Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mort Again

I rode down to the arena, tired and worried. It had to be late in the afternoon for the show to be completely done. I wondered what time it was. My mind skipped briefly to my watch, sitting abandoned at the back of my dresser and then skittered away. I squinted up at the sun, it wasn't straight up but it wasn't on it's way over the mountains either, so maybe it was around 2 o'clock. I hoped so anyway.

There was a water pump, but no trough. I turned the pump on and twined my fingers into a bowl. Mort drank, taking great gulps from the gushing water that drained my makeshift bucket and soaked me down for the second time that day.

I wiped down his face and belly with my wet hands. He was ganted up and he had wrinkles under his eyes.

I loosened the cinch and let Mort graze for awhile. My stomach rumbled and I thought about how long it was going to be before I ate.

"I sure don't want to backtrack," I told my weary horse, "maybe we'll go out this road and find another way home."

I laid my head on his butt and closed my eyes. I gave him another ten minutes before we headed out.

After an anxious couple of miles we came to a little grocery store at the corner of our dirt road and a main road.
"Why honey, where did you ride in from?" The lady at the counter said after one look at my grimy clothes and sunburned face.
"I'm from town," I said, "I was wondering if you could tell me the best way home."
"Well you're in Falcon now. If you head out this way you'll end up in Black Forest," she pointed North, "this way will put you right in downtown," she pointed West. "You look about done in, do you want to call somebody?"
"No, no, I'm fine, which way did you say Black Forest was?"

I couldn't imagine who I could call. My butt was getting deeper in trouble every minute. I had friends from my riding club in Black Forest and I knew how to ride home from there. It seemed the best bet.

I felt better as we headed North. I didn't have a clue where I was, but I knew I'd eventually end up somewhere I recognized.

Mort's trot picked up and he seemed a lot cheerier. It might have been my renewed sense of purpose, or he might have had an idea where we were, whatever it was he slid back into his easy, long strided trot and headed the direction I asked.

We felt good enough to stop and cause a little trouble.

There were maybe 8 pairs of cattle drinking at a water tank. I came in through the gate and they scattered as we came up to drink.

Mort snorted and played in the water. He'd bury his nose in deep and make waves by pushing his head back and forth. When he felt the cattle edging back in to share the water he would pin his ears at them, sending them back out.

Once I remounted I hesitated before I turned back to our road.

I'd seen the cowboys do it on TV. Herding cattle couldn't be that hard.

I pointed him to the cattle which were still patiently waiting for us to leave them to to the water. Mort pricked his ears and headed towards them with interest.

We walked around them, bunching them up first. They were easy enough to keep in a bunch, especially since we were circling the water tank.

Then I peeled an old cow off the herd. She trotted around the group, her calf snugged in to her flanks.

We trotted behind her, she disappeared into the herd ahead of us.We peel off another pair, then another. Mort was getting pretty good at pushing them out and we both agreed to stay away from the cows who lowered their heads and shook their horns at us.

Then I decided we could hold one out of the group. It took several tries but we finally cut a cow and calf away from the herd. The cow slipped past us, but we held the calf.

Before I could think of what to do next the calf turned tail, whacked through the lower two strands of the barb wire fence and hightailed it.

I ran up and down the fence looking for a gate as the little calf disappeared into the heat waves shimmering above the pale prairie grass. This was not good.

I looked all around and saw no place to go for help.

It occurred to me I could be shot for cattle rustling and trespassing. Or hung. Or both.

With a guilty conscience I hustled out to the road and headed on my way, trying to look as innocent as possible. I never did see the calf again.

By the time we hit Black Forest, Mort was down to a walk. When I finally found a street I recognized the sun was definitely hanging over the mountains. The heat had picked up for it's final blast before the cool evening would take over for the night.

The shade from the thick pine trees gave us a welcome relief.

We walked along the side of the dirt road, finally close enough to home territory to need to stay out of traffic.

I made one last water stop as I came up on Mike Craig's place, Pine Run Ranch. Mike met me in the yard.

"How did you end up here?" He asked.

As I unfolded my day (sans the cow episode) his eyes grew wide. He looked Mort over, ran his hands down his legs and pinched the skin on his neck.

"Go ahead and give him a drink and let him graze awhile," he said, as he loosened his cinch.

"He seems to be in pretty good shape."

"I've let him rest and drink off and on all day," I told him.

"You look about done in too. Should we call your folks?"

"No, no, let's not do that," my words rushed over each other.

I sat in the grass and leaned back against a fence post. It did feel pretty good to sit still. My legs ached and I felt a pretty good saddle sore starting on the inside of one knee.

I visited with Mike until Mort started to pick his head up and look towards home between bites.

"Are you sure I can't call somebody for you?" Mike asked again.

"You know, I think we'll go ahead and finish it," I said.

Mike stood with his hands in his pockets and a worried look on his face while I cinched my horse back up. I noticed my latigo went up another two holes since the far away morning. Mike watched from the end of his drive until we turned around a bend and disappeared in the trees.

I was so tired I kept dozing off. Mort walked on without my help, sure of the way home now. We travelled steadily, Mort's ears were up and his walk was even. We rode by our riding club as the sun began to sink, came down T-gap road, passed Swede's arena and finally, finally, saw the drive-in on Barnes Rd.

Mort whinnied, his voice was raspy and deep, but he found his trot one more time and we cruised in the last few miles.

I pulled off his tack and was grateful I had remembered to fill his water in the early morning. The cool night air raised goose bumps on my arms. The cold was starting to settle on me and I wished for a jacket. I tossed him half a bale of hay before I picked up my saddle and made my way home.

I slid in the door a little after 8 p.m.

"What happened?" My mother's worried face switched gears into pure pissed as soon as she noted I still had both arms, both legs and there was no blood.

"I got a little lost," I told her.

My weariness was seeping through my bones and I went to sit down on the couch. Somewhere in my fog it registered I must have really scared her because she was letting me sit on the couch in my barn clothes.

I gave my parents an abbreviated version of my day. I saw them glance back and forth at each other, resignation and belated worry crossing their faces.

"Couldn't you have called?" My Dad asked.

We don't have a horse trailer! I shouted in my mind.

"I never found a phone," I said instead.

Later, after I had cleaned up and had my much anticipated cold supper I found myself back on the couch, staring into space in a total stupor.

"Have you ever been so tired you felt heavy?" I asked my Dad.

"I swear, my arm weighs about 1000 pounds." I slowly lifted my arm and let it fall.

Dad came over and sat next to me. He unfolded a map and spread it across our laps.

"Let's track this ride you went on," he told me.

"We talked and whispered, my poor Mom had her fill of me for the day, and figured out the route I had taken.

Mort and I had covered a little over 70 miles.


  1. 70 MILES!!! Holy $h*t!!!!!

    I went on road trips back before I had a trailer, but boy do I have to hand it to you. I never went where I didn't know where I was! lol

    Ahh, to be young again...

  2. Wow, this sure brought back some fantastic memories! The more I read from you, Mugs, the more I recall about my youth with my horse, and all the stupid stuff I did. My mother had passed away and no one really cared what I did, so I never had to worry about getting in trouble...only if me and my mount were okay. I rode all over hell and back, through towns, trespassing on property, even swam small lakes. All without a map or any clue how to get back. My horse always knew, though. He was a tough little fella, and never told me no, just like your Mort.

    Thank you for posting part two so quickly! :)

  3. Just goes to show with a little commonsense, it is possible to cover distance at 4-5mph and still have horse.....

  4. HOLY SH*T!!! 70 MILES!? Thats more than from here to the city that is crazy! Was Mort ok the next morning?

  5. Holy Crap - 70 miles that is crazy. Close to the Tevis! Horses will give you everything they have and then some more.

  6. I was guessing it would turn out to be 40-50 miles or so. Wow. The two of you were in really good shape. Unintentional endurance FTW!

  7. OMG, are you kidding me?!?! That's a pretty imprssive pace too considering you gave him breaks to graze!

  8. Mocharocks-We probably hit the trail by 6 a.m., we got home 14 hours later.
    Works out about 5 miles per hour. Not so fast, just steady.
    If you look at the average time of an endurance race (not NTRC) you'll see what I mean.
    I never rode that far before or again BTW.
    In general, I regularly rode to shows. Kit Carson was 10 miles away from my barn. Black Forest Riding Club was 12.
    So on a fairly regular basis I covered 20 miles or so on top of showing all day.
    I didn't think much of visiting friends 10 - 15 miles from my house, I just went.
    This is what happens when your kid says "I'm going for a ride," and is gone for the day, what can I say?

  9. Now that I'm thinking about it, you can probably add an hour to that was dark when I got home. I know it was summertime, so...

  10. OK, but 70 miles is still a looong way! It is amazing the things kids do without thinking twice about it; a great mix of energy and fearlessness :)

  11. I can only echo the others with a big "WOW"!

    (I didn't know anyone else used the term ganted up)

  12. *My mother's worried face switched gears into pure pissed as soon as she noted I still had both arms, both legs and there was no blood*

    LOL....been there, done that.

    So, where was the show you missed, and how many miles did you miss it by????
    70 miles, I'm impressed!!!

  13. Diane I.-I did that to my poor mom many times. She's still barely gotten over it. I didn't miss the show grounds, just the show. It was done by noon because of low attendance.
    Our trouble didn't end there BTW. Karen's Mom had a stroke when she found out Karen had told me to follow the tracks.
    Mort and I had covered almost 25 miles by the time we got to the show.
    Karen didn't know, she had just seen the tracks and so she figured I could get there easy enough.
    Neither one of us had a concept of distance.
    So her mom was mad at both of us, Karen for telling me to come without checking with anybody,and me for heading out and not checking with anybody.
    It was worth it though, it was a great ride.
    Greatest irony...if I had gone West instead of North I'd have been home in another 15 miles...I made a biiiig circle.

  14. I lost my Mom in 2001. If there was anyone more un-horsey, I defy you to name him/her (well, except for Hubby).

    It's just been recently that I realized....she may not have got the horsey thing, but she got me.

    She hauled me to the doctor for stitches, or broken bones more than once.....and never said a word. I would heal, and be right back on my horse. How HARD that had to have been for a parent. How EASY it would have been for her to banish horses from my life.......but she didn't. I suspect she bite her tongue bloody more than once.

    Thanks, Mom......

  15. OMG...I can't believe you did 70 miles! That was quite an adventure to say the least...and no food!

    My folks were farmers, and you'd have thought they'd have a trailer. Nope. I did like you, rode to every 4-H meeting, and all my friend's places around the area. But, I had to catch a ride when there was a show because of the long distance and traffic.

    But the days of just me, my dog and my horse gallivanting around the country are pleasant memories~~

  16. Another great Mort story! 70 miles and you still had the notion to cut a few cattle! (Must of been when you got the bug? :) Loved this story. And especially that your folks were worried but not especially pissed. I think your dad was a tad bit impressed (proud?), too!

  17. That's a good, steady pace for a horse that you hadn't (intentionally) conditioned for an endurance event! I don't think I went much faster the last time I did a 75-miler on a horse I'd been riding in endurance for 8 years.

    And you, of course, exhibited classic symptoms of DIMR (Distance Induced Mental Retardation) which sounds like a joke but is very, very real: the further you go, the dumber you get! >g<

    I assume Mort was okay the following day(s)?

  18. Mugwumps, You are such an incredible writer, and your horse craziness is so reminiscent of my own... though I'm sure I never did anything near 70 miles.
    I love reading your stories, and your blog is the only one I really have stuck with, because your writing style is so honest and real, and your riding style's a lot like mine. Thanks for doing such a great job, I really enjoy reading the stories.

  19. AareneX- he was fine. I was whipped, he was whipped, but we were out riding within a couple days. To be honest, I think both of us were continually in training. In the summer I was on his back 4 or 5 or 7 days a week. Our traveling gait was his extend trot. We rode 7 miles through Palmer Park just to get to the stables where my friends were.
    Karen and I rode in the prairie behind her house regularly.
    As I have already said, I rode to shows,friends houses, you name it.
    When I was in school I rode most mornings before class. A two mile run in the deep sand where "the dich" ran out of cement, at least 3 days a week.
    Then again after school and on weekends.
    I knew to give him a drink, I instinctively learned when he needed to rest, I was blessed enough to have gotten a horse with an iron constitution and legs to match.
    I was a lonely, angry girl who only found peace when I was moving out on my horse. I think it's the only time Mort felt at peace too. So we moved.
    I have yet to run into any of the people who knew Mort and I who were vaguely surprised.
    And yes, we suffered greatly from DIMR. Often.
    Lucky SC - Thank you so much.

  20. Holy cow!! What a saint that horse must have been. The last time I got lost on a trail ride, my horse threw a tantrum at the 8 mile mark!! Guess I should get a better sense of direction or do more long distance riding! ha!

  21. I am guessing this is in Colorado? I have ridden in Black Forest, CO and I swear we rode in Palmer Park (beautiful mountain view and decent trails). I had family that lived there in the 90's. Wow 70 miles, but if it was CO I could see it (from a horse crazy kid perspective)I rode all day with my aunt when I visited, not like here in TX where 7 miles in the summer would wear you out :)

  22. What a story! And what a horse! Being that you spent hours on him every day, day in and day out; of course, he could and would bounce back and so would you. Bet you miss him. Alot. But, would you have taken him on now?

  23. phaedra- I think about that a lot.
    Sonita? No way in hell. I am not up to dealing with that level of psychosis anymore, no matter how talented. I get tired just talking about her.
    But Mort? I'm not so sure. Most of his problems were man-made, I'm pretty sure all of them. A good chunk of them were Mugwump made I'm sure. I didn't know how to control him, it doesn't mean he wasn't controllable.
    He had the patience of a saint, I mean he never killed me.
    He was brave and solid.
    He was sweet, always, and kind.
    I know how to fix his issues now, I'm not sure how tough it would be.
    So yeah, I think I would take him now. I think he could have been a rock star.

  24. 70 miles!!
    And without food!
    We just get too sensible as adults.

  25. Holy Cow! And that 70 miles doesn't even count the circling around the water trough moving cows and chasing off a calf (oops). Although I guess in the grand scheme of things a few circles around the trough probably didn't add much to 70 miles. What a good horse!

  26. I miss the days of me and my horse and my dog going miles a day. I never got lost but I do remember getting home many times after dark and my mom never said a word. I know she was probably scared to death every time. My little gelding was in such good shape we could pick up a slow canter and ride it for 5 miles without him even being out of breath. He was a little half arab half poa and he was all heart. I never realized as a kid what shape he was in. I watched him close cause I loved him but I just thought all horses had that much heart. I guess all of the horses I have every had have had that much but as an adult you dont call on it much. Great story that brings back tears and memories

  27. I would LOVE to see A map of where you went, if at all possible!
    Great story!

  28. Love the mort story.. Makes me wish I was brave enough to go for a trek with just me, my horse and my dog.