Sunday, December 16, 2001

Gauteng, South Africa - 100 mile Event - Irene Murphy

I don’t know what gave me the idea to respond to a posting on the local endurance discussion list regarding an endurance race in South Africa, but I did. Four weeks late, my father and I were standing in the JFK airport waiting for our flight to be called.

It is approximately a 15-hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg, or J-burg as we came to know it. We arrived to extremely blustery weather, cold and rain. My first thoughts on arrival were that I did not bring enough bad-weather clothing for this trip! Buses shuttled us from the parked 747-400 series to the international terminal and customs. It was easy to enter and few questions were asked. The airport was newer ,deceptively large and crowded. Multiple levels held check-in and arriving passenger gates. Large glass windows interspersed between shops gave a good view of outside the terminal where palm trees were being battered by the blustering rain and wind.

We met one of our hosts at the airport. Cindy Budler and her family had offered us accommodations for the first part of our stay. Cindy’s son had made up a stenciled sign with my name on it to help us find her at the airport. The J-burg airport was crowded, guards, armed with AK-47s stood at regular intervals throughout the terminal.

It was a one-hour drive, skirting around J-burg for us to arrive at Cindy’s farm. (There was not really a good way to go from the airport to Cindy`s farm. There was either a north or south route around Johannesburg.) In South Africa, and most of the African continent, people drive on the left-hand side of the street. This takes a little adjustment to get used to because, not only does traffic run in that manner but people and horses also move to the left when approaching another walker or rider. It made for some interesting situations and gave one way to identify a fellow traveler when people would do the right-left jig when you approached. The only time we would lapse back to the more ingrained habits was when leaving either a store or gas station. The lines were on the wrong side! .

The Budler farm was located 15 min. outside of Magliesdorp, a small, one gas station town. The town consisted of one street, with shops located on either side of the street. The essentials were there, a small bed-and-breakfast, grocery store, school, tack shop, post office and liquor store. Kids, in school uniforms, walked on the sides of the street.

Some differences that we noted up front was that it seemed everyone smokes. Since smokers seem to be a smaller and smaller part of the population in the US it took a bit of adjusting. There also did not seem to be the big separation of smokers/non-smokers in restaurants and public places. Some did have different seating sections but it did not seem to be as big of a problem in South Africa in general. One observation that we saw while driving was that all the gas stations provided full service. Rather than having to pump gas or check oil you simply instructed the attendant what to do so. The service attendants were all black.

Cindy had about 13 horses on her property. Some were loaned to her for various reasons and some were her own. She was not going to ride in the up-coming race so she was beginning the immunizations for African horse sickness. We had the chance to meet with the broodmares in the pasture and two geldings in a field of their own. None of the horses wore fly masks and the insects were swarming their eyes. We learned that one very large problem was ticks and each horse and dog was treated regularly for ticks. Lyme disease did not seem to be a threat in South Africa. The horses were quite thin and the stalls were dark and relatively dirty. Hay nets hung in each stall holding just little bits of hay. Most of the horses had long coats and were quite dirty. Cindy described how the winter had been tough on many breeders. We talked and compared what we fed our horses. They used a type of grass hay and avoided Lucerne or alfalfa as we call it in the US. They did not supplement with grain or pellets as many people in the US do. They also did not blanket their horses, instead allowing them to endure the elements.

We went to a roadside shopping area to look around. It was very similar to the shopping that we had seen in Mexico, the booths were all set up on tables or sometimes the ground. The booths covered an entire corner and were in front of a restaurant. Both sides of the corner had shops. A canvas tent protected the items and the vendors from the sun. Each vendor would offer some type of deal to the shoppers and people walking by so it made it difficult to pick any one item for closer examination without being hounded by vendors. Separate from the vendors were men trying to hand out flyers looking for money or political support. They would target the men more than the women for constant hounding. We did find one booth where the vendors were less pushy and bargained for a hermatite and fresh pearl necklace and a rhino carved in a stone similar to jade. They went for R120 and R110 respectively or $16.90 and $15.50.

On Tuesday, we left early in the morning to drive to Machadadorp. A friend of a friend of Cindy’s had offered to let us use their cottage there. It was about a 4-hour drive to Machadadorp and we drove through Pretoria on the way. The expressway (N4 that we took) had four lanes, two in most directions. Additional lanes were added near the larger cities, which in this case was Pretoria. The pavement was smooth with few potholes. People frequently could be seen crossing the expressways and well-worn paths led up to one side, through the median and out the other especially near the squatter camps. The expressways were set up similar to the rest of the world, service stations, accessible only from the expressways, were on both sides. The stations would have gas and a convenience store as well as restrooms which were large and clean, gift and souvenir shops. A large tent, shading the vehicles underneath, covered some parking spaces. In some cases there were also restaurants and some local tourist attraction like trout hatcheries. It was at one of these service stations that we met up with our contact for the night’s lodgings. We got directions and proceeded to drive to the cottage.

It had gotten cooler when we got to the cottage. We lit the braai and put potatoes on to begin cooking. It started raining so we had to move under the edge of the roof to protect the braai from the rain. I also had a chance to open a South African wine and try my first one. It was a bottle that Cindy had received as a gift but neither her nor Andre drank red wine so it had only sat in their cupboards. The wine had a very distinct taste, fruity, not too many tannins. The cows were coming into the pens and we saw a variety of types with several calves playing together. They were noisy and constantly called to each other. The calves were more interested in playing and ran in between the older more placid cows. The sunset was one of the more amazing we had seen. The trees at the west end of the property were a little more stark and a bright red sun shone through the branches. None of the surrounding clouds lit up or provided any other color beyond the sinking red ball.

Wednesday morning we were able to visit one large breeding farm belonging to the Foyers. We were enticed to visit by being offered to see them feed the broodmares. We hurried to arrive but the weather was not exactly on our side. The clouds had descended and shrouded the countryside in a thick fog. Visibility was very low and the temperature had dropped considerably. We rushed to fill the car with petrol, since we had used it all the previous day driving and headed toward their farm calling once to confirm directions.

They had over 150 horses on their farm. Several bands of broodmares and young horses dotted the countryside. We drove down a long dirt driveway and parked next to a brick three-car garage. Each of the spaces was filled. To our right horses were trotting in two different round pens, a large boned bay horse led two grays in the circles. They were moving at a good clip around the pen and being encouraged by black workers. It had turned considerably colder when we arrived at their farm and a strong wind blew across the open plateau. There were no hills or trees to stop the wind as it swept over the plateau where the farm was situated.

Immediately in front of us were several multi-acre pastures. The closest housed many broodmares and year-old horses. Pens with interlocking wooden partitions were on one side of the pasture offering an area to separate the horses for feeding. Several of the young horses had learned how easy it was to get into the partitioned areas and at the food. All the horses had thick, winter coats and were shaggy and dirty. Many had prominent bones, which they attributed again to a hard winter. The next pasture over housed the broodmares that had foals at their side. Few of the foals were over a month or two old and moved around very awkwardly. Several had found an ideal place to keep warm, cuddling down into the hay. A small stream ran through the pasture providing some water. In a further pasture a younger band of horses ran playing having just been released to go romp for the day.

The Foyers most notable feature in their breeding program was the combining of the South African Boerpoerd with the Arabian. They had been very successful with that combination and were doing well in endurance racing. They had also brought a stallion from Nairobi and were seeing some promising results. We drove back to J-burg Wednesday morning since we were to get to see the horses that day. We had a 2:00 appointment to meet with the owners of the horses. We arrived at the de Wet house after driving through several incorrect portions of the city since we were unsure of where the house was located.

Two driveways led to the de Wet house. Outside a large fence encircled the house and yard. Each of the houses on that street were surrounded by high fences. The gate was remote controlled allowing the occupants to let people in from inside. The house was a dark red with a type of shingled roof. A sidewalk, leading from the longer of the two driveways, allowed access to the front door once the occupants opened that gate. We drove in the first gate which led past the house into an open patio area. The back and right sides were additional parking spaces for cars. Cars and trucks in various states were parked haphazardly throughout the patio. Black workers and kids appeared and disappeared constantly. There was little grass area to play on and some flowers planted as if by accident in some areas.

One of the other international riders, Andrea from the UK, had arrived that morning. She joined us to visit the horses and later for the tour. She was still suffering from a bit of jet lag. She was very quiet throughout the tour and we teased her saying we were just waiting for her to fall asleep. Plans changed somewhat and we had just a brief chance to see the horses. We unloaded our luggage at the de Wet house with some assistance from their help and took off. Only one horse was close by so that we could go visit, that was Nazlet. She was a smaller, bay, mare with some endurance experience having finished 2, 100-mile races previously. One a younger bay that was just beginning a race career that Ami was riding in the 80km race, another a bay gelding with a long hollow back but a very long phenomenal trot that Tjaart was planning to ride in the 160km (100mile) with us.

Our tour of the city began on a small koppe with a water tower. The homes surround the water tower were quite large and protected by large fences with barbed wire protecting the top. We had to travel several narrow drives to reach the top. Our guide, Johannes, showed us the general layout of the city. The area we were on was a more upscale residential area, as we descended the hill the home values gradually decreased and the security lessened until we arrived at the old Sophiaville that was a very run-down slum like area. The names of the towns were being changed as a result of the apartheid regime ending. It made conversation and telling directions quite interesting because in some cases people would use the old name of the city and many tried to use the new names as well. The streets were not crowded and there was little traffic. For comparison, the houses at the top of the hill ranged from 700,000 to 1,000,000 R ($100,000 to $140,000) We drove through a very ‘yuppie’ area filmed with coffee shops, Internet cafes and art shops as well as a squatter area. One area of significance was where the buildings, that had previously housed the Indian population had been bulldozed. During the apartheid years, the blacks had been segregated. People began to point out that Indians also fell under the definition of black and pushing for them to be removed as well. The buildings were bulldozed and the Indians fell under the rule of segregation as well. This area was one that Gahndi had come to and protested.

There are 11 official languages of South Africa including English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa which is pronounced with a clicking sound for the ‘xh’ beginning the word. The clicking sound had even given rise to a special song called the “click song” because the white man could not pronounce that sound. (The song was sung to brides on their wedding day.) Others are tribal languages and one being a combination of a variety of languages.

A restoration project was underway in the city of Johannesburg. Johannes was a part of that project and had very interesting perspective. Each area was being rebuilt with contributions from businesses. A guard, wearing a yellow beret, stood at the intersection providing a reference point in case someone was walking and needed directions or help. There did not seem to be many people walking on the streets. Most of the traffic was black. On the streets where the restoration project was underway banners advertised this a being a part of the project.

No hotels could be seen in the downtown area all had moved to a separate, newer, Johannesburg located separately from the old city. The downtown area was being converted to a museum, old buildings, filled with squatters located across the street. If one looked carefully you could see the signs which designated certain stores as either white or black. People in business clothes walked next to ladies in tribal dress carrying large barrels balanced on their heads. It was an area filled with dramatic contrasts and struggles. Crime is a large problem, evidenced by the high security surrounding the more residential areas. Armed guards, fences and barbed wire, were abundant.

We traveled through the city central and exited on another hill looking back towards our starting point. We got an overview of the area that we had traveled and a better perspective of the lay-out of the city.

The remainder of the group met up at the restaurant, named Carnivore. This restaurant was mentioned in several of the travel books that we had read before our trip plus had been recommended by a gentleman we had sat next to on the plane we looked forward to an enjoyable dinner. The entrance to the restaurant was a long sidewalk spanning a small pond. Thatched roofs covered the sidewalk so we were protected from the now sporadic rain. Dim lights and torches lit the way. A long series of steps led to the main floor of the restaurant. We were taken to our seats on a patio filled with people. A large braai with slabs of meat on skewers surrounding the braai were smoking filling the room. Black waiters and busboys walked quickly from table to braai. There was a guest book with signatures from all over the world.

We were seated on the patio and ordered drinks. Dad, Andrea, Ani-li and Cindy ordered a local drink that was a shot of vodka with honey. Rain began to fall which made the patio quite noisy. Talk with the group became impossible. Then, the lights began to flicker on and off eventually remaining off. The remainder of the dinner was held in darkness. This did not put a damper on the evening but just the opposite, it seemed to remove tension from the group and everyone began talking and getting to know one another.

After we were moved indoors to the quieter but smokey (since they did not have the drafts for the braai opened up) they began to serve out dinner. A small carousel tree was situated in the center of the table which held 10 different sauces. The waiter described each sauce and which meats it best complimented. Then the dinner began. Servers brought skewers full of a variety of meat. If each person wanted that type of meat all they had to do was ask and tell them how they wanted it cooked. We had atelope, wildebeast, cow, crocodile, buffalo, chicken to name a few. Of all the meats, my favorite was the chicken with it’s complimentary sauce. The taste was wonderful!

The group was concerned about the amount of rain that we were receiving and the effect that it would have on the race. We ran to the cars and transferred luggage in the pouring rain. The electricity had not yet returned even by time we got to Cindy’s farm. Candles were lit and set out throughout the house. Cindy mentioned that she rarely had time to color or decorate the candles, she used them so often when the electricity went out. It seemed that the new foal had arrived early that morning and the owner was there to see the new baby. Leave it to horses to pick the night it’s raining and there’s no electricity to have a new foal. We went to see the new baby and mother. It was standing and came to investigate when we came to the door.

We drove to the basecamp that morning. There was some apprehension as to what the accommodations would be like. None of the organizers had seem them first hand and had described them only as permanent tents. The drive into the park was 5 km and we passed a variety of animals, all the same color since they had recently rolled in the mud. We did see the tell-tale bumps in the pond of the hippopotamus. The basecamp gave us another start when we arrived, a variety tents were set-up and we began to imagine that it would be quite Spartan conditions for the next few days and wondering when we would see another shower. We were informed, though, that the tents were not located in the basecamp.

We were set up in permanent tent structures about 6 kilometers from the race site. There were six tents and one main building, the buildings facing to the north. The tents were built elevated from the ground and into the side of a hill. Brick stilts supported the front patio area. The south portion of the tent was the bathroom area, each having a private shower, toilet and sink. The bathrooms were done in a redwood slat finishing. A small vestibule area between the bathroom and sleeping area separated the two sections. Two twin beds were placed in opposite corners of the main tent. A canvas tent closed in this area and then the entire structure was covered with another canvas tent. The floor was done in a large red tile and animalskin rugs were placed next to each bed. There were two chairs, two nightstands with electric lights in the form of the old time oil lanterns. A large wardrobe was also on one side of the tent. Window flaps on both the east and west sides could be opened for circulation as well as the two large flaps on the north side opening to a generous sided patio. The main building also had several patios and a braai, it had a thatched roof covering a large bar and dining area inside. It also had a red tile floor with various animalskin rugs. A digital TV and satellite system provided some entertainment.

We met one of the vets and the chief steward, Kormy, for the FEI portion of the race while we waited to leave for dinner. Kormy was not only very knowledgeable about the horses but was also quite familiar with South African wines. She got quite a head-start on happy hour before we arrived. One of the park rangers was tasked to make sure everything was organized at the tents. He worked as the bartender also for each of the guest. He had lived for a year in the US and had worked at a youth camp in Alabama. He had an opportunity to visit some of the west during his stay and knew some of the place that we described. Fortunately, he was also a rider and described a paint horse that he still had.

That evening one of the sponsors from the race provided dinner for the race attendees. The restaurant’s name was Marquis. Everyone had to pile into the wide assortment of vehicles in order to drive to the restaurant. Since both Andrea and I had ridden with one of the rangers we had to drive by the park owner’s home to exchange vehicles. Ed and his wife lived just outside the entrance to the preserve. They kept a variety of exotic animals at their place one of which Andrea and I were able to meet. This was a young cheetah, who came up to the fence purring. He was very friendly and laid down at our feet and was chewing on Andrea’s shoe. It was amazing how friendly and so similar to a house cat such a normally wild animal was.

The roads to the Marquis were confusing and by the time we arrived I was entirely lost. There would have been no way I could have found my way back to the park. The Marquis also had a very well decorated entrance. Flower beds and ponds decorated the entrance. The interior tables were set up in the shape of a U allowing people to see each other and talk. When the Marquis opened they had purchased a very large collection of South African wines. The bottles could not be sold since the labels had been damaged, or in some cases destroyed. Several excellent bottles of wine were served and each was fabulous, one of the favorites being a 1981 Groot Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon. The meal consisted of salad and a personal braai where meats were cooked in garlic butter to each person’s taste. During the meal we had our first opportunity to call back home. The areas that we had frequented so far in the week had been quite remote. Very few farms had telephones and pay phones were not that frequent. (Many of the farms had shared lines, if they had any lines at all. It was a problem in the rural areas since the phone cables were being stolen for their copper content.) When a phone did come available the next quandary was how to dial out! We were not even able to learn how to get an operator so that we could charge a call to a credit card. International dialing codes were also another puzzle. Normally, there is some type of code that must be dialed first (011 in the case of the US) then the country code, then the number you are dialing. The first code was unknown for where we were. After several attempts we managed to place a call on a cellphone. The call was so clear and there was no delay that my husband, John did not even recognize who it was on the call! While they may have difficulty with land lines they were far ahead of having a digital cellular infrastructure. The primary supplier being Vodafone.

We left the Marquis late and returned to the tents. The general consensus was to turn in but Kormy was still ready to drink at the bar and her voice could be heard loud and clear.

The Race

Friday morning dawned bright and early. The skies were very clear and barely a cloud in the sky. An excellent day for a race!!! The race organizers had prepared a wonderful breakfast with more than ample food for the small group staying in the tents. We had coffee or tea, eggs, several types of meats, cereals, rolls, croissants to name just a few things.

Both horses had arrived at the basecamp. Andrea and I were to drawn names for who was to ride which of two horses, Nazlet or Soraji. Soraji was a 7 yr. old grey mare with only a few 80 km races to her credit. She was tall, ~15 hands, with beautiful thick, straight legs, slightly uphill build and a bit on the thin side. She had a rather normal head, nothing to give away her Arabian parentage. She was calm and only looked briefly when her traveling companion left being much more interested in the grazing available. There were several miniature horses that lived in the park kiosk area and they got lose into the base camp. (either that or they had finally found a weakness in the fence separating them from the horse on the other side, many of which were in heat) One of the miniatures was a black stallion that fully recognized that there were mares nearby. Undeterred by his small stature the stallion ran circles around the horses until the rangers were able to successfully corral them back to their pens. They were forced to spend the remainder of the weekend in their pen. Nazlet was about 8 years old, 14.2 h high and had a rather elegant, Arabian face. She was soundly built, only slighter more slender that Soraji.

Once we drew names we then began to select tack so that we could go for a short training ride. Andrea was to ride Nazlet and I was to ride Soraji.

Soraji was very enjoyable to ride and responded well once the correctly fitted bridle and bit were used. Most people rode in either a Kimberwicke or some variation of a snaffle or curb. Very few hackamores were seen and no one was seen riding in the rope halters. Soraji’s paces were easy to ride, she had very little bumping at the trot and her canter moved through her entire body and was quite enjoyable to ride. She had a long stride and listened to my aids well. She did not seem spooky nor did she want to pull and run away from me. Another international rider from Germany, Suzanne joined us that morning. She had her own horse, which she had purchased from Tjaart and Ami, plus she had her own saddle. Nazlet and Andrea seemed to get along quite well together too.

After the ride we were treated to lunch of Boerewor sausage and then an open jeep tour of the course. The course was marked in different color arrows. For the 100-mile course green arrows marked the first two loops follow by the blue, yellow, and red that the South African endurance organization uses standard on all their courses. The first two loops of the 100-mile race were the same 40-kilometer loop. We were mainly able to drive the 3rd and 4th loop on the course and they pointed our several of the more difficult areas including the cattle guards which we would have to cross. Since there were no gates on the side of the cattle guards plywood panels and rubber mats were used to cover the grates. The course went through all the major wildlife areas excluding the predator camp. Since the predators were only fed once a week and we were at the end of their weekly fast we were all happy to hear we did not enter their camp. We also learned that they were regularly fed horse meat. Two fences surrounded the predator camp, which housed two prides of lion, wild dogs and cheetah. Lions could jump the 10ft fence with sufficient momentum hence the need for the two fences, the first; a shorter five-foot fence stopped their momentum so that they could not make it over the second fence.

One of the dangers that we had to be made aware of was the hippopotamus. They stayed close by their pond but had to travel quite a distance in order to eat sufficient amounts of food to maintain their weight. Even more dangerous, though, were the wild buffalo. There was a club in South Africa dedicated specifically to people who had been attacked by wild buffalo.

There were numerous other wildlife in the park including an energetic herd of Springbuck. This was previously the national animal of South Africa but was changed after the end of apartheid. When athletes make their national team they are awarded the ‘Springbuck colors’. Several of the riders, including our hosts, had been awarded the colors and they wore the jerseys at the race. Representatives from the South African team had traveled to Dubai and New Zealand to compete. In all cases, though, they had to use borrowed horses due to quarantines for African Horse Sickness. Horses could not leave until May of 2001 due to an outbreak of horse sickness.

There are 14 identified strains of horse sickness we learned from the vets at the race. Only 9 of those strains have been isolated and an immunization developed to protect the horses. During an outbreak many horses will die since there is a very high degree of fatalities from horse sickness. Immunizations from horse sickness require that a horse do minimal work during the series of shots. The horse’s heart can not be stressed unnecessarily during the immunization time. Those that were not bringing their horses to this race had already begun the immunization process. Others would wait until after the race to begin and would give their horses time off then.

Vetting in for the race was scheduled to begin at 3:00 but did get rolling until after 5:00. Things were in full swing when we returned. Horses were being walked all over the camp and the campers had already filled many of the sites. Generators and large lights were set up so that the vets could see the horses. The starting of the generators spooked several of the horse during vetting in. Three vets were inspecting the horses. This was the first chance to work with Soraji and I found that she was calm excessively so, not wanting to trot out for inspection.

The vetting area was roped off and contained four trotting lanes. A vet stood at the head of each lane to do the inspection. There was a waiting area to enter the vetting. This was surrounded by the official’s tent, the finish line, the grooming area and the weigh-in trailer. There was considerable traffic in this area and it was quite congested. Vet cards were similar to those used in the states. Additional areas were allowed on the cards for CRI (Cardiac Recovery Index) once each horse passed the vetting they entered the stabling area and were under FEI rules. This applied to all distances from 30 kilometers to 100 miles. Unlike endurance races in the US a large grouping of stalls were located just north of the vet in area. The stalls were separated by removable partitions that could be built into different size stalls as necessary. Stallions were housed in a separate area each separated by a four-foot spacing. Some were quite well behaved, yet a few were acting up and showing off. The mares and geldings were housed together. There were no shades over the stalls. The east end of the base-camp was set up for camping. Port-a-loos had been brought in for this area. From conversation during the week with the race organizers they anticipated the only complaint would be that there was only one shower available. They mentioned that people would not come to a race unless camping and stabling facilities were available. This made it difficult to organize a ride since there were few areas that could support the size groups that attended the race.

We took an opportunity to make one last trip to the tents to prepare. We had time to head back to the tents to get ready for the early morning race start because by the time we were able to check in and get our numbers the sun had already begun to set. Kormy was generous enough to allow us to borrow her bakkie to drive back to the tent. Two people fit in the cab and one rode in the bed of the truck. It was not the most comfortable situation since the beds were dirty and it was difficult to prop oneself in some manner so as not to get bumped around. This was also the first opportunity for my dad to drive on the left side of the street. Andrea (from the UK where that is the norm) caught him tending to the right rather than the left when another car was approaching. Unsure of how things would be managed, we went ahead and packed our supplies for the race that evening. We put on riding clothes and brought the jackets that we planned to ride in. Tack, helmets and boots were already at basecamp and had been fitted to the horses. We loaded up and headed back. It was quite difficult to get back and forth to the tents since neither Andrea nor my father and I had rented a car so we tried to make sure and not forget any supplies. Plus, a truck was required in order to climb down the steep grade to the parking by the tents. Those with cars parked at the top of the hill and walked down. Obviously, since the tents and the race were located in a wildlife preserve it was not possible to walk from the tents to the base-camp.

Campers quickly filled the camping area and people both with and without horses were milling about the area. A large tent had been sent up next to the reserve kiosk. It was muggy but cooling quickly in the cold night air. A dinner of lasagna and salad was served and people stopped by when they had time available to eat, tickets for all the meals at the race were graciously provided by our hosts. We laid down for just a bit while we waited for the start of the race. It took some time but I played with the Tetris Gameboy that I had brought along, then shared that wit my dad before resigning to trying to sleep. The ride meeting started late and pulled us from our quick snooze.

The ride was announced open at 9:15 Friday evening. The new FEI rules that the ride was being operated under caused some grumbling in the crowd as well as the news that English, rather than Afrikaans would be spoken during the race. Basic rules were discussed where they highlighted some of the differences between their standard rules and the FEI endurance rules. The international riders, three total, were introduced with mixed reviews from the crowd. (This was no difference than the response that is seen in the US. Some are very enthusiastic about having international riders and some see it as an inconvenience and taking away from the local riders.) There was considerable grumbling that all the horses must remain in the stabling area until the close of the race on Sunday. This caused problems especially with the 30-kilometer riders who were worried about being stuck on site until Sunday when they finished riding on Sat. Course descriptions were provided including the order of the colored arrows to follow.

The 100-mile race began at 1:00am Saturday morning. We all tried to sleep between the meeting and the start of the race. Because of the excitement and the close-at-hand start it was difficult to get any rest. We woke up about 1 hour before the race and began tacking up. Both Andrea and I were accustomed to using heart rate monitors during the race but were unable to attach them to the saddles. We decided not to use the monitors rather than to risk losing our equipment. The horses seemed puzzled at the events going on around them and having been interrupted from the rest and warm blankets pulled off. Some were anxious to start the race but the overall attitude was calm. The start was controlled, led by the ranger’s vehicles leading the way and making sure none of the animals were on the trail. Both the 100-mile and 110 kilometer riders started at the same time. It was dark but there was a full moon. The trail was marked with glow sticks and it was easy to follow the blinking red lights being worn by each rider. There was a ranger vehicle both in front and behind the group of riders and they were excellent at keeping track of all the riders throughout the course. During the race they were the ones contacted in order to find where a rider was on the course and always had a good idea of everyone’s location on the reserve.

We started out in a group of five myself and Soraji, Andrea and Nazlet, Suzanne and Ibn, and both Tjaart and his brother, Hannes, on their horses. We traveled at a quick trot throughout the first loop. The loop went out through the main entrance of the reserve turning down a dirt then paved road. There was adequate space on the side of the road for the horses to travel safely. There was a vet check at the 15-kilometer mark which at first was announced as a running check but instead was a dismount and they checked pulse. It was confusing but manageable. We were not required to present vet cards at that point. The race continued through farm roads and by many different homes. Water was available throughout the course and was marked by a large ‘W’ on the trail. The horses traveled well together and everyone was comfortable in the darkness.

There was a big difference in the preparation that we saw for the race. It seemed that very few people gave electrolytes to the horses. When questioned they told us that they had given them to them the night before. I did not observe anyone giving electrolytes during the race. Additionally, per FEI rules, syringes for given oral electrolytes have to be provided by an FEI vet. Another big difference seen was that no one had saddle bags or supplies tied onto their saddles. No one carried sponges either. In general there seemed to be nothing tied to the saddles like what was seen in the US and people were more concerned about carrying only a minimal amount of weight. There seems to be quite a different approach towards racing in South Africa and people did not pack for being out in the wilderness but rather to race and travel as quickly as possible. There seemed also to be less attention to the care of the horse at the race, specifically, picking out feet. Since no one had saddlebags very few brought supplies in case of emergency like hoof pick, easy boot or spare leathers. At many races in the US it is very easy to find people with an entire first aid kit in their saddlebags. Little was packed for the rider, either. It was assumed that ride management had to provide drinks on the course and food at the vet checks.

During the first loop there were several areas where drinks were available. We were able to fill up on sports drinks at several stops and I did not even touch my own Gatorade that I had packed.

The terrain ranged from farm roads to rocky, hilly trails. There were no extremely steep climbs mainly just a difference in the amount of rock. The elevation was approximately 6000 feet and the humidity was high. Temperatures at night were in the 40s and there was a bit of a breeze, during the day it was in the high 80s low 90s. For someone from Arizona, the temperature was quite pleasant. I could only imagine what Andrea from the UK was feeling in those temperatures. There were no clouds in the sky and no trees on the trail to offer shade so the sun beat down on the riders.

There were a few areas on the course where we were not sure if we were traveling the correct way but never at any time did we take a wrong turn. (in some cases a glow-stick half way up a hill would be a confirmation that we were going the correct way and avoid worry especially at night) We passed the tent camp, which was very well lit up and very inviting, at about 4am having already been in the saddle for 3 hours. From there we covered part of the same tract that we followed to go from the tents to basecamp. At the predator camp we turned and went around the outside of the camp. The lions were fully awake and trotted alongside the fence as we trotted along. The larger male roared and swung his large paws in agitation at the potential meals trotting by. The final portion of the first loop traveled entirely around the outskirts of the camp almost giving an entire extra kilometer of travel quite a tease when everyone thought they’d arrived at the basecamp. We averaged only 9km an hour for the first 40 km. No riders dismounted to walk their horses into basecamp.

Upon crossing the finish line it became very confusing. There was no one there to check heart rate. I wandered around a bit lost but decided to follow the group into the grooming area. Saddles were removed and we put on coolers. Once we had our vet cards we headed straight for the vet area. (Later I learned that because there wasn’t sufficient staff they did not end the time when criteria heart rate was met, instead time stopped when you crossed the finish line. Which also meant that the hold time also began right when you crossed the finish line.) Soraji received excellent scores during the vet check. I brought her back to the grooming area and let her eat while I changed clothes and looked for something to eat. Water was available in the grooming area and we each had a person to help us out.

The hold was over quickly and we scrambled to saddle up and head back out. Cindy, the announcer, was very easy to follow since she gave a count down (from 5 seconds to go) to when the riders could leave, during the early parts of the day it was entirely in English later switching to both English and Afrikaans. Since no food had been available for the riders and the hold time had run out much quicker than expected since it did not start when the horses met criteria, I ate my breakfast as we trotted out to begin the second loop. The first check was very confusing. It was very difficult to understand the flow of the area and what was being done. There had not been adequate time to recharge for the next loop. I also realized that I was not feeling ideal. The red meat from the Marquis did not in any way agree with me. During the check I had ran to the restroom (fortunately there were flush toilets and yes the water swirled the opposite way) and felt like I had literally exploded. It was a quick relief and I was ready to head out again. Which was good because they were tacking up and ready to go.

A majority of the group felt that we had done the first loop entirely too slow. The pace for the second loop was much faster. It seemed to be an entirely new route since this time it was being ridden in the daylight.

We passed the park owners house and were greeted by a loud hissing and scratching sound. The previously cute Cheetah that had been rolling on its back and purring was running along the edge of the fence snarling at the passing horses.

We trotted and cantered the second loop. At the 15 km mark where there had been a vet check the first time there were only photographers from the local papers. All three of the international riders pictures were taken, supposedly for the Sunday paper.

During the daylight we saw more animals. At one point we chased a small flock of ostriches. The horses all took a second look at these ‘floating balls of feathers’. We noticed much more of the footing during this portion of the race. There were quite a bit of rocks that required some thought and navigation. The hill leading away from the tents was probably the most difficult area to get across. Some got off and walked up the hill.

We continued on traveling at a fast trot and occasional canter. Soraji was beginning to get tired and stumbled occasionally. The conversation was minimal and Tjaart would occasionally check on Andrea and I seeing if we were OK. I was quite happy and enjoyed the ride. The sun was up completely and it was warming comfortably. Besides the number, which did not fit me correctly and constantly flopped around it was very pleasant. I was glad to have brought the water holder that my mom sent with me to hold some Gatorade and it was also very nice to see volunteers manning gates and handing out beverages! (Cindy’s family had manned the gate at the bottom of the hill before the tents. They had set up two large tents as well as a shade and were handing out drinks to the riders. Then they would call in the riders locations.

Immediately on the other side of the hill the path took a right turn towards the wild boar enclosure. The gate was open but monitored so that none of the animals came across. Volunteers greeted us at the first gate, but the second was less consistently monitored and we had to get off and open the gate ourselves. Rubber mats and plywood covered the overly large grating. Soraji spooked quite badly going over the grating.

As we came around the predator enclosure Soraji took a bad step and almost fell. I called to the group to slow down since she was not right. I asked them to see how she looked but no problem was seen. Over one hour was cut from our first travel time and we averaged 15-kilometers an hour for the second loop. When we arrived none of our crew was available since they did not expect us for another hour. Each had tried to get a bit of sleep before we returned. It was quite confusing again at the vet check even to the point of not being able to find the vet cards. It was about 9:30 in the morning and the temperature had begun to rise. The sun was out in full force and everyone had removed coats and extra layers exchanging them for sunglasses.

The second vet check did not go as successfully for me. Soraji trotted out lame and had poor gut sounds. (Both her and Nazlet drank extremely well throughout the morning, both remaining at the trough together well after the rest of the group had finished. Andrea and I waited until they showed no interest in the water before continuing on.) She also had a very high CRI score. We had to pull at that check.

I asked my dad to help Andrea who was not fairing well herself. The heat was really getting to her. He gave her some of the Gatorade that we had brought with us and put cool towels on her neck. By the end of the hold she was better and continued on. We did not hear about the how the rest of the group fared until much later in the afternoon. My dad and I had cleaned up Soraji and bummed a ride back to the tents for showers and a quick nap. We lounged around the tents and the bar area for the remainder of the afternoon, having no choice in the matter since there was no means of transportation. Once our ride had left we were stranded at the tents regardless so we relaxed and made the best of it. We slept, and it was quite pleasant with the flaps of the tent open and a warm breeze wafting through the tent. A long shower also added to the relaxation and it felt very good to be clean. The digital cable in the bar offered some amusement and we managed to find a movie on TV but not much else.

Andrea and Suzanna arrived late in the afternoon with disappointing news. None of the international riders completed the race. Both decided to pull due to the heat. Their horses had all vetted through OK but they had decided not to push them on the ride, not feeling well themselves. Plus, one of the horses had thrown a shoe and had forced them to travel very slowly in the heat of the day. There was some discussion that mistake had been made in the entries and Hannes and Suzanne were only entered into the computer in the 110km which they had finished. (We later learned by reviewing the on-line results that they were given credit for the completion.)

That evening a braai was held for the organizers, vets and some of the riders. The last rider came in at 11:45 that evening which then let Kormy and the remaining stewards relax. (This rider had apparently overslept and did not start with the first group of riders, it appeared that he went out at least 4 hrs. after the start but this was not confirmed.) Andrea had planned to attend the braai but layed down too early and fell asleep for the night. I had to make sure my dad did not get any pictures of her while she was sleeping. As for me, by time the braai came about we had been relaxing (meaning, mixing different drinks) all afternoon. I stood around waiting then finally gave up and laid down to sleep for the night, ignoring the noise coming from the bar..

Sunday morning marked the closing of the race. The judging for Best Condition was held immediately next to the tent. The winner of the 100-mile race also won best condition and was owned and ridden by the Foyers. Their horse was in beautiful condition and trotted off smartly during the judging showing no undue stress from the race the day before. There was a continental breakfast in the tents that had been well picked over by the time we arrived.

We were able to relax and say goodbye to everyone before taking off for the airport and the long 25 hour flight back. I got to look at Soraji and see that she was OK. Her front legs were a little swollen but she trotted out OK showing only a little stiffness and slight hesitation when she trotted downhill. She was eating very well while I watched and I brought her out for some more grazing.

The return flight from Johannesburg seems much longer, lasting 25 hours including lay-over time. The unusual part is that most of the return flight is done in 100% darkness making this one of the longest nights I could remember.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

A Fall Ride in the Redwoods - Mike Maul

The trails near Woodside are a mix of redwoods and manzanita, a deep quiet where the hooves of your horse give a hollow beat from the ground as you travel over the single track trails cut from the side of the hills. I`m riding with someone who grew up here 45 years ago and hasn`t been on these trails for 25 years.

Now there are yuppie joggers and hikers, new trails with solitary hikers and large groups - with accents from the UK to the Far East - from our East to the heartland to native California.

Memories are brought out - she says that`s where my Dads horse went over the edge and had to be hauled out by rope from another horse. That`s where my horse dumped me at age 7 and my father came from home to find me. Here`s were we found the cold watermelons in the stream and "borrowed" one. I used to ride out here all the time on my first horse. You compare the distances to what we do today as endurance riders but you still think it was a lot...

You start out on a long uphill that gets the horses warmed up - several miles of nice open road that just keeps going on and up. The air smells fresh and cool - the sun is coming through the tall trees and spreading light that you mightsee in an old cathedral. Moss is growing on all sides of the trees showing that it`s not going to help you find North if you get lost. The trees give off a smell you never find in our cities.

You`re really not out for endurance conditioning but it happens anyway. You do all the things you would normally do - nice long steady trots, walk the downhills, try to get them to drink early in the ride with no success, take a break where you might have had a vet check, certainly trot all the uphills and don`t let them sneak into a canter.

You say hello to everyone - slow to a walk - when you meet those less fortunate hikers who don`t get to be on these spirited Arabians. Everyone says "what beautiful horses" - you agree and are glad to be out there on one of the last days in the fall. In one little girls eyes - you see her hearts desire showing through for one of these Arabians.

You pass old burnt out redwoods with new ones rising out of their black charred stumps. The new rises out of the old and the forest renews itself. You wonder what memories the old redwoods have of the mountains and all the life that has passed through here.

Yet just a few miles away bisecting Interstate 280 - you passed a straight - miles long - building where the Stanford Linear Accelerator peers into the depths of the atomic world. It looks at the future and the redwoods look to the past. They both have meaning for us today on our horses.

The trails turn to "kneeknockers" with nice turns that you lean into as your horse takes them like a four footed grey sports car. He seems to like them even better than you do. He`s sure-footed and never gets your knees as you drift through some of the turns and switchbacks. You feel like you could do this forever...

You also remain convinced that Arabians can see parts of the spectrum we cannot. They see shapes and things that we will never be able to see but they protect us even if we can`t see them...

We ride along roads with big houses and small houses hidden in the woods. Most have their American flag out at the gate. Again Sept. 11 is with us wherever we go - and always will be.

Looking at the hills toward the ocean - we see a dark blue fog rolling in with the coming storm. It smells like rain to come - but different than that of the thunderstorms of my heartland youth - more like the sea.

Given the coming rain - we`re happy we got in this ride in the last of the fall. Seeing the redwoods again and thinking back on the memories of many years ago on these trails - she says - perhaps you can go back - if you`re on a horse.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Robin Hood - Mustang Story - Michele Roush Shaw D.V.M.

It`s 4 AM, Sunday morning, August 26, and I am experiencing the defining moment of my life. I am in Vermont, aboard the Mustang, Robin Hood, owned by Dr. Philip Ottinger. Unfortunately, Phil can`t be here to share the moment, but I have other support: my husband, crew, and team officials. Hood and I cross the finish line, I jump off, and promptly burst into tears. We`ve just completed the 100 mile course of the 2001 Pan American Endurance Championship.

It was a long time in coming, and involved tremendous dedication from all parties. Robin Hood had been selected for the 1999 Pan Am, with a different rider, but I had had to withdraw two months prior to the race because of an abcess in his neck and ensuing medical problems. I started riding Robin Hood in December of 1999, and though I really didn`t know if he could make a comeback, and though he was the first Mustang I`d dealt with, Phil kept encouraging me and telling me how to relate to him. At the time, I had no idea of the depth of the horse I had under me.

For the next year and a half, making it to and competing in the Pan Am race became my focus. It was a long process of bringing Robin Hood back to fitness after his metobolic problems, while at the same time learning the differences between dealing with Mustangs versus other breeds. I had come to endurance riding from a background of three day eventing, so was more accustomed to "hotter" breeds, such as thoroughbreds and Arabians. I quickly got used to Hood`s dependability, but it took me a bit longer and a few mistakes to finally understand some of the metabolic issues Phil had been warning me about. We ultimately got to the point that we could relatively easily "top ten" the 50 milers, and I started looking to the 100 milers for our qualifying races. My husband was very good to put up with all of my idiosyncrasies during this time. I was adamant about not doing anything that would distract from or potentially jeopardize Hood`s training schedule. (Yes...the word "anal" does come to mind!)

The final few months leading to the Pan Am race, including the day we were officially selected to the Pacific North squad, saw us on the Pony Express trail. During the months of June and July, 2001, about 60 riders, including my husband and myself, rode 50 miles a day, 5 days a week, for eight weeks, completing the entire original Pony Express route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Virginia City, Nevada. Not all of us rode every single day, but we and our horses were there for the entire trip. It was quite an adventure, and I wouldn`t have missed it, bit it did have an impact on Hood`s condition for Pam Am. Robin Hood has a very upright lower leg and hoof conformation, and it can be rather tricky to shoe him correctly. Normally, he goes in Sneakers (Eqithotics, Inc.) put on by Kirk Adkins, but with two months on the trail, I had to have a local Wyoming farrier shoe him midway through to California. His angles got a little off, and Hood wound up getting sore in his heels. I had to send him home to Kirk in mid July, and so could not complete the final stages of his conditioning. Instead of peaking for Pan Am, he was standing in a stall resting his feet. Robin Hood is a horse who does his best when he`s worked every day.

Eventually, Kirk got Hood sound enough to be ridden again, so we set off for Vermont two weeks before the race. My husband, my dog, Robin Hood, and I in our two horse gooseneck with living quarters. We made it almost to Salt Lake City (home is Sacramento, California area) before the first breakdown. Yes. First of many. I won`t go into the details, but suffice it to say that on that trip back East, we had three major truck breakdowns, and in between, we borrowed a truck from a friend in Park City, Utah, returned that truck and picked up ours, spent the night in the yard of a friendly rancher, got to know a very nice man named Francis who is the caretaker for the Sidney, Nebraska fairgrounds, got more intimately familiar with roadside rest stops than anyone should ever have to, and learned of every Ford truck dealer and diesel mechanic between Ogallala, Nebraska, and Davenport, Iowa. Throughout it all, the Mustang was a trouper - took it all in stride even while wondering how many times we were going to practice getting in and out of the trailer, and enjoyed quite a bit of that lush Midwestern brome grass that grows along every road.

We finally did arrive in Vermont, actually back on schedule thanks to a couple of all-night drives, and I had one week to not only let Hood recover from the journey, but also try to salvage some sort of conditioning regiment to get his muscles active again. It was not to be. This time, I was thwarted by a mysterious hind leg lameness that appeared out of nowhere. The Western veterinary medicine diagnostics indicated a fetlock problem, while the acupuncturist argued that it was in the hock. You cannot even begin to imagine the state of agitation to which this reduced me! We had worked so hard and come so far to do this, and now we might not even be able to start. We poured as much Adequan and Legand into him as we could, and I gave him even more time off. It worked. Five days later, we started the 2001 Pan American Championship at five in the morning.

It was a good race, but all the problems we`de had coming into it took their toll. Robin Hood was tired by mile 50, sore in his heels by mile 60, and my mile 70, I came o the conclusion that he had done enough for me. It was time to quit. We came to a spot where our support crew could meet us, and I told them what was going on, and that I had decided to pull from the race. Meanwhile, Robin Hood was happily munching away on as much food as he could stuff into his mouth. Before making my withdrawal official, the assistant team chef d`equipe, Terry Benedetti, and I watched while my husband trotted Hood for one final assessment. He looked good - seemed to have gotten a second wind. I decided to press on to the next veterinary checkpoint. After all, it was the Pan Ams, and one doesn`t quit lightly from something like that!

Hood seemed to have sensed what was going on, and he buoyed my spirits for that next leg. It was almost as if he was saying to me, "Come on - we can do this!" Throughout that next (and last) 25 miles, we alternately carried each other. I hiked beside Robin Hood for most of the distance, and we walked together in the dark. From sunset until the time we finished, in the dark of very early morning, we were by ourselves on the trail. There were times when I would give in to doubts that we could do it in the time allowed. That`s when he would carry me along, his footsteps sounding like a metronome in the night, proceeding ever onward. I know horses fairly well, have ridden hundreds of them, and have about 5000 lifetime endurance competition miles, but I have never before experienced anything like that journey with that Mustang. I wasn`t just dragging a horse over a 100 mile course. I was competing beside a courageous and understanding soul and partner. We both chose to give it all we had, and that result was incredible fulfillment at the personal level. No - we did not win the race, but I know I had the best horse there!

I wrote this in part to share my experience, but also because I want you to know about Mustangs. They aren`t just backyard pets and pleasure horses. If you gain the trust and respect of a Mustang, that horse will rise to whatever occasion you ask. There is a depth of spirit and wisdom in them that can give you a true partner in whatever equine activity you wish to persue.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Angies PAC Story - Angie McGhee

Wow, where to start? This time last year I had very little thoughts of nominating, then last December I got an e-mail from Jaye Perry asking me if I was going to nominate or not. I hem-hawed around and Jaye being Jaye took that as the answer he wanted, "Yes!" Being scooped up by Jaye is like being a mailbag hanging on a hook that gets nabbed by a train passing by at 60mph. The next thing I knew it was full steam ahead and no looking back.

USA-East was trying out a new selection procedure this year that would be based solely on head to head whining about politics, etc. Just get on your horse, go to 2 out of 4 rides and the horses with the most points when the dust dies get to go. The procedure wasn`t perfect, but I think everyone liked the direction it`s taking us and now just wants to refine it.

How does a teacher take 8 days off the second week of school? helps to teach Art instead of Algebra...and it also helps to tell the principal it will just be five first, then at the last minute change it to 8. :-P The school secretary was panicking about how to put the leave down and we put it down as "sick leave". Unfortunately, while I was gone the local newspaper ran a 1/2 page story about us and the first paragraph said "Local school teacher vacations in least she *took* vacation, it`s actually serious business". Well no, actually I took sick leave. Let`s hope the people in the home office didn`t see that.

We were looking at 24 hours of hauling with a horse who`d never been in the trailer over 9 so Jaye arranged for us to overnight at Val`s in Virginia. We hauled all night and got there at 5 AM. I`ve never been to the Old Dominion so waking at the site of it was exciting. Got to admit though, it looks a lot like home. Several other PAC participants were there and the excitement was building. As irritable as I was when I was trying to leave home I don`t know how Val stood us all showing up at the last minute but you`d have thought they had all the time in the world. Larry had Bill and me dying laughing with stories and made sure we went up to see his really cool treehouse he built in the woods. They not only tolerated us parking in their driveway, they had us all in for dinner! I think Larry is the president of the unofficial AERC foreign embassy. He seems to really enjoy bringing young people from other countries over to work for them for awhile and make friends. I suggested that they just design themselves a flag and declare their farm a country in itself. They have enough top horses and riders to send out a team capable of winning the WEC all by themselves.

There were momentos of World Championships tacked up on the fronts of Pierez and Fire & Gold`s stalls and I couldn`t believe they left those in the barn rather than the house. Found later that the house was too full of bronze awards to waste space on things like ribbons. It was an inspirational start to our first International Competition. I`ll warn you all, she`s got a field full of fit looking worldbeaters in the wings. You guys who can`t find large Arabs?? Blame 4`11" Val, she`s hoarding them. >g<

There were lots of discussions on what would be the best way to haul up. I stuck to my usual "get him out every three hours" and from what I heard was practically the only one to get him out at all on the way to VT from VA which took us 13 hours. I think the other horses had been on long hauls more often and probably drank, etc. better in the trailer. Kaboot was great, unloading in McDonald`s parking lots and busy truckstops without flicking an ear. I did come up with a new trick. Since it`s not always possible to backup to grass to unload I started laying down a piece of carpet for him to hop down onto to avoid slips and he liked it.

The USA-East team would be staying at Steve Rojek`s farm 2.5 miles from the GMHA from Sunday through Thursday morning when they had to be checked in at GMHA. The stalls at GMHA were tiny (10x10) so we were putting off going as long as possible. All the other teams were at a huge field with a beautiful view just down the road.

I had never been to Vermont, and I can tell you the Woodstock area was worth going back to. It`s BEAUTIFUL. I don`t know if wood doesn`t rot up north, or if it`s too cold for them to burn down, but there were soo many huge old barns in perfect condition, built next to gorgeous OLD homes. For example, Steve Rojek`s tin roofed rock home was built in 1761. There was a British KING in charge when it was built! His carriage barn was incredible, with at least 20 antique carriages and sleighs in a room with a huge fireplace and an old painting hanging over it. Noticed he had a few silver cups that I would have decorated my entire house around stacked here and there in the carriage house too. >sigh<

Woodstock is a ski town, which should tell you something about the terrain we rode on. Let`s just say about half the trail would have looked good with a lift going up it, and the other half with ski tracks going down. Sort of intimidating when someone says, "And then you`ll be down that way" and you look up at the roadsign which reads "Suicide Six" with an arrow pointing that way.

The USA-East squad probably had more veterinarians than any other squad. We had 6 official vets, plus one rider vet...would have been two had Nikki Young been there. Our vets were very concerned with the quality of our trot outs and wanted us trotting out for them bright and early Monday. So, we all trotted out...with horses who had been hauled 13-24 hours in the last two days... and the vets were gnashing their teeth. When you get 6 top vets together looking at horses trot, they`re bound to compete. Nobody wants to be the one who doesn`t see *something*...then add to that the fact that they are terribly nervous about their responsibility which is to pick 4 horses, of which three *have* to finish, to go for the team medals. I`d compare it to someone who has mortgaged their parents farm, which they still live in, without their take that $100,000 and bet on a trifecta which they *have* to win. I think that`s the sort of pressure our vets were putting on themselves.

Fortunately I went to the Jane Savoie clinic on positive thinking and didn`t fall over in a coma the first time they didn`t like my horse`s trot out. I figured if she could get to the Olympics with no horse, I could get through the Pan Ams with this one. USA-East had 18 slots on our team since we were the host team. Our altnernates included Steve Rojek (it was his home trail) Rita Swift & Cass (one of the top teams in the country) and Connie Walker (PAC individual gold last time out). Picture yourself as a major league coach with Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio and Reggie Jackson on your bench and you`ll know what they were thinking. >g<

Then things started happening. For those of you who hadn`t heard, Nikki Young`s great (and I do mean great) mare Breathless died in colic surgery several weeks back (not ride related). Then Lynn Gilbert`s horse Chagall was lame and didn`t come. Next Val`s horse Bearcat O`Reilly arrived with a cough and was taken off the grounds to quarentine. This put Rita, Steve and Connie on the team. Later in the week Cia Reis`s horse who looked great all week got his hind leg through a metal corral and tore it up. We lost Ceia and didn`t even have 18 horses any more. Debbie Bullie and Adriene Hewitt had qualified, but their horses weren`t up to competing this week either so they had come to crew. I think the vets relaxed some then, since the bench was now empty. The reserves were used up, it was now time to get what we had through the race.

I think I mentioned our vets liked trot outs. Our vets wanted *good* trot outs. Nice, energetic trot outs. They wanted everyone to come out twice a day and practice trot outs. There`s just one problem. Kaboot *loves* trot-outs. He gets faster and faster when you trot him out. Here he`d been gone from home for days...I`m sure he was confused when we just keep getting up in the morning and do more trot outs, but that was OK with him. He LOVED this new sport. He loves it because he can trot faster than I can, and he`s *winning*! The vets apparently had read Merryben`s post saying you never let the horse turn around you or he may take a bad step, so it was *imperative* that we keep up with the horses and stop them on a straight line. All I can tell you is that by Thursday I swear Kaboot was starting to crouch when I said, "Ready?" and he was taking off like it was out of the starting gates. I kept having to run faster and faster to keep up and had to do stretching exercises before my sprints. All this was under the supervision of just 4 of our vets, since Ann Stuart, our Chef de` whatever and Julie Bullock were in FEI meetings. Finally, Ann got to come to one of our trot out sessions to observe. After I returned from an "Out, 2 large circles to the left, 2 large circles to the right, and back" race, and was bent over wheezing with my hands on my knees Ann declared, "They`re not going to let you trot *that* fast! Can`t you slow him down?" >shriek<

Thursday morning it was time for the big move. We saddled up 18 horses at 6 AM, in full uniforms to ride them to GMHA. Think about it. What do you *think* our horses thought was going on? Yep...a semi controlled start. :-P As we lined up to ride out of camp Julie Bullock ran to her truck and cranked her stereo all the way up with a rap musician chanting, "Let`s start the commotion". We looked *good* in our uniforms and it was the coolest thing to hear the hoofbeats, have a prancing horse under you and be one of the team.

Thursday morning was the official "vet in" minus trot outs. The GMHA looked very festive with all the country`s flags draped around the arena. I got a French vet which made me feel quite worldly. With the fields where we`d been camping just a couple of miles away all the teams had chosen to ride over rather than haul. They had scheduled us to vet in at intervals, so as we drove back to Rojeks we would meet teams of riders in full colors riding along the back roads towards the venue. The sky was blue, the horses primed, the weather perfect, and those uniforms were beautiful. The award for prettiest goes to Pacific South, with lots of ties for 2nd. Their jackets are navy, red and bright yellow, and so is all their biothane. One cool thing they added was the rider`s record embroidered on back. It would tell how many PAC`s or WEC`s they`d participated in. I had to laugh when somebody referred to the Mountain region as "Those Aqua-people" Sounded like Atlantis had sent a team. >g<

Thursday morning was the official "vet in" minus trot outs. The GMHA looked very festive with all the country`s flags draped around the arena. I got a French vet which made me feel quite worldly. With the fields where we`d been camping just a couple of miles away all the teams had chosen to ride over rather than haul. They had scheduled us to vet in at intervals, so as we drove back to Rojeks we would meet teams of riders in full colors riding along the back roads towards the venue. The sky was blue, the horses primed, the weather perfect, and those uniforms were beautiful. The award for prettiest goes to Pacific South, with lots of ties for 2nd. Their jackets are navy, red and bright yellow, and so is all their biothane. One cool thing they added was the rider`s record embroidered on back. It would tell how many PAC`s or WEC`s they`d participated in. I had to laugh when somebody referred to the Mountain region as "Those Aqua-people" Sounded like Atlantis had sent a team. >g<

Now that the horses were in their 10x10 stalls it was time to start appreciating our crews who took turns making sure the horses didn`t spend much time in them. I was lucky enough to have a great crew. First I had Bill, who just for this week went through a total personality change and became proactive. No more dragging feet or going through the "oh that`s not necessary" routine. He worked hard begrudging none of it, and managed to take videos besides! I had also lined up Liz Szeliga (no I can`t pronounce that) from Mass. to help. Then I met Kathy Duggen who had planned to crew for Lynn Gilbert and was available. She had finished 3rd in the pre-ride and knew the trail. Other than the language barrier (she was from near Boston) she was the perfect addition to the crew. We dubbed her our "Native Guide" took Bill on a tour of all the vet checks and it took them 3 hours just to drive to them all.

Speaking of language barriers...that was one of the more amusing aspects of our team. There were people from Southern California who sounded pretty normal to me (even though my SE accent stood out to them) but the SE riders & NE riders all on the same squad had a heck of a time. For instance...they say "Hahbah" rather than Harbor, and "Lahbstah" instead of Lobster, so you figure they don`t use "R`s" but then they say "Idear" instead of "Idea", and "Canader" instead of "Canada" Bill was totally confused when Kathy Duggan urgently asked him if he got my "Cud". He had no idea what she wanted. She finally said, "Caarrrd" sort of saying the r in the back of her throat the way Bambi does when he`s trying to say "Birrrd". By the end of the ride we couldn`t get Kathy & Liz to quit saying "Dang far" (far means fire in this case).

The official trot outs were to be held Friday. We had all hoped until the last minute that Ceia`s horse would quit being sore and vet in but when our vets had their last team trot out that morning he was definitely off and she decided not to even try. We were all very disappointed for her. When I lined Kaboot up for that trot out I stopped and turned my official team cap backwards to allow for the speed and we did our windsprint. I sort of like our coach`s name for that out and back sprint which is a "suicide". I may refer to Kaboot`s trot outs as suicides from now on. The vets were satisfied. He stopped on a straight line, and they chuckled as I turned my hat back around.

Suddenly it was time for the big trot out event..and it was an event! Everyone was in full uniform. We had to go to a field where an official lady almost died of confusion when Bill forgot his penny. We entered the field and circled to the left, perfectly evenly spaced. Stopped, and had our first official pulse from Roger`s wands. It was 37 (he usually vets in at 44 so was quite calm) We walked on around and on the far side of the field there were maybe 10 vets evenly spaced checking horses out for a CRI. The line was constantly moving and every time a horse was officially passed the announcer would say something like, "Number 70 Angie McGhee on Kaboot Herlong has been cleared for competition". and their crew would sigh with relief. The vet checked Kaboot over, gave him all A`s except a B on anal tone which I found amusing. I forgot we weren`t supposed to speak to them and said, "Don`t worry, I`ve just removed so many ticks he`s not ticklish any more. Tomorrow morning you`ll be able to crack walnuts with it" Fortunately there was no reprimand. >g<

When I got ready to trot out I considered turning my hat around but figured I`d better play it straight. Kaboot was relaxed, but staring intently watching the others trot out and I could tell he couldn`t wait to race me. When the vet said "Trot him" he tried to jump out, but I pulled him back around, lined him up carefully with the proper cone they wanted me to trot around and tried to very nonchalantly say, "Trot". Ha! Off we went, wide open and picking up speed. I sprinted as hard as I could, but had to keep letting the rope play out farther so he wouldn`t have to circle back on me. I felt the muscles on my thighs getting pulled (strained) and was grateful when we got to the far end and I managed to stop him on a straight line. There were titters in the crowd as I carefully turned him and lined him back up hoping he`d be calmer on the way back. Double ha. He went even faster, I lost my hat and really did hurt the fronts of my thighs running so hard. He came to a nice straight stop for the vet as if saying, "What do you think of *that?" and the vet broke his no speaking rule and said, "You plan to RIDE this horse tomorrow? He got an A+ on impulsion and a notation, "Base wide" next to it. He trots *really* wide in the rear and the faster he trots the wider it gets.

Next came the official weigh and I was 164.5 I figured that`s a nice place to be...safely above the minimum (156 now) but not enough to feel guilty.

The ceremony later that day was nice...and short. Nice to have officials who realize that 90 primed horse aren`t going to stand still for long. They wisely held off all the "thank yous" etc. until Sunday when 90 horses were very willing to stand quietly. The locals put on a demonstration of the Morgan horses that was very nice. They had carriages, hunt seat, a farmer dragging a log, anything you could imagine a Morgan doing. I felt bad because the official pictures were being taken while we had our uniforms on and we had to miss some of it.

So now it`s Saturday morning. If felt good to finally get down to business after a week on the road. You peel away all the extra hoopla and get down to the main event and it`s just an endurance ride, the kind you`re used to and you`re ready to *ride*! Rode around for 25 minutes or so warming him up, then they ordered *everyone* into the arena. Picture a dark show arena with 90 primed horses jigging around in it! Whew! Then they opened the gate on the far side and the course was open. They started us with a "controlled start" I thought following a golf cart, but by the speed of it I think it was probably a really quiet motocross motorcycle. We trotted along in the dark for probably 15 minutes or so, with Kaboot weaving in and out of traffic until he found a place he was happy and he settled in. After another 15 minutes it started to get light enough to see who was around me and I realized that I was riding with six other USA-East horses, and nobody else. The horses had found each other. >g< All day long teams were riding together and I wondered how much of it was the rider`s ideas and how much of it was the horse`s. There was only one time that Kaboot hooked up with a non-USA-East horse and it was an Australian. It surprised me until I realized he had leased Lois McAfee`s horse Leggs who had been stabled at our field all week.

The trail was tough, with lots of climbs, but the weather was so incredibly great that my horse really didn`t care. I`d heard some other regions had considered it humid earlier in the week, while those of us from the South had put away all our tank tops and were wearing sleeves. Then Saturday it turned COOL and clear with no humidity at all that I could feel. There was even a breeze. I`m sure it hurt Melissa Crains chance for the gold, but it was still hard to wish *for* humidity.

The trails at GMHA are permanently marked with wooden arrows. The strange thing was that sometimes they were on the left, and sometimes on the right. Sometimes they were far apart. I was scared that after dark I would pass one on the left while searching with a flashlight on the right, but it all worked out. Gotta admit that when I went all the way down a mountain without a marker between top and bottom though that without 2 horses with me I`d have been worrying about turning back. There was plenty to turn you at the turns, but nothing to stop you if you got past the turn. All in all it worked out fine but I managed to worry.

The first 50 miles was a blur. The trail was so EASY for RIDERS, but not for horses. You had to remind yourself how hard they were working. The only problems I had were with all the steep downhills I spent too much time standing and started having shin splint trouble on my left leg. By 40 miles it was the worst I`d ever felt with shooting hot pain. At the vet check I taped it up with duct tape, and took some kind of 12 hour anti-inflamatory sample a doctor had given me and a couple of 400mg Tylenol. Amazingly enough I had no more problems. I`ll add a note here...there was talk at a meeting with FEI about banning drugs FOR RIDERS. Whew! Wanna talk about controversial!!! One popular drug was Benadryl. There were bees on the trail and lots of riders got stung. I got it once. We had been asked to fill out a form before the ride telling what drugs we carried, or took. I`m sure this will be a hot topic eventually.

The biggest difference in this ride and any other I have done was that the people in the town not only knew what we were doing...they cared! From the time we hit the trail at 5 AM we would hear cheers from people as we passed houses. There were water buckets *everywhere*. There were huge tubs in front yards with sponge buckets next to them. There were picnicking families in lawn chairs who applauded as you went by. There were kids holding up signs that read, "One mile to vet check, "Go USA-East". As if that wasn`t enough, they had hospitality stations where you`d round a bend and there would be 30 people carrying jugs of water to pour on your horse, offering you orange slices, tea, Gatorade, carrots for the horses... I mentioned to a fellow rider, "I should give electrolytes now" and a lady said, "You need electrolytes? I honestly think they had them. I said, "No, I`ve got my own" and she said, "Here, give them to me". I just handed them down, she dosed him, refilled the syringe with water and rinsed his mouth out, then handed the syringe back. Talk about service!! Met the same lady later in the day and she did it for me again.

About electrolytes. I used my home mades and gave them on the hour as usual...and a strange thing happened. My horse kept peeing... often! I remember Karen Chaton saying he horse peed 5 times during 50 miles and how extreme that sounded. Kaboot peed 5 times the last 20 miles!! I honestly think maybe he didn`t need the electrolytes much since it was so cool, and he was just drinking water and peeing them right back out. His urine was as clear as water.

Metabolically, it seemed to me that this ride was very easy on the horses. I guess the hills slowed them down so it was the muscles that were affected first. The grass was sooo lush compared to our area, and water was so plentiful. There were plenty of muscle sore horses the day after this race, but I didn`t see any that looked "drawn".

They told us the trail was 40% woods trails and 60% of the hard packed dirt roads. I guess it was, but it didn`t seem like it. It seemed like we got to spend plenty of time in the woods and they were gorgeous...tall spruce, beautiful stands of the white birch, views out over blue hill after hill. They had names for their hills...I know one was "Heartbreak Hill" and the others were equally descriptive, but my horse didn`t seem to mind them and my shins didn`t mind when we had to walk up the really steep ones.

We had vet checks often. Far more often than in most 100`s and it made the day go by fast. The longest stretch without a check was 19 miles and there was a trot-through 1/2 way through that. Some were as short as 9, 10, 12, and even 4 miles. I liked it and I think it`s one of the reasons the completion rate was high. People didn`t lose time if they wanted to let their horses eat like you do on 22 mile loops.

Our first vet check was at 13 miles. Just before we got there we hit some bees. Suddenly we emerged at an indoor arena (somebody said it was Charles Bronson`s farm) and people sort of swarmed us to help. Kaboot got very upset and silly and was still 89 when his traveling buddy, Mary Yeager`s Snickers was 43. Mary was trying to wait on me but accidentally crossed the line where you had to go on forward and vet through. It was for the best. Once everyone gave up on my horse coming down he dropped. Val noticed he was stomping a rear foot and that was the first time it hit me that he may have been stung. The rest of the vet checks went fine. We almost always lost time in the vet checks because Kaboot doesn`t relax, but I guess that`s a trade out because the nice relaxed horses don`t give you that enthusiastic trot-out. (yes he was still racing me) After the 86 mile vet trot out Dane Frazier said to me, "Have you been riding this horse at all?" At 96 miles the vet who I hadn`t seen before leaned over to his secretary as we trotted and said, "I guess this is that base-wide horse everybody`s been talking about". Nina Barnett said, "Nobody`s going to pull that horse because when he`s trotting away from you all you see is how wide he is, and when he`s coming back you just want to get the hell out of the way!" >g<

At about 75 miles Mary Kornwolf, Kathy Shank and I hooked up and our vets told us to just ease them on in and *finish*. There really wasn`t any reason for us to hurry since we had no part in the team thing, and nothing but completion was up for grabs. The people by the roads were still out there applauding, even though it was late evening, and some were starting to cook supper. (I guess that`s called Dinner in VT). As we rode up a long hill the smell of grilled chicken filled the air and we saw some people in their backyards grilling. I called out, "That`s cruel torturing us like that" and he called back, "Want some?" Mary took him seriously and said, "yeah!" and trotted Shiloh right up to their grill to get a chicken breast. >g< She yelled to us, "It`s good!" and caught back up and split it three ways. Vermonters are the best!

The best hospitality station to me was at the top of a long hill where about six kids under the age of 9 were out at the road in front of their house. They had a huge trough filled with water, and several sponge buckets surrounding it. There were about 3 little kids maybe 6 years old hustling around a field pulling handfuls of grass then running back to pile them by the water trough where they had a big pile already. One little boy had a hose and would politely ask if you`d like your horse misted. They were so efficient, and seemed to know exactly what we needed. I had tears in my eyes it was so sweet.

At 86 miles we lost Mary when Shiloh trotted lame. Considering that he`d popped a splint earlier in the week it was a testament to her care that she got him that far. Our team also lost Kathy Brunjes and Ali Darkness in what was the one bit of injustice all week. A vet said he had limped during his trot out. Our vets said he stumbled. There was no room to argue the vet pulled Ali. There was a rule that any horse pulled from this ride *had* to go to the treatment barn for further evaluation. Ali was hauled to the treatment barn where he was trotted on a straight line, and in circles both directions where they declared him officially *not* lame. Poor Kathy. The next morning he was the best looking horse I saw prancing around.

Kathy`s job had been to ride with Brenda Baird one of our team members. Brenda had two very important reasons to *have* to finish the ride. First, because she was one of 3 team members left, and 2nd for a little known reason. Nikki Young`s mom had snuck and taken a lock of Breathless`s tail after she`d died, and sent it to the PAC. Her instructions were for one of the team members to carry it, and if they got pulled pass it on to another to make sure that at least a part of Breathless did the 100 miles. There wasn`t a dry eye in the house when we learned about the plan and Brenda had been chosen to do the job.

At 96 miles we all breathed a sigh of relief. I`d had enough of wondering if I was going to road founder and just decided to enjoy the walk in. We met a truck that was rehanging glow sticks which apparently ONE bad apple had removed. Out of all the fantastic people in Vermont, it`s such a shame that such a jerk lived in such a crucial spot. Word was that "He didn`t want horses going by his house at that time of night". There were also rumors somebody was throwing firecrackers at the horses...more on that later. We had no problems, but Karen Clark and Becky Harris who left the 96 mile check in 10 & 11 place (I think) were put off course and lost several positions.

Now...a GREAT story on the firecrackers. I got this from Rita Swift at the post ride party.

Rita said she was riding along and heard some firecrackers, then came around the curve and there were these guys. She said, "What are you guys doing?" and they said, "Oh we`re just shooting off some fireworks, but we`ll wait until you`re gone on by". Rita said, "Well boys, you know this horse has been 97 miles and he`s getting a little tired. Why don`t you just set them off now?" They said, "What?" She said, "Why don`t you just set them off NOW". "They said, "We`ve got some pretty big stuff here, M-80s and all" So Rita said, "Just a second then" and she tucked her flashlight under her arm and took the reins up short and looked back at them and said, "Give me all you`ve got" She said when they set those things off Cass took off like a bat out of hell and almost ran over Stagg who was just around the bend. >g<

We finished at 12:38 PM. I think 40th out of 90 There was a crowd at the finish line. Kaboot did his big trot out and we got cheers. I was especially proud when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Angie, Christy Janzen, that was an incredible trot out" :-))

Unlike most rides there was a rule that said the horses had to pass a metabolic re-check 2 hours after finishing. Someone had to be there when they did it. It was after 1AM when we got to the barn so I told my crew to go on. They had been up 24 hours and were beat. Bill went off to try to call our daughters and I got an army blanket and went to sleep on the ground in front of Kaboot`s stall door. The next thing I knew some vets woke me up to check him. I was a little disoriented, and thought Bill had left me. I`ll bet they thought I was a grouch. They passed him and I found Bill asleep in the truck. FINALLY I was sure I`d completed.

I didn`t have to walk in the finishing ceremony. I got my completion award (a nice crystal what-not with the ride, etc, engraved on it) and I can look at my ride photos and have nothing but happy thoughts. :-)) Thanks to USET for footing so many bills, and all the USA-East support people for guidance. Thanks to Zilco for the beautiful tack. I highly recommend to any of you who have the urge to try this out. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Angie McGhee & Kaboot

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Pyramid Challenge - Angie McGhee

Just back from Pyramid Challenge at Kentucky Horse Park. What a *different* kind of ride. You know, usually just getting to a ride sight requires some endurance...dirt roads with no names, towns nobody`s heard of...not, "Go up 75 to exit 120 and the Horse Park is on your left. I pictured a tourist attraction, (no I haven`t been there before unfortunately) with a field out back where they`d park us. Well, we came in the gate and the people didn`t know where we should go, they were taking up money for the huge Bluegrass festival that was going on there. We passed by the huge bronze of Man O` War, then we drove by the Saluki dog show and Field Trial, then there was the Hunter Jumper show going on up at the ring on the hill, and the Egyptian Event Arabian Horse Show in the big covered Arena. Talk about a busy place! We camped right by the scoreboard for the Rolex 3-Day Event. The names were still on the board in chalk, right next to the tree where I hooked up my picketline. There was a big lake across the street with 3 big fountains spraying continuously that were lighted at night. Very restful sound. Since Kaboot was due a vacation, and I`d wanted to sponsor my daughter at this ride I had posted on Ridecamp asking if anyone had a horse they wanted ridden. Connie Caudhill of KY sent a note and said to go ahead and pre-enter, she had one I could ride.

Got to the ride late...don`t ask...O.K. it had something to do with waking up Friday morning with a miniature donkey which doesn`t belong to me in my field, scaring my horses to death and spending the morning in pouring rain trying to catch it. Anyway, by the time we got there it was almost time for the ride meeting so I grabbed my horse for the weekend, "Huckelberry Moon" and went down to vet in. I`ll tell you now, if you`re a heavyweight (or not) and looking for a good horse you should go ahead and read this post just to see if you`re interested in this horse! (a pause for a word from our sponsors) The horse was big (to me) and a black bay with a full mane and thick forelock. He`s got a really nice flat strong back and was put together nice, solid built, like Kaboot but with height. Connie said he was sweepstakes nominated and Mike`s wanting to keep him, "but any horse we have is for sale". His trot out was a little enthusiastic, (probably because we`d left his friends on the hill) but after I saw how they bring those stallions in for a halter class at the Egyptian Event I realized it was just a breed characteristic. >g< I was a little concerned that I might have bit off more than I could chew as I led him back up the hill (or he led me). The ride meeting was in the Patron`s Lounge at the big arena and sitting amonst all those big oil paintings of Thoroughbreds you really felt like you were in Kentucky...(as if 400,000,000,000 miles of white board fences hadn`t already given it away)

Had a very short ride the night before. After 14.2 Kaboot Connie`s 6 year old horse felt big, and I wasn`t sure about the control factor on the bosal he wore. We`re talking about 60+ horses starting on a steeplechase racetrack, and traveling through wide open fields all day. Heck, Kaboot would have been a hair raising ride in those conditions. Get him in an open field and you feel like you`ve roped a locomotive.

The vet check was about 1/2 mile from where we camped. If you were walking it you entered a gate onto the steeplechase track, a really wide grassy track with a hedge on the inside rail and black board fence on the outside. It had rolling inclines and was a mile oval. Then you crossed over into the infield which went down into sort of a bowl and up the other side to a huge OLD grove of LARGE trees that put out the coolest shade you can imagine. All shade is NOT equal. The vet check was in that area. On the far side of the track was part of the crosscountry course that is used on the Rolex, etc. The jumps were awesome. When you see those things up close and they`re made literally out of power poles that are bolted together, with huge ditches between them. I honestly cannot imagine...

The ride was nice. Better than I expected when you know you`re going to be on very domesticated farm land at all times. There was quite a mix of traveling around the polo field, up the lanes between the Horse Park barns, around front past the entrance, and then onto a neighboring farm trotting between rows of corn (O.K. we wiped out one row and traveled between the two on either side of it) The trail looked so tame you didn`t realize all the dangers that really were there. For one thing, everybody was falling off. I mean everywhere. All that open space was just mind blowing to these mountain horses and they just got real happy...whole lotta buckin` going on. I for one was very relieved that my borrowed mount let me stay on. :-) Second, there were apparently some old fence rows not that far away from all the nice new fence rows we were riding. Holes would just appear out of nowhere. As we trotted along one section we`d just started to slow down for a turn when I heard a big thump behind me and Amy Whelan was on her horse`s neck. The horse had gone to the knee in a long skinny hole. Thank goodness we were already slowing down. There were quite a few of those. Also, we were riding along the fence lines of lots of fields and the grass was waist high. The second time around after the path had been beat down it was scarey to see what sort of stuff we`d gone over that morning without knowing it was there.

Now the good part. As we headed out for our second loop, we met some 25 milers coming in from their first loop. There were 4 riders, and 8 horses. Seems an entire field of the Horse Park`s rental horses had decided to escape and join the race...FORTY horses! The 4 who`d joined this bunch were very serious about the whole matter and were staying perfectly in line with the horses they were traveling with . They never even glanced at us as we headed the other direction; they were just about a mile from the vet check and I was wondering who was going to crew for them. >g< We went on around the loop and came up on some riders who`d stopped and saw some men from the horse park catching a Percheron who definately was *not* cut out for the sport he`d just tried out. He was one big sweaty panting fellow. His roan racking horse pal didn`t hang around to be caught, he just took off on down the correct trail ahead of us. The men told us we could go on once they`d caught the big guy. We went another 1/2 mile with ol` Roanie setting a good pace and came up on another Park worker blocking the trail with his truck. Several riders surrounded the horse (which did *not* want caught) and James Agnew removed one of his reins and made a loop and finally snared it. Two down, 38 to go. What a place. I could just imagine 38 horses crashing through the Bluegrass festival!

I was having a great time ever since I`d figured out Connie must like me after all because she`d loaned me a heck of a horse. This guy was big and almost black, but had absolutely no trouble coming down to a pulse of 60 faster than Kaboot would have. She said he was raised in Fla. and handled heat well and she wasn`t kidding. Josie`s knee was bothering her and we lost some time on the third loop just getting off and letting her stretch it, but other than that this horse who was only doing his third 50 kept a good 10mph pace most of the ride. Josie just had a while there where we had to walk for her sake. He had a great relaxed canter and would switch leads on his own so I had a much better time circling those big fields than I`d expected. I was a little worried about getting off of him during the loop to give electrolytes, since I`m so short my stirrups are at about eye level when I get on a big horse. But, luckily they`d done some competitive trail on him and he stood still while I pulled my foot up over my head, got my toe in the stirrup and then grabbed his longest braid to pull myself up.

One of the coolest things about the way things were set up was that when you got back to the vet check each time, you trotted by the crew area with anywhere from 1/2 to 1.5 miles to go before you needed to you didn`t slow down yet. On the orange loop you had to go .5 miles past the check traveling on the cross country course, then turn right through a gate onto the steeplechase track and then come back into the vet check. On the pink loop you did the same, but when you got to the check you had to pass it and do another full 1 mile trip around the track. The beauty of that was that for *once* the crew people got to see the horses traveling the way they look on the trail, not the way they look when we ease them into the check and walk in. The view of them cantering along effortlessly was beautiful. I enjoyed watching them go by as I was serving out my hold. The horses seemed to enjoy that perfect mowed grass footing so much they didn`t mind passing the vet check.

Now, for some anecdotes. This has got to be the *strangest* ride story ever. This is how I heard it retold, any mistakes are mine. Seems Lois was running up in the front group, then she was gone. Nobody was quite sure when she dropped back. One rider said he thought she`d decided the pace was too fast and dropped back. Mike Caudhill laughed at that idea and said they should have known better... Lois could have been shot through with an arrow and still wouldn`t have thought any pace was too fast. >g< Seems Lois had come off her horse, hurting her ribs in the process, and the horse had taken off down the pavement. She tracked it a long way by skid marks on pavement. It left the Park, crossed 2 cattle guards and ended up on a Standardbred farm. She came in and asked the workers there if they`d seen her horse. They said, "Yes, and it totally disrupted their schedule". They were palpating mares and very ticked off. They told her she could *not* have her horse back until she helped them finish up...and they were serious! She said some guy who`d been helping them left, and they gave her his job which was holding the mare`s tail. Here`s a woman who`d come off, got hurt ribs, there are search parties out looking for her and the horse and they`re making her hold mare`s tails to be palpated for 40 MINUTES!!!! Poor Lois finally earned her horse back, and was about a loop behind everyone. She was coming in from her first 15 miles as we finished 25 and she was hurt. I figured she`d quit. Ha. She finished the ride. >g<

As I was finishing up my last hold, I heard hoots and hollers and a group of 3 horses & riders passed on the outside crosscountry course with 1.5 miles to go to the finish of their 50. They went up to where you turn on the track and turned in, then two horses & riders, and one horse with an empty saddle came racing down the track. Everyone yelled at the riders in front that the other was down but they either didn`t hear or didn`t care. They went right by the vet check for the first pass, did the full one mile around the track and raced in to the finish with the loose horse right with them. When they stopped he did too. Poor Kay (bad with last names) got her horse back and rode the mile again so she`d get her completion. I told her she`d be legal if she`d just jog it on foot since the horse had already been around, but she didn`t see it that way. >g<

The evening after the ride the Pyramid Society invited any endurance horses who could prove their Egyptian heritage to be ridden in the show ring while they presented the BC awards...ceremonial saddles which were a gift of the Prince of Morocco (I think I got that right). The horses looked good and didn`t act too silly about being indoors until they saw those saddles. Oh boy! No way they wanted anything to do with those things. Just to tell you how overwhelming they were, when they displayed them at our awards later a stray dog was trotting by, suddenly saw the saddles and sort of bristled and went way around them. >g< It would be a real bummer if you figured out that was the only saddle that really fit your horse and you had to compete in it from now on. >eg<

My only regret about the weekend was that we didn`t get a chance to tour the park. As Josie and I came in from our last 10 mile loop, which our horses had cantered most of, it was really cool to cross the road and enter the long gradual climb as we passed jump after jump of the Rolex course, top the hill and do that final lap around the track. What fun.


Angie & Huckelberry Moon (just this once)