Eagle Ranch 2010

Eagle Ranch – 2010

Somehow, I knew the last ride of the year would be special. I had lost my Dad, my brother in law, and Sandy’s favorite uncle shortly before the Thanksgiving day ride and we decided we would rather go ride than look at empty chairs at the table.

We were all ready to go except loading up the three we were taking and as I went to let them catch me the sky opened up into a gully washer deluge. We were into a 3 month drought and this was the moment for it to end.  It rained so hard I was drenched under a poncho. It was about 60 degrees when we left Southern IL.  By the time we hit Springfield Mo., it was snowing. A misunderstanding in the directions, coupled with a road closure turned a 7 hour drive into a 9 hour drive.

I got up at 4:30 to get Kate, my almost 7 year old twh mare ready to do the 50 mile race. Sandy is the inquisitive type and always wants to know what the temperature is.  We have an inside the trailer temperature gauge, an outside the trailer temperature gauge, and a gauge in the truck. The outside gauge said 15 degrees.  At least there was no snow and no ice.

Kate and I both think it is too cold.

Eagle Ranch is outside of Collins Mo, which is “near” Springfield Mo and Kansas City. The camp has stalls and electric hookups and a shower house. Winnie Clutter is the ride manager and just does a super job. She had a wonderful group of volunteers and vets.

Kate had about 900 miles of training so far this year, including 3 50s and a 100. She had a good taper rest and I really thought she was ready. Kate is one of our slowest horses and the most challenging gaited horse to ride that I have ever owned.  She has a great running walk, but wants to do a stepping pace rather than a rack if left to her own devices. In the pasture this girl paces. That being said, she is my favorite horse and I love her. To say we have bonded would be true. I can call her name and she will usually leave the mare string that she lives in and come and nuzzle me. Well, actually, she kisses me.  At endurance rides, nothing fazes her. Her heart rate drops like a stone in a pond. She is like a Honda car.  Utterly dependable, and she just gets you where you need to go without a hassle.  Sandy opted to ride the second day and hoped for warmer weather.

I do not know how many started the 50 but 20 had signed up and paid. The ride was three roughly equal loops. The trail was opened and off we went. I put Kate at the back of the lead pack of Arabians.  Actually, the entire field, other than Kate, were Arabians. The trail was rocky and extremely winding. There was also a substantial amount of climbing and several creek crossing. In other words, this was exactly like the Shawnee National Forrest and that is where we train.

The race was 3 loops, 2 vet checks and a trot out.

In any event, at the rack or running walk there is no time of “suspension” as they always have one foot on the ground. I think that gives us an advantage in bad terrain. The horses I train understand the phrase “go through it”.

I map out a ride plan for both the horses I ride and whatever Sandy rides. Part of the ride plan that I did not know, was how much flat straight jeep trail there would be. This is the worst for Kate and I have to watch her for pacing. After we got warmed up and a few miles into the start we hit some jeep trails. The leaders went to a gallop. Kate’s top end is 12.5 mph and that is sometimes rougher than I want.  After about 10.5 mph she is usually a stepping pace. Fortunately, the galloping spots were not long and Kate kept reeling the leaders in during twisting and turning spots and the rocky climbs.

Kate went out just behind the lead pack of 4 Arabians. When we started endurance, I was told by more than one Arabian rider that I would need to pick my courses carefully because a rocky difficult course would not be good for a gaited horse. I have found the opposite to be true.  Our gaited horses are  performing a running walk under 7 mph and ours usually rack over that speed.

The exact movement and speed distinction changes with the horse.  Of course, they will flat foot walk, canter and gallop.  I use canter breaks up hill in 50’s and some of our MFT’s do foxtrot. We use heart rate monitors and GPS watches at each ride.

One the leaders said, “She has a great extended trot”.  Another said, ” How long can she keep up that big lick?  I had a hard time not laughing out loud. We came into vet check one in 5th place. Kate’s heart rate dropped like a stone and she ate like a champ.

During the second loop, Ann McFarland went to the lead with her fine Arabian and Kate asked to go with her. I let her and kept an eye on the heart rate monitor. Ann is a super rider and a very nice woman. I totally enjoyed spending the day with her. She and Sandy later got into a big discussion on whether they were either one really over 5 foot tall. They both made me feel like a giant.

We both came into the second vet check together and it took 2 minutes to come down, so Ann got a 2 minute lead going out for the last loop. Kate gaited right along and connected back up. Kate pulled away on a climb with rocks on the trail and Ann pulled us back in a mile later. Kate kept steady and Ann would connect back up with us on the flats. She has a fine horse.

With 4 miles to go, I smooched at Kate and gave her the “come up” command. Sandy dislikes my using this as a cue, but I learned it from a trainer buddy and I like it.  Kate headed for the barn. We eased through the finish still in the lead and I have to admit I had tears in my eyes. I love this little horse. She ended up with B.C. and top vet score. She had 780 out of a possible 800 and I think that was the top vet score for the weekend out of about 80  total horses.

Kate, still moving well at the finish.

There was major drama behind us we found out later.  Some women were racing each other to the finish line and one came off. She was unconscious and had to be air-evacuated by helicopter.  Fortunately, she turned out to just have a concussion and was back at ride camp the next day. Sandy rode her MFT mare Savannah in the Ld the next day. The horse has developed major balking issues in the last 2 weeks. I thought I had her over that, but wasn’t sure how Sandy would do. I rode my twh mare Jazz in her second 50.  Jazz has a rack like a quick washing machine. She is tiny at 850 lbs and 14.2. However, she is huge in attitude and is next to Savannah at top of our mare string. The little girl flys and came into this ride with 550 miles of training this year and that includes one 50 where she finished midpack.

Like Kate, Jazz excels on this type of trail system. We connected up with a very experienced Arabian rider and settled into 5th position. At the first vet check, it took Jazz 7 minutes to come down. She is excitable to say the least.  She would come down, look around, whinny for a buddy and go back into the 70’s. Heading out for lap two, I hoped to find a buddy horse for her. I saw Sandy as I was leaving and she was coming in. She said Savannah was having major balking issues and had simply stopped at a stream until 10 horses had gone by and someone had graciously asked if she wanted to let Savannah follow them through the stream. This horse can be such a hard headed mare. I prayed for her while I rode and hoped to catch her during a loop that went by the camp. The timing was perfect and I caught her just as she was leaving ride camp.  Savannah was in “backing up mode” on the trail. I called Sandy’s name, slipped Jazz around her and called Savannah.  She racked along with us.

Sandy finished fine with Savannah in 11th position in the LD and s Jazz completed well in her second  50.

Sandy had the camera at the ride, so I had to settle for a picture of Savannah with a friend’s granddaughter.

Jazz should have been 5th, but we were 4rth. The 4rth place rider was down at least in 7th place. I knew I had never passed her.  Winnie Clutter, the ride manager said that a tree with a turn arrow had fallen over and that through no fault of any of ours, we had probably missed a small loop.   She took the middle top ten riders out and we went around a loop that took us less than 5 minutes and we got our completions but no place.  Jazz did great anyway. At first, I first felt sick about it but it simply could not have been helped. The course had over a 1000 markers and arrows on it and had had a flash flood storm with 4 inches of rain before the race. Things happen in this sport and it is not what happens to you, but how you deal with it that is important.

Jazz completing her 2nd 50 mile ride

I totally enjoyed riding with Ann McFarland and the other highlight of the weekend was that a fantastic impromptu ride camp potluck was put on by the local regulars that stayed overnight on the last night. These folks are what AERC is all about, in my book.  The “rent a husbands”, who don’t even ride, but come along to support their wives and then are “loaned out” to woman who need help are just super. This group planned their trips around what they would cook for others. The Central Region is a great place to ride and there are wonderful riders there.
To finish is to win!

Rack on.

Keith Kibler
Shawnee Sunrise Farm

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