Riding this year's Big Horn 100 was important to me for some very personal
reasons. I was disappointed when my horse Frank came up with front-end
lameness in late May. Some of the best vets in the business looked at him
including Stuart Shoemaker, Pete Knox, and Nancy Loving, and we all decided
that he needs some time off. It was less than six weeks to the Big Horn and
I did not have a horse.
I could have ridden Max, my wife's horse, but Leslie was planning to ride
the Big Horn too. Hundred-mile horses are not that common and I needed one
fast. Fortunately, two of my very good friends, Linda Black and Regina Rose
came through with a big pinto horse named Mozart who I could take to
Wyoming. Mozart is half Arab and Half Tennessee Walker and Linda, Regina,
and I began to put the finishing touches on his conditioning. He has a
smooth trot and we thought he was ready for a 100, even though he had never
done an endurance ride or an LD ride of any distance. And, Leslie's horse
Max had never started in the dark.
The Big Horn 100 is said to be one of the last 100-mile rides that is still
conducted like things were at the beginning of endurance. The ride is older
than the AERC and the Big Horn is a big-loop 100 on real wilderness trails.
The trail is very adequately marked, but the attendance is sparse. If you
plan to ride the Big Horn, it can be helpful to hook up with someone who
knows the trail, especially for the nighttime sections because it is rough,
it is long, and it is wilderness. The ride is hosted by some of the nicest
people that you'll ever meet in endurance, and the veterinarians, Lyle
Bischoff and Mel Fillerup, will do their best to help you and your horse get
safely to the finish line. Still, the Big Horn is a significant undertaking
not to be underestimated.
Tom Van Gelder, members of the Van Gelder family, Jeanette Tollman, Patti
Tollman, Cindy Collins, and others have hosted the ride for years. There
was a very nice party for Tom Van Gelder at the Shell Community Center the
Thursday before the ride to celebrate his 80th birthday and many of the Big
Horn riders attended the party. And, like the previous years, my brother
Willi and his wife Alice came up to crew. Other riders remarked that I had
the million-dollar crew and I agree. No one had a better crew than Leslie
We started the Big Horn 100 at just after four in the morning. Max and
Mozart made their way up the Black Mountain Road to Jack's Creek for the
first vet check. They took a slow measured pace and we made it to Jack's
Creek just after 9:00 in the morning. Slow, but acceptable.
After a 1-hour hold we were off to Antelope Butte. I don't think that Max
even realized that we were on an endurance ride until he saw the other
horses at Jack's Creek. Max had never started an endurance ride in the dark
and he probably thought that the humans were just out on some kind of crazy
The stretch of the Big Horn trail from Jack's Creek to Antelope Butte is
long by any measure. We passed though Shag Nasty and Boulder Basin, we rode
over the highest point of the trail at nearly 10,000 feet, we forded Shell
Creek, we rode past Adelaide Lake, we passed a some packers with mules and
horses on the Adelaide Trail, Leslie saw a moose or elk in the willows
beside the Adelaide trail, we forded Adelaide Creek, we made the hot climb
out of the canyon to Big Horn Plateau, and we traversed the plateau to the
Antelope Butte ski area. Leslie and I rode alone through much of this
section. As we were riding along, I thought to myself, "How can a 100 get
any better? We are riding alone through beautiful mountain meadows on the
Big Horn trails at our own pace." Riding the Big Horn 100 trails is living
at its very finest.
The Adelaide Trail leads through the wilderness and it is a rough and rocky
trip. Some of the descents are steep, and you and your horse must negotiate
downed trees and big stones in the trail. There is almost no trotting on
the Adelaide Trail. Max was truly in his element on the Adelaide Trail.
Leslie has trained him to be a rough trail horse and you could tell by his
very focused expression that the Adelaide Trail was his kind of trail. It
was if he was saying, "I am Max, and I live for trails like this!" It was
amazing to see him work and Leslie is very proud of him.
We arrived at Antelope Butte around three or so and we left after an hour
hold - late, but still ok. We began another climb to the Hunt Mountain Road
and Big Horn Plateau and the smell of the flowers was amazing. We rode
under a full blue sky, the scent of lavender was in the air, and a sea of
color was laid before us on the ground. Every year I look forward to the
high country section of the Big Horn trail and every year I wonder if it
will be as spectacular as I remember, and every year I am overwhelmed. All
of the Big Horn trail is special, but the 50 miles from Jack Creek to Hudson
Falls is unlike any other trail offered by the AERC. The 25-mile and
50-mile riders are very lucky and they get to experience good parts of the
trail, but if you want to ride the whole 50 miles from Hudson Falls to Jack
Creek, then you must choose to ride 75 or 100 miles.
On top of the plateau the wind was howling out of the south. The canyon
geography is aligned from southwest to northeast at portions along the Big
Horn plateau and the winds were funneled through the canyons and blasted out
to the plateau. We and our horses faced some stiff and drying winds along
the Hunt Mountain Road from Antelope Butte to Horse Creek.
We blanketed the horses at Horse Creek and took a short rest. Horse Creek
is one of my favorite vet stops, but the with the wind and cool
temperatures, I was happy that we only spent a half hour there this year.
We left around 6:30 and time was getting tight.
>From Horse Creek it was off along the plateau and then the descent through
the canyons to Hudson Falls. The canyons are another set of rough terrain
and tough trails. The canyon trails are not for the faint-of-heart. The
trails are very steep and rocky, you are a long way from help, and we had
already ridden nearly 75 miles. The steepness in some sections is just
amazing and I told Mozart "One slip here and someone is going to get hurt!"
Still, the canyons are one of my favorite sections of the Big Horn trail.
Max is an amazing rough terrain horse and Max took the lead through the
canyons setting the pace for the rest of us. The canyons are another
section of true wilderness riding. The sun angle was low, the shadows were
long, and we were treated to spectacular views of the waning sunlight on the
We hooked up with some other riders in the canyons and we all made it
through to the Dug Way trail. The Dug Way trail was a new section added
this year so that we would not be going directly down Cedar Canyon in the
dusk and darkness. By the time we reached the Dug Way, time was late.
Three of the riders with us took off down the trail at a quick pace. Leslie
and I decided to hold back. We've had some trouble with lameness that we've
attributed to going too fast downhill and we wanted to avoid it this time.
It was just after 10:00 when we arrived at Hudson Falls. Max had traveled
75 miles - further than he had ever traveled before. Leslie thought that
Max might be slightly off on the front. The hitch in Max's gait was
intermittent, but Leslie took a rider-option pull at 75 miles.
For me, I was torn. I wanted to finish the 100, but it was dark and I did
not have anyone to ride with. I was DFL (an ultrarunning term that is an
abbreviation for Dead F'ing Last) and I could not decide whether to go on or
not. Tracy Blue offered an option. Tracy was one of the riders that took
off down the Dug Way trail. However, Tracy slowed down because she did not
want to injure her big quarter horse Bud. Tracy is tough, Bud is tough, and
she desperately wanted to finish the whole 100 miles, but she did not know
the trail. We talked and we decided that we would ride on in the Trapper
Creek Ranch together. It was late, our chances were slim, but we thought we
might be able to finish in time with enough trotting.
We started off from Hudson Falls with some trotting down the road. Mozart
was showing less and less enthusiasm for the trail. His trot sections were
getting shorter and his walk sections were getting longer. Tracy and I
continued on. Under normal circumstances, someone might think about the
poetic environment - a man and a woman, two horses, nighttime trails with
the moon and the stars. However, this was an endurance ride and we were
working together as two tired riders who had ridden over 75 miles of tough
trail, our horses were tired too, and I imagine that I was rather dirty and
smelly by that time. A more accurate image would be two weary riders out on
the trail, a little later than expected, seeking the next stage stop or rest
station, and we continued on. By now the wind had shifted to the north.
There was a good moon but it was still dark and the air was cool. The moon
set around 1:30 and it got even darker. Then the clouds came in and it
became very dark. Somewhere to the north of us was a major thunderstorm and
the flashes of lightning lit up the sky. The trail was dark and we resorted
to walking. Mozart had very little desire to trot.
There was absolutely no traffic at 3:00 in the morning as we crossed the
road in the darkness. We were heading up the last section of trail when
Mozart suddenly went all the way down to the ground. As I stepped off my
first thoughts were "aneurysm, he's dead!" but he was rolling around. The
my thoughts were "a sudden onset of colic." I walked over and promptly went
down myself. It seems as if we stepped off a slight shoulder or rut of soft
dirt on the trail. Mozart went down and since he was down, decided to take
advantage of the situation and roll in the dirt. I got him up, put the
things back on my saddle, and we continued on in complete darkness.
The sun was coming up over the Big Horn trails on our last few miles into
camp. Mozart was weary. Tracy and I made our way down the hill, across the
Trapper Creek bridge, and on to the finish line outside the Trapper Creek
Ranch. We were overtime but we had ridden the entire 100 miles of Big Horn
trail. Our horses passed the veterinary completion exam and we were done -
lapped by the sun.
We rode a full 100 miles. Mozart dug deep and gave the Big Horn 100 his
very best effort. He'll make a fine endurance horse with more experience.
I doubt that he'll ever forget his first endurance ride and I know that I
won't forget my third Big Horn 100.
The Big Horn 100 is a special ride hosted by special people. They love the
trail and the Big Horn riders who return to ride again love the trail too.
I am sure that there are easier 100s, but the Big Horn 100 trail is special.
There is magic along that trail and that magic works its way into your
heart. Sitting here at my computer, I wish I that I could be back out on
the Big Horn trails on a tough horse with miles behind me and many miles
left to go.