Sunday, October 14, 2007

Things We Forget - Grand Canyon XP 2007

There are certain things that seem like such an inherent part of your life and who you are. When they disappear, you hardly notice. And then you rediscover them.

The Grand Canyon XP this year was a lesson in rediscovery. Rusty and I only went for one of the five days, which seems like such a cop-out until you consider that it was Far’s first ever 50, and Redford’s third 50 of his life.

I had forgotten how stressful it is to take a horse on his first 50. You never really believe that the horse is quite ready. Have I trained enough? Have I taken him on enough miles? Have I exposed him to groups enough? Did I remember to tie him to the hi-tie and remind him how to camp? Has he ever worn a blanket before? What about a rump rug? How can I possibly take him on his first ride when I am so under-prepared?

But just getting away from the trials and tribulations, from the distractions and the chatter of the everyday was wonderful. Climbing up and out of Scottsdale to Flagstaff and beyond is always so liberating. The temperature cools and the pace settles.

It’s been a while since I was at an XP ride. I had forgotten how much I like the pace – just a scoshe or two below the rest of the world. We arrived at about 4 PM on Day 3. Riders were arriving and vetting through, the sun was beginning to dilute into a soft evening glow as the temperature sank.

We checked in; vetted the horses through, ate dinner in the fine company of Scott and Barb Debi and Jim and Clydea Hastie. Jim, who has not ridden a 50 in 17 years, was out on Day 3 on Czar, and would go on to ride all five days. The man is an inspiration! A camp fire roared; the chill in the air began to penetrate into my skin and soon we were to bed.

Up at 6:00 for a 7:30 start. There was a ¼ inch of ice on the water buckets in the morning. Far had camped like a champ on the high tie and his new winter blanket kept him warm and toasty. Rusty packed and loaded the outbox – it would be 30 miles before we would see it again. We waited for ten minutes for the group of 38 to more or less leave, and we set off with the red horses in hand into the unknown.

I could feel my legs weaken as I tried to imagine what lay ahead. Far was so eager that his walk outpaced mine considerably. When another rider jogged up behind us with his horse in hand, Far began to sidepass at a jog and my heart raced faster.

I mounted him at about the 1.5 mile mark and quickly let him into a slow trot as the trail wound its way very gradually west. He seemed supple and eager and much more controllable than I had expected. He was happy and knew exactly what to do: his job was to move forward at the required pace, always offering to go a little faster, but never forcing.

The next 30 miles allowed us to wind our way up along grassy two-track soft roads to grassy meadows to twisty old deciduous trails to grassy draws to grassy meadows to twisty trails, coming to our lunch stop high above the Grand Canyon with views that stop you in your tracks.

I had forgotten the sound and feel of a horse’s hoof as it hits a partially dried muddy trail and how the cold takes your energy and spends it at double-time. I had forgotten what Fall smells like, how the turning leaves rustle in the wind with a dryness that means another year has come and gone. I had forgotten that earthy smell of damp leaves under foot, and of the sky that tells of imminent snow. What an incredible day.

Far ate and drank his way along the trail and all through lunch. He remained plucky, forward, powerful, eager and supple all day long. He powered up the climbs and slithered down the hills. He trotted along with the rhythm of a metronome, always eager, always asking for more and never forcing it. His pulse at the 30 mile point and again at the finish was an impressive 40, and the spring in his gait stayed with him all day.

We finished in just over nine hours. Far's eye stayed fresh and alert; he ate and drank his way through the night, and when he got home from the 6.5 hour trailer ride, he trotted and cantered around his paddock - happy as a clam.

Thanks, Rusty, for staying with us all day and for being the anchor. It was the best day! Thanks to Dr. Stacey Sickler: I had forgotten that she put this horse back together at the end of May. It is incredible to think that we came so close to disaster and that he would take on his first 50 only five months later. And thanks to Leslie Spitzer for helping me cross paths with such an incredible partner.

Click on the picture below and then on slideshow

Grand Canyon XP 07

Rusty has created a video - see it here:


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