A powerful storm was expected to slam into Southern California during the weekend of the Laurel Mountain horse endurance race, so the ride managers graciously allowed Kitty and I to stay in the guest bedroom of their home, seven miles from the starting line. All the other race participants had brought RVs or fancy horse trailers that held human living quarters. Kitty and I had only a teepee to sleep in, and I think the managers, Dave and Annie, worried about the extreme wind advisory that was in effect. They didn’t want our teepee to uproot itself and go crashing through horse camp, scaring the animals and causing a stampede. After arriving at the site in the Mojave Desert and getting battered about by the first gusts of the storm, I conceded the managers were probably wise to extend their hospitality.
In exchange, I volunteered to work the race while Kitty rode her black Tennessee Walker named Merlin. I set out buckets of water and helped make sandwiches for the wind-battered riders. When they came in out of the Mojave Desert for their lunch break, I recorded their names and times and I told them when the enforced hour-long rest period was over. The fierce wind was unrelenting, and my baseball cap would not stay on my head longer than ten minutes. After my cap finally blew into a horse bucket, I gave up and let my hair blow in any direction it wanted to.
Endurance races are usually calm affairs. Most people on the 25 or 50-mile rides are there to enjoy the scenery and the experience. There are awards given for best time, but veterinarians will disqualify a horse if they are ridden too hard. Awards for “best condition” are also given to help encourage riders to not push their steeds too far.
Despite being bullied about by the wind and having their helmets blown sideways, none of the forty riders fell off their horses during the race. The last rider walked her horse into camp during sunset, which was an absolutely stunning spectacle due to the stormclouds brewing over the southern Sierras.
The next morning, we made one last hurried dash back to horse camp to retrieve the remaining infrastructure, while the rising sun cast a rainbow into the dark clouds to the west. If we’d had more time, Kitty and I would have gone with the race managers to help out a neighbor who’d called in a panic that morning, claiming that the wind was literally blowing the roof off his house. Gusts of up to 75 miles per hour were still in the forecast that afternoon. But we had to take Merlin home so we could report to our jobs the next day.
Kitty did exceptionally well driving her horse trailer in the heavy wind and rain. The storm even threw rocks down upon us when we drove through the mountain passes. Ten miles from home, we thought we had braved the worst. But then an unexpected gust struck the trailer from behind, whipping past Merlin’s head and exploding a window from the inside out. We couldn’t believe it. As for the panicked Tennessee Walker, he had had enough of travel and was ready to get back to grazing on the fresh grasses in the meadows around his corral. Kitty and I were more than ready to put four walls between ourselves and the wind. We looked forward to a calm evening, where the only race we had scheduled was a race to see who would be first in bed.