I sat tired and dirty at the Canadian Customs post at Westhope whilst the enthusiastic border guard carefully read the label on a bag of horse food. I thought how ironic it was that the only time I had ever won anything that it would be confiscated.
I did not set out to win, I had come down to the Long X, one of my favourite rides, simply to have a good time doing the Limited Distance and enjoy myself, I had even brought some beer with me as socialising was a big part of my weekend plans.
The Long X is one of my favourite rides for many reasons. I think the main reason is the scenery and challenge of the course. As you approach the ride you travel over endless prairie and the first time I went I thought, "Oh no, miles of flat and empty land." However you turn a corner and like Alice entering Wonderland you go down, down and still down to the Little Missouri river through a spectacular stripy canyon, over a bridge if you come from the East, and turn into the campsite which has a good road and ample room for even the biggest rigs and plenty of them, with lots of water provided by the management in big troughs.
On the Saturday, Long X I, I had the privilege of riding Kan Kan's Jazz, a horse belonging to Jutta Schmidt, one of the ride managers. We had coasted round, late for all our start and out times and managed a surprise 5th place which had earned us a nice brush and tube of Quest and a T shirt. The Customs official had been quite interested in the Quest as well.
I learned a very valuable lesson too. I now know that my heart rate monitor picks up the signal from my analogue watch much better than from the horse. His heart rate was exactly 60 forever and we finally gave up and took him to the pulse lanes where it turned out to be 44, the same as his check in pulse. Feeling pretty silly, I gave him a good lunch and continued coasting round.
On the Sunday, Long X II, I had started almost on time, this time with Kasheyn's Glory, aka Harley, who belongs to ride manager DeAnne Knapp. Harley had achieved a great 2nd place finish the previous day and my plan was just to coast around and keep him safe. Can you spot the theme here? I pretty much coast around all of my rides, usually with new or old friends, chatting away and just being temporarily free from all the commitments, deadlines and workload that my normal life entails. Which is why our win was so unlikely.
Harley was in great form and I found some very nice people to ride and chat with. We seemed to fly round, Harley really trotting out, pulsing down quickly (with the watch removed) and he ate very well before his exit CRI and we set off again. He was still in excellent form and we came back in first and pulsed down in good time, especially given the heat that had been building through the middle of the day, well ahead of our nearest competition. Harley was barefoot, which delighted me as I ride my own horse barefoot.
As I had to return to Canada before the border closed I privately accepted my first place and surprise of all surprises, the Best Condition Award. This is an award I do not usually have much chance at, weighing 165lbs with tack. I felt just like a child at Christmas time and made off with a car full of loot still somewhat overwhelmed and over excited. Never did I give the border guards a thought.
All the way home, which is a 6 hour journey, I thought about the weekend which I had enjoyed so much.
I thought about the huge pile of prizes and sponsorships which Jutta had obtained from various companies, especially from Watford City businesses and Fort Dodge who had even sponsored the T shirts and Dr Joe Baber DVM as well as all the Quest. A big thank you to all those entities which have given so generously and supported this ride.
Every person who completed received a lot of stuff and it took ride manager Danna Nechiporenko quite some time to give it all out at the dinner supported by 4 H and awards presentation on the Saturday night. We also celebrated someone's birthday.
I thought about how much I enjoyed the competent and experienced Vet team. It makes a big difference in a ride to have confidence in the Vets, not just their ability, but their impartiality and concern for the horses and the top level experience that Dr Anne Christopherson brings to this ride makes it a class event.
I thought about the age range, from 9 to 73 and hoped that I would be sound enough at 73 to ride and that my own kids would come with me when they were 9. I definitely will bring them to the Long X. I want them to see the stripy canyons, to ride along the challenging switchback trails up and down those huge canyons on fit ponies and to look from the top out across the canyon to the prairie and down far below to the Little Missouri. This is a real misnomer, it's very wide and long. I also want them to see all the native wild animals I saw. Eileen Hart visiting from New Zealand said that she had even seen Big Horn sheep near camp in the days leading up to the ride.
With these happy thoughts and a combination of tiredness and elation I entered the border post with 10 minutes to spare. Worried that I had all the necessary documents I never thought about all the goodies. "What have you got? Any alcohol or tobacco?"
Well I still had most of the beer (which must mean I never stopped talking long enough to drink it). Not enough to cause concern. However the horse food took some explaining. Fortunately for me after a 20 minute search in the fading light he announced that to his relief I could keep it. His relief? What about my relief? At the bottom of the list of ingredients was a list in bold type of what it did NOT contain and this was the crux of the matter. It must be good stuff! We also had to do this with the Quest and I wondered about the T shirts, some of which I had bought to support the Maah Dah Hey Trail, and the Carousel tights and the bag and brushes I had also won. Apparently they were not interesting to Canadian Customs.
Wanting to get home which was still an hour away, I was greatly relieved that he did not want a closer examination of my camping stuff, probably because it was all jammed in with the laundry bag. Apparently horses don't smell lovely to everyone. He was not remotely impressed that I had actually won something which was disappointing.
I have come home again with some very happy memories of one of my favourite rides, old acquaintances renewed and new ones made and quite unexpectedly a car full of "customs approved" prizes.