Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is it Still Possible? (a distance rider's blog)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Is it still possible??

You know how it goes . . . the best laid plans and all. I have a big goal for this next year with lots of steps along the way but have hit a stumbling block and need some opinions. First some background: I’ve got over 1000 endurance miles now and have done 50s on 4 different horses (my first endurance horse was retired due to DSLD but he sure taught me a lot!). I am a completer, not a competer, and tend to finish near the back of the pack, especially when on a new horse. I’ve owned horses for over 30 years (I was in the womb when I got my first . . . .yeah right!). The horse I have the lofty goals for is Boomer. He’s about 12 now and had done some long trail riding in his previous life but I don’t know much more than that. He’s an Arab cross of some sort. I call him an “Auctionabian” since I bought him on impulse (gut instinct really) for the grand sum of $425 at a local auction in late April 2006.


Monday, October 29, 2007

1937 - The Long Distance Ride

The Long Riders Guild recently uncovered a 'lost' Story of a grand event held in England, 1937, a ride across southern Great Britain.

The Story (pdf file)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Spook Run

by April
Nashville, TN

This was the first year I've made it to Spook Run. I have gone to
Chicken Chase for several years and love the trail, the camp, the
vets, and the general atmosphere, but never made it for the fall ride.
This fall I was unable to ride as many rides as I wanted, so I was
eager to get one last ride in this season. Despite the dismal forcast
(rain, chill, overcast), Daniel and I headed to Spook Run mid-day on
Wednesday, October 24, 2007.

When we pulled into camp, three other rigs were there. We parked in
our customary parking space and Daniel set up the corral panels for
Tanna. I had planned to get in a training night ride after we arrived,
but the sky looked threatening and I didn't want to get my gear all
wet. There will be plenty of opportunity after the time changes to get
some dark rides in this winter.

After visiting with Bill Wilson (who allows endurance riders to invade
his pasture 3 times a year) and Marcella, Daniel and I returned to our
camper for some hot chocolate and supper.

Thursday morning dawned grey, drizzly and chilly. I was unprepared for
such yucky weather. I should have brought more warm clothes! I slipped
on some riding tights under my jeans and layered my shirts until I was
somewhat comfortable.

I then took Tanna and joined Daniel for a walk down the trail to
remove a couple of trees that had fallen across the trail about a mile
from the start of the ride. Bill and another early rider were headed
the same direction on horseback to mark trail. Tanna decided he really
should be joining the other horses and began to make a pain of
himself. He's normally very good in hand. I snarled at him which
usually results in instant good behavior, but Tanna was ignoring me.
When we headed back to camp, he fell into line better.

Back at camp, I prepped my stuff for our ride and the vet check. After
I was done, I opted for laziness and crawled back into bed. I watched
some dvds I'd brought along and dozed. Finally, I decided it was time
to stop being lazy and go check in. The weather was still not very
nice, but at least it wasn't pouring.

I chatted with Sue Keith while she registered me for the Friday 50.
Then I retrieved Tanna from his pen, removed his blanket, and
presented him to Dr. Mike for his pre-ride check. Tanna bounced right
along and was declared ready to start. I stood around talking with Dr.
Mike, the vet secretary, Tom Keith and my husband until I decided
Tanna needed his blanket back.

After supper, Daniel and I joined the other riders for the pre-ride
meeting. 30 riders in the 50 mile division, 20 in the 25 mile
division. Pulse criteria at the vet checks would be 64 beats per
minute. Holds would be 50 minutes after meeting pulse criteria. The 50
milers had 3 loops. Yellow - 20 miles; Orange - 20 miles; and Pink (my
favorite loop!) - 10 miles. The 50 milers would start at 8 AM Eastern
time. LD riders would go an hour later at 9 AM.

Back at our camper, I slipped on my riding tights to sleep in. I
normally don't do this, but I was cold, needed something to wear at
night anyway and figured why be cold while trying to get dressed in
the morning!

Friday morning dawned overcast and drizzly, but not quite as cold as
it had been. I went about my pre-ride routine and was mounted at 7:45.
I went up and gave my number to the timer and returned to my truck to
replace the battery in Tanna's heart rate monitor. Daniel showed up
and helped me with the battery and remounting. Tanna was behaving

Back at the starting line with 2 minutes to wait, I parked Tanna at a
water trough in case he wanted a last minute drink. He stood
unconcerned with a low heart rate. Even after the ride was started and
all the horses followed Bill Wilson for the controlled start down the
pavement, Tanna was fine and not being stupid. I headed him after the
horses near the back of the pack. He walked calmly down the pavement.

We picked up a trot when we reached the gravel and he began to turn on
the turbo. I let him trot as long as he was being safe. We passed
several riders during the 2 mile stretch to the next pavement. When we
reached the pavement, we went around another small group and Tanna
power trotted down the pavement. He is quite sure-footed and works
well on pavement, so I let him do his thing as long as he was safe. We
got into a small pocket. No riders in sight in front or behind. Tanna
was happy, energetic and controllable. I was pleased.

All too soon we caught up with several riders and I tucked in behind
them. I was startled to find myself in the company of Amy Whelan, Bill
Wilson, Connie Caudill, Paul Sidio, Ron Chapman and Kyla McAfee.
Clearly, I was in the wrong place. Also known as the front of the
pack. Amy glanced over her shoulder and gave me the weirdest look. I
said, "I KNOW; don't look at me like that!" We were in good footing,
Tanna's heart rate was low and controlled the 130s and I knew there
were hills coming up in the ride that would slow our overall average
down. So for the time being, I hung with the crowd. Tanna and I were
thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

As a group, we walked down the first good hill. Climbing back out the
other side, though, resulted in Tanna reaching over 160 for his HR. I
had a goal to keep his HR under 155, so began to think about backing
off. The other riders began walking, though, and Tanna's HR dropped,
so I stayed with everybody for a few minutes longer.

Finally, though, I paused at a creek and let the others go on. Tanna
pitched a fit and a half, but I was firm. He is not a mountain horse
and I didn't want him blowing himself out in the first loop. We walked
out of the valley back onto the ridge, trotting the more level places,
with me keeping a sharp eye on the heart rate monitor. When we reached
the ridge-top, I allowed some controlled cantering, pulling him back
to a power trot when he started to get out of control. As I came up to
a gate where we were to turn right and descend down into another
valley, we came on the other riders paused at a truck that was
offering water to the horses. I brought Tanna to a walk and watched
until the other riders disappeared. At that point, Patricia and Dixie
caught up with me. I let them go on as well as Tanna pitched yet
another fit.

Half-way down the hill, I paused and electrolyted Tanna from the
saddle, allowing Dixie and Patricia to get further on down the trail
before we got going again. Tanna was not impressed that I asked him to
let the other horses go and was hard to control. When we came out on
gravel, I allowed some cantering, but again, pulled him back to a trot
when he got too forward.

When we came to a very low, very large tree smack across the trail, I
pulled him up and looked for a way around. I saw no good way around.
The best way was to go under. I eyed the clearance and promptly
dismounted. I led Tanna under and was glad I'd dismounted. My saddle
cleared the tree, but not by much and I would not have liked being in
the saddle. He spun around me a couple times and I remounted on the
other side.

I tried to convince him to eat some bites of grass, but he was being
really irritating and wanted to continue on and catch the other
horses. I saw another horse coming up to the downed tree and decided
to just move on down the trail. I paused again a little while further
in a futile attempt to get Tanna to settle and eat. The rider caught
up with me and I let them go on. Tanna pitched another temper tantrum,
but I was still being firm.

Finally, I was tired of being on a powder keg. I said fine, run for a
bit. He took off running so fast. I could not get him to come back. I
yelled at him, pulling back, and trying to get him back to a
reasonable speed. I knew pavement was coming up in a little bit and I
did not want him running full out when he hit the pavement. I did not
want to turn him. At that speed, we'd both end up in a heap. So I kept
pulling back and hollering at him. Finally, something penetrated and
he slowed just a hair. Soon I had him stopped just shy of the
pavement. We were both shaking. I slid off.

I figured he'd do better if I jogged beside him down the pavement.
He's usually very good in hand. We started down the road and Tanna
promptly ran over me. I snarled at him and he did it again. I elbowed
him in the chest to make him back off and he ran past me. I spun him
back around, told him to behave and started again. Again he ran over
me, past me, ignoring me. I was very unhappy with him. Several riders
passed me and I asked if anybody carried a gun so I could just walk
back to camp. Nobody had one. I was asked how much for the horse.

I paused by a guard rail where there was some good grass and asked him
to lower his head. Don't know why I thought he'd grab a bite. I've
taught him to grab bites along the trail, but I'd also taught him to
not run over me or run off with me, and that wasn't going so well
either. We stood there in a battle of wills. He would run over me, I'd
spin him back into position and we'd do it all over. I was very
frustrated with him. Finally, I kept going down the road and after a
few hundred feet decided to remount. Walking wasn't helping, we'd
might as well make some time. I moved him to the side of the road
where I could get on an incline to remount. I had to reposition him. I
held the reins quite tightly in my left hand and swung into the
saddle. He immediately tried to take off. On pavement. I growled at
him and he stood for a split second. Long enough for me to get my
right foot into my stirrup. Then we trotted off.

We got onto the gravel and I told Tanna he could trot, not canter. So
much for that. He did trot most of the time, but about 1/2 mile from
camp, he took off running again. This time I was able to get him back
much sooner. I dismounted at the pavement and walked him into the
timer. Still frustrated with my horse, I waited a couple minutes for
his HR to drop to 64 and went to the pulse takers and directly to the

We spent our hold time back at the trailer. Tanna ate some grain and
picked at his hay. About normal for him after the first loop. With 7
minutes till time for me to get back on trail, I tightened up the
girth, replaced the crupper and breast collar and headed back to the
timer. I made it with 20 seconds to spare.

Off we went trotting down the trail for the second 20 mile loop. Tanna
was still energetic, but much more controllable. I was still riding to
his heart rate. Not letting his heart rate get above 155 for very long
at a single time. We hit the first switchback and I hopped off and
walked down. Tanna followed right behind me. At the bottom, I
remounted and we trotted the short stretch to the next switchback,
this time up. Done with the switchbacks, we cantered and trotted where
appropriate, dropping to a walk for some of the hills. We caught up
with and passed several riders on this loop. The same riders that had
passed us while I was attempting to gain control of my horse on the
first loop.

The second loop was an out and back loop. Just before the turn-around,
Guy Worthington caught up with us and we rode together for awhile. I
decided Tanna needed to pee, so turned off the trail and attempted to
get him to relax. No go, but that was enough time for Guy to get quite
ahead of me and for a group of 3 riders to pass me.

Back at camp, Tanna pulsed down right away. This time, instead of
going directly to the vets, I went back to the trailer and let Tanna
eat a little while I took his saddle off and replaced it with a
cooler. Back up to the vets where Dr. Kevin checked Tanna out. He
asked me to trot Tanna out a second time. He thought he saw something,
but it was likely just Tanna not picking his feet up and stumbling a
little over the rough ground. He did mention the left hind hamstring
was a bit tight. Everything else was a-ok.

Back to the trailer for the rest of our hold. Tanna ate and drank and
seemed generally normal. Ten minutes before we were to leave, I
saddled Tanna back up and checked him all over. His hamstring was no
longer tight, but I found a swollen lump in his left front armpit in
front of the girth. I put some green salve on the spot and headed out.
I was 4 minutes late going out on our last 10 mile loop. We took off
at a controlled canter.

We were descending the first short hill and I was in my own little
world when David Monroe caught up with us and I let him go on. We
played leap frog until the gravel. Tanna decided it was time to take
off and trotted and cantered to the road crossing, leaving David and
his horse. We crossed the road and headed down the trail for the last
mile and a half. About 1/2 mile from the finish line, we caught up
with and passed Dixie and her horse. Tanna never looked back and
cantered energetically across the finish line just shy of 4 PM for a
ride time of 6 hours 18 minutes.

After stopping at the timer for the last time, I took Tanna back to
the trailer for some food and to clean him up before presenting him to
the vet. He came through with great grades. He was still fairly
energetic and was ready to go again. Which is the goal, after all.
With the exception of the behavior issues during the first loop, I was
quite pleased with my horse and his performance.

Thanks to Lois and Bob McAfee for putting on this ride. I really enjoy
the trails. Bill is a very accommodating host. Drs. Mike Habel and
Kevin Sloan were wonderful. Thanks to all the other volunteers. I had
a great time. A very good end to our season.

Nashville, TN

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Things We Forget - Grand Canyon XP 2007

Kevin Myers

There are certain things that seem like such an inherent part of your life and who you are. When they disappear, you hardly notice. And then you rediscover them.

The Grand Canyon XP this year was a lesson in rediscovery. Rusty and I only went for one of the five days, which seems like such a cop-out until you consider that it was Far’s first ever 50, and Redford’s third 50 of his life.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Seattle man rides a trail that leads back to 1848

photo:Developer Scott Griffin won the inaugural Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race last month.

By Erik Lacitis
Seattle Times staff reporter

It wasn't about the money back in 1848, when Francis X. Aubry entered cowboy lore by winning $1,000 on a horse race.

Then, the 26-year-old rode 800 miles on the Santa Fe Trail across streams, prairies and high country — even encountering a scalped dead man — in a record-setting five days, 15 hours.

And it wasn't about the money for Seattle developer Scott Griffin, 47, who recently won the 2007 version of the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race.

If you haven't heard of the 2007 event, that's because this was the inaugural race, dreamed up by Rob Phillips, of Lawrence, Kan.

Phillips, 62, is a onetime hotel owner who describes himself as, "I guess, a little bit of a promoter ... I like horses and I like history." And if it brought in some tourism, that was great, too.

Griffin won an engraved cowboy belt buckle. There were no cash prizes.

For that belt buckle, Griffin rode 515 miles in a race that went from Sept. 3 to Sept. 15. Griffin is now back home, after trailering his two horses to where they're kept at a ranch in California.

But besides the belt buckle, this is also part of the winnings: If you Google the history of the Santa Fe Trail, Griffin will be associated with setting a record on this route, along with Aubry.

For six decades ending in 1880, when the railroad arrived, the trail was the primary commercial highway — with horses hauling the freight — connecting Missouri and Santa Fe. The trail was also used by the military to reach its forts, and by stagecoach lines, gold seekers, fur trappers, emigrants and adventurers.

"I like opportunities where you have to dig deep and see what you're made of," Griffin said.

His marriage of 20 years, which had produced three boys, had ended.

"I needed something to take me away. I needed another personal challenge," he said. In April 2006, Griffin read a newspaper story about Phillips' idea for the race.

"This is either madcap dreaming or the genesis of an American sports tradition," said the story.

Griffin was the first to sign up. The number of entrants grew to 60, all obviously seeking something other than money.

The entrance fee alone was $3,000, not counting the several thousand in expenses for horses and riders and their teams (usually friends) who sometimes traveled along in motor homes.

It's true that this race was considerably less grueling than the one in 1848.

Back then, Francis Aubry strapped himself onto the saddle so as not to fall off while dozing. At the end of the race, his saddle was soaked in blood from his raw thighs.

Along the way, six of the horses that Aubry used either collapsed and died, or the exhausted animals were let go to fend for themselves.

In "True Tales of Old-Time Kansas," author David Dary quotes Aubry as reportedly saying, "I'll kill every horse on the Santa Fe Trail before I'd lose that $1,000 bet [about $24,000 in 2007 dollars], but it's not the money I care about. I'm riding to prove that I can get more out of a horse and last longer than any man in the West."

These days, endurance horse racing is an organized sport. There are mandatory veterinary checks along the route that include measuring how fast the horse's heart rate returns to normal.

Two horses did die in the 2007 race, but it had nothing to do with their health: Their riders somehow ventured onto a road, and they collided with a car.

Since developments, towns and highways have sprung up along many portions of the trail, the 2007 version divided the ride into 10 days riding of about 50 miles each, with three days of rest. The rider with the shortest overall time won.

The riders used Forest Service roads, county roads and private ranchland when they got permission.

Still, as much as the ride was easier in the 2007 version, only eight of the 60 entrants managed to complete each day of it. Some horses couldn't handle it, and neither could some riders.

"No amount of training can get you completely in shape," said Griffin. "I was as sore as hell the first three or four days."

The rides would last seven to 12 hours each day, and to keep weight off the horse, Griffin never sat on the saddle. Much of the time, he said, he rode standing in the stirrups.

Each night, he slept in the horse trailer, right by the portable corrals for his main horse, Cruiser, a 13-year-old Arabian who did most of the most heavy work, and Silver, a younger Arabian and quarter-horse mix. Griffin looked at the stars and kept an eye on them.

A second Santa Fe Trail race is planned for 2008, and Griffin said he'll be there.

He remembered riding in the beautiful countryside; he remembered getting to know the other riders, being able to talk about everything and anything as they rode together.

And, said Griffin, Cruiser and Silver got to him.

Originally, he was going to sell the horses. Not anymore.

"I got touched. I love the horses," he said. "That horse now is your buddy. You've been through something."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Unconventional Cowboy

Ja Allen recently finished seventh in the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse endurance event despite his share of adversity. Allen was struck by lightning before the race and later had to ride with a broken wrist after a fall. Allen rides his horse Boots -- one of two he used for the race -- at his ranch.


TOLLHOUSE -- Ja Allen is a cowboy. His identity radiates from the tip of his straw hat to the spurs that dangle from his boots to the fact that he breaks horses for a living.

"Every horse on this property was considered crazy or unridable," said Allen, surveying his seven-acre ranch at the foot of Burrough Mountain.

"It seems like the crazier the horse, the better I get along with them."

Some might consider Allen a little crazy, too. Actually, a whole lot of people. But the 32-year-old maverick made believers out of many during last month's Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race.

Riding quarter horses in a field dominated by Arabians, Allen finished seventh overall in the 515-mile endurance race that followed the historical trade route from Santa Fe, N.M., to Independence, Mo.