Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mort, Me and the Upper Rio Grande 50 Miler

Hi guys. I'm glad to be back. I'm not leaving or slowing down, I simply didn't realize how complex and overwhelming my life was going to be. Things might be a little wonky for awhile yet, but are definitely on the upswing. I've missed all of you, believe me.

Thanks so much for the Kindle reviews, I'm already popping up all over. Now to get back to regular posting and life will be good again.

Me and Mort- Pacing

It was cold in the mountains at seven in the morning. I shivered in my T-shirt and turned to untie my saddle strings to get at my jean jacket. The sun was bright, but not hot enough to burn off the fog settled heavy and wet on the floors of the surrounding canyons. Horses and riders milled at the starting line and I sat watching them, my jacket forgotten.

The more seasoned competitors bantered back and forth, their voices clear like a layer of ice along a stream bed, making up for us greenies, who clutched our reins and sat our anxious horses in tight lipped silence. Steam rose from necks and flanks, and coiled with the conversation, thinned and disappeared into an impossibly deep blue sky.

I looked up and felt the ache that always swept through me at the beginning of an endless Colorado morning. Mort shook his head and foam speckled my knees. He didn't know what we were doing, but he was ready. He danced in place, light in the front, until I kicked him to the side.

"He's going to exhaust himself before we ever get going," Cindy said. Her saddlebred gelding stood calm and alert, one hip cocked, oblivious to Mort's antics.

"He's fine," I answered. "He has his own style of warming up."

"I wouldn't worry if he wasn't so thin," she answered. "I just don't know if he's going to have the reserves to get through all 50 miles."

I knew he could go 50 miles. We had covered that distance and more before. On weekends Mort and I routinely trotted over 30 miles just to go visit friends in Black Forest. I had never competed in a race over this kind of distance though. Cindy knew a lot more about these rides than I did.

Maybe he wouldn't be strong enough to keep up with her horse. He was certainly a lot fatter than Mort. His back sagged under Cindy's weight, a sharp contrast to Mort's quivering muscles which easily held my saddle a good two inches off his back. I could see the first three ribs on Mort's sides and the ropey muscles on his shoulders and butt stood out in stark relief.

I didn't really know Cindy. I had wanted to get to this race so bad I had simply jumped at the chance for her to be my ride sponsor. I wouldn't be old enough to ride on my own until I was 18. I'd have to keep up as well as I could. I hoped she'd wait for us. I hoped we didn't ruin her ride.

I could tell by her face she did too.

"Let's get this show started!" the man in the pace car hollered and the horses formed into a loose herd behind him as we walked down the road. Mort jigged and grunted and snapped his short little tail. The sharp smell of nervous sweat filled my nose and I could see the road dust already sticking to his neck and the hollows over his eyes.

Cindy glanced over at us and shook her head.

"He'll be fine once we can trot," I told her.

He didn't let me down. After half a mile of nonsense the car sped up and we moved into a steady trot. Mort immediately levelled out and I was able to loosen my reins. Cindy's gelding moved out with us and I watched her horse with enjoyment. I had never really watched a Saddlebred move with a natural headset and gait, and it was a beautiful thing to see.

His trot was elegant and efficient, his ground covering stride was every bit as fast as Mort's, something I had never seen before.

"What's Mort Doing?" Cindy was watching him move with a puzzled look on her face.

"This is his travelling trot, why?"

"He's pacing!"


"Pacing, his left front and hind go forward, then his right."

"This is how he's always goes."

"Quarter horses don't pace. I thought he was a purebred."

"He's registered, I have his papers. What's wrong with pacing anyway?

"It's fine for a horse who's supposed to pace, like a Standardbred, but in a quarter horse it's probably a sign of lameness or something. How long has he moved like that?"

"Like I said, always."

I quit talking and watched the trail ahead of me, lost in my own troubled thoughts.

What if Mort was lame? What if I had been hurting him trotting him like this? Worst of all, what if pacing meant he wasn't really a Quarter Horse after all?

We covered ground at our usual speed and I had trouble maintaining my gloom and doom. I could never stay down when we were exploring and the trail was gorgeous. Mort might not trot right, but he sure felt good. He snorted and played as we went, his head high and his eyes wide. It was impossible to look at the world through the frame of his pricked ears and not feel optimistic.

"Janet!" Cindy called. "You've got to slow down!"

I glanced behind me and saw her way behind us. I reined in and waited as her gelding struggled up the hill we had just lunged up seconds before.

"I told you to take it easy!" she snapped. "We need to have some horse left to get through the ride!"

Why should we slow down? This was supposed to be a race dammit. Mort was breathing easily and ready to rock. Her gelding was blowing and sweat soaked. So was she.

Somewhere, in the back of my dim little brain, a light bulb began to glimmer.

I kept it slow and we walked most of the way into our first vet check. Mort and I sailed through, his deep and steady P/R  brought a smile to the vet's face.

"He's ready to go on right now, good for you!"

Not a word about being too thin, or in poor shape.

We ended up waiting an hour. Cindy's gelding was having a tough time. I watched as she stripped off his saddle and led him into the stream. She stood next to her gelding, up to her knees in the water, gently sponging him off.

It seemed like a great idea, so I stripped off Mort's saddle and hopped up on his back. We waded into the stream and he began to paw great sheets of water behind and over us.

"King Tumba terrorizes tiny toddling tots!" I told him, sliding into our old game with him as my war elephant and me as his simple mahout.

He suddenly dropped in the water and I shrieked as I rolled off him and into the icy brink. Laughing, I scrambled up and waited for him to decide to get on his feet. Mort groaned and stretched out on his side. I threw my leg over and balanced on him. The freezing water cascaded around my makeshift horse dam and soaked us both through.

He finally heaved himself up and I clung to his mane, pushing off with one foot to shift to the middle of his back.

"What are you, eight?" Cindy snapped."How are you going to ride soaked to the skin?"

"It's getting hot, we'll dry off." I mumbled and rode over to let him graze in the sun. This could turn out to be a long day.

Cindy's gelding finally passed his P/R, just minutes before he was pulled. We went on our way at a much slower pace. I didn't dare mention how uncomfortable my damp clothes were. I was wearing corduroys instead of jeans and they were rubbing at my knees as they dried out.

We rode in silence until the lunch stop. As we came into the camp there was another exhausted horse standing in a stream with her owner. The mare stood quietly, her head hanging just above the water. Her lip hung low enough to cause the faintest ripple.

Cindy pulled her gelding after her P/R check.

"I'm sorry Janet, I don't want him to end up like that mare."

"I understand." But I didn't, not even a little.

I understood I was screwed. I couldn't finish the ride without an adult.


  1. Yeah! Another Mort story! But another cliffhanger ending-I'm sure Cindy is/was a very nice person but I just want to smack her. Mostly because her horse wasn't in shape and she has severely cramped you and Mort's fun.

    More please.

  2. Ugh! We're screwed! We can't finish another Mort story without one of Mug's cliff hangers!

  3. Beautifully written Janet...I hope there will be a Part 2??

  4. Finally! Mort is back! I hope you were able to find another adult with a horse more in tune with dear Mort!!

  5. Yay, more endurance story! This one's been floating around in the back of my mind since you posted the first part. I could see you and Mort winning the whole thing, or having it turn into a complete disaster - or both!

  6. Blech.

    Way to both "make" and "destroy" my morning. I was so thrilled to read this - I just KNEW you were going to do awesome and finish strong... I think I'm almost more frustrated reading this story than you were living it.

    If you make us wait another month or two for another Mort story--and we don't want to hear silly excuses about your life being busy - we all know that you are just making it up, and you are the manager of a 30 horse stall cutting barn with a team of interns to work all your horses and clean all the stalls, as well as having a full household of servants to attend to your domestic chores----

    Wait... where was I?

    Oh, yes. If you make us wait too long for a Mort story... I'll.... I'll.... I'll track you down, and paint your saddle pink. And then I'll dye your saddle pad pink, too. And tie some pink little ribbons in Madonna's hair. And get you a pink carrot stick to work on ground manners with your horses.

    You have been warned.

  7. deedee sonnyduo@yahoo.comAugust 11, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    I am 100% with Becky!

  8. I am so thrill that you have posted another story. What a treat! I can't wait to read more.

  9. Ditto Becky! Ditto Becky!! :)

    Dying to know more about the pacing. I have ridden a pacing QH, papers and all. It was fun! :)

    I'm so proud of you and Mort in this story...hurry back!

  10. Ditto on the pink carrot stick.

    MORE Mort!

  11. It's cool that Cindy sponsored you in that race but she sure seemed more catty to me. She really thought she was going to have one over on you. That is the impression I got. At least she was cool enough to pull her horse before he dropped dead.

  12. I have been very impatiently waiting for the next installment of the Mort 50!!! I got so excited when your blog opened I just could not read it fast enough. I have to speed read the first time to get myself under control then re-read it at a normal pace. Cliff-hanger I knew it now I am more anxious than ever!

    If you ever get a book written I can assure you it will be the first book (I read allot) that I read cover to end without putting down. Of course then I will be depressed it's done!

    Crazy In Maine

  13. If you wanted to do fundraising for more frequent posts, I would totally support that. The suspense is killing me...! But in a good way. :D Glad to hear things are evening out with you.

  14. I think your new name should be:
    Mugwump, Queen of Cliffhangers!

    (cue the dramatic music)



  15. Accendora may be on to something there - have a little thing on the sidebar where you can donate towards moving a post up sooner. You could have it be a little thermometer (0-100%, with 100% being some invisible figure you've thought up where it's actually worth your time to stay up late and write a post, or whatever.)

    I would TOTALLY donate to hear more installments on Mort and Tally. :)

  16. Becky, I've got a can of pink spray paint we can use...and, what's this? a big pink tarp? Why, we could make 5 or 6 big pink flags out of that, and post them around Mugs' property. I wonder what else I've got around here to help motivate the end of the story

    ( which I'm hoping that Janet and Mort meet up with Maryben or one of her ilk, and end up having the Best. Damn. Ride. Ever....)

  17. also: PACING!
    (I'm a standardbred gal, does it show?)

    I've also ridden a pacing QH and a pacing arab, both purebred w/papers. I figure, if a registry has a rule against pacing, it's because some of the stock does it!

  18. Yeah, and I've never heard of pacing as a sign of lameness. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

    Mustang Hatty

  19. Mustang Hatty - Now that I am a grown up I realize Cindy knew absolutely nothing about horses and endurance.

    Horses who pace tend to travel strung out with their back hollowed and their head high.

    So in a breed which is supposed to travel level and deep I can see where this could be construed as a soundness isue.

    BUT Mort was the most iron legged horse I ever rode. Good thing too since his ignorant owner didn't know a dang thing.

  20. I wish you would compile all of your stories into a book! I would buy it for sure! Even after already reading all of these here. You write so well. I love to come back here on a slow day and just read.


  21. I'm so glad you are back and most glad to get another Mort installment. I've never ridden a pacing it comfortable?

    I'm with the others and would certainly buy your books should you ever put them together, but am enjoying reading your stories for free right now. :-)

  22. Supposedly pacing is more energy efficient than trotting. So an animal who's sore, or lacking in muscle, may pace instead of trot. I think this is where the connection to lameness comes from.

    Now, not all pacing is a sign of lameness. In Mort's case, he probably figured out that he could pace longer than he could trot without getting tired. And, of course, some animals just "naturally" prefer the pace.

  23. I've since learned Poco Buenos were known to pace, not considered a weakness, but a development as a ranch Anon. makes a lot of sense.
    Mort was Poco Bueno top and bottom.

    I found his pace extremely comfortable, I just thought I could sit an extend trot like nobody's business...Horse of Course almost outed me when I was talking about riding him bareback at his travelling trot...she just about killed my storyline....

  24. Yay! Another Mort story! Lots of criticism from the adult that couldn't keep up with you eh? Not surprising, sometimes what we "think" we know really gets in the way of what "is". Actually you kind of lucked out, what with the wet corduroy pants! That might have been a chafing nightmare even for your young calloused self =/

    Super glad to have you back!

  25. ugh, adults! Fun ruiners or what..!