...quite by accident.
Top-tenning at our first LD (Owyhee Fandango 2008) was the last in a series of surprises. But we'll get to that. Let's begin on Saturday.
Travis and I rose early Saturday morning, took time for a leisurely pot of coffee while the horses ate breakfast, then finished packing freshly-laundered riding clothes and loading our mountain of supplies into the truck and trailer. We triple-checked the packing list I've been making over the course of months as I read articles, books, ride stories, and blog posts by experienced riders, and I'm pleased to say that we got to the ride with everything we needed. I love lists.
Aaruba loaded nicely (for him) and we pulled out of the driveway at 12:12, just a few minutes later than planned. He rode more calmly than usual as we wound through a few tiny, Idaho towns and one thunderstorm, then turned onto Oreana Loop Road at around 2:00. Some of the ride loops included sections of the road, and my excitement grew as we crept over gravel and cattle guards, trail markers and a few riders.
Finally, we pulled into ridecamp and stopped to study the signs, which indicated we could take any of three driveways to find parking. As it turned out, we misinterpreted the sign and found ourselves down by the hold area. The volunteers there re-directed us to the top of the hill behind the ranch house. This put us in an area with just two other trailers, several hundred yards from, and just over the hill and out of sight of, the main parking section. We only stopped at the top of the hill because we didn't know our way around -- and it seems we were just about the only ones, as nearly everyone else had been to rides at the Teeter ranch before. But, there has to be a first time sometime.
Surprise #1 came at the pre-ride meeting just after dinner. The ride manager, Steph Teeter, described the trails and hold times. Then, she announced the start times. 100's and 75's at 6:00 a.m. 50's and 7:30. 25's at...noon. NOON? Who ever heard of an LD starting at noon? As a ripple of amusement ran around the crowd, Travis pointed to my wine glass and said, "Well, drink up!"
Steph went on to explain that the late start was due to the necessity of shuttling vets to and from the out vet checks for the longer rides. During the awards for the Saturday ride, I pondered what impact the late start would have on us. Heat wouldn't be a big issue, as predicted highs were only in the 70's. I would get to drink more coffee in the morning. Aaruba would be a mental wreck.
After being laid up since Wednesday due to his overreach injury, then trailered to a strange and exciting location, Aaruba was strung as high as a horse thief in the old West. Despite many handwalks around camp throughout the afternoon, he was already fed up with being tied to the trailer. Waiting for a noon start might put him right over the edge.
More storm clouds billowed on the horizon as we headed back to our trailer in the falling dusk. I was ready to crawl into the tent, but the thunder and wind whipped Aaruba into a frenzy. He paced and even reared while tied to the trailer. Not good. Aaruba respects his halter and never once tightened the rope, but there was no calming him. He wasn't scared, but I could see he was well beyond his limit for the day. He needed some freedom from halter restraint, and soon.
At nearly any other ride, we'd have had a real problem on our hands. But, thankfully, the Teeters offer the option of renting a panel pen for your horse, and I'd seen earlier in the day that many of the pens remained unused. Feeling guilty because we hadn't reserved a pen, but deeply relieved to have something to do with Aaruba, we led him through the dark and deserted camp to a vacant pen. Sure enough, he quieted immediately and settled to his hay.
It was nearly midnight when Travis and I finally crawled into our sleeping bags with Wyrsa at our feet. The night wasn't terribly cold, but sleep was hard to come by. I wasn't nervous, precisely, but my mind was too busy to rest. I must have slept a little, but I was already awake when the dinner bell rang to signal the start for the earliest riders. I poked my head out of the tent to see the 100 milers trotting by. I'll do that some day!
I'd just crawled back into the tent to get dressed when I heard a horse spook and its rider hit the ground, then voices asking, "Are you okay?" Hoofbeats clattered on the gravel in that distinctive, short-strided, brisk canter of a confused and frightened horse. Before long, however, someone announced, "She's coming back." As far as I know, the mare and her rider continued with the race.
Incidentally, Aaruba spooked at the same spot as we started our ride along the same section of road later that day, as did several of the horses around us. A small cluster of logs had been stacked there, I think to hold a trail marker, and horses tend to spook at things that don't look or behave quite as the horse thinks they should.
I headed to the registration office as soon as I'd checked Aaruba, who was happy as could be in his borrowed pen, and fed him his beet pulp mash. I explained our situation to the ride secretary and offered to pay for the pen, but she very graciously said not to worry about it. Thank goodness for that extra pen -- I think it was a major factor in restoring Aaruba's sanity before the ride.
As noon ticked closer, Travis and I boiled water for coffee and ate the health-nut muffins and fruit I'd brought along. We put Aaruba's hoof boots on, checked for minimal rubbing on his injured heel, which we decided not to wrap for fear the wraps would bunch up and cause worse rubs than the boot, and got a number (and a smiley face!) on his butt.
I observed that he was consistently agitated when asked to stand around our section of ridecamp, regardless of the presence or absence of other horses, but he calmed immediately once returned to the hustle and bustle of the main camp. So, two lessons learned: 1) Aaruba needs a panel pen instead of a tie system, and 2) we should camp nearer the center of activity.
Surprise #2 came when I learned that Aaruba's pen neighbor was 2003 MRER Hall of Famer Markoss, now 20 years old. Markoss belongs to Monika and Bob Steller -- winner of the 2008 AERC National Championship (55-mile middleweight) with Majestic Star, who was in a portable pen just across the road. We couldn't have had better neighbors. Monika was an absolute pleasure, as utterly kind and welcoming as you can possibly imagine, an exemplary ambassador for this unusually friendly sport.
At 11:30, both Aaruba and I were quite calm as we tacked up and headed for the start. As we warmed up with a few circles at the walk and trot, Bob Steller commented that he'd give me points for having the best riding posture in the field. I told him that, coming from him, that means a lot! *blush*
Okay, I need to go get some dinner on the stove. At least you know now that we did go to the ride, and we did finish. Details coming soon in Part Two.