Thursday, April 29, 2021

Owyhee Tough Suckers 100 Ride Report - Crysta Turnage

by Crysta Turnage

Well, it was our day but was not our day...

The ride started in the dark (DARK, moon had set) at 0500. I had been very efficient with getting things prepared the night before. Riding a 100 with no crew, I knew the more prep I could do for each checkpoint in advance would equal more time I could rest and relax. So I was mounted and had been walking around camp for several minutes when Regina announced the trail was open. There were only 9 of us in the 100, and I only saw two other riders who were ready. So Bravo and I trotted off into the dark and put ourselves in an unexpected position - we were leading the ride!

Bravo was focused and on point. I've ridden him enough in the dark to trust him to do his job on the footing and my job was to concentrate and keep us on the trail. There were red LED lights guiding our path and thankfully enough of them that I didn't need to doubt myself very often. We trotted for miles together in the dark, just the two of us. The LED markers stopped just about the time the sun had started to make an appearance. I was now having to squint at the bush to see if I could see a strip of ribbon, there wasn't enough light to actually SEE the colors yet. Bravo was happily snatching grass during our walking breaks. He had not eaten very well the night before, so was making up for bad decisions by grazing along the trail. Around 8-9 miles the sun was finally up enough we could see clearly and move out with more confidence. Bravo is a "want to be in front" horse so he was just joyful out there on our own. He was so relaxed and efficient. We arrived at the second set of water troughs and I gave him a dose of elytes though he declined to drink. He peed three times on the first 20 mile stretch to the trot-by check. At this point we were in our own little bubble - I had not seen or heard anyone behind us so we were just cruising and doing our ride.

We reached the 20-mile trot-by check shortly after 0730. Bravo was ready to drink here and passed the check with no issues. I took a quick inventory, realized we didn't need anything just yet, and set off for the 10-mile lollipop loop which would bring us back to this away vet check. We did a 10-mile loop along the top of the rolling plateaus, looking down into the Oreana Valley and the former Teeter Ranch. I was glad I had my rain coat as the storm front began to roll in. Thankfully it just spit on us this loop, nothing of any real impact. On a few occasions I could see a group of four riders behind me, but B and I just stayed in our little bubble.

We arrived at the 30 mile check and one hour hold around 0900. B vetted through with all A's (excellent gut sounds!). It turned out we had about a 5 minute lead over the group behind us. I wasn't there to "race" per say, its not like it was a competitive ride, but was interested to see how B would do going his "happy pace" all day. The terrain and footing was very forgiving and definitely allowed for long trotting sections. Today was about enjoying being on the trail and out there together and marveling at what this horse is capable of. It was about making sure my adjusted electrolyte protocol kept him happy and going well over 50 miles. And making sure that I took care of both of us well enough we could get through the entire day and evening. The first 50-miles was like a big lollipop loop - we went out 20-miles to the check, did a 10-mile loop, and then back on the same 20-miles we had ridden in the morning. It was fun and different to see the trail and surrounding terrain in the light this time!

It had been so dark earlier that I wasn't able to appreciate the beauty of what we were riding through. This area is similar high desert vegetation but the mountains are totally different, more low plateaus and deeper river valleys than the true climbs we have in Nevada. It was fun to see all the other riders as well since the 50s had started at 0800 and were now making their way to the vet check.

We made it back to camp and the hour hold at 50 miles around 1220. My camp neighbor Jeff and I were laughing since he was leading the "chase pack" which was running about 5 mins behind. Dr. Jessica vetted Bravo and marveled at how well he was doing metabolically. I was SO SO SO PLEASED. He has NOT been an easy horse to manage but today so far had been flawless. He was eating, and drinking, and peeing, and just HAPPY and doing so well. Then we trotted and she had a funny look on her face as we were coming back. I was quite surprised, he had felt wonderful out on the trail. Something inconsistent on his left front, bring him back for a recheck before we go out again. Ugh! B isn't my "soundness" issue guy - that was Digs. Thankfully I learned a lot about getting an iffy horse through rides from Big D.

We passed the recheck and headed out for a 20 mile loop from camp. The first several miles were the same as the morning trail, and then we made a left hand turn and proceeded up a canyon on the LD trail. The LD riders were now starting to return on this trail from the away vet check, so again it was fun to see everyone and briefly say hi as we climbed. B hit his standard mid-afternoon OMG I'M SO HUNGRY MUST EAT ALL THE THINGS phase which is nearly like clockwork for him. So we walked and jogged and grazed and stopped often for bites of grass. Near the top of the climb Jeff, Jessica, Mike and (?? Nance?) caught up to us. They all checked and made sure we were okay and I assured them it was just hunger issues. Bravo ate a bit more and then tucked in with the group. We all rode a few miles together to the next water set and along the highway. Jeff and I were in front chatting, and at one point I looked back and realized the others weren't there anymore! B was over his "I'm gonna die unless I eat" phase and back to normal feed the hungry pony status. Jeff and I had a good time trading off the lead back and forth and I was actually happy to have some company for the upcoming 30-miles, since it was going to be just a 15 mi shorter repeat of this same 20 mi loop, done twice. Gus and Bravo were well paced together, other than needing to either stay REALLY close or well back to avoid the blowing dust in my contacts. The rain storm caught us just before we got back to camp and I regretted my mistake of taking off my jacket and leaving it in my trailer at the last hold. While I got SOAKED, at least it wasn't too cold and it wasn't long before we were back in camp.

We arrived in camp at 70 miles around 1615 or so. Vetted through with that same watch on his left front. It wasn't noticeable out on the trail, but I could see it out of the corner of my eye this time while trotting. Same recheck before we head back out. This was only a 40 minute hold and I scrambled to refill water bottles, elyte syringes, carrots on my pack, change out of my wet clothes from head to toe, and oh yeah.... eat something myself. This ride was all about liquid calories for me pretty much. If I couldn't drink it or slurp it in the saddle, I didn't have time. We rechecked his leg before heading out and it was the same as noted previously - slight and occasional but "something".

Jeff and Gus had left on time and I was a few minutes later after I got organized and did our recheck. I really just wanted to finish and wasn't concerned with placing so it was good to get back into a pocket by ourselves. B and I both had a serious case of the "fuckits" doing this same loop again. The 15 mi yellow was only different from the previous 20 mi pink by having a different cutoff point. I realized this was the first 100 I've ever done which had so much repeat trail. I've been very fortunate to not have this be a regular occurrence. Regina had to make several last minute changes the week of the ride due to OHV and water damage to past routes used. Some of what we rode was new trails she had just found to link together. I'm not complaining, it was just an interesting observation to see at what point we both got a little low on motivation. I also made myself take some elytes, drink at least a 1/4 bottle, and get some calories every time I started to feel a little mentally low.

B and I continued the same climb up the pink/yellow loop that we had before. When we hit some of the flat road up top, he picked up a trot and felt off on his right rear. I jumped down to check his shoes (Easycare Flex) and found he had slipped a nail! The clinch was still super tight, but down into his hoof and I couldn't loosen the end. The nail itself had folded over the edge of the shoe and was lifting his hoof wall on the lateral heel. It probably felt like a small rock under the edge of his hoof. I texted my husband and we tried to puzzle out if I could somehow pull the nail with my Leatherman. I tried a few different options but wasn't brave enough to bend the nail all the way back, for fear that I wouldn't be able to actually PULL it and would just make it worse. At this point, the best option I had was to walk him into camp (forward was closer than going back) and see if we could pull the nail and/or shoe and see how he looked. So that's what we did. Kept moving. When we got to the softer footing areas, B would pick up a trot of his own accord so it definitely seemed to be related to sore feet on any harder footing.

Back in camp at 85 miles and there's a farrier available! He pulls the nail and we trot for the vets.... hhhmmm. We all see something. Nothing consistent but he's just not moving like he should. Beth and Suzanne come over to help crew and we all sit and stare at him and try to decide what to do. He's eating really well and has a great attitude still, but I can tell his feet hurt. I go talk with the vets (she's absolutely wonderful by the way - Dr. Jessica Heinrick). From the 70 mile check to the 85 mile check he has gotten a bit worse, we both agree. If we do the last loop and he gets any worse, then we will probably not get a completion. He's not bad enough right now for a vet pull - this is a Rider Option call for me to make (RO-L). Its a little after 8 pm so time wise, we could go walk the entire last loop and still be good on time...

I go back and look at Bravo. And I realize that as much as it sucks I need to make the right decision FOR HIM and pull. He would totally go out, not feeling 100% and do that last loop because I asked him to - but that's not fair to him. The completion and the miles are all about my ego and my wants and desires - not his. He got to have a super fun day doing what he loves but that last loop would not have been any fun for him. Could we have risked it and maybe completed? Yeah, maybe. But would it have been the right thing to do if I take the human component out of it and just judge my horse as he stands there? Probably not. Did it suck to have that outcome after such a fabulous day? Absolutely. Do I regret my decision? No. So we both got cleaned up and into bed at a pretty decent hour.

The completion rate was REALLY good! 7 out of the 9 that started all completed. I was happy to cheer on everyone at awards the next morning. For as far as we went, I actually felt REALLY good the next morning and didn't have any issues getting all cleaned up and packed to go. The drive home had enough rain storms that while I stopped a couple times for gas and restroom breaks, I didn't unload Bravo at all. He arrived home after our 7 hr drive and looked good moving around the corral. By yesterday evening I couldn't see any hint of the soreness.

Next on our agenda is a multi-day at City of Rocks, another Idaho ride! I've been wanting to go to this one for several years so am really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

2021 Owyhee Tough Sucker - Merri Melde

by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
April 27 2021

What do Idaho's Owyhee Tough Sucker endurance ride and the Mongol Derby have in common?

Riders!

Normally held the first weekend in April, Tough Sucker switched with Eagle Canyon - which is normally the last weekend in April - because numerous riders were seeking a 100-mile ride, either for 100-mile newbies, or as early prep for the AERC National Championships in June in Montana… or the Mongol Derby in Mongolia in August!

Go figure - it hasn't rained in months in the Owyhee desert, but Mother Nature saved it all up for the weekend: it's not called the Owyhee Tough Sucker ride for nothing! Just pack your trailer full of the full range of clothing, and expect it all, and you'll be set. throughout the day, depending on what part of the trail you were on, you might have had warm sunshine, cold showers, thunderstorms, or gulley-washing downpours.

Eight riders signed up to do the 100-miler, which became nine riders, when Jeff Stuart on a whim changed from his planned 50 on 18-year-old JV Remington (Gus) to the 100. In his 17 years of endurance, he had yet to finish a 100. "I like 50's," he said, but it didn't take long to convince himself to go for the 100. The 4 rides with Mongol Derby connections/aspirations came with Dylan and Stevie Delahunt brought 3 riders along.

Super-adventurer Stevie has competed in the Mongol Derby, Gaucho Derby (Argentina), and Race the wild Coast (South Africa); Dylan and friends crewed while Stevie led Alexandra Fetterman (endurance rider doing her first 100, riding the Mongol Derby in 2022), Heidi Falzon (venter doing her first endurance ride, riding the Mongol Derby in 2022), and Deirdre Griffith (horse packer doing her first endurance ride, riding the Mongol Derby this year) to a finish in the Tough Sucker 100.

Jessica Cobbley and Brass, and Mike Cobbley and Khalid finished second and third, and Jeff Stuart and Gus won the 100 by 4 minutes in a ride time of 15:18. They also got Best Condition. Not bad for a couple of old guys (they just reached their Decade Team status in the Antelope Island 50 miler two weeks earlier). Jeff got that 100 monkey off his back!

Seven out of nine finished the 100-miler.

Seven started the 75-miler, with 4 finishing. First place and Best Condition was Melissa Montgomery aboard West Wind Dragon in 10:26.


Finishing third aboard Bucephalos was Lindsay Fisher in 11:45. If you look closely at this 23-year-old gelding, especially when he pins his ears when she trots him out, he might remind you of a certain Monk, whom Lindsay rode for many years, finishing Tevis on him 5 times and winning the Haggin Cup in 2019. And that's because he's the sire of Monk. He started endurance at age 16 and has only done a handful of rides, but Lindsay's bringing him along with the goal of competing at Tevis. It's possible that Bucephalos and Monk could ride the trail together, and, as Lindsay pointed out, how many times have a parent/offspring ridden Tevis together?

18 started the 55, with 15 finishing. Trina Lenmark and Rushcreek Cricket won in 6:10 and got Best Condition. Suzanne Ford Huff and Beth Kauffmann hauled from the Gardnerville, Nevada area for the ride; in finishing in 6th and 7th places, Beth hit the 15,000 mile mark (she was sitting on 14,999 miles :) )


29 started the 30-miler, with 27 finishing. Zane and dad Matthew Geddes came in first, with third place Simone Mauhl and Dudley's friend Boogey getting Best Condition.

The Owyhee Tough Sucker will happily take credit for helping steer a couple of Mongol Derby competitors over the next 2 years in the right trail directions (Idaho's Bob Long won it in 2019, you all know). We'll be watching and rooting from the Owyhee desert!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

2021 Twenty Mule Team - Nick Warhol

The 20 Mule Team 100, 2021
Or- I need a vacation from my vacation!

by Nick Warhol

The fire mountain and the 20 Mule Team rides were canceled in the winter due to covid, but with the restrictions lifted, ride managers Gretchen Montgomery and Brian Reeves decided to do a combined ride on the weekend of April 10th with Gretchen’s rides on Friday and Sunday, and the 20-mule team squeezed in between on Saturday. It was a busy weekend for everyone!

I drove down a week early with Sorsha and her guest Reyos, the spunky gelding owned by my riding buddy Ines. I shuttled him down for her early so she could do a 50 at Gretchen’s ride. I rented a truck for 10 days since the Pony Tug is finally back with a new transmission (replaced under warranty since the new one I put in 22 months ago failed and had a 2-year warranty!) It won’t ever tow a horse again. My new truck won’t be here till July; I’m seriously looking forward to that showing up. I’ll hold the old one in reserve until the new one arrives in case we have an after hours horse emergency. Gretchen and Mike graciously gave me a room in their house a block from the ride site. That sure made it easier since I had no camper.

I got to work on the trail bright an early on Monday morning in serious wind. I mean really serious! It was so windy they closed the highways since semi-trucks were being blown over. I was out trying to put up highway crossing and other signs, but it was almost impossible. The wind was so strong that at one point, I was out in the open, and I could not open the driver’s door of the truck. I had to exit the passenger side! I got my 25 or so signs up, distributed hay around all the vet checks, and tried to mark the trail in town. Chalking the turns was not possible, and it almost took two people to put a single ribbon on a bush. One to hold the second person up without being blown over, and the second person had to somehow grab a branch that was whipping back and forth like windshield wipers on mach 2 speed. It was a very futile effort; I lost a half day of work.

The wind settled on Tuesday; I went out at 8:00 am on the bike to check and fix up gretchen’s 50 miles of trail for her rides. The wind had done a number on her ribbons; it had either snapped many off or it twisted them around the branches of the bushes making them hard to see. I was joined by my new friend Mike Caufield on his KTM 350 dirt bike. He’s a good rider who lives in Ridgecrest and wants to learn how to mark trail for the Valley Riders. OKAY! I sure appreciated the help. It took us most of the day, so when we finished, I tried to catch up marking in town and attempt to get back on schedule. I finished up about 7pm. Wednesday is the day to mark the 20 MT 35-mile night loop on the bike. That takes about 4 hours, plus the new 7 miles of the start for the 65-mile loop. I had a nice snag when Brian called me to tell me that some low life Ass^(%$ had emptied the water trough at the 395 south crossing and stolen it, along with the bale of hay there and my cache of trail marking ribbons. I can only carry so much stuff on the bike, so I put supplies in key spots on the trail in advance and “refit” when I get there. Val went into a ribbon tying frenzy to replace them. The same dork apparently also stole two more bales of hay from the 395 north vet check. At least I did not have my ribbons there yet! I then went out and checked the 15-mile blue loop that Brian had marked on Monday. I had to put down the chalk since it was too windy to do it Monday. I also got to go back and do chalking in town since the wind was moderate today. It was a good thing I did! The wind came back with gusto on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday is the long day on the bike when I mark the 65-mile pink loop. It’s an all-day affair, but Mike C came along again today to help. It was nice until about 1pm, but that darn wind started up again. I’d have to get back out at some point to do the chalk for the last 15 miles of the trail. There wasn’t a lot of time left! Ines arrived in the afternoon, so at about 4pm I took an hour and a half off to go ride Sorsha with Ines and Reyos in the strong wind. It was still way too windy to do any trail marking.

Friday was supposed to be my day off so I could rest a bit before riding the 100 on Saturday. The wind had stopped, thank goodness, so I went out in the morning to finish up the chalking I had not been able to complete. I also walked and marked the mile trail section that I can’t ride a bike on. I got back to camp and took off all the bike gear; I got a call from Gretchen telling me that people were getting lost on her second loop. The ribbons were down! It wasn’t a total disaster since the riders were able to find the trail after only loosing a few minutes looking. I told her I’d go out and fix it later in the afternoon so it would be okay for her Sunday’s ride. But then the leaders on the last loop were lost. It turns out that some of the guys who were marking the trail for the motorcycle race on Saturday had accidentally pulled our ribbons in a section about a mile and a half long. There are probably a hundred trail crossings and road intersections in that section, so Gretchen drove out to the spot to tell the riders what to do until I got there. I suited back up and went out and fixed it. While I was out there on the bike I went ahead and fixed the second loop for the guys on Sunday’s ride. I made it back to camp just in time for the riders meeting for Saturday’s 20 mule team rides. So much for my day off!

For some stupid reason I woke up on ride morning at 2am and just could not get back to sleep. I drug myself out of bed at 4:30 and got Sorsha tacked up and led her over to the start. She was fine, but got a little amped before the start. I got on to start the ride, but hopped back off and led her a block or so at the start. I hopped back on and once we started moving forward on the trail she was fine. I rode out of town on the new start trail with Gayle Penya and her friend, but went on ahead at the 10-mile water stop. I rode her alone having a great time for the next 9 miles to vet 1 at the sand dunes. I did have a weird semi-disaster with my eyes. A few miles before the vet check the wind started up and my eyes started burning like I had poured gasoline in them. I was riding with my left eye closed with tears streaming out. This was not going to work! I got to the check and poured water in them, but they were burning, and this was a problem. Sorsha blew through the check, and when I left, I hooked up with Lisa Schneider on the 65, and Michelle Rowe on the 100. We trotted up towards sheep springs chatting, and I told them my eyes were dying. Lisa opened up her portable medicine chest she carries on her horse and gave me 2 Benadryl tablets. (I saw a portable defibrillator in there!) 30 minutes later I had totally forgotten about my eyes. They were fixed! I obviously was allergic to something down here in April, which is two months later than this ride usually is. Thanks Lisa! I’m adding them to the Advil packets I carry. It was starting to get pretty warm outside, and there is ZERO shade out here. We rode along together all the way to vet 2 at the trees at mile 34, where I had the treat of the weekend. Ines, Brenda, and Cindy came out to crew for me. When I say crew for me, I mean it! It was actually kind of incredible. I pulled in, they sat me in a chair in the shade of a tree, grabbed Sorsha, and just took over. They did EVERYTHING and just made me sit and eat. I have not experienced that kind of plush treatment before. I could get used to that! It’s a shame the hold was only an hour, but eventually I had to leave. I left with Lisa and Michelle, continuing along together on the section I call the flats. It’s a long, flat, 5-mile section along the railroad tracks. Michelle thought for a minute we were going to be able to skip some of it, but no, I had to add in a couple of miles to make up for the nasty stuff I removed from the trail later. She said she hated this section. Okay, I told her, now this section is no longer known as the flats, it is now called “Michelle’s trail!” She groaned and said thanks. We trotted and even cantered a bit in the heat down the long, flat road until we reached the water at Goler road. The horses were drinking a lot today, thank goodness, and lucky for us Brian had put out extra water because of the heat. It would have been really ugly to find an empty trough, but there was no chance that would happen. Thanks Brian! We started up Rattlesnake canyon (I saw only one Mojave Green this week) and Lisa and Michelle were going a little faster than I wanted to go, so I let them go on ahead as Sorsha and I walk/trotted up the climb. We got half way up the canyon and turned right to take my new trail for this year. I removed 4.2 miles of hard, rocky and straight downhill roads in favor of the nice soft road that cuts through the pass at Laurel mountain. Boy what an improvement, if I do say so myself! Joyce Sousa and Jennifer Neihaus caught me before the water stop on top of the climb, and I rode with them for just a bit, but they were also going faster than I wanted to go, so I let them go as well. Jennifer was on a mission- she was trying for the “Ironman” award that I sponsored. One rider would ride 200 miles in three days on at least two horses. 50 Friday, 100 Saturday, 50 on Sunday. There were three people attempting the feat. If anyone can do it, Jennifer can!

The heat was starting to get pretty bad as we dropped down the canyon into the valley. There was no breeze at all, and the heat was pretty stifling. You could just not escape it. It was a little like riding in an oven, or at least that’s what I imagined it was like. Sorsha was being great and just kept on trotting along, with us being all by ourselves. It was a hot 90 minutes to the vet check at 55 miles, and the water sure felt good on my head. The 10 miles back to camp was hot as well, and it was sure nice to see camp at 65 miles. Ines was there helping me again, so I got to mostly sit and try and cool off. The temperature was dropping a bit, thank goodness, and a little breeze kicked up. Sorsha was eating well, so I let her stay a few extra minutes to chow down. I headed out in a tee shirt, and at the camp exit I saw a guy on a big grey getting ready to head out. I asked him if he’d like to ride together to give our horses company, and he said sure! His name is Buz Arnold, and it was the first 100 for him and his big horse Gus. Or Gus-Gus. Or Gussie. We rode out of town and into the desert on our last 35-mile loop. Gus was funny- on the way out of town he’d pause for a moment then go again. I think he was not sure this was correct! We were trotting along and caught up to Kassandra Dimaggio on her stallion. They were walking along, but once he got a look at my pretty mare, he instantly fell in love and joined us! He was a good boy, and he seemed interested in Sorsha, but Kassandra did a great job of keeping the big boy in line. It seemed to work best if she rode in front of Buz and I, with us side by side behind her.

We bopped along Boundary road together, and I noticed something weird- it was still light outside! Duh, in mid April there are a couple more hours of daylight than in February. It did not get dark until we were past the ridge summit and on our way down to the 395 south crossing. The air was actually cool! What a treat! I was still in a tee shirt. Buz snapped on his red glow bars on his breast collar, Kassandra did not have any lights, but I had my homemade battery powered blue LED strip lights on my breast collar. They work really well, casting a nice, soft blue light that lets you see the trail. Not to mention your crew can see you from miles away! It was totally dark out with absolutely no moon. Kassandra tried a couple of times to go ahead, but told us with a laugh that her horse was walking right off the road into the desert since it was so dark. She hung with us, riding the big boy in front of us in my light. Buz and I were taking it easy. It was his and Gus’s first 100, and they REALLY wanted to finish. I was in no hurry and just wanted a finish as well, so we walk / trotted the whole loop in the dark. Gus still had lots of punch left, and when we were on foot, Buz kept asking him: “why can’t you walk next to me nicely like that brown horse does?” Gus was puling on him, wanting to go faster. Good Boy, Gus! The three horses were drinking great from every water; we hopped off and led them in to the last check at 90 miles. Sorsha was at 44, typical, and big Gus recovered right away, both trotted great, so after our quick 20-minute hold we headed out on the last 10 miles towards home. We hopped off and led our horses for ¾ of a mile down the last downhill from the ridge. (that felt good on the old knees!) Once back on its just 2 miles through town to the finish. We sent Kassandra on ahead since her boy was going faster than us anyway. Buz and I trotted into the finish at about 12:40am, which was a pretty respectable time, for 9th and 10th place. I thought it was a decent time until I heard the winner finished at 8:30! Yikes! A tip of the visor to them. In this heat? I guess they were able to do some heat conditioning. I certainly could not. Both Sorsha and Gus looked great, which is all we could ask for. I led my big, brown, girly horse (who is now 3 for 4 in 100 mile rides) back over to Gretchen’s, gave her a ton of food, and crashed into bed. No problem sleeping tonight!

I woke up Sunday morning and thought about Jennifer. Would I go out and do a 50 today? Nope. Pass. Not her! She headed out at 6:30 am on the 50 after finishing the 50 on Friday, and the 100 just a few hours before. I did, however, head back out on the bike to clean up the pink 65-mile loop. Its just so much faster to do on the bike, and I felt good after about 6 hours sleep and a huge breakfast. I got back into camp on the bike at about 2pm, then went out and walked the section of trail I can’t ride on. I drove out and picked up all the signs, my bags of ribbons, etc, getting the whole thing done by about 4pm. We were going to go have dinner and lots of beer. I showered, and went back to camp and arrived just in time to hear that Dave Rabe had come off White Cloud and the horse had taken off across the desert. Oh boy. I hopped in the side by side and headed out to where he was reported to have come off. I found Dave walking slowly in the desert towards the main powerline road. He was hurt, but as he said: “I’m not dead.” (You have to know Dave.) He told me that his horse tripped or fell down, Dave came off, and the horse rolled over him. He had hit his helmet, and had what looked like at least a few broken ribs. He convinced me he was okay and did not need to go to the hospital that moment, and we needed to find his horse. We actually played the Lone Ranger and Tonto- we went back to the point where he came off, and we tracked White Clouds boot prints across the desert for about a half mile or so. We lost the track a few times but were able to find it. We got to the main powerline road that goes straight back into camp, but the horse had crossed the road and continued on into the desert. I knew where he was going. The tracks led straight towards the BLM wild mustang facility, about 3 miles away as the crow flies. There are a couple hundred horses and Burros there- that’s where he was going. Dave agreed we should go look there, and that’s where we found White Cloud. He was standing with his nose touching the fence on the other side of the mustangs. Dave was relieved, and being typical Dave, he asked me how far would the ride back to camp be. Ah, no, we are getting a trailer. I called Brian who grabbed Gretchen and rushed out to pick him and his horse up. We got them both back to camp, and our friends took over. Head vet Mike Peralez quickly inspected White Cloud and found him just scraped up. I think it was Kasandra who took him to the hospital where they confirmed 3 completely broken ribs, but no punctured lung or internal damage. Suzanne and Daryll Huff split up and drove Dave’s rig home for him. Endurance riders are good people.

Jennifer did indeed finish Sunday, making her the only person to complete the Iron Man challenge. That’s quite an accomplishment. Her award is a blanket of her choice, monogrammed with a bunch of stuff on it about her accomplishment. Just think- she will have the only one on the world! Congratulations Jenn. You deserve it.

We finally made it to dinner at a brew house and many beers. It had been quite a week. So much went on all week the 100 seemed almost like an afterthought. Not really! Sorsha is pretty amazing. I’m not sure what her next ride will be, in June perhaps, maybe Montana de Oro. I did get into Tahoe Rim which I love. What a great way to spend a week, even if it was a little busy at times. See you next year!

Nick Warhol
West Region

Thursday, April 15, 2021

2021 Fire Mountain - Nina Bomar

by Nina Bomar
April 14 2021

It was our second day of competing at the Fire Mountain ride with Heidi Helly on OP, Dave Rabe riding White Cloud and me on my beloved Niño. Together we moseyed out of camp knowing full well that we’d be riding together as planned on the night before.

We had gathered around for tacos and live music, compliments of Heidi’s husband Patrick and fellow endurance rider Bart. They gave us a jam session that will forever be remembered. Juan and I managed to squeeze in a little dancing in between the cooking, serving, singing out loud and simply having a grand celebration.

Heidi mixed the salad while people showed up for the tailgate festivities. It was a joyous evening and while we all stuffed our bellies and shared stories, it was the music that made my heart sing. The romantic sound of the guitars flowed effortlessly and only because we had two great guitarists willing to provide... Even my horse Niño often peeked his head around the corner of the trailer to express his appreciation, while standing beneath the dark desert skies and enjoying the classic tunes.

Our Sunday morning start was quiet and soon we had a nice pace going with just the three of us. Heidi noted that we were the 100k mile club with Dave nearing an all time record of 75k miles and she recently surpassing her 15k mile mark from the first day’s ride. Then there was me, trying to pick up the slack but we certainly ain’t there yet. As we approached the ride photographer, we planned to make it a cover photo shot. It was our own fantasy to be accompanied by Dave who is a living legend in our sport and such an honest man. He has decades of stories to tell and Heidi too but the best part was when we made some pretty funny jokes about what it’d take to make a front page magazine appearance. At the very least, we were thankful knowing that Dave has achieved that status at least once in his illustrious endurance riding career but he deserves so many more... they both do imho...

We trotted on laughing and then complaining at times when we had inadvertently lost the marked trail. The ribbon was now backwards from the previous ride on Friday and if you didn’t pay close attention, it was easy to screw up. We agreed on numerous occasions to quit storytelling and to pay better attention to the ribbons that would send us in the right direction. That was hard to do and soon we’d get distracted and share the memories of another great experience.

The Fire Mountain ride isn’t so easy... either you’re going uphill or downhill with very little flatland. The weather was warm at times and the horses pushed on brilliantly. At the lunch stop Dave and I had a beer, mine a Mexican Corona and his an American Organic... He’s purely a meat and potatoes man who loves to enjoy a cold beer.

We headed out on our last 20 mile loop. The horses were doing great, while we promptly missed a turnoff and climbed an extra mountain. At the top, we asked some motorcyclists if they’d seen horses, while knowing perfectly well that they hadn’t. Needless to say, it was another turnaround and a screwup that was our own fault for talking too much. We figured that while we got in a few extra miles, we always managed to correct ourselves and we continued on. It was at the last water stop where we let the horses drink, snack on carrots and we prepared for the final trek back to camp. We only had a handful of miles left to go and we were ready to see the finish line.

With Heidi in front, then me, followed by Dave, we trotted off. It was a sandy area and we took it slow, when suddenly I heard Dave say... No no no! I thought we had taken a wrong turn but I saw the red ribbon on the lefthand side and I turned around to assure him we were good.

Much to my surprise and while it all unfolded within seconds, I saw White Cloud take a tumble and he did a somersault right over the top of Dave, scrambled to his feet and came trotting in my direction... without Dave. I tried to grab him but he went right on by. I told Heidi to go back and make sure Dave was okay, while I would try to catch his horse. I waited for a minute to have her blessings and to be sure that Dave was in fact fine. They both directed me to go on.

I had initially jumped off Niño after the commotion began and then I jumped back on him as he was still quite excited and I was too. There was a lot going on for my young horse but he handled it brilliantly and we tried with all our might to catch White Cloud but every time we’d get closer he would go faster. We tried backing off too and completely stopping but White Cloud was on a mission and paying no attention to us. He kept his nose to the ground and was on a hunt presumably heading back to camp on his own.

Feeling frustrated I called Heidi from my cell phone as we got farther away and I didn’t want to lose contact with them just incase they needed more help, while I also didn’t want to lose sight of Dave’s horse. I knew how important that was to stay with him but I was struggling.

Heidi said that Dave wanted me to ride on and to head off through the desert for a bit and to then try and get in front of him to cut him off, but the further ahead I got, the faster he galloped... making it impossible to catch him. I tried that several times but we continually failed and I went from sweet talking to cursing at the sob for not stopping. It seemed we kept going farther and farther and faster and faster with each mile.

Soon we found ourselves crossing through the middle of the barren desert and completely off trail. I was afraid we would get lost not to mention the Choya cactus that was hiding beneath on the desert ground. I stopped Niño feeling completely defeated and we managed to find our way back to the trail where I called Heidi again. We waited at an intersection of trail and all met up to discuss our next step.

Dave was walking and holding his chest but said he was feeling fine and he was coherent. He said his ribs hurt. I told him what direction his horse went and pointed out that he was headed towards the powerline road. He decided that he would walk in that direction and try to find him while we called for more help. The good news is that the horse was soon caught down at the holding pens and Dave was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with three broken ribs.

We had a whole posse come out to the rescue and the ride management handled it all with grace and efficiency. We are very thankful that in the end, everything wasn’t worse off and that Dave has an entire village always willing to help him. He’s a beloved leader in our sport and soon he will be back on his horses hitting the trails...

Monday, March 08, 2021

2021 Land of the Sun 50, Wickenburg AZ - Nick Warhol

2/27/21
by Nick Warhol

I had one heck of a week! it started with my truck breaking down AGAIN the day before I was supposed to head to Arizona from the bay area for the Land of the sun ride in Wickenburg. I was planning on staying at Brian Reeve’s place on the way down, then he and I were going to Ridgecrest for a day and a half to work on the trail for the upcoming 20 mule team / fire mountain combo ride on April 10th. My transmission failed again on the way back from a local ride with Judy and Donnie on Saturday. Sometimes my luck does work- the tranny was replaced 20 months ago, and the repair had a 2 year warranty. Whew! Its in the shop now getting fixed under warranty, but once its back it will never tow a horse again. Not to mention it was serious luck that it broke before the day before I left for my week-long trip. I called Brian to cancel and he said: “No, use one of my trucks!” He told me to drive down to his place in Squaw Valley, Ca, (not the ski place, the one near Fresno) and leave my car and take his dodge dually home and the trip is on as planned. He and Val have a really nice ranch setup in the hills near King’s Canyon. Their generosity was unbelievable. I got his truck, drove it back home, loaded up and and off to Ridgecrest we went. I spent a half day with him in a side by side and a day on my bike finishing up the trails for the ride. There are several changes since we are doing it the same weekend as the fire mountain ride, and there is a large motorcycle race on saturday that caused some major re-routing. All is good- we have the new routes set, and the changes on the 65-mile loop are VERY good for the horses. (I removed 4 miles of hard, rocky, downhill, boring roads)

Sorsha and I truck pooled to the ride with Gretchen Montgomery and her mare Coquette. It was another 7 hours from ridgecrest to Wickenburg. 15 hours of driving is a bit much for a 50, but there are just no rides yet where I am, and I wanted a 50 before the 100 at 20MT on April 10. I’m not sorry I went at all. I love doing rides in new areas I have not been in yet, and it did not disappoint. Ride camp is at a place called Boyd Ranch at the end of a good quality, eight-mile dirt road from the highway. We arrived on Thursday, giving the horses a full day to recover from the long drive. The ride camp is about perfect- it was deluxe and had everything you might want short of hot showers. We took the girls out for a ride Friday afternoon to get them loosened up, and to introduce Sorsha to the Saguaro cactus. These things are monsters! They grow from the size of a fire hydrant to bigger than a football stadium goal post. She did not seem to care about them, or the six foot high cholla cactus plants, or the massive prickly pear plants the size of cars, but for some reason she did not think much of the barrel cactus. I grew up in the desert, but let me tell you, there was a LOT of cactus in this place.

The weather was cold at night, but during the day it was really nice- cool but not cold, and not hot. My perfect weather is when it’s too cool in the shade for short sleeves, but just right in the sun. The 50 would be run on three loops: 17, 12, and 20 miles, all of which returned to base camp. It seemed a little odd to only have one hold after the second loop, but its good to have the extra time at this ride. The 50 started at 6:30 in the almost light. The first loop started out really neat- single track across the open desert through the rolling hills. The trail was tight- it wound back and forth around bushes (AND CACTUS!) every few feet. It would open up a bit, then get really tight again. you needed a lot of trail marking on trails like this since you are riding from ribbon to ribbon, and they provided! The trail was marked superbly using a lot of ribbon, and the nice bio degradable spray paint arrows on the ground. I came to really appreciate those arrows! The area is pretty rocky everywhere, but was not an issue for us with Sneakers. The single track was really fun, but after a while I noticed that it was getting demanding. It wasn’t like just trotting along at Point Reyes; it took your full attention and concentration on every turn (every 5 feet) to make sure you stayed on trail, and more importantly, steering your horse with your hands and legs to keep them out of the cactus that was everywhere. After a while it felt like a three-hour dressage test! it was fun, but the continued concentration made it relentless. We would get a break every once in a while, but unfortunately the relief was trudging through deep sand washes. I prefer the single track! The ride management said they did it their best to mitigate some of this sand by routing us out of the wash and into the desert next to the wash for relief. Well, it was relief of sorts; it was 18 inches deep in the wash and a foot deep out of the wash. This was the only really tough part of the trail for us, since I don’t train in this stuff. Sorsha has never even been in sand that deep before. We just trudged through it at a walk. I tried to walk some on foot for a bit but it was too deep for me to even make any headway. I was always amazed when people would come trotting by us at speed through this stuff. It’s fine if you are prepared for it, but we were not, so we just took it really easy. It was slow slogging for a couple hours of the ride.

Once out of the sand, we got back into the desert and more single track. Turn, Turn, Turn, concentrate, turn, repeat for an hour. Gayle Penya coined the perfect phrase that described this type of riding- it was hours straight of pole bending, but the poles had spines!

The first loop did end with our real first flat section, a nice hard wash that we trotted on for about a mile and a half. WoW! That felt good to actually move out a little. The loop ended on a weird series of roads and soft wash that ran through ranch property. The trail in went right through base camp to the vet area for a pulse, trot out, and go vet check. The second loop continued with the same type of trails. We found and saw Crockett’s Saguaro, (In one of the pictures) the absolutely bizarre giant cactus that someone had to design. It could not have grown like that! It was pretty cool. We also got to see lots of a plant called an Ocotillo, a yucca I think, that looks like a cactus, and feels like a cactus, but is not. It’s a big, spiny thing that looks like, well, an Ocotillo! (in the pictures) The flowers were just starting to come out. Back into the sand and more single-track pole bending through the cactus. It was about here, around 30 miles, that I found myself thinking something I don’t think I have ever thought in 30 years of riding. “Boy, I’m ready to get off the single track and find a nice dirt road!” Usually it’s quite the opposite!

The hour hold at 30 miles felt good, and the ride provided bag lunches for us. We set out on the last loop of 20 miles and it was actually better in terms of diversity of trail. Yes, there was still plenty of pole bending and deep sand trudging, but we were given a few miles of dirt roads that were quite welcome. We encountered a couple of gold miners on the trail, including one big, scary looking guy who had blocked the trail with his truck, making us ride into the rocks to get around. He had dug a huge hole that looked like a grave next to the trail. Yuck. He was not at all friendly, so we left him to do his thing, what ever it was. There was some nice trail that we could actually trot along at a good clip, and even a real honest-to-god downhill that we could lead down on foot! I realized I had not really been off the horse in about 45 miles. That felt good on the old creaky knees. Some more sand led us to the last road section in the wash and we popped out of the wash at camp and into the finish. Both horses looked great- the Big, Brown, Girly horse’s CRI at the vet out was 40/40, about normal for her.

One thing I miss with the Covid stuff is the awards meeting. It is really nice to know how many horses there were, finishers, who placed where, etc. I have no clue how we finished, other that there were about 37 starters, and we finished with about 9 horses behind us. Pretty specific! I have no idea about pulls. I just heard today that a horse went missing from the ride and as of today (I think) is still missing. I sure hope they find it.

It was a long week with lots of driving, but it was worth it to sample the Arizona desert. It is spectacular country, that’s for sure. My only gripe about the ride was the sand, but other than that it was a fun time. We got the final trail details worked out for the fire mtn / 20 mule team ride coming up in a month, and I got to spend a day on my dirt bike in the desert which is always a plus.

I hope to see everyone at the ride on the weekend of April 10th in Ridgecrest. It will be a great party, that’s for sure! I’ll be riding Sorsha on the 100 for the 4th time here- (she is 2 for 3) Funny- it’s the only 100 she has done so far! We will have to do something about that this year. Championship, Big Horn, Tevis……..

Nick Warhol
Land of the Sun 50, Wickenburg AZ, West Region

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Friendship Over Fear: Broxton Bridge 2021 - Angela Leah Averitt

TheSweatyEquestrian.com - Full Story

Tracie Williams Parker and Heather Wilkerson encouraged me to share my experience from the Broxton Bridge Endurance Ride this past weekend in hopes of encouraging someone else. This post is about perseverance, hope, the importance of friendship, and overcoming fear...

So a little history about Miss Remington. Remi was a kill pen rescue a few years ago. I had no business rescuing a horse with an unknown history but I went with my gut and took a chance on her. I've always accepted a challenge and knew that somehow I "needed" this horse. It didn't take me long to bond with her super sweet and seemingly innocent personality, but I quickly learned that Remi was going to challenge everything I ever thought I knew.

She is a mare after all and I had heard such things. I also quickly learned that Remi was quite green and extremely agile. I got catapulted off her enough over the first two years to develop some very deep-set fears which have caused me intense anxiety even at the thought of getting on her back. I was determined to keep this horse but knew I did not have the skill or the mental capacity to make her safe to ride so I recently got her back from three months of training with Elise Levasseur Rogers. Elise is an amazing horsewoman who has been an incredible mentor for me in this new journey with Remi and I am forever grateful.

Fast forward to this weekend...

Read more here:
https://www.thesweatyequestrian.com/fireside-stories/friendship-over-fear-broxton-bridge-2021

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Mule Trail Ride: Live Oak Camp

Edhat.com - Full Story

January 16 2021
By Pat Fish

We didn't need adventure, we weren't looking for thrills and accomplishment. We just wanted a short stroll through landscape. The best antidote for the anxieties of civilization.

I invited the MeetUp to go for an easy stroll over to the edge of the Rancho San Fernando Rey and down the fence line to the bluff overlooking the golf course on 154.

But with the world in turmoil we were not granted an entirely placid day.

Unfortunately our beloved equestrian playground is under siege. A couple of weeks ago it was announced, with no public hearing or consideration, that as of 1/1/21 Live Oak would now be open to hikers. And worse, on 6/1/21 the trails would open to bicyclists. This is the ONLY entirely equestrian trail system in the county, every other park area can be hiked and almost all can be biked. Ever since the County started managing this place for the Bureau of Land Management it has been exclusively for horse and mule riders, for which we either buy day or annual permits.

Suddenly our peaceful refuge faces a potentially massive change...

Read more here:
https://www.edhat.com/news/mule-trail-ride-live-oak-camp

Monday, December 07, 2020

Shenanigans - Bob Hightshoe

by Bob Hightshoe

I rode a pony once when I was about 3 years old. Well, I didn’t actually ride it, I just sat on it because Mom wanted my picture taken. The pony was a pinto like the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, rode. I was even dressed like a cowboy with the hat, chaps, six-shooter and all.

When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to actually ride on a horse. I went on a trail ride into the hills behind Valley Mount Ranch in Valley Park, Mo. Each trail ride lasted about an hour and cost $3.50. I rode a Paint Horse named “Scout.” He plodded along with the others single file, and nose to tail. The horses all acted as if they were bored to death. Apparently, they had made this trip hundreds of times carrying riders, like me, who didn’t know how to ride, who didn’t sit up straight in the saddle and who pulled on the reins to hang on. Up to that point, that was my entire experience as a horseman.

Rolling the clock forward a few more years, I was married and my wife wanted to buy a horse so she could go on Competitive Trail Rides through the North American Trail Ride Conference (NATRC). I know she didn’t know anymore about horses than I did, but she swore she knew how to ride.

To prove how little we both knew about horses, we went to a horse auction. She bid on and won a big Palomino single-footing gaited horse, which refers to an ambling gait where the horse always has one foot on the ground at any given time. Someone told her gaited horses would be more comfortable to ride. It didn’t matter that the horse was older than we were and couldn’t breathe very well. She actually bought it because it was big and pretty, and she thought she would look good in the saddle.

She wanted to name the horse “Rags.” Okay, so I helped with the name and we officially named it “Riches to Rags” because I envisioned with the cost of boarding, tack, a horse trailer, ride entrees, travel and possibly training, we’d be broke from then on out.

She boarded the horse at Valley Mount Ranch, which meant she could use their trails to ride, and if I wanted to go along they would rent old “Scout” to me. Oh boy!

Soon thereafter, she actually entered a couple of competitive trail rides, and I accompanied her as her driver and manure-fork operator. I set up camp and took care of the necessities. She went on the rides. The trail rides are typically 50 miles over a period of two days. I soon learned that once she saddled up and rode away, I didn’t have anything to do for the rest of the day until the riders returned. Occasionally, I had the opportunity to work with the pulse and respiration (P&R) crews and watch and listen closely when the ride veterinarian checked each horse. He checked horses several times each day.

As pit crew, I learned what people were doing for training and what the horsemanship and veterinarian judges were looking for in the way of riding skill and conditioning. I also learned how horses were presented to the judges and how various elements of the competition were scored.

I could do this, I thought. I needed a horse for me.

We moved boarding from Valley Mount Ranch to the Greensfelder Park stable behind Six Flags in Eureka, Mo. Greensfelder is very hilly and has more than 100 miles of trails – a great place to train for competition. Greensfelder would even host a Competitive Trail Ride on occasion. Perfect!

Horses in barn stalls are like zoo animals in cages. I must look to see what is in each one. One day while checking out the stalled horses at Greensfelder, I spotted a big Paint, gelding. He looked like something I deserved, or at the very least wanted to own. There was a sign on the stall door, “Rex” owned by so-and-so, attorney-at-law.

I found the stable master and said, “Do you think the guy who owns Rex would be interested in selling him?” He said, “Well, he never rides the horse. It won’t hurt to ask. I’ll give you his phone number.” I called the guy and told him I had seen his horse at Greensfelder and wondered if he’d be interested in selling it. Without hesitation, he said, “YES!” That was easy, maybe too easy. When I asked, what he wanted for the horse, again without hesitation, he replied, “$850. I countered by offering, $650. He said, “SOLD! Give the money to the stable master and the horse is yours. Good luck!”

I didn’t know how to ride, didn’t even own a saddle or know how to put one on a horse. But, I just bought a big paint horse named Rex for $650.

We couldn’t afford to pay for boarding two horses at Greensfelder, but with a stroke of luck, I found a nice couple who lived on 40 acres bordering Greensfelder Park. They offered to let our two horses run free on their land for less money than we were paying to board one horse in a stall. Good deal!

The people were very nice. They let us park our horse trailer at their place and even offered to make certain the horses were fed and always had plenty of water. We could ride out of their place straight into Greensfelder and could come and go as we pleased.

A guy with a horse who doesn’t know how to ride probably shouldn’t consider riding bareback. I needed a saddle. I had once looked at the Mounted Police Patrol in St. Louis and really liked the saddles they were using. They were lightweight, open down the center like the old time cavalry saddles. The mounted officers said the saddles were very comfortable. Comfortable is good, I thought!

I learned from one of the Mounted Patrol Officers the saddles were being made for them by a retired saddle maker in Beauford, Ga. When I called him, he said he had one in stock and shipped it to me. No one had mentioned anything about putting a bit in the horse’s mouth, and there were some minor restrictions in the trail riding rules about horses eating while wearing a bit. I ordered a mechanical hackamore, which is a type of headgear for steering and slowing a horse without putting a bit in his mouth. I had everything I needed to train the horse for Competitive Trail Riding, and I was about to learn why his previous owner was anxious to make the sale.

I put a halter with lead rope on Rex and walked him to the horse trailer. I tied the lead rope to the trailer and got out a brush so I could groom him. But, when I approached, he panicked pulling back on the halter and lead so violently he broke the tie rope, then ran to the barn. Well darn, obviously he knew how to do this and had done it before. We both needed training.

Paul Chipman, an experienced cowboy at Valley Mount Ranch, was our farrier. I told him what had happened, and he agreed the horse was big and probably knew he was capable of breaking the halter or rope. Paul suggested the next time I tie Rex to the trailer that I also run another heavy rope around his girth area behind the front legs, up through the halter and tie it to the trailer. He said that the horse wouldn’t be able to break the rope tied around his girth and would eventually learn that he could no longer pull back to get away. I gave it a try.

Rex pulled back so hard, long and violently I thought for a time he might turn the horse trailer over. But after a couple of practice sessions with Paul’s rope trick, Rex gave up. Strangely enough, he didn’t mind me brushing him at all. I was able to groom him; clean his hooves with a hoof pick and saddle him without incident. All was well, or so I thought.

One day my wife and I decided to go for a ride together. We each saddled and mounted up. She rode Rags and I was on Rex. My first step into the stirrup was a big one. Rex measured 16.2 hands high, which is 5-feet-6-inches tall at the withers. We walked our horses side by side and everything seemed like it was going to be okay, then Rex ran away with me.

I’m sure that I could be heard galloping through Greensfelder on my runaway horse yelling, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” I managed to stay on, but apparently Rex had not only learned to break halters when he was tied, he had learned to run away with his rider anytime he chose. My life expectancy was shortening rapidly.

Back to Paul, our cowboy farrier, for ideas on how to stop Rex from running away with me every time I got in the saddle. Because Greensfelder has some very steep hills, Paul said I should walk my horse near the base of a hill and mount up. When the horse started running, he would soon be going up hill and would easily get tired. Once he started slowing down, I should take out my crop and tell him I liked to run; in fact, I loved to run. Let’s run! It didn’t take long before he never attempted to run away again. Apparently, he decided he knew when to stop running but I wasn’t smart enough. He never ran away with me again. Given an opportunity, my horse had a devious side to him. I changed his name from Rex to Shenanigans.

It was time to train for real. I read a book by a famous runner who said he ran every other day to train. He would run one day and rest his muscles another. I thought if it would work for him it should work for Shenanigans. Shenanigans and I rode every other day, seven days a week, rain or shine.

Our first Competitive Trail Ride was in Versailles, Mo, and we were ready. He was in excellent condition and I had learned to ride and take care of him. Shenanigans turned out to be a Missouri Foxtrotter, and he had five different gaits that I could find. Most of the time I just kept him in his Foxtrot gait at a couple of different speeds. However, I learned that when he was going up hill, if I stood in the saddle and asked him to step it out, he would do an extended trot, which really covered ground and saved his energy.

The veterinarian Judge for the Versailles ride was credited with having judged the 100-mile Tevis Cup race in California more than 10 times. I got in line on Friday evening for my first Vet Check. The vet went over Shenanigans from top to bottom and had his secretary make notes on my ride card. Holding the lead rope, I ran my horse out and back so the judge could see how it moved. We then ran around in circles both left and right. The training had paid off. Shenanigans was not only big, he was exciting and did everything I asked.

There were about 50 riders entered for the weekend in various classes, and we were in the Open Heavy Weight Class. Someone pointed out a beautiful Appaloosa stallion to me. He is the No. 1 ranked horse in the country right now. I’ll bet he is worth $30,000.” Wow!

I don’t want to bore you with details of the entire ride with all of its P&R checks, veterinarian checks, obstacles and horsemanship judge checks both on the trail and at camp. However, one instance is worth noting. The group had stopped for lunch. As each horse came into the designated area, a timekeeper would note the time in and time out again. After the lunch stop, Shenanigans and I were back on the trail following the trail marker ribbons, which hung from trees. On long rides the ribbons helped to keep riders from getting off the trail and lost.

We came around a bend in the trail and a rider ahead of us was jumping off of his horse. Obviously, something had gone wrong and the horse was in some kind of danger. I could have gone around but this fellow and his horse were in trouble. I dismounted, tied Shenanigans to a tree and ran over to see if I could help. His horse’s back leg was caught in barbwire and was bleeding. The horse was panicking trying to free his leg and only making things worse. Between me and the other rider, we were able to get the horse free of the barbwire, but the horse was bleeding badly. The other rider took off his belt and tied a tourniquet around the horse’s leg to see if he could stop the bleeding. I told him that I’d go get the vet and took off on Shenanigans back toward the lunch stop.

We had gone several miles out of camp and to follow the trail in reverse would not only take more time, but also I would encounter all of the horses coming from the opposite direction. I didn’t want to spook the oncoming riders and I was in a hurry.

So I ran Shenanigans cross country in the direction of the vet. We galloped most of the way. My every other day rain or shine training was paying off. We galloped into the Vet area with me yelling, “A horse is in trouble, we need the vet!” I was able to show the Vet on his map where the injured horse was located. Fortunately the vet could get very close to the spot using the local road and going by truck. He went off to save the bleeding horse. I rested Shenanigans.

After about 30 minutes, we were back on the proper trail recovering ground we had ridden before. When we came to the area where the bleeding horse was, no one was there. The barbed wire had been pulled to the side, and a bunch of red ribbons had been tied as a warning for future riders.

Aware of my time, I worked Shenanigans methodically toward the end of the day’s ride. I didn’t want to push him more than I already had and I also didn’t want to come in past the designated time and lose points. We made it past the two-mile marker and came into camp with just minutes to spare. We may have been the last horse in for the day. I saw the vet smile when we came in. Shenanigans was doing great!

Day two of the ride ended without incident, and we stuck around for the awards ceremony. I was pleasantly surprised when Shenanigans was awarded 1 st Place! We were acknowledged and given a horse blanket with the Versailles ride info on it and several other small gifts. When I looked at my ride scorecard, I saw that Shenanigans had not lost any points. The Tevis Cup vet had given us a perfect score, and he commented, “Folks, this is one great horse!”

On our first competitive trail ride, we had taken 1 st Place and had somehow beaten the No. 1 ranked horse in the country. Shenanigans went on to be victorious in his next three competitive rides. We needed to win one more ride and he would earn the distinction of being a National Champion in Competitive Trail Riding.

The rules stated that one of the wins must be out of state. All of his winnings, so far, had been in Missouri. I worked full time and trained every other day. I didn’t have the luxury, time or money to travel great distances to compete.

A ride was scheduled in the state of Kansas, and we entered. Several friends and I got together and rented a four horse stock trailer. We decided to all go together, chip in on the gas, and have fun.

The Kansas ride was extraordinary. The ride started in a small stream and went up the middle of the stream for about a quarter mile before turning into the woods. Shenanigans handled water just fine as long as we didn’t stop and stand still. If we stopped for any period of time, he would begin pawing the water with a front foot. I had learned from experience that this was his clue to me that he was about to lie down, saddle, rider and all. Since we kept moving up the middle of the river there wasn’t a problem. Many of the other horses didn’t want to enter the water, and Shenanigans led the way.

We took 1 st Place at the Kansas ride, so Shenanigans completed his National Championship ride. Five rides and five 1 st Places. Not bad. I bought Shenanigans in August of one year with no experience riding or caring for horses, and by August of the following year, he was a National Champion. It doesn’t get any better.

We dropped the rental trailer off and I was excitedly telling the owner about what we had done in Kansas. As I described the behavior and training that went into my horse he said, “I know that horse. His name was Rex.” Small world.

I asked how he knew Rex. He said, Rex had come into the “Horse Palace” (a local stable) as a 2-year-old, and the owner wanted to use him as a gaited show horse. However, whenever he would try to gait the horse around the indoor facility, Rex wanted to spend most of his time rearing up, trying to dump the rider.

He went on to say that he eventually bought the horse. His wife trained Rex as a trail horse, and he put Rex on his rent line. The problem was that Rex frequently ran away with his customers. He said, “I eventually sold the horse to an attorney who stabled him at Greensfelder Park. Last I heard some idiot came along and bought him for $650.”

Indeed!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Red Rock Rumble 50, 2020 - Nick Warhol

long story with detailed trail description
Red Rock Rumble 50, 2020
by Nick Warhol

Back in the saddle again! In 29 years of riding I have never gone 8 months between endurance rides, not even when I had my knee surgery 15 years ago, and Donnie had 10 months off. Finally, the long, covid caused draught is over. My last ride was the 20-mule team 100 in February where Sorsha had to stop for lameness at mile 80. This past weekend I went to the Red Rock Rumble, about 45 minutes north or Reno, with one goal in mind. Do a nice, moderate paced 50 and get Sorsha through sound. She picked a great year to get injured, (no rides, fires and smoke!) and has healed quite well from the slight bone damage she suffered in her right front hoof thanks to Dr Marty Gardner and the wonder drug Osphos. ($$$!) I have been riding her regularly for the past 4 months and she’s looked great so far.

There have not been many rides around the west, at least in my part of California. They thought the ride would be big- they were right! Ride manager Tami Rougeau and her gang did a heck of a job dealing with all the Covid rules. Quick summary from my point of view: 1) I missed the ride and awards meetings. 2) I liked the no rider card. That was nice! 3) the social distancing and masks were not an issue. 4) Not having a meal was bad, but heck, if that taco truck was at every ride, I’d be happy! That post ride taco truck meal was incredible! Just for grins, Tami decided to offer an additional 75 and 100 mile ride to boot, providing a 25/50/75/100 mile choice. There were 150 total riders spread over the four rides, and more who wanted to come. As Lisa Schneider said: (who, along with Catfish Moe, drove 2 days from Socal to get here!) “It was like the rides in the old days. So many people, and everyone just thrilled to be out there.” Lisa was right- there was this general positive, happy feeling all through camp. People were so excited to be back at a ride, myself included. Well, okay, there was a little challenge getting everyone into camp. The base camp was in a good spot, with local water and good parking for 50 or 60 riders, but with 150? Boy, it was packed. Tami asked me (and I asked Gretchen to help me) if I could help get people parked, and I said sure. Gretchen and I had a great time spending Friday afternoon getting about 30 rigs parked in the space that should have held about 10. We used a special packing and compression algorithm that we made up as we went. There was a constant line of rigs coming in, so we asked each one the key questions: When are you leaving? How many horses? What side of the trailer do they have to be on? Can they be on the same side of the trailer? A portable corral? Oh boy. (we even crammed them in) We asked each rig that was already parked when they were leaving so as not to block in the guys who needed to leave on Saturday afternoon. We even got a parked rig to move for us! We had the non-horse side of the trailers 3 feet apart, and trucks bumper to tailgate. We actually got a lot of trailers in there, and the rest had to just go park in the sagebrush outside of camp.

Gretchen and I went out for a warm up ride and found no rocks. Huh? This is Nevada! Apparently the Red Rock area and the trails around Virginia City are in two different states. The roads were soft sand, but not deep. We rode the first few miles on the trail and returned. There was no ride meeting, but there was a quick trail briefing with everyone socially distanced. We really did not need it since they had sent us everything we needed in email before the ride. Oh yes, our rider packets mysteriously appeared in our campers as if the ride management elfs had delivered them. They did!

It was cold Saturday morning, but very clear and no wind at all. The bad air from the fires that have plagued the area for a while was not an issue at all. The 50 started at 7am, so we headed out about five after and had our only real issue all day. Literally a hundred steps at a walk into the ride a woman was getting on a horse in the desert, just off the trail. She got up and the horse flipped out. It came at us, bucking and out of control. The horse pushed Gretchen and Coquette out of the way and ran into me from behind, I mean literally ran into us! The woman was clearly upset and apologetic, but had no control. I did what I had to do and just jumped Sorsha off the road and out in to the desert to just get out of the way. Once I was off the road, the horse took off at a run, not a canter, a full run down the road, scattering horses as it went. The woman was screaming “Runaway horse! Look out!” we watched as the riders in front of us on the road scattered like bowling pins as the runaway horse ran up the road. Wow! At least neither Gretchen or I had any real problems from the event. I heard that some one up the road a way, Dave Rabe or Dennis Sousa stopped the horse somehow. Nothing like a little excitement to get the day under way.

We took a breath, reset, and started out trotting out from camp. The route headed out from camp on a nice soft dirt road for a mile or so before turning right and heading down hill for a couple of miles down a canyon into the big valley below. It was a nice road we trotted all the way down. Sorsha was asking me if we could go a little faster? She likes to move out. It was already starting to warm up, so off came the jacket that I needed at the start. Once into the valley we hung a right and trotted on level roads past Bill and Diane, the photographers, for a few more miles on more level, soft roads and hung a left and headed up into the first of several climbs in the day. It was not long or steep, but was trot/walk/trot a couple of miles to a perfectly placed water trough at the top. There was also a truck tire buried halfway for a mounting block. The trail headed back to the east, I think, up higher in the valley on the edge of the forested hills on a nice, soft, road that did have some whoops in it from the off-road vehicles. It was not too bad, and gave us a really nice view off to the left. The trail was marked really well, something I appreciate. Off to the left we could see the 15 mile vet check way, way down there, looking like a little city from an airplane. We took a soft wash-like road down from the hills to the valley, and hung a right on a long flat road across the desert for a few miles that took us to the check. There was no crew allowed due to covid rules, but we did not need one. There were some ride helpers, one guy in particular, who was amazing. We walked in and he jumped over and got our crew bags for us, went and got hay, got us water, and kept coming back to be sure we did not need anything else. Nice! Sorsha was perfectly sound, yay, so after a quick 30-minute hold we headed out on some level roads until we crossed a big, flat, long, dirt road that spanned the valley. There was water there, and after a drink we crossed the big road and headed cross country on a cool trail towards our first really big climb. The first 17 miles of the ride had been really easy so far. That would change! We were walking up the start of the climb, about a half mile past that road when we saw a full race side-by-side who thought he was racing in Baja or someplace like it. That rig was going probably 80 miles an hour down that road, and it was loud! Boy, I hope the two horses behind us were not at that water stop when he went by.

The climb continued up a long, moderate hill that we walked up for a half mile, but it ended at a seriously steep climb that went straight up for a while. I hopped off and had Sorsha tail me up, and I was wiped out at the top. Dave Rabe laughed at me and suggested I carry the horse up! We found another perfectly placed water trough at the top, thanks again ride management! The horses drank so much I knew that with all these horses those two troughs would be empty soon. We wound along the top of the ridge for a while, on nice, soft, non-rocky roads, then turned right on a down hill trail that was worth the price of admission. It was a soft, sandy, (but not deep sand) single track that was trottable just about all the way down to the valley floor. It was a couple of very fun miles of floating downhill, winding through the big sagebrush bushes like a slalom skier. Boy that was fun! The cool trail ended too soon and dumped us out into a neighborhood of ranches on Red Rock Road. We stopped at one big one where Meridith Mayeroff was there taking numbers. There was water for drinking and cooling- very nice. The weather was warming up, but still quite nice, maybe mid 70s.

We then headed into the green pastures section of the ride that caused some issues. There were green fields with some water and mud to cross, but nothing too bad until the deep one. There was a spot that had trail marking ribbons showing a way around it, but unfortunately you could not see them unless you turned your head backwards. Another ribbon was visible down the way a little, past the bog, but unless you saw the bypass you would just assume you should go straight. We got to the bog, looked at it, though “hmmmmm,” and saw Dennis Sousa and daughter Jennifer taking the bypass to the left. That looks better. We avoided the bog, but unfortunately it caused problems for a few horses and people. The trail continued along the wet area for a while with no issues, past several big ponds, but then started yet another pretty long climb up to the left, back up to the top of the ridge. It was a long, steep walk, but after trotting for a mile or so on the top we saw base camp and headed down in to the stop at 30 miles for our hour hold. Sorsha was great, but even though Coquette got to the pulse criteria, unfortunately her pulse was fluctuating up and down more than Gretchen liked. It was still doing it after 40 minutes, so Gretchen pulled. After our hour stop Sorsha and I headed out all alone to do the last 20 mile loop. We trotted out of camp back up the road we drove in for a mile or so, then turned out in to the desert on a soft road that dumped us onto yet another stellar trail. It was another perfect single track through the bushes, down a long canyon, just winding back and forth at a fast trot. We zoomed along all by ourselves to the bottom having another hoot. It’s so funny- most times the horse can read the turns and does not need steering, but once in a while she would just blow through a turn and go straight. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line! The trail then got onto a long, wide, hard dirt road that headed down back into the big valley. Ho hum, I’d like that trail back, please. We trotted along, and trotted some more, and kept trotting, then trotted some more, ……. The only good thing was I caught up to Dennis and Jennifer and rode along with them for an hour or so. We went all the way back across the big valley to the road that we had headed out in the morning, and turned left, heading back towards where camp was. It was a nice, trottable uphill road, but after a couple of water stops, it was time for the last climb. We turned right and went up and up. And up. The we continued up. It leveled out at the first false top for a while, but then kept going up. It was not super steep like the first monster climb, but long and consistent. You would get a break and get some level, then more up. I ended up scooting away from Dennis and Jennifer since Sorsha, well, she does not know hills exist. She just powers up them as if they were level. Its kind of incredible, and sure fun to ride! I hooked up with a couple of other riders, then went on ahead and found some more riders, and finally, together we hit the summit, where we had been earlier on the first loop, and did indeed find those two same water troughs dry. Bummer! You feel bad when the horses drop their heads in to drink and frantically wonder where the water is. They know! The trail continued on top of the ridge for quite a while, rolling up and down several long hills. We saw the guy in the water truck coming slowly up the hill to fill those troughs, but every rider that passed him going down the road, including us, stopped him and got a bucket of water for each horse. He said at this rate he will never get there! He was a great sport, and the horses sure appreciated it. As we headed up the climb to what looked like the last possible ridge, I was sure we would be able to see the camp in the valley. Sure enough, as we crested the hill the camp appeared down in the valley about 2 miles away. Down the hill we went, back to the valley floor and in to camp on the road we left on at the start. We trotted into camp at 5:05pm for a ride time of 8:35, almost exactly what I was shooting for. The final vet check was a breeze- Sorsha had a CRI of 40/40, and the trot was perfect. That’s all I wanted to see! I was very relieved! I got a meal from the taco truck, and along with my pair of IPA’s, that was the best thing I have eaten in a long time. But as someone said, after a ride, a cardboard box with catsup would taste great!

One issue with no ride or awards meeting is I had no idea how many riders there were on each ride, who won any of the rides, how many finished, who got BC, etc. That’s okay- it’s the ride that matters, and I had a stellar day. A lot of people were commenting on how tough the trail was, but I didn’t notice. I just rode the horsey girl through it, and she did not really notice the effort. I had an absolutely perfect ride, other than the little mess at the start, and the fact that Gretchen did not finish. Her horse got right back to normal about 30 minutes after she pulled, but she did the right thing by being cautious. Some of those single-track trails were just splendid, and I liked the fact that there were almost no rocks all day.

Thanks to Tami and ride management for all the work they put in to make it work. I sure had a blast! Next stop is 2 days at fire mountain in January, and then, of course, back to the 20 mule team 100 in February.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Big South Fork 100 - Mollie Quiroz

Big South Fork 100

Now that I’m finally recovered from the excitement that was Big South Fork 100, I’m finally able to sit down and do my write up. From the start this ride was a challenge. I teamed up with Romeo owned by Tina Davidson Cochran for the 100. This was the first time I met Romeo but I went into the ride having confidence in this horse’s ability to finish a 100 because he had previously finished all three 100 mile rides he had done before.

Saturday morning around 6AM I went out to start getting him ready for the day ahead of us. We racked up, I lunges him around to get all the silly out and Tina and I hopped on. We started the ride in the front group and Romeo did so well the first loop, including multiple river crossings with one that we were almost swimming in. We came into the vet check and he passed with flying colors.

We did our hold and headed back out again for our second loop. This loop was much flatter and Romeo did really well in all the sand and rocks we had to traverse across. We can into the vet check where I noticed Romeo was acting a little strange.

We passed our vet check but I kept a close eye on him. About 10 miles into our loop, Tina and I made the decision to split up. The horses needed to go different paces and trying to go together would probably end up doing them more harm than good. Tina went off ahead and I jumped off Romeo to walk him and make sure he wasn’t going to do anything silly. We walked for about a mile and half and I jumped back on and we continued on our way at a much slower pace. We took it easy coming into a crew stop where we stayed for about 30 minutes and I just let him eat, drink, and cool off. We didn’t leave until he was completely cool and starting to get restless from not doing anything.

We left to do the couple remaining miles back to our 54 mile vet check at camp. Romeo and I came in and the vets agreed he was doing MUCH better but still not perfect but he was getting there.

I set off again for my next loop and just walked him for a little bit to make sure nothing would go wrong with him. He was very good and ate and drank on trail. We were trotting along a long gravel road when Romeo and I both got spooked at the sight of a bear right in front of us on the trail Romeo did not appreciate me telling him to go past this bear after it left but he ended up racing past at a very fast spee we came to a long down hill so I jumped off and ran/walked down with him.

At this point it wasn’t dark enough for my headlamp but it was too dark to see trail markings. The ribbons were dark red so we ended missing a turn and doing an extra couple miles. We turned back and found a couple horses going the right way and tagged along with them. We can into another crew point and at that point I was still worried about Romeo so I decided to walk most of the remaining 4 miles in. The last 2 miles I jumped off and walked in. Apparently that was all Romeo needed because after that, he was back to normal! He was performing like he normally does!! The vets passed him with flying colors and we were cleared to set out again.

There had been a lot of lightning in the sky so I put my raincoat on and got on the horse. At that moment, the sky decided to bless us and sent buckets of water down on us all Within the three minutes it took me to get to the trail, the water had taken over and Romeo and I pretty much walked the next 7 miles. I couldn’t see more than 2 inches in front of my face and Romeo kept wanting to turn his head away from the rain. we eventually made it through the longest 7 miles I’ve ever ridden and went on for the next 10 miles of our loop.

Luckily the rain stopped and Romeo and I made our way down a long hill. I ended up walking him down the hill and through the bogs and when we came to flat ground I jumped back on and off we went. We would see a light and just trot to catch it and we just kept passing little lights as we continued on the trail. We came around a corner where I met a rider who was needing to rider option but was having trouble making the remaining 4 miles into camp. I got her horse going and we walked most of the way together. Once we were almost there I took off to let her crew know what was happening so they could help.

Romeo was AMAZING at his 90 mile vet check and we were off for our final loop. They ended up moving the finish line into camp so they gave us a little more time to do the extra trail. Romeo and I had a little over 2 hours to get our 10 miles done.

And we did it! We went through all the single track and spiderwebs and spooky things in the bushes. We got onto the road that led into camp and Romeo just wanted to take off. I let him go and off we went, cantering our way back. At this point, it was daylight out. It was nearing 7am, 24 hours after our start. We crossed the actual finish line before cut off and came into camp at 7:10AM. We vetted him through and got our completion!! We came in dead last in 5th place. I couldn’t be prouder of this little horse and how he recovered as the day went on. We aren’t sure what happened to make him feel so off but he’s back to normal now and we couldn’t be happier! Big thank you to all who worked to put this ride on and make it happen! This ride was my 7th 100 mile completion and I was so happy to get to finish!

Another BIG thanks to Tina for letting me take Romeo through and trusting me to take care of him once we split up! I’m so happy he was able to get his 4th 100 mile completion and still has a 100% completion rate for his 100 mile rides!

Massive thanks to Jody Buttram for making me go back out again and again even though I was wet, bruised, blistered and miserable! It was worth it the next morning and I’m very happy I finished!!

Another big thanks to Lisa Rushing for helping out and making sure Romeo was all set up the day before and crewing through night after your 50 mile ride in the day!

This was not a ride I will ever forget and I can’t wait to come back again! Now it’s onto the next 100 miler

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

First Milestones - Ashley Wingert

GoPony.me - Full Story

August 30, 2020 / Ashley Wingert

It’s been a month and 5 days since Liberty come home. In that time, I’ve put a dozen or so miles on her in the arena, with 7 or 8 rides, plus some non-riding groundwork days, the idea being to make sure we had a solid foundation and all the critical buttons installed and functioning before hitting the trail.

Today, though, I was ready to hit the trail. It was my “birthday gift to myself” — to finally head out and start putting our trail miles on as a team, hopefully the start of what will be many more...

Read more here:
https://gopony.me/2020/08/30/first-milestones/

Shifting into the Next Chapter - Liz Stout

Liz-Stout blog - Full Story

Let's just rip this band aid right off shall we?

I have decided to retire Q from competitive endurance.

It's a decision I've been pondering for over a year. My downtime due to COVID-19 has only helped solidify it for me.

Repeated comments about Q's way of going have made ride vettings feel a lot more like Russian Roulette than a routine double-check of the horse's condition. Fortunately (and very gratefully!), I received an absolute wealth of information about how to help resolve Q's gait at last year's Biltmore 50. It was eye-opening and amazing to learn so much about how I can help my favorite little mare. I worked through much of what those wonderful vets recommended for me and had hoped to give things a go for No Frills this past April, but then - as we all damn well know - the pandemic struck, life changed, and endurance competitions were put on pause...

Read more here:
https://liz-stout.blogspot.com/2020/08/shifting-into-next-chapter.html

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Summertime Blues Endurance Ride: Mackenzie's First 50 - Jessica Isbrecht

Summertime Blues Endurance Ride, La Grande, Oregon

Mackenzie's First 50

by Jessica Isbrecht
8/22/20

The sun was just starting to brighten the sky when I woke at 5:30 on Saturday morning. Byron wished me a happy birthday. Then, rolled over and went back to sleep. I fed the horses and myself, chugged some water and a few electrolyte pills. Tacking up and last minute checks went quickly since hoof boots were already on and glued in place.

Twenty horses started the 50 mile ride at 7 am. I managed to choose a good starting position, just behind the front runners and just ahead of the slower folks. We rode with other horses for a bit but eventually found a nice bubble of solitude. We actually spent most of the day alone and that was wonderful.

Everything was going swimmingly until about halfway through the "creek trail" when Mackenzie stumbled coming through a whoop-dee-doo (large bump in the track used as a jump by ATVs/bikes). She fell to her knees and I thought we were going to roll. Luckily, she recovered and kept right on going. She was sound at the vet check so we went out on loop two after an hour break.

At first she thought I was crazy for leaving camp since we'd already gone 25 miles (her longest distance to date) but once we got going she was all business. I merely had to cluck and she'd happily pick up a trot and go on the buckle. I knew we were in the top ten and I started fantasizing about showing for Best Condition. Well, don't count your chickens before they hatch Woman!

We trotted around a bend in the forest service road and were surprised to see it rutted up with deep tire tracks. I steered her into the rut but she decided to climb up onto the high ground. As she stepped uphill out of the rut, the tiny gravel bits rolled between her hoof boots and the hard packed dirt. Her legs slipped out from under her and we both hit the ground on our right sides. It all happened so fast! I heard my vertebrae crack as my shoulder and head landed and I felt my right leg and hip hit hard. I managed to scramble to my feet and grab her reins just as she was standing up. We were both dazed. I looked her over for injuries (only a few abrasions) and held my breath as I asked her to walk forward. No limp. Thank goodness!

So, we started walking. I pulled my phone out of my thigh pocket and found the screen shattered. It still worked so I pulled up the ride map and tried to make sense of where I was and where the nearest pick up point might be. I spent a long time trying to decide if I should quit and call to be evacuated, or keep going the last 15 miles. I trotted her in hand and she looked sound but I still wasn't sure what to do. Would it be wrong to keep going? Was I asking too much, even if I hiked the rest of the way with her?

My friend Karen caught up to us a little while later. I asked her to watch and tell me if Mackenzie looked sound at the trot. She told me she looked fine and I should definitely not pull.

I hiked a few miles and remounted when I felt certain that she was indeed okay. We then proceeded to walk the rest of the way to the finish, maybe trotting a quarter mile of it.

I held my breath during the final examination and made a quick birthday wish just before the trot-out. All was well and we passed! I was so relieved. I shed a few tears on my way back to our trailer where I spoiled her with a feast while I cleaned and dressed her wounds and poulticed her legs.

Later, at the awards it was confirmed that we placed 7th with a time of 8:38. Everyone sang Happy Birthday and I ended up winning a pair of Renegade Hoof Boots. It was a wonderful day.

Mackenzie tackled her first 50 (which was not an easy one) at 16 years old, survived not one, but two, potentially catastrophic accidents, and still looked like she could've gone out again the next morning. To say that I'm proud of her is an understatement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

2020 Big Horn 100 - Nancy Sluys

by Nancy Sluys 

August 1 2020

Since the beginning of my experiences with endurance and competitive trail riding I have had a dream of riding out west at one of the iconic buckle rides. Of course Tevis is high up there on the list but the one that has always caught my interest has been the Big Horn 100 in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming for its rugged and remote nature. This past winter I got it in my head that this was going to be the year because it was the 50th anniversary of the ride and I knew it would be extra special. They had an offer that if you paid the entire entry in the month of February you would get the buckle included with no extra charge so I went ahead and entered so that I would have a concrete goal to work towards. My mount was going to be my mule, Danny (Jet’s Danny Herlong), who was becoming my main endurance animal and this would be his first 100 miler. The ride was to be the second weekend in July so it fit perfectly into our busy summer schedule.

Then the Corona Virus hit and the world was all turned upside down. I watched the status of the ride hoping it wouldn’t get cancelled. When the date got moved to the weekend of August 1st I was doubtful that we were going to be able to make it because our niece was getting married the following weekend in Northern Vermont and I just could not see a way that we could get from one place to the other in time without killing ourselves and we certainly would not want to take a chance in missing the wedding. Then, with the Covid situation not improving, the wedding was postponed to next year. The pathway to the ride opened before us and we took it.

Bill and I decided to make a vacation of it since we were fully self contained in our living quarters horse (mule) trailer and social distancing would be easy while camping along the way. The first stop would be my sister Diana’s place in Arvada, Colorado and it took us three days to get there with stops in Evansville, Indiana and Salina, Kansas. Diana’s mini ranch backs up to a green space area so I was able to get Danny out on the trail so he could start adapting to the western environment.

After a couple of days rest in Colorado we headed up to Cody, Wyoming for a few more days of acclimating and sightseeing before heading to Shell, where the ride camp was, on a ranch in a field called the Beef Slide because of a steep hill they drive the cattle down. The camp was hot and dusty but the atmosphere was electric. With most rides being cancelled because of Corona Virus, people had come from near and far to the 50th annual Big Horn 100. The rider numbers swelled to more than twice the normal size, giving the ride manager a challenge. The scenery was breathtaking with red rock formations and distant mountains in every direction.

Friday I took a ride to let Danny see the last couple of miles before the finish so he would know where he was when he got near. We got all vetted in and everything was good to go. The weed free hay we purchased from the ride was beautiful and green and Danny spent the night knee deep in it. He was fueling up for the day ahead although he couldn’t know the extent of the distance since this was to be his first 100 mile ride. My husband, Bill, and Gina Hagis, my best riding buddy from Virginia, were going to be our crew. The start time was 4am and would come too soon.

I felt like Danny would do better if I had someone to ride out with at the start so I asked Joni Burden (from Alabama in the Southeast region) if she minded if I tagged along her and her friend Laura, who was riding Joni’s extra horse. Joni’s mother, Jody Buttram, had bred Danny and his dam’ was the sister of both of Joni’s horses so it just seemed fitting to ride together. We met up just before the start and rode out in the pitch dark, following red LED lights along the trail. I left my headlamp off except where necessary and my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, although it was a little disconcerting trotting through the dark over footing that I was unfamiliar with. I just trusted my mule and trotted on! The blackness morphed into sunrise about 5:30 with some beautiful color. We came up on one of the many gates, 38 total, that we would have to open and close. Laura jumped off and opened it as we thanked her and promised to get the next one. Most of the gates are barbed wire with a post attached that you have to fit into loops on the gate post and many were tricky and took some muscle.

The first 21 miles were through the desert and fairly flat, gradually rising in elevation. Danny was feeling good and settled into a brisk trot. There were a lot of horses around us but Danny didn’t pay them any mind. I lost Joni and Laura for a while but they caught back up and we rode into the first vet check at Beaver Creek together. Danny’s pulse came down right away and we were good to go according to the vet. Danny settled in and ate well. There were no crews allowed at this check but lots of hay and water was provided.

The 19 mile second leg of the ride starts out on a dirt road that climbs the mountain, curving out and in revealing ever higher views of the valley below. In this segment between vet checks 1 & 2 the elevation changes from around 5000 feet to almost 10000 feet. Much of the trail was in the sun which was becoming stronger and the heat started to build. The road became a track which became a narrow trail as it travelled in and out of several canyons, some rocky, some grassy. We rode through incredible fields of wildflowers with so many species I couldn’t count. As we gained elevation I recognized miniature versions of common wildflowers that were stunted, due to the high altitude. The riders were starting to spread out and we had some trail to ourselves for a while before passing a big group in a creek. The trail rose more sharply before arriving at the second vet check at Horse Creek just as a quick shower mixed with ice pellets came through cooling things off considerably. I was starting to feel the altitude and became breathless from walking around. I rested and rehydrated while my fabulous crew took care of Danny.

We left Horse Creek at a canter as we had to make the 3:00pm cut off time at hwy. 14 which would be at 50 miles. The going had been slow coming into Horse Creek as the temperature was unusually hot for the mountains but now we had some dirt road to move out on. By this time Danny had taken up position behind the two mares as they were acting pretty bitchy to him if he tried to pass or got in between them so I got real used to seeing those two round grey butts bobbing ahead of us! We pushed pretty hard until we arrived at hwy. 14 with 30 minutes to spare. The trail after that is a blur to me as the altitude was making me lightheaded and a little disoriented. I just remember lots of climbing and changing scenery. Every time you came around a bend a different scene would greet you, it was just amazing! Incredible rock formations, vast meadows filled with wildflowers, virgin groves of pine and spruce, mountain views, it was all just breathtaking (even without the high altitude!). The going was slow and rocky but the vistas were awesome. Sometimes we would come to a meadow and could pick up the pace but then we would have to stop and graze because the grass was too good and Danny and the girls were getting hungry. There was so much good grass on the trail and Danny would snatch mouthfuls without even stopping!

By the time we came into the Battle Creek Vet Check at 63 miles I was hitting my low point. I was getting altitude sick and was feeling nauseous and dizzy, I couldn’t eat anything at all. Then I remembered the gift my sister had given me as we were leaving her place in Colorado which was a small oxygen inhaler, just in case I needed it. I took several hits of the oxygen and started feeling a bit better. I put it in my pack for later and mounted up and rode off. I was feeling that Danny was being affected by the altitude too as he had slowed from his normal pace. He was still forward but had adjusted his overall pace a bit slower to conserve energy. Mules are famous for taking good care of themselves to I figured that’s what he was doing. I told Joni and Laura not to worry if I dropped back because I had to take care of Danny and do the pace he was comfortable with and I didn’t want to hold them up.

This segment deviated from the big loop and was an out and back with a lollypop in the middle. Right off the bat Danny was telling me we were going the wrong way because he had already pictured in his mind where camp was and we were going in the opposite direction. He hesitated and kept looking back but I urged him on forward trying to convince him that we were going the right way. After a while as the sun was setting we started down a section called Shag Nasty. It was nothing but rocks and boulders for several miles and was very technical. Actually it reminded me a lot of the high country near Mount Rogers in Virginia, our home trails. Danny put his mind to work and negotiated the tricky terrain as only a mule can do. He skipped through the rocks and started picking up speed as the trail made a turn and he knew he was headed back to the vet check. We circled a beautiful reservoir before returning to the dirt road that would take us back to Battle Creek. Once on the road Danny picked up an easy trot and we made pretty good time back to the vet check. By now my condition had improved in the cool night air and we both were getting our second wind.

Gina and Bill were relieved to see me looking better and we all had confidence that the team would finish the ride as we had only one more leg to go. There was come confusion leaving the vet check and I was misdirected down the road the crews were leaving on. After a short while I knew there was something wrong so turned back and asked for clarification and was sent up a hill towards a distant green light. I was a little frustrated as I didn’t have time to waste and the detour had cost be at least 15 minutes. There was also some confusion as to whether the trail back to camp was 13 or 16 miles so I was a little uncertain as I headed out to find the proper trail. About 15 minutes later my headlamp died and I searched my bags for a flashlight. I couldn’t find it even though I knew it was there somewhere. Luckily the full moon was rising over the mountain, providing enough light to see my way well enough. I was all alone in the night and had no one to help open the gates, which had become harder and harder to operate as fatigue set in. The moonlight started playing tricks on me turning rocks into buffalo and other strange creatures. A small band of antelope crossed the trail in front of us and at one time Danny stopped and alerted as we passed two coyotes watching us pass from the hillside nearby. The night was scary and magical all at the same time! The last leg seemed to take forever as we descended for an eternity. The last big obstacle was the slick rock section which seemed to go on for miles, even though it was maybe only a half of a mile long. By now clouds had covered the moon and I was having a hard time seeing so I used the flashlight on my iPhone to see the difficult footing when needed. Slabs of slick rock lay all over the trail and we had to pick our way finding purchase along the edges but sometimes the rock would cover the whole trail and was very slippery and treacherous. At first I tried to get off and lead Danny, as that is what those riding horses had suggested, but I almost rolled my ankle so I thought it safer to get back in the saddle. Mules are so sure footed, I put my trust in Danny and hoped for the best. When he would get to a slick section he would baby step his way down and never slipped one time.

At this point I knew we were running late and I was becoming worried that we would not make it back in time. As soon as we were past the slick rock section I put my leg on Danny and he moved right off without hesitation, feeling the pull of camp. After a few turns we came to the section we had ridden the day before and Danny quickened his pace as he recognized the trail and knew we were almost back to the trailer. As we came off the mountain and hit the flat ground he broke into a canter and I had tears in my eyes as I recognized his strength and will to move forward after almost 100 tough miles, he felt as fresh as if he was just on a Sunday outing! My anxiety was high as the clock ticked away but I finally saw the lights of the finish line and glanced at my watch. It was a bit after 4:00 am, over 24 hours since we started the ride and I knew we were not going to make it on time. As I crossed the finish line, a little less than 10 minutes late, the ride manager called out that she was going to see about allowing a completion only which would at least make our hard fought miles count. At that time I really didn’t care, I was so proud of my mule for finishing what felt like the hardest and most beautiful ride I’ve ever done and bringing me back safely. I knew in my heart what we had done and how great my mule was and I will hold that thought forever in my mind and heart!

It was to my great relief that the completion only status was upheld and the mileage for this great challenge would now count on our record. Many thanks go out to all the folks who helped make this challenge possible, Cindy Collins (ride manager), my crew, Bill and Gina and all the many volunteers who gave their time to allow us to have such a great adventure!!

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