The first ride for us this season. Thank God winter seems to have given us a reprieve! In spite of ever present problems with hauling to rides, we made it to the ride site, confident that the impending arrival of Jenny's uncle (the genius mechanic) would solve the funny noises in our truck's engine.
Max and Malik immediately settled into the routine. These guys are getting to be pros. They know about eating and drinking and hanging loose. I LOVE it! They both vetted in with As. Malik, as always, must be entertaining. This weekend, he met up again with Rae Birr as his vet and I do believe he kept looking over at Steve Halstead (vetting comp across the way) wondering why Steve wasn't vetting him! He does seem to have a liking for Steve. Except for dancing a bit for Rae, he behaved within reason and gave her the proper "airs above the ground" performance for which he is famous in order to impress her. I am sure she was duly impressed until he tripped over his feet just as he made it back to her from our trot out! How embarrassing! To make matters worse, as we walked away, Max suddenly stopped directly in front of Malik and absentmindedly, almost as if he were being obliging, Malik halfheartedly started to mount him (didn't make it, of course) and then backed off with a silly look on his face. I don't know if he was embarrassed or not, but I sure was! Everyone had a good laugh!!! (And no, he wasn't even dropped or anything...I think he was daydreaming!).
Anyway, Friday night got COLD. There was ICE on the waters in the morning. I had trouble sleeping and finally got up at 4:30 and tried to rekindle the fire with no luck. So, I bundled up under the canopy in a lawn chair and admired the stars, remembering the meteor showers I try to enjoy every summer. Just as I was thinking it was too much to ask to see even one shooting star, one streaked across the sky in a blaze of glory. AMEN! As ridecamp started to stir and the birds started to announce the coming day, we all got up and got ready for the day and the ride. Our only goal at this ride was to complete....I had two things really that I wished to achieve. White River had been my first 50 in 1998 and it took me a loooooong time so I hoped to improve that time (which I didn't think would be hard since I was riding Malik and in MUCH better physical condition than I was then...I also have stopped smoking since then). It was also Malik's first 50 in 2000 and his first pull. Back then, his hindquarters just weren't ready for that sand then! So, we both had something we needed to accomplish.
We tacked up and warmed up with some walking and trotting and a little prancing. As Malik settled down, we finally checked in and simply were able to stand around at the start line and wait. It is wonderful to be able to do that. I enjoyed it immensely and even bragged a little bit to some of those around me. Big mistake. We didn't have a problem waiting there not even when the hot foot riders took off at the start. As we started walking toward the trail, Malik became Mr. Parade Horse doing his elegant canter almost in place only circling a bit this time and almost, almost acted like maybe he might just climb a tree if I didn't let him go. However, I was not going to allow any out of control behavior and we went off to the side and discussed it momentarily. I won. Kind of. So we TROTTED off down the trail. Good compromise.
The horses had no problem with the first 15 miles though I was still trying to slow down the pace (my stomach was not agreeing with me that morning). Nelson and Uncle Daniel were faithful in their pit crewing though the horses really had no interest in water yet. The first check was total chaos...I don't remember there being that many horses at White River when I have been there and horses were crowded around the vet in area. Rae had reduced the pulse parameters to 64 bpm to slow down some of those riders. When we presented Malik, he was at 68 (he had been down under 60 but the horses literally crowding around must have been too much excitement for him). So we had to wait. As we did, riders who came in behind us came up and went around INTO the vetting area, ignoring what might have been a line. We eventually got our pulses taken and wasted much time...had I been a front runner and vying for top ten, I would have been quite upset but our goals were more modest this time. In this case, "don't sweat the small stuff".
Horses ate and drank like champs in camp during our hold and off we went for our 10 mile loop at an easy canter. Malik finally settled into his huge trot and my stomach settled down and life was more efficient. The day warmed up. Uncle Daniel quickly settled into his slave labor role as the "water boy" (keep in mind "Uncle Daniel" is about 30 something) and was a fast learner. What he hasn't learned is that there ARE paybacks for those who get their riders wet at pit stops.
The second vet check was much less eventful than the first. The front runners were really running hard but far enough ahead of us to not cause any congestion at the check. Now all we had to do was do it all over again. The hour hold seemed almost too long and I wondered how I'd get back into it but I did and was surprised at how easy it was to mount up and go again.
We slowed down on the 15 mile loop this time...the first ride of the season is a rude awakening! We are never as ready as we hope we are!! I had also been sick with a nasty cough the week before and my lungs were complaining and causing some wonderful coughing spasms from time to time. We were also more careful because the more horses that go over this trail, the looser and deeper the sand gets and it seems to be 40 miles in sand that in the past has been Max's and Malik's nemesis and they had both been a little tight at the 2nd check.
We made it through the 3rd check with flying colors, improving all their scores. Only ten more miles to go!!! Our hold went by quickly. We took off at a gallop out of the last check (psych out tactics really...not for the competition but for ourselves and our horses!). We settled into a trot but it was not "the" trot. Malik had to pee. I know this "I gotta go" trot. I tried all of our usual little tricks to induce him to pee. He had peed previously in the ride so it wasn't like it was a vital thing but it's hard to ride a trot that feels like your horse is trying to cross his legs! I knew he wasn't tired (maybe some but not THAT tired). We decided to canter. That was much more comfortable, for both of us it seemed though my cough was making breathing difficult at times. Whenever we trotted, it was THAT trot so we would canter again (after trying the tricks again). Both horses were still interested in spooking at stupid stuff so I didn't feel even one bit sorry for him!!! This is the first time my "tricks" to encourage him to pee didn't work.
They were quite glad to turn onto that last 2 or 3 miles of trail where they stop for a drink and cool their feet in a little stream and their energy surged even more as they knew camp was ahead. I watched the two of them drink side by side, playing their little tricks on each other, dripping water on each other's necks and rubbing their heads (a wild, vicious Arabian stallion and his little gelding buddy) and realized what a TEAM they are. What we achieved we achieved TOGETHER and TOGETHER EVERYONE ACHIEVES MORE (T.E.A.M.). I remembered enjoying the wild cherry trees in bloom and the marsh marigolds in all the wet places. Blue violets and the beginnings of what will soon be forest ferns and trillium lillies. Little, itty bitty leaves the size of my pinky fingernail and miniature purple buds waiting to burst into lilacs in a few weeks. The little kids who run out to the road to see the "horseys". The rushing water through the culverts washing away the last of winter's surplus. The smell of the woods. The warm sun on our faces, the blue of the sky. I will miss Jenny when she leaves for college and I am experiencing some serious doubts about our ride season (or most of the ride season anyway) without Jenny and Max. Not that we can't ride alone...we have, can and will. But for me, as much as it thrills me to charge up the hills and fly around the trees and through the forests and splash through streams (or LEAP across them as it suits Malik), none of the possible awards for this sport....not first to finish, not Best Condition, not ANYthing can equal the rewards I have reaped sharing this sport with my daughter who is also my best friend even if she doesn't think so.
And so, we FINISHED and in that respect, we WON. I really have no idea what our placing was (NOT top ten) and I don't even care. We finished in 5 hours and 49 minutes ride time and I am happy with that. Next weekend is Jenny's prom...she is going to volunteer at the Little Manistee Memorial Ride. Malik and I will go it alone there. Oh, and did Malik really have to pee? Well, after we finished, we went back to camp to untack and let the horses take a breather before vetting out. On the way to see Rae for the last time, Malik stopped and peed one lake, two ponds and a couple of decent puddles! Figures!!
I do know THIS...I am NOT ready for the Grand Island 100 this month. It's too early in the season. I am not going to set us up to fail. I am going to wait until the end of the season and perhaps if fate is kind, our truck will see us through to Spook Run. I will, in the meantime, have the opportunity to ride the Shore to Shore (that should really test my mettle!) and by the end of the season, Malik and I will both be in better shape, mentally and physically and perhaps by then I will have recovered from my empty nest syndrome. Oh, and I will by then be back in college myself, finishing my teaching degree! Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me in my 100 mile endeavor...I have not given up, I have postponed. It is still my goal for this year to try a 100 miler so keep it coming!! :)
In closing, I must remember to thank our pit crew, Nelson and Daniel. Yeah, maybe we could do it without them on a ride like this with all the checks in camp but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun! THANK YOU, guys. And I must say, I enjoyed banter with our guest timer, Mike Caudill (regretfully did not get to meet Connie! Darn it!). Never did get to say Hey to Mary and her mighty Morgan either. I'm sure I'll see them all again somewhere soon!!! And many thanks to the vets, Wayne and the multitude of volunteers that I know it takes to put on a ride. I am so happy and glad that I have a whole season full of rides to look forward to!!!
P.S. The truck will live to haul another day. It's off to the mechanic for some TLC and inspection to pinpoint the problem, but genius mechanic doesn't seem terribly concerned about its fate.