Sunday, November 18, 2007

Don Bowen and Willy, The Flying Horse

Don Bowen's Virginia City Story

It’s with mixed feelings I send this, my VC story.

As many know, I have been applying for jobs elsewhere to move up in the food chain. I was working the Zaca fire and got a call to be interviewed, did so on the fire, and was also notified I got the new job while still on the fire.

Virginia City was an escape for the stress of the impending move and the unexpected passing of my father. He had fallen at his home and never regained consciousness. He was a decorated Viet Nam War Veteran with 22 years of service in the US Navy.

On Wednesday night after work my son, Darren, and I loaded up Willy, the flying horse, and headed North up the 395 to Bishop for the night. The plan was to make it to the fairgrounds for the night. We had already made the last minute calls to Dave and Connie so they knew we were coming. The next morning we were back on the 395 heading towards VC. We arrived Base Camp in time to catch Dave before he went out to mark trail. Darren and I helped with some of the Base Camp set-up then later joined the Ride Management for Dinner.

On Friday I took Willy out for five mile warm and later vetted him in. The vets thought he was off, which he is if I don’t trot him out fast enough, but after explaining who this horse was and that he was the survivor of a 500’ fall, all was fine and we were sent on our way. Also on Friday the Bowman family, Jonathan, Melody and their kids parked next to us. Since this was Darren’s first time crewing and the Bowman’s were next to us this would work out good for us. This would be Jonathan’s new horse’s first 100 and Willy’s last 100 with me. So Jonathan and I agreed on a pace and strategy for the ride. The next morning we started out towards the back and began our plan keeping a steady pace while letting the horses eat and drink along the way. The highlight of the morning was seeing the Wild Horses along the way. Before the first vet check we had the long down hill that gave us our opportunity to get off and run for a while. It paid off because the horses looked great at the vet check. You could tell Melody had schooled Darren on what needed to be done and expected. We headed out from the vet check to the canyon. We didn’t make much time here due to footing. Being a heavy weight and sketchy footing makes me nervous, I’ve walked and rode with Dave Rabe enough through sections like this that I had no problem getting off through this section. When we got to Washo Lake I new the next part would be the hardest for the horses and me. So we stayed a little longer, okay, a lot longer to let the horses eat and drink. My plan was to tail up as much of the climb on the SOB’s as possible while not losing too much time. I managed to tail most of it and had a better horse at the next vet check for it.

When we passed the next vet check I had a big sigh of relief because this is where Whyatt ended our ride a couple of years ago. We headed out the next loop with a group of riders, Dave Rabe being one of them. As we where making the climb I asked Dave if he thought we were making good time. Dave said “if we could make to the top before 7 PM we would have enough daylight to make good time to the next vet check. We never really knew what place we where in and didn’t really care. We had saved our horses all day and now that the night was coming our horses felt fresh.

We passed the next vet check with the horses looking great and after the hour hold we where back on the trail. This time we picked up one of our team members, Vicki Giles riding Robin Hood. The horses worked great together so we got to the last vet check at a faster pace than during the day.

I had promised Willy after the Big Horn that VC would be our last hundred together. So I was honored to finish Willy’s last 100 with Vicki on Robin Hood, and Jonathan on Monty. We left the Cottonwoods with well-fed horses and hot soup in our bellies. The horses knew we where on our way home so the time seemed to fly by. When we got to the finish line Darren was waiting with blankets in hand with and food water for man and beast. The horses walked on loose lead to Base Camp and finished sound.

One of the keys to our success in this completion was a well-run ride by management and their volunteers. Next was a well-worked plan with great crew that was there when we needed them and when we didn’t. This was Willy’s seventh 100 and for the horse who shouldn’t be here, he sure looked great the next day, and thank goodness I have my Advantage saddle. You’ll still see me on the flying horse just not on a 100.

Okay, so next month we close one chapter in lives and begin a new one. I’ve become a good beginner horseman in this chapter and look forward to becoming an even better horseman in the next chapter. More to come on the move………………….

Don Bowen and Willy, The Flying Hors

Hallelujah 100---My first !!!!

Well here it goes. My first one day 100 mile endurance ride!

It was a quite interesting few weeks prior to the 100. First, I could
*NOT* sleep! Every night when I would lay down for bed, I would lay
awake for hours!!! I could just not fall asleep! I would think about
every possible thing that could go wrong and what if this and what
about that, etc. I was going INSANE!

I also kept thinking that Rika was *off* and I kept thinking she was
lame. Had the vet come out and he said she was fine. Ok. So perhaps I
have gone ***INSANE***.

Ok. So the day came for me to leave at 3:30 a.m. with my uncle to
meet Wendy by 5 a.m. to head down for South Carolina. We arrive in
ample time with Wendy arriving shortly after. We load Rika in the
trailer with Danza and move all my stuff into Wendy's new diesel
truck which she ADORES.

We arrive in South Carolina some time in the afternoon. Plenty of
time to set up camp and get the horses all settled in on their Hi-
ties. Luckily, Becke Grams saved us a spot next to her which was
great. Becke is the woman who sold Rika to me. She assured me that
Rika and I were **READY** for the distance. She was a great
confidence builder.

The following day we register for the ride, set up vet check area,
vet the horses and take the horses out for a short spin. All seemed
fresh and more than ready for the 100. Unexpectedly, Danza begins to
sniff the ground with wendy on top. He tried to ROLL! OMG It was
extremely funny! Luckily she hopped off as he began the act and made
him stop before he got the saddle and her new wool pad completely
full of sand. I wish I had my camera!

Ok so back to camp. Visit Running bear. Becke hops on her computer
checking emails. I was going to bring my computer so I could do
schoolwork as I go to an online charter school. But, I figured I
would be quite busy and too psyched to even think about school! Which
was most certainly true!

We attend the ride meeting and I get to visit with Angie and Josie
McGhee. Got to say hi to Jody. They were rubbing it in that they were
at a ride and that she was at *HOME*. Angie kept telling me to go to
bed, but I told her I wouldn't be falling asleep anyway. So Josie and
I talked for a while. I got to meet her horse Cade. I also helped
them set up their pop up canopy at the vet check. I get back to the
tent and fall asleep about 11 pm.


Get up and feed the horses. I get dressed and make sure I have
everything set up at the vet check. Before I knew it we were in the
saddle and following behind a 4 wheeler! YEEEHAW! Here we go.

We were moving at a pretty fast pace and right before the train track
crossing, our group decides to let a bunch of folks past and then we
will proceed down the trail. It began to get light out and we could
see! YEAH! A few miles from coming in to camp for the fly by some of
our group had to take a potty break. It was at this point where Susan
lost her horse. She let go of the reins and he continued on down the
trail with out her!! Becke went after him. There was nothing more we
could do so we continued after about 10 minutes of hanging out to
proceed to camp. Luckily, her horse was caught not much later and
returned to her by Josie. Susan caught back up with us on the 2nd

We come into camp after 10 miles and let the horses eat and cool off
a little bit. This was not a mandatory vet check but a fly by. We
spent probably a good 10-15 minutes resting here. Then we went out
again on another 10 miles.

Return to camp for a 50 minute vet check. Rika is eating really good.
All A's on her card and we're set to go. I was worried about the 25
mile mark because her 2 pulls this season were both at the first
check doing less than 25 miles. So I felt if we made it past this
point I could stop worring so much. (NOT)

We're out again after a nice long hold. Rika is feeling great. Next
time we come in and we're at the 40 mile mark! YEAH. Some of the sand
is getting very deep with so many horses going through. I believe
there was about 120-140 horses on trail that day between all the
distances! That's a lot of horses!!!!

It's getting quite hot as well. It was sunny and in the 80's. It's a
good thing I clipped Rika. I'm sure it helped her cope with the heat.

Next thing we're at 50 miles! It didn't really feel like we had done
anything. We did the first 50 in about 6 1/2 hrs. That's pretty good
especially since we're going another 50 miles. We wanted to conserve
the horses and keep em' fresh all day. It worked out very well. I
never remember a time any of the horses getting tired. It was a group
of 5 and we stayed together the whole day. From 6:30 a.m. to nearly 1
a.m. the following morning!

I believe we got to the 75 mile mark before it was dark. I had to go
for a recheck at this point :( Otis said he thinks he saw somthing in
the hind end. OH NO. I was so SAD at this point. So I gave her some
elytes and massaged. Went back. I got Angie McGhee to trot her out
for me so I could watch. I'm watching and I thought she looked
completely fine! YEAH! Otis quickly handed the card and I was sooo
thrilled! Ok. 25 miles more to go! We can do this thing rika! Next
loop felt pretty long. Got back in at the 90 mile mark. I couldn't
believe it! 90 miles!!!! Horses vetting through.
Eating/drinking/peeing/pooping. All is well!!!

Getting in the saddle for that last 10 mile loop was HARD! At this
point I was getting tired. It's exactly what I was told by other
riders. You have a different mindset when going 100 miles. I know I
did. I didn't get tired until that last loop and I just wanted to get
done!! We trotted out of camp in the dark on the road to complete
that 100 miles! WAHOO! Rika was not tired. On the last loop, she
didn't really want to lead. All day, she was taking her turn bringing
up the lead and then would zoom up and lead our pack for a while. She
had a great time. It was so nice to see camp coming across the finish
line at 12:53 a.m.! I could not stop smiling!

All day, Becke's trail husband "Dick" crewed for us and met us at the
5 mile mark of every loop. He would have been out there more for us
but that was the only spot he was allowed. He met us the whole 100
miles with water/grain/snacks and jugs to dump water on the horse's
necks. He was truly a savior! Angie and Josie also helped me
througout the day which was great. Josie rode the 50 and then crewed
for me when she was done! HOW NICE :) They were both there for the
finsh. THANKS!

And I did the whole ride on eating pretzels, chocolate pudding,
Quaker chewy granola bars, Kool Aid Gelz, Propel and water. I felt
awesome the whole day!

All 5 of us got our completions that we wanted! Horses did great! I
never knew horses could have so much energy and would do so much for
us! I have a whole new respect for these amazing animals and will
never *EVER* doubt my horse again.

Before we went to bed I had a nice hot bowl of chicken soup and then
finally fell asleep. I woke up the next morning with a smile still on
my face!

Kyle and Rika Pony

Thursday, November 08, 2007

2007 Fire Story - Nancy Reed

Don Huston asked me about how we fared in the fires. This simple question opened my memory and out flowed the following story. I hope you will enjoy it. Yes, this is a true story.

We evacuated on Monday mourning at about 1:30 am as the Coronado Hills fire was cresting the Frank’s Peak to the north of our ranch. This fire was in the hills between Elfin Forest and south eastern San Marcos. I never received a reverse 911 call; a hysterical neighbor called instead. We were prepared with trailer and RV restocked from a CTR that Saturday. We also had dog leashes, cat carriers and personal bags packed.

We were able to get all animals and humans off the property in about 20 minutes. Our horses, Lyric and Jazzi, loaded in less than 4 minutes. My 2 boarders (who do not have trailers) were hand walked ahead of the RV by my daughter to a neighbors 5 acre denuded pasture were they were evacuated later that morning.

We (daughter Danielle, sister Bridgit, 2 cats, 2 dogs and our 2 horses) made our way to the Del Mar fairgrounds amid the I-5 freeway construction and vicious winds. These winds were clocked at up to 80 mph! Once off the freeway we found a long line already waiting to get into Del Mar. It snaked out of sight under the freeway with every kind of rig imaginable. It took about an hour to get from the off ramp to leading Jazzi and Lyric into stalls in Barn “I”. As we inched forward in the line up I was impressed by the courtesy exhibited by the other evacuees; room was made to ensure safe turning, lines merged together without incident.

The scene in Del Mar was both frightening and comforting. The air was thick with acrid smoke and ash. Over head lights gave a ghostly light illuminating a circus of horses, humans, dogs, zebras, goats, alpacas, lamas and even caged birds all seeking refuge into the thousands of stalls Trailer and barn doors became lethal weapons as the wind continued to lash out as if in some mindless rage. Neighs of fright and comfort reverberated up and down the barn isles. Yet Lyric and Jazzi calmly unloaded and walked without hesitation into strange stalls. Their neighs were added to the calipee of sounds as more and more trailers poured into the barn isles. We were safe, we made it without an injury or mishap; prayers answered.

Around me I saw several hysterical owners who were forced to leave horses behind due to lack of trailer space. Still others quickly unloaded determined to rescue beloved equines left in the path of the fires. Many did not have horse supplies, buckets, hay bags, hay, etc. Most of us became the other set of hands, holding doors, filling buckets anything to help our equine comrades in the mist of the biggest evacuation in the history of the state. By 8 am that morning Del Mar was full with over 2,500 animals housed in its barns.

We stayed in Del Mar for 4 nights. All in all it was a good experience. Within 12 hours of our arrival a feed store was set up with stall deliveries. Not only did local restaurants deliver meals, but pet stores donated cat and dog food and supplies. Soap, tooth brushes and all kinds of personal care items were also donated. Even Home Depot donated hundreds of their orange buckets for watering and feeding the horses. The barn isles became little communities ensuring whatever was needed was covered. Feed, water and exercise schedules were posted on each door with owner and animal information. Several horses took great pride in removing and or rendering these useless with slobber, feed or bedding. By day 3 organized teams of volunteers made rounds; watering, feeding, cleaning and walking.

Us humans found refuge in the “Elfin RV” with the AC and AM radio. We had the radio on non stop almost the entire time keeping us updated on the fires that still raged. By some lucky happenstance of events, Elfin Forest was spared this time. The Coronado Hills fire was put out in mere hours due to the sharp work of our unit from Elfin Forest and San Marcos Fire. On Tuesday and Wednesday Del Dios to the south east and Rancho Santa Fe to the southwest took the brunt of it. Our fire department was stretched thin having sent units to both Del Dios and Rancho. As the eastern flank of the fire ran up the Del Dios ridge with the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve as its next meal, the northern ridges of Rancho Cielo were set with back fires to stop the fires advance into southwestern Elfin Forest and Paint Mountain. By grace and these back fires the south western flank of the fire was stopped in the creek bed below the Bridges at the western base of Paint Mountain.

To the east the fire continued to burn, marching closer to our valley and the eastern slope of Paint Mountain. To get to us the fire had to burn through the top of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve and the new Olivenhain reservoir before it could reach Paint Mountain to the west and the Elfin Forest Valley. Elfin Forest Fire had hand crews on the top of the ridge on the west side of the Olivenhain reservoir, waiting to fight the monster. As the flames crested the ridge it swallowed the new Lake Hodges overlook picnic area and continued on. Unknown to most, Elfin Forest had a secret weapon, a local who was a San Diego Fire Helicopter pilot. The secret weapon was in Del Dios making water drops and keeping and eye on the fires northwest flank. As the fire took the overlook he went into action. Somehow, he herded the fire into the reservoir, starving it of fuel. With only one spot fire on the western side of the water, the fires advance was stopped and Elfin Forest was saved! Today our valley and most of the Reserve is ride able. We have a few downed trees here and there, but we escaped, this time.

Nancy Reed
Lazy J Ranch
Elfin Forest, CA

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Susan's Skymont Story

Susan Sites
My 9 y.o. TWH, Bird, & I have been conditioning several months for this ride (since late last winter) & before that we had a base of six years of frequent, mountainous trail riding (we rode year round, rarely missed a weekend riding, & often rode every 3-4 days in the summertime). When we started really conditioning for this ride, we mixed up some longer, slower trail rides (15-27 miles) with shorter, faster ones (5-15), riding as much as our schedules would allow. We have a place close by where we rode often with a good loop on a gentle hill. We could run laps on this hill, then turn & climb an almost-vertical hill to the top of a ridge then back around to the loop & repeat. We had one place where we could really stretch out with better footing & we did many rides there where we would ride a fast loop, come back to the trailer, change tack & ride out again so he’d learn the it’s-not-over-till-it’s-over lesson. I never did more than two loops like that though (about 15-20 miles worth, total).

My horse is one of those ridiculously “easy keepers” who can ride & ride & ride & ride & still looks pudgy to me. Stores fat in all these weird places & feels squishy when he shouldn’t. So even though he didn’t look like a lean-mean fighting machine, I thought maybe that’s the best he can look!? Oh, by the way, he’s also gorgeous. I know I’m making him sound ugly & he’s not. He looks good, but when you stand him next to a cut, buff racehorse, he’s going to look fat. But I digress.

Later in the summer, I tried to get the only endurance rider I know in my area to ride with me to see how I was doing, but her horse was down so I was left to my own resources. I bought & read The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition. I read articles and ridecamp. I learned that heart & lungs condition first, then muscles, then bone & tendon. Bought a stethoscope to practice C.R.I.’s & pushing the heart up into brief anaerobics. But what’s my gauge for the muscles, the bones & tendons? I read that it takes two years to develop the bones for endurance, but wouldn’t 6 years of mountainous trail riding count toward some of that? Or does it have to be 2 years worth of a certain kind of conditioning?

The amount of information out there is overwhelming, & it makes you feel like you can never be ready to do it. I kept flip flopping wildly back & forth from thinking we were no where near ready to thinking that maybe we were as ready as we’d ever be. I finally decided that if I didn’t just do it, I was never going to & I’d end up sitting in my house reading down into a rabbit hole. So, I entered the Skymont ride to find out what’s what. I entered the 50 because I know that we can go 25. What I want to know is how much farther than that we can go. It would be really nice to win. I mean, this is the “to finish is to win” sport, so we want to “win” even if we don’t win in first place. But if we don’t win at all, at least we’ll get an idea of where we are in our conditioning.

We drove up the day before. We only live 2 hrs away. I had my brother-in-law Mike with me who had been training with us riding his 6 yr old Quarter/Arab cross. We’ve had almost the exact same conditioning work. Very different animals, but we’ve worked around their differences so that we can ride together ok. I had taught Bird to trot & his big trot was about the same pace as Ender’s canter, so along we would go. We even practiced riding & splitting up in case we couldn’t ride the race together all the way.

Anyway, we get to the ridecamp, set up tents & go out on a short loosening up ride about 5-6 miles of the last of the blue loop. Better footing than anywhere we normally ride. Way better. This was going to be nice. Back to camp & the vet in. Not understanding the purpose of the trot-out, Bird thought it best to show the vet all of his gaits plus any gaits he had ever seen or read about. Thankfully, I had Otis Schmitt & he just shook his head at this display & said that there were a lot of them, but they were all straight! We were cleared to ride.

We fed the horses & left for the ride meeting. We have no crew yet. They’re planning to arrive by 1st vet check, so we have to leave the horses alone tied to the trailer while we go to the meeting. Now I almost can’t stand to be out of sight of my horse much less leave him alone in the dark in a strange place for 2 hours! I was sick to get back to camp. About the only things I remembered from the meeting were the cautions that Sat. would be the 1st day of hunting season & the ride property was surrounded by hunting land & they were going to have spotters on the perimeter trying to keep hunters from coming into our area & the one about how we had better not get lost & go off trail at the risk of severe injury to our horse because of old barbed wire all over the place! If I wasn’t sick before, I was sick now.

Somehow, I also got the sneaking suspicion that there could be moonshiners tucked away in the nooks & crannies of these hills. I live close enough to know that this is not as surprising as you might imagine if you aren’t “from around here.” Before the race, I had worried about getting into a wreck & separating from my horse, but now there was no chance of that. If I was in a wreck, I was staying with my horse even if I ended up hanging under his belly with his legs thundering around me! I was already going to have nightmares about my black horse tearing through the woods getting shot at by hunters & bootleggers while dragging 10 feet of barbed wire through some hillbilly’s still.

We “stalled” our horses in the trailer because we weren’t going to spring for corral panels on our first ride & we had never high line tied. We figured that they’d be just as likely to bang on the trailer if they were standing tied next to it as they would be in it & this way they’d be safer & could move around a bit. Well anyway, they were noisy. To their credit, they didn’t just stand there making gratuitous noises banging & pawing, but it was still annoying that every move they made was audible & I felt sorry for our neighbors. At the sound of the 5:00 wake-up horn, I bounded out of bed, got the horses out & tied & watered & eating hay. We were going to avoid feeding a lot of grain on race day, so we fed hay, a few handfuls of sweet feed & carrots & apples & our electrolyte cookies. Beet pulp soaked with apple juice was offered & turned down. It was cold, somewhere in the mid thirties I guess. Our neighbors were not growling at us over our noisy trailered horses, not even when I interrupted their pre-race preparations to ask a silly electrolyte question, thank you Angie! As a matter of fact, everyone we met was as nice as could be, the riders, management, volunteers, farrier (especially the farrier), vets, camp dogs, you name it. Nice as could be. Apparently even behind our backs, according to our crew.

The Start loomed like a dark, scary cloud over my head. Crowds are not my thing, especially crowds on horseback. I was too nervous to eat. I just wanted to make it through the start & get out there to ride my ride & find out what I came here to find out. We checked in with the timer & warmed up back out of the way where we could see the start & sneak out when we felt comfortable. We watched the start & it was calm & controlled so (huge sigh of relief) we set out just a couple of minutes after 7:00.

It was chilly & the horses were feeling great & loving the footing & there’s race energy in the air, but Bird wasn’t getting too carried away. We were doing about as well as I could have hoped. I tried to use a group of people ahead of me as a block to keep him from moving out too fast in the beginning & we clicked along. We finished the 1st 12 ½ mile loop in 1 hr, 44 minutes. We were close to last; I think the timer said there were 7 behind us, so I felt good. We were turtling, right? That’s good, right? Well, we felt good anyway. The trail was beautiful; the horses perfect & happy. We were calling them “racehorses” to boost their egos. After all, it may be the only day they ever get to be racehorses, so they needed to milk it.

At camp, our crew had arrived & my nephew met me coming in, handed me a pimento cheese sandwich & took my horse. God bless him. It was great to have a crew. There were so many little things going on & so little time. If you don’t have a crew, you’ll need about 10 long arms & an organized mind, & the latter may be the bigger feat. I know that I didn’t think clearly all weekend, because one of the big side things I wanted to accomplish was to get one of Angie McGhee’s books & I talked to her twice & still forgot to ask her! The horses had pulses in the 40’s & all A’s on the vet cards. They were pooping, peeing, & eating, same drill as this morning, hay, carrots, apples, little sweet feed, even some of the beet pulp. Not drinking yet, so we stashed our electrolyte cookies for the road to feed when they started drinking. My concerns about racing Bird in shoes that were only 3 days old were fading away to memory.

2nd loop was a bit slower. Ender had been a little off in his first trot out & we thought it could have something to do with him being “springy” on the 1st loop (he gets like that when he’s behind Bird ever since he learned that he was entered in an endurance “race!”), so we switched positions. Still no problems out on the trail, two good horses under us, powering on, but adding in some more walking. We did lose the trail a few times, but recovered quickly. The trail was marked extremely well, but with lots of fast weaving in & out of trees, it only took one blinding ray of sunshine to miss a turn & you’d be off course, sweating the barbed wire hazards.

We finished that 12 ½ mi. loop in 2 hours. Now, if you’re watching the math, you’ll notice that we’re not flying down the trail here. But, it is the fastest we’ve ever done that distance. We’ve ridden that distance (25+ miles) & we’ve ridden that fast 5-9 m.p.h., but we’ve never ridden a whole 25 miles at 7 m.p.h. So, at the ½ way mark, we’ve already done more than we’ve ever done before & I’m proud of my horse.

In the 2nd vet check, I’m not completely thrilled with the trot-out, but the way Bird is flipping channels on the remote, I don’t know how anyone can tell anything about him. Shifting gaits about every 3rd step. He doesn’t do that at home when we practice trotting out, by the way. But, he’s still in the 40’s & all A’s except for one A- in the gut. I realize that if we had taken the safe route & entered the 25, we would have finished with flying colors, so I’m happy to know that.

The vet did a C.R.I. at that check which I didn’t realize he was doing until the very end of it & I was standing there just talking to someone not helping Bird at all, not even looking at him. I thought it was bad (for the ½ way point). It was 42/48. I was concerned about it, but maybe it would have been better if I had been paying attention (I can drop Bird’s pulse 3 beats just by touching him on the mouth) & the vet said it was fine. I wanted to talk more to the vet about how we were doing because I knew that my real challenge was about to begin, but he was very busy with all of the 25 mile finishers coming in. I told him that my horse still had plenty of forward motion, but he was getting slightly tired already. He said that was normal, that he should finish the ride slightly tired or it would indicate that I wasn’t doing enough miles. I said, “But we’re only ½ way.” Then he told his helper to give me my completion. He had thought all along that I was one of the finishing 25’ers. My number “2” may have looked like the letter “Z.” She told him that I was a 50. He said that Bird was “cruising.” So off we went.

I was really stressed leaving out on that 3rd loop, but Mike reminded me that they would have stopped me if I wasn’t ok to go. Bird had finally taken a good drink in that 2nd hold too, so all systems were a go. But I knew that it was going to be tough to get him moving, especially since he really gave it his all on the 1st 2 loops. Joe’s advice from the new rider meeting was ringing in my ears, “At this point, your horse will have lost a whole lot of respect for you.” From Bird’s point of view, what possible need could we have to go back out & do it all over again? Sure enough, he was sluggish, even stopping here & there. As far as he was concerned, we were still close enough to camp for me to change my mind & he wanted to give me a chance to do that.

We pushed through that rough beginning & got moving on the 3rd loop. After a few miles into it, things really improved & we were cruising along, no worries. Good forward horse, at least when his GPS told him we were turned toward camp (love that equine GPS – saves me a bunch of money!). When we passed the ride photographer, Linda Toups, I told her that the next time I saw her I was going to strike a pose standing up in the stirrups pulling my underwear down since I seemed to be doing a lot of that!

Then the trouble started. It started very, very subtly. I normally switch leads & diagonals back & forth during rides to keep the horse from getting one-sided. Now, when I tried to pick up the left diagonal at the trot, it was awkward (I don’t know if I’m saying that right, it would be the diagonal when you’re rising with the left front leg, whatever that one is called). I was having to step down in my stirrups to push myself up into the post instead of riding his movement up. It’s the right rear leg I should be getting impulsion from at that point, right? If I had connected dots, I would have known at that moment: my horse is going off & he’s going off in the right rear. In any event, I wasn’t sure what was going on because I know that the rider can get lop-sided too, so was it me or was it Bird? I should have realized that it wasn’t me since I didn’t have an ache in my whole body. I was feeling great, like I could ride a hundred miles. Anyway, all that pushing off was hollowing his back out & making things worse, so I stopped posting on that side.

While this is happening, the weather also seems to be getting chillier. The wind is picking up & I feel like whenever we slow down, the muscles are cooling & that’s not good, so we try to keep moving out. I’m trapped between wanting to slow down because he might be getting tired & needing to speed up to keep from getting cold & sore. I had been so eager to get rid of that rump rug after the 1st loop because it was getting on my nerves, but I wished I had it back now. When we got to the lake, we stopped to offer water. We only stopped for a couple of minutes. They needed to drink, but the stopping wasn’t good either. Not long after we got back on trail, I felt like he was more off. I tried to press on a bit, maybe warm back up, but it wasn’t long before I decided that that wasn’t going to work. We were done. & we were 3 or 4 miles out of camp. I got off & walked. I was so very proud of my horse & told him so, but I had a hard time looking at him because his eyes were so big & innocent & there was a ring of white salt around them from his effort & I had asked him for more than he could do & he was looking at me & I had put him here. It was a long, hard walk.

Before the race, I had imagined getting pulled & this is how it went: we came into the 2nd or 3rd vet check kind of tired & the vet told us that Bird was fit to continue, but that there was a very good chance that at the next check, he wouldn’t pass, wouldn’t get a completion anyway, so I’d have to decide whether to keep going or not & then I would decide not to & we would quit while we were ahead. I always assumed that my decision not to continue would happen at the vet check. In camp. Well, that’s not how it happened. & this is where I can maybe be a cautionary tale for someone. Things may not go exactly as you plan, so plan for the other ways, too. Pack Kleenex.

We plodded on into camp. My ache-less body now a thing of the past because my knees are screaming from that hike. The trail I had thought was on the milder side of technical was a whole lot more tricky when you got down there on it! I didn’t even notice the time. I think it was 3 hours or so on that loop. We’re done. Who cares. We come in & head straight for a vet. Ender was already in & not ok either, waiting to go for his 2nd check. The vet check is a blur to me. I wasn’t paying much attention except to hear that it was muscular in his right rear leg. Ender’s problem was exactly the same, right rear. Weird. The vet does say that everything else is A-ok, they’re not even dehydrated. Apparently, his muscles just fatigued out. He said that I could give Bute if I wanted, but I didn’t because he didn’t suggest it, he only said that I could when I asked him about it. I decided to wait & see & give it to him the next day if he wasn’t better. He never needed the Bute, but I did apply liniment that night & the next day. Ender was the exact same.

So our conditioning was only enough to make it 35 miles. Now I know. Looking back, my feeling is that our conditioning was more weighted like we were entering a mountain bike trial & instead we entered a street bike race. My nephew said that our horses’ bodies compared to the others looked like the difference between hikers & runners (notwithstanding the difference in breeds). I think that maybe our conditioning didn't have enough extended periods of speed. We may be reaching those speeds in training, but we’re not holding them long enough. I’m also unsure about the race day feeding plan. Bird seemed ravenous afterwards. He’s always a big fan of food, but he was Hungry. If you don’t want to feed a lot of grain, but your horse won’t eat the beet pulp, do you go ahead & feed the grain so that at least he’ll have the energy source? I fed Bermuda & Orchard grass hays. Should I have started him on some alfalfa before the race so he would have had that as another option? I wish I had done that. Bird loves alfalfa. I should have bumped him up to a performance feed before the race, too, instead of his usual 10% sweet feed.

Anyway, we’d really like to give it another try next year. So, if anyone out there has any helpful advice, I’d love to hear it. Anything about what to add to our conditioning program, or especially any ways to test the horse to know where he stands along the way. We were lucky on Saturday to meet a super nice experienced rider, Cindy Bell, who just happens to live close to me at least part of the year & she invited us to condition with her next year, so that should help a lot! I know that she had lots of helpful comments after the race & maybe if I can talk to her when I’m not worn out & brain dead, I’ll retain more of it. If anyone else out there can help me, please do. I would especially like to hear more people tell me that since we weren’t pushing our horses hard & the trail was not difficult, that I probably didn’t damage my horse’s bones by riding him until his muscles gave out. The vets didn’t seem to think it was a big deal at all, but pushing my horse’s athletic abilities is a new experience for me & I want so much to do right by him & never ever harm him in any way whatsoever!

I imagine a lot people will read to the part where I say that Bird is a Tn Walker, stop, circle that part in red ink, & yell, “Hey Susan, I found your problem!” That’s what the ride farrier said. Bird is one of those heavy-bodied horses, & he doesn’t have his capillaries right under the skin all convenient-like, either. But I’m not expecting him to win in first place or anything, I just want to win, to win in any place would be alright by me. If I wanted to be competitive, I could go out & buy an Arab. But then it wouldn’t be Bird. & we’re a team. I love him. Why would I want to do this with anyone else? So, I’d especially like to hear tips from riders of the heavy bodies because that’s what I’ll be riding. We won’t be entering 100’s, but completing a 50 would be nice.

Thanks Larry & June & Gary, for putting on this ride & making it a pleasant experience even when it was such a gruelling one at the same time. I won’t soon forget it.

Susan (& Bird)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Billeous Blessing

Posted by horsewoman under B&B doings, Horsing Around, Reflections
The air of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears — Arabian proverb

There is a passion in the horse that is part of his spirit. The horse is born to love us without conditions attached . Horses and humans are on a parallel journey to help each other. It is by understanding this that we start to unravel our own mystery and potential.

As a long time ultrarunner and and recent discovery and passion for all things equene, the desire and leap to do endurance riding hardly surprising. Alas, to find a suitable equine partner for the challenging, daunting adventures ahead. I’d originally wanted to use my TB mare Picken since we’ve become equine soulmates. Her age and overall constitution dont really lend itself to it and while her heart would be in it, I feared it might compromise her long term well being.

Aha.. the hunt was on. What I was looking for was the “endurance version of Etched”, my show horse… a “been there done that horse.. knows and loves their job and can teach me.” By the grace of G-d and the super supportive endurance community, I was led to long time endurance horse trainers and competitors at The Lost Juniper Ranch in Idaho… Long story short, our Billy a 10 year old Arabian fit the description.

In a series of what I can only dub as “g-dincidences”, and kindness of these folks, the purchase of our Billeous (so nicknamed by his former owner):) was uncharactistically swfit and smooth (hmmm much like his Arabian constitution methinks). He arrived early this afternoon ; courtesy of the owners of the ranch.

Needless to say I was terribly excited to meet Billeous and we did my customary kiss on the nose and said a shehecheyanu A sweet fellow, fairly non plussed by his 5 hour + journey, seemed to take in his new surroundings and new owner with relative calm. A much smaller horse at 14.3 hands, another plus for me being slightly height challenged… Picken and Alle both are almost 16 hands. Carol and Rick proceeded to show me the Specialized saddle that they’d custom fit for him. Awesome on his back and my tush both.. ! He’s out now in adjacent corrals getting used to his new equine family.

So as the good folks in Idaho bid farewell to Billeous, so he and I begin our endurance and life journey here in Montana I am once again reminded of the circle of life. Those of us who spend time with our horses tend to devote lots o’ energy in understanding what the horse is feeling, “saying” and determining what makes our equine partner happy. What we sometimes forget is to use our time with horses to look inside ourselves and ask that same question … As we start our journey together, I can only imagine the lessons my Billeous will teach me about myself. Welcome home , Billeous

Trot on friends, trot on.

Read also: The Billeous Farewell

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

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.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Great Santa Fe Horse Race - Laura's Story

Laura Hayes

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.

Happy trails,
Laura Hayes
AERC# 2741

Friday, August 31, 2007

AERC NC. Sweet Home Oreana! A local perspective.

Steph Teeter

When Chris and Brian Collette's band 'Run For Cover' belted out their version of this well known song (Sweet Home Alabama) I felt so privileged and proud to be part of Owyhee County, and Oreana. I first came to Owyhee county in 1991, doing rangelands research for a joint University of Idaho and BLM project. I fell in love with the vastness and beauty of the land and the open friendliness of the people. A burger or two at the Oreana Bar & Grill clinched it. We were able to buy property here in 2000 and set up camp. My husband John is a southern Idaho (Emmett) native, and he was happy to have a place in southern Idaho again.

One of the reasons we moved down here - where the dust and heat can at times be trying... is because Owyhee County offers endless opportunity for riding, and riding far. Within months of signing the contract to purchase our land in this empty corner of southwest Idaho, my passion for the sport (obsession? compulsion?) led me to start exploring the county for trails, poring over maps and aerial photos, working with the BLM on access, and generally becoming even more passionate about this land. John and I began hosting Endurance events in 2001 and this year I was thrilled to be able to host the AERC National Championship event - two races of 55 and 100 miles each. I selected trails to challenge the riders and to also give them a good tour of the land. They rode into the mountains - up and around Toy Mountain, back down North Fork Castle Creek and Hart Creek drainage, and then across the desert, down to the Snake River with a stop at the Sierra del Rio Ranch. I am also endlessly grateful to the ranchers that permit us to ride through their land in order to put these marathon courses together! One of the reasons I fell in love with Owyhee county was due to the community of friendly and accommodating people.

We had top US and Canadian Endurance competitors here - from as far away as British Columbia, Florida, Virginia and South Carolina. We were also thrilled to have guests and riders from South Africa, Malaysia and Japan. The King of Malaysia had arranged to participate, but had to withdraw at the last minute due to scheduling conflicts. Maybe next time! Even so we had 5 days of competitions, educational clinics, trade shows, and a fantastic country dinner and dance. Our caterers, Blue Canoe Catering were the best - everybody loved their food and they fit right in with the festive spirit. And they worked very very hard and were greatly appreciated. The Run For Cover band amazed everybody - a local band? But these guys are great! And they were - country, rock & roll, slow dance - they did it all.

In addition to the top competitors from across the USA and abroad, we had a good showing of local riders! Many came from the Northwest, the Mountain states, Canada, California and Nevada. We also had many competitors from southern Idaho, and a handful from Owyhee county! Carol Brand and Linda Kluge, both Oreana residents, completed the tough 55 mountain course in good time.

The winning times were fast, even faster than I had anticipated - I guess the Championship titles at stake brought out the best, and brought out the competition. The 55 mile race had a fastest finishing time of 4:57 - and this included a climb from our ranch on Bates Creek to a high point on Toy Mountain of 6500ft! Plus steep trails and rocky gullies to negotiate - impressive horsemanship, and 60 minutes faster than this course has been done before! The 100 mile race had a fastest time of 9:19 - an even faster overall pace than the 55 mile race, and these riders rode the Toy Mountain course, and then headed out into the desert during the heat of the afternoon. Impressive horsemanship AND impressive horses. Given the record high temps during the 100 mile competition (it was well over 100 degrees with blazing sun in the canyon 'furnace' between miles 57 and 85) , this was a real test.

The races were tightly regulated by a team of world class veterinarians. A vet from Malaysia and two vets from South Africa added to our prestigious team of USA vets. Our local veterinarians (Robert Washington from Idaho Equine Clinic and Karen and Olin Balch from Cascade Veterinary Hospital), were on hand to provide treatment if any horses became exhausted or dehydrated. Happily no horses had any serious problems. And only one horse required minimal veterinary attention during the event. We staged veterinary checkpoints at 10 - 20 mile intervals where horses were thoroughly examined, and horses were allowed time to eat and drink and recover before starting the next phase. A total of 4 hours of holds for the 100 mile event, and 2 hours for the 55 event gave riders and horses time to recover, and allowed the vets the opportunity to do an exit exam on the 100 mile horses. While the exit exam is difficult from a competitor's perspective (horses would be presented just before departure, fully tacked), it affords the vets a closer look at the horses, after the horse has had a chance to let down. A few horses were eliminated during the competition for lameness - sore muscles, thrown shoes, etc - but overall it was a very safe and sane event, and a true testament to the level of horses and riders that came to Oreana!

I love this land, and this sport, and was thrilled to be able to offer a glimpse of it to others from across the country and across the oceans. I was very proud of our AERC competitors, vets and staff. I do believe we in AERC have the best 'version' of the sport in the world, a version where the trails are challenging, the horses and riders are tough and non-complaining, the vets are careful to protect the horse, but not antagonistic towards the riders, and we all cheered the 9:19 fastest time as well as the 17:00 tail end time!

We tried to provide this championship with as much 'hoopla' as possible. Bev Gray provided invaluable help by bringing in a great group of sponsors, who were delighted with the exposure and the chance to be involved. With clinics and dances and dinners and riding demos in addition to a challenging championship ride, our goal was to bring the endurance community together - riders, vets, sponsors, clinicians, volunteers, foreign guests - to keep building the depth of support for the sport, to make new friends, and to showcase AERC's top riders and horses. Hopefully we succeeded to some extent. I'm not sure Oreana - and Owyhee County will ever be the same... between the ranchers teaching the South Africans to throw a rope and crack a bullwhip, the South Africans teaching our local bars that a 1am closing time would never do, the Malaysians getting a true rodeo show as some cowboys roped runaway calves out at vetcheck 2, our Japanese AERC rider (with 5 Tevis buckles) teaching the local volunteers how to speak 'endurance' in Japanese, and all of the AERC competitors getting a good dose of Owyhee heat, rock, dust and fine Idaho wine... we'll all have some interesting tales to tell our horses while out on that next long long ride...

Sweet Home Oreana! Indeed.

Steph Teeter

AERC NC. A Mule Story

Max Merlich, Reba and Junior

Ona made us promise last night to write a ride story. Patti and Jay had a nice send off for them at their house and we toasted to their new adventure and planned to try to ride Bighorn next year. It is only a day’s drive for Ona and Dale but two full days for us from Oregon.

We hauled over traveling together with Karen on Tuesday and arrived at Teeters in the early evening. PJ had a spot reserved for us in the “pervert section” and that is where we lit. Lynne Fredrickson and Carla Stamper soon showed as well. Wed was spent messing around and getting ready for the 55 on Thurs. Lynne and I had plans to ride that one, everybody else was going to do the 100 on Sat. Karen, Lisa and I went for a ride in the afternoon and Rebba managed to shrug off Lisa, she got me for the first time the week before as well. As she is getting stronger she has been becoming more of a handful. Lisa was okay but pronounced her mule riding days over. She was not riding as Dunne is recovering from a heel cut. Ina showed up and word came that Lois, Darlene and Mona were on the way also.

Thursday Lynne and I started at dawn without much incident. There was a big rush to the front and within a few miles we were pretty much by ourselves, it was nice and like that for most of the ride. VC1 was made in 14 miles and we got our first taste of FEI and high profile ride vetting. Lots of paperwork and protocol, less time to eat. We were out of there pretty fast and started the climb over Toy Mt. It is about ten miles to the top with the first five being rolling country followed by steep climbs. Rebba did not do well on the long hills, she is going through this thing where she wants to canter the hills and then walk, or if you hold her in the trot, she will trot further but still want to walk. Going away from camp when your are out 20 miles or so does not help either so Lynne had to wait for us on some of the hills. She drank out at about 22 miles which is early for her. We topped Toy and began the pleasant trip on top in the high country looking down into Jordon Valley in OR. We rode with Trish for the rest of the ride at that point as well. The mule picked it up as we were now going in the right direction. At 32 miles we hit the gravel crew road and trotted on into the 34 mile check. There, sadly we found our team mate Karen and Jakar had been pulled for lame. That was a bummer for sure but it did not look like anything serious and has proven so far not to be. We vetted out of there well and began the climb back to the top and down the old wagon road. The climb to the top was nice trail and some small stream crossings were welcome. Once on top though we began about 5 miles of serious downhill on a very rocky wagon road. Lynne and I got off and ran some but soon got back on and just walked it. No way to make time here, we just enjoyed the views. We hit a creek at about 4 miles that was mostly dry but had potholes with some water that all the critters got into. In a mile or two we hit the ridges and the wagon road became excellent two track and we were off cantering.

Here I ran into some big adventure. The plastic vest with our numbers and sponsers came loose from my tie job for the second time. This time there was a 20 knot breeze going in our faces as well as cantering and it made a noise that Rebba did not recognize. She is well broke to plastic and slickers but this was different and it was making a lot of noise. I reached up to rip it off and she ran away with me, downhill and wide open. I sat down on her hard with the reins which had no effect at all and knew I was in trouble. I yelled at Lynne and she turned and got off the trail just before we ran her down. I think she ran about a half mile, hit the level and started uphill maybe a little and I saw one ear come up and signs she might break gait. I ripped the vest off and of course she shied and out through the sage we went but since I had expected that, I managed to stay on and get her into a one rein stop. All I will say about that whole thing is I was very happy to have lots of good trail, a good seat and that the mule can run. I left the vest where it lay and we went on into VC3 at 50 miles.

Things went fairly well here, we had exit CRI’s and the vets told us not to race in. We were not sure who we would be racing but we agreed that was a fine idea and soon we were off. We finished without fanfare, we had met Mary McGinty and Hellbent’s Affinity walking a couple miles out and Mary said she could not get back on as her knees were too sore. Lynne bailed off and boosted Mary on and we came in together. It was a good trip for us all, I think we did it in 8 hours or so and were pleased with it all. We had LOTS of great help from Lisa, Darlene, Ina, PJ, Mona and Carla, it made the VC’s pleasant and easy. It was not really all that hot, maybe mid 80’s as well with a nice breeze so the ride was fairly cool for Oreana August standards. My good friend Tom Noll was in camp with Frank tied to his trailer and it was good to see him. Rebba laid down in her pen flat out and snored in the dirt as usual and caused passerbys to prompt me to call the vet. This snoring went on all night. Had a good dinner at Teeter’s and a nice local band.

Next day was spent getting ready for the 100 and word came it was going to be hot. Lynne’s 100 mile mare managed to hurt her leg in her pen and sadly Lynne had to scratch in the 100. That left Tom and I unsupervised but with more good crew. Word came it would be hot as well. Junior did not want to leave his sister to go vet in and created a big fuss and lots of hee-hawing and baulking on the way to the VC. A big crowd had gathered to see Heraldic and Bogus Thunder vet in but Lois, Tom and I arrived in time to be first to vet. Lois and Tom pretended not to know me as the mule continued to be an ass, hard to vet and hollering. He vetted in at 64 and bucked and cantered the trot out and the vets were not impressed. Especially the Malaysian and South African vets who seemed to be distancing themselves more and more from the mule. Pretty embarrassing but when he has a lot of time before a ride and all that good feed he starts getting wound up.

Tom and I stared at dawn near the rear of the 30 starters. We were just behind Terry Benedetti and Warren Hellman and in front of Lois and Kim Hoffmarks and sort of with PJ and Nance. We had a good trip out to VC1 and the critters seemed to settle, knowing it was not a 50 mile pace today. Every animal had to be untacked for every VC and exit CRI’s were the rule out past VC1. This with the extra paperwork and protocol of the FEI ride made it a little stressful and added several steps that we were not used to in the VC. However there were 4 riders to every vet so we never waited long. Out of there and we began to climb Toy again. Junior is twice the mule his sister is right now, he took the hills in stride easily and tailed up and led down like a champ. He drank early at 25 miles and all was well. We rolled into VC2 at 34 and it was hot. Out of there and back over the top and down, we were catching PJ at times and were caught by Lois and Kim at the “dry creek” water hole. There was a little water but Jr had to stand on his nose to get it which he did. Soon we were back in the desert and on into what had been the 50 mile check the day before, today just a water stop. All six of us met up there and cooled off. PJ and Nance left and soon after we all did. I managed to dunk all my electronic gizmo’s and blissfully rode on without any of them bothering me anymore. At camp, 57 miles, I got by Rebba in her pen with only minor bellering and our crew had a nice set up for us at the VC area. It was HOT. Sadly again, Nance and Kim were both pulled but the bonus to Tom and I was we got to ride with Lois. PJ left in front of us alone as we were all struggling a bit with all the FEI stuff. Junior ate 3 bowls of mash and Karen dosed him again with probiotics which seem to be working to stimulate his late day appetite.

Out of there and up on the ridge we met John Crandall and Ms Dell coming in. Heraldic is just an awesome horse and it was very inspiring to see him coming in with the early evening light on him. At that point they had 30 some miles on us so I had to break the news to Junior I had waited too long to turn him loose and see if he could catch them. They were in as good as spirits as us and we high fived them and felt pretty darn good about the whole thing for being last anyways. On the way out to Del Rio ranch we ate alfalfa at every water stop and took ten or 15 min to do so and it really seemed to pay off. Junior had a big rattler buzz beside him about dusk and woke him up but we did not go back to investigate his size. Rusty continued to shy and Frank was still pulling on Tom and all was well, we arrived at the ranch at dark. Here we had a good feed as the ranch had opened up a field that was waist high with grass and alfalfa. Dennis Summers had gotten pulled here but we vetted through fine and headed out in the dark. The next 25 miles were the best of the whole ride for us, it was nearly a full moon and cool and surreal in the desert. Tom and I knew the trail well and where we could move out and where to watch for the gopher holes. Junior came alive and was pulling on me to go faster, a new experience for me to see one get a second wind. It brought powerful feelings alive in me to know that after 9 years he is truly a 100 mile mule. You had to have known him earlier to know this was not a forgone conclusion. But now he knows how to take care of himself and me as well and get the job done. He is not going to outrun many people on 100’s but we were in front of 11 horses that had buckled for one reason or the other! Into camp for a short hold, still some crew left but the smart one’s had gone to bed. We untacked and tacked and CRI’ed and did paperwork again and soon were off. I thought I might have trouble getting him out but he went out willingly, Rebba was asleep and he knew he had one more leg. I tailed him up the ridge and soon we were on top on the flats in a stiff breeze and the moonlight. Lois and Rusty were ahead and still spooking down the trail with Lois calling him several new names. The 8 miles went fast and soon we were a mile from camp and ran in to PJ and Issac. They had just passed 3000 miles for Issac and PJ did not want to mess that up and wanted to walk in. None of us could hold our horses anymore so we trotted on in, vetted through and called it a night. Lois called Rusty “honey” which I had to comment on that was not what you had been calling him for the last 43 miles! Junior had a good pee and a roll and went to bed after we wrapped his legs. It was a fine ride and with great company, great crew and great animals it does not get any better for me. Lois had met her goal of 3 100’s this year as well. I wanted the same for Junior but we were 2 out of 3 and I was fine with that as well. Tom commented that this was the easiest 100 he and Frank had ever done because most of his have been the Bighorn and Tevis. And this ride was not exactly easy with Toy Mt thrown in.

Mike Ross Ride Between the Rivers. First 50

The first 50 mile ride for this horse & rider
By Holly R Corcoran

Almost Heaven … West Virginia… Well, that certainly wasn’t the trails or the parking, but it was my first 50 mile endurance ride. And the people, volunteers, ride manager (Jennifer Poling) and other riders were all very friendly and helpful! The weather was beautiful with low humidity and shaded trails.

On Saturday August 11th, my purebred Arabian mare, SEG Tornado Star (aka “Tora”) and I completed our first 50 mile endurance ride. I’d done several years of LD rides on my gelding, who unfortunately wasn’t able to elevate to a 50 mile ride. I purchased Tora in January from Spirit of Texas Arabians (who, as a side note, are wonderful people to deal with) and, although she had not done this type of work before, took to her new job with zeal. On our first LD ride at the Michaux in May we rode slowly. In fact I had to hold her back when she’d see a horse on the horizon and want to catch up. On our next 25 mile ride at Hickory Creek, I decided to allow her to increase her pace and she did wonderfully, finishing with great pulse rates and all A’s at the vet checks. I really felt she was ready for 50 miles, but unfortunately it would be new to both of us.

I have a rather hectic schedule. My daughter shows our horses on the Arabian circuit and so, to fit rides in between shows, is challenging at best, as well as finding a weekend here or there to stay home and get caught up on all the farm stuff. My choice of rides is governed mostly by the weekend it falls on and my availability. I noticed this ride in WVA advertised on the AERC website and, after talking to the ride manager to see if it was a do-able ride for first-timers, we scheduled to go. Mapquest claimed it should take only about 6 hours, with a trailer I knew it would be closer to seven, but eight hours later on Friday we arrived to glance down the hill into the parking and realize the my LQ three horse (with only one horse to the chagrin of the parking volunteer) was going to be a challenge to fit in the field amongst the other trailers. After realizing my trailer would bottom out in one spot, he directed me to another. None the less, I felt like the unwelcome stepchild parked in the middle of where several trailers would eventually need to exit. The volunteer assured a worried rider that, yes, they would get her out after her ride on Saturday. I wasn’t as concerned because I knew I was staying until Sunday. And to their credit, the volunteers were amazing, even backing trailers out for the faint of heart! Then I discovered it was their first time hosting this ride (won’t THAT be fun … their first ride and my first 50!) My anxiety started.

Well, we were parked … we put the fence up, settled the horse, got signed in, vetted her in and then took to the trails to get a lay of the land. As we headed out through the stream and a little mucky field, we hit the trail. I asked another rider in the opposite direction how the trails were and her response was “rocky.” Sure enough, as I progressed up the trail, it was indeed rather rocky. Tora seemed to have good solid feet. She had on shoes but no pads. So I figured, if she didn’t pull a ligament going through the mud or get a stone bruise on the rocks, she’d be fine! Needless to say my anxiety escalated!

I went to bed hoping I would actually get to sleep. I set my alarm and went to sleep. I awoke at one point and checked the time seeing that it was 3:58. My alarm rang at 4:30 and I got up. Funny, I didn’t hear anyone else moving about. I got dressed, put my contacts in my eyes and happened to look at my watch. What?! It was 1:45AM. Thinking my watch might be wrong, I checked my cellphone that claimed the same time. I guess I had changed the time while setting the alarm. I went back to bed and amazingly back to sleep until the real 4:30AM arrived.

The ride started at 6:15AM. The last two LD’s I’d done on Tora, she did not see the other horses start. At those rides, we’d waited until everyone else left and then took our time. I’d learned that once my gelding figured out what the start meant, he’d almost ran away with me on one of the starts and I did not want this to happen with Tora. On this ride there really wasn’t any place to hide, but thankfully we stayed away from the fast starters and left with the walkers. She was raring to go, but was very mannerly as we took our time and warmed up, trotting slowly up the trail. As I have mentioned “up the trail” a few times, let me clarify that in West Virginia, it really means UP. I’d admired the majestic mountains diving into one another like green waves as I drove out Route 68 and my truck was laboring up a 2000 foot climb for the sixth time.

Although I started last, I slowly passed a few other riders, one team being a mother and daughter pair on Morgans, bells jingling on the mom’s horse. Later at the middle of the second loop I would join them. I find that when I ride alone, the hardest part is finding a home. On the LD’s I don’t mind riding alone, which I did at Hickory Creek, but I was hoping to join up with someone here.

Tora was her normal “let’s go” self and my challenge was, again, like in our first LD, holding her back to hopefully pace her. The trails were really rocky and there were some significant climbs, but she was doing great. I rode her with a heart monitor and I was able to keep her at an aerobic rate pretty much throughout the entire ride, except for some of the steeper climbs. My strategy was to walk the hills and really rocky areas and make up time wherever I could. At around the middle of the ride we came to the first river crossing. I hadn’t had her in really deep water, but she was a sane trooper taking one step at a time. The water was up to my feet and as I looked across the river, thinking the shortest distance between two places was a straight line, I noticed a ribbon hanging from a branch diagonally across in the middle of the river and then up around a bend where the current was flowing in. Steadily we made our way to the bend only to round the corner and find the rest of the river to cross! Slowly we picked our way around the rocks to the other bank.

We made it through our first loop and at the vet check, my girl had a pulse of 48 and was all A’s. Whew, first one down, three more to go. Once I actually started riding and concentrating on the ride, my anxiety diminished. My daughter, Kelly (my crew) and I contemplated our next loop and expected arrival time.

I left on the second loop which was really rocky at the start but thankfully evened out to some ATV trails and roads where we could move out. Towards the end of the second loop, the mother and daughter team passed us. I found that following them provided company for Tora and they set a nice even pace. Amusingly, the little girl, whom I’m guessing was around 8 or 10 years old, was singing and chatting merrily to herself, the horse and her mom as they trotted down the trail. The horse she rode was definitely a steady-Eddy since she would often loop the reins over the pommel of the saddle, expressing herself broadly with both hands while on occasion snatching leaves from the trees as they trotted by. It was fun riding with this pair!

Coming into the second vet check I tried to hold Tora back by walking her in. As it turned out, she knew it was the way back into camp and her new found friends were continuing down the trail. She jigged the whole way to the point where I hopped off and hand walked her. I use that term loosely, since she continued to want to progress quickly down the waterfall of rocks. She’s a lot more nimble than I am on the stones, but we made it and again she was all A’s. We were now at the middle of the ride and at the half-way mark for time, which was basically a good thing, if we did not need to slow down due to fatigue.

We started the third loop and I knew the mother/daughter pair were out ahead of me, so we moved progressively and Tora eventually heard the bells ahead. This loop I learned their names were Shannon (mom) and Morgan (daughter). True to form, Morgan sang cheerfully along as her 26 year old mount trotted steadily down the trail. I admired her ease with her horse and found out it was her fourth season riding – holy cow!

Tora started to tire on this loop, which, by the way, I could tell she was wondering why we were even out again since she was normally done after two loops. Although she was tiring a bit, I was glad to see she was taking care of herself. She was diving into puddles for a drink as she needed it and snatching a bite of grass along the way. However, knowing she was feeling the miles, I thought she would really need buddies on the last loop, so I stuck right with Shannon and Morgan through the hold. Thankfully, although Tora’s pulse was a little higher, she was within the parameters and we passed with an overall A- (she got a B for attitude since she was a little reluctant to trot out). The vets were Art King and Nick Kohut (with treatment vet of Tracy Walker, DVM) and, as everyone knows, they are great vets and great resources!

The final loop. Oh my God, we made it this far! We were ready with our new found friends to head out for the final time. This time Shannon and Morgan were singing and I even pitched in with John Denver’s “Take me home, Country roads.” Well the singing and the companionship pulled Tora and I through the final loop, including that one really long climb that seemed to reach right up forever. But we chugged along and before we knew it, the FINISH was there! I was actually counting on the “turtle award” (if there was one), but completed 39th out of 41 finishers. Tora completed the ride with an overall A-, this time for skin-tone because she did no drink quite as well on this last loop. But as far as I was concerned she did WONDERFULLY! We finished our first 50 for both of us. I was so ecstatic!

Overall, although this was the first ride that Jennifer Poling had managed, I think she did a great job! The volunteers were wonderful. Everyone was so friendly. The vets were the finest. I have a big hearty THANK YOU to all! And amazingly enough, I could move the day after the ride even after an eight hour drive home. What a great sport! How fortunate I am to have this new partnership with such a great horse! LIFE IS GOOD! Hopefully, we’ll be attempting another 50 in New York in September!

Holly R Corcoran is a self-employed CPA and freelance writer in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. Although she rode her family’s Morgan’s in her youth, she’s been raising and competing with Arabians for the past ten years. She is currently compiling a book of letters for women – for more information go to