Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mort, Me and the Upper Rio Grande 50 Miler Part 1

Mort and I had struggled through a few more NATRC rides. We had even managed to place.

Those rides were such a frustration to me. My inability to pay attention to instruction or direction kept tripping us up. I would continually make mistakes which would get us nickel and dimed to death by the judges.

Our PR checks were always great. We never had a problem finishing a ride, but we had lots of trouble coming in on time. Not late mind you, early. Much too early.

Mort's travelling trot averaged 17-20 mph. I don't know how this speed stacks up against the endurance elite, but for a quarter horse it was really, really fast. His heart rate was so low and steady he was often checked and rechecked at the required rest stops. We almost always came in just a few points above normal and were back to his low, steady rhythms within five minutes.

So, as was the story of my life, and still is today, my horse was fine. I was the one who kept screwing up our success.

I couldn't keep track of our time and I continually messed up the math of MPH and how many stops we would make within the designated miles. My buckets were always hung in the wrong spot and Mort could untie a safety knot in 2 seconds flat. The judges frowned upon my horse cruising the camp at night and turning as many other horses as possible to come party with him. My surly teen-age attitude didn't help much either.

I was at one of our riding clubs first-of-the-year Sunday shows and visiting with Cindy, one of the adult club members.

She kept looking over Mort with a slightly critical eye and I was gearing up for another "your horse is too thin" lectures. She said, "Have you ever been in an endurance race?"

"I've been on some NATRC rides," I told her.

"I'm talking about a race," Cindy said, "a fifty miler."

"No, I haven't." I could feel my excitement start to rise, but squelched it down hard, I'd been fooled about this endurance thing before.

"You race 50 miles in one day," Cindy continued. "There are regular vet checks and they'll pull your horse if you push too hard, but it's a race. Your horse looks like he's in great condition."

"We could race 50 miles," I told her. "I've already rode him 70 miles in one day and that was just because we were lost."

Cindy gave me a funny look. I couldn't read her, but she kept talking, so I hadn't run her off.

"I'd like to have a riding partner for a race coming up in July. Do you want to come?" she asked me.

"I'll have to ask my parents," I told her, "but I bet I can." My mind was racing as fast as my horse was going to on the 50 miler.

Permission granted, I started to get Mort ready to go. We only had 6 weeks to get ready, but I knew he was already in pretty good shape. We embarked on a conditioning program I made up myself. Part what I had managed to learn on the NATRC rides, part Bonanza, part Walter Farley.

I was up before dawn to take him to "the ditch," a 1/2 mile length of flood control canal with a deep sand base. We ran 2 miles at whatever speed Mort chose. If you asked me what we were doing I'd have told you we were "breezing."

For the last few weeks of school I was on him for a fast trot through Palmer Park as soon as I could get to the barn. On week ends we headed out to the reservoirs or back into the park for as many hours as I could wrangle from home.

We were bareback for most of these rides, it took too much time to get my saddle out to the barn. I figured it would make me tougher. We went cross country often, smashing through scrub oak, climbing shale covered hills, winding our way into deep ravines with no trails to guide us.

Mort loved it. He was in his element when we were on the trail. He would head out in his big strided trot and hold it for as long as I asked him too. He was bold and eager while we were out, willing to jump a log or scramble across soft red rock faces without hesitation. I trusted his judgement so completely I never made him go over an area he refused to cross. I assumed (and to this day I think it's how I managed to not kill me or my horse) he knew better than I did where we could safely go.

I let go of all my thoughts of training and just rode. Often in shorts and a T-shirt, rarely in shoes, I shook loose of the constraints I had put on Mort and myself over the past few years and reveled in the joy of my horse.

We became lean as a pair of gray hounds and I had a hard time getting Mort to break into more than a light sweat no matter how much ground we covered or how many hills we tackled.

Cindy sent me entry forms, releases and suggestions on what to wear and what to bring on the ride.

Finally, finally, the week of our ride arrived.


Stasha said...

Oh, I've never been more excited to see a story before ever! I thought the Mort stories were over - so glad to see them return!

JaneA said...

I am loving this story, you write so well!

Among other things you're bringing back memories of my first horse and our bareback rides. When I started spending hours racing around, usually on the beach, my very nonhorsey parents decided they ought to buy me a saddle. In retrospect I'm lucky to have spent so much time bareback, it was an incredible way to learn to ride.

Heila said...

Yay, yay, a Mort story! Ok now I'm going back to read it. :-)

DeeDee said...

oh mugs! you are at it again. So glad I have read the 'We got lost' story so I could smile when you mention it here. Yeah Mort!

I feel like Stasha does. Can't wait to hear about the ride.
I imagine the part about never making him go someplace he didn't want to go will bring us some bumps...but who know.
Once again you made my day. Smiling like a fool as I test software. THANK YOU!

Shanster said...


mommyrides said...

There is a blizzard going on outside my window but thanks to you I'm enjoying many sunny rides on a horse named Mort......sigh, if only it were true :)

redhorse said...

Wow, look at you! Love that photo.

An Image of Grace said...

I am already anxiously awaiting Part 2! Love the photo of Mort.


Anonymous said...

OH GEEZZEEE....We have to wait for the next installment!!! I can't stand it!

Anonymous said...

and...Mort is so HANDSOME!

Half Dozen Farm said...

MORT! MORT! MORT! MORT! MORT! MORT! (I chant while banging on my desk).


So glad to see another Mort story! LOVE that little horse!

Anonymous said...

Yay Mort! Can't wait to read about the race :)

AareneX said...

Please-oh-PLEASE tell me that "Part 2" is titled "How Mort and I ditched NATRC and found the True Faith of Endurance instead."

Funder said...

Can't wait for part 2!!

Dixie and I would be just as hopeless at NATRC as you and Mort were. It's all I can do to remember which ribbons I'm supposed to look for. There's just no way I could do judged obstacles and keep my horse clean and safely confined and refrain from cussing her when she yanks a foot away... nah, endurance is the sport for me.

KD said...

Thanks - I've been waiting patiently for the next Mort story!

Becky said...

#1: Love the photo!

#2: Big, happy sigh. I really do love Mort stories. They always read like one of the Black Stallion races - where I get so into them I forget about my surroundings :)

#3: I can't remember if you've mentioned this before - did you sit his big trot when you were in a saddle, or did you post to it? I've had people tell me that it's hard on a horse's back to sit the trot without posting if you're on a long ride, but I can't decide if that's a wive's tale or not.

Anonymous said...

Woohoooo! Mort story. Yayyyyyy! I was starting to miss that little fella.

Helen said...

Love that mealy muzzle!

I was looking for the "jumping into the river" story to send to a horsey friend, but couldn't find it. Could you post a link? It's a wonderful piece of writing - I literally had to hold my breath for the last bit!

w/v = olympsis

Laura said...

Love this line: "We embarked on a conditioning program I made up myself. Part what I had managed to learn on the NATRC rides, part Bonanza, part Walter Farley."

I used to "breeze" my pony up and down a hilly cornfield, pretending I was a jockey... Ah, youth!

Can't wait to hear how this story goes!

Anonymous said...

GAH!!! Cliffhanger!!


burnttoast said...

Wow, a great forgiving horse, a surly adolescent girl devoted to the horse, sigh. Wasn't it awesome when life was so simple you could focus on a riding goal with such laser precision? I remember riding for hours, no other cares, no other priorities. Along time ago. Thank you for reminding me of a more simple time of life.

mugwump said...

Anon- Thank you- I thought Mort was the most beautiful horse ever made. Nothing like a teenage horse crush...
Becky - I rolled onto my hip pockets, relaxed my legs and sat his trot. Remember, I was an ignorant kid, I knew nothing...Now I post.
Helen- ?? Do you mean jumping into the reservoir? I pulled some of those stories for personal reasons.

mugwump said...

burnttoast- it was great...I haven't completely grown up, I spent my entire day yesterday blowing off the real world and immersing myself with my horse. We went off trail, through the woods, jumping downed cotton woods, whacked through some water. It was a blast.I'm a little slower these days, but not much else.

mugwump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Whywudyabreedit said...

I just have to repeat the sentiment, Yay!! a Mort story! I am already feeling the pain of the saddle for 50 miles. Hope that goes alright. I know that I personally had a difficult time adjusting to saddles when I was a teenager.

BTW I love the matching shirt and knee patches. Nice touch =)

gtyyup said...

This is gonna be good ;~)

Helen said...

I think it was the reservoir story. Shame it had to be pulled, it was so exciting. Maybe you could rejig it in fictional form with names/genders/locations changed one day?!

Becky said...

I am kind of bummed you pulled the reservoir story, but I understand. I went looking for it awhile back - there was a real haunting quality to the story that stuck with me for quite some time.

Merri said...

more more more!!!
my heart is already pounding! i love reading stories like this because I never got to do anything like that as a kid - other than in my dreams - and I'm too old now to have the balls!
hurry hurry hurry!
- The Equestrian Vagabond

Accendora said...

I had to know, so I looked up trot speed for an endurance beasty: http://www.olddominionrides.org/EndurancePrimer/01.html

Looks like it's 6-8 mph?? Whew.

mugwump said...

accendora- you freaked me out with your numbers, I thought I must be hallucinating.
But if you go to : http://www.olddominionrides.org/EndurancePrimer/01.html
and look at the speed for a fast trot you'll see we weren't that far out of line.
Mort could trot faster than his lope...it was definitely his gait.

HorseOfCourse said...

And you were riding his longtrot for hours BAREBACK???
I have been riding bareback quite a lot in my life, but that sounds tough.
I guess after that the endurance ride with a saddle was no big deal...

mugwump said...

HOC- I was a kid....buns of steel.
I can still sit a long trot bareback for quite awhile. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing

Breathe said...

Can't wait to hear, I need to go through the archives and learn more about Mort.

mugwump said...

HOC - Roll your back into a cowboy slouch. Sit on the pockets of your Levi cut-offs. Completely relax your legs so you're balanced on your seat bones and go. Hold onto a chunk of mane as needed.
Legs were for emergencies.
Of course I didn't long trot for hours. My after school outings in Palmer Park were an hour to an hour and a half at most.
My long days weren't spent never stopping, only trotting. I was riding with friends, playing, resting, eating etc.
The long trot was our travelling gait.

Accendora said...

That is some serious trot. It must have been so much fun to ride.

After I've spent too much time hunched in front of the computer, I like a good session of sitting trot. Shakes everything loose again.

Becky said...

Becky, MugwumpChronicles, and the Obsessive ReChecking To See If the Next Segment Has Been Posted: Part 4,326

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