Once again, Joe Hedrick, owner of Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas, gave the jockeys a stern warning before the Media Grudge Match of the International Camel and Ostrich Races in Virginia City.
“You can be hit. You can be run over. You can be knocked down,” he said. “Once those camels are out those starting gates, we really have no control. Don’t let pressure make you ride. Don’t let ego make you ride.”
It’s a speech I’ve heard over and over in the 11 years I’ve ridden in the Media Grudge Match, which takes place on the Friday before the championship races on Saturday and Sunday. While the admonitions give me pause for a brief second, I power through.
But some people might have taken it too much to heart.
“Am I going to die?” Chloe Beardsley from Channel 2 News asked me. “It’s bigger than a horse. It’s got a massive hump. We were just told they can be unpredictable.”
Others were unfazed.
Morgan, from the Mustang Ranch — why the “working girls” are included in media day is unclear. On second thought, maybe there are some pretty clear similarities — committed to riding a an ostrich, which is the most unpredictable and downright crazy animal to ever be ridden, in my somewhat expert opinion.
“I’m a Southern girl,” she said. “I’m pretty confident. I can do just about anything.”
I don’t doubt her.
A lot of people ask me for advice because I’ve raced so many times. I don’t really have any words of wisdom, just do what feels natural, your body will instinctively do what it needs to do to stay upright.
Alyx Stacks, from Channel 4, found the same to be true.
“That was awesome,” she said after winning her heat. “I just grabbed on and squeezed.”
Sydney Martinez, from the Nevada Commission on Tourism, wasn’t so lucky. We raced in the same heat, and when we reached the corner I looked over and saw she was sideways on her camel. While she didn’t fall off, I guess she rode the whole way like that, with her foot looped around the back of the saddle as her only way of staying on.
I gave her some time to get her nerves together before interviewing her. I found her having a drink in the VIP tent, but she still couldn’t see the humor in the situation.
“It was awful,” she said. “I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from that.”
Boomer Barbosa, from Bob FM 93.7, won our heat (See how I just slipped that in there? I hate having to say I lost).
Before the race, he was talking some pretty harsh smack. But afterwards, when it was just him and me, face to face, he tempered it a little — which was a smart move.
“Did I want to win? Yes. Was I expecting to win? No,” he said. “But I know it’s ultimately the luck of the draw which camel you jump on.”
He said he’ll be back again next year to defend his title. There’s something about riding camels that, despite the inherent danger, will bring you back again and again.
Even Martinez, still shaky from her lopsided ride, plans to return.
“I will be here again,” she said. “But watching from the stands.”