Sunday April 14, 2019
It’s been a long time since my last write. Life has been all over the map and some big changes have happened. Last fall, we lost Strider to colic out of the blue, which was extremely heartbreaking. I picked up more night shifts at the bar and seemed to ride Sego less and less. Then, Montana decided to hit us with the worst winter since the 70’s and I couldn’t work at the bar even if I wanted to. It sounds extreme, but there were days where I felt like I was just surviving. Though I had decided in January to aim to ride Sego in the Antelope Island LD in April, conditioning was obviously not happening over winter. Regardless, whenever there were small breaks in the weather (like when it wasn’t a blizzard and I could actually see), I would ride Sego. Just at the walk as everything was ice and deep snow. If I didn’t have time to saddle her up, I’d hand walk her down the road. We walked in temperatures far below zero while neighbors called me crazy from their warm vehicles. I was somewhat possessed with the idea of riding in Antelope Island. I thought about it everyday and it was that idea that got me riding throughout Montana’s “life-threatening” winter (not my words, but the headline’s words from the paper).
Maybe it was the thinking about Antelope Island everyday that made Sego and I end up in Utah. With winter as bad as it was, I wasn’t very hopeful that Sego would be ready for another LD in April. But by law of attraction or some kind twisted fate, we found ourselves in much warmer weather just a few weeks away from the ride. I still wasn’t able to ride Sego consistently, we hadn’t done much trot-conditioning, and I hadn’t gotten her hoof protection figured out yet. I still didn’t think we’d make it to the ride. However, lately I’ve been experiencing a strange inner-force the last few months that makes me move onward regardless of the doubts in my mind. Even though I had several doubts that Sego and I were physically (and emotionally) ready for this ride, that inner-force had me pulling into ride camp early morning on Saturday, April 13th. My goal for the ride was to finish it with Sego in good health. We could do this.
For those who don’t know, Antelope Island is located within the Great Salt Lake of Utah. Its 42ish acres is home to many wildlife, including a herd of bison. Compared to other landscapes in Utah it is quite unique. The island’s alluvial plains surrounded by snow-capped mountains and sandy beaches make you feel like you are somewhere else entirely. Antelope Island is located close to my home and heart, I wanted badly to ride Sego along the sandy paths there. During a hard time, my mom gave me a little mantra bracelet that reads “Nevertheless, She Persisted”. I looked at that bracelet as storm clouds overtook ride camp on the island. Sego was looking quite rogue standing quietly tied to the trailer as other horses neighed and pranced in anticipation. We had faced many storms together. This one would not deter us.
This was the largest ride I had ever attended. There were forty horses and riders in the 25 mile race alone! I held Sego back as the first several riders took off. We had a 3 mile hill to climb, and Sego and I needed to be spaced from other riders to hold her momentum. Sego never gets “racy”, but I could tell a few minutes in that she was wearing her business cap. In our last few preparatory rides, Sego had been a wiggly goose, not taking the riding seriously. But here at Antelope Island, she knew things were different. She knew we were on this trail for the long haul and she settled right down to business. The rain turned into hail, the little icy-bits stinging my face and making it difficult to see. Sego pinned her ears back (and swung her head a few times…) but continued to eat the hill up with her trot.
Many new riders to the island were nervous about how their mounts would react to the buffalo. We trotted past a herd on the ridge in the hail, and Sego didn’t bat an eye at them. I’d make this a bragging moment but I honestly think she didn’t notice them because she was too focused on “scary” boulders lurking around the trail bend. I have ridden Sego past huge machinery, dirt bikes, busy roads and through dark tunnels, ponds and rivers, but she does have a nemesis… a couple, actually. Boulders and small puddles on the trail. Good thing Antelope Island wasn’t covered in BOTH of these things! Not! Nevertheless, we persisted, trotting past evil boulders and leaping out of harmful puddles’ ways.
The hail subsided and Sego and I found ourselves alone on the trail. We trotted down the sandy paths, walking through the rocky bits, picking our way through the boggy parts, and making up time with her great, big Standie trot on the flats, all the while marveling at the lake, the mountains, and the grey stormy sky. I found that compared to our last 25 mile ride last season, I knew Sego much better. I knew with Sego’s trot that we’d pace better by ourselves, and we did. I knew how to tell between Sego being exhausted and her just being nervous and hesitant. I knew her strengths and maximized on them, and I also knew her weaknesses and held her steady, even when she told me otherwise. I knew when to push her through insecurities, let her rest when she was tired, and when to hold her back when she badly wanted to go. And sometimes, I trusted her to make her own decisions and pick the pace she wanted to keep, giving up the reins and letting her choose what she was comfortable with (which usually means a 12 mph trot!). I felt a sense of pride when I realized this. We are well on our way to being endurance teammates.
The first loop went by with a breeze, and the vet check went very well. Sego got a short nap in, I had time to eat some food, and we were off for the last stretch. This part of the trail was much more technical than the first loop. The sun was out, and so were the bugs. I didn’t need any snacks with all the extra protein I was receiving through the clouds of gnats! The trail was very rocky, making a steady trot difficult to accomplish, and full of dreaded puddles. Sego and I accidentally got trapped in a group of competitive 50 milers and trotted a bit too fast through rocks and mud. I was able to get her out of the group of crazies and ended up with two other riders at a much better pace, though Sego was now tired and was beginning to stumble. We walked a good portion of the way back, and I got off of her when I could see camp. It was just us three riders at the check. As I was taking Sego’s tack off, I heard a pulse-taker tell the lady I was riding with that she had come in 9th place. NINTH PLACE?? I had no idea that we were among the top ten riders of the 25 miler! I had come to Antelope Island with the objective of finishing, not being in the top ten, and here we were, completely on accident. Unfortunately, with being caught in the speed warp and Sego not being in top condition for the season, her pulse hovered around 62-64 bpm. Two other horses pulsed down before she did, and she wound up in 12th place instead of top ten. Even so, to finish at 12th place out of 40 total riders (of which only 32 finished) at the first ride of the season, with nothing but A’s and A-‘s on her vet card all day COMPLETELY blew me away! It actually made me nervous that we were going too fast, since Sego is only five years old. However, according to my watch, we were traveling at an average pace of 7 mph, and only a max speed of 14 mph. I was in complete awe of my young mare on our third endurance ride ever. I thought back to the first time I took her for a trail ride and how clumsy she seemed. Now we have 75 competition miles under our belts!
As I brushed Sego down and wrapped her legs, I felt pride at how good she looked. Vets always make that comment on how good she looks at the end of 25 miles. Some horses look withered away, but Sego (albeit looking a bit sleepy) always looks as good as when she started.
The adrenaline was wearing off and I was feeling sleepy as well. Me, Sego, and my dog Hornet all laid in the afternoon sun on the island and got some well-deserved rest (except for Hornet, who had had the privilege of being lazy all day). The breeze took the edge off of sun, I could see the lake to the south of me and pronghorn to the north of me. Ride camp died down and trucks hauled out. I closed my eyes, listened to Sego dream, and felt an immense sense of peace.
All of my troubles melted in the sun and were swept away with the breeze. I thought to myself “I literally live for this”. And I know that no matter what happens, I will persist. I will always follow my heart and my happiness. At the end of every twisty trail there is peace and rest. But the peace and rest can’t fully be enjoyed without overcoming challenges, and the journey is what makes everything worth it.