Crossbo goes to the races

The word of the day was Yee-ha. In a day of continually evolving plans, Crossbo and I attended a local hunter pace/race event. The only thing I knew for sure in advance is that we were supposed to be there with beer. We lived up to that, and rolled with the ever-changing events.

Just in case anyone is still reading who doesn’t know what a hunter pace is, it’s an event where pairs of riders are timed on a cross-country course, and winning pair is the one that comes closest to some optimal time, which is not divulged to the riders in advance. Theoretically, it’s a test of the riders’ ability to maintain an ideal “hunter pace” over the course, hence the name. Realistically, it’s closer to a crap shoot, but it’s a load of fun.

In addition to the morning hunter pace, there were other race events in the afternoon. My originally assigned duty, in addition to bringing beer for the tailgate, was to be an outrider for the team chase event. A team chase is like a hunter pace except that it is ridden by teams of four riders instead of two, and the fastest team wins. An outrider is someone who hangs out on the course to deal with contingencies, catch lose horses, finish off down riders, etc.

As I started putting together today’s timeline in my head last night, a couple of other factors entered in. One half of one of the hunter pace pairs was potentially chickening out. I told the other half that if she found herself in need of a partner, Crossbo and I would be there.

The next interesting opportunity was that it had been mentioned earlier in the week that it would be great to have Spalding’s doughnuts for the tailgate. Nobody saw any way this was logistically possible, but I began to think that, if I got lucky and the waiting time had decreased, it just might be possible.

So I rolled out of bed at 5:30 this morning, and was waiting in line outside Spalding’s by 6:10. At first, I was pessimistic about the looks of the line, and mentally set a “go/nogo” deadline by which I would have to abandon the line and return home with no doughnuts in time to move to the next phase of the day.

I was pleasantly surprised when the line moved much faster than I expected, and by 7:15, I was speeding home with 5 dozen doughnuts, making one quick stop to pick up more ice for the beer which was already in a cooler in the back of my truck, which was already hooked to the trailer. Mindful of orders from previous events to “just bring Bud Light, not any of that fancy ale shit”, I had a selection that I thought would please everybody: Bud Light for the truly ignorant, Corona for those who think they like good beer, and Spaten for the true believers.

I got home and dumped the ice in the cooler, and moved to the next task of making Crossbo look presentable. The task was much easier now that he has shed his winter coat. I’m too lazy to clip and blanket in the winter, which frequently results in a shaggy, sweaty, unkempt-looking horse regardless of how much time I spend trying to get him clean. But today, with his sleek summer coat, a little currying and brushing had him looking wonderful. When someone at the event asked what my job was, I said Crossbo’s job was to stand there and look handsome, and my job was to bring Crossbo. She responded that he was doing his job very well.

So I got Crossbo groomed and loaded, and transferred the doughnuts to the truck (after the obligatory quality-control sample), and we were off. We had plenty of time to get there before the end of the hunter pace phase of the event, in case we were going to participate in that.

Arriving at the site, the first order of business was to unload the beer and doughnuts, and savor the appreciation of the people who thronged when they heard the word “Spalding’s”. Everybody knew what that word meant, even those who had never been fortunate enough to have one. There’s been a lot of media coverage lately. There were a few episodes of enlightenment that went basically like: (before first bite) “These are those doughnuts people stand in line for?” (after first bite) “Maybe I’ll go stand in line!” One person was eating something that she probably thought was a doughnut, but it looked more like a plastic wheel from a child’s toy. I handed her a real doughnut, and she fed the plastic-looking thing to her dog. Some people congratulated my dedication for standing in line for an hour. I shrugged and said we all contribute according to our talents. Others had spend far more time than that making goodies; my talent happens to be standing in line.

Next contact was the event boss, who wanted to know if I could begin outriding right away. After tracking down my tentative riding partner, and finding out I would not be competing, Crossbo and I headed off to look handsome out on the course. And I’ll have to reluctantly admit that dumping me and riding with somebody else turned out to be a good choice for my might-have-been-buddy, as they won their class.

After the hunter pace ended, Crossbo and I wandered back towards civilization, and things got even more confusing. I was told I needed to ride in the trotting race, starting in about 45 minutes, because they wanted more entries. So I put Crossbo back on the trailer while I had some beer and doughnuts. As race time approached, I unloaded him again and re-mounted, and was struck by a thought as I was riding towards the starting line. I seemed to remember that the event rules stated the trotting race was for non-thoroughbreds. So I tracked down the boss and asked if Crossbo was eligible, and she admitted that he wasn’t. So he went back to the trailer, and I had more beer and doughnuts waiting for the team chase to begin.

As chase time approached, I remounted yet again, and wandered around trying to find out where I needed to be, only to be confronted with another change in plans. There was only one team entered in the chase, and a group of three surrounded me and claimed me as their fourth to make up a second team. When I said I thought I had other duties, they headed off to ask someone whether they had a greater need for outriders or racers. They came back and told me I was racing.

As we watched the first team move off at a very conservative pace, we realized we had the race nailed. After waiting long enough to reduce the chance of us running over them halfway around the course, the starter sent us out on course.

The first unpleasant surprise was when Crossbo and I had refusals at the first two jumps. I have no clue what our problem was, unless it was just too much time off. It couldn’t have been the beer and doughnuts, because Crossbo didn’t have any. Third jump, I sensed a slight hesitation, but we cleared it the first time. After that, everything was perfect. There was very little conversation on course, as we were determined to make up for lost time, and doing a damn good job of it. Occasionally someone in front would holler just to make sure all four of us were still there, and got a rousing “Yee-ha” in response.

We never did overtake the first team, but we came in close enough behind them that we had obviously shattered their time, considering the distance between us at the start. Our finish was especially strong when we remembered there was cold beer waiting for us at the finish line. Unfortunately, my request for Spaten was misunderstood, even though I specifically said “one of the green bottles,” and I had to settle for Corona. At least the “none of that light shit” was understood.

What we didn’t realize was that, while we were on course, a third stealth team had been assembled, and was being sent across the starting line just as we finished. Those gals must have had the pedal to the metal all the way around the course, because after we hosed off our horses and returned to wait for the inevitable announcement that we had won, the third team finished, times were tallied, and team 3 was declared the winner. So Crossbo and I returned home with no ribbons. But we had a damn good time.

And, in closing, I need to thank my faithful photographer and good buddy Chloe for providing the pictures here. Thanks Chloe! I would offer you a drink, but your mom probably wouldn’t approve, and I don’t want to piss off one of Crossbo’s best friends.

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