My First Fifty

by Jackie Fenorali

It is still dark outside my trailer and I can hear ride camp stirring as the 75 and 100 milers get ready to start their race.  I’m glad I’ve got another hour in my cozy bed, even though I haven’t slept much during the night  with worry about the comfort of my horse as she endured a night of howling winds.  I just needed to saddle up to be ready to roll, so there is no sense in rushing to get up.

 

My horse and I have a job, long distance product testing for Stonewall Saddle Company.  My ride is a tough little mare, a naturally gaited Spanish Mustang, SMR Tia.  She is 7 years old now and never been shod.  Born and raised running free on the large Cayuse Ranch in WY, she has mustang tough feet.

 

We had arrived at the Get-R-Done ride camp in InyokernCAa few days early and sat in on a FEI training session.  After consulting with a cadre of top level riders and noting that the course was flat with good footing, my horse was fit and sound, I made the decision to bump up to the 51 mile distance from my intended limited distance ride.  Following the advice given at the clinic, I made a ride plan, adjusted my seat at the canter, practiced trot outs and pouring cooling buckets water over my horse.

A cool morning broke and found about 80 of us LD & 50 milers milling about under overcast skies as we waited for the starter to let us go.  There was lots of neighing and movement as we kept respectful distances between each other.  It was a controlled start and our large group strung out as we walked the first 800 yards and crossed a paved road.

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I soon fell in with a small group that included the handsome and well behaved stallion.  He acted like a gentleman and did his best to ignore Tias attempts to sniff tail, and I stayed focused on keeping her off of his.  Finally fed up, I pushed her into a canter and we moved ahead of that group.

 

After about four miles, Tia quits trying to exit the trail stage left, but I keep my crop in my left hand nevertheless in case I need to wave a warning.  She also wants to go faster than I’ll let her, and I keep lightly correcting her speed as I try and stick to my ride plan of start slow and finish faster with a lot of horse left.

We are now moving easily and alone along the base of an ancient lava flow.  As a kid, traveling to winter ski resorts along I-395, I would gaze thru the car window at the rough lava ledge in the distance and parallel to our direction of travel, and wish we had the time to stop and view it up close and personal.  Now, I was awed by the shear size of it, much greater than in my childhood imagination.  Can I describe to you the joy I felt from riding a rocking horse canter for mile after mile, at the foot of this towering black, rugged ledge of ancient crumble?  No, I don’t think I can, but I’m sure some of you have felt it.  A smile permanently splits my face, and I whoop it up for the cameraman as we pass by.

At mile 8 I’m hot and remove my vest while on the move, managing to lash it to the saddle.

At the mile 10 turn-around there is hay and water.  Tia ignores the water, grabs a few bites of hay and lets me know she is ready to move on.

At mile 12 I fell off!  Tia came to a dead stop and I went over the handlebars, letting go of the reins midair.  I still don’t know what the scary object was, maybe a pale boulder amidst all the black?  She went galloping off across the open desert despite my sweet calls for her to come back.    I soon changed to cries of “HEY, HEY….catch my horse” and all riders within hearing or eyesight came to a stop.  We watched as one as Tia headed further away from us and towards her heritage on the wild open range.  For few seconds I lost sight of her, only seeing a fairly large burp of sand and dust where she had just been.  When she came back into sight, now several football fields away from my jogging form, she had turned, slowed, and headed back to the trail and fellow horse and rider teams.

“Yes, Yeah!  Thank goodness!  That could of been really bad,” I think as I huff and puff over to them.  “Thank you, thank you for catching her”, I gasp.   After assuring everyone that I was alright, and checking to see that Tia was unharmed, we continued on our way (Only later, after the race and back at camp, did I find out what really happened!).

 

At mile 25 I heard the screech owl before I saw him for the first of three times as we retraced portions of the trail.  He stood only about 4” tall with wings held rigid away from his tough guy torso.  He yelled and cursed in no uncertain terms, telling us to stay away from his burrow or else.  The last time I and 150 other riders passed him by, I think he was flagging a bit.  I was very proud of him.

 

At mile 42, my riding mentor, Sue Haveruk, warned me that the wall was coming up and we hit it at the start of a long, and I mean long, low grade climb up an alluvial plane.  The temperature rose, and our horses took one interminable step after another without seeming to get any closer to the end.

 

By mile 45 my riding tights were bunching and making me sore, and I started asking Sue to give me readouts from her GPS.  I’m pretty sure it was broken because it kept saying 6 miles to go for a really long time.

 

At mile 50 I could see ride camp below and a dogleg behind our current course of direction.  I could be heard muttering about ride management and wondering why they choose to torture us with an extra mile.  Then we started along a gentle down grade and the breeze freshened.  The horses must of picked up our excitement at nearing the end and they started to canter.  We came in at a gallop, whooping it up and high fives all around.

 

Having crossed the finish line, I headed back to ride camp, located a couple of blocks away from the vet area, intending to make use of the full hour allowed to take care of and pamper my hard working horse before presenting for final vet check.  I took this play from a lesson learned by theUSteam at the last World competition inMalaysia.  I practically skipped as I went about my husbandry duties and cleaned away the road grime.  I was pumped with pride and joy, as I alternately hugged and brushed by tough little horse.

 

“Oh my gosh!  How is your horse?” a friendly camp neighbor asks as soon as she sees me.  “I thought she might have been really hurt when she didn’t get up right away.”

“I’m sure she is a bit tired, but what do you mean ‘get up’?” I puzzled.

“When she was running away and fell in the mine pit.  I thought she might have been seriously hurt because she laid there for a few seconds before getting up,” she said.

This camp neighbor had been on the trail and watching from a different perspective than mine, and saw Tia go head over heals into a large mine pit as she was galloping away after pitching me off.  That must have been the large burp of sand and dust that I saw!

“I hate to say it, but it was probably a good thing that your horse fell.  That is what convinced her to come back,” my neighbor nodded wisely.  “She is mustang tough, but it is a good thing you didn’t see it, because if you had seen her go down, you would have pulled her at the next vet check.”   I would have too.  It was dangerous to leave me, and I sure do hope she has learned her lesson!  Mine came next.

“Hey, you better get vetted in,” Sue says from the reclining lounge chair in the motorhome when I pop in for my own pit stop.

“I’m in no hurry,” I trill and head back out to walk Tia over to the water trough again and later the round pen for a roll in the sand.

 

“Shouldn’t you be vetted in by now?” said Sue’s husband, frowning at me.

“Nah, I got time,” I assured him but pulled out my rider card anyways just to check.

 

I screamed as I realized that I only had four minutes left to vet in before being disqualified.  I grabbed Tia’s lead rope, not bothering to take off her blanket, and started running towards the vet area lamenting its distance to ride camp.  Breathing heavily now, as I slogged thru deep sand on a narrow single track trail, I checked my watch.  Only two minutes left.  I grabbed a handful of mane and kicked it up a notch letting Tia pull me along.  We rounded the gate into the vet area going at a good clip with me waving my rider card overhead and yelling, “I need to vet in, I need to vet in!”

 

I thrust my card and lead rope at the handler and started to strip Tia’s blanket which had slipped and tangled from our hurried pace.  The vet moseyed over, checking his watch and called out “four thirty four” – one hour exactly from the time we crossed the line.  Whew!  Only then did it dawn on me, as he pulled out his stethoscope, that we also needed to pass the heart rate check of 64 bpm or less.

 

“Uhhh, I made a mistake on the time.  We ran all the way down here,” I panted over the words and explained with pleading eyes.  He did listen for the heartbeat for a good long time as I took deep breaths and sent calming thoughts to Tia.  “Sixty four,” he called out and I felt the tension leave me.  That’s it.  Tia passed the rest of the checks with flying colors and we official completed our first 50 mile ride.

 

I would of felt a real twit to have disqualified us after all that.  Instead I have a good Mustang Tuff and First 50 story to tell around the campfire, and next time, I’ll make sure I don’t succumb to road rattle and euphoria!