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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