For several months I've tried to write this post. I just haven't been able to find words that are eloquent enough to describe her. And after writing several drafts, I still can't. Montoya was a very special horse and everything that I write, or attempt to write, comes out sounding trivial. I really wanted her story to convey how special she truly was. Even though my words won't leave the impression I want them to, I hope you'll try to see past them and recognize what a spectacular horse she was.
Montoya was hell on wheels, a bitch when she needed to be, and a monster trail eater. If you needed to get somewhere, anywhere, all you had to do was think, go, and you'd be there. And if you were already hustling down the trail, she could find another gear. I never used up all that was in the tank. It made her difficult to ride because I never knew if she was on the verge of being over-ridden. In fact, she always acted as though I was holding her back. She always had more to give. Even in the last moments of her life, she offered more.
My time with Montoya started on a very late December night in 1998. Jim Bumgardner was supposed to have arrived late in the afternoon with a trailer full of horses for me to look at. He was late, very late. The temperature was in the 30s and it was after 9:00 p.m. before he pulled into the barn area. Even though it was late, he wanted to continue on to Ridgecrest, several hours to the east. So without any more delay, my group of friends helped unload five or six mares from the trailer. Several were given an immediate no; one looked sick with a snotty nose, one was too small, and one was priced out of my budget. Two or three were left standing in front of us.
I don't remember much about the others, but Montoya caught everyone's eye immediately. She had the most amazing mass of tangled mane that any of us had ever seen. Even in the dark it stood out. It hung down past the tip of her shoulder and nearly touched her knee when she lowered her head. Her forelock covered her entire face and was the same flaxen color as her mane. Her tail, also lush and thick, was red. When I got close enough to stroke her face, I found that her mane and forelock were matted with tar weed.
A friend trotted out the remaining horses for me to evaluate. Montoya had the nicest movement of the group, and she looked sound. We all agreed that she seemed to be the best endurance prospect of the bunch. Jim Bumgardner had to return our way in a week or so and offered to trade her out for one of the others when he returned if I found that I didn't like her. I gave him a check, and he gave me her Arabian Horse Association registration papers. We later discovered that she was quite well bred with a mostly Russian ancestry. She was nine years old.
I bought Montoya in the middle of a December night based solely on a trot out. At 27 years old, it never occurred to me that she wasn't broke or that she would be too hot for me to ride. I could ride anything. Literally. I did discover that while she was broke, and I use the word very liberally, it had been many years since she'd been under saddle. And she was hot. Fiery hot. Fortunately she wasn't a bucker, and as long as we were going forward, she was happy.
The next year we rode several 50 mile races and completed three one-day hundred milers. We earned 6th place in the lightweight division for the AERC Pacific Southwest Region. It was quite a year. Montoya and I continued to have many exciting race seasons. In 2002 we earned the Fire Mountain Award of Excellence for completing a series of races with the same horse/rider team: the 4-day 200 mile Death Valley Encounter, the 20 Mule Team 100, and the Eastern High Sierra Classic 50.
In January of 2010, Montoya colicked and was euthanized. The necropsy revealed a blood clot that had broken loose and found it's way to a capillary that provided blood to her intestines. When the blood flow stopped, a length of intestine died. Surgery would not have saved her.
Montoya's death was such a sudden and terrible loss that I found it very difficult to read the thoughtful condolences that were sent to me. I appreciated them, but I couldn't read them. I tucked each one away to be read someday in the future. Taz's mom wrote a lovely tribute that I have never shared with anyone. I think it's time. Here it is.