It started in 1999 on the Wasatch 100 between Big Mountain and Lamb's Canyon when I saw some guy cruise on by riding an Arabian endurance horse. That section of Wasatch is pretty tough and that day it was hot. The trail is open so I could see along the ridges, and 40+ miles into the run it is easy to get distracted.
Somewhere along that ridge the endurance rider and the horse trucked on by and as he moved along the ridges I noticed that he dismounted on some of the downhill sections and ran with his horse. He was moving quickly and covering the trail faster than I. It was hot, I was alone, and I assume what I saw was real, but it could have easily been an apparition too. I thought to myself "That looks pretty cool. If I ever get the chance, I want to try that myself."
The next spring we bought a small place with some acreage west of Boise. My wife has worked with horses for some time and always had that interest. One thing led to another and last summer I began working on my riding skills. This past spring Leslie and I began to ride with some members of the local endurance club.
Now we have two endurance horses. The one Leslie rides, Max - the horse formerly known as Prince, has limited trail experience and no endurance experience, and the one that I ride, Frank, has completed four 50s and one 100 with other riders. I don't have much experience, and an experienced horse is better for me. Our plan is to bring the two along together and help Frank transfer some of his knowledge to Max and to myself.
Last Saturday we rode our first AERC sanctioned limited-distance ride in the mountains outside of Idaho City - the Idaho Spuds ride. Our ride consisted of two different loops with a vet check and half-hour hold in camp between the loops. Finishing requires completing the course in six hours or less. Our plan was to ride our own race at an even pace and finish close to six hours. We wanted the two horses to have a positive experience.
Just prior to the morning start we turned around and headed away from the starting line to minimize the high energy and excitement for our two friends. We started out behind everyone else on the first loop at a walk and began to mix in some trotting. The first loop was forest service logging roads with some trail. We took our time and finished in about 2.5 hours. We walked into the vet check, our horses pulsed down upon our arrival, and it was time for the half-hour hold.
With just less than three hours to finish we took off on the second loop. We heard that the second loop was more single-track and a more technical trail. It started off as a good logging road but then we came to a single-track trail on the left that seemed to go straight up the hillside. I had never ridden up anything that steep. I grabbed onto some mane, gave Frank a nudge, and we shot up the trail. After that it was up and down along ridges, around the trees through the forest, over logs, and through the bushes. Frank and I led, and Max and Leslie trucked along behind. The trail was tough and Leslie and I became worried that we might not have enough time to finish. A finish would be nice, but our foremost concern was for Max and Frank have a positive experience. Finish time probably means little to a horse.
We kept moving along at a quick pace. The second loop was where my ultra experience came into play. We had no time to dally and we had to follow a quick even pace trotting where we could and moving quickly elsewhere. We got off and ran, leading the horses, down some of the steeper sections. It was fun but worrisome running down a single track trail with a 1000 pound animal close on your heels. Eventually, we came back to a logging road. I noticed that Leslie had dropped back slightly ("I have a horse so I don't have to run along mountain trails"). When she came to the road, we shared water from my Camelback - is that true love or what?
On the road we trotted along side-by-side. Soon we came to water for the horses and then it was back to the single track. Leslie had Max take the lead and he really began to stretch out. Max became focused on the trail like he was on a mission. He had learned from Frank during the early part of the ride and now Max was all business. We were moving along the trail at a nice steady quick pace switching between walk, trot, and canter depending on the terrain. We passed a USFS fire crew working on a lightning strike and continued along the trail. At one point Max got some branches tangled in his feet. Leslie and Max stopped and he calmly walked out of the tangle. Only a year ago Max was not even saddle trained and running around the pasture snorting, but now he was acting like a seasoned trail horse. Max led all the way to the creek where we came to the road heading back up to camp.
Time was tight and when we hit the road after a short water break, it was time to move. Frank stepped out using his fast extended-trot and Max followed closely alternating between a trot and canter. Again, we got off and walked into camp and pulsed down immediately upon our arrival. We passed through the vet check and recorded a finish with 20 minutes to spare. We ran our race according to our schedule. The two horses acted like seasoned veterans and truly seemed to enjoy themselves, and we are proud of their achievements.
Twenty-five miles is limited distance and there remains a good deal of training and conditioning yet to do, but it all started on a ridge somewhere south of Big Mountain at Wasatch in 1999.