I have always said that someday in the future I would love to ride my husband's horse Toby. Well at the CT region Lone Star Ride my husband was not able to ride so I finally got my wish (I kept telling myself to remember what you wish for!). Previously, I had only ridden Toby at a very controlled trot or walk on a training ride near home. I did not think I could ride him any faster because he stops on his front legs while doing flying lead changes and if you are not ready for that you will be flying over his head and at age 47, I am very careful about avoiding any injuries. I have only been riding for about 5 years and doing LD rides for 2 years so I do not consider myself a great rider..
Toby is a 15.3 hand 10 year old Anglo-Arab who was born for endurance. He won BC in the LD at his first ride, Old Glory in 2003. He won 2nd place in the Region Limited Distance Best Condition in 2004. He has never finish out of the top ten in LD rides that he has completed and he placed 10th out of 90 horses in his first 50 mile ride at Bluebonnet this past year. He loves to go fast and if he can't go fast he really gets upset, will throw his head around and will stomp and prance like a child until he gets his way.
Lone Star is held the two days after Thanksgiving each year at the Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas. Thanksgiving is a very busy time at the park with lots of people enjoying the well marked permanent trails, the weather, and their favorite mode of transportation including bikes, horses, and their own two feet.
Thanksgiving day, we packed up and drove the two hours to the ride camp. After John, my husband; Nicole, our 21 year old daughter and I set up our camp, we registered and vetted in the horses. Debbie Allen, the ride manager gave every participant a really nice registration gift, a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Horse Lovers Soul." (If you haven't already read this book have plenty of tissues handy!) All participants were invited to the annual potluck dinner of turkey with all the usual side dishes and deserts. What better way to spend Thanksgiving then with your horses and your riding friends. Debbie then held the ride meeting and gave instructions about courses, hold times and finishing criteria. She reminded everyone that this is a technical trail with lots of rocks and hills and it could be very warm and humid during the ride. She asked that we take care of our horses and our selves and her goal was to not to have any horses or humans treated at the ride. The vets reminded everyone to electrolyte, electrolyte, electrolyte. It is November, but this is Texas!
Friday morning stared off with perfect weather for fall in Texas, low 60's with a forecast of clear skies and possible highs in the 80's by the afternoon. The seventeen 50 milers stared at 7:00 AM and the thirty-four 25s started at 8:00 AM. As I tacked up and mounted Toby, I told everyone that I was not smiling I actually had a grimace of terror that I was going to attempt to ride Toby for a full 25 miles all by myself! John told me that I had to finish in the top 10 to keep Toby's record or I would be walking home. I told him I would do my best just to stay on the horse!
The ride had a slow controlled start for about a mile or so. As soon as the trail was open, Toby took off at a fast trot through the trees. And that was the last time I saw any of the 25 milers until I got back to camp. I am used to riding by myself, but usually it is in the middle of the pack. Toby likes to go out fast at the beginning of the ride and John had told me not to try to hold him back because that's when I would get into trouble. We went about 2 or 3 miles through the trees and along a dry creek bed, then we hit a short stretch of road and a pasture where the park rangers had mowed a very wide trail. Toby just opened it up and off we went flying down the trail, wind whistling past my ears, my eyes watering from the speed, my hat flying off never to be seen again. What a rush! Toby only got smoother the faster we went! We made a brief stop at the first water tank, but Toby was not even interested. So off we go again following the orange course. Up hills, over rocks, crossing dry creek beds, around oak and cedar trees, I did not even have an opportunity to enjoy the great views, we were going so fast.
I lost my stirrups and bounced around on the saddle a couple of times, but I hung on and just kept right on going. I tried to slow him down as we approached a small hill with lots of rocks, but he has not having any of that and proceeded to do one of those awful stops of his. I was thrown forward in the saddle, I grabbed his mane, my left leg came over the saddle, leaving me hanging off the right side with one foot still in the stirrup and hanging onto the reins. Luckily Toby came to a complete stop and I fell the couple of feet to the ground. The only thing I could think of at the time was, "Well that wasn't so bad, and thank goodness no one saw me". Toby just stood there looking at me with an expression on his face that clearly said "What are you doing down there, get back in the saddle so that we can get back on the trail!" which we proceeded to do.
I finished the first loop of 12.3 miles in one hour and 20 minutes about 20 minutes before the next rider. We then had a one-hour hold so both Toby and I ate and loaded up on electrolytes, tacked back up and off we went following the yellow trail. I did have to change into a pair of jeans because I had blown the knee out of my tights during my unscheduled dismount.
I felt much more comfortable and relaxed with Toby after successfully completing the first loop and really enjoyed the rest of the ride. The rest of the park had woken up and were out on the trail by this time so we had to keep our eyes open for hikers, kids fishing in the creeks, parents with kids in strollers, bicycle riders and trail riders. Toby seemed to know that he had to slow down to a walk or slow trot when passing so I did not have do to much work. We did almost run over a mountain bike rider when we came around a blind corner, but Toby stopped on a dime and luckily no one was hurt. We passed lots of trail riders who graciously moved to the side of the trail when they saw us coming. We exchanged "Good Mornings, and what a beautiful day for a ride!" and continued down the well-marked trail.
Toby really showed me what an excellent endurance horse he was on the second loop which had a lot more rocks on the trail including one really good vertical cliff climb. Toby seemed to know just where to place his feet while still maintaining a very fast trot over rocks that other horses would have had to walk over, it was amazing. He read the trail ahead and decided how fast he had to go and I barely had to direct him around the curves, around and under trees, and over dry creek beds. He stopped almost automatically at any water, took a great big drink, splashed himself with water and off we went. He even seems to know the right direction on the trails. We came to a split in the trail, and I thought we should go left, but Toby said "No, Mom, we have to go right here!" and he was correct. I crossed the last large dry creek, and met up with about 7 or 8 trail riders coming the other way, we slowed down, passed them, then took off at a gallop just past the last rider. We again hit the large mowed pasture, and all Toby saw was open freeway. After nearly 20 miles, he just turned up the power and we flew the last couple of miles at full speed. We came to the road leading into camp, and I got off to walk him in the last half of a mile. I stripped the saddle off of him at our camp and vetted in.
We finished the second 13.7 mile loop in one hour and 25 minutes. I have never finished a ride in such a short time. Toby and I went back after 15 minutes and one hour to stand for BC. I even got a hug from the vet when I had completed the final vet check. Needless to say I was ecstatic at finishing the ride in one piece and getting my first 1st place finish. I had to tell everyone!! I was emotionally just flying! I had ridden Toby for 25 miles with no major mishaps, had come in first, and had a great time. Nicole said "Mom's gonna want a faster horse now!" and she was right!
I took Toby back to our camp and gave him a great big meal and hugged him for getting me through a great ride in one piece. Our camp was located near the finish line so I watched all the other 25 and 50 milers as they came into camp. We had plans to drive to Dallas on Saturday, so we took down our tent and packed everything up and waited for the award meeting.
Debbie thanked everyone at the award meeting for having a safe ride with no horses or humans having to be treated. As Debbie was announcing the names of those who had completed the ride successfully, I just kept thinking of what a wonderful day I had getting to ride a really great horse successfully, and winning a first place and first heavy weight rider. But what really made my day was when Debbie announced that Toby had also won Best Conditioned horse! Someone in the crowd jokingly said something about leaving some of the awards for the rest of the riders.
Well I finally got my chance to ride Toby and it was better than I expected! I learned I was a better rider then I had previously thought, Toby is the greatest horse ever (IMHO) and it's great coming in first. Now I can't wait to ride Toby again, maybe I'm even ready for a 50-mile ride!!