Donerail Farm
Dressage and Sport Horses

Montel Cliffhanger
March, 1999

The  endurance ride in Montel, Texas, was the second jewel of the Texas endurance circuit "triple crown." The first jewel was the Sandblast ride in Athens, TX in Feb.

Friday morning was a great time to be hauling horses!  NOT! We left around 7:15 with the ominous news reports of flooding all over Houston. KTRH even broadcast the dreaded "emergency signal"  for a weather report from the national weather service!

We were headed East out I-10 to Montell, which is about 30 miles west of Uvalde. Fortunately, we took the Grand Parkway around town and hit I-10 on the western edge of Katy. We were so thankful we did, since there was widespread flooding. We had no problems, other than having to go real slow. It finally quit raining near Sealy. We stopped in Seguin for lunch and of course had to go to D&D Farm and Ranch store to do some shopping.

We finally arrived in Montell about 8 hours later. Muscatyr was never so happy to get out of the trailer. That is the longest he's ever been hauled. Margaret and I set up the tent and set up my new electric corral. It was great. I bought a small, battery-powered fence charger from Tractor Supply for about $80. It clamped right to the ground rod, and we put up plastic step-in fence posts and then used bayguard electric fence tape to make a nice corral for Muscatyr and Margaret's horse, Faaji. Muscatyr is very respectful of electric fence - we probably didn't even need to hook it up! He was already snorting at it while tied to the trailer just watching us set
it up!

You just wouldn't believe all the STUFF you have to take to a ride. These are in the middle of nowhere, so everything you or your horse is going to eat or drink for the weekend - you must bring yourself. Horse water is always available, but often it entails hauling water. So to solve that, I bought a plastic water tank that rides in the back of the truck with a nice hose attached. Every ride I go on, it seems i see some other ESSENTIAL article that I MUST have for my camp. I am running out of room to haul stuff!  Soon I will have no room to take the damn horse!! ;-)

It was cool and cloudy in Montel. We didn't have time to do a short ride to loosen the horses up, since it was about 3 by the time we got there. Setting up camp takes a long time. We were glad the 25-mile ride did not start until 9 the next morning.

Montel is greener than I would have thought - but there was lots of rock. And some very steep hills.  Margaret and I got up at 6 to feed the horses and start preparing. I donned my lime green and navy flowered print tights and lime green T-shirt. My philosophy is that if you are not going to win the thing, you should at least make a fashion statement, dahling! :-) We had 6 hours to finish the ride - including a 45-minute vet hold. So really only 5:15 of actual riding time. Given the rough and rocky terrain, we knew we might use most of the time. Up to this point, the longest I've taken to finish the course was about 4 hours, at my first ride. (and at that ride, due to Muscatyr's hysteria from the overstimulating effects of 60-something horses, we spent quite a bit of that time going BACKWARDS.)

Muscatyr had been lame earlier in the week - a minor lameness and swelling last Sat. that I had ultrasounded last Monday. Since the ultrasound showed no real damage, and Muscatyr looked sound, we decided to go for it - and just ride very conservatively.

The 25-mile ride was a 'two loop" ride - the yellow loop first, then the vet check/hold, then the blue. (The trail is marked with colored parachute ribbon or surveyors's tape.) When the trail was announced as "open,"  we hung back and let the rabbits go first. Margaret and I had teamed up with my conditioning buddy, Debbie (whose horse, Gordon, is Muscatyr's  'best friend', and two other gals I knew, Carol and Annie.)  Carol and Annie took off with us behind them. We hadn't gone far out of camp when we came to a huge, steep ROCK hill. I wanted to slow down - but at the beginning of a ride, I am pretty much at the mercy of the pacesetter, since Muscatyr has no brakes until he's worn himself out a little. Like it or not, we blasted up this steep rocky hill.  When we got to the top, I said "This is too @#!*%& fast.  I want to finish this ride."  Debbie and Margaret agreed that the pace Carol and Annie were setting was too fast for what we wanted to do, so we told them to go ahead without us. They did, and we waited for them to get out of sight, then we continued at a good working trot. We were going along and I am looking at the ribbons and start thinking "these sure do look kinda pale green."  They were that sort of pale neon color that is hard to distinguish between green and yellow. We finally came to a road (the entire ride was held at the Rafter 7 Ranch.) with a gate crossing. I was getting a little concerned at this point, so we checked the map and there was a road crossing on there - but we couldn't tell if THIS was THE crossing. Then, nailed to one of the fenceposts, I saw a pieplate that said "Green trail" with an arrow pointing toward a path marked with what we had been following as yellow ribbons! Uh oh. We were definitely on the wrong trail. Our only option was to backtrack the way we'd come until we saw a TRUE yellow ribbon.

Finally, almost all the way back to camp, Debbie spotted a definite yellow ribbon. We had wasted over 30 minutes. The pressure was on now. We made time where we could. Much of the trail was too rocky (smooth, slick rock) or steep to make good time. At one point, we came to a huge hill that looked like it was solid rock and straight up. We decided to get off and lead the horses up. Well, Muscatyr walks a lot faster than me, especially over rugged terrain. So I decided to let him "tail" me up the hill. I unsnapped one side of his rein from his bit, which made it long enough to hold while i got behind him. I grabbed his tail with one hand and controlled his speed with the rein in the other and let him 'pull' me while I walked up the hill behind him. A lot of people in CA do this on their rides - but I was never sure how it worked! Well, it works great! Horses naturally want to go forward going up a hill, and helping pull me up the hill is easier on him than carrying my whole weight up the hill. I was very proud of our newfound skill!  We got off and walked on several of the steep downhills as well. Going downhill is hard on a horse - they get very sore in their front legs - kind of like people getting shin splints.

We came to the vet check very concerned about how much time we had left to finish the ride. Muscatyr took longer than usual to come down to the 60 beats per minute heart rate that was the required criteria before you are timed as "in."  In other words, your "out" time clock runs until your horse comes down to criteria. He was not drinking on the trail as good as he usually does - probably because the heat was drier and he just didn't feel as thirsty.  I was holding my breath as I trotted him out for the vet, after he'd taken all his vital signs. I was sure hoping he did not look stiff or lame. He passed just fine. I think when we all finally got out of the vet check, we had 2.5 hours to finish the ride. We knew we could not get lost or lose much time this last 12.5 mile loop. The trail out of camp was poorly marked and we spent probably 15 minutes wandering around to find it, then make sure it was, indeed, the correct trail - since there was a blue A loop and a blue B loop - and we needed the B loop. We finally found it.  This loop was much less steep than the other, so we could make some good time in spots. But some spots were still too rocky to do more than walk - we had to travel down a dry creekbed for about half a mile - picking our way through loose rocks the size of baseballs and larger. Even the roads we could trot on were solid rock. And there were still steep places we needed to walk down hill. I knew poor Muscatyr's legs were taking a beating, and I still worried about him coming up lame. He had shoes and pads, but I knew all it would take was one wrong step in the rocks to cause a problem. The second loop seemed to go on forever. It was getting hot and with no shade, the sun was beating down on us. (Thank goodness I remembered my sunscreen!) Muscatyr finally started drinking better, and he really perked up. We finally came to several long stretches of dirt road where we could gallop a little and gain some time. Finally we realized we were getting close to camp, so we got off and walked them in. We had 20 minutes to get our horses' pulses down to criteria. Plenty of time!! At the vet check, Muscatyr stuck his head into the water tank past his eyeballs! He drank and drank and drank while I watched his pulse rate on my heart monitor drop like a rock. Good boy! As we walk over to the vet check I swear I could hear him slosh as he walked. The pulse and respiration person took his pulse - it was well under the 60 criteria. Last stop - the ride vet. She checks his gut sounds, anal tone, muscle tone, capillary refill, jugular tone, respiration. All good. All A's and two B's. Now the crucial step. The trot out. Muscatyr has way more
energy than I do. He trots out fine. We did it! We finished!!

I was tired but happy. There was a nice cold stream running through camp, so I took Muscatyr over to stand in it up to his knees after I'd untacked him. I was so hot and tired, I just sat down in the water next to him, riding sneakers, clothes and all!! We spent a pleasant half hour or so there!

He was so happy to get home yesterday - when I turned the corner onto my street he started rocking forward in the trailer - i think trying to urge me to go faster!! I turned him out in the pasture - he took on one "victory lap" then went to the stock tank and stuck his face in it - then headed for his favorite rolling spot.  He was one happy horse!  He seems fine - his butt is sore, which is to be expected. We have no way to train for hills here in pancake-land. The equine massage lady is coming tonight to give him the full treatment. I wouldn't ever spend $65 for a massage for MYSELF - but i WILL spend it for my horse!!

On to the third jewel of the triple crown - Dry Creek Cattle Call in Gonzales on April 24. I think I'll keep him in a padded stall until then! If we finish the "triple crown," we get a neat "triple crown" jacket (ok, _I_ get a neat jacket - Muscatyr gets jelly beans and carrots) to wear with my name, Muscatyr's name and the distance we went...

P.S. Carol and Annie did not finish the ride. About 7 miles down the trail they realized they were on the wrong trail, and wandered around so long finding the right one, they ran out of time.  As it was, Margaret, Debbie and I were very close to the last people finishing. But we finished!!

Read the Dry Creek Cattle Call Story