Sometimes things go well ... and sometimes it just seems like everything goes wrong.
Before I start, I want to thank Randy Eiland and his helpers for another great 5-day ride. This was our third time at Renegade - riding the Mexican border from El Paso, Texas to Lordsburg, NM (Arizona border) and I still LOVE this ride. The wide open country, mesquite, sand, rock, and you can`t help but think about the history when you ride there - the apaches, Billy the Kid, Poncho Villa - this country is so big - but so easy to get lost - or hide - in. Plus there`s something special about Randy`s rides - relaxed and friendly. Barney Flemming and Nancy Cryderman (?) are terrific vets - always there to help, always willing to spend extra time if necessary. It`s just a fun ride.
Our first few mis-haps were pretty minor - we had traded in our old Sundowner for a new one which was delivered to the ranch, and waiting for us when we arrived. The wiring didn`t match our truck`s so rather than charging the battery, the trailer brakes stayed on. Not a big problem, there wasn`t a lot of driving to do and our truck could do the braking, so we just left it unplugged. But while focusing on the trailer brake problem, John had failed to release the emergency brake completely during some of our tests up and down the ranch drive, so they sort of burned up. No problem, we just wouldn`t park on any hills :) The ride must go on....
We loaded the horses, hay, etc and headed over to base camp on Sunday. Beautiful weather - 70`s and sunny. John would ride Snip, our green-broke Arab/Saddlebred cross, and I was riding Nature`s Fantastic - a young Thoroughbred/Russian Orlov cross of Lari Shea`s that I was just riding for her for the winter. (yeah, right - as if I wasn`t going to fall in love with him!) I had ridden Fantastic at Death Valley - it was his first endurance ride and he was a bit of a handful in the beginning - but after he bucked me off I planted him behind John and Quicksilver and we somehow made it through the first 25 miles. He was fine the remaining 375 miles and l was really impressed with his ability - and attitude - he never did stop asking to go faster.
Base camp was the usual day of visiting old friends, preparing tack and feed for the week, vetting in, riding. It`s always so exciting before a ride. There were actually quite a few other snags - Alisa Waxman (from Chicago) had kept her horse at Spur C for the winter also - she arrived on Saturday, took her mare out for a short ride, all was well - until she vetted in and discovered she was lame. Alisa was crushed, but fortunately found some great folks from Montana (Dorothy Sue Phillips, Phyllis Arnold) who had a spare horse for her - (Alisa ended up riding their `spare` top-ten all week and finished top-ten overall - not bad!) Our other Spur C friend, Earle Baxter from Canada had a panic when his great Standardbred/Arab cross trotted out lame just an hour after an easy ride over to base camp. Earle worked on him - figured it was a shoulder problem - the horse worked out of it and went on to finish all 5 days, 5th overall. Just weird stuff going on. And then there was word from Nicole and Dave Luck - they couldn`t make it because their truck had just been stolen! We`re all shaking our heads at this point... what next?
The first day - 55 miles started Monday at 8AM - warm and sunny by the time we all left. John and I planned to ride very slow - neither of our horses were seasoned competitors, and we just planned to do the miles - conserve energy, easy pace. Unfortunately both our horses were very eager and not happy about the slow pace. We spent the first 2 hours keeping them at a walk (sort of) - we were finally able to let them move out as we turned along the railroad track - good footing, no horses in site, they should be more relaxed by now. We were moving along reasonably when Fantastic broke into a lope - it started getting more vertical, and then rather alarmingly like bucking when I heard a huge roar and we realized a freight train was bearing down on us (10 ft from the track). Both horses were sky-high by then and I just recall thinking ...circles ... we need to do circles... I`d love to go back and look at our tracks some day. We both managed to stay on, I have no idea what John and Snip were doing, but Fantastic and I were doing pirouette and piaffe circles around the mesquite. After I realized we weren`t going to die it was actually quite thrilling. This was probably one of my most exciting moments on horse back.
Poor Fantastic never did get the hang of watering at the cow tanks. Creaky windmills, big tanks on concrete platforms - and he was really afraid of the cows. I carried a collapsible bucket, so he at least drank a little at the stops. After crossing the mountain and heading down to Monday`s base camp we had one more tank to water at. There was a beast of a bull lying next to it, and another bull braying in the bushes. This was just too much for either of the horses. Fantastic just froze and started trembling. Snip was a little braver and we finally got them around the tank and the bulls - but I`m afraid it left a lasting impression on Fantastic, and he was even more frightened of the cattle after that. Finally made it to camp, a 9 hour ride time, getting dark, hungry, but both horses looked great. And Boyd was there with a nice cold beer!
Tuesday was pretty pleasant - and mostly uneventful. The vet check was at a god-forsaken ranch in the middle of an alkali flat - truly grim. Nobody lived there anymore, but still used it for stock. The trail in went by the cattle `graveyard` - bones and buzzards, a nice place to hurry by. I guess Sue Norris`s horse tried to hurry by a little too abruptly, bolted, broke Sue`s finger in his escape and raced around the ranch and vet check until he was finally caught. When I saw Sue, she had her finger taped up with purple and yellow vet wrap - and was determined to finish the ride. Typical endurance rider!
We rode into the border town of Columbus Tuesday night, storms brewing on all horizons and a pretty good wind blowing. Horses looked great, John and I felt good - all the walking we did kept us from getting sore. We had some nice trots and canters riding into camp along the border - into the wind, high sprits. But it was looking like Wednesday`s weather could be a little different from the 70-80 degree days we`d been having. That night, we all drove across the border into Palomas, Mexico for dinner - great food, good time.
And then Wednesday - our day of real adventure....
Wednesday dawned cloudy and cool - nothing nasty, actually less stressful riding weather for the horses. We started late (8am) after Tuesday night`s foray into Mexico. Snip and Fantastic felt great, nice working trot, loose rein, walked when asked to. We were travelling along the border most of the morning. The US Border Patrol is building a road along the border - widening, putting in culverts, ect. and they were going at it as we rode. We came upon the first big dozer and truck full of army-clad workers. Fantastic scooted around them, and then Snip scooted - but scooted even farther when a few of the guys waved from the top of the truck. He scooted into a string of construction/survey tape and panicked when it wrapped around his hind legs. He pretty much went ballistic - John hung on for a while, but the saddle slid to the side and he came off, and couldn`t hang on to Snip - who went flying back down the border with the saddle flopping sideways and under him. Our mare, Quicksilver, was back at camp and that may have had something to do with his determination to head back - but he was definitely going. A few riders tried to catch him but only managed to send him away from the border and across the desert in a straighter line to camp. (a very lucky thing, since he managed to avoid the fences this way!) What a horrible feeling! We were at least 8 miles into the ride, Snip was in panic mode, blazing away from us - saddle flopping under him - and lots of barbed wire fences between him and basecamp. After I got Fantastic calmed down we figured I`d better boogie back to camp, see if Snip made it - and in what shape he was in. John started walking and I took off at a barely controlled trot. Passed a few folks on the way that had seen Snip, but couldn`t catch him. He still had the saddle at that point. I made it back to camp in about 40 minutes (almost got spooked off halfway there!) - saw Snip`s tracks coming out of the mesquite and onto the dirt access road - somehow he managed to avoid the fences and concertina wire (yes this is border country!). When I got back, there was Snip, tied to a trailer - and there was John! He had gotten a ride from a border patrol guy - and beat me by 15 minutes. Snip was ok - inside hind legs dinged up, but nothing major, amazingly enough. But no saddle. By then it was 10:00 - two hours since we started, and we`re back at camp in Columbus. We figured we still had 12 hours to do the 60 miles, so heck, why not try again. There were still a few trailers in camp (most had already been moved to the next base camp) and we managed to find another saddle in Jim Barnett`s rig. We figured Jim wouldn`t mind, so saddled up and away we went again. We planned to search for the ill-fated Ortho-Flex on our way back out. As we were leaving, the border patrol guy drove back by - we asked him if he could drive out and help find the saddle - no problem! Nothing better to do. He drove out, we rode and found his rig parked by the edge of the field - and saw him way out in the distance carrying the saddle over his shoulder. What a great guy! The saddle wasn`t totally trashed, but ... close. The stirrups and leathers had been almost torn off the tree - they must have gotten hung up on something. The billet leathers were what finally broke (they were already in need of repair, and their weakness was probably a good thing since Snip was finally able to bust out of the saddle). Btw - since then John has received advice from Les Carr to always use a breast collar to prevent a saddle from slipping under the horse`s belly. Good advice! So now it`s 10:30 ... sure, we can still make it. We`re feeling better, the horses feel remarkably good - we make it past the first danger zone, start to relax, pass a few more scary dozers and then Snip went lame. Hind leg - probably where it got dinged up - maybe wrenched something trying to lose the saddle. So ... what now? It`s 11:30, and we`re wondering if anybody will even be left at the vet check (which was only 22 miles into the ride). John is going to have to walk Snip in the remaining 12 miles. We figure our best bet was for me to ride fast for the vetcheck and make sure there was still a rig there to trailer Snip in the rest of the way. So, once again, off we go! Fantastic was .... fantastic. He sensed my energy and just took me there. A few spooks at construction sites when guys popped up out of ditches to see what was flying by - but mostly he was all business. We got to the road into the vet check (another 2 miles in) just as Jim Barnett was driving out. Told him the story, and he headed back to tell everyone not to leave. They had assumed we would pull back in Columbus and were packed up and heading out! I got there just before the last riders (Trilby, Sandra and Julie) were headed out on the final 38 mile loop. Les Carr had pulled his horse (mild colic) so offered to pick up John and trailer Snip in. Randy and Jim drove out to try to locate John and let him know they`d be coming for him. Fantastic had been on the trail, working pretty darn hard, for 4 hours, but really looked pretty good. So I decided to give him the hour hold plus a little extra time to fuel up and then try to catch up with Trilby et al. Kat Swigart`s father, Jack, stayed around to help me - it was cold and blowing and I really appreciated his help! And thanks to Nancy (vet) for waiting an extra hour to make sure Fantastic was ok, and help me find my way out of the maze of corrals and gates and back onto the trail. So 2:00 - and I`m headed out to do another 38 miles. Gonna be a long cold night I`m thinking... I got out in the open range and could see Trilby`s group at the base of the pass - headed up the mountain. Snow/hail showers on the horizon in every direction, but somehow they managed to miss us. I got to the next cow tank - water stop - about 10 minutes after Trilby. ... more cows all around :( Fantastic was really thirsty, so drank well despite the hundreds of eyes on him. Most of the cows were lying down, so not very threatening. I was leading him away from the water, decided to lead him through the cows and mount after we left them. Got right in the middle of them and they all stood up at once! Poor Fantastic - it was too much and I didn`t have a good enough grip on the reins - so off he goes! Shit!!! Fortunately he had seen the other horses up the side of the mountain so ran straight for them. Julie grabbed him, he really didn`t want to leave them anyway, I caught up with them, got back on and Sandra noticed that he had lost an easyboot. Must have twisted off when he bolted. So ... they waited while I walked back and found the easyboot - put it back on - and FINALLY got going again. The remainder of the day/night was long, but uneventful. This was my first time ever to ride with Trilby Pederson. In case any of you don`t know Trilby, she is 65 years old and has 47,000 career miles! After her racing days, she settle down to become the mileage queen. She rides tail end, several thousand miles a year, and almost always on the same horse. Incredible style and horsemanship. So even though I really really hate riding slow, I decided it was time to ride with Trilby, and didn`t think heading out on my own was a very good idea considering the day`s events. Trilby has a million stories to tell, Julie and Sandra (from northern CA) were great company - lots of fun, we actually had a great time. The sky cleared, stars came out, beautiful sunset - and riding slow enough to enjoy it all. We arrived a little before 9pm - hooting and hollering, and FREEZING! I don`t remember ever being so cold. The footing was too rough to get off in the dark, so we just stayed mounted and walked in the last couple hours in the dark. 13 hours after we started, and only one 60 minute hold - Fantastic`s pulse was 40 - he looked terrific - and I`m now totally bonded to this horse. Looks like I`m going to have to take him home with me :) Well, that was the big day ... but there`s still a little more bad luck to come! - later... Steph Teeter