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2008 Old Selam
Images by Merri Melde
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Once Upon a Horse: The Story of Old Selam

by Tamara of In the Night Farm

On the outskirts of Boise, its forbidding walls juxtaposed against a botanical garden overflowing with roses and herbs, crouches the Old Idaho State Penetentiary. Its construction began in 1870, just ten years after Idaho became a U.S. territory. Over the years, hundreds of convicts labored in the sandstone foothills, hewing out blocks to build the walls and cells within which many of them would perish.

As you might expect of a prison built by its inmates, the Old Pen has a long history of escaped prisoners. Some 500 escape attempts are on record, 90 of them successful. Two of these escape attempts occurred in late December, 1901, with the help of an horse called Selam.

Selam is reputed to have been an unusually good riding and driving horse in his day, but by 1901, he was growing old and had been assigned to the Old Pen as a cart horse. On December 24, prisoner Bob Meeks -- the only member of Butch Cassidy's gang to be arrested for the Montpelier bank robbery -- cut Selam loose from his wagon and headed for the hills. Unfortunately for Meeks, trackers caught up with him the next day and both prisoner and horse were returned to the penitentiary. Merry Christmas.

Just five days later, on December 30, prisoner Samuel Bruner disappeared from his privileged post in one of the Old Pen's power plant duty stations. Convicted of grand larceny in 1899, Bruner had apparently slipped away astride old Selam. Neither horse nor prisoner was ever found.

In 1976, three years after the Old Pen was retired as a correctional institution, the Southwest Idaho Trail and Distance Riders group established an annual endurance ride that attempted to retrace the two convicts' possible escape routes. Originally, ridecamp was set up right at the reportedly haunted penitentiary, but trail restrictions have since forced several relocations. Nevertheless, the Old Selam Endurance Ride remains Idaho's oldest endurance ride to have been held every year since its inception.

Nobody knows what became of Sam Bruner and old Selam. Perhaps they did pass through the area near Idaho City, where this year's ride will take place. Maybe, just maybe, Aaruba and I will retrace their footsteps to freedom, or else kick up the dust of their long-forgotten bones.



Photos by Merri Melde

Old Selam, Here We Come!

Friday August 29 2008

Well, lucky me, John T volunteered to stay home and feed all the critters (approximately 19 horses, 4 dogs, an unknown number of cats, and 4 birds) for absentee owners along Bates Creek for the weekend, which meant I got to go with Steph to the 2-day Old Selam endurance ride around New Centerville, Idaho. A new ride for me in a new area, and a forest as well - a double treat!

The ride is named after an old cart horse, Selam, who was used by a couple of prisoners in escape attempts from the old 1800's Idaho State Penetentiary near Boise - see Tamara's story on that. The trail is also right in the middle of one of the old Gold Rushes in the Boise Basin. Idaho City, 7 miles down the dirt road from New Centerville, was, in 1863, the largest city in the Northwest. Now it's a historic town, (population about 450), and the county seat of Boise County. During the peak of the rush, in 5 years, almost $24,000,000 of gold came from the Boise Basin mining area. In today's prices that would be... $396,000,000 (according to one calculation). That's a lot of old riches we'd be riding over.

I'd be riding an ol' ranch horse, Rushcreek Mac, on Day 1 - his first 50 - and my ol' pal Jose on Day 2 in the 50. Steph planned to ride Rhett both days. Steph and John hadn't had much luck at Old Selam over the years - several pulls because of lameness and one from metabolics, the unfortunate experimental treatment of which lead to several days in the hospital and a big vet bill for Quickie. (The treatment hasn't been used since!) So I was hoping for better luck... lift the curse maybe (if that's what it was)?

I had my doubts I could do that after the ride meeting. You know how most ride managers go over the details of the trail - every turn, every rock, every groove in the trail, things to watch out for... well I have a rather short attention and absorption span, and all I got from Day 1's trail directions was: danger!. Cross-country trail across a logged area on some loop: "Walk through it!" On one loop, we had to ride a couple hundred yards along the dirt road between towns - "Dangerous!" because of the speeding cars. One loop we had to cross this road - "be very cautious!" - because we didn't have a clear view of the road...

It sounded rather daunting! Better just to tell me, "follow the pink ribbons loop 1, checkered ribbons loop 2..." (and give me a cheat sheet because I can't even remember that) and leave me surprised by the perils of the trail.

Then there was the coming weather. Head vet Robert Washington said this ride was sometimes hard on horses, not just because we were in the mountains at 4100', but because it could be below freezing in the mornings, very hot in the afternoons, then freezing again at night - extra stress on a hard working horse's body. And we were supposed to have a big cold front blow in Saturday - someone said winds up to 60 mph, temps below freezing at night...

The start and vet check times were adjusted to take that into account. The start would be moved back to 7:30 AM (woohoo! sleep in till 6 AM!). There would be 4 loops for the 50's: 15 miles, a half-hour vet check; 15 miles, a half-hour vet check; 10 miles, an hour hold, and 10 miles. There was a good turnout: 56 entered in the 50 miler, 24 in the 30 miler, and several for the trail ride.

Well, I'd try not to worry about the trail, just worry about staying on Mac's back tomorrow, since he was an anxious, wigging-out horse on his last LD ride at Pink Flamingo.

Merri Melde


Wee Hours

Saturday August 30 2008

I was curled up under sleeping bags and the stars having a good snooze, when in the middle of the night, some music woke me up. What the -? You know how it is when you can't quite wake up? I wasn't completely conscious, trying to figure out who could be playing music at this hour - surely all endurance riders were sleeping? Surely they could let ME sleep?

I thought at first it was neighbor Chris Sampson - must have been her alarm clock. Turn it off Chris! Why was she getting up so early? It stopped. I drifted off.

Got woken back up by the strange music. Oh no! Not that loud screeching Hindi music that will go on all night! But wait - I am not in India. And it stopped. I drifted off.

It started up again. What on earth - ? Wait - I know, it's the early morning Call to Prayer. No - wait - I am not in Egypt. It stopped. Back to snoozing.

It started again, a low "Ooooooh..." I whipped the pillow off my head - the "Ooooooh" picked up in pitch into a howl - WOLVES!!! I was wide awake now and I was in the mountains of Idaho and I had been hearing a wolf pack! I'd heard of wolves in this area - WOLVES! And they were on the move. I woke up once more to a wolf pack, and once more to a coyote pack. Had to be a great omen for the ride!

(Great examples of what I heard here.)

Merri Melde



Steve Bradley's Photos

Old Selam - Day 1

Saturday August 30 2008

Remembering Mac's great anxiety at the Pink Flamingo ride when he started by himself, this morning I parked him right behind August's black and white butt, ridden by Carol Brand, and a cute gray mare ridden by Chris Sampson, and we intended to stay there for 50 miles. We started out in a small group which included Steph and Rhett, Nance Worman on a rascally Jazzbo, and Tom Noll on the forever going-too-slow Frank (this is Frank's opinion).

You know how, at the start of a ride, all the things your horse SHOULD know go out the window for the first few miles (or, in some cases, the first 50 miles)? A lot of our horses were doing this - Mac forgot legs and reins, although he wasn't bad at all, just pulling and tossing his head in the excitement of the start. Jazzbo tried unsuccessfully to buck Nance off twice, one of them a very sneaky move when he came to a dead stop in the bottom of a gulley that the trail crossed. Naughty horse! Frank naturally thought Tom's idea of pacing at the start was RIDICULOUSLY too slow, ("Come on Tom, this is a 2-day ride, not a 5-day ride, I can go much faster!") and for the first oh, 7 miles at least that I saw, Tom was double wrapping the reins around his hands while Frank motored along with his head up in the air and cocked sideways. But I expect that continued much of the two days, as Frank knows much better than Tom the faster pace he should be going at!

Mac settled down nicely after a few miles, and remembered how to slow down when asked. He has a big, high action trot, but it's pretty smooth, ground covering, and very efficient. One really nice thing is he never stumbles over rocks, always places his feet just right, so you don't have to pay as much close attention to the trail as you do with horses that trip over rocks or ruts.

We overlapped several people on this first 15-mile loop, including Tammy from Hood River riding a gorgeous gray Tennessee Walking Horse stallion, and Diane and Tony Dann who were mostly behind me. They had the big responsibility for a while of riding Raven Drag - keep an eye on my Raven in my saddle bag. "Your Raven fell out! Just kidding!" When they were no longer behind me, I had to keep reaching back to make sure my Raven was still there!

We rode with Tom and Nance enough to get into one of those odd, entertaining conversations that often pop up during endurance rides - this time the subject was underwear. "I wear biking shorts." "I'm not wearing any!" "I forgot to pack extras!" "I have some extras you can borrow!" "The second time I met X, I was coming around a corner on my horse, and there he was in the middle of the trail, cutting off his underwear with a pocket knife." And so the stories go.

We were on great trails - mostly old soft logging roads winding along the contours of the hills through ponderosa pine forests on private, federal, and state forest lands. You could imagine how, a hundred and fifty years ago, there were some huge trees here - until all the mining activities started wiping them out. Now they're all second-third-fourth growth modest trees. The morning sunlight slanted through the trees, golden shafts of light defined by the dust kicked up by the horses' hooves.

Ride camp - on the private property of Oscar, who kindly let us use it - was at 4150'. We climbed to 5000' at some parts of the ride, and there were a lot of ups and downs all day - strenuous for horses not used to hills, and as riders our muscles felt it too. Loop 3 was the hardest - lots of whoop-de-doos (that the motorcycles make : ( ) so we did a lot of walking, which made for a long loop, and it sure seemed like a looooooooong 10 miles anyway. And then we had an hour vet check.

After the hungry horses ate and ate and ate, then they dozed, and then we had to wake them up to do another 10 miles - and already it was near 4 PM! (Now is when that 7:30 cushy starting time didn't sound like such a great idea). Mac felt a bit tired on the last loop - but once he got going, he got right back into that efficient rhythmical trot and cruised right along. He showed how smart he was by cutting the corners all day - taking the shorter route - of every logging road turn with no prompting from me.

Now, I have to emphasize again that Mac is from Nebraska, flat, grassland Nebraska, and he's become a bit spooky here in the Owyhee desert, especially when he's in washes among tall sagebrush. I mean, Horse Gods only know what kind of Boogie Horses could be hiding behind or under the big sagebrush that could EAT HIM! And here - we were in a FOREST for Horse Gods Sake, so just imagine HOW MANY Boogie Horses that could be hiding behind and up in those big tall standing up things, and especially those laying down dead things and body stumps of dead things (I mean - what killed them??) that could also EAT MAC!? But Mac of course had no problem cruising along behind two horses, since August is a friend of his, and the other was one cute mare, and especially since those two would have gotten eaten first, being out front.

Now despite all the monsters out there, Mac showed tremendous bravery by taking the lead, on his own, on the second loop, without spooking, for, oh, about 30 yards! He then dropped back, and I praised him for his initiative and daring. Then, on the 3rd loop, about a mile out from camp, he cruised to the lead, on his own again, for about 1/2 mile! Well, okay, maybe it was 1/3 of a mile, but he did it without spooking! Then he let himself be overtaken again. That was great progress - leading, in a spooky forest, by his choice! Next time, maybe we can double our progress, with Mac leading 60 yards, and then a mile!

The scary parts of the trail turned out to be behind us before I realized they were scary - the cross-country was no problem at all, and we timed the roads right. Well, except for the last few yards of one...

A truck was coming towards us pulling a very noisy flatbed trailer. We had a steep drop-off on our side, and just before Mac and I got to our turn off the road, the idiot driver sped up (some drivers think scaring horses and riders is funny, haha), and Mac started dancing sideways and backwards - back end toward the drop off - as the loud scary monster suddenly got closer and louder. I talked him and petted him through it, even as I pretended there was no way Mac could back up over the edge and flip us over backwards. It was really a close one, but Mac made it safely to the turn off without any disaster - so next time some idiot driver tries to haha, make the horsie flip over the cliff, maybe Mac won't be as scared of it. (Ride manager Cini Baumhof was right about the danger of some of the peabrain drivers!) But that was it - we timed the other road crossings right (it seemed that on this dirt road, every driver is required to pull a very noisy trailer of some sort), no dangers lurking under logged areas we had to cross, no stormy weather (in fact, it was quite warm in the afternoon).

Now, on the fourth and final loop, we were all getting a bit tired as it was getting close to 6 PM - long hot day, hard ride. I was fondly reminiscing about the last ride, where, at the perfect spot on the trail, some fine young man was standing on the side of the trail with an ice chest full of frozen Otter Pops, which went down mighty smoothly on a very hot day. "Oh, remember how," I said, "at Pink Flamingo in the middle of that one loop, someone was out there with an ice chest of Otter Pops? Oh, I wish..." and we came around a corner, and there, on the side of the trail was an ICE CHEST (sans the nice young man) - "Oh my god!" - I slid Mac to a reiner stop and jumped off and opened the ice chest - full of "OTTER POPS!!!"

I grabbed and ripped open an orange one and almost collapsed from the first bite. Mac thought it was a carrot, but, sadly, I was so greedy, I did not share. (I did at least give him and August carrots throughout the day). I confess I had another Otter Pop as we rode off, getting juice all over my hands and reins and saddle packs, oh my, they were so good. I'm going to be spoiled at all the Northwest rides from now on...

We got into camp just before 6 PM, and Mac passed his final vet check - he'd completed his first 50, on a tough hilly ride. Yeahoo!

A potluck meal with some great food accompanied the lively ride meeting conducted by Liz Smallwood. 21 of 24 riders finished the 30, and 52 of 56 finished the 50, and several trail riders participated today on a 15 mile loop. A big milestone was reached by Canadian rider Brian Malkoske - he got his 5000 miles today, although at one point he almost came off his horse... A coyote shot out of the brush and right under his horse's legs as they were trotting along. Brian landed up on his horse's neck, but managed to stay on. Maybe it was one of the coyotes I heard last night!

It was quite a lovely trail today, marked very well, with good company - a fun day on my first Old Selam endurance ride.

Merri Melde


Old Selam - Day 2

Sunday August 31 2008

Back in 1862 Moses Splawn and George Grimes discovered gold in this area, starting the stampede to this part of the Boise Basin - and Grimes got the creek named after him that we are camped on and riding along. Two miles north of New Centerville, (the "town" we are camped outside of), was Centerville, a booming mining town in those days. All that's left now are a few pieces of lumber where there were once 3000 people and a hotel, stores, stables and saloons. An old stage road is nearby, linking to some other old ghost towns. Today, obvious evidence of the gold rush is remains of the extensive placer mining for miles along Grimes Creek. You can even clearly see the dredged up creek beds on Google Earth. What we didn't do back then to get at the riches in the earth - and what we still don't do now to do so. We rode along and crossed the torn up creek during much of today's ride.

Jose, who had been left at the trailer yesterday and probably logged 25 miles running in his pen, was so worried he'd be left behind today, that when I went in the pen this morning to put a halter on Rhett, he came up first and stuck his nose in the halter. "Don't worry Jose, you get to go today with Uncle Rhett!" We sent Mac home with Carol and Rick, so Mac wouldn't have to fret in his pen by himself while we were gone.

Today's trail had some hills but in general was flatter and easier - and just as nice, through Ponderosa pine forests on nice old logging roads. Steph and I fairly flew through the first 20 mile loop. Or, at least I thought we were flying, till we heard some steam-engine-sounding thing on hoofbeats bearing down on us (Jose heard him first, was trying to look over his shoulder). It was Dick Root on his huge handsome (some might debate me on that) half-mustang Rocky, zipping right by us with a huge trot. We followed after him around the next bend - but he was already gone, no horse, no dust, nothing!

We did come to one very steep slick uphill climb that Jose and Rhett clawed their way up; I was sure glad the rain that threatened last night (with thunder!) only lasted a few dust-spattering minutes, because this would have been heck to climb if it had been wet. The horses expended a lot of energy getting up this - luckily it was the only real hard steep hill of the day.

Back in camp we had a 45-minute hold before our next 15-mile loop, a repeat of yesterday's first loop. Rhett was getting tired now, yesterday's hills having taken much of the steam out of his engine, so our pace slowed down. Rhett would run out of gas going up the hills, and he could feel his hocks on the downhills, so we'd slow to a walk whenever Rhett felt like it. Jose wasn't really in trail attacking mode today, preferring instead to follow or go beside Rhett. Plus, I he likes to sight-see. If we're walking along, he'll stop on a little rise, and turn to gaze behind him, and around him. Not an Ohmigod-there's-a-cougar-back-there look, but a taking in of the scenery.

It was cooler today, with a bank of clouds headed our way, and the wind picking up - the cold front coming in. It looked briefly like we might get rained on, but the clouds bypassed us, and it stayed sunny and pleasantly cool the rest of the day.

Back in camp for another 45 minute hold, then back out on the trail for the last 15 mile loop, part of it a backwards repeat of today's first loop. As we were going out, here came Laurie Wells, finishing the 30, hobbling in on foot beside her horse, wearing a knee brace on her left leg. Sure, her knee hurt, but she won the 30! (And finished 2nd yesterday).

We communed with nature today, beyond riding through and appreciating the beautiful trees in the forest. Heading away from camp on the last loop, we disturbed two ospreys that were having little birdies for lunch. We stopped a few times on the trail for a treat - thimbleberries! Some of them were just ripe and ready to eat - bright red and sweet-tart and velvety. I gave one to Jose but he wasn't impressed. Jose found a nice red-tailed hawk tail feather - which I stopped to pick up for him - and not a quarter mile down the trail, he found a wing feather - which I also stopped to pick up for him. And we saw a coyote just off the trail (we tried to stretch our imagination into making him a wolf, but we couldn't) - could it have been the one that almost dumped Brian off his horse yesterday?

The last part of the last loop was very pleasant, and flat, but seemed to stretch out a long ways too... maybe because my knees were starting to hurt. Rather it's my kneecaps, where it feels like they've been busted with a hammer. It mostly comes on from riding a lot at the walk (they killed me when I led pack strings), and though we didn't walk excessively this weekend, nevertheless I did ride a hundred miles (almost), and there were a lot of downhills. It was the right knee that was becoming almost unbearable by the time we reached camp (but I bet you, if I'd have had 50 miles to go, it wouldn't have become intolerable till mile 49 1/2), and I had to ride Jose right up to Keith the vet, and rather slither off Jose, landing on my one (questionably) good leg.

As Laurie Wells sat in a comfortable lawn chair with her leg still resting in the brace, her husband Paul came up to help me. "I can trot him out for you!" just like he did for gimpy Laurie. Good thing, because I couldn't put any weight at all on my right leg for a few minutes. People were a bit concerned, but I said it would go away (it always does). I couldn't complain too much (I couldn't walk, that was all), because think of the how the horses were feeling the hills in their muscles and joints. Steph trotted Jose out for me, and he looked great, which was the important thing. I hobbled beside him back to the trailer, and after a half hour, my kneecap had returned to normal. The horses contentedly buried their heads up to their eyeballs in horse feed.

Tonight's human dinner, anther potluck, was smaller but still delicious. It was colder too, with the front and the wind, everybody coming dressed in layers. Cindy Bradley brought a potato dish that was to die for. Tom Noll insisted the name was "Funeral Potatoes," but "Cindy's Old Selam Taters" sounded so much better! Oscar, whose land we were camped on, dished out ice cream to go with a cake, and Cini Baumhoff had supplied various flavors of Dorothy's Fruit Syrups that her family makes and that are also to die for, especially the Razzleberry that I had to wrestle Liz Smallwood over. Luckily she was distracted by calling out the ride results so I got an extra helping. Lots of extra prizes were handed out above and beyond the completion awards (Tshirts yesterday, caps today, with the SWIT&DR logo).

Laurie Wells was cheered as she went up for her first place award in the LD, to cries of, "Next is a 50!" Laurie said "I know my girl can do it, I just don't think my knees can do it!" Oh, but we all know how we endurance riders love to ride through pain...

This ride was put on by the SWIT&DR club - Southwest Idaho Trail and Distance Riders - and there were many, many of them riding, or helping, or both. There were many additional volunteers including Sonny and Marilyn Hornbaker - Marilyn hobbling about on crutches after breaking her femur 5 weeks ago the evening before the Pink Flamingo ride, and ride photographer Steve Bradley and his wife Cindy.

It was a great collaborative effort to put on an excellent 2-day ride over historic gold rush trails in the Boise National Forest... and a good time was had by all.

Merri Melde



Photo by Jennifer

The First of Many!: 50 Miles at Old Selam

by Tamara of In the Night Farm

I slept well, considering it was the eve of the race I'd waited years to ride. My first 50!

Still, when my alarm went off at 5:30 Sunday morning, I was already lying awake on my cot inside the horse trailer, listening to distant thunder and Aaruba's growing restlessness as raindrops dappled his blanket and neck. I pulled my riding clothes -- which felt at least as cold as the 34 degree air -- into the warm confines of my sleeping bag and struggled into them. My boots were colder still, but I was far too busy ticking off my pre-ride to-do list to care.

First: Feed Aaruba. He wasn't interested in hay, but that didn't worry me as I'd heard him munching consistently throughout the night. He deigned to consume a couple pounds of Equine Senior before resuming the nervous pacing of his pen.

Second: Feed self. I munched half a bagal with peanut butter while trying unsuccessfully to discourage Aaruba's pacing.

Third: Apply Easyboots. Normally, Travis does this for me, but he was home with the flu. I grabbed a hoof pick, a handful of nylon stockings, and a boot. Slipping two stockings over Aaruba's off hind hoof to help prevent gaiter rubbing, I went to work.

It was a bit like trying to stuff a very squirmy anvil into one of those plastic Easter eggs, but by the time my friend Jennifer arrived at 6:30, I'd progressed to the second hind boot. I panted a greeting and resumed my wresting match with Aaruba's foot. By the time I continued to the more-cooperative front boots, I'd shed four layers of clothing, all the way down to a tank top in the dawn twilight. On the bright side, the rain had stopped.

At 7:00, both ridecamp and Aaruba were wide awake, and I was immensely grateful to have Jennifer handy to mix electrolytes, then hold Aaruba while I finished tacking up for the 7:30 start. She also got out her camera and started snapping.

As usual, Aaruba calmed down the moment I swung astride. We checked in with the ride officials, then paced up and down with the other riders, warming up and waiting for the trail to open. Knowing Aaruba's tendency to be competitive, I made sure he and I were headed away from the starting line when 7:30 arrived and most of the horses took off. No racing today -- he'd need that energy later.

We set off once the leaders were well out of sight, but alas, my plan was thwarted by a U-turn at the very beginning of the loop. The moment Aaruba saw the herd ahead, his race brain kicked into high gear and I had a battle on my hands. He snorted fire when I refused to let him trot like a maniac over the rocky terrain, and as a few more riders came up from behind as we circled, he became so agitated that I dismounted and led him almost a mile up the trail before he quieted.

Finally, he settled enough to stand while I tied my jacket behind the saddle and re-mounted. Now quite alone, we tackled the trail at a brisk trot, climbing gradually up the mountain on old logging roads with excellent footing, slowing to conserve energy on the steepest parts. When we reached a long downhill, we let loose a bit to make up some time. An excellent downhill trotter, Aaruba flew along so quickly I feared we'd catch up with the horses ahead, but the only soul we happened upon was the ride photographer. Steve Bradley had set up shop in a meadow bathed in yellow sunlight. He snapped our picture and waved us along with a cheerful, "Have a good ride!" (You can see proofs of his shots on his website; we're number OS82057 and OS82058 on Day 2.)

We carried on, alternating walking and trotting, stopping for an occasional mouthful of grass as we climbed up a long hill, then down again to a narrow creek where Aaruba drank deeply. Just over the creek was the section of trail we'd been warned of at the ride meeting: A couple hundred feet of rather narrow, very steep uphill made slick by the passage of many ATV tires. The sides of the trail offered more crumbly footing, but also tangled shrubs that I feared would catch an Easyboot. I pointed Aaruba up the center of the trail and grabbed mane. He plunged upward in a series of powerful leaps. Halfway up, he drifted to the right as if to ask, "Are you sure, Mom?" (Or maybe it was, "Lady, are you nuts??") A touch of the rein set him straight, and he motored on, bumping my heels with his stifles as I crouched in two-point to free his back as much as possible.

We crested the hill in a surge of adrenaline that powered him along yet another logging road, this one freshly scarred by heavy machinery, then through a long and scenic stretch that I thought must be leading us back toward camp. I estimated we'd averaged 6.5 or 7 mph, and a glance at my watch told me we should finish the 20-mile loop at about 10:30. Sure enough, it was 10:25 when we finally caught up with another rider as she crossed the paved road that told us we were less than half a mile from camp. We rode in together, and Aaruba pulsed down exactly 180 minutes from the start. "Number 510, in at 10:30, out at 11:15!"

We vetted through with all A's except for an A- on gut sounds, which seems to be typical for Aaruba, then headed to the trailer. I removed his bridle and interference boots and left him in his pen with a pan of soaked beet pulp, a flake of alfalfa, and Jennifer (to keep him from rolling with his saddle on) while I ate a banana and mixed another dose of electrolytes. By the time I'd checked Aaruba's pasterns for gaiter rubs -- none! -- and emptied out the sand that had collected in his stockings, it was time to tighten the girth and go.

We were a couple minutes late out of the hold, but no matter. I figured we were already in last place, and besides, we had nothing to prove. All I wanted was to complete the race with a healthy, happy horse. Aaruba loved the early part of the 18-mile loop, a bit of technical singletrack that bounded up and over a series of short, sharp hills as it swooped down to the creek and up again, finally spilling us onto a wide road of decomposed granite that led up, up, up toward the clouds that billowed dark on the jagged horizon.

A chilly wind swept us along the trail and I wondered if I shouldn't have abandoned my jacket at the trailer after all. But as we kept climbing, mostly up and a little down, the exercise of riding kept me warm. About halfway through the loop, Aaruba's energy seemed to flag. No wonder -- we'd already covered more miles than he'd ever done before! Still, I knew were were just over halfway, so I dismounted to run with Aaruba. By taking the lead for a while, I hoped to give him a mental break as much as a physical one.

We'd been on Loop 2 for almost two hours when I heard female voices drifting on the wind. Several more minutes passed before Aaruba and I rounded a bend just in time to glimpse a pair of horses on the trail ahead. Aaruba perked up at once. He clearly had plenty of gas left in the tank, and we caught up with the other riders in short order. They were taking it easy because their horses had completed the Day 1 50 as well, so rode with them only briefly before trotting on ahead.

Soon, a sign on a paper plate informed us we were one mile from camp. Only a mile? We were ahead of schedule! Aaruba seemed to sense my excitement. He hustled down the last bit of trail, paused for a long drink at the first water tank he saw, then walked on to the pulse down area. In at 1:43, out at 2:28, and all A's from the vet -- even gut sounds.

More hay and electrolytes for Aaruba and a plateful of barley salad for me, then it was back on the trail for the final 12 miles. A few horses were finishing the third loop as we started out, and their presence seemed to rekindle Aaruba's enthusiasm. Though we soon found ourselves quite alone again, he plowed along almost as though we were just starting the race. I found myself working to pace him, lest he burn himself out before the end.

Still, we tore through eight miles or so before the day's work seemed to catch up with him. I noticed that although he remained quite sound, he'd grown reluctant to trot downhill -- Tired muscles? Sore shoulders where the points of the saddle tree slid forward against them? -- so I either dismounted to jog down, or held him to a walk while descending slopes. I later discovered that his skin was a little sore from the motion of his saddle pad in the lumber region, a problem both quick to disappear and easy to remedy. At 4:10, I promised Aaruba we'd be done in half an hour or less. Sure enough, it was 4:28 when we broke out into the rocky wash, crossed the creek once more, and headed for home. Jennifer was waiting with her camera as we approached the finish line, and the ride officials who knew it was our first 50 cheered as we trotted across. I didn't catch our exact finish time, but I think it was about 4:35, giving us a total ride time of 7:35 at an average speed of 6.7 mph. Perfect.

Even better, Dr. Washington (who, incidentally, was one of the vets involved with Aaruba's near-fatal impaction colic last October) marked all A's on Aaruba's completion exam. I couldn't have been prouder of my boy.

"So," Jennifer asked as we meandered back to the trailer. "How was it?"

"Easier than I expected," I said. "Guess I'll have to try for 100!"

And someday, I will.

Tamara