. "Bring me any beer?" he asks me. "I was going to Joe, but we had to leave in a hurry." "How come?" he says. So I tell him about 9MM; he already knew about the tent, even though he didn`t really believe me when I first told him the story. And then I tell him she`s close behind us and I think I`m in trouble. He laughs and says as far as he knows no rider has ever been shot in an endurance ride by another rider. A few have been lost to hunters` bullets, but that`s to be expected. I`m starting to like Joe`s sense of humor.

Dance is doing better, his trot seems to match the lope of Joe`s Paint. I feel like we`re halfway done by now and think we might actually finish. To complete is to win in endurance. For me to complete and get the heck out of camp before 9MM catches us is to live. I`m starting to feel better and think we might be OK. Joe says he had to slow down and that we`re probably not in the top ten for the 25. Oh well. I tell him that when Dance and I are finished we`ll have completed about 29 cause of my wrong turn. We both try and decide what nickname the other riders will give me. "Rookie?" "Wrongway?" "Firebug?" "Deadguy?" I decide I don`t like the last one.

All of a sudden we hear her coming. She`s galloping towards us, faster than a normal rider would travel. "You might as well face the music," Joe says to me. Easy for him to say, he`s never seen her up close. Bad enough Beethoven was deaf, he would have went blind if he saw this woman. So 9MM finally catches up to us and right away she`s yelling at me. Cursing worse than the Preacher and that French woman put together. "Did you tear up my tent?" she finally asks. "Well, Ma`am, it`s kinda like this" I say and then I start talking quickly. I try and blame my horse, but Dance looks up at me like "Hey, you`re joking here, right?" So I break down and just tell her, "Yes I did. I was trying to catch my horse, who got away from me, and accidentally ripped up your tent. Didn`t you get my note?"

Well, this sets her off. She loses it totally. 9MM flips back her coat so quickly I knew she had done this, or had practiced doing this, draw often. Before I could get in another word I was looking down the barrel of her revolver. And I could see the red on the safety button, which meant it was not on. My crazy life started flashing before me, but Dance decides he doesn`t like the movie. He rears up and, with his front long leg, he kicks 9MM right in the head. BAAAM. Down she goes. As she falls backwards her gun goes off and I hear Joe scream.

Oh damn, she shot Joe. Dance comes back down to earth and Joe and his Paint cautiously walk next to me. "Are you hit?" I ask Joe, not seeing any blood. He tells me no, but the bullet went so close to his ear he could feel it go by. And then Joe and I just stare at each other for a while looking like we had just seen a flying saucer or something.

"What are we going to do?" I ask. "We?" Joe responds. I get down off of Dance and Joe gets off his Paint. Joe holds the reins of both horses and I, carefully, walk over to 9MM. Her cowgirl hat is crushed from the fall and her face has an upside down U, which goes over the bridge of her nose and comes down on each cheeks. Her coat is opened and I read her T-shirt underneath which says HUNT NAKED. I have trouble picturing this, so I force my brain to think about the steps you take when performing CPR. This becomes another unpleasant thought because 9MM is the receiver. I start feeling queasy so I take a deep breath, bend at my knees and lower my head. This stops that nauseous feeling and gets me prepared for what I have to do next.

I approach 9MM and kneel down next to her head. This feels like being next to an unconscious grizzly bear, not sure whether he`s dead or just sleeping. I reach over and touch her neck, to see if there`s a pulse. Not feeling one I ask God (well, I am on my knees) if he`s really expecting me to perform mouth- to-mouth here. As I lower my head next to hers I listen intently, hoping to hear her breathing. And when I feel her breath on my cheek I let mine out in a sigh of relief. I move my hand lower on her neck and feel a weak, but steady pulse. "She`s still alive," I tell Joe. "What do we do now?"

"You keep saying we," Joe says again. "Just tie her to her horse and bring her in. I`ll ride ahead and alert the authorities so they can call an ambulance." Great, I`m thinking, I get to finally spend some quality time alone with 9MM. Well, at least she won`t have her gun, cause I go over and pick it up and stick it in my leather bag tied to my saddle. Joe holds my horse while I go get 9MM`s Arab, put her over the saddle, belly down, and tie her hands and legs together with some hay rope I find in my saddlebag. Joe helps me and ties some rope around her body, attaching it to the horse and the saddle. Joe says, "I can`t believe she was going to shoot you over some tent. I`ve seen this woman at other rides, but never really spoke to her. I think your horse saved your life today."

We finished tying up 9MM, both Joe and I looking kinda proud when we finished. We had ropes and hay lines and anything else we could find attaching part of her body to the saddle and the horse. Kinda felt like putting your kids bicycle together from scratch the night before Christmas. I even attached her crunched cowgirl hat to one of her beltloops.

Joe mounts his horse and trots away to alert everyone. I get back on Dance Line and we walk, with 9MM and her horse, on towards camp. This walk seems to take forever and I`m still nervous with 9MM at my back. I`m continuously looking behind me to make sure she`s still there and not looking up at me. I also check my saddle bag to make sure her gun is still there. Every once in a while she mumbles something incoherent. I think I hear her say words like "hunt" and "kill" and "death," but it`s difficult for me to tell if she`s actually speaking or if my fear is churning up my imagination. I start thinking about 9MM, wondering what exactly does she wear when she hunts? I picture this mean, nasty, unattractive woman naked, killin Bambi, deep in the woods and then gutting the deer and eating the heart, all covered in blood from the fresh kill. YUCK!!!

Finally, I spot the camp. Cop lights are flashing and an ambulance is up ahead. A crowd of riders and campers have gathered near the finish line and when someone spots us he excitedly yells, "Hey, here they come!" The crowd drifts my way and two of the ambulance guys quickly wheel out this gurney thing and come right up to me and Dance. I get down, someone grabs my horse`s reins (what`s left of them) and I continue holding the rope attached to 9MM`s Arab. The ambulance guys untie 9MM (one of them jokes about the number of ropes attached to her body) and gently remove her from the horse. They place her on the gurney and wheel her towards the ambulance. The men end up having to pick the thing up cause the wheels keep getting stuck in the dirt road. I`m thinking to myself that I hope I never see her ugly mug again.

One of the onlookers (he seems to be an authority type) takes the rope attached to 9MM`s horse from my hand, places one of his on my shoulder and says, "Here, let me take her horse for you. The law wants to speak with you." Right on cue, a Policeman wanders up to me and starts asking questions. He brings out an official looking pad and gives me a serious look, like I`m under oath here and better not lie. I`m thinking, "Damn, did Joe talk to this guy, and if he did, what did he tell him?"

I`m contemplating that the truth is what needs to be said, but then I start this internal debate with myself. Did I assault 9MM with my horse? Even though I knew it was self defense, will this guy believe me? The cop asks me if I knew her name. I tell him, "No, she was camped next to me but I didn`t get to meet her." Damn, told a lie already and didn`t even mean to. I start to sweat even though it`s getting cool outside.

About this time Joe walks up to us and joins in. I thought the cop would be bothered by this, but he isn`t. In fact, he had seemed bored with me, but when Joe appears the Policeman livens up and acts like Joe is some kind of celebrity or somebody important. Joe says to the cop, "You`re about done with your questions, right?" The cop says, "Yes sir, I just have one more." UH- OH, here it comes. I`m going to jail for sure. Maybe Dance too (I love my horse, but I`m hoping I don`t have to share the same cell with him). Assault with a deadly horse. Battery on a Naked Hunter. The Policeman asks me his last question. "Do you want me to give your name out to the newspapers if they ask me who it was that saved her life?" Instantly, I stop sweating. Being the humble hero that I am, I answer, "No thanks. I seem to draw enough attention to myself without the help from the media." The cop laughs and then leaves, but he has to shake Joe`s hand first before going. How does Joe have so much power here?

Joe escorts me to the ridecamp area. About 15 riders gather around and they all want to hear our story. Beer cans appear and chairs are bought around forming a circle. Joe goes first, and then I butt in, and together we tell a tale far different from what really happened. I`m not sure why Joe does this for me but I know I owe him a lot more than a six-pack for watching my back like this. After we conclude our story, a few of the women riders comment that they`ve seen 9MM at other rides, but no one in the circle can remember ever speaking with her. One of the ladies says she remembers her as the "unfriendly type" who didn`t seem to want to meet anyone or make any new friends. I`m thinking I doubt if she has many old ones.

Finally, one of the women changes the subject and the group starts talking about the race, who placed where, who were jerks and who was nice on the trail (trail etiquette is important in this sport), and some of the interesting stories that are a constant part of endurance riding. I start reflecting on my week-end, just sitting content listening and happy that I`m not being hauled off to jail. As I daydream (yea, I do this a lot), my eye catches two people, one male and one female, who appear to be staring at me. And it looks like an unfriendly one.

I shake the cobwebs from my head so I can focus on the two of them. My memory kicks in and I recognize them as the "French couple." What helps me is the female`s twisted eye glasses and, as they start walking my way, I notice she`s limping so much she has to lean on the man`s shoulders. And, as they approach me, neither of them is smiling.

I know I`m too tired to fight with them and decide to just sit there and take it like a chicken. The man has a bottle in his hand and my guess is he`s planning on hitting me over the head with it. He swings it around towards me, but instead of smacking me with it, he shows it to me and says, "Mon ami, Je suis Jean Claude." And the female says, "Je suis Louise Marie." Wow. These two really are French.

Turns out they aren`t mad at me at all. Joe happens to speak fluent French (this guy is constantly surprising me) and translates for everyone. The entire circle of riders stop talking and focus on the French couple and their story. Through Joe`s translation we discover that they were pursuing me to apologize for the rudeness of their horses. They had misunderstood my request to pass them on the trail. Marie then comes up to me and gives me a kiss on the cheek. Joe tells me she wanted to thank me for giving them incentive to ride as well as they did. Turns out the French couple came in second and third in the 25, just behind Joe`s wife, who had come in first.

So, in celebration, they uncork the bottle and it was the best tasting wine I had ever had. Later on, Jean Claude goes to his trailer and brings back some more bottles, some incredible cheese, a couple loaves of bread (French, of course), and the entire circle of endurance riders gets tanked. We all got so drunk they even let me sing. I sang my favorite song, "Shoulda been a Cowboy" and everyone was so smashed no one complained.

I remember someone helping me to my horse trailer later on that night and when I awoke the next day the place was deserted. Everyone had packed up and left. Dance Line was standing in his portable corral, looking content and well fed, but ready to go home. And inside my trailer, taped to the wall was a ribbon attached to a piece of paper saying, "To the best Rookie Horse and Rookie Rider ever to grace our ridecamp. We hope to see you both again at our next ride." And it was signed by every rider, except 9MM. Marie had even drawn a picture of the Eiffel Tower by her name. And one signature stood out, apart from all the rest, at the bottom of the page. It simply said, "Your Pal, Joe Nameth."

Thursday, March 04, 1999

Rookie Horse Rookie Rider, Part II: The Ride - Howard Bramhall

OK. First of all, we (my horse, Dance Line and I) didn`t kill the Preacher. You religious types have really been on me about that one. He is fine. Right before we were about to hit him he looked up at us like a deer frozen from the glare of headlights and then the Preacher man fainted; dead away. Dance Line jumped right over him; beautifully, I might add. The clipboard lady, now there`s a different story. I wish I could tell you she`s fine, but I can`t lie (you believe that, right?). The good news is they tell me she should be out of intensive care any day now. The bad news is she has an attorney who wants to meet with me and Dance. Right away, in fact he keeps sending me invitations to a hearing party, which I figure is a hanging party, so we don`t go. Evidently she was a little braver than the Preacher and just stood her ground, knowing that most horses will jump out of the way to avoid striking a human. Unfortunately, she never met a horse trained by me before. Her bravery has her in traction right now.

Anyway, we`re off. On the trail. And I mean we are really off. Dance Line is still in a full gallop keeping the same pace he had when we were terrorizing our fellow campers. I`m sure he`ll start that trot anytime now, the one we practiced on for hundreds of hours over a 9 month period of time; he`s just a little excited. So many riders. Must be at least 50 all jammed up here on this skinny trail. We are all going like we are in the Kentucky Derby; way too fast for a long distance race, and damn.... DANGER ..... Arabian horse and rider up in front of us both decided to just stop and then the horse turns her body 90 degrees so that she`s blocking the entire trail and.....NO, Dance Line, no, we don`t want to jump over this silly Arab......WOW. What the heck did he do there?

OK. We`re still going, I`m not quite sure how we missed that Arab back there. Some of the riders and their horses did not. BAAAAM, KAAABLAAAM, SMAAAACCKKKK. Screams, cries for help. Cursing. Language I hadn`t heard since my military service days. I`m sure they`re all OK. I should go back and help but there is no way I can turn this horse around now. I just don`t understand what has gotten into Dance Line. He`s never been like this, barely able to control himself; kinda like Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant. This is not the same horse I took on the trails to try and get into shape for our first ride together. I try and pull him back into atleast a reasonable canter but he won`t have any of it. He just stretches out his neck, which for him is like ten feet (did I mention I believe Saddlebreds were bred with Giraffes?), and pulls the reins forward, letting me know he is not to be denied. This horse is on fire and I`m not about to try and put him out. This is more fun than camping. And if you camp next to me, it`s just as safe.

So up ahead of us is a couple of riders, looks like a husband and wife kinda thing. Riding side by side. Romance on the trail. They must not realize how close Dance and I are and how fast we are approaching. And both of their horses have those red ribbons tied to their tails. I just love the Christmas time of year. Now you think they might want to move over for me and Dance Line. I mean I`ve read the endurance handbook and I`m asking politely to pass here. "Passing left," I say. Hmmmmmmmm. The female rider just gives me a dirty look and keeps on trucking. OK. "Passing right," I say, hoping the male is a bit friendlier. He ignores me totally. Are these people from France or something? GRRRRRR. Well, there`s only one place left. Through the middle Dance Line and I travel without any warning.

I try and assure the Siamese couple that this is a temporary split, I`m happily married and not allowed to participate in threesomes. But this is endurance racing and there is just no stopping my horse today. As Dance Line and I snuggle between the two lovebirds, I suddenly remember what I read in the handbook about those red ribbons on a horse`s tail. Turns out it`s not a "Tis the Season" decoration at all. RED stands for kicker and just as I remember this the two horses simultaneously (and this is one of those "happened in slow motion" kinda events) turn their rear ends (I`m talking horses here, not hubby and wifey) and start attacking me and Dance Line. One of the horses actually trots backwards just so she can get in a really good kick. Well, my buddy Dance Line moves laterally so quickly that the backwards trotting horse misses him completely. It was a thing of beauty (to me) cause it caused the two red-tailed horses to collide and down goes wifey. She`s OK, but hubby seems a little upset. Again with the cursing. Good thing the Preacher man isn`t here on the trail listening to such language. When we all get back to camp I`m sure everyone will all have a big laugh about the fact that I forgot red ribbon tied to the tail means kicker. Ha Ha.

I`m just amazed at my horse. We`ve covered over three miles already and he`s still hauling. I`ve finally got him into a reasonable lope but he won`t consider trotting yet. He spots a Painted mare up ahead. We`ve already passed nine riders (all female by the way) and I think we`re in sixth or seventh place. So we get behind the Paint and Dance Line finally slows down a bit. I own a painted mare back home and Dance Line is terribly in love with her. Turns out the Paint`s rider is one of the few males out here on the trail, besides me, hubby and a couple others I spotted in camp. He seems to be a good rider and the pace is not too fast, so we stay behind. Plus I think Dance is reminded of his love back home. "Wanna pass?" the rider asks. He`s obviously not from France. No thanks, I reply. Dance Line has sweated up pretty good and I want to try and cool him down some.

I notice that the male rider is wearing jeans, something I gave up a long time ago when I started training for this sport. I know I look a bit funny in riding tights but, hey, I`m not out here trying to make the cover of GQ, so who cares? Jeans create riding sores and once you get them you can`t get rid of them if you ride constantly like I do. I start thinking maybe this guy is a rookie, like me, a fellow comrade on the trail of danger, even though he rides pretty well. Then I notice his pants creep up a bit on his right leg and, I swear, he`s wearing, Noooo........, it can`t be. But it is. He`s wearing some kind of fishnet pantyhose thing under his jeans. Haven`t seen a guy in pantyhose since that Joe Nameth commercial (yes, I am that old). My, oh my, is this a unique sport or what? How bout those Jaquars? I ask him, just checking to see if he`s into football. You see, I`m a little concerned about being alone here in the woods, out in the middle of nowhere, with a large guy who wears pantyhose. Turns out he is into football (whew!), has season tickets to the Dolphins, so, hey, I`m not too worried about the pantyhose. But I am kinda curious what size he wears. And what size would fit me?

So we are riding alongside Pantyhose Joe and his Paint and just loping away like there is no tomorrow. Joe says to me, "I know this sounds weird but I swear I smell beer," and I kinda chuckle. I start telling him about my night of camping and he starts laughing so hard, especially when I tell him about my fire and my neighbor with the 9mm handgun strapped to her waist. By the time I get to the part about Dance Line taking off and me ripping up 9mm`s tent he is just beside himself. He tells me to stop, he can`t take loping and laughing so much at the same time, so I stop and don`t tell him about the Preacher and the clipboard lady. Joe thinks I`m making the whole thing up, nobody could have a night like that. This kinda hurts me a bit, but I let it pass cause he seems like a nice enough guy, pantyhose and all, and did laugh a lot at my story, even if he doesn`t believe me. I think that if I tried to tell Joe my life story he just might die from laughter, right out here on the trail in the middle of nowhere.

So we get kinda quiet (actually I just shut-up) and enjoy the ride. I am so into this that I reach down and touch Dance Line`s mane to make sure everything`s real. I am enjoying the scenery, the tall pine trees, the underbrush (palmettos mostly). Where I normally ride, near my house in another part of Florida, the forest is all burnt from last summer`s fires. Not a tree was spared for thousands and thousands of acres. But here, it`s so different, the trees go up unscathed over a hundred feet into the air. Back home they look like black missiles and some areas are so bleak looking it reminds me of a nuclear holocaust. My forest back home will never look like this one, atleast not in my lifetime.

Fifteen miles can take forever but I know we are covering ground quickly and I feel like I don`t want it to ever end. I`m going on some kind of adrenaline high and so is Dance Line. I finally slow him to a trot, Joe`s Paint still lopes, the eternal loper. Joe figures we`ve gone halfway, maybe more. He says his wife and a few of her friends are in the lead. All of them are riding Arabs, naturally. He and I are in 4th and 5th place. I spot hubby and wifey (remember the couple I split up?) behind us. They are doing better than I expected. Wifey appears a lot dirtier than the last time I saw her. Her eye glasses are grass stained and twisted, her helmet has a clump of dirt hanging right over the visor, her beige riding pants are covered with sand and dirt, and her left leg seems to be hanging from the side of the saddle abnormally, like it`s twisted or deformed. The look on her face and on hubby`s has about the same expression I expect to see on 9mm when she sees what I did to her tent so I ask Joe if he minds picking up the pace a bit. I hear the French have quite a temper.

So on we go. Winding thru the trails. Turns out we`re following the yellow trail and so we see little yellow ribbons tied to the trees every half mile or so. And where there`s an intersection of trails some nice person has drawn a yellow arrow pointing us in the right direction. This ride is awesome to me even if it is my first one and I don`t have another one to compare it to. I start singing Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the ole oak tree......., but stop when Joe looks at me as if I`m spoiling his moment of reflective loping. It can put you in a trance, riding so far can be hypnotic after a while. The weather is just perfect, nice and cool for the horses and not as cold as it was last nite when I set my trailer ablaze.

We reach a spot where some ride helpers have put out water for the horses, one in a big metal tub and the other in a plastic one. A few men are standing nearby. I stop and try to get Dance Line to drink. He normally drinks quite a bit but hasn`t touched a drop since we started the race. He won`t drink; this disturbs me. He`s still too excited, somehow he knows we aren`t finished yet. Joe lets me borrow his sponge and I proceed to put it in the metal container to soak it. "Not that one," yells one of the men, "Use the plastic one." OK, I say. Plastic is for sponges, metal for drinking. I remember that now, one of the many things covered at the rider`s meeting and so far I`ve violated almost every rule they mentioned.

Joe wants to take off; I`m worried about Dance Line not drinking so I hand him his sponge and say I`m gonna stay a bit longer. But no matter what I do, the horse just won`t drink. A few minutes later I spot hubby and wifey coming our way. And the looks on their faces have that "gonna kill somebody" expression on them as soon as they spot me and Dance Line. I figure it`s time to get back on my horse and go, since I don`t speak French and Dance Line won`t drink anyway. Now to just find a dip in the trail so I can get back on my giraffe. Here`s one, now stay still long neck, stay still. Can`t tell you how many times his head has collided with mine cause of that darn neck. And we`re up and going. We start out in a lope and I can tell Dance is looking for Joe and his Paint. But they are out of sight; Joe and his horse are obviously serious competitors. I back Dance into a trot cause I`m concerned about his lack of drinking water. I am glad that I sponged him off cause he seems to have cooled down a bit.

One of the men at the water hole said we only have 5 miles to go to the vet check. I get excited. Might actually finish this first 15 miles in the top five. I`m still pumped and so is Dance. We start loping again. Following the trail, all alone, is a bit of a pain. I liked it better when I was riding with Joe in the lead. Damn, where is that yellow ribbon? I spot it up ahead. Wasn`t it supposed to be on my right? It`s on my left for some reason. But hey, I remember this area and I continue trucking. Dance Line and I are flying now. He`s so awesome, I wish I could clone this horse. But we`re going against the grain, we are on part of the trail where we go in on the same trail others leave the ride camp/vet check area and, hey there, comes a young girl flying like me but in the opposite direction. DANGER, danger, collision avoidance, stop Dance, stop.....I pull back hard on the reins, the girl pulls back, and the two horses are face to face, both heavily breathing into the others nostrils. How they missed hitting each other I`ll never know. The young lady and I exchange words (I`ve made another friend). Again with the cursing. I must speak to her parents after the ride. Dance and I walk into ride camp. I see the vet check area and it looks like heaven to me. We proceed slowly cause I don`t want to break any more rules, atleast not with all these people watching. I`m wondering why they would set up the trails like this, it just seems so dangerous, people and horses headed right at each other, especially with the trail being so thin (not wide) at the beginning/end with no room for passing at all. I must speak to ride management about this danger.

Dane Line and I enter the camp area where the vet checks are held. This is going to be our first vet check in the ride, besides the precheck they made the day before the ride started. I spot clipboard lady, actually it`s a different lady, and this one seems to be wearing a football helmet for some reason. She looks at me and yells, "Why are you coming in that way?" I ask if she`s talking to me and she says, "Yes, you are coming in from the wrong direction." I look around and don`t see Joe or anyone else from the 25. Oh my.

So another lady joins us (I`ve noticed that women control just about everything here), she`s the one who told us not to trot our horses into camp, and the two ladies and I all have a Powwow. Seems as though I have violated another rule. They explain to me, and I swear one of them called me "wrong- way," that I made a wrong turn a mile back and did not follow the trail correctly. "Didn`t you realize you were coming in the same way you started and that this is dangerous?", the no-trotting-allowed lady inquires of me. Off in the distance I spot the Preacher man and he`s pointing at me and Dance Line, yelling to someone nearby, and I swear I hear him cursing. He also says something with the word "police" attached and I realize it might be safer for me back on the trail. I ask no-trot if I can go back out and try and correct my mistake. She says yes and we`re off. Back in the saddle again.



Rookie Horse, Rookie Rider: Part 1 - Howard Bramhall

Well I just finished my first endurance ride. That`s if you can count a measly 25 miles an endurance run. I do. So does my back and my horse, who was so tired he fell asleep during the last vet check. And for those of you who complete 50`s and 100`s, you have my respect and admiration. I bow before you and recite, "I`m not worthy to be among you." This is my story.

First off, I didn`t realize primitive camping meant prehistoric. No running water, no plumbing, no stalls, no nothing except a port-a-pottie with a line of people. And the weather. Did i mention it was colder than Ken Starr`s bedroom? And this was Florida. I thought I had prepared for everything. I even downloaded ten pages of information on what to bring when camping with your horse (had to have been written by a woman), read it, even tried to follow it, until my truck and horse trailer became filled with stuff before I finished checking off the items on the third page.

Ever spend the night in your horse trailer? Ever want to? I tried it. Next time it`s the Holiday Inn for me (do they have horse stalls?). After spending over two hours sweeping and cleaning, i came to realize you just can`t get that "smell" out. Even when you throw in a couple bales of hay. And use good beer (ok, maybe not that good) cause you forgot the Pine Sol (that must have been on page 4 of her list of things to bring).

So to keep warm I lit up the Coleman lantern. This worked for awhile; I was almost asleep when i started smelling something burning. I knew it wasn`t me cause I was freezing and my lips were still purple and i quit smoking just last year. I woke up looking at one of my bales of hay aglow. It was totally on fire. Somehow my Coleman lantern had wondered a bit close to the hay and the two of them had gotten way too cozy with each other trying to keep warm. That song Burn Baby Burn started playing in my head. It`s a song I heard often during the Florida fires I had the honor of living through last summer. It took me over three bottles of beer to put the hay fire out. And, yes, beer can put out a fire (the cheap stuff I buy doesn`t have enough alcohol to burn) and the horse will eat the hay the next day.

Well my camping neighbors were not too happy with having me live next door, I must say. One lady looked at me, looked at the burnt hay in my trailer, frowned at her horse and mine who were hysterical, stared at my empty bottles of beer on the trailer floor, and said, "First ride, eh?" She had a way with words. She then moseyed up to me close enough to hug me (although i don`t think this is what she had in mind) and told me not to wake her again. To emphasize the importance of her words she moved her coat aside to expose a 9 MM revolver strapped to her waist. I guessed that the gun was to keep off dangerous hombres like me from disturbing her much needed rest. I promised her I wouldn`t wake her again since I planned on staying up anyway cause i was too cold to sleep. And now too afraid of waking up my neighbor. I watched her calm her horse with two words (Shut up) and then mosey on back into her heated tent. As i stood there and just shivered, wet from the beer i had used to put out my fire.

So morning finally arrives. Cold, damp, but I`m excited anyway. I feed the horse and go out to watch the 50 milers saddle up and warm their horses. Plus i feel a necessity to remove myself from the campsite as my neighbors rise to prepare for their ride. This is not just any horse race. These horses have more energy and excitement than you`ll see at any racetrack. I watch them canter and some of the horses buck and even rear up, but their riders remain in total control. After seeing one Arabian rear up several times I was kinda surprised to see the rider not be bothered by any of it and merely say "he won`t be like this after the first vet check." I couldn`t wait to see what my horse was gonna do in an hour under similar circumstances.

So I wandered towards the start expecting to see a gun in the air and hear a loud boom signifying the start of the race. Instead I see this tiny old man dressed up kinda formal for the surroundings bowing his head and saying a prayer to the riders. Where`d this guy come from and why do we need him here, I ask myself. Turns out he`s the local preacher. Then a lady with a clipboard in her hand does a ten, nine, eight... count down and they`re off. 55 riders all at once all heading towards a tiny trail barely wide enough for a Florida deer. It was at this point I decided I`m gonna wear that riding helmet after all. I hadn`t worn it since last Christmas when my wife gave it to me. But it had just dawned on me that i`ve never done anything quite like this ride either.

So now it`s time for me to get my Saddlebred ready. Did I tell you he`s 17 hands tall? And that I`m barely 5`7"? And man is he jumpy. He didn`t get any rest the night before camping with me and the fire and all the other horses, but he doesn`t seem at all tired. It`s everything I can do to get the darn saddle on him. I spent three weeks planning for this ride but all of a sudden the reality of it all kicks in and I`m a bit scared and jumpy just like my buddy. Man am i antsy.

I put the saddle pad on my horse. I wander towards the trailer looking for my saddle. The smell of burnt hay and beer is in the air, I`ve definitely marked my territory here. I find the saddle, go back to my horse, and can`t find the damn pad. Did i mention it`s still dark outside? I go back to the trailer and get the Coleman so i can find the pad. On the way back the horse spooks from the lantern, breaks my tie, and off to the races he goes. And the clipboard lady hasn`t said go yet.

Hoa there, loose horse on the run. Watch it! Grab him please, someone. Shit, I`m too old for this. Have you ever tried running with a Coleman lantern in your hand? My leg hooks up in my neighbor`s tent peg and Ripppppppppppp. They just don`t make tent`s like they used to. With 50 horses tied up going crazy and people yelling at you wondering why you`re trying to set your neighbor`s tent on fire with your lantern, I`m thinking that the tent i just destroyed belonged to my neighbor with the 9mm and that i`m a dead man.

Some lady has my horse. Whew. Thank God, I might make the start after all. I go up to her and she tells me that maybe I shouldn`t ride today. I ask her why and she says, "Well, you kinda smell like beer and it might not be safe for you if you`re hung over." I love considerate women. I tell her it`s OK, I`m only the groom and take the horse back to my campsite. Man is he jumpy. And I`ve got ten minutes till the start. At least I got my riding pants on. That`s cause i slept in them; part of my planning ahead. Too bad they`re so wet.

I`m back at my site and I realize the good news is that my 9mm neighbor had already left cause she was in the 50 race. The bad news is I knew she was gonna come back sometime and that she would probably guess who it was who ripped up her tent. So, should I leave her a note like i do when I back up into a parked car? Well, no time to worry about that now, I have a race to enter.

We finish saddling up. I say "we" cause endurance is a team sport, you and your horse fighting you every step of the way. My saddle and pad are both caked with mud from hitting the ground a dozen times. But, if nothing else, I am perseverant. I`ve got three minutes to warm this guy up. We`re doing fine. Now i`ve got to find a fence post or a ditch so I can get up on his back. Did I tell you he`s 17 1/2 hands tall? And that I could pass for a jockey? I finally find the spot we went to yesterday. Glad I planned so well.

Well I get halfway on the saddle and he`s up bucking away. Hasn`t done this to me in altleast three weeks so i`m not totally prepared. Now most riders pull back on the reins when a horse does this to get him to stop. Not me; I kick away and we`re off to the races in a full gallop. Course now I remember some authority figure speaking at the rider`s meeting the night before telling us (and for some reason she seemed to stare at me as she said it) that the riders were not to trot their horses in the camp area for safety. Well that`s good she said that cause I`m a firm believer in being safe and we`re not trotting. Not even loping. We are in a full throttle wide open gallop and I have no idea where we are going. But man can i hang on or what? And hey, isn`t that the preacher man standing right in front of us with his head down? We must be headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 03, 1999

Worms - Donna Paton

SMALL STRONGYLES (Strongyles spp.)

This worm is also known as the redworm. The new name for this species is Cyathostomes. Although very similar to the Large Strongyles they do not cause as much damage, as they do not migrate through blood vessels. They are the most common worms for horses of all ages, up to 95% of horses have them.

Redworms are usually 2.5cm long and are thin with tapered ends. They are red to brown in colour, and have a small mouth and sharp hooks, which are used for grasping and penetrating.

99% of the worm eggs are passed in manure. They take 12 to 24 hours in manure to hatch into larvae. The larvae then develop for seven to ten days, before crawling into grass where they are then eaten by a host. Some larvae enter the gut wall and form deep nodules or cysts, where they may remain for up to two years. Other larvae may burrow but not cause a tissue reaction. Only a few species attach and suck blood. Either worming or the intake of green pasture then triggers the larvae to move on to the large intestine.

The adult worms are found in the large intestine where they cause irritation, utilising blood and protein for themselves. They cause persistent diarrhoea and may sometimes cause colic.

Foals are the most susceptible. In young foals, usually around 6 to 12 weeks, they may stunt growth and cause persistent diarrhoea. The more common signs of infestation are high fever, depression, intermittent diarrhoea, constipation and colic. Colic is the best indicator of Strongyle infestation. The incidence of colic in a group of animals is also a good indicator of the effectiveness of the worm control program. In adult competition horses, infestation may cause poor performance.

LARGE STRONGYLE (Strongylus spp.)

These worms are also known as bloodworms, and are not to be confused with redworms (small strongyle). The bloodworm is considered the most dangerous internal parasite. Every horse has bloodworms, even though the symptoms may not be displayed. They can cause permanent damage. There are three species Strongyle vulgaris, Strongyle equinus and Strongyle endentatus.

Bloodworms are usually 5cm long and are thin with tapered ends. They are usually red to brown in colour. The Large Strongyle have very large mouths with sharp hooks, used for grasping and penetrating.

The adult female may lay up to 6,000 eggs per day. The eggs hatch in 12 to 24 hours in fresh manure and will develop into larvae within seven to ten days. Larvae may survive for up to 26 weeks on pasture before being ingested.

Strongylus vulgaris

This is the most harmful worm in the large strongyle family. Damage occurs from the immature larvae, which travel through blood vessels, located mainly near the gut and hindquarter region. They irritate the arterial wall causing the wall to thicken; this causes the formation of Thrombi. The Thrombi then break off and from clots, which block the blood supply to the bowl. The immature larvae also weaken the blood vessel walls. They also can restrict blood flow and even block the arteries. They travel in these arteries to the cranial mesenteric artery. Small numbers may even be found in the aorta and other arteries.

Adult worms live in the large intestine where they damage the lining as they burrow through it, to suck the blood from the small blood vessels underneath. They can cause blood loss and haemorrhages, when they detach and reattach. In the large intestine they use up precious nutrients that are vital for the horse.

Signs of infestation are high temperature, loss of appetite, loss of body condition, depression and colic. The larvae may also cause a cranial aneurism, which can rupture.

Strongylus equinus

Ingested larvae penetrate the colon forming nodules; they emerge from these 10 to 11 days. After penetrating into the liver; where they remain for six to seven weeks. They go back to whence they came and penetrate the pancreas. It takes four to five months to develop into adults. Once adults they attach themselves to the caecum as bloodsuckers.

Horses usually infected with these worms show signs of high temperature, colic depression and loss of body condition. They also cause the necrosis and hepatitis.

Strongylus edentatus

Slightly smaller than S. equinus, being 26 to 38mmm in length, it is found commonly in horses (along with S. vulgaris). These worms tend to erratic migrations and have been known to be found in the testes, kidney, the abdominal cavity and elsewhere.

The migrating pathway to the vulgaris is similar but the pathway of the larvae is different. The larvae invade the liver within two days, by travelling through the cecal veins from the caecum.

Horses generally suffer from a high temperature, depression, colic constipation and diarrhea. Illness and death can result in two weeks. Horses do not generally suffer unless infested with large numbers.

If anyone else would like more of this article e-mail me and I will send you the copy.

Donna P.