by Nina Bomar
April 14 2021
It was our second day of competing at the Fire Mountain ride with Heidi Helly on OP, Dave Rabe riding White Cloud and me on my beloved Niño. Together we moseyed out of camp knowing full well that we’d be riding together as planned on the night before.
We had gathered around for tacos and live music, compliments of Heidi’s husband Patrick and fellow endurance rider Bart. They gave us a jam session that will forever be remembered. Juan and I managed to squeeze in a little dancing in between the cooking, serving, singing out loud and simply having a grand celebration.
Heidi mixed the salad while people showed up for the tailgate festivities. It was a joyous evening and while we all stuffed our bellies and shared stories, it was the music that made my heart sing. The romantic sound of the guitars flowed effortlessly and only because we had two great guitarists willing to provide... Even my horse Niño often peeked his head around the corner of the trailer to express his appreciation, while standing beneath the dark desert skies and enjoying the classic tunes.
Our Sunday morning start was quiet and soon we had a nice pace going with just the three of us. Heidi noted that we were the 100k mile club with Dave nearing an all time record of 75k miles and she recently surpassing her 15k mile mark from the first day’s ride. Then there was me, trying to pick up the slack but we certainly ain’t there yet. As we approached the ride photographer, we planned to make it a cover photo shot. It was our own fantasy to be accompanied by Dave who is a living legend in our sport and such an honest man. He has decades of stories to tell and Heidi too but the best part was when we made some pretty funny jokes about what it’d take to make a front page magazine appearance. At the very least, we were thankful knowing that Dave has achieved that status at least once in his illustrious endurance riding career but he deserves so many more... they both do imho...
We trotted on laughing and then complaining at times when we had inadvertently lost the marked trail. The ribbon was now backwards from the previous ride on Friday and if you didn’t pay close attention, it was easy to screw up. We agreed on numerous occasions to quit storytelling and to pay better attention to the ribbons that would send us in the right direction. That was hard to do and soon we’d get distracted and share the memories of another great experience.
The Fire Mountain ride isn’t so easy... either you’re going uphill or downhill with very little flatland. The weather was warm at times and the horses pushed on brilliantly. At the lunch stop Dave and I had a beer, mine a Mexican Corona and his an American Organic... He’s purely a meat and potatoes man who loves to enjoy a cold beer.
We headed out on our last 20 mile loop. The horses were doing great, while we promptly missed a turnoff and climbed an extra mountain. At the top, we asked some motorcyclists if they’d seen horses, while knowing perfectly well that they hadn’t. Needless to say, it was another turnaround and a screwup that was our own fault for talking too much. We figured that while we got in a few extra miles, we always managed to correct ourselves and we continued on. It was at the last water stop where we let the horses drink, snack on carrots and we prepared for the final trek back to camp. We only had a handful of miles left to go and we were ready to see the finish line.
With Heidi in front, then me, followed by Dave, we trotted off. It was a sandy area and we took it slow, when suddenly I heard Dave say... No no no! I thought we had taken a wrong turn but I saw the red ribbon on the lefthand side and I turned around to assure him we were good.
Much to my surprise and while it all unfolded within seconds, I saw White Cloud take a tumble and he did a somersault right over the top of Dave, scrambled to his feet and came trotting in my direction... without Dave. I tried to grab him but he went right on by. I told Heidi to go back and make sure Dave was okay, while I would try to catch his horse. I waited for a minute to have her blessings and to be sure that Dave was in fact fine. They both directed me to go on.
I had initially jumped off Niño after the commotion began and then I jumped back on him as he was still quite excited and I was too. There was a lot going on for my young horse but he handled it brilliantly and we tried with all our might to catch White Cloud but every time we’d get closer he would go faster. We tried backing off too and completely stopping but White Cloud was on a mission and paying no attention to us. He kept his nose to the ground and was on a hunt presumably heading back to camp on his own.
Feeling frustrated I called Heidi from my cell phone as we got farther away and I didn’t want to lose contact with them just incase they needed more help, while I also didn’t want to lose sight of Dave’s horse. I knew how important that was to stay with him but I was struggling.
Heidi said that Dave wanted me to ride on and to head off through the desert for a bit and to then try and get in front of him to cut him off, but the further ahead I got, the faster he galloped... making it impossible to catch him. I tried that several times but we continually failed and I went from sweet talking to cursing at the sob for not stopping. It seemed we kept going farther and farther and faster and faster with each mile.
Soon we found ourselves crossing through the middle of the barren desert and completely off trail. I was afraid we would get lost not to mention the Choya cactus that was hiding beneath on the desert ground. I stopped Niño feeling completely defeated and we managed to find our way back to the trail where I called Heidi again. We waited at an intersection of trail and all met up to discuss our next step.
Dave was walking and holding his chest but said he was feeling fine and he was coherent. He said his ribs hurt. I told him what direction his horse went and pointed out that he was headed towards the powerline road. He decided that he would walk in that direction and try to find him while we called for more help. The good news is that the horse was soon caught down at the holding pens and Dave was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with three broken ribs.
We had a whole posse come out to the rescue and the ride management handled it all with grace and efficiency. We are very thankful that in the end, everything wasn’t worse off and that Dave has an entire village always willing to help him. He’s a beloved leader in our sport and soon he will be back on his horses hitting the trails...