In which I tell an old story about cows and an endurance ride

This is not my photo.

photo by Jessica Brewer Cobbley, borrowed with permission from Facebook

One of the comments on this Facebook photo read, "Cows eat trail ribbons!  Who knew?!?"

Um, pretty much every ride manager and ride crew in the West knows that cows not only eat ribbons, they scuff the lime arrows off of roads, chew up paper plate signs, knock over fiberglass poles meant to mark trail, and....

The year was 2005.  
The place was the Home On the Range endurance ride at Potholes State Park.
The trail was 75 miles long.
The horse was the Toad.
The rider was me...

Me and the Toad at a Canadian ride later in 2005

...and the cows were everywhere.

The ride was set up in loops, with all the vetchecks back in camp.  We did the first loop at daybreak, did several other loops during the day, and just as the sky was getting dark we went out to repeat that first loop, which squiggled and wiggled and criss-crossed a million other cow trails in a big wobbly circle of high desert sage and scrub for 10 or 12 miles before leading back to camp.

Ride management had marked the heck out of that trail, so the morning riders could clearly see a bright pink ribbon in front and a bright pink ribbon behind them.

Cows spent the day eating the ribbons.

Just as I was leaving camp at dusk, the ride managers zoomed out ahead on a quad to put up glowsticks every quarter- or half-mile.  That's a lot of glowsticks, even for a desert ride, but with the ribbons demolished, it was important.

We got out on the trail and couldn't find it.  

Scrips of ribbon and masticated clothespins littered the trail...and adjacent trails...and the rocks and sagebushes that clearly weren't any part of the trail.

Then we found a glowstick, hurrah!

We were not going to be able to follow the squiggly wiggly trail we'd taken in the morning, because I flat-out couldn't tell which of the squiggles was the real trail.  And so, instead of wriggling around as we were supposed to do (and would have done, if there were any ribbons left), we played connect-the-dots with the glowsticks.  

Toad looked for glowsticks, I stayed in the saddle, and all went well, for a while....

At that point, I'd been riding for about 12 or 13 hours.  I never rode fast on the Toad, because he was prone to brain-falling-out incidents, which often led to rider-falling-off incidents.  A 15 hour 75-miler was pretty typical for us.

As many distance riders will attest, visual hallucinations are part of the sport, especially at night and past the 12-hours-in-the-saddle mark.  So I wasn't a bit surprised to a glowing light bobbing up-and-down like crazy in the dark ahead of me.  I called Jim back in camp and told him what I was seeing, we giggled a bit at the tricks that brains will play when they are tired, and then I shut the phone and continued riding.

Then we got closer to my "hallucination."

Which wasn't a hallucination at all.  

It was a cow, eating a glowstick, bobbing its head up and down as it chewed the plastic thing and walking away from the trail.


Toad was insistent:  we were following glowsticks!  this was a glowstick!  we should be following!  but I overruled him and steered (that's a cow pun) us back to the last glowstick that was still stuck to a sagebrush.

We found our way around the big circle, and made it to the finish line.  Another completion in the books.

But ever since, I've wondered about the rancher who owned that cow, 
and what folks must've thought about the bovine with the dayglo lipstick.

Got a crazy "it could only happen at an endurance ride" story?  Share it in the comments box!


  1. I had no idea that cows would eat...everything. Glad you weren't lost forever, though!

    1. You know that farmers feed cows a magnet when they are young, right?

      The magnet is large enough not to pass through the first stomach, and has a hole in it so that it won't impede fluid and digested food, but it WILL keep all metallic crap that the cow eats in the first stomach to minimize damage to the rest of the cow. When the cow dies/is slaughtered, they cut open the stomach, throw all the barbed wire, car bumpers, fence post parts and other metal stuff into the recycle bin.

      Then they wash off the magnet and feed it to the next cow. True thing. Cows are amazing.


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