I didn't get much sleep on Friday night thanks to the perpetual noise of rain and thunder and the persistent dampness. I wasn't exactly chipper by the time Saturday morning came, but I was determined to "fake it until you make it". I started the business of dressing in the best rain clothes I had, filling water buckets, preparing breakfast, and getting ready for the ride. Saturday was scheduled to be the long ride of 6 hours, split into two groups, one at 9am and one at 10am. I was in the 9am group.
As 9am approached, I had my saddle bags packed and was ready to tack up quickly, but held off on pulling off Kachina's rainsheet until closer to the time. It was still raining, but at least not pouring as much as the night before. I figured that we would still be riding, but just choose a modified route or something. However, I was seeing a distinct lack of activity from other camps around us so I wasn't sure.
Right before 9am, the organizer drove around in her truck and gave us the down low. There wasn't really a route that we could safely take in the mud and rain. The trail we were going to take was going to be completely off the table for the weekend after that much rain. Other routes were still a possibility for the afternoon, but the rain had to stop, and there needed to be at least a couple hours of clear skies to dry things out enough to be safe. It made sense, a couple horses is one thing, but with such a large group, the mud would be bad and the trails would get pretty torn up. I appreciated that they were making the cautious decision.
We ended up having a group meeting soon after to discuss options for the day. The nearby campground and interpretive centre had some programming going on that we could join in on and the organizers would shuttle us up there if we wanted. A number of people went, but S and I wanted to stay closer to the horses to keep an eye on them. I was sad the ride was postponed, but I was tired enough where sitting on my camp chair didn't seem like a bad plan. We hung out around the campsite. It was still raining lightly, but at this point I was thoroughly decked out in rain gear, complete with emergency plastic poncho, and muck boots, so I didn't really care. Kachina and SK were totally chill and kept having droopy eyes so we left them where they were. S and I had lots of good conversation and the morning passed by quickly.
Around noon, the rain finally stopped and some blue sky appeared. We were enjoying drying out and warming up. Then, beyond the bend of the rodeo grounds we could hear some yells of "whoa". There were clearly some people already there so we didn't immediately move, but then I could hear some more "whoa"s and could tell that whatever horse was loose wasn't being immediately caught. We got up and started walking that direction to help. When we rounded the water truck, we could see that 4 bay horses, all without halters were loose. There were 3 or 4 people surrounding them, but they didn't have anything to catch the horses with and so were basically at a stalemate. I turned back to grab some spare halters. As I was on the way back to our campsite, the horses blew through the circle and started running towards one side of the rodeo grounds. I grabbed 3 halters and leads and started trying to head them off. Four loose horses is tough, as even if a few stop, if the other starts running again they will all follow. I spent a lot of time wading though almost waist deep wild rose bushes and getting soaked, trying to come at them from the right direction. Another girl grabbed a bucket of grain and with that we were able to catch one and then the rest. There was a moment of confusion once we caught them, because it turned out that none of us who were holding them were actually the owners, we got it figured out though.
It turns out that all 4 horses were from the same barn, and 3 of them were pen-mates. The three pen-mates were loose together in a portable corral of metal panels, and the other mare was in a separate electric fence corral beside them. The mare had spooked at something and had gone right through the electric fence. That created a chain reaction and the other 3 busted one of their corral panels and escaped as well. Three of the owners had gone to the interpretive centre, and the remaining guy had just checked on the horses and they were fine so he just took a quick trip down to the river when they escaped. We held the horses as he reset the panels. We looked the horses over and none seemed to be any worse for wear. It's very lucky that things ended as they did. For one, the horses could have easily been injured running through their portable corrals, but second, the rodeo grounds isn't fully fenced off and if they had made it out to the hills, we'd have been chasing them for days.
Soon after the excitement with the loose horses, the organizer again came around and told us to be at the gate, ready to ride out at 2pm!
Since it was still a while until 2pm, S and I decided to lead the horses down to the river access at the rodeo grounds and let them splash around a bit. Both mares were totally cool with the water and were almost dragging us too far into the river. I took my phone out of my pocket to document the moment. I had a thought in the back of my mind that pulling out my phone wasn't a smart idea, but reassured myself that my phone was waterproof so it would be okay. Sure enough, I listened to the wrong voice, and as I was taking the first photo, Kachina yanked on the lead rope and my phone tumbled out of my hands into the river. Well guess what, having a waterproof phone is zero help if you can't find it! I was standing in only about 18" of water but the Milk River isn't named the Milk River because it's clear, it's a murky milky brown from the fine silt in the area. I couldn't make out the bottom at all. I tried to mark my spot where I had dropped my phone and handed Kachina off to S. I then spent the next half an hour swearing and slowly combing the bottom of the river bed with my hands, trying to feel for my phone. The problem was, I had no idea where it might be. First, with holding Kachina, I didn't know exactly where I had been standing, just an approximate. Second, half the river bed was deep soft silt and I didn't know if my phone would sink down into it or not. Third, there was a pretty strong current and I didn't know if it would be enough to move my phone downstream. Fourth, I was at the edge of where the river started to get deeper and my phone may have tumbled down the underwater slope into the middle of the river where it was too deep for me to use my hands to feel the bottom. There were too many factors and so I had to resign myself that my phone was probably gone forever. I was really sad to lose the photos and memos and stuff on my phone, but at least I knew my contract was up and I had the extended care coverage, so one way or another I'd be able to get a new phone without paying through the nose. I was so frustrated with myself for being so stupid though!
|The last picture my phone took as it was falling towards the river|
Anyways, by this point it was getting to be time to tack up so I left my phone in the river and brought Kachina back to the campsite.
I guess Saturday's ride will be covered in Part III! (still hoping to get some media from other people)