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Don Bowen and Willy, The Flying Horse

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Don Bowen's Virginia City Story

It’s with mixed feelings I send this, my VC story.

As many know, I have been applying for jobs elsewhere to move up in the food chain. I was working the Zaca fire and got a call to be interviewed, did so on the fire, and was also notified I got the new job while still on the fire.

Virginia City was an escape for the stress of the impending move and the unexpected passing of my father. He had fallen at his home and never regained consciousness. He was a decorated Viet Nam War Veteran with 22 years of service in the US Navy.

On Wednesday night after work my son, Darren, and I loaded up Willy, the flying horse, and headed North up the 395 to Bishop for the night. The plan was to make it to the fairgrounds for the night. We had already made the last minute calls to Dave and Connie so they knew we were coming. The next morning we were back on the 395 heading towards VC. We arrived Base Camp in time to catch Dave before he went out to mark trail. Darren and I helped with some of the Base Camp set-up then later joined the Ride Management for Dinner.

On Friday I took Willy out for five mile warm and later vetted him in. The vets thought he was off, which he is if I don’t trot him out fast enough, but after explaining who this horse was and that he was the survivor of a 500’ fall, all was fine and we were sent on our way. Also on Friday the Bowman family, Jonathan, Melody and their kids parked next to us. Since this was Darren’s first time crewing and the Bowman’s were next to us this would work out good for us. This would be Jonathan’s new horse’s first 100 and Willy’s last 100 with me. So Jonathan and I agreed on a pace and strategy for the ride. The next morning we started out towards the back and began our plan keeping a steady pace while letting the horses eat and drink along the way. The highlight of the morning was seeing the Wild Horses along the way. Before the first vet check we had the long down hill that gave us our opportunity to get off and run for a while. It paid off because the horses looked great at the vet check. You could tell Melody had schooled Darren on what needed to be done and expected. We headed out from the vet check to the canyon. We didn’t make much time here due to footing. Being a heavy weight and sketchy footing makes me nervous, I’ve walked and rode with Dave Rabe enough through sections like this that I had no problem getting off through this section. When we got to Washo Lake I new the next part would be the hardest for the horses and me. So we stayed a little longer, okay, a lot longer to let the horses eat and drink. My plan was to tail up as much of the climb on the SOB’s as possible while not losing too much time. I managed to tail most of it and had a better horse at the next vet check for it.

When we passed the next vet check I had a big sigh of relief because this is where Whyatt ended our ride a couple of years ago. We headed out the next loop with a group of riders, Dave Rabe being one of them. As we where making the climb I asked Dave if he thought we were making good time. Dave said “if we could make to the top before 7 PM we would have enough daylight to make good time to the next vet check. We never really knew what place we where in and didn’t really care. We had saved our horses all day and now that the night was coming our horses felt fresh.

We passed the next vet check with the horses looking great and after the hour hold we where back on the trail. This time we picked up one of our team members, Vicki Giles riding Robin Hood. The horses worked great together so we got to the last vet check at a faster pace than during the day.

I had promised Willy after the Big Horn that VC would be our last hundred together. So I was honored to finish Willy’s last 100 with Vicki on Robin Hood, and Jonathan on Monty. We left the Cottonwoods with well-fed horses and hot soup in our bellies. The horses knew we where on our way home so the time seemed to fly by. When we got to the finish line Darren was waiting with blankets in hand with and food water for man and beast. The horses walked on loose lead to Base Camp and finished sound.

One of the keys to our success in this completion was a well-run ride by management and their volunteers. Next was a well-worked plan with great crew that was there when we needed them and when we didn’t. This was Willy’s seventh 100 and for the horse who shouldn’t be here, he sure looked great the next day, and thank goodness I have my Advantage saddle. You’ll still see me on the flying horse just not on a 100.

Okay, so next month we close one chapter in lives and begin a new one. I’ve become a good beginner horseman in this chapter and look forward to becoming an even better horseman in the next chapter. More to come on the move………………….

Don Bowen and Willy, The Flying Hors
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