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Tuesday - Thursday May 1-3 2007

The ride at Imbil this weekend (Sunday at 2 AM, to be precise) is a 160 km FEI ride. It's a harder ride - lots of hills and hard roads, and people have tended to get lost here, and the winning time will probably not be fast. Peter's not completely sure yet which horses are going, or who's going to be riding them, but Don is a definite ride for Penny (so far).

Today Don got a good shampoo bath. Opinions are pretty much divided right down the middle as to whether Don is beautiful or ugly. I of course think he's beautiful, as does Penny. I went up to pet Don as he was drying off, but he wasn't even interested in sniffing me. Not a people horse. DOesn't hate them; just not interested. Some of the girls say he's a grumpy old man, and I've found that he sure doesn't pose with his ears forward much.

The usual work around the barn went on: feeding, horses on the walker, horses on the treadmill, horse baths, a few horses ridden, Gary shoeing horses.

Today a massage therapist, Emma, came to work on the possible ride horses, which are at the moment Don, Khamal, and Salman, possibly Bronco. I watched Emma, a licensed human massage and physical therapist (4 years at University), and animal massage therapist (2 more years of schooling) work on Don and a few others. Don was cranky when she found some touchy spots on him, and he'd turn his head and frown, but he still took it, and the rest he seemed to not mind at all.

Meanwhile, Peter was in and out; Abdullah showed up (he won the Quilty last year on Peter's horse Tora Blar-Zay) and went for a short ride with Jaime; Louis ws clipping horses for the ride; more clients showed up; the phones kept ringing; and the usual feeding and shoeing and walking and treadmilling and lunging and bathing was going on.

I went into Ipswitch with Penny for groceries; we stopped at an outdoor produce market where she got a HUGE bag of great fat carrots, and apples, "For Don, said Penny. Then she added, "And friends." I suspect Don may get most of them. He likes the green apples better, and she got more of them.

Even though the ride starts early Sunday morning, and Imbil is only 3 hours away, we are supposed to leave this afternoon.

The barn is quite chaotic with everybody running about doing regular chores, and the normal irregular durites of moving horses to and from paddocks and farms and quarantine, and packing for the ride. Penny is packing equipment for the ride into big trunks; Peter is looking at horses and directing traffic with people; Gary is shoeing; a mechanic is working on one horse float; horses are getting bathed, horses are on the walker, a horse is on the treadmill; a load of shavings is coming and will be dumped in the middle of the barn; someone will have to go to the airport and pick up Melissa (she's going to ride one of the horses at Imbil); Peter needs someone to go to Bremervale Stud and trot out a few horses for Dr Kamal. He picks Shaylee, and I jump in the car with her.

It seems fairly stressful (not unbearable, but the energy is definitely higher) getting ready for a ride (oh boy, I couldn't imagine a World Championship overseas), and while Shaylee says there's definitely more pressure, especially strapping at the rides, Peter's one of the best people to learn from.

Shaylee's 18 and has worked for the Tofts for 2 years (her mother started full time a year ago). The first day I saw her on a horse, just at a walk, I could see she was a very good rider. And she certainly is: in 2001, she was the Champion show rider in Australia in her age group on her pony, who's gone now. She's been in the Top Five 4 times, and last year rode Bremervale Justice - one of the Toft's best endurance horses - to National Top Ten in his first show. Shaylee's done some endurance rides, and one of her goals is ultimately the Quilty. If she had to choose, she might say she liked showing a little better, "I know I get a lot more sore from an endurance ride!" She said the Tofts ask their workers each year what their goals are; "they've been really supportive of me and my showing." Last weekend we went to a local horseshow where Shaylee rode 3 of Penny's horses, an Arabian gelding, a part-Arabian mare, and a Welsh pony mare, and a young stallion and mare from Bremervale Stud (she was quite busy all day); every horse won some ribbon, and the stallion won his hack class, and the mare won Grand Champion Novice Arabian Hack.

On the way to Bremervale, on the outskirts of Marburg, in a field there's a float and 6 horses eating hay (no grass to graze). Shaylee says that it's Jeremy, who used to work for the Tofts. He and an English gal (who also worked there for 6 months) are going to ride across Australia on the Australian National Trail, north to south, I think, starting in a few days. They expect it will take a year. Now, I think it's just great when I do a 4 or 5 day endurance ride, thinking I've accomplished something. If you're like me and you think that, go to www.thelongridersguild.com and have a look at some of those people. I expect Jeremy's travels will fit right in here.

A kangaroo hops across the road in front of us before we drive into Bremervale Stud. Owned by Peter's mother Jill Toft and run by Peter's brother Warwick, Bremervale is the leading Arabian show horse stable in Australia; and they own the leading Arabian sire in Australia, Desperado (I touched him). Jill had saved the name for a very special horse, and when this foal dropped, she knew this was it. She called her boys and said, "I've got my Desperado." The whole barn is full of show horses. If you are somehow not impressed with the beautiful horses, you'd have to at least like their Lord of the Rings names: Bremervale Gandalf, Bremervale Arwen, Bremervale Theoden.

Bremervale Justice, now he's a story too. He was destined for the show ring, and Warwich was out riding him as a green 5-year-old or so one day, and Peter saw him. He asked if he could try endurance on him, and the rest is endurance history. Justice is now 14 and has been to 4 World Championships, including New Zealand, France, and Germany. He's finished the Quilty "nearly every year," is almost always in the top ten placings in his rides, and has vetted out (pulled) only once. "He's a beautiful horse, good type, and he's got a great personality," says Penny. "AND he's feisty to ride." By 2005 he'd completed 3000 km in the middle/heavyweight division. But that's not the end of the story either. Last year, during a lull in the endurance season, they fattened him up, put him in the arena to work a few weeks, and he went to his first show and placed in the Top Ten National Purebred geldings.

While Shaylee trots horses out, I wander around a bit (but nearly all the close-by horses naturally have rugs on), seeing fields full of Arabians, and admiring a well-mannered white stallion turned out in an arena. We're there about 45 minutes, before we return to the farm. Now the Dream Catcher 8-horse trailer/living quarters (size of a semi-truck) has pulled up, and Penny is starting to pack it. I do what I can to help, then escape to the house, to stay out of the way, until it's time to leave.

I ride in a car to Imbil with Melissa (from up north; she trains a few horses for the Tofts and rides for them occasionally) and Brooke; they talk horses and fondly of the Shahzada marathon, which I'd love to do one day. Melissa asks me what I'm doing here; I say, "I'm here for endurance.net, the American endurance website. I..." "WAIT! YOU'RE THE RAVEN LADY!" So we have a laugh (OK, a sad laugh from me) about me and the Raven, and meanwhile Brooke's phone rings, and it's some guy Neil, and when he fins out we are all on our way to Imbil, he asks, "How's the Raven Lady?" Brooke asks, "How did YOU know about the Raven Lady!" and we have another laugh. Maybe the Raven will still turn up somewhere somehow!

We get stuck in big traffic going around Brisband (where the Raven is somewhere :( ), and it took over 3 hours to get to the little town of Imbil. Peter parked the big rig with direction from a ride official, and we unloaded the 5 horses (Don, Bronco, Khamal, Jazzmin, Salman, though so far only Penny, Brooke, and Melissa will ride) into some nice available pens, and feed and fetch water for them. We also unload the 2-horse float that Louis and Jaimee have hauled carrying the ride equipment; and we set up a huge tent for Melissa and me. There's only 2 other floats at base camp, and a few horses, and it's cool and quiet, and everybody's asleep by 10 PM.


Stumbled onto your pages by mistake, how cool to hear news of old friends and competitors I have not heard of since the '05 Champs. Lookin forward to checkin out photos of this race and Penny and Peter and others from downunder. Also enjoyed news of David Marshall, who back then was this rosy cheeked, good lookin, happy go lucky travellin dude, and here I see him on your pages lookin weathered and weary, hitched to a homey, plain Kiwi type, a kid and a bucketful of responsibilities. Go Figure! Keep the stories comin. John
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