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[RC] Jennings, Part Five - Howard Bramhall

It was on the third loop I decided to try something different.  For most of the second, America and I rode behind a couple of wimmen, rarely passing them.  I wanted him to work on following other horses.  But, at the vet checks, the tiny hineys seemed to get the better of us and got through the vet checks ahead of us by 3 or 4 minutes.  I know, doesn't sound like much, but it started bugging me, so I thought I'd try something new.
As we caught up to the front runners after about ten minutes into the third loop, I let America go into a canter and we flew by them.  This was the ten mile loop, again, and I let America cover some ground, staying in front the entire time.  In the canter.  I was planning on thinning out the herd here a little.  Since I've never been in a position to do something like this before during a 50 mile endurance ride, I had no idea if it would work or not. 
After a few miles I did look back.  I saw one of the riders, the youngest female, college age, who was about as close to a professional as you can get in our sport.  She rode for JD, my buddy from South Carolina, who plays this game better than most.  JD owns Arabian race track horses and brings some of them to endurance rides.  JD comes to win and he brings a tiny hiney semi-pro to make it happen.  This girl stayed on our tail the entire way, never letting me out of her sight.  Later that night, when sitting by the campfire with a group of nine or so riders, JD would tell me, "Well, Howard, you almost got us on that third loop.  Took ten minutes or longer to get our mare down.  You had us worried."  Thanks, JD, I needed that. 
Well, I didn't admit to it at the campfire, but it took America a few minutes to come down also.  I was starting to think I had made a mistake doing what I did on that third loop.  Looking back on it all now, I might have.  I'm really starting to believe that third loop is the one most crucial.  It's where you want to back off and take it easy if you want any wind left for the finish line.
At my campsite I watch and study America.  He still has that go, that "race to win" enthusiasm, he's eating well, but I know I'm pushing him.  Not really pushing, per se, but not pulling back enough.  This is the part of the ride, that dreaded 4th loop, no matter what speed we travel, where I start to get worried.  I do the math in my head and know we are at a disadvantage here.  The riders we are up against, so far, weigh in at 115 or less.  Even though we're definitely in the game I consider backing off.  The last loop is what separates the men from the boys, or, at an endurance ride it's usually the girls from the wimmen (and sometimes, at an endurance ride, the girls win).  I go up to my horse and hug him hard, which kind of ticks him off since he was eating.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than the health of this horse; I love him so.  I go inside my RV and get a beer.  I need to think.
We're off, the last loop, the final 15 miles.  America trots out of camp, never hesitates and we go by the exotic animal compound for the last time.  America doesn't even glance at the buffalo, still kneeling (if he ever stood up I'd never be able to ride by him like this), we get too close to the camel (damn thing spit at us hitting my helmet), and away we go.  "Trotting, trotting, trotting, keep those legs a trotting, rawhide."  This is our gait of choice for the final loop.  JD's girl has a 7 minute jump on us and I have no intentions of trying to catch her.
America has a fantastic trot.  It is so extended I only have one other horse that comes close to matching it.  My Paint, the one Erica now rides, can almost match America in the extended trot.  Almost.  He's alert, we're covering ground quickly and we even take some breaks walking, eating some grass, and attempting to take a drink.  I don't plan on letting anyone pass me by, but I won't push this horse to try and catch someone we cannot.
The funny thing is, we do catch up with Juliet, JD's rider.  She tells me the mare doesn't do well alone, but, for some reason, I think she was just taking her time, waiting for us to have some fun at the finish.  Could be my imagination, I really don't know, but I did feel outmatched, rider wise, by this young female who had put herself through college by riding race horses.  I started to get the feeling she was toying with me and America, kind of how a cat will play with a mouse before it kills the poor creature.  That, along with the fact she was carrying one of those very long extended whips that racers and trainers use with their racetrack horses for the finish line.  JD's idea, I'm sure.  What good is a race to the finish if you don't have someone to race against?