I have just returned from riding my first endurance ride in Nevada. First let me say that it was well worth the drive from Southern Oregon. This was the first time the ride has been offered and except for one fault (at least some of the riders felt this way) it was an exceptional ride in every way. There could certainly have more water sets. The first water was at 15 miles. Thank goodness the weather was cool. Ride management was open to suggestions regarding this and I am certain that next year, this will be corrected.
The staging area was at a large arena grounds with a couple of good sized arenas, large round pen, picnic area and gazebo where the awards ceremony was held (while a sumptuous meal was served). Strangest staging area and start of ride that I have ever experienced. All of the rides I have ridden before have started on trail far from residential areas. The arena grounds is tucked smack dab in the middle of a suburban housing tract. Most of these houses have some acreage around them and most show signs of owning horses, with corals and out buildings so the location of the arena grounds is a great facility for this community. The ride started right down a paved street and then turned onto a sandy track which led across sagebrush open land into the surrounding foothills. Although there were over 110 riders on the 50 mile and I think over 40 on the 30, it did not feel frantic or the trails crowded. In fact, even from the first couple of miles at the start, one saw very few riders as the terrain helped to separate riders rather quickly.
I had heard it said that this would be a fairly easy ride and a good one to start off the endurance season but I think some riders were sorely surprised to find that this was indeed a fairly challenging ride. Early into the ride, the single tract trail took us on a fairly long, rather steep climb which found some riders off and walking their horses while others fairly easily trotted the entire climb. Since our training and conditioning trails are very similar to this climb, my training buddy and I found that our horses were not overly taxed, thank goodness. The thing that concerned me most was the prevalence of sand on the trails. It was great footing with barely any rock but trotting in sometimes deep sand with horses who are not conditioned in the sand caused me to go a lot more slowly than the topography would have dictated. Although much of the ride was in open high desert, and at times one could see riders far in the distance, most of the time, it was difficult to find where the trail led or if riders were approaching because of the lay of the land. There were dips and gulleys and short very steep rises. In fact although short, some of the rises were as steep as anything I have ridden and were a lot of fun. One aspect of much of the trail that I did not enjoy was the washboard like dips that often went on for very long distances. Not easy on the horse's legs and hopefully riders rode with this recognition. ( think this may have been caused by the abundance of off road bikes that have made a maze of criss crossed trails throughout this area. In fact there were many that could be seen in the distance but when they were encountered, they were really courteous and pulled off the trails and shut off their motors).
The first vet check at 15 miles was also the first available water. But it was manned with a lot of volunteers and there was great hay set out in small piles, each with accompanying apples and carrots. There was also plenty of cold water bottles and soft drinks and sandwiches for the riders. This ride had four vets so there was never a wait for vetting or p&r. We lucked out with the weather and the rains of the previous days having subsided and both days were dry, although it began to rain as we pulled out and headed for home on Sunday morning. Saturday morning was rather warm, and the sun promised to shine, which it did off and on. By late morning, however the winds commenced and blew unrelentingly the rest of the day. So the second vet check (which was in the same location as the first) was quite cool and very windy and on the open plains, this made keeping the blankets on the horses somewhat problematic for some.
From the second vet check back to camp was a 15 mile romp. There were sections of trail that begged cantering for long distances and as there were no major climbs (although quite a few short, very steep ones), my horse felt fresh and strong. I did not know that we were back until quite suddenly, we rounded a bend and there, 50 yards ahead was the finish line. Although this ride was quite fun and one that I hope to do again next year, for me, personally, it was made difficult because for some strange reason, my ankle began to hurt excruciatingly so after we left the last vet check. I could only trot or canter for short times and then had to bring my horse back to a walk so that I could regain my balance and shake my leg to get feeling back into my ankle. I could not imagine what caused this. At one point when I had jumped down from my horse, I had twisted my ankle but not so that it did not recover a few seconds later. Then, my saddle for some reason, began to list to one side (the side with the sore ankle) and try as I might, I could not center it. I hopped off a couple of times to adjust it and in fact once had cinched it so tight that when I checked it again, my poor horse had wrinkled skin under the cinch which had luckily not begun to gall. It was a bummer not being able to enjoy such wonderful trail with a strong horse but such is this sport. It was a bummer to be walking my horse when riders breezed past me. Oooooh the pain of it all.
The bottom line is that if you are anywhere near this ride or can get to it next year, you had better register early and plan on arriving early in the day to claim a spot for your rig because this is a ride that is only going to grow in popularity. My hat goes off to the ride managers and anyone having anything to do with this ride. It was GREAT! And the vets were some of the friendliest, helpful and efficient that I have seen.
If anyone was at this ride and knows the name of a man who became my new hero, please give him a well deserved pat on the back. About five or so miles into the ride, we saw a woman who had obviously been separated from her horse walking some of the trails trying to track her horse. We can all imagine how she must have been feeling. Then about 15 minutes later, we saw a rider who looked like a modern day cowboy riding a great looking horse and leading another, fully tacked. This man had obviously given up his position with what were probably the front runners to return a wayward horse to his worried owner. I asked his name and above the wind could only hear his first...Richard, I think. If you are reading, Richard, thanks a million for epitomizing the spirit of good sportsmanship and just plain caring.