In December 2011, Eli Etter met a young, untrained, four-year-old filly. He bought her and named her "Cheyenne."
Her name matched her wild habits and golden buckskin color. Eli could only hope he would be able some day to ride her and be her friend.
It took five long, windy, cold and miserable months before Eli could safely climb on her back and receive a calm reception. In the meantime, parents, friends and onlookers often fled the sight of the fights which separated horse from rider. Eventually, alone in the task, Eli convinced the filly that he was her friend and could be trusted as her leader.
When warm and hospitable weather finally arrived, exploration of the trails began for Eli and his horse. Only one trip to the doctor, for a minor trampling, interrupted the frequent trips Eli and Cheyenne took farther and farther away from home. At first the two were happy covering hills and valleys but by the second summer they were crossing mountains and finding long-forgotten trails.
The searching and discovering was constant for the traveling pair as though they had to forge a path for their energy and curiosity to evolve. Eli turned to helping train horses for Spirit Wind Horse Rescue and was able to start and help find homes for several young horses. Cheyenne became skilled at ponying horses and allowed Eli to rope anything he needed to pick up. Eli learned patience and safety as he worked for Teens On Farms at the North Fork Riding School. Eli and Cheyenne spent all summer taking young riders out exploring mountain trails and finding treasures like deer antlers and old bones.
By late summer, Eli was interested in a new challenge. He studied articles about endurance riding and the American Endurance Ride Conference. This looked like a great way to cover ground and channel Cheyenne's energy in a good direction. Eli and Cheyenne trained for three months. As beginners, they could enter a 25-mile race with an adult sponsor. As head of the North Fork Riding School, I went with Eli and Cheyenne several times a week. Not wanting to go too fast, I made sure that they did a lot of trotting.
Finally, it was time for the race. They had a plan, "get out in front and stay there." The race started at 8 a.m. on Oct. 25 in the cool dry air of Moab Canyonlands. Things heated up fast when all 35-plus riders got to the start gate with the same plan. It didn't take long before Eli and Cheyenne realized they had a lot more to endure than speed, sand and distance. Going at a steady pace, they soon found they were being passed by groups of horsemen who left them pushed off the trail and sometimes fighting with their bucking horses. This leapfrog riding continued until the mandatory rest stop where several horses were held over for having fast heart rates. Eli and Cheyenne were able to go on; the steady conditioning had paid off. On the backstretch they found themselves in the lead until they got stalled by a rock crawler who was going down their rocky trail. My horse freaked out over this but Cheyenne rode up to the buggy and Eli yelled to the driver to please let them pass. The driver was surprised in realizing he was on the wrong road.
As camp came into view, Eli and Cheyenne began to think a win was really possible when all of a sudden two riders came galloping up behind them. It was too late to speed up or panic, so Eli and I moved off the trail and watched the new frontrunners fade away. This did not suit Cheyenne. Unexpectedly she took off running hard. As the trail narrowed to a small singletrack, the horses slowed to a more respectable canter. "Let the horses run their race," became the new plan. To the amazement of all four riders, the frontrunners had not reached the finish line. They had stopped to rest their horses as they were hot and tired, not a good way to enter the vet check. As Eli and Cheyenne walked past, they advised him to dismount as they expected Cheyenne to also be too hot. Trusting Cheyenne's reserve, Eli went on and crossed the finish line. It took several hours before all the riders returned to camp and all the vet checks were completed.
The best surprise came that night when the judge awarded Cheyenne the prize for first place and best condition.blog comments powered by Disqus