Loving an adventure and determined to make the most of any situation, I headed west from western NY to Santa Fe with my large hairy protector, Maxx, riding shot gun. The inexperienced and naive mare, Mo in the trailer, and all that we would need for three weeks on the road.
In endurance family fashion, we stopped for the night at complete strangers homes in Carthage MO and Amarillo TX, making wonderful friends along the way of Dina and Carl in MO and Heather and Doug Blashill and family in TX.
At Santa Fe Downs, the defunct race track where we assembled, the stalls filled up with fresh horses and the barnyards with excited riders. I found old friends - Duane and Karen Frederickson, Jim and Cindy Brown and others, and made new ones faster than I could keep track of them. No one knew what to expect of this endeavor, but we all shared the sense of adventure and the love of riding our equine partners down the trail. It didn't take long to form bonds with each other that will last forever.
I picked my husband up at the airport. He would crew for me for the first few days, then was contracted to join the veterinary team when we got to Kansas. He lent a hand with the initial vet in and formed a great rapport with the other vets on the ride and felt satisfied that the horses and riders were in good hands.
The first day's ride, after working together to shuttle horses to the start up a road turned bad by recent thunder showers, was stunningly beautiful. We rode the top of the Gloriosa Mesa with views of the Sandia Mountains. The air was fresh and clean, the company was delightful (including the drag riders) and the frequent water set out by management was welcome. Coming down off the mesa reminded me of a part of the Old Dominion with a single track littered with rocks and a view of the valley below, but this section of trail was twice as long as that in VA. We thanked the weather gods for not bringing us the daily storms we had been experiencing when we saw the evidence of the flow of water directly down the trail from the previous storms.
Riding along in the back of the pack on this day were new riders, experienced riders, cowboys, english saddles, Arabians, Paints, Spanish Mustangs, Tennessee Walkers, and Quarter Horses. I am sure in my 7500 career miles I had not ridden with so diverse a group. We all shared the desire to see the country, accept the challenge and enjoy the day. We neither hurried nor tarried, told many a story and had a great time. The two vet checks went well for the number of inexperienced riders and new management. Lunch was provided, as it would be every day of the ride - a ham and cheese on white bread, a packaged cookie, doritos and an apple. My seven year old green-as-a-bean mare, Tifaan, aka Mo, completed the second 50 miler of her career in fine form.
We camped at a rodeo grounds that night with pens available. I was glad to put Mo in a solid pipe pen knowing I would sleep better than if she were tied. Dinner was provided to riders and crew and a guitar playing singer serenaded us while we ate. I felt a little bad for him as his audience dwindled--we were tired and needed to tend to horses--it was not a reflection of his talent!! Throughout the ride there was entertainment provided, but again, we were usually too tired or busy to enjoy it up close.
In the first few days we camped at fairgrounds or rodeo arenas that had pens or stalls available, though not mandatory. We did have to pay a couple times, but no more than $10 or 15 --well worth the price to not have to pull out and put away my pen, or tie my mare. We took full advantage of the enclosures and slept better for them. All the camps were in safe, large areas with water and grass.
The smaller towns we passed through, Springer, Clayton, Lyons, Council Grove--there were others--were the friendliest, most accommodating places I have ever been. Locals came out the talk to us in the evenings and see us off in the morning, they cooked dinners for us, sharing their history and civic pride. We had homemade cookies and families at the end of driveways handing out water. It was heartwarming. One town held a street dance and showed the movie "Bite the Bullet" at their theater. Mark and I were the only endurance people there, and he had to hold me down to keep me from telling the rest of the audience that was not how we rode! I am certain not too many riders went to their dance, but the townspeople had a good time!
The morning we left Dodge City there were spectators lining bridges and roadways watching us go by. Later in the ride, in very rural areas locals would come out and sit in chairs or their cars to watch us go by. They always asked where we were from, and then told us that their families owned land on the trail, or came across the trail. We posed for pictures, and at one point, when a few of us were hurrying in to make the time cut off, had to encourage Jim Hole not to stop and talk so long. His reply "but they came out here to see us, we have to talk to them." That's how it was.
The trail on the second day sucked. OK, I am a glass half full sort of girl, but this was above my patience level. Rest assured, the management could do nothing about it due to last minute changes that were out of their control, and I am certain they will change it for next year. The bottom line was 50 miles on the headlands of a lightly traveled, but paved frontage road. The neat thing (here is the glass half full) is that the cars and trucks up on the four lane (the other side of a good fence) waved and honked support, and the water truck buzzed along to stop and give us ice cold water. I also found that my mare would reach in a cooler and eat ice cubes. We were learning so much about each other!
The footing along the road was either really soft with some undermining, or gravely and hard, or as my mare preferred, pavement. YIKES. The headlands had been brush hogged, which was good when the grass was soft, but some areas were four inch stubble - just pastern height and nerve wracking. To keep Mo on the grass, I got off and ran some. Unfortunately, I acquired a few cactus spines in my right shin that would cause a sub dermal infection and result in the first hospital visit by a rider. I rode with Diane McSwain that day on her red roan Spanish Mustang, Lone Lee, who was doing his first 50. The company was excellent but we had to rush the last 8 miles to make the finish line in time - first time in my career. We all made it. Mo and I decided to take the next day off to reshoe and recoup.
Other days run together. We traveled as a group, loaned equipment, borrowed food or hay, shared water, and laughed allot. Sometimes it was at ourselves, sometimes at the situations we found ourselves in, but laugh we did.
Many days, in order to continue in a linear fashion along the historic trail, we trailered to the start, and trailered after the finish to the night's camp. Did we love it? Of course not, but we grew accustom to it, and adjusted. This schedule did not lend itself to regular ride meetings, or sometimes, even meals. If it was easy, could it be called endurance? Would I have given up the trail I rode for one where we went around in circles but had regular hours? Nope.
We had our share of accidents and outright tragedy. A total of nine riders went to the hospital at different times for ailments as simple as my infection and as serious as a dislocated hip and another with a broken leg from hooking stirrups. The grief and sorrow at the loss of two horses who ran into the path of a car was immense, but we got through it and continued on, never to forget the lesson learned. Two horses were treated with IV fluids, both in the last days of the ride and both owned and ridden by experienced AERC members.
My mare, who really had not a clue as to what she was getting into, started and finished seven of the ten riding days. She did the last day literally hours faster than she had any other, placing fifth and receiving the high vet score in the BC judging. I am proud of her. She lost very little weight in seven 50s in fourteen days, and remained forward and happy. I am thinking she was one of the few horses out there who drank out of EVERY water tank!
The stories of my fellow riders were spectacular. Scott Griffin started endurance simply to compete in this ride. He was mentored by long time rider, Suzy Kelly, and won the overall ride. He treated his horses with respect and care, rode smart, and is hooked for life. Jim Hole came from CA with his little bay Tevis horse, Little Big Man, and quietly and humbly rode every step of every day. Karen Frederickson rode every day with her wonderful partner, Murphy, who received his 6000 mile patch while on this ride. Two quiet and sweet cowboys from NM, Shawn Davis and Dawson Higgins and their QHs jogged and loped through several days of top fives. The McSwains substituted Diane for Mac when he broke his shoulder, and she piloted three different Spanish Mustangs through their first endurance rides. Bonnie Yoho from AR rode EIGHT days on one Tennessee Walker. Seventeen year old Ginger Moon Anderson of CA rode her horse eight days also, always with a big smile. Susan Thompson from TN rode every day on two different horses, the first place woman to accomplish that feat. The five member Yost family from Utah rode together day after day and were a pleasure to be around.
There were some logistic problems with this ride, but I have never been to a ride that did not have something out of order. I have committed to next year's Santa Fe ride, and promised to come up with some team rules and structure - the team aspect was unique and very exciting. My husband and every other vet there have committed, time willing, which is a glowing endorsement for any event.
This ride was a unique opportunity to ride a historic trail, meet many new and forever friends, share the trail with our equine partners experiencing the adventure missing in so many lives. Several times while out there, surveying the grasslands and majesty of the trail, I wondered, "what do the rest of the people do who don't see this country from the back of a horse." I feel sorry for them- they will never know what they are missing.
Thank you to all who made that possible for this rider.