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Owyhee Fandango Day 2

Sunday May 24 2009

I'm not sure how or why it works this way, but it was one of those nights I was so exhausted I couldn't sleep. Another night with no sleep - darn it!

Today was the Most Momentous of Days: not because I was riding Jose again, but because Tom Noll was NOT riding Frank! In almost 4000 miles since 2002, nobody had ever ridden Frank on a single AERC mile. Everybody knows how Frank likes to go go go - that head up in the air and the black mane flying, pulling incessantly on Tom's hands double-wrapped around his reins - but today Frank and Connie were going to be babysitting Frank's 'pupil,' the mustang Whiskey, who did his first endurance ride at the Tough Sucker in April. I thought maybe since Tom rode Frank in the 50 yesterday, that might take some of the wind out of his sails, but Tom just laughed at me. Never happen. To top it off, it was Connie's birthday.

The 100-milers (29 of them) and 75-milers (9 of them) were on the trail at 5:30 AM, just as it was getting light. By 6:30 AM I was driving Tim Floyd and Tracy to the Sierra Del Rio ranch to get set up for the two vet checks out there. Tim had ridden the 25 yesterday (with a broken rib) and volunteered to help today; Tracy was glad to get out from behind the computer and help at the in-timer's table out of doors. I was happy to be at the in-timer's table because I could run out and take pictures of horses when we weren't swamped with little timer cards from riders.

The Sierra del Rio Ranch, formerly the Nahas Ranch, was a stop on the Oregon Trail in the 1800's where travelers could water their stock. Today, it's still a working ranch, and the manager, Craig Baker, happily and generously opens it up for our endurance ride every year. I'm not sure why he does it, but we are glad he does. We do make an effort to really clean it up after we leave. The center of the ranch is surrounded by rich green pastures (I've never seen it so lush), some with perplexed ranch horses watching the endurance horses do their thing, and towered over by the high buttes typical of the area along the Snake River. One of the cliffs holds a golden eagle nest (endurance rider Karen Steenhof took me to see it last year), and though I don't know if that one was occupied this year, I did spy two eagles flying around it way up high in the morning.

The last two years Craig has opened up a big pasture for the endurance horses and riders and crews to hang out in during their stops; there was also a tree-lined lane if anybody preferred the shade. It was overcast and a pleasant breeze was pushing through the ranch, keeping the heat and the bugs away.

Half of the 15 horses in the 50-miler were in for their first vet check, at 18 miles, by the time the hundred milers started rolling in for their second vet check (33 miles). Cheryl Dell and TR Reason to Believe, Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity, and Joyce's daughter Jennifer Niehaus and MC Gallantly led the 100's.

Now there was a trio of amazing horses. "Reason" has 1155 miles over 6 seasons, with 20 completions in 22 starts, and 8 wins and 4 Best Conditions. Cheryl and Reason were on the US team for the World Endurance Championships in Malaysia last November, and were thought to have a great chance of completing, when Cheryl was stricken with a severe intestinal virus during the ride and had to withdraw. "You know endurance riders can ride with anything - the flu, broken bones; I once rode with a cut on my face down to the bone, blood everywhere, but I had to complete the ride, so I slapped on 10 bandaids and went out and finished and won the ride (and went to the hospital for stitches afterwards, and got chewed out by the doctor)... but this came on fast and it knocked me out!" She ended up in the hospital on IV fluids, sleeping for 24 hours. Reason had had the winter off, and was back in training for this ride for just 2 1/2 months; he'd won the American River Classic 50 mile ride in April as a prep. But Cheryl wasn't bent on winning; she had a plan on the speed they would go, because their ultimate goal is the World Championship in Kentucky 2010. Everything else is preparation.

Between LV Integrity ("Ritzy") and MC Gallantly ("Gallo"), these 8 hooves have covered almost 10,000 miles between them. Gallo, 14, has completed 70 of 78 starts over 7 seasons, and 7 of 12 100's. Rizty, 16, has completed (this is not a typo) 88 of 90 starts over 11 seasons, 21 of 23 100's, including Tevis in 2006.

Joyce and Jennifer didn't come to win either: they came on a family vacation. Jennifer wanted to ride her dad Dennis' horse, and he agreed to crew. Gallo hadn't done a hundred in two years, and Jennifer hadn't ridden him in two years, so Joyce was the pacesetter for him.

"I LOVE 100's," Joyce said. "To me, 50's are like going to the door of Macy's. 100's are like getting to go in and shop." She loves them because of the work and the challenge. "I think it's more difficult to win a 50, because there's so much speed involved. 100's are safer too, for horse and rider, not as much risk because you don't go so fast, and working never hurt a horse."

The Sousas give no adequan to their horses, they don't do accupuncture or chiropractic work. "If a horse needs that to keep him going, then they need to be doing something else." Their horses certainly do look to be thriving, and they looked excellent every time I saw them throughout the day.

At times there was a lull between riders, so I could run out and take pictures, and at times it got busy at the in-and-out table. After the first 40 minute hold there, all horses except those on the limited distance 35 mile ride (who took a different 16-mile loop back to basecamp) went out for a 15 mile loop around Wild Horse Butte and beside the Snake River before returning for their second 40 minute hold at the ranch.

Regina Rose helped us at the timing table until she got a full load of 4 horses (pulled for lameness) at the holds, which she then shuttled back to basecamp (about a 45-minute drive one way.) One rider was pulled for lameness, didn't think the horse was lame, got impatient having to wait for so long for a trailer ride back to camp, saddled up the horse and apparently rode 18 miles back to camp. No comment.

Visiting Japanese rider Yurika Tachibana, riding FLF Federalee of Tracy and David Kaden's Flight Leader Farm, was passing a horse on trail when it kicked out at her horse. Federalee shied and dumped Yurika, and took off running in the desert. Details back at the ranch were sketchy, and rumors abounded, and the only thing we knew for sure was it was a chestnut horse with yellow tack. Christoph Schork, riding the 100, later said, "I was out there trotting along, when I heard this horse galloping up behind me. I didn't turn around to look, but I was very surprised that somebody was running that hard. Then suddenly this chestnut with yellow tack blew by me, kept going, and was out of sight. There was no chance of stopping him or catching him. Then a little bit later, I heard another horse galloping up behind me - it was the same horse that blew by me. I figured 'Well, they'll probably catch him now, since he ran in a big circle.'"

But it turned out - now there were two chestnut horses wearing yellow tack loose in the desert. Jeanette Mero and Triassic were knocked into by Federalee; she got off to try to catch him, and her horse got loose, and they turned into a runaway train for a while. Last place riders in the hundred, Connie Creech and Carolyn Dawson saw them too; Carolyn couldn't figure out either why some rider was galloping her horse down a narrow rocky trail. But it turned out to be one riderless horse - followed by another one. They got off the trail to let the horses sprint past.

Steph was racing in and out of camp on her 4-wheeler, looking for horse-less riders and rider-less horses; Tracy Kaden and crew went out to look, and Tim Floyd jumped in the van with them, since he was a doctor and his services might be of use. (Fortunately they weren't.) Jeanette's horse was caught first - he had made his way back to the ranch, where he stopped like a good endurance horse and drank from a water trough before someone caught him. Federalee was gone for hours. They'd tracked him a ways in the desert before losing the tracks. Someone later spotted him not far from the highway, grazing, and they were able to catch him; he got a ride back to basecamp. Both horses had only minor scrapes.

It got hotter at the ranch as the day went on, though a breeze kept things bearable. Tracy and I packed up around 2 PM to head back to basecamp, as the last of the riders were completing their last hold.

I had been heckled last night at the ride meeting when I gave the weather report: "30% chance of thunderstorms during the day, 20% chance of heavy rain tonight." "You could have said 70% chance of good weather!" Sure enough, late in the afternoon it clouded over again, heavy gray and blue clouds and some more thunder, but the rain stayed away. The clouds actually cooled things down by 10 degrees which helped the horses on the trail and the volunteers in camp, some who'd been at their posts all day, like Tammy Bromley and Marla, and Neil and Liz Smallwood.

The winner of the 50 had already come in: Canadian Jan Marsh and Morning Line. This duo had won 2 days (and got 1 BC) at the Owyhee Canyonlands last September. Jan brought him with her when she moved to Alberta 7 years ago. "He is a very special horse. He's laid back, but he's not as sleepy as he looks!" Jan likes to ride fast, but says, "My horses are precious to me and always will be and come above a desire to ‘win’ at any cost!"

Coming in last in the 50 were Connie and Frank, and Tom Noll and Whiskey. When Whiskey did not pass his final vet check, that left Connie and Frank the turtles... but don't tell Frank! If he knew, he would be appalled.

Coming in shortly after that were the winners of the 75, Canadian Gail Jewell and Apache Eclypse. Another horse with an excellent record, Eclypse, 13 years old, has completed 48 of 55 starts over 7 seasons. Gail has been riding 'serious' endurance for three seasons, after vetting it for 20 years. She realized one day the riders were having more fun than the veterinarians. Gail and husband Elroy Karius and family friend Kate Coady laugh at the character-full Eclypse's antics. "He's very self-absorbed. If he was human, he'd stop and look at himself in every mirror he passed." He was quite wound up at the beginning of the ride and during the first loop - "he does the tranter" - but they hooked up with Susie Hayes on the second loop, he settled down, and was "fabulous" the rest of the day, most of his CRIs being 44/44.

The evening sun had emerged from the storm clouds as the first 100-mile riders came in to the finish line: Joyce Sousa and LV Integrity, Cheryl Dell and TR Reason to Believe, and Jennifer Niehaus and MC Gallantly. None of them wanted to race, none of them needed to, and they'd already decided on their placings coming in. They walked across the line together in that order. Cheryl said she was antsy at the final vet check - "the vets voting at the finish made me very nervous." But there was no need to be - each horse looked terrific. Final ride time was 9:49, on a not technically difficult course. Jennifer's mount Gallo won the BC award.

Meanwhile, as more hundred mile finishers came in during the evening, the dinner bell rang, tomorrow's course was discussed, and eventually awards were handed out. By no means take this as a sign things were running easily and smoothly. There were still mounds of paperwork and vet cards and timing slips and BC scores to sift through, some of the results were tied up on an official's computer, people were still making changes for tomorrow's ride, some people were leaving so wanted to pay now, there were horse chores to do, Jose to be vetted in for tomorrow, pictures to post (OK, I didn't even get those done), people to talk to, people to find, errands to run, and on and on. Not complaining or anything, just pointing out that this was really only halfway through an FEI weekend ride.

And a little glitch happened with the FEI horses in the 100: after they finished their ride (after being on the trail from 9 to 11 1/2 hours, since 5:30 AM) they were all required to remain near the vetting area to have their blood drawn... and to wait till they peed for some officials to collect urine samples. Some horses did not have to pee for two hours. Some people understandably got a bit irate. Several people had ridden the day before, had planned to ride the next day, and had other horses to take care of, nevermind the horse they'd just ridden. If the horses didn't pee after two hours, they were allowed to leave, but you can imagine the mood around the vetting area.

Meanwhile, the non-FEI horses kept trickling in off the trail; around 12:30 AM, Nance Worman and Jazzbo, Chris Yost and Turbo BLY, and Lynne Fredrickson and White Zin came in and got completions. It was a big finish for Lynne, who'd attempted this hundred 3 times before. Last year she was pulled at the finish - ugh! This year - hooray!

And finishing last at around 2:30 AM were Connie Creech and LS Steele Breeze, and Carolyn Dawson and Orzo. How about Carolyn Dawson: 70 years old, "been riding since oh, a hundred years ago," hadn't completed a hundred-mile ride since 1999, but finished tonight on the laid back gelding Orzo, who used to be a rocket ship ridden by Dabney Finch in the Pacific Southwest region 1999-2004.

The Dawsons got Orzo in 2006 with free suspensory problems... but they've taken their time with him and gone slow, and completed all but 3 100-mile rides with him since then. (Two were rider option, one was lame.) And Orzo's not crazy fast anymore, or crazy, like he used to be. "At one ride down south, he was racing so fast into the finish with Dabney, it took a half mile AFTER the finish to pull him up!" Dabney won the 20-Mule Team 65-miler on him one year in 5:30. (To compare, our fastest 50-mile ride time here at the Fandango was 5:14, and the 20-Mule Team course is a little tougher than this one.)

Both Carolyn and Orzo also looked great the next day. Orzo was dragging Dick all around basecamp in the morning.

Carolyn had a great time on the ride: "It was magical out there at night! I'd call out to Connie ahead of me, 'I've got this mad grin on my face!' It was so neat to be here, I really enjoyed it. It was beautiful." I suggested maybe now she's gotten the hundred milers out of her system. "Maybe I've gotten them back INTO my system!" Orzo was "Mr 44" all day - his pulse at the vet checks all day. "The horse just went along and did his thing."

18 of 29 hundred-milers completed; 1 was pulled at the finish. (One was pulled at the finish of the 75, one at the finish of the 50). 6 of 9 finished the 75, 12 of 14 finished the 50, and 4 of 6 finished the 35. Many people felt the vetting was pretty strict; one rider said he thought the vetting was tougher than the Tevis.

Joyce Sousa commented on the ride: "The trail was so well marked, the vets were a class act. So nice and so helpful and kind, a wonderful group of vets, they know their job. It's great to hear them say, "your horse looks great, go have fun.'"

Go and have fun indeed - I'd be doing that again tomorrow on Jose in the 55.