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Sponging Story (long)

O.K. guys here it is.  Here's the rules:  If you comment on this story at
You'll reprint the whole darned thing every time.  Just take the time to
type in  Thanks. By the way, this is 3 years old,
I could add a lot more to it now. >g<

The Sponge
By: Angie McGhee

	Question:  With all the different types of saddles, footwear,
headwear, and hardware used for endurance riding, what is the one piece
of equipment that sets us off from all other disciplines…the one
constant, the trademark of the true distance rider?  Answer:  The sponge.

A seasoned endurance rider can easily size up the experience, or lack
thereof, of her competition by taking a look at their sponges. The first
sponge is the one we all look back on with personal embarrassment. 
Therefore, we feel a mixture of pity and contempt when we see the first
time 25 miler on his jigging horse that, "he's never seen tired", with
his large green kitchen sponge entangled in five feet of hayrope.  

The sight of it brings back visions of my maiden ride, when I rode up to
the first stream crossing, and watched the rider I was traveling with:
stop, drink, sponge, and gallop away, while I was still trying to free a
frazzled hayrope from my saddle.  

When at last I did release it from its semi-permanent attachment to the
saddle, I discovered that the loose, frayed hayrope had somehow woven
itself to itself in such a manner that when I attempted to unwind it, I
ended up looking like a kitten tangled in a ball of yarn.  My horse, by
this time, had turned so many circles that a small whirlpool was forming
beneath him. 

Managing to get about half the string loose, I leaned over and, with
considerable difficulty, dipped the sponge into the water. 
Unfortunately, as it came back up, my horse took one look at that
dripping "swamp thing", and began franticly backing at a speed which many
competition reining horses only dream of.  Meanwhile, the horse eating
sponge at the end of my line leaped and snapped at him every other

 By the time I managed to free myself from the tangled rope, my horse had
"un-traveled" approximately a half mile of trail.  Vowing to redeem
myself after this embarrassing demonstration, I was determined to show up
at the next ride with a sponge that would make the most respected
endurance rider proud.

At this point in my career, I was still trying to purchase success.  You
know, the more you spend, the better you'll probably place.  (Our
husbands mark our passing through this stage by our purchase of
a$1,500.00 saddles and color coordinated biothane tack).  I wanted to be
good at this, so if a fifty-cent sponge was good, then a $14 sponge must
be great!  

The natural sponge sales pitch states that this sponge can soak up an
enormous amount of water very quickly, and I can vouch for the validity
of that claim.  The first time I tossed my natural sponge into a mudhole
at a gallop, I felt as if I had hooked a five gallon bucket of water on
my line.  I'm pretty sure that had I been on a good roping horse, he
would have turned facing the puddle and kept the line taut, expecting me
to throw and tie the critter I'd caught.  It was probably best that I
wasn't able to lift the fully saturated sponge from the water, since
chances are that it would have swung around and knocked my horse
senseless.  Though I don't remember many of the formulas we used in high
school physics, I'm pretty sure there's probably one that could explain
that a 850 lb. horse is not a solid enough base to counter balance a 40
lb. sponge being hauled in from an altitude of 5 ft. at a 45 degree
angle.  To put it simply, I went back to my 50-cent sponge.

I wish I could say that after having gotten a good sponge/string ensemble
my troubles were over, but it seems that was only the beginning.  I soon
learned that it's best to get your sponge wet before you begin the ride. 
Otherwise, the sponge will simply float on top of the water.  Should you
happen to be an absolute idiot and throw the dry sponge on the upstream
side of your horse, the sponge may actually float like a boat right
through your horse's legs, the way mine did.  

A very small percentage of horses will tolerate something as
disconcerting as the reeling in of a waterlogged sponge across their
belly, and my horse certainly wasn't one of them.  Mental errors like
this especially annoy experienced riders, who are trying to water their
horses at the same time you are.  Since the splash you make when you land
in the water tends to discourage their horses from drinking.

Once a rider has reached a certain level of proficiency, the proper use
of the sponge can considerably shorten the time required to finish a
course, and occasionally, the improper use of a sponge can help also.  On
one such occasion, when I threw my sponge, rather than it landing in the
puddle, it hit hard and stuck fast in the slimy outskirts of the mudhole.
 As I trotted on past, the string tensed, stretched and jerked as the
sponge was finally released with a sucking sound.  The extra tension on
the string gave a considerable boost to the velocity of the cold, muddy
sponge.  The delay in take-off catapulted it not back to my hand, but
altered the trajectory so that it scored a direct hit on the area
underneath my Arab's raised tail. 

 Upon impact, he immediately clamped down his tail on the sponge and
bolted in a very unusual tuck-tailed manner.  Several miles later when he
finally slid to a trembling stop next to my horse trailer back at base
camp, I found that even with the delay in recoveries, we had picked up
several positions on the other riders whom we had left in a spray of
muddy water.

Hazing with the sponge is another way to add a little life to a horse's
performance.  More than once, I have been disappointed, when I thought my
horse was suddenly feeling new life, striding out with great impulsion,
only to have another rider point out to me that I'm dragging my sponge.  

Should your horse reach the point where he has become accustomed to you
incompetence, and ignores a dragging sponge, I have found that you can
still get excellent results by allowing your sponge string to wrap around
a small dead sapling, which you then yank up by the roots and drag along
behind.  It's best to do this on a fairly wide trail, since it causes the
horse to do somewhat of a half-pass canter.
As you can see, new uses for the sponge are revealed continually.  At
some rides where there are lots of beginners in the twenty-five miler,
it's easier to follow the trail of lost sponges than it is to hunt for
markers.  Some folks just toss them in the stream without putting their
wrist loop on first, sort of a "ship in the bottle" to let folks down
stream know there was an endurance ride upstream.  If the sport continues
to grow at the current rate, sometime in the future we'll probably be
accused of choking dolphins and seat turtles with our "endurance sponge
 So come on folks, put those wrist loops on, hit the mudhole square in
the middle, don't let the string get wrapped through your reins, around
the loose ends of your breast collar, over or under your heart monitor,
under the velcro of your half chaps, or God forbid under your horse's
tail, and happy sponging!
copyright 1998
Angie McGhee

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