Pictured: Wendy on Cinco de Mayo (Milo). Photo Credit: Darice Whyte
Written by: Wendy Carnegie
Before I start, we need to start at the beginning… Milo. Milo, or as his papers identify him, Cinco de Mayo, became my horse the same day I lost my beloved mare, Autumn. The universe told me I needed to fill that void hard and fast with something that needed every ounce of love, devotion and patience I had and so Milo became mine.
Milo is, well, special…spirited…talented……terrified….quirky…I don’t know how to describe him actually, most days I now preface Milo statements by stating he is a bit dangerous. Milo has a tendency to lose his mind over things such as sticks, mud, water, dirt, leaves, really just about anything on trail that may be real or a figment of his imagination. When he loses it, he loses it; if you cannot stay on, he will not wait for you and who knows where or when he will stop. If you happen to be in his way, he will run you down in his mad panic to escape.
However, all of that aside, I, for some reason, love Milo and have up until this point refused to quit on him even though the intelligent part of my brain says maybe I should. You see Milo is also pretty freaking amazing at endurance; he finishes hard fast 50’s in crazy heat with CRI’s of 48/48 without any real cooling…so yeah there is potential…so we endure, and I hope I can ride whatever happens out.
Now about Duck Mountain, I decided to ride Milo there knowing it may be a bit scary. The Friday before the ride I actually told a group at large that if Milo runs away in Duck Mountain he would stay in Duck Mountain. I will not look for him. I still don’t know if that was a joke…
Saturday morning dawned bright and early with a 5 am start for race day (thank goodness as it was stinking hot). The lovely Lola was riding my safe and sane Bolt and I looked at Milo asking him to just be a good a boy and keep it together. Spooks are ok, but death runs into the woods would not be appreciated.
Milo has a ride protocol I follow very closely and is hard to explain but, he lets me know when it is time for me to get on. Getting on too early results in me landing on the lawn. I have learned the patience it takes to wait, to hand walk and watch what he is telling me and get on when he says ok. So we headed down the trail, me on foot beside Milo waiting for his signal. Astonishingly he was quick to let me on, it only took ½ mile, and we headed down the trail. He was feeling pretty jazzed and thought bucking down the hills would be fun for me…it wasn’t… but I digress.
At Duck Mountain, I soon realized there are a lot of two things: hills and mud. Milo is scared of mud, even more so deep, squishy, boggy mud. I know what you are thinking: I should ride him in mud more so he stops being scared….I do, and he doesn’t. We actually made it through the first couple mud holes unscathed…I was feeling pretty confident. We rounded a turn and spotted some fellow riders in front of us. At mile 4.5 when we had just about caught up to them, we hit another boggy chunk of trail. Bolt was not going to fall behind those riders so he trucked right through the bog. Milo wanted to neither be left behind nor go through the bog…panic ensued. I asked the group in front to hold up, they didn’t. Milo, in his panic to both keep up and avoid the mud spooked sideways, off the bank and into the bog. The nasty, smelly, deep bog with me. On the plus side I rode a fair piece into the bog with him, on the down side I fell off when he fell on me.
The good thing about bog is that it is deep and soft. The bad thing is that there is no purchase for a panicking horse to spring off. He used me. I sank deeper, he got away.
Now bogs are rather deep and troublesome for fleeing horses to escape. They are full of trees, sticks, roots, and squishy mud, all of which were created solely to terrorize Milo. Milo tried to run as best he could and then decided rather than running away he would wait for me in chest (my chest) deep water. At this point, I had found a nice little patch of land, thigh deep or so to stand on, and thought I could call him out of the sinkhole he had landed himself in. Not so! I had to wade in to get him. When I did get him he seemed momentarily relieved. Apparently, I was joining him in our imminent death; perhaps he thought it was a suicide pact?
But that brief respite was not to last…I was there to get him out. Evidently, getting out of a bog is just as terrifying as going into a bog because, if you recall as I said earlier, there are so many scary things under the surface put there for the sole purpose of touching Milo. Terror ensued. He knocked me down, stepped on me, knocked me down again, and so forth. A giant log eventually stopped our painful forward progress. I do not know how we passed it on the way in but we were not passing it on the way out…so as an added bonus I got to chart a new path through the bog. Fun!
We did make it out. I was sure Milo was irreparably broken and had visions of sending poor Lola and Bolt on alone to ride the next 46 miles solo (which I now know would have been very arduous for her as the trail was hard). Low and behold, Milo appeared unscathed despite his efforts to break his own legs or puncture his abdomen. So, with Milo and me both looking like the creatures from the deep, I hauled my muddy self onto his muddy saddle and we kept riding the remaining 46 miles.
I didn’t really know how bad I looked, or smelled, until later in the day when Lola told her version of the event and how I emerged with Milo caked in mud and slime with water running down my body. I will add that it takes a special amount of persistence to continue riding with boots full of bog water in a saddle caked in mud on a horse that is liable to repeat the same experience at any given moment. On the plus side, Milo seemed to change his tune about mud on trail and stuck right to the middle from there on out. No more diving off the trail to avoid the little puddle, which I am grateful for, as there was bog everywhere!
Duck Mountain itself is a wonderful challenging ride and there were bits of magic. I loved listening to the loons while I rode. I love this sport so much! Anywhere we go we are surrounded by family, family that gets why we do this and are maybe just as crazy as I am. My kids are blessed with incredible role models and adults who love them nearly as much as I do. I can’t imagine a life style without endurance as a part of it.
As a side note, I have a fantastic endurance horse with incredible recoveries for sale……