Our horses were already saddled and waiting for us when we arrived at the ranch around 10:00 a.m. We both noticed that they had the hard and unforgiving saddles on them. We made a mental note to pick up some heavy duty bike shorts. I was assigned to a tall, narrow bay gelding by the name of Wildfire and Jill was mounted upon a narrow bay mare named Evangeline.
We immediately became aware that we were mounted upon a much different type of horse than the day before. Although their trots were still bouncy, they had wonderful floating canters that were only interrupted by the occasional spook. We were scheduled to ride between 20 and 25 mile today. Darolyn was riding a jumpy Grulla Arab mare. This mare took every chance she could to side step a fence when the angle changed, a patch of sand appeared out of the grass or if Darolyn turned around to provide Jill and I with instruction. Wildfire was living up to his name and was enjoying jumping from here to there, but for some reason I was able to keep my seat. The Sharon Saare I was riding in today was much narrower and shorter than Comrade’s saddle. Actually, I was impressed how secure I did feel even though the leather was hardened and shined to look like (and feel like) chrome.
We took another trail around the airport. You may wonder why we keep riding around the airport, well, I’ll tell you why. There are a trusted few equestrians that are airport rangers in Texas. Darolyn is one of the airport rangers. She said we must all work together to keep our countries safe and she was happy to do her part, plus the airport has such an amazing expanse of territory, that she was able to offer her customers a wide variety of terrain. Along that terrain are many cement ditches with a steepness that a shod horse would not be able traverse. Darolyn’s horse was very timid and only progressed about halfway down the ditch. Wildfire, even though he was young, just needed some patience and encouragement and he was ready to step into the murky waters below. As Darolyn and I were starting to head up the opposite side we turned around and noticed that Jill and Evangeline were having no part of this steep terrain.
Every problem in the horse world is a training opportunity and this was definitely one. Not just for Evangeline, but also Jill and I. Even though endurance racing is competitive, it is not heartless. The motto is always “To Finish Is To Win.” Some people want to come in first, some want to receive best condition and others just want to finish and increase their yearly mileage. Darolyn told us of a race where she was in competition with another lady for first place. The other lady was ahead by a minute, but when Darolyn came upon her, she was stuck at a very steep ditch where her horse absolutely refused to traverse. As is the nature with experience endurance riders, Darolyn told her competitor to put her horse’s nose right on her horse’s tail and to follow her down. Its amazing how herd instinct will school a horse in short order. In order to help Jill and Evangeline, Darolyn was on one side and I was on the other and we took the steep decline one step at a time (sort of like a line dance – I wonder if that is where it originated). We finally reached the bottom where all of the horse drank their fill and we climbed the other side.
After 12 miles of riding and about an hour of growling stomachs, Darolyn took us to Jimmy’s BBQ for some BBQ Brisket, baked potatoes, mesquite grilled chicken and beverages. I must say, you have not had BBQ until you have had Texas BBQ. The horses performed some much needed grass edging along the fence line and then we were off for the remainder of our journey.
At 3:30 p.m. Darolyn’s phone rang for a conversation I was actually interested in. Devan Horn was wondering where we were on the trail because she was on our way to meet us. For those of you who do not know, Devan completed the Mongolian Derby once (she came in first, but her horse’s heart rate did not come down before her trailing competitor walked in and took first place) and attempted it a second time only to be thwarted by failing kidneys and pissing blood. She was definitely my inspiration for endurance riding and I was so excited to bombard her with a million questions. I didn’t realize at the time that Devan was excited to meet me and show me a thing or two.
When we met up the conversation was excited and non-stop for about half an hour. Devan wanted to go for a gallop while Darolyn and Jill wanted to cool down their horses and head for home. We went for a gallop and I learned a lot over these two miles such as: if your Mongolian pony spooks, don’t look at what he spooked at as he will leave you there – always look to where you are going; secondly, look for holes. Your Mongolian pony is looking for them, but your American horse is not (this was at the same time that Wildfire’s hind-end dropped out from beneath me – lesson learned)”; thirdly, be prepared for your Mongolian horse to jump right – or left – or summersault; in Texas, watch out for armadillos as your horse may suddenly side pass and bolt. It was during this explanation and Wildfire’s show-and-tell that I discovered the benefit of a Sharon Saare saddle. I was hanging 90 degrees off the saddle in the direction of the scurrying armadillos when I stopped my rapid pursuit of the ground. The Sharon Saare endurance saddle had actually hooked onto my right thigh and held me so that I could pull myself erect. Wildfire also kept galloping straight ahead (rather than 180’ing like my loving Arab at home) and I was able to continue riding behind the ever so stable Devan. Devan decided that this might be enough training for the pasty soft Canadian today and gently guided me back to Darolyn’s ranch in one piece.