Things started slow enough, I packed the horse trailer in fifteen minute increments as 95 degree temps drove me back to the AC when beads of sweat threatened to roll into my eyes. We managed to leave the driveway within minutes of “my” plan. I plan everything, my husband, Stace, doesn’t plan anything. If I didn’t, we’d be 3 hours late to every event.
The 5 hour drive to Chugwater Wyoming was peaceful, no flat tires, no near accidents (last year’s story). Actually, at this point in time I don’t even remember the trip. From Chugwater, we drove another half hour west and the people in the horse trailer ahead nicely let us pass. Thank God – they arrived in camp 45 minutes later than us. We just can’t drive slowly – other than to stop and ask each of the people in the other stopped rigs if they were okay. This is an eleven-mile segment of dirt road that takes 40 minutes at our speed. We had to stop once and let the transmission cool – which had nothing to do with our driving speed, I’m sure. ;-)
But we made it to camp and everything was lovely, only a slight downpour to cool things off.
We signed up for a 55 mile ride. My husband’s horse hadn’t been ridden for a month. He was supposed to do a 100 two weeks prior, but had a saddle wound, so didn’t go. He’d saved every bit of energy we’d so carefully cultivated. All for the start of this ride. A 20 mile loop with millions of rocks and hills. My horse doesn’t do hills or rocks at speed. Such a prima donna. So we carefully picked our way through the rocks while my husband’s horse did a parade canter – ie lots of vertical motion for very little forward motion. Pretty. Not. We have the pics to prove it.
Still, a lovely ride. We stopped to let the horses drink at a tank as we headed back to camp for a vet check. Even got off to let them eat for a while. As I re-mounted, two yahoos (technical word for dimwits that race their horses for 17 miles and don’t even stop to offer water) galloped down a hill, spooking my horse. As my leg swung over his back, he shot forward and I landed on his rump and then the ground. Luckily the ride photographer was able to catch my horse before he decided to prove he could jump a cattle guard.
No worries, I bounce pretty well. Off for our second loop of 17 miles. My horse suddenly overcame his aversion to hills and decided to race up every one. Would have been great if his body agreed with his brain that that was a good decision. By the third loop, he got it all together and decided to listen to my ideas: nice steady speed, try not to trip over the rocks.
We were doing a nice trot about a half mile from the finish line though a mowed green meadow. There isn’t much green grass in Wyoming this year, but this little bit did a great job of disguising a very green rattlesnake. Prima donna that he is, my horse wasn’t about to mar his good looks with a swollen nose, so he executed his famous exit-stage-left. Luckily our momentum carried my flight path past the very annoyed snake. I landed first on a knee and then plopped onto my face. I did not stay in that position long – mid flight I’d caught a good earful of rattles.
Eleven rattles. See, we know this because my husband decided to, while holding onto his horse, stone the 3’ long sucker to death. Sort of death. His head was partially disconnected, but the body writhed and wiggled the rattles on its own. Prima donna still not impressed. But we walked into camp with that snake hoping someone would barbecue him for us.
That was it for the calm part of the weekend.
Part of the reason we did this ride was because it was half-way to Gillette Wyoming. What’s in Gillette, you ask? We’d found a horse for sale in Gillette. He was big enough for my husband, although untrained, and the best part is that his is a grandson to a stallion that we’d lost to colic a couple years ago. So the plan was to do the ride and then go look at the horse and hopefully buy him.
As we got back into cell phone range, there were 9 messages on the phone. Some miscellaneous, then one from my mom about the wonderful rainstorm. Then another from my more panicked mom telling us about the lightning strike and the fire across the valley. Then another from a much more subdued mother at 2:45 am saying she’d gotten the 3 left behind horses evacuated but was going to stay at the house and wait to escape with the dog, cats and important paperwork. Then the call from our hay hauler saying he was on his way to our place.
After several intense conversations, nothing could be gained by us heading straight home, so we turned north to Gillette, bought the horse and loaded him up. Then another phone call from the panicked version of mom – yet another fire, this time on the hill behind the house. We’d started arrangements to bring the evac’d horses home but put an end to that plan. Instead, we’d drive the horses with us straight to the evac barn and spend another night in our LQ horse trailer. No hardship there, it’s comfy and we still had plenty of junkfood.
We drove through three incredible downpours, one that later closed I-25, wishing we could bring even some sprinkles back with us as Saturday’s weather skirted our valley. Sunday morning, 26 firefighters climbed back up a steep rocky hill to finish putting the second fire out so they’d all be free to focus on the expected new lightning strikes as Sunday storms start rolling in.
I am left with a bruised, scraped elbow, a wrenched neck, scrapes on my nose and cheek, a blue goose-egg sized lump on a knee, a new horse and happy, healthy, unburned family members and a story that is just a little more exciting than the usual. Life is good!
But just a reminder (as if we need it) to those of us living in the parched west, keep an eye out those windows during lightning storms, it can happen at any time. And thank you to everyone involved in any way with protecting our homes, family and animals from fire!