Sunday, September 28, 2003

A Successful PanAm Story - Laura Hayes

My husband drove me, a month's worth of clothing and equipment, and my good old gelding Music, South to Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania to meet Cia and Wave. On August 24, three weeks before the PAC in the state of Washington, we left NY and PA behind and started west. This was no wily nilly meeting and trip - this was a mission with a plan, and the successful outcome was the satisfying reward.

I had helped Cia in Spain last year and had become attached to Wave during the World Games. I was impressed with his workman - like attitude and his ability to adjust to everything around him. I was thrilled when she asked me to come along to the Pan Am Championship.

We traveled only 400-500 miles a day stopping in the middle of most days to walk and graze for almost an hour. The two geldings got along great, with good natured Music aptly handled the role of companion, scratching post and entertainment to Wave, while Cia and I got on swimmingly. The four of us moseyed our way across the country with the human travelers singing to rock and roll, playing gin rummy, and absorbing the history and beauty of the west, while the equine partners munched hay, watched out their windows, and rolled in the western dirt each evening.

We stopped every afternoon in time to set up camp, ride the geldings a few miles, and make new friends from the Equine Travelers book we used to make overnight accommodations. Except for the second night when we stayed with old friends of mine from Sandarac Arabians in Illinois, we stayed with strangers every evening of our trip west and never had a bad stop.

Getting to Trout Lake on day 7 of our journey was really exciting. After 2700 miles we were ready to put down our "camper' roots" and put up our portable corral. The area was beautiful with the White Salmon River nearby and Mt. Adams which stood above us in our rented field. The horses had not lost a bit of weight and appeared content. We met the neighbors, made lifelong friends, and scouted the local groceries (25 miles away) and feed stores for supplies for the ride.

With two weeks until PAC, we began to explore the trails. Instead of hard volcanic rock, we were delighted to find good soft footing, but the dry weather that caused fire warnings, also turned the trails to dust. Many times when trotting down a trail behind another horse, I couldn't see the footing I was asking my horse to trot through. I couldn't imagine being the 20th horse through in a single file line. Fortunately that aspect of the trail would change before ride day.

Though I was along as 'groom' and was prepared to do anything needed, Cia took care of Wave herself She was aware of every poop, every drink and whether he seemed restless or happy. Nothing escaped her observations and though we were in a secure field and the horses were in a sturdy portable corral, we never left them alone. Too many accidents can happen, and we were going to do everything within our power to make sure Wave was ready to compete at his best.

With a week and a half to go, other East team members began to appear in our field. It seemed a little odd at first, but we were glad for the company. Becky Harris from Ohio came in first with Orsi from Hungary, Stagg's horse, and Val's horse - having picked up the latter three on the road when Stagg's truck broke down. Cia and I still stayed up late at night playing gin rummy as everyone retired early- we were getting excited - suddenly it appeared as if we were actually going to have a ride!

The appearance of team members, support staff and vets in the next few days added more excitement. Our little field had become a village with a buzz of activity. Keeping with tradition, the East Team was out enforce and had the largest body of veterinarians (at least 9), farriers (at least 5), fashion consultants, caterers, and hangers-on of any US team - all having come across the entire country to be there. We performed arcane bonding rituals in our rented house accompanied by mounds of food and gallons of drink. One evening included a 'Yankee Swap' which entailed a shiny red jammie set (well, maybe not the type of jammmies your mama would buy you) and painted Virgin Mary night light that were fought over and schemed for. The event culminated with one of our volunteer vets from El Salvador ending up with the Trout Lake fleece jacket that was very highly coveted.

We continued to ride the trails and learn the lay of the land, and the horses thrived. One day while we were out riding, Lynn Gilbert's Chagall went through the little electric fence attached to our corral, and over a barb wire fence into the road. He was scrapped and sore, which eventually kept him from starting the ride, but we were thankful our horses were not in at the time, adding more tragedy to the situation.

On Wednesday we moved up to base camp with the other competitors. At this point I had to leave Music with neighbor Mel Sherman, as he was not entered in the ride, and couldn't stay at base camp. Wave pined a bit, but being the trooper he is, he went right back to business and only walked his corral in disgust for a half day or so. Music being a friendly guy, made a new best friend at Mel's and never gave it another thought! (thanks, Mel!)

Cia's husband Alex flew in and then my husband, Mark, and our team was complete. We spent the two days before the ride making sure we had anything we could need to get Cia and Wave through successfully. USA East had a road crew who would take electrolytes and rider supplies to P-stops for all 12 riders, and we added our labeled products to the piles headed out on the trail. The coordination was incredible and as usual, East was on top of things. At one away vet check where the crew box was on hard packed gravel, one official commented that since East was so prepared, he figured that we would have had sod delivered for our area. I informed him that we paid the man, but he must have gotten lost.

Cia had made it clear to the East vets that she did not want to ride on the team, but as an individual. It was pretty evident that a win was in the planning, but so many things could go wrong!! Tension mounted, but good old Wave just kept munching and taking it all in. He had been to Spain, he had been to the UAE - this was nothing to him - there weren't even any airplane trips involved!

Ride day was just dawning when the mob of 90 or so horses moved out of the clearing and onto the trail for the start of the 2003 PAC. Mark, Alex and I had our jobs and were ably assisted by Heather Hoyns, who kept track of Wave's pulse as we headed to the Pulse box and the vet. Alex called the shots, I fed, watered and attended Wave (never leaving him when he was in the check), and Mark took care of the vet card and Cia, even reading her the description of the upcoming loop before she went back out.

The story ends with a win. Cia and Wave navigated the last 13 mile loop in only 53 minutes (my wager had been 1 hour 8 minutes), and cantered over the line in super shape. The next morning we simply tidied him up and he trotted out for BC in his typical casual fashion - but absolutely sound. He didn't look like he had lost any weight at all, except for his grumpy ears (which would have perked right up if he was headed down the trail) he was picture perfect.

Wave is not a big guy - probably 14.3 with his shoes on. He is more than a bit ponyish - chunky, with long fetlock hair and a thick coat, but he has the spirit of a survivor - eating and drinking at every chance - and full of heart. Cia took fabulous care of him and then rode him to his potential. It is said that 'success happens when luck meets preparation', and it is true in this case. There are no short cuts to this level of success and no small thing can be overlooked - from the consistantcy of the horse's poop to the type of socks the rider wears - it is all important.

Our PAC trip ended almost four weeks from it's beginning, and none of us are any worse for wear. Half way back across the country, Cia and I tied our third game of gin rummy, having both won a game to 2000 points, the horses returned to their fields happy and healthy and the pictures have been developed. It was a great trip.

Laura Hayes

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