A Race to the Finish...
with Fun Mixed In!

The 3-day weekend of High Roller pioneer endurance rides at 7IL Trails in Cat Spring Texas were rides to remember! Most everyone arrived Friday in beautiful sunny south central Texas. The skies were clear, there was a slight breeze, pretty gray Brahman cattle everywhere as you pulled down the long traditional Texas driveway to the ranch headquarters. The camp area was large, which was a good thing due to the large number of rigs and horses that came in by evening. We all camped near the Pavilion, which was located on the edge of one of the many interconnected cattle pastures on the ranch. Things were fairly quiet on Friday afternoon: at that point nobody realized that the weekend would hold so many surprises. It was going to be quite a ride!

Friday night started the weekend off with a little excitement. During the ride meeting, a large group of horses broke out of their portable electric corral and went stampeding all around the camp and off into the open ranch land in the dark! Well, most of us got up to help herd them together again, but only wound up getting about half of them. The other half of the horses had gone out of the camp area all together, down roads and through gates, which had been opened in preparation for the ride. That was when the Ranch Host David got out his 4-wheeler, and some others went out into the darkness on foot. We were able to track most of them down, and before long had them all back at camp. Thankfully, none of them were injured, despite the fact that several of them had crossed cattle guards and been very close to numerous barbed wire fences. Getting them all back to camp safely was a relief for the horse's owners, not to mention all of us who wanted a peaceful night's sleep before ride day!

Ride morning started out breezy and beautiful. There were 104 riders starting the 50, 25, and introductory 12.5-mile rides. It was a good-sized group, giving riders some company on trail without being crowded. Saturday was my day to ride, and I really enjoyed the extremely well marked and beautiful trails, which wound in and out of isolated areas of brush and sandy trail. Challenges were minimal, it was almost impossible to get off trail, and the trail hazards were few and far between. Overall, the deep sand and the occasional bog were the biggest challenges, and some horses wound up with tight rump muscles. But thanks to the great weather and careful riders, there were few lameness and no metabolic pulls. Most riders finished in great condition, and well before dark set in (I would know, I was in last place for the 50- again). After finishing the ride, one 14-year old rider was kicked in the head while attempting to help one of her horses, which had jumped through a fence! Soon thereafter, the ambulance came in and carted her off to the hospital, worrying everyone in camp. Attribute it to youth, luck, or a guardian angel, but this bold young rider was back in the saddle the next day to complete another 50! In addition, a veteran rider who sustained a broken pelvis and fractured vertebrae several months ago successfully completed a 50-mile ride, still looking as good as ever. The day ended with a wonderful awards meeting and fresh grilled hamburger dinner.

Sunday started off as nice as Saturday had, with just about as many riders. The riders started off into sunny Texas skies that changed halfway through the day, when the cloud cover came in and the breeze picked up. It got chilly fast, and everyone went digging for more clothes and wound up looking more like Eskimos than endurance riders! It was another successful day on the trail, with most riders finishing successfully and before dark. The day finished without incident, much to everyone's relief. We had already had enough excitement for one weekend! Once again, a hot dinner was served- wonderful gourmet spaghetti. After the awards, everyone settled in for what turned out to be a quite night.

Monday's ride started 15 minutes late, due to a group of horses getting loose again, but the horses were caught and the ride started without further incident. Due to the falling temperatures, the vet check was moved behind my trailer, with Cindy Kovalchuk's trailer backed up to it, in order to get some relief from the north wind. As an added luxury, Ranch Host David brought out an ancient diesel heater for the vets and helpers, which was kind of funny looking, but it did a great job keeping us all warm. The lack of sunshine and cold temperatures sent many would-be riders to the house, but even with the small turnout it was an outstanding day. The horses did amazingly well, even those who had ridden all 3 days. There were quite a few riders competing all three days as well. Many riders chose this ride to complete their first multi-day ride on one horse, and the majority of them were very successful. One of the ride Veterinarians rode in the 25-mile ride on Monday- his second endurance endeavor. Since this Veterinarian suffers from poor circulation in his legs, riding was difficult for him. At one point in the ride he had to get off and walk to get the circulation back into his legs, and the hyper Arabian mare went lounging circles around him. Then when he came into camp after the first loop and dismounted, one of his legs cramped up and he flopped off the mare straight onto his back on the ground! With nothing hurt but his pride, he got through the so called "vet check" and finished the ride in sore but good shape. As soon as the ride was finished, people were loading up to get home and out of the cold, but faithful ride manager Cynthia Kovalchuk stayed to finish things up.

And for those of us on the Veterinary staff, it was an amazingly good ride for the horses. Most finished in great shape and with plenty of energy, ready for more miles. I rode my mule Mariah in the 50-mile ride on Saturday, but apparently she was ready for another 50 on Monday, because she was pitching fits when two little donkeys went running through camp. Soon thereafter ride participants saw her with the short lead rope and hobbles in place, learning a lesson in discipline! One of the timekeepers got a scare when a little boy walked up to her when she was tied like that- and mad about it- to pet her head. She evidently stood there like a little angel; not moving an inch and just letting the little boy pet her. She was soon freed from her "restraint" for being a good girl, and that was the last fit she pitched. Thankfully she did not damage my trailer like one of the other mules in camp had done Sunday when the little mule's buddy was taken on the 50-mile ride. This little mule just kept kicking the heck out of the nice trailer she was tied to, leaving some well-marked dents in the side and fenders. Ahhh, mules!

The two loose donkeys, and many more loose cows, made things interesting as well. At one point the two donkeys were seen walking slowly but meticulously toward the vet check, as if to check themselves in. They even stopped at the water tank on the way to the vet check, to get a good drink of water. Maybe someday, we told them! The cows created some havoc when they traveled very quietly to raid riders' good coastal hay when they were out on trail, and even sometimes when the horses were back at their camp. Some of the horses weren't too used to cows and got a bit upset, but most tolerated them well. One rider's camp seemed to be the cow's favorite place to be- he had cows eating his hay all weekend long, and evidently one even tried to get into his truck. One of the donkeys liked this guy's camp too; as he buddied up to the horse camped there, ate all his feed, then would have nothing to do with him later. Thankfully the donkeys and cows were tame, and were easily chased out of camp if they got too close. All that was lost was a bit of coastal hay.

Thankfully, Bo and Linda Parrish, and David and Sylvia Fant, were there to contribute their usual 110% of ride expertise and to keep track of the rest of us. As Linda and Sylvia are ready to start riding again, they were training new people to do the timekeeping duties. Dr. Gail Conway and Dr. Dennis Seymore were there too, doing more than their fair share of vetting in this sport. Dr. Conway and Dr. Seymore were even able to ride one day this time around. I think everyone who does Texas rides feels this way about Bo, Linda, David, Sylvia, Dr. Conway, and Dr. Seymore- we don't know what we would do without all of you!

To those of you who missed this ride this year, don't make the same mistake and miss it next year. The beautiful and well-marked trails, horses stampeding into the night, wonderful ride management, friendly ranch hands, and of course good company made this a ride to remember.

For those of you who would like to ride these trails and see the beautiful scenery there, access is available at any time. To arrange a visit, contact David at 979-865-0011, or visit the ranch's website at www.7iltrails.com. I have ridden there myself several times since the ride, and it is a wonderful place to condition or just to ride for fun.

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