Sunday, September 24, 2023
By Dane Berry
It has taken me a while to write this recap, mostly so I could find the words to properly give credit to the amazing veterans, juniors, and everyone else more experienced than me in this sport (which is basically everyone!) who do these rides as a matter of routine. This, my first 50 mile ride was an eye opening, grueling, difficult, amazing, rewarding, and ultimately uplifting experience that has to be lived to truly be understood. I therefore don’t write this post pridefully, but rather in full humility that I truly only succeeded due to support from friends, family, I suppose a little personal insanity, and of course my amazing horse Nico.
Overall, let this preface suffice: I am in awe and respect all of you riders who embark in this sport; I have so much to learn from all of you. Conversely, I can confidently say as probably one of the most inexperienced beginners that just decided to go and attempt a 50-mile ride as my second ever event, that ALL of you looking to get into the sport of endurance CAN DO IT. If I can, you can… Hear me out.
Antelope Island 50-mile endurance Ride, Sept 16 2023 Ride Report
Exactly two years ago, Sept 23rd 2021 was the first time I swung my leg over Nico. It was that first ride that I felt an immediate connection and so I purchased him about a week later. In today's horse buying/selling market, I consider it a miracle that he is the horse I found! I don't recommend to most people doing it how I did it... I had not ridden a horse in about 16 years, and even when I had ridden as a teenager it was very minimal experience with no lessons; just a few odd rides basically. I just loved horses my whole life so I made the plunge and just bought one (as opposed to maybe smarter avenues of pursuing horses, like lessons or leasing!). On top of that, I decided to purchase a fresh trained 8 year old Arabian… A friend of mine retroactively told me that they legitimately thought I was going to die, inexperienced as I was going and buying an Arabian out the gate!
The whole story is too long for here, but know that for two solid years, Nico and I worked hard together to build a bond and develop a relationship. Fast forward to Sat 16 2023, exactly 1 week shy of our two-year anniversary, 5am in the morning. I walked over to Nico’s pen at Antelope Island. I would like to say that we had a special ‘moment’ where he ‘told’ me that he was ready to do this penultimate event… but true to his nature he mostly just ignored me in favor of the fresh hay I had thrown into his pen. Giving him a pat I readied myself for the day.
The first 5 miles are on a smooth, slightly gravely road. This is of note, because I’ll set the stage here for you to understand Nico’s hoof situation. Nico is barefoot and has been for our entire season. Knowing the terrain we would face, I did everything possible to try to get shoeing options worked out before the ride, bought some glue-ons and everything, but it turned out to be impossible. The situation for trying to figure this stuff out leading up to the ride were on my mind persistently and a constant stress. All you need to know, however, is that on ride day all we had was a pair of front scoot boots, my knowledge of the course, and Nico’s amazing mind to protect himself and his hooves (Update FYI – I finally have a farrier coming out this week to help me for the first time all year! This will be game changing for us moving forward).
We conquered these first 5 miles by alternating areas where we could ride just off the road, or when we were on the road I would dismount and we would run together on the ground; anything I could do to save a little pressure on his feet. After these 5 miles, I knew the next solid stretch was amazing trails so I decided to take off the scoot boots; as his movement is much more freed up without them (they fit decently well, but he’s always told me he likes it better without them). We made solid time through the miles but to my chagrin we had lost the boots from my saddle. I have secured them to the saddle previously in training with no mishaps, but in my own human race-brain I must not have attached them adequately enough. I tried to back track to find them but to no avail. We ended up doing the entire rest of the ~45 miles completely barefoot.
Completing the first 15 miles was tough but we managed it by being smart on the hills and taking our time over any rocks, making up time wherever there was good footing. Taking a brief water break back at ride camp (not an official vet hold), we gritted our teeth and headed out on the remaining ~12ish miles to the vet hold at White rock.
While this portion is vastly comprised of amazing hoof-safe trails, Nico still seemed to be struggling to me. It was getting hot, and his impulsion was at an all time low which is rare for him. Every time someone passed us in either direction, he would stop cold, as if they were there to save him. It was interesting, because as opposed to City of Rocks where I had to work a little bit with his ‘race brain’ this whole first segment of the ride I had to overcome the opposite. He seemed unmotivated, hot, and not wanting to go out. I had been monitoring his electrolytes and water intake so I knew that theoretically he should be fine. I also know my horse very well and have definitely put in the time and effort in training, so I was very worried about pushing him too hard especially with my hoof concerns. These 12 miles for me were a matter of grit and a true gut-check, as almost every step I was very worried about him and I was loosing energy myself. My inexperience was definitely showing!
We crawled into the first vet check. I was emotionally exhausted already, as I definitely wasn’t taking in enough elytes and nutrients for myself (yes a huge learning experience). I told my concerns to the ride manager, vet and volunteers. I have to admit that in my mind I was definitely teetering on the decision on whether to pull from the ride. We were going slow enough that we were on the cusp of not making time and in my inexperienced and concerned state I was worried that Nico’s hooves and impulsion couldn’t hold up. Despite my negative internal thoughts I told myself I wouldn’t make a decision until of course the vet check, and if we passed that I would wait the entire hold to refuel myself so I could be in a better state of mind. Transparent honesty to everyone reading this though – I was struggling!
The pulse down and vet check was telling… Nico pulsed down immediately, and passed the vet check with flying colors, not a lame step or hint of soreness. Volunteers and experienced people there commented on how well he was looking. One amazing lady (don’t know her name) mentioned that based off of my comments she figured that maybe he was just slightly sore on the more rocky portions, but probably the main issue was that he was being a little lazy, bored, and needed to strengthen his mental toughness. These, and other expert observations gave me the internal steel I needed. I know I have taken care of him, I know we have trained, I know that he (we) could do this! Overhearing the conversation, a very kind rider that happened to be getting water at the check on their way back home offered me her riding crop, just to give Nico a little encouragement. I decided that we would set out on the next 8 mile loop; and if things looked good, we would make the effort!
Aside: I can’t say how grateful I am for everyone at that hold – Jeff (ride manager), my mother, volunteers, and the vet. They listened to my concerns and acknowledged them. They were non-judgmental of me, and I know they would have supported my decision if I chose to pull. However, even while having amazing support, they also expertly advised me and encouraged me. I’m not sure how they did it, but they pulled off giving me the perfect balance of understanding and ‘push’ that I needed. As a person and an athlete I am extremely hard on myself already, and no one there made me feel weak, embarrassed or any negative emotion. It was a wholly rejuvenating environment and gave me what I needed to continue. I literally couldn’t have done it without them all.
Nico and I set off, and while the crop helped immensely, I only really needed to use it the one time at the start, and all the sudden the entire rest of the ride was completely different. He set off with amazing strength and confidence in each step. We still walked cautiously on rocky portions; but everywhere else there was not a hint of the previous lethargy or lack of impulsion. He was breathing great, and seemed to be growing in strength even though we had already gone over half the ride in the ~80degree heat. We did the 8 mile loop in just about one hour, made up a ton of time and more importantly had found a new determination… we could do it!
After another brief water break, we set off! We ended up riding a portion back with some great riders – Amy and Amanda who were out on two of Jeff’s horses. It was a much needed mental boost for Nico and myself. We stuck with them for about 5-7 miles or so, at which point Nico had made such a mental turn around that he was actually NOW – 80% done with the ride – getting stronger and stronger and even starting to exhibit some ‘race brain’. I pulled him off of the other two horses just to recoup his mind, and once we were ¼ mile off, I let him continue to push strong and open up when he wanted to. He immediately reconnected mentally with me, and we made the entire rest of the way at a trot/canter, Nico never missing a beat and showing amazing strength the whole way home.
We got 8th place, turtle award, finishing in 8:47. We had gone from almost not making time and worried about pulling, to finishing stronger than I thought possible. Nico pulsed down quickly (I think 5-10 minutes max), and vetted out with his CRI being a solid 48/48 and still having no lame steps. Our only health issues at all were on myself, as I ended up throwing up and having a hard time recovering over the next few hours, something I gladly accepted because my horse was safe and sound, and my own inexperienced self can learn how to eat/drink better for next time haha.
Jeffrey, ride management, volunteers, family, friends, vets, Nikki, Amy, Tanya, Matthew, Merri My Green-Bean Team Heather, Joy, Tennielle (if I didn't tag you doesn't mean I don't appreciate you!): Thank you so much to everyone who made this ride possible and got me through to the end. I literally would not have made it without you.
Veterans and current participants in the sport: I respect you and admire you. From those who do intro rides, LD’s, to 50’s, 100’s and everything else, you (we) are a gritty and amazing group of people and athletes. Pat yourself on the back, because you are pretty cool just by attempting this sport!
Those of you entering the sport – make friends, talk to people, their support and experience are invaluable. Also give back and help those around you! I see often the comment ‘what can I do to get into the sport.’ Some great advice I hear is ‘just go and volunteer’ etc. I have one thing to expound on this excellent advice: Do something that is ONE STEP outside your comfort zone. If your comfort zone is to just stay home and not go at all, then go volunteer at a ride. If your comfort zone is to volunteer, then go and volunteer but also bring your horse to ride camp so you can learn together. If your comfort zone is maybe camping with your horse but you are unsure about the ride, then go and do an intro or LD. If your comfort zone is an LD; don’t be afraid, sign up for a 50 and see what happens! After two years of training, my comfort zone was to make it to that first vet check… yet with those around me and Nico we survived and excelled at that one step beyond my comfort zone, and grew because of it.
Whatever your comfort zone is, or whatever you can achieve know this: I support you whatever level it is!
This is a singularly amazing sport with amazing people. Go to your barn or pasture, give your horse a treat, and start making plans on how you’ll achieve your goals. Nico and I will see you there.
Friday, September 22, 2023
September 19 2023
Each year I try to pick one goal ride. This season VC 100 was on the list. We trained hard, consistently, and did all the things to prepare, beginning in February. The thing about endurance is that it is not an over night process. It is very much a long term commitment.
The ride finally rolled around and plans had been in the making for quite sometime.
We found ourselves rolling into ride camp Thursday before the ride. Its a long drive!! We had some down time and relaxed. The horses settled in great! Friday night was definitely a sleepless night. So sleepless I literally started counting sheep to shut my brain off. My alarm went off and I told my husband that I wasn't sure Troop and I could do this. I was so scared! What was I thinking? Like really, the VC 100?? The toughest ride we have ever attempted and undoubtedly one of the toughest rides in the US. Is Troop ready? Is he really a 100 mile horse? Look at the 100 mile field of riders!! How could we possibly compete here, of all places?? Kevin is always supportive and told me get up and get it done.
I was blessed, honored, and humbled to ride with one of my heroes Max Merlich on his bitch face mare, Layla, on his 70th birthday. Happy Birthday Max!! Congrats on your 100 mile completion.
I was also very honored to ride with badass Tani Bates! She is iconic and tough! Congratulations on Jericho's 1st 100 mile completion! Way to go to the toughest ride ever and knock it out of the park!
Then there's Troop. Yep, we had some A$$ Monkey moments. I mean really, it's not Troop without some antics and attitude. He Trooped through the day as steady as he could be. We both hit a low on those damn SOB's!! Hot, tired, not feeling the greatest. Lack of sleep? Over emotional? Dumb female hormones?? Here's the thing about endurance, the challenge is not always the literal trail. Sometimes it's that connection with your horse and/or with yourself, or just pacing 3 very different horses with different abilities and strengths. Flexibility. Adaptability. I always have a plan A, knowing adjustments will probably be made. For some reason I just couldn't find our steady rhythm. My biggest challenge was quite honestly with myself. I suck at speaking up because I want everyone to be happy and have fun. I don't want to be the spoiler or weak link, especially with my very non-typical endurance horse. I always put those I care about first and foremost, no matter what, even if it means making those adjustments. The first 51 miles was hard!!
We finally made it to the 51 mile vet check and I was not in the best head space. I had been riding with one contact (the other one was tore before I could even get it in that morning), had run out of water, and there was this pain in my shins I had never felt before. I needed hydration, FOOD, and time for my brain to process WTF was going on! I literally felt like I was falling apart and failing, miserably! My amazing husband fed us! Food tasted so good!! I got rid of that damn one contact and opted for glasses. Changed my clothes, panties and all. Grabbed a couple of tylenol. Took some time to just have my own pitty party and shed a few tears, okay, so ALOT!! Pulled up my big girl panties, sucked it up, and changed my plan, perspective, and goals for the ride. It wasn't just about finishing, it was so much more.
We marched out of that vet check like the bad asses we are! We were ready to kick this VC 100's tail! I opted to get off and lead Troop down the big hills in the daylight. He's not a downhill horse, especially those super steep downhills!! We could actually keep up with our Team on the downhills this way. And it helped get my shins feeling better. We knew this loop was going to get dark on us since it was so long. Our crew was so amazing to meet us at the road crossing before camp. Site for sore eyes for sure!!
We were almost back to ride camp when we had an incident on the trail. Could've been so much worse! So thankful it wasn't! We all pulled together made adjustments and got into camp for the 76 mile vet check. All the horses vetted through sound. One more loop, just one more loop.
For whatever reason I somehow thought the last loop was short. When we found out it was closer to 20, it was a bit demoralizing! Especially with all the other challenges throughtout the day (shoes, boots, more boots, ROCKS and more ROCKS, ect). It was time to go and get it done!!
We thought we could make up some time on the last loop. Nope! True to form, there was LOTS of walking!! Rocks, wash outs, boulders, trees, ect...And still the horses were feeling good. Troop pulled on me that entire last loop!! He was ready to go! But the trail kept us in low gear.
We trudged on with one goal in mind and that was to cross the finish line by 4:59 am. As we were creeping closer Max's head lamp died. Then Tani's. Max had a flashlight, but he needed 2 hands on his mare. Mine was still working. I gave Tani my extra headlamp. Mine finally died about 1/2 mile from the finish. As we climbed the last hill we could here our crew woopin'!! I smiled, my heart was full. Max literally stopped a foot before the finish line!! I had stopped behind him and literally pushed Layla across it! We finished at 4:30 am. Now we just needed to vet through. We walked ALOT on that last loop and it got chilly!! Troop is a big muscled boy!! If his muscles cool down, I worry about him stiffening up. It's happened! It was a 2 mile walk back to vetting from the finish line. I prayed silently that I did everything right all day for my big boy. He felt beyond great!! This is that scared thing. Scared of what?? Failure!!! Just need to pass one more test!!
That final trot out was the BEST!! Troop was STRONG and solid. Me, I was tired, mentally and emotionally exhausted!! We finished 44th and took the coveted Turtle award.
Our amazing crew is the absolute best!! Could not have done this ride without them! Thank you Darlene Merlich , Valerie Sharpe Vollbrecht and her Kevin, and my wonderful husband. They kept us going all day!! And documented our day with amazing videos and pictures. I am forever grateful!
Thank you to my most amazing ride partners with badass horses! Congrats on your well earned finish! We all got buckles baby!! Woop! Woop!
Thank you to #NASTR ride management and volunteers! The hospitality was amazing! BTW, I thought I held the record for losing 3 shoes in one ride. Not any more! Max wins with losing all 4 shoes in one ride!! And who knows how many boots!
Thursday, September 21, 2023
September 18 2023
It was a busy day here at VC100! It was SO FUN to see the PNW representing with so many horse and rider teams!!
Marco and I had an amazing first 25 miles with Stevie Delahunt and Carmen Jackson and Mallori Farrell ; horses were feeling fresh and ready to go!! Thanks for the fun this morning ladies!!
Marco had no problem navigating the rock in the dark, something I was worried about but clearly don't need to be! We cruised through the first 16 miles of the ride without a hitch and enjoyed the views and how strong Marco felt!! I was having to do a lot of holding him back, but I knew that was going to be the situation because of how fit he is right now!
As we started walking through someone's property which was where we were routed through, Marco went down in some sand onto both knees, cutting them up, and the right one was pretty bad. I noticed at the vet hold he had lost a glue on boot after I did a boot check at mile 10 or so, which is why I think he went down in the first place.
I doctored him up in under 3 minutes, had the bleeding stopped, liquid bandage on the cuts to keep them from getting dirty, and caught back up to the group. Marco felt strong after, but not 100%, which was concerning this early on in the ride.
I told Marco that I wanted to keep going, but we would stop at the check 25 miles in if he wasn't ok, but he needed to show me how he felt; not more than 1 mile later, he almost went down again on his knees, so I had pretty much made up my decision right then. And this wasn't because of the rock, this happened in areas without rock.
We had some steep grades to go down after that, and Marco wasn't as sure of himself on the downhill, so I stayed on the ground on the descents, and when we got down to flat road he wanted to fly and he felt GREAT on the flat... However this ride is anything but flat!!
Getting into Kivett Lane Vet Check, Marco vetted through with a 44 heart rate, but was every so slightly off, and the vets were super supportive in helping me figure out what to do!! Dr Dan Chapman gave me the option of icing and trotting again, which we did and Marco had improved, but my intuition told me not to go back out.
Dr Dan agreed that Marco's right knee would only get worse over 100 miles, not better, but if we wanted to keep icing and moving along in the ride to see, then we could keep going. To me it felt like staving off the inevitable. Marco was saying his knee was just ever so slightly painful so we better call it. I decided that it would be best if I Rider Optioned so we pulled. I feel really good about this choice, and for me the horses must always come first!
I had a FANTASTIC experience at this ride, it's so laid back, these Nevada Derby Riders know how to put on a great ride!! The trail was crazy rocky just as advertised and I can't wait to come back again to tackle the Virginia City 100!! Crysta Turnage you have to be there next season to ride it with me. Thank you for the wonderfully marked trail, a BEAUTIFUL view from camp, challenging trails, the great volunteers and management, and an epic adventure!!
Marco is all tucked in to his blanket, Simone Mauhl and Karen Gundersen and I are watching the horses come in, and it's been a good day. Thank you to these amazing women for showing up when I needed crew, and for having my back... Your friendships mean the world to me!! I'm grateful for your time this weekend with me, your hard work taking care of us, and the fun we had!!
On to the next adventure!!
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
By Virginia Jenkins
Virginia City 100... I can definitely say no one was lying about the rocks. Flite and I took on the historical trail and brought home a completion with a 20:05 ride time.
We started out at 5 am in front of the classic Delta Saloon - what a cool start. After the Virginia City sheriff led 60 horses and riders to the wrong start in his own city, we got on the trail. Flite and I cruised along in the dark through the rocks (and more rocks... and MORE rocks) and into the first vet check at 24 miles. Flite vetted in at 40 and 40 minutes later, we were off on the next loop of 15 miles. This loop had some sections with NO ROCK (crazy, I know), but also had Bailey Canyon where I managed to lose two octos. Thank goodness I had my renegades with me. I popped them on and off we went. We came into the Washoe Park check and Flite once again vetted out fabulously.
Next up was a 12 mile loop. But not just any 12 mile loop. Here, we conquered the SOBs (aptly named, imo). I decided to be a hero and hike up the first and second ones. The first one was seriously straight up and I thought I might die. Flite was rolling his eyes at me as he grabbed a snack while I could barely breathe. Next stop was at Basecamp at 51 miles. Flite looked great for the vet in, but didn't eat as well as he usually does. I really think he thought he was done and could take his time eating. Sorry buddy, we were only halfway!
Off we went on the next 25 mile loop. I had overheard some people saying the first loop back to Basecamp was the hardest, but they were WRONG. This loop took us up and up and up to Mt. Davidson. We reached the top just as we lost light. Many steep and rocky miles down and we arrived back at Basecamp at 76 miles. Flite looked like a million bucks and ate ravenously. We left camp in the dark to finish the last 24 miles. Flite did such a great job in the dark. He carefully picked his path and told me when it wasn't safe. We rode without any lights! I had heard this loop was easier and less rocky. Well, I guess when the rest of the trail is a rock pile, less rocky still means super rocky! It was very slow going in the dark, but we managed to arrive at the 94 mile vet check.
Flite had been feeling great so I confidently trotted him out for the vet. Lame. I was crushed and so confused. I removed his hoof boot and splint boot to see if there was something in there causing an issue. Nope. I took him back for a recheck after the vet finished vetting the pile of riders who arrived behind me and he was *slightly* better. She let us go the six miles into camp and try for a completion. Flite carried me the first couple miles where it was less technical, then I got off and hand walked the rest of the way. It was slow going, but we crossed the finish line at 4:25am.
It wasn't over with just crossing the finish line though. We still had to pass the final vet check. Holding back tears, I walked him down to the vet area and let the vet know what was going on. He had me trot out and he took a few bad strides before evening out to earn a completion! Holy shit, what a relief! We had done it! This was truly an incredible accomplishment and I am so proud of my Flitey Boy. He never got unmotivated and conquered everything I asked of him. What an absolutely incredible horse.
We met a lot of wonderful people on trail and in canp (Jessica, Pam, Lucy, Annette to name a few) and generally had the best time.
Special thank you to my wonderful crew Gracie and Cressy. They took care of me and Flite so well AND even looked after baby Chile and Kaito while i was riding. I couldn't have done it without their help and support.
Thanks to ride management for putting on a top notch event with great organization and friendly faces. Everyone should ride this legendary ride if they can!
Edited to add that Flite is totally fine! Just a very tired booty from all the trotting downhill on rolling rocks
Sunday, September 10, 2023
Jicarilla Journey. Journ-Journ. Beautiful Girl. All names for my wonderful Mustang mare. I am so lucky to have this amazing horse in my life. She is kind, sensible, and as sure-footed as they come. And this past week, she gave me her all. She never once hesitated when I made the big ask at the SoCo Spanish Peaks endurance ride to try and ride five days in a row: 255 miles of challenging terrain in some of the most beautiful country I have ever ridden.
There are so many moving parts to a successful endurance ride, particularly one over 1,600 miles from home, that just arriving at ride camp with happy, healthy horses is a win. From there, we took it one day at a time. With my traveling companions, Lynne Gilbert and her horse Calvin, our primary goal was to complete the first day’s 50 mile ride. It turned out to be a hotter than expected day, and with the possibility that we might want to ride back-to-back 50’s if all went well, we took it easy and rode as conservatively as the horses would allow; they wanted to move out, and we spent a good bit of the day asking them to take it easy and slow down!
The next day felt a bit more challenging with more demanding trail that included lots of climbs and descents, but again, the scenery was spectacular and we got to ride alongside, and then over, one of the many rock walls that define this landscape. At the start of the ride, we joined up with Kelly Stoneburner and Jesse James, who were planning to ride all five days. It was another successful day due in large part to riding with Kelly and Jesse, who knew the trails so well and paced us accordingly. At day’s end, another completion and our first time doing back-to-back 50’s. This gave us the opportunity to attempt a Pioneer Ride and tackle a third day on trail.
The third and fourth days are a bit of a blur. Each day’s rhythm was defined by all the things that had to happen before, during, and after the ride. The “Hellevator” was a highlight of Day Three - an adrenalin blast out of a canyon up steep switchbacks that had us laughing with relief when we got to the top. After successfully completing the three-day Pioneer, the possibility of attempting to ride all five days loomed large, and with Kelly’s encouragement, I decided to give it a go. Journey was doing great, and to my surprise, I felt great after each day’s ride. I decided I might never have this opportunity again and that I shouldn’t pass it up, so we would at least tackle Day Four. When Tenney announced at the ride meeting that night that she thought the Day Four trail was the most challenging, she wasn’t wrong! The day was made a bit more challenging due to lack of sleep that night: strong winds blew through camp for hours, rocking the trailer and making it difficult to sleep. Then once on trail, there were lots of big climbs up into the highlands among the aspen groves where where the elk tracks lined the trail, only to encounter “Luke’s Limit,” a long, slow, unmounted descent straight down the mountain. The horses took great care of themselves all day, eating along the trail and taking long drinks at the many water tanks. Finally, we arrived back at ride camp after a long, tiring day. Doubts about riding the next day surfaced as my girl was tired, and so was I.
But then the next morning at dawn, this normally reserved mare stepped forward to greet and nuzzle me (and no, I was not holding her feed pan!). Here it was, the morning of the fifth day, and completely unaware that I would again be tacking her up for yet another 50 miles, Journey was affectionate and wanted to be beside me. I got choked up. She was tired. I was tired. But we were both willing to give it a go. And go she did. In my semi brain-dead state, I left her hackamore at the trailer when I went to do the morning trot out for the vets. Oh well, I thought, she’ll be just fine in the rope halter; it was, after all, day five and she had already traveled 205 miles. How wrong I was! Once she was warmed up and we were out on trail, I quickly realized the rope halter was not going to do the trick. I had so much horse under me and she wanted to move out! I never would have believed it was possible to have as strong a horse on day five as I had on day one, but there she was! Needless to say, I grabbed the hackamore at our first hold so that the rest of the ride wouldn’t be a struggle. It was another beautiful day on trail that included the exciting descent of “Pistol Whip” and then lots of long walks and climbs along dusty trails. It was somewhat surreal arriving back at ride camp, and I Ioved that my dog Tripp came running up to greet us as we came off trail. And then during our final vet check, Journey took a step forward and put her face next to mine, her nose against my mouth, our breaths blending as we breathed in sync. I don’t know what she was feeling or thinking at that moment, but for me, it was a perfect ending to an amazing adventure, and I will always treasure the trust she placed in me and the steadfast way she carried me over some truly challenging terrain.
All of this would not have been possible without the generosity, support, encouragement, and trail savvy that Kelly and Jesse so willingly shared with me for over 200+ miles of trail, along with Lynne who jumped in to crew for us on days four and five, Cassidy Miller and Helen Gurina who helped trot Journey out the first two days when I twisted my hip after stepping in a hole, and Rob and Pam Talley Stoneburner who also helped crew for us. Then there were the wonderful vets and all the volunteers, the amazing food truck folks who provided us with great meals, and all the loving support from afar from my husband and daughters. Also, a big shout-out and thank you to Tenney Blouin with SoCo Endurance, and all the private land owners who made this ride possible. But most of all, a big thank you and all the love and devotion in the world to my wonderful Mustang mare, Jicarilla Journey, my beautiful girl.
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
August 14 2023
by Connie Holloway
It’s so nice when your hard work pays off, and I’ve been working hard on both of my horses.With DWA Barack ￼going on our fourth year together. (I am going to write a story about him and our attachment issues. But I think we’re fairly well attached to each other now, somewhere this year, I really started to love this horse.) And DWA Papillon is coming along wonderfully.
We had so much fun at the Mount Adams endurance ride. And that’s why I’m in it I realized more for the fun than anything else and I love challenges. Things you have to work hard for. That put you in all kinds of situations and riding horses in the outdoors because all the elements, various terrain, can be super tricky at times and all the wild stuff that jumps out at you etc. So much is out of your control and it’s all fairly exciting, and throw ￼wind and thunderstorms and that’s interesting. But we had none of that. We had stellar weather.
Speaking of stellar I took DWA Papillon out on the night ride. On Saturday both rides were at night. We did the first 12 mile loop in the daylight and the second time at night. Bobbi does this to give riders an opportunity to take there horse out at nite, normally only hundred mile rides you’re out in the dark! I so love this concept. Also, Christoph gave an excellent talk on riding at night. I learned so much more that was really helpful for me and my horse.
I chose to ride by myself with Pappy as usual and Pappy was a bit anxious and energetic. On the first loop leaving camp I decided to get off him and lead him for a bit, because his action was more up-and-down than forward and he was riled up. He could hear the horses coming in his direction through the woods on the road but not quite see them. I had started him last he didn’t know what to think of it all but I knew he’d settle down. I got on him as soon as I got down to the flat road and he took off at like a 20 mph trot. I ￼did not know he could trot ￼out that fast. !!!!!
He’s got a super good mind snd did settle down after the climbs. I’ve learned this horse really wants to race and go and his bred for it but we’re not doing that now, he still has his training wheels on.￼ I should’ve gotten on him earlier in the day, but it was too hot and I was feeling lazy like Barack so it was a bit of a challenge for both of us at the start ! ￼
The 2nd Loop was the real gem because you’re repeating the first, only now in the dark and following little green twinkling lights, and sometimes you came to intersections and saw some twinkling blue lights and red lights and purple lights. It was like a fiesta in the forest. These little teeny lights. And my friends know how I like Christmas lights so I was really digging that. And was relishing the night under the stars and the meteor showers peak nite.
Halfway through the loop there was party Central. There was mash, hay and water for the horses, and for us coffee and Baileys, hot chocolate and Bailey’s, or straight Bailey’s, whatever you wanted and cookies. There ￼were more sparkly lights here and friendly trail angels. I had Baileys and coffee to wash the cookie down,￼ thank you very much, while I spoon fed mash to Pappy who is scared of the tub. He is very royal.
Endurance is fairly new for him and all the different shaped water tubs and everything is suspect. He hasn’t figured it all out yet, but he starting to. He was super awesome in the dark moving right out and I loved being by myself with him, he relying on me and me relying on him, that’s how the bond really develops. We saw other horses out there a few times, it would surprise him every time but for the most part we really were all alone other than a little passing here and there.
For the non-riders, you don’t use white lights, it blinds people and the horses. Horses see just as good at night, it’s OK to use a red light which I used often on for me, but not my horse. I really liked it when I had no light on. If you’re lucky enough to ride in a moon, you don’t need anything. Imagine riding in the Moonlight that’s magical too. but I’ll take no moon and meteor showers. Thank you ￼universe !
I didn’t want the ride to end. In fact, I didn’t go to bed till 2 AM because the evening was warm, and the stars were putting on a show. So I hung outside my tent with the horses and Alexstoney. I can’t recall having so much fun as I did on this loop.
And at the finish, I was handed a little cup of champagne, it just doesn’t get any better than that. All the fun people celebrating and helping us. I so appreciate it. I was so pleased and giddy with this night experience! Whenever I do a Limited Distance￼, I always say I’m only doing an LD. But I think that’s pretty lame. I think they all matter what you do with your horses .I’ve ridden only 4 100￼ milers so I’ve been out at night, but never by myself. It’s something completely different. and I really loved it.!
I also rode Barack and he was such a good boy in the 50 miler on Friday, he had to go out and leave camp three different times which is hard. Sometimes they think they’re done when they go home, but we had three different loops, and he was a good sport about it. He certainly did some relaxing the next day sunbathing in the pen.
Thank you, Bobbi Walker your husband, Mark, the water, people, the party people all the good people you had to help put on that ride. I love how you give people an opportunity to ride at night even people that will never get to do 100 they can go out and ride at night in an LD or 50. Next year I’m going to do the 50. And thank you Regina Rose of course for bringing me. Always fun. We have a good camp and Kristin and Sara were right next door. Merri Melde for the photos.
It was fun to be back in this area I used to do spotted owl work in Glenwood, which isn’t too far off so I went back that way through many other places I knew and love the whole Klickitat Canyon area. Oh, I forgot to mention that Bobbi gave away coupons for huckleberry milkshakes, and OMG they are the best I’ve ever had. I might have to make several detours in the future. Such a great fun area.
Tuesday, August 08, 2023
For those of you who don’t know PJs (Freaky) story. Here it is. Heather Reynolds had posted PJs breeding on Facebook stating her new horse would be arriving soon. PJ is a grandson of Okba - my favorite bloodline, a son of French Open, who Heather had won Tevis 2014 on. How exciting for her! I was flying to Florida to do the 3 day 100 with the Reynolds and PJ arrived while I was at their farm in Florida. PJ was a 12 year gelding who was apparently 15 hands with a stick and level. It was very clear PJ was not 15 hands. He is 14.2 with shoes on 🤣 obviously this was upsetting so I was like I’ll take him, and we arranged shipping from Florida to Texas.
It was said that PJ was rideable but difficult to mount but he hadn’t been ridden in a few years. He had been hanging out in a 40 acre pasture for 7 years in Colorado. Once he arrived in Texas, i began to work with him. He was perfect to saddle, knew how to round pen, and knew cues with the bit. He was reactive and spooky but he seemed to know what I was asking. About a week of ground work, i attempted to mount PJ. He bolted off before i could even put my foot in the stirrup. Fast forward 60 days, I was finally able to mount PJ. He was great our first ride. We walked in the round pen and I was able to get on and off of him safely. During the 60 days, it seemed that once PJ was over something, he never had a problem with it again. The very next day, I had fed the horses dinner. No one was at the barn but I decided to ride PJ for a second time. I got on him and he moved around a bit but for the most part was fine. We started to walk and he tripped. That completely freaked out him and he began running as fast as he could around the round pen. I couldn’t stop him. When he did stop, if i made a single move, he would run off again. I was stuck on PJ for about an hour and a half. I was crying and panicking, i was stuck on this horse. Not a good feeling. If i touched my phone, he would run off. There was no calling for help. I ended up grabbing onto the round pen panels and letting him bolt from underneath me.
I called my mom and told her i would never ride him again. Something i forgot to mention earlier, PJ was not ever accepting of being held by someone else for mounting and dismounting, he still isn’t to this day. If he feels trapped, he freaks out and bolts off. I attempted to give PJ back to his breeder, who heather had received him from. Heather was wonderful and had offered to pay half of the shipping to get him back to Colorado. His breeder stated that it would be best to euthanize him as he was just too crazy. She had bred him for the track and had him in training from age 3 to 5 and could never get him broke to ride. I tried giving him away to others but no one wanted him, and i do not blame them LOL. I started reaching out to trainers and i kept getting turned down. The trainers were telling me they didn’t know how to train a horse like PJ.
I then reached out to Dan Keen and after i described PJ, he said “bring him to the ranch and i will get him right”. No hesitation and Dan wasn’t worried at all. PJ spent 4 months at Dans. Dan stated that PJ was in the top 10% of most difficult horses he had ever trained. PJ was challenging and one in a million, but he did say that if he had to ride from coast to coast, PJ would be the one to do it. He described PJ as what it felt like to ride 4 horses at once. When i picked PJ up from Dans, Dan told me to ride him every day, get the miles on him, and do not rest him, PJ needed to work. That following October I did my first 50 on PJ. He was amazing. We then decided that we would aim him towards Tevis 2022.
PJ was a challenge every single ride. He was still quick to walk off when I would mount, he was easily bothered by things, he is a horse that all hands and feet need to be inside the ride at all times. I never knew what type of PJ i was going to get. Sometimes he’d stand nicely when i would get on him, sometimes he would spin violently for several minutes and try to run off. PJ was also worse if i mounted him at different places. He is very routine and if he is presented with something different, he would be explosive. In October 2022, i did the Armadillo 100 on him. That morning when I went to get on him, he went bucking and bolting through camp. People were yelling “loose horse”, nope, just me and PJ running through camp. I managed to stay on and we had a great day, we won. The initial mount of the day was PJs biggest issue even after all the training. And if you fell off during that initial mount, he was not rideable for the rest of the day. As I got the endurance miles on him, his behavior did improve.
In 1 year, i rode PJ 430 miles just in endurance rides. Yet, still a challenge all the time. I did not want to give up on PJ as he was freaky talented. He had the best recoveries, takes care of himself, and he can really move down the trail. This past spring, PJ decided he was not broke to ride. This is after 430 miles worth of races, a million training miles, and no long periods of rest. He just went back to his old self and was not safe to ride.
He just was not comfortable with a rider anymore and was honestly dangerous again. I debated giving him away because I am currently in Dental Hygiene school and a broke college kid. Training is expensive and it was such a disappointment that after a year and a half, he was back to being a psycho. Im not afraid to admit that I was scared of him again. I didn’t want to ride him again. I was so over the walking on egg shells to make sure I didn’t scare him in anyway, but it made me sad to give up.
So back to Dans he went. 30 days at Dans and we were back on track. This time Dan had to do some tough love but i was pleasantly surprised when I picked PJ up. Ever since I have picked PJ up, he had stood 100% still during mounting. I have poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into PJ. He is like having a child as I cannot leave for more than 5 days because he can’t handle the rest still to this day. Coming in the top 10 and winning the Haggin Cup at Tevis is a dream come true. My hard work has paid off and PJ is a champion. I always saw the potential in PJ but at times it seemed like it would be easier to just give up. I am so glad I did not.
Dan Keen (his trainer) always said that PJ was a winner and he was right. PJ will more than likely be a challenge for the rest of his life and I will probably never get to go on a long vacation unless I send him to Dans for the period of time, but that is perfectly fine. He gave me the best ride ever this past weekend and I do just love that little power pony so much even on the bad days ❤️ PJ actually stands for Princess Jeremy as that is what I nicknamed Mr Jeremy Reynolds a Few years ago 🤣 since i got PJ from Heather and Jeremy it was awesome and so funny to name him that as an insider. Freaky shortly became another nickname for him as he is a freak. If i wrote about every freaky moment I’ve had in this horse, it would be a million word book.
Saturday, August 05, 2023
by Mark Montgomery
Mark Montgomery and his mustang MM Gus finished in 8th place
Tevis 2023 - almost didn't happen for me this year. My horse Gus came up lame just three days before the ride. I called my crew, and the Tevis office to let them know we were out. My wife Linda DVM couldn't find anything obvious causing the lameness, so she recommended pulling the shoes. Upon doing so, I found that the N/G shoes had cupped, causing sole pressure. I ground out more sole and put the EasyCare Flex shoes on him, which are more ridged than the N/Gs. Gus instantly went from lame to almost 100% sound, but he was still slightly off. His sole was still sore. It's now Wednesday evening. I start calling farmer friends, looking for Vet Tec, to add sole protection. Scotty Mayfield came to the rescue. He had a tube of Vet Tec and the applicator, and he gave me a demonstration on how to apply it. A huge Thank You to Scotty. We are good to go, and back in it. Woody has had great success for years with the EasyCare N/Gs, but Gus is more flat footed, and needs a shoe with more support.
Do to the depth of the snow over the top of the Sierras, this year the ride started at Soda Springs, in the dark, early Saturday morning. The first part of the trail was a long downhill road, starting with pavement, then changing to gravel, then to dirt. My friend from Israel, Ilan Dvir, was riding my mustang Woody. Woody is very competitive, and can be very difficult to ride, but Ilan is an excellent horseman and rider. The plan was to use Gus as a blocker, to slow Woody down. Ilan is also very competitive. They got ahead of Gus and I, and started working their way through all the riders in front of us. We were doing our best to keep them in sight. When we got to the bottom of the canyon I asked a spectator “How many are in front of us?”. He said “Nobody, you’re it”. We climbed to the top of Lyon Ridge, where Todd Barnum and crew were managing the trot by and water stop. While our horses were drinking, I jumped of and gave them their electrolytes that I carried in my backpack, along with some extra shoes, a hammer, and some nails, incase they lost a shoe. We headed out of this stop just as other riders were starting to arrive.
Ilan and Woody were leading the way, and as we approached Cougar Rock, Ilan and Woody were having a disagreement on which way to go, over the Rock, or go around on the bypass trail. Last year I let Woody choose, and he chose the bypass. Ilan won the argument, so over The Rock we went. The ride photographer was not expecting to see riders so soon, and was not quite ready yet, consequently our pictures are a little fuzzy. Sorry Bill, I should have yelled that we were coming.
Woody is known for his big spooks, at high speed, resulting in the rider (usually me) hitting the ground. That’s why I always hold on to my Oh Shit Strap while riding him. We left Cougar Rock with about a ten minute lead on the other riders, with Ilan in the front. As they flew around a blind corner, a man with a camera stood up from behind a bush, causing Woody to spook, a duck and spin, resulting in Ilan falling off. The ridge and the trail was heading West, but Woody took off, heading North, down off the ridge, over an almost vertical 300’ drop, and disappeared into the timber below. I stayed on Gus, at the edge of the cliff, while Ilan climbed down the bank in pursuit. A short time later I hear him yell “Got him”, and they climbed back up to the trail. I asked how he was able to catch him so easily, expecting Woody to run clear to the next vet check at Red Star. He said that he approached him as if he was another horse, bobbing his head, with a non confrontal slouched posture. It worked, and we are back on trail, just as three riders pass us. Ilan and Woody were able to pass, putting them back in 1st place. Gus and I were content to follow the three riders at a more moderate pace, so we came into Red Star in 5th place. I pulled tack, and got water on Gus, and his heart rate was immediately down to criteria. One of my highlights of my ride was looking over and seeing Chuck Stalley hand feeding Woody some hay. With support like that, I knew it was going to be a great day. We left Red Star in 1st place, and came into Robinson Flat fast, with a good lead on second place. At Robinson, Gus pulsed down almost immediately again, so off we go to vet through. Our vet at this stop was Mike Peralez DVM, the head vet for the ride. As he preformed the CRI, Gus’s first pulse was 48. After the trot out and back, Mike checked his pulse again. He looked at me and smiled with amazement, Gus’s pulse was 44. I jokingly said “You better check that Again”. Mike gave us the green light to proceed. Unfortunately, Woody was off at this vet check, and was pulled. Could he have injured himself earlier, running down that embankment, who knows, but he was 100% sound when we trotted him out the next day at the Auburn Fair Grounds.
Gus and I kept a good fast pace heading down the trail, only slowing down for the steep downhills. As we came into the Dusty Corners water stop, a volunteer commented how good Gus looked as she handed me a slice of watermelon and I offered Gus a drink. He was not interested in drinking at that time, and we took off down the trail as we see other riders coming fast into this stop. As we leave, the volunteer yelled “Only 4.9 miles to the next check at Last Chance.” Gus and I were in sync, flying down the single track trail as one body. He was on auto pilot, only slowing to a trot for brief moments when necessary, for our safety. I did take a glance down off the cliff at Pucker Point as we flew by, thinking that it would be the end of us if we went off there. There were fresh bear tracks in the trail, and we were lucky that we didn’t encounter a bear while cantering around those blind corners, on that narrow trail, with a drop off on one side.
We came into Last Chance with a good lead, and Gus looking great. He ate and drank, and vetted through right away, so off we go, heading down into the first canyon. I usually get off and run this section, but my left knee was starting to give me trouble, so I stayed on. In the past, I’ve always taken my horses into the river for a swim below Swinging Bridge. It was still early in the day, it wasn’t hot yet, and Gus didn’t seem hot or tired, so we skipped the river, and across the bridge we go. The climb to Devils Thumb is brutal. I consider it the toughest part of the ride, so when I could start to hear Gus breathing, I would get off and lead him. By the time I got to the top, I was beat. I could hear Greg Kimber and other volunteers offering encouraging words, but I was too exhausted to look up and acknowledge them, we were heading for the water trough, where we were treated with more volunteers with treats and cooling sponges.
Our next vet check is Deadwood, only a mile down the trail. We quickly vetted though, and down into the second canyon we go, at a fast trot, only slowing down for the steep sections. So much work has been done to improve the Tevis trail, and this section was no exception. We felt very safe, as much of the trail has been widened. Seeing all the chainsaw work that had been done was amazing. So many huge dead trees from last year’s fire had been cut out of the way. This will be an ongoing project for years to come, as more dead trees fall.
As we neared the top of Eldorado Canyon, Gus was getting hot, so I jumped off at the last creek crossing before Michigan Bluff, to cool him off. As I was pouring water on him, two riders passed us. I figured that cooling my horse was far more important than maintaining our 1st place position. We left Michigan Bluff and came into the next vet check at Chicken Hawk in third place. Gus pulsed down right away, and we probably could have left Chicken Hawk in the lead, but Gus was finally starting to get an apatite, so we stayed a little longer to let him eat. I lost track of how many riders passed us at this check while Gus was eating. I think that there were about five out areas of us.
Coming up Bath Road was perfect. My crew were amazing. Ilan and his son Rotem met us part way down the road with a gallon jug of ice water. I was pouring it on Gus and drinking it as we trotted up the road to the rest of our crew. I said to my crew“Get Gus straight to the P&R person”, as from past experience, I know his heart rate will be down. He was down right away, and that put us leaving Forest Hill in third place, just four minutes behind first. While at this check, I noticed that he had lost his Vet Tec padding. Luckily, the farier, Joby Souza, was there to apply more.
The next section of trail goes right through downtown Forest Hill, on pavement. We quickly caught and passed the next rider, putting us in second place. Dropping down the switchbacks, I could see the lead rider about a minute ahead of us. We caught her just beforee the Cal 2 water stop, and we led the way down the switchbacks from Cal 2 to the river. We were flying, but we couldn’t out run them. Turns out, it was Jenna and Kong, they are an amazing team. We rode together for a while, trading off the first place position.
About a mile from Franciscos, three other riders caught up to us. They were trotting fast down the road. Gus wanted to go with them, but my knee was done. I could not go that speed any longer. I had to turn Gus in a circle to slow him down to a walk. My knee was swollen, and the skin had worn off where it rubbed on the saddle. We came into Franciscos a couple minutes behind the group of four. Gus pulsed down right away again, but he was breathing hard, and I was exhausted. I could not keep up that pace any longer, and at that point I realized that we weren’t going to win, and resigned to shooting for a Top Ten finish. We stayed a little extra long at this check so we could both get our strength back. I was feeling really overheated at this point and the volunteers were wonderful helping to get me prepared to hit the trail again. Another rider passed us while we were resting in the vet check, putting us in 6th place.
The next section of trail had to be re routed up Drivers Flat Road, a 2 1/2 mile steep climb to the top. As we passed the usual single track trail to the left,, that goes to the river crossing, Gus looked at at me saying “You are going the wrong way, we are supposed to turn here”. He lost his motivation at that point, and we walked all the way to the top. Our crew was waiting for us at the top, a welcome site for sure. They cooled Gus while I rested. Gus remained unmotivated for the next several miles. He knew we had missed a turn, as he had done this ride once before, with a junior rider, Rotem, in 2019. It’s amazing how they remember the trail. While we were jogging down the trail, two other riders caught and passed us, putting us in 8th place. Gus stayed with them for a while but finally let them go. At this point, I was exhausted, and my poor riding form was taking it’s toll on Gus. I was riding with both hands on the pommel of the saddle to help relieve the pressure on my knee, just letting the reins go free on his neck. The new re route of the trail seemed to go on forever. Finally, just before dark, we reached the highway crossing at the Forest Hill bridge, and we were passed by another rider, putting us in 9th place.
The long steep descend down to the confluence of the North and middle forks of the American rivers brought us to the final vet check before the finish line. Gus vetted through right away again, but just as I mounted up to leave, he decides that he wanted to stay and eat hay. Every couple minutes I would suggest that we really need to get going, and he would just keep eating, so I let him, knowing that we would probably be passed by other riders. Finally he had enough hay and we were back on the trail. Just before No Hands Bridge, my crew found me and let me know that two riders were coming up fast behind us. When Gus got to No Hands Bridge, he new where we were, he wasn’t lost any more, and we flew at a fast canter. He had been dogging it for the last couple hours, and now he had a renewed energy. We quickly caught the 8th place rider, putting us in 8th place, but we could hear the other two riders, in the dark, pushing hard to catch us, all the way to the finish line. They crossed the line less than a minute behind us. Gus cantered most of the lap around the track at the stadium. He felt and looked great at the finish, and at the Best Condition showing the next morning. I was in no condition to show him. Thanks Caroline De Bourbon for showing him for BC for me, you did an excellent job.
My crew was great, they could not have done any better. I was spoiled all day. They went above and beyond to be everywhere for me. A huge Thank You to Karen Gardella, Shane Lesher and his wife Angie, Amy Rawlins, Ilan and Rotem Dvir, and my wife Linda DVM, and Mike Shaper for moving my rig from Soda Springs to Auburn.
Chuck Stalley and his crew of volunteers did an amazing job to make this ride happen, from dealing with the mess from the fire last summer, to re routing the trail because the river was too high to cross, to all of the work done to make the trail as safe as possible. The Traill was the best that I’ve seen it - Outstanding job guys. And as always, the vets were great keeping all the horses safe.
A huge Thank You to everyone.
Thursday, August 03, 2023
by Alexandra Collier
Alexandra Collier and the mustang JM Gibbs finished in 52nd place
7 years ago I made the decision to move from Maryland to San Diego, California. I had discovered that Auburn was the endurance capital of the world and where Tevis takes place. I didn’t move to Auburn specifically though for fear of lack of opportunities. Around this time period, I was not well, all around. I was in some of the lowest years of my life and just a mess. I had been contemplating and convincing myself that moving somewhere where there was “more endurance” would help set me on the right path to personal peace.
Fast forward to this morning at 4:42am, JM Gibbs and I completed the Western States Trail Ride aka the Tevis Cup. Until this weekend, Gibbs and I had never met. What I knew about him was that he was a stocky ole mustang from Devils Garden and “kids safe.” According to his AERC record, he has done a handful of 50s, maybe 5ish and the placings I saw were 25th, 28th, and 37th. Neither Gibbs nor I had ever attempted Tevis. I had a 100 mile completion under my belt, but Gibbs did not even have a previous attempt.
On paper, if someone were to be interested in leasing a horse for Tevis, Gibbs wouldn’t light someone up inside with excitement. Now, this is a normal person I’m talking about. Then, there is me.
Amongst all the reasons why Gibbs might not be someone’s best first interest for Tevis, I saw it differently. Mustang, underrepresented breed in endurance, underdog of endurance, not likely to finish, a mental challenge, a long long 100 miles, lots of mental effort into strategic planning, anxiety, more anxiety and worry. I won’t say I “like” all of those things, but that’s how I saw it. This wasn’t about a Tevis completion, truly. It was about how many crazy boxes I would check IF we completed and IF we didn’t, so what if we just did something crazy, and tried.
After winning the Tevis benefactor entry, this was my green-light-go sign. My gut, my heart, all shouting “You cannot miss this opportunity, despite the foreseen challenges.”
I met Gibbs on Thursday before the ride. Friday I took him for a 30 minute walking ride just to get a feel for things. Then I woke up on Saturday morning and hopped up on his back and off we were to conquer 100 miles. Our goal was to finish faster morning miles in the cooler weather to accommodate for the hot midday sun. Gibbs and I were doing great, until the canyons. It was hot, it was unmotivating for him, it was rocky. When we reached the swinging bridge we B-lined it for the river. I dismounted and walked him in submerging myself fully and letting him cool down for a few mins before the hike up Devil’s Thumb.
We crossed the bridge following two other riders that we eventually let go on without us. I dismounted to get a rock out of my shoe and thought to myself “No part of me wants to hike this canyon up to the top but I probably should as it may be our saving grace at the end.” So we hiked it together, miserably. Gibbs’ attitude was “this is so not it.” Between the 2mph walking and my quite literally dragging him, I felt discouraged but continued on step after step. I mean literally looking down at the ground watching each one of my boots cover another small increment of ground.
We made it to the top, just to barrel down into another canyon. Same thing again. Walking, breathing, internally dying inside. We hit a relatively level point and I mounted Gibbs, gave him a kick, just for the result to be a dead stand still. He would not go. He knew that his body needed to recover and did not believe there was any urgency in continuing on. So I got off and resumed my dragging routine. “Mustangs take care of themselves” they say. And yup, they sure do. And sometimes that means, “I’d just like to rest and not do anything anymore despite us being in the middle of a very serious ride with a time cut off.”
We lost so much time. We came into Michigan Bluff with me thinking I had arrived at Chicken Hawk, but we had not. There was another handful of miles left. Gibbs was spent and morale was low for me and him. Luckily between my crew and Terry Howe’s positivity and motivation, I felt a surge of life. I left Michigan Bluff choking back my tears from the reality that this might be it we may not make it. Two riders knew the “bad times” were hitting me and they kept pushing me to continue on, keep up, and attach Gibbs to them for motivation. They saved me. The last 1.5 to Chicken Hawk felt ENDLESS. Somehow, somehow, we made it in with a few minutes to spare. My amazing crew immediately helped me and set me up for success. If my timeline of the story doesn’t align with location names or anything, it’s because anything after Michigan Bluff is an absolute complete blur. It was all just work and a one track mindset, GO.
The switchbacks following felt endless. We came into Forest Hill or Cal 2 with one minute to spare. One damn minute. After this, any concept of where I was just fell from my mind. We must keep moving forward and not waste much time. It was dark, which meant it was cooling down and our only opportunity to make it.
Every check after that was “you need to pick up the speed,” “you’re right at cut off,” “you can do it, but you have to keep moving and use every minute wisely.” I was riding with someone who had a gaited horse which was great for pacing a faster walk. We were working together to try to get this done. I was in charge of time and he was in charge of leading. I’ll be honest, every time he asked me the time, I lied. I told the time was five minutes past what the actual time was so that he didn’t believe we had any extra moment. ￼ Probably saved us both in the end because he finished as well. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind the lying now if I told him my strategy.
At 1:52am, I realized the reality of we might not finish. Calculating, recalculating, mathing, running through my mind how could we possible make it 20 miles in 3 hours. That’s 10mph give or take. How is that even possible, we aren’t capable of that. We just aren’t. My text was sent to my crew at 1:52am during this breakdown and it read “I am not convinced we will make it in time.” I had to prepare my team for the disappointment to come despite their amazing efforts of crewing for me and cheering me on all day.
I asked myself if this was my giving up moment. No, it sure as heck is not. And we are going to fly at any damn opportunity that we can and if we don’t finish AT LEAST WE TRIED.
Every pulse Gibbs had coming into check, he would come in at about 80, but within 5 mins of snacking and drinking, he’d be down to 64. And we would head out essentially by our crew pushing us out the gate.
Francisco’s and the street crossings still had me tense about time, but once we hit Confluents, I started believing this is real. We are about to finish Tevis when I spent majority of the day mentally preparing myself for a potential pull or being overtime. We FLEW. I made sure he attached himself mentally to the butt of another horse and we kept going. There was no thinking really just following the glimpse of a riders sillouette in front of us. I tried not to let myself believe we “had this” before the end because I was still panicking about a stone bruise flying like that in the very dark forest. Again, if felt endless. Any glimmer of a light, I was hoping for the finish.
And finally, there it was. Lights up on a hill and my heart is beating so fast; I’m feeling so many emotions. How in the heck did I just pull this off? Just, how. But we did it.
With endurance, I get into this mindset where it’s like I’m using every single aspect of my brain. As I’m sure we all do. But I assess, reassess, push, pull, tweak this and that. It’s not easy with a horse who isn’t guaranteed to finish. There is so much that goes on internally in my mind throughout the process. I knew Gibbs would be a challenge, but what worked in my favor is that for the last two years I’ve been riding a mustang who is equally, even more so stubborn. I know how to navigate them. It’s not about demanding, it’s about asking. And sometimes they straight up tell you “No” and not a single thing will change that. So when this happens, is when I have to change the plan, again. And again, and again. It’s not a straight line.
I had a paper I was following with “set goal times” and the cut-off times listed. The first few points we were an hour to an hour and a half ahead. During this time I was of course feeling positive and motivated. Then, the lull of the ride was when we were coming in an hour to an hour and a half AFTER what our goal time should be and seconds before cut off. There is and was never any plan, truly. Do what you can with your best effort, and adjust. If it doesn’t go to plan, the day is not over, the ride is not over. We keep on going and we make it to the finish.
A very special thanks to Gibbs’ home Crater Hill Equestrian Center and all of their crew, Samantha Ellis, Gibbs’ rightful owners Jennifer Elizabeth Mayfield & Scotty Mayfield, Ashley Sansome whom I ventured on this mission with, Valerie Jaques for setting me up to borrow her Garmin, Terry Howe for letting me borrow her saddle, the benefactor who made it possible for me to have an entry to the ride, every single person who was out there on the sidelines in-person or from home, Jacqueline Davis for providing me with the resources and experience the last two years to have the knowledge that it took to complete this ride, and Gibbs of course for all of his hard work to make this happen.
I am so proud of our teamwork and our ability to finish the ride in time. This memory I will cherish forever. It checked so many personal boxes for me with regards to goals and putting myself to the test to see what I really am capable of as a rider and person in general. I am ecstatic and still in shock, so very happy with my ability to overcome challenges and prevail in the end. Gibbs is a very special mustang and although at times he wouldn’t give me what I wanted, in the end he gave us both what we needed to make it happen. Gibbs was part of the 2020 round up and brought in as a stallion. He was not gelded until 2 years ago (I believe) and has only been broke for 2 years as well. From RoundUp2020 to Tevis2023, really awesome.
I will try to forget about the embarrassing demonstration he put on for everyone as we did our victory lap.
Wednesday, June 14, 2023
by Nancy Sluys
Sometimes you just have to hang your wishes on a star and see what transpires! Coming onto 2023 my hopes and goals were to ride Danny (Jets Danny Herlong), my mule, in the Old Dominion 100 mile (in one day) endurance ride, also known as the Beast of the East for it’s reputation of numerous rocks and long climbs! He was a bit short on his conditioning miles after only having done one 50 in 2022 on Thanksgiving weekend. I had backed off endurance for a while with him to concentrate on relationship building and training after our last mishap the previous January, which resulted in my 3rd broken bone from coming off this mule. I worked hard to rebuild my confidence and troubleshoot our relationship. Now we were back on track and getting ready for the year. This past winter was very wet and I had a hard time conditioning on slippery home trails in North Carolina. When the weather got a little warmer I went up to our place in the Virginia mountains where the footing was well drained and firmer and tried to get some good miles in but in early March Danny got caught up in barbed wire that was hidden in the leaves alongside a trail and got a serious cut on the back of his left rear pastern that took over 2 months to heal up. I thought our hopes were dashed as we just didn’t have the miles that I would have wished coming into a challenging 100.
At the AERC convention this winter in Jacksonville, Florida I won a free entry to the 55 mile ride at the Old Dominion so I thought that was a good revised goal to work towards. Between weather and a busy schedule I didn’t get the trail time that I had hoped for but I did get a good 2 days and 35 miles of mountain riding in 3 weeks before the ride. The week and a half before the ride there was an announcement that only 10 riders had entered the 100 at the OD and pitying the ride manager I decided to bump up to the 100 on a whim. After all, I figured I would rather start the 100 with the possibility of stopping if things weren’t going our way rather than finish the 55 with a mule who looked great, and like he could just keep going so I took the plunge and entered the 100. After all, some of the greatest endurance riders advocate that rest is good and Danny was certainly well rested!
Leading up to the ride Bill was having back trouble so I put out a call on Facebook for some crew and Ginne Ritter took the bait. She is a “professional” crew person so I knew I was in good hands and Bill could relax at home and take care of his back. The scene was set and I was committed. I arrived at ride camp a day early so we both could rest and I could have plenty of time to pack my stuff and work out some strategy in my mind. Since Danny is pretty non-reactive to other horses and keeps to his pace I decided that starting near the front of the ride would be a good idea so that later there would be plenty of horses behind me if he lost motivation later in the ride and needed a buddy. The weather report was very favorable with zero chance of rain and temperatures in the high 70s, a rare occurrence at the Old Dominion which if famous for brutally hot temperatures!
I met up with Ginne to get the truck packed with the crew stuff, feed and supplements for Danny and supplies for me. She was looking after Joey, Dr. Vicky’s (one of the ride vets) 7 year old daughter all weekend so Joey joined our team along with Rayna, a lovely young lady who was April and Daniel Johnson’s daughter. Team Danny was set! Joey immediately developed a special relationship with Danny and soon he was following her around like a puppy. She helped graze him and even trotted him out for the vets at check in and several of the vet checks. It was so cute how he looked after her and was so tender.
I awoke the next morning to 40 something degree weather and I had to ride out in a jacket, so unusual for the Old Dominion! The sun was just beginning to rise on the 5:30am start time. 13 horses and one mule started that day and 10 completed the challenge. As planned we started at the front of the pack and settled into a steady pace. After a half mile of road the trail turned off and began climbing right away.
Danny was ears up, bright eyed and very forward but ratable as we climbed and climbed to the ridge top. The trail ascended through hardwood trees, patches of beautiful blooming Mountain Laurel and small open meadows before reaching the spine. On the way up we hooked up with another rider whose horse was similarly paced. Jamie McArdle was trying for her first 100 mile completion after several failed attempts in the past. At one point the view of the early morning sun over the valley below opened up and I took the opportunity to snap a few photos, between the ears, of course!! The trail was rocky with occasional boulders but the footing was passable and we were able to make fairly good time reaching the first vet check at Bird Haven in 2 hours and 55 minutes for the 15.7 mile loop. Danny was setting the pace and was insistent that we walk all the hills but he made up for it on the downhills as he handily trotted down the mountain. Even on the first loop he snatched mouthfuls of grass while he was on the move. Mules are famous for taking good care of themselves and he was proving that right!
Danny’s pulse came down immediately and we were able to vet right through. He looked great! Joey did a great job trotting him out and the onlookers loved it! The vet check was at a private residence called Bird Haven and we were situated on a beautiful grassy lawn with huge shade trees. We would come back to this place late at night for our last vet check before the finish. Here Gina Hagis (my riding buddy from my Virginia home) hooked up with us to be an additional crew person. She had finished the 55 the previous day and did not want to leave her horse alone for too long so she was going to help at the checks that were closer to camp. It was so nice to just sit in the chair for a rest while my handy crew took care of Danny and made sure I had what I needed!
The next loop to Laurel Run vet check was a bit different than usual. A forest fire had gotten started on the side of the mountain and the day before Friday’s ride ride management had to reroute the trail because the Forest Service was bulldozing it for a firebreak. A nightmare for a ride manager but luckily they have a team of motorcycle riders who were able to unmark the original trail and remark the detour all before the next day’s ride!
The detour was going to take the same route that they used for the 2015 National Championships, eliminating the long, endless steep and rocky climb up a trail to the ridge and replacing it with a trail further down, past the fire, that also accessed the ridge. The trail up the mountain (that we would normally have done in reverse) was shorter than the other one but very steep and it was this very trail where I had broken my arm coming off Danny when he spooked back in 2018 on the way down. I could tell that Danny recognized it but he was non-reactive and it gave me peace of mind that our demons were in the past.
We did get a short time on the ridge and were able to enjoy some awesome views before descending down the 5 mile road into Laurel Run Vet Check. The recent drought caused the gravel roads to be as hard as cement and Danny’s metal shoes slipped on the downhills requiring a collected trot and intense concentration to safely navigate. At one point we got off and jogged down the mountain on foot for a good while to give them a break. Danny pulsed right away once again and was looking really good at 32.1 miles. He was getting really hungry and Ginne had a smorgasbord buffet of grain, mash and hay all ready for him and he ate everything in sight! After our 40 minute rest break we set off for our next destination, the Bucktail Vet Check which was another 14+ miles down the trail.
Leaving Laurel Run the trail turns back up the road that we just had come down to reach the ridge again. Jamie’s horse (I forget her name) and Danny thought they were going back to camp so kept up a good march up the road but the long stretch wore on us and the temperatures were rising as by now it was early afternoon. After discovering that Jamie was a fellow musician we passed the time singing songs that we each had written to each other and we laughed our way up the mountain.
After the road climb the next stretch of ridge trail has got to be my favorite as it is a narrow single track lined with flowering Mountain Laurels. It was slow going as we navigated the narrow along the spine of the mountain but the breeze kept us refreshed. The imbedded rock was a challenge but my handy mule navigated it perfectly and Jamie’s horse followed right along. By the time we got to Bucktail (vet check #3) at 46.6 miles we had lost some time, the heat of the day and difficulty of the trail were taking it’s toll but Danny was being his smart self and taking care by insisting on walking up hills and snatching as much grass as he could. The day was heating up more than predicted and was now in the low to mid 80s. It took a little more sponging this time but Danny recovered to the pulse criteria of 64bpm fairly quickly. Danny and I were both feeling good despite the rising temperatures and he was still eating like crazy. The next time we would see our crew would be at Big 92 Vet Check (70.3) which was 23.7 long miles away with a 10 minute hold (Waites Run) and the Little Sluice Hospitality Stop along the way. Leaving Bucktail we hit a section of forest service road that was covered with heavy logging gravel for several miles requiring us to keep to the walk. After a while the footing improved and we were able to keep up a fairly steady pace but it was getting hotter and we spent extra time in the water crossings sponging to keep the animals cool. The roads were very hard which also kept our pace slower than normal to avoid excessive concussion on our mount’s feet. When we came on a more rustic dirt road we put on the steam and even did some cantering to make up a little time. When we got to Waites Run we had a 10 minute hold but only after getting the pulse down to 64bpm. Danny had gotten unexpectedly hot on that last stretch from the warm temperatures, strong sun and faster pace and it took him 10 minutes to recover. He came into the ride a bit overweight and that was hindering his heat dissipation somewhat but he had all As on his vet card so it didn’t worry me much. Jamie graciously waited up for us even though her horse had recovered quickly. By this point we both knew we were in this thing together and it didn’t take words to know we would be riding through the night together.
Glad to be back on the trail again, with the temperatures coming down slightly, we were able to make some time on a nice forest service road before turning onto the infamous Mail Trail, a long, steep and arduous single track trail where you can only manage a slow walk. Up and up we went as the sun started to set. Thinking back on my past Old Dominion rides I remember being much further down the trail by this time so I was getting concerned that we would be pushing the cut off times they had at each vet check. It seemed like forever before we came to the hospitality stop at the bottom of Little Sluice Mountain. I remember trotting all the way down this mountain in years past but with the washing rains we have had the past few years the footing was thick with loose rock and we had to keep to a slower pace. The lone junior rider, Maddie Compton, and her sponsor, Sarah Arthur, passed us on the way down to the hospitality stop. After a short rest and a little feed for the horse/mule we were on our way the 4 miles of gravel road to the Big 92 Vet Check where we would finally meet up with our crews again. By then we would have 70.3 miles behind us and hope of reaching the finish line was more of a reality.
The night was very still and the temperatures still unexpectedly high with humidity and Danny once again took longer to reach the pulse criteria by 12 minutes but was otherwise looking good with all As on his vet card all day and he was still eating ravenously, he was just having a little trouble dissipating heat. I was experiencing my low period as well and my tummy was feeling a little poorly. Ginne had made some of her magic soup, packed with protein, with chicken, nuts and veggies and I was able to sip the broth which started to revive me. That soup was my lifesaver! I rested and rehydrated while Ginne and Rayna took care of Danny. Joey was fast asleep in the pick up truck. With the time that Danny took to pulse down we were dangerously close to our cut off time (the time they need to be pulsed down) for this vet check but we made it by 5 minutes.
Leaving Big 92 they say it’s all downhill but I have to differ!! The hills are more gradual but we were going up none the less. It was mostly gravel road from Big 92 to Laurel Run and by now the daytime temperatures had come down and a slight breeze had started up. Jamie was getting nervous that we would not finish the ride on time but I knew our pace and the nature of the trail that lay ahead and the animals were picking up energy, I was confident that we would certainly make it. We were able to pick up the pace and kept up a good trot on the forest service road but we had been warned that we would have to ride through the forest fire area and that we would hit thick smoke and embers on the side of the trail but other than that it would be safe going. Never the less when we did hit the smoke we had a tense time as it was thick enough that we had difficulty seeing the trail and it was burning our eyes making them tear and we were concerned for the animals. We chose to walk to keep their heavy breathing to a minimum but that caused us to take longer so I don’t know what would have been worse. We endured the smoke for at least a half an hour and also saw embers and flames in the woods. It was a surreal experience for sure!!
When we got to Laurel Run (78.3) for the second time we were happy to discover that we had gained 25 minutes, buying us some more time to make to the finish! Danny had picked up his second wind and was on fire (pun intended!). His pulse was down when he came in and all we had to do was strip his saddle and take him in. All his vet perimeters were As as they has been all day and he looked more than fit to continue. Gina joined us at this check and was a big help trotting out Danny so I could just rest. I had improved too and my tummy was feeling much better. This was only a 30 minute hold as they don’t want the horses standing around for too long in the night air getting stiff. We were back on the trail before we knew it and only had 6 more miles to go. We knew we had this as long as there were no delays along the way. Once again the “all downhill” trail had more uphill than we had expected but we still made good time to the finish line. Just before you get to the gravel road to camp there is a big turkey house. When you smell that smell it is the best smell ever (even though it stinks!!) because you know it is only a half mile to the finish line and you have made it! As we trotted down the gravel road into the rising sun we decided that since we had endured the whole 100 miles together it was only right to tie for the finish. We crossed the finish line together to a small crowd of well wishers at 5:19AM, 23 hours and 19 minutes after starting with 11 minutes to spare! Later Ginne came up to me and said “11 minutes!!!! 11 minutes!!!!!” and I just smiled and said “I know my pace!” To finish is to Win is the endurance motto and we proved that to be true!!!
In order to get a completion your horse/mule must first pass the final vet check. Danny happily did his last trot out and to say he looked like he hadn’t done a thing was nearly an understatement! He did look just fantastic!! I was toast, though, and ready for bed!!! The next day I was sorry that I had not taken the time to stand for the Best Condition examination (award for the best conditioned horse at the end determined by a complete vet examination but also scored on time and weight carried). Since I was at least 4 hours later than the winner I figured we didn’t have a chance but I forgot about the High Vet Score award, which I’m certain he would have surely won! Anyway he got the best mule ever award in my eyes and heart and that’s the important thing!! He came into this ride with minimal conditioning but with a strong constitution, great conformation and a big heart. He dug deep for me, never quit and showed that he is a true athlete! It’s truly an honor to be his partner and I am humbled by him! I’m also thankful for my super crew of Ginne, Gina, Joey and Rayna! They totally rocked it and Danny and I wanted for nothing. It takes a good team for everything to come together and ours was a winner!
People ask me why I love to do 100 mile rides and I have to say it is for the deep connection you gain with your animal and what they can and will happily do for you. Also the challenge of pushing my body and mind to keep old age at bay! It gives me such a deep satisfaction and total respect and awe for the animal as well as human ability. Danny just loves going down the trail, it’s his job and he does it well! Happy trails!!
Nancy Sluys and Jet’s Danny Herlong AKA Danny
Monday, April 03, 2023
April 3 2023
by Tamara Baysinger
Ledger pranced past the vetting area with arched neck and flagging tail. He was boiling to let loose. I wouldn’t have put it past him to buck. One-rein stops had held him back several times in the last two minutes.
Storm clouds rose, steely and menacing, from their crouch on the horizon. A tide of dust swirled from stamping hooves. Ledger fussed beneath the stethoscope of a blessedly patient vet, trotted out clean, and was pronounced fit to continue.
Alas, we were at the finish.
Had it not been for the incoming storm, with its plummeting temperature and icy rain, I’d have saddled him back up for a post-LD education in the art and science of You Never Know How Far We’re Going to Go, Buddy.
As it was, I contented myself with the incomplete, but significant, progress we’d made over the day’s 25 miles at Owhyee Tough Sucker.
Signing up for the Limited Distance ride, instead of the 50, was a difficult choice. Ledger has felt strong on our conditioning rides. We’ve put in about 20 miles per week, split into two rides, since early February. If he had ended last season 50-mile fit, I probably would have gone for it. As it was, I decided to err on the safe side.
So, we enjoyed a lazy morning (as race days go) before a 9:00 a.m. start. I had plenty of time for groundwork, which felt largely unnecessary. Ledger didn’t fuss when the 50-milers left, and he remained mellow as LD riders began swirling around the starting line.
I shrugged and hopped on as the front runners hit the trail. We followed, walking on a loose rein. The ribbons led us along a fenceline for a couple hundred feet, then passed through a gate and did a 180 onto a singletrack into the hills. A truck and trailer rattled through the gate right after us, and BAM!
Ledger lost it...
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Tuesday, March 21, 2023
by Jessica Black
March 9, 2023
Last Thursday I hurried home from my morning lecture at Bakersfield College so I could load my horses in the trailer and head to what would turn out to be the last Western Mojave xpride. We’d had a week of rain and snow, and Hwy 58 had been closed, but it was open by the time I got home. Everything was muddy. My horses had to slosh through a big mud puddle to get into the trailer. I had to put the truck in 4WD just to pull it out of its current living quarters in our old arena. It would be nice to be in the (comparatively) dry environment of the desert.
I got to ride camp at the Trona Valley Golf course shortly after 4pm. There were not a lot of rigs, so it was easy to park where Jazz and Fantazia would be able to see other horses all the time. (Important because one stays at the trailer while I ride the other!) It was a relatively warm, sunny, and still afternoon. The lack of wind meant I’d be able to light a camp fire and cook my tritip… and besides, too much wind is crazy-making. It can be one of the downsides of the desert, relentless wind. Pre-ride
Right after setting up hay and water, I saddled Jazz and used him to pony Fantazia for a pre-ride. Usually I do it the other way around, but I had ridden Fantazia Sunday. Jazz had not been worked for nearly two weeks. And he’s on the edge of fat whereas Fantazia is far too thin. Jazz is getting a Western saddle on shorter rides, and I used one for the pre-ride. The weight is good exercise and it gives me greater stability when he pulls one of his monster spooks. It’s a challenge to ride a big spook while ponying another horse! The additional weight was especially good because I didn’t have a lot of time to ride...
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Friday, February 24, 2023
February 21 2023
by Alexandra Collier
A recap of 20 Mule Team 100 for me and Halo (it’s going to be a long one- I either write very little or a lot ￼): I grew up doing very fast go-go-go training rides with someone who I came to find out later, rode faster than most. Despite the fast training rides, I will mention that the only official endurance ride I went to with her, we came in close to last (37th place) with her very green freshly started 5 year old horse. The long, slow, seemingly endless 9 hours and 41 minutes seemed endless to me as a 13 year old. Still, it didn’t deter me from loving the sport any less. My bum just began to hurt after about 20 miles and I no longer wanted to feel the impact on the saddle when trotting. But this was how it was done— we didn’t canter because it was more comfortable for us; we trotted because it’s what is most methodical for long distance riding. I will say, for the sake of my bum, I have fantasized lightly about what it would be like to canter an entire ride. I also have these strange made up rules, ex: I almost feel “guilty” for cantering because it’s not THE method or I feel like it’s “wrong.” I am never judging anyone else for doing that but the perception of cantering being faster which means as a catch rider, being seen cantering could imply “overriding” someone’s horse. And that’s what I strive not to do. I do care a lot about the horse and what someone thinks/feels about how I am caring for and treating their horse.
That being said, I don’t think I ever knew what Halo was capable of. At Huasna, the vet scored him highly on “Impulsion” (as most do) at the end of his ride and said “that’s a 100 mile horse.” I took it lightly as I have severe trust issues and in the back of my mind I’m like “yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it. Otherwise I believe everyone is just blowing smoke up my arse.” Every opportunity I got with Halo, I rode less rather than more. I chose 25s before 50s, I chose single days before multi-days, I chose 50 miles day 1 & 25 miles day 2, then I chose 2-day multi-day 50s rather than 3-day multi day 50s. You get the picture. Looking back, I think he was always ready for higher mileage and multidays. It’s like this is what he was meant for physically. I don’t regret my conservative gradual approach as I’d rather be safer than not. I aim for middle of the pack and completion. Our delays accumulate from our lagging at the start of rides, out-times leaving camp, and how he behaves at vet checks.
We finished the 20 Mule Team 100, leaving between 6:05-6:10am and coming in almost exactly 21 hours later at 3:05am give or take. We were grooving for the first 25 miles, Halo was content and happy to have his temporary girlfriend Montana Babe with him ridden by Jacqueline Davis. He wasn’t pulling or amped up, just head down ready to work. We arrive at vet check 1, Halo pulsed down immediately, Montana Babe shortly after. We go to vet in and Montana Babe is tight in the hind end. After a second assessment by the vet, we find out we have to continue on without our partners for the day. This was going to occur anyways at the 60 mile mark anyways, but I was bummed it happened so soon. What this means? My day gets a bit more difficult.
Halo is improving with leaving camp alone. At a different ride, we once stood in the same spot for over an hour having words as I pointed him forward, asking him to go that direction and he refused. He said he only wanted to walk backwards towards all of his other friends at camp. After we left Tj & Montana Babe behind, I knew that meant leading Halo out by foot and then mounting him about 1/4 mile out on trail and asking him to go forward. We had much better success than other times so for this I was immensely happy. He moves well alone surprisingly, but our next challenge was what happens when we catch someone? Because with his big trot and how fit he is, we will catch the rider in front of us. Not everyone wants a horse to tag along with them. The problem for us is that once we catch another horse, we haven’t yet tackled moving past another horse in the same direction. We can split from another horse in another direction, but we cannot pass them (yet).
I was mentally prepared not to inconvenience another rider on loop 2 and self-sacrifice or do what I needed to do in order to give another rider space. We soon approached Jerry Wittenauer who coincidentally expressed to me earlier that him and his horse Carlos usually ride alone. I have also witnessed this as I have seen him in passing at Grand Canyon & Fire Mountain— we are usually leap frogging one another. I quickly jumped off and start dragging my horse because I already know the embarrassing scene that was about to occur. I assured Jerry I will gladly be on my way, just please ignore the episode that Halo and I are about to have. Well we didn’t quite tackle that obstacle in full yet as Jerry was very generous and kind to let us ride along with him and Carlos. We finished that 25 mile loop and then the remaining 10 miles back to camp for Jerry and Carlos to complete their 60 miles while Halo and I were to continue on to our remaining 40 miles.
Camp... dreadful camp. This is a huge obstacle for us. I will be honest and say that I really admire the out vet checks rather than the ones back at camp. If it was another horse I was riding, I may feel differently. Halo was big mad after 60 miles. Tired, no. What he wanted was to be soul tied to Carlos, his new buddy horse, for the rest of his life, but it was Carlos & Jerry’s time to complete and turn in for the evening. I handed him over to Tj because you know, she was helping me crew. He wanted to remind the vets of how freely they should give him an A for impulsion.
Even after bringing over his temporary girlfriend, he insisted on going back to the trailer and getting some munchies and settling in. Our vet-in time was delayed about 30 minutes, who really knows but it felt like eternity. I was experiencing some gut-wrenching anxiety, will they allow us to continue? My internal thoughts were—
1. I mean it’s completely understandable if they tell me I cannot continue, I’m ready to take that loss (trying to convince myself I wouldn’t be devastated and envisioning the moment where they break the news- would I cry? Would I pretend it was ok? Would it be okay? Would I be sad/mad of would I be at peace?, playing the scenarios through my head).
2. But on the other hand this is my first 100 and I would really like to finish. I mean this is IT. This is our PLAN. We have worked so hard for this.
3. I mean maybe I’m not deserving of it this time. Maybe this is a lesson. Maybe Halo isn’t cut out for this at all.
Anxiously waiting for the vet check to be over. We got the green light to continue. The pendulum swung our way. I was grateful to say the least.
Headed out on loop 3 for 25 miles, I was ready to walk him out for as long as needed and hop up on his back when I felt the time was right. I saw another rider going out at the same time as me whose horse kind of did the “I don’t want to leave either” dance and her crew helped escort them out down the road. I expressed to this rider that my horse really likes riding with other horses and she said the same for hers. I felt very reassured that I wasn’t being an inconvenience to them. She informed me that she was headed out for the 4th loop of the 100 as I was headed out for the 3rd and we would be along the same trail for quite some time.
I had the pleasure of riding with Susie Kramer for about 7.5/8 miles and we chatted about a variety of endurance topics. It was very nice to have such a kind and personable rider to allow me to tag along with for a good chunk of our 25 mile loop. I kindly warned her that when we split ways, my horse and I may come to a complete stand still and we may be having some words, but please do not worry. This was and is part of our process, we will be just fine. She said it may be the same for her and her horse as well.
We parted ways and wished each other a wonderful end of the ride and a completion to each other. And then it would be Halo and I alone in the dark for the next 17 miles. I turned my light on and we were off. Halo did a side eye for the next hour looking off into the distance believing he would see Susie and her horse and I kept telling him ”There is NO ONE there. Unfortunately it is just you and me. YOU and ME. I’m not sure when you’re going to start wrapping your head around that, but if we are going to keep doing these rides together, you’re going to have to accept that sooner or later. I get you safely back to camp EVERY time.” And yes, these words and phrases get said out loud to him whether he is listening or not.
I came up to a road crossing and was reassured when I heard a familiar voice and realized it was Kaity Cummins waiting for her long time friend Ashley Wingert. She told me they were walking and probably about 30 mins ahead. I was sure at some point we would catch up to them.
We trotted endlessly for quite some time. I was getting super sleepy and my depth perception and peripherals were not doing well. The contrast between my headlight and the darkness of the desert had my eyesight constantly adjusting. I would see a light off in the distance— is it a glow stick marking the trail? Is that a car? Is it far away? I convinced myself it had to be a car and as I came up on it, it was a light overlooking a camp sight. I was wayyy off. At that point, I started wishing for an energy drink or a cup of coffee or some DayQuil to smack me in the face. Finally, I saw what look like a wheel spinning green fluorescent light. Oh no, this is not good. I really am losing it. I knew my depth perception was super skewed and as I kept getting closer, the object didn’t appear to be getting closer. I got that weird angst feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. Is someone messing with me? Oh lord, please brain stop doing this to me. I called out to try to calm myself “Hello?” Please please please someone respond.
Oh I’m totally screwed. I’ve completely gone bonkers or some clown is going to emerge from the green glowing lights and Halo’s going to spook, I’m going to die. Shoot… I mean yeah we are both going to die. We kept walking and a minute or two or three passed? Whose tracking time anyways? I called out again and with the sound of a woman’s voice my panicking brain was able to peel away the fear and ground itself back to reality to form the silouhette of a black horse ahead. It was Ashley who had responded to my calls. With my delirium, I had lost hope of catching Kaity’s friend and the thought had disappeared from my mind. The rotating green lights I saw were just reflectors on her horses rump rug.
I knew I had no hope of getting Halo to pass Ashley and her mare and at that point, I was too tired for an argument with him. We walked (or jigged) the last 10 miles of loop 3 since Halo is incapable of walking with another horse. #Fearofabandonment
We came into the vet check and vetted immediately after crossing the line. After walking for so long, Halo’s pulse was down. I wasn’t sure where my crew was, but I went back to the trailer to swing the door open “Ayo, you crewing or sleeping?!” I probably seemed bothered but I know it’s difficult for me to alert a crew of my ETA. With the gloves, the jigs, the phone too big for my hands, lack of service, lack of battery, difficult to put back in pocket— I try to only fidget with the GPS because this is most applicable in the moment. Am I lost? In the middle of the desert in the middle of the night? Yeah, GPS most important. Loop 3 was the hardest loop for me mentally— exhaustion hit, we split from another horse, on my own with my GPS, complete darkness & light sensitivity, some hills that seemed to drag at exactly the wrong time.
The 30 minute hold zoomed by. Tj asked if I wanted to lay down and close my eyes, I said no I’m okay. I stared with admiration at the pictures I bought earlier in the day from the photographer to remember why I do this sport. I drank the rest of an energy drink and took some DayQuil to give me the pep in my step to last the final 15 miles.
Before I knew it, we were back on the trail. I thought the other rider we came in with had already gone back out, but it was just us. I was looking forward to Halo and I spending 15 miles alone in the dark for the final loop. This was the final stretch, the final mental and physical push and I needed him and I to do this together- alone. Not because I’m selfish or didn’t want to ride with anyone, but because that’s what him and I needed as a team. We needed to grow together for those remaining 15 miles together.
He lagged for about 9 miles until we made some random right turn shorty after we saw Kaity at another road crossing. He realized we were finally headed back to camp and picked up his pace. I felt like I could exhale a bit. But then I panicked… what if something happened? That ONE time he trips on a rock or something spooks him and he dumps me and leaves me out there. You know, the mind wanders. I almost missed the turn back to camp as we started to descend for the final 4 miles. I passed the turn and my gut alerted me to check my gps. Sure enough we were a few steps past our missed turn. I turned my light off because it was inhibiting my ability to pick out the little details of the purple glow sticks. I panicked for another 3/4 mile convincing myself I was on the wrong trail and my GPS is a liar until I was reassured with another purple glow stick. Man, those last 3 miles really drag. With our light off, I played it safe and we walked. I had forgotten what the footing of this area looked like and was paranoid we would encounter a rock or uneven terrain, as Halo is known to stumble on things. Specifically when he is focused on something like getting back to camp. At this point I was still combatting the reality that Halo and I were really about to cross the finish line of our first 100 mile ride together. My mind was playing those tricks on me, the kind where it’s like pinch me is this real? But instead it was the obsessive staring at the GPS to make sure everything was *precisely* on track. I could not let myself cross that finish line with a DQ for something as minor as getting lost in the last 2 miles. No, no, no. Once we hit the road, we trotted. I had been here many times before, and he had been here a few himself. Once we made our final left turn, we walked. We approached he finish line and I heard Tj, ”Alex is that you?” We crossed the finish line.
Tj took Halo from me. The vets told me my job here was down. Halo pulsed down immediately and he trotted out with a whole lot left in his tank. I heard those words, ”Congratulations on your completion, you came in 10th place.” I am not sure which part shocked me more, the completion or the top 10. As we walked back to the trailer, Halo trotted like he was ready to do another loop. I heard from Tj earlier he was bucking around the arena earlier today and being his usual destructive self. He forgot he had just spent 21 hours carrying me across the high desert.
20 Mule Team was an amazing ride and experience for me and Halo. Thank you to TJ Davis, Jacob Rainer, ride management, the vets, volunteers, all of the other riders that come together to make this ride happen. I remember being a young girl, a teenager, and even early in my 20s and believing completing a 100 mile ride would never happen until I one day had my own horse and even then a 100 miler horse is rare. The idea seemed so far off.
It always seems impossible until it’s done.