OUR JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF ENDURANCE RIDING
My mare, Sassy, had a very rocky start in life. She was labeled “very forward-going” and proved too difficult for the original owners to handle. Originally ridden by a 16-year-old, Sassy was to be a cutting horse.
Unusual calling for a Rocky Mountain Saddle Horse? Not really. Farmers found this breed to be strong, cooperative and very willing “to work.”
Sassy was sold, and, sadly, not treated well. Approximately 4 years after living with the new owner, Sassy stayed behind when they moved out of state! For the next 5 ½ long years, Sassy was alone in a field. She was given water by neighbors, but mainly existed on her own. That still brings tears to my heart ~ the thought of my girl lonely. The “up” side, however, was she learned to be self-sufficient and to take care of herself.
Before being put up for adoption, Sassy was taken to a rescue ranch and put under saddle for 3 weeks on trails. We saw a video of her and decided to see about adopting her.
When we met her, she didn’t look like the mare we’d seen on film. Her head was down, hair falling out in patches, she had 4 bruised feet, and no record of ever having been vaccinated. From being tangled in burrs, her mane was roached; her tail was cut beneath the dock for the same reason. No muscle definition, no energy; she just looked defeated.
I stood in front of this sad, worn-out mare while the ranch manager told us about her. They called her “Donia;” she was quiet, but cooperative, hadn’t made friends with other horses, but didn’t fight with them either. She was once registered with the Rocky Mountain and Kentucky Mountain Horse Associations.
(Upon registering her, I learned she’s mostly Rocky Mountain and about 30% Arabian.)
None of that mattered to me, however; my heart literally hurt watching this “old, over-the-hill mare.”
Suddenly, Sassy raised her head ever so slowly; her eyes met mine bringing time to a screeching halt! Our eyes locked, and a communication, an eventual relationship of respect and love was born. She didn’t look away from me, and I couldn’t look away from her! Her eyes literally spoke to my heart; I thought we’d be a good match, especially since I’d been away from horses for 19 years! Sassy would be a slow, good beginner horse.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
Fast-forward 18 months; it had taken 9 months for Sassy and I to connect. She had every reason not to trust me, and for a long time she didn’t! I resorted to sitting inside her stall pretending to read a book, not letting her know I was paying any attention at all.
Finally, curiosity overwhelmed her; she began sniffing my hair and nudging my arm. Still, I paid no attention. This went on for weeks! Being patient worked! One day while I was feeding, she walked over and followed me around the barn and pasture!
At last it was time for our first outing. Filled with hope and excitement, I saddled my mare and attempted to climb up into the saddle to participate in a group riding class. NO way! Instead Sassy skirted away, not letting me mount. Frustrated, we stood in the back of the arena and watched instead of participating.
When class ended, my mare absolutely refused to load in the trailer! The instructor gave me a lesson in handling a strong-willed horse like Sassy. As I watched her “communicate” with this complicated creature, I suddenly “got it!” She’d been testing me to see if I was worthy of being her alpha!
A quick bonding process took place; suddenly we were attending classes and riding in the desert. I was no longer afraid of this magnificent mare, and she actually “liked” me in spite of herself.
Each outing, we rode 4-6 hours working our way up to 8-9 hours! Friends teased me because this mare NEVER tires. We decided the day I finally wore her out, we were throwing a party.
One day we met 2 riders who told us about “Endurance Riding.” A friend from high school had mentioned endurance also. The info I received intrigued me, so I looked into it.
Sassy was now in outstanding physical condition; our vet calls her “chiseled.” We started clocking our mileage, and were easily completing 20, 25, up to 28 miles in a day. I found out about an endurance event close by and entered.
People did a double take when we said we were attempting 50 miles on our first ride. I was advised to start with an LD. Undeterred, Sassy and I started our journey and had gone 44 miles when my husband’s horse took a fall. His horse was fine, but hubby had a bad cramp in his leg and couldn’t continue. Sadly, we decided to RO at 44 miles and returned to base camp. I have no doubt, however, that Sassy could have and would have finished that first 50.
Our next ride, 6 weeks later, was a 55-miler; Sassy and I successfully completed 67 miles, though, because I mistakenly took a wrong turn! A friend watched us come in and cross the finish line; Sassy pulsed in immediately at 58! My friend laughed and called her the Sassinator! One day later, we completed an LD.
A month later, we conquered another 50; 6 weeks later, another 50! Two months later, we finished an LD in 13th place! We find ourselves anxiously awaiting each new endurance event!
Sassy, now nicknamed “Sassinator” finally found her calling! We had previously tried the show ring and did ok, taking a few ribbons, but the name of Sassy’s game is Endurance! She’s never been happier!
By the way, that old, sad, worn-out mare is 17 years young! Who knew? SHE DID!