Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fort Valley on the "Nice Day" (Friday) - Part 1 - Flora Hillman

October 28 2008

How can I put this other than….Fort Valley is perhaps the most favorite of all my most favorite endurance rides -- the gorgeous fall foliage is always spectacular, and the trails are always breathtaking and challenging. Everything about this ride is terrific, and one always comes home with memories that one will never forget.

Living only 1 ½ hours away meant that I had the luxury to leave home and arrive at base camp at a reasonable hour. This prior site of vet checks for the OD rides had morphed into a perfectly groomed flat field full of tiny flags denoting overly generous parking places. It was quite orderly, very inviting, and I ended up parked next to the nicest people – one of whom would be in the 50 with me, the other taking her novice horse in the LD for its second time at a distance ride.

There were lots of familiar old faces, and some new ones – which I find really makes up the essence of what endurance camping is all about.

Check-in, vetting in, and settling in all went without a hitch ….everything just great UNTIL the battery serving my main LQ power supply -- decided to die! I managed to get it recharged with the solar panels, but it discharged again the instant the sun disappeared…right in the middle of my next day preparation. By very good fortune, or decision, or whatever, I had decided to spend this year’s foxhunting subscription money on a nice little Honda generator, and had brought along my new “toy” to try out. Thank goodness for that! Although I’d forgotten the gas can at home (hey, this is my first time bringing one of these things on a ride, you know), at least the generator’s tank was topped off. In a second I had both lights and power and electric heat ….at least until 9:59PM. After that, it was back to battery lights and Mr. Buddy. But by then I was finished, packed, and ready for Friday’s ride. I crawled into a toasty warm bed, and almost instantly fell asleep.

The first half of the night passed uneventfully, except for the novice horse next door plaintively calling for his at-home buddy at 1AM. No matter, he soon gave up and the remainder of the night was spent in blissful silence.

Dawn arrived like a bad hangover. We awoke to no sky at all, just a glowering, sullen doom-and-gloom of unhappy steel gray clouds blanketing horizon to horizon. The sun simply refused to make an appearance, only grudgingly filtered down a skimpy bit of abysmally dim light for us to tack up and get ready. As I zipped on an second jacket to help ward off the cold, I figured this would be one OD ride where no one would have to worry about heat stroke, humidity, or sunburn. Hypothermia, on the other hand, was a distinct possibility. I zipped on a third jacket, just in case.

The ride start was delayed for about 15 minutes while the advance motorcycle crew checked on and replaced a few missing ribbons. We all milled around in the semi-dark for those extra minutes, and then ..the trail was announced open!

Since I only ride for the miles now (my pony is 18 going on 19 so we’re enjoying the trail now rather than burning it up), and I had also planned to ride the 50 again tomorrow, I didn’t want to get caught up in the excitement of the front running riders. I watched as the main body of riders disappeared up the road behind the controlled start vehicle while I joined the rest of the rear guard riders who were sharing the same intent upon maintaining a relaxed start.

The “back of the pack” was quite a jovial company, everyone happy and chatty and relaxed ….as much as one can be on an endurance start. The first leg up Milford Gap on the gravel road was just steep enough to take a bit of the wind out of the sails of anyone too eager to rush to the top. Once on the trail it was very dusty and dry, and with multiple hooves pounding the dry ground, we sent up quite a cloud of fine powder worthy of the Tevis itself.

The trail up to the top was non-eventful, then it was over the crest of the Massanutten and all down, down, down to the valley floor with a left hand turn (north) onto the gravel road that runs alongside the North Fork of the Shenandoah.

What a gorgeous road this is – perfect for a canter or a good road trot.
Riders began to spread out, and my guy started to become a bit of a
handful. After 9 years of riding endurance you would THINK he would not get
all involved in a tug of war over what speed we were going to agree upon.
Oh, no. Not him.

Unfortunately, I was losing the argument because I had him only in a halter
and had completely forgotten to bring along his bit. With nothing other
than my reins, and loudly voiced threats (totally ineffectual as brakes, I
might add) I finally threw the bight of the reins over his face just above
his noseband to create double pressure . It worked! He instantly backed
down, and my impromptu contraption drew several smiles as well as a comment
“that is SO clever!” from some passing riders. It helped take the stress
off my arms because my reins were now loops, and it was far easier on my
back…and my temper. Once the trail headed off the road back up the
mountainside to begin the route back to base camp and the 1st VC I was able
to dispense with the “double brakes” and give him a bit more freedom for the
rest of the 18 miles.

The trail at the top of the Massanuttens heading back towards Milford Gap is
arguable the best and most scenic section -- a soft dirt path , not many
rocks, and stunning views. It was a joy to ride among the trees that were
just starting to color up. I was by myself, which is how both I and my pony
like to ride, yet, it took a few miles before I noticed there was a vast
silence in the trees around me that was a bit…well, unusual. My senses
sharpened and I began to listen, but heard not a peep from any wildlife.
Even the birds were silent and invisible….as if they had already hunkered
down in advance of what was to come in less than 12 hours. It was very odd.

But at the moment I was enjoying the trail so much that I ignored the
unsettling silence, and happily trotted my pony the rest of the way,
eventually reaching Milford Gap as it headed into the VC. My guy was already
at 52 by the time we reached the In Timer, so it was straight into P&R, and
then through the vet check and back to our trailer to eat and rest until our
hold time was up.

I was about 6 minutes late getting to the Out Gate for Loop 2 because my guy
was still eating and I didn’t want to disturb him as this next loop was
about 20 miles long. I made sure his saddle packs were stuffed full of
sliced carrots for him since he has a critical need to refuel enroute, and
packed an extra bit of chicken for myself in case I got hungry.

The 2nd Loop took us back up and over Milford Gap and then headed us back
down to the road alongside the river where we turned right (south) this
time. Once again we enjoyed some canters and cruising along, making time in
anticipation of having to walk the more difficult sections of trail yet to
come. I met up with Ashley Kemerer at one point along the road and we fell
in together, enjoying each other’s company. Just before the road took a
sharp bend to the right, the trail dove off to the left into the woods,
leading us on a merry narrow-trail-bumper-car ride through the woods until
it paused at a hidden sandy enclave at the Shenandoah River. We stopped to
offer our thirsty horses a long refreshing drink. Just upstream a canoe
floated quietly in place as the two intent, but friendly fisherman sitting
within kept close attention to the two fishing lines that were held tight in
the deep grip of the river. Downstream a column of white smoke rose like a
beacon from a small yet earnest campfire at a busy campsite. Our attention,
however, was riveted by what lay just across the river from us, reflected in
the crystal clear water. There the sheer rock face of “the Golden Cliffs”
lifted straight up out of the deep waters like an ancient god, up and up and
up, far above our heads, displaying stunningly beautiful arching wave layers
of multiple geological strata, the brilliant artistic result of billions of
years of crust movement and shifting. It is truly one of the most
awe-inspiring sights, and well worth the moments to pause and reflect.

Once the horses turned their interest from drinking to splashing, it was
time to be on our way again. The trail shook the water off our heels and
then shrugged off the woods to dump us back on the road. We crossed to the
other side and began to head up another path. This one would take us up over
the Massanutten on an ancient route that bypasses a prehistoric Native
American site that gave the trail it’s name – Indian Graves. Infamous for
being one of the most difficult of all trails in the Massanuttens, it starts
off gently, but then lives up to its reputation.

Once the path began to get steep I told Ashley to go on as I wanted to stop
and give my pony some of the grass growing alongside the trail. I knew the
effort at the top of the trail would be difficult and wanted my pony rested,
fed, and energy recharged. A few minutes later I remounted and followed the
trail as it snaked its way higher, each footfall being a steeper climb than
the last. I was heartily glad that I’d spent the last two months walking 4-5
miles a day to get myself trim and fit – I needed to pull my own weight in
tailing up behind my pony on that very rocky climb. The trail became more
and more difficult until it turned into a rock slide of almost vertical
ascent. You *have* to climb it. No options. It was exhilarating,
challenging, exciting, treacherous, difficult, and exhausting.

And far too short!! It was over almost before I knew it. I felt great at
the top of the mountain -- all my weeks of fitness work had paid off, and
I glowed with pride at having been a partner to my pony in this climb, and
not a burden.

Happily, Hugh McDonald, the ride photographer, was at the top to get a great
shot of me and my pony as I tailed him up that massive boulder strewn path.
He showed it to me later at camp, and I can assure you that it will
absolutely be one that will join the others on my “Endurance Wall of Fame”.

Reaching the crest was an anti-climax, and the way back home, while fairly rock strewn and slow, was easy enough. Trotting along I kept thinking I was hearing a light sleet hissing in the leaves around me, but every time I stopped to listen closely, the sounds stopped as well. The silence was really overpowering, and only the periodic noise of the cold breeze rustling the dead leaves was evident. For the first time that day I began to feel uneasy, and was now reluctant to stop enroute. On the bad stretches of rock I dismounted and walked, pulling up grass for my guy doling out his stash of carrots. I did not stop at all, but kept moving as he munched and crunched his snacks over the miles. We finally hit Milford Gap road and cruised the last mile at a spanking trot while we passed others walking in. We strolled into the 2nd vet check with a HR of 58. Once vetted it was back to the trailer to rest and eat and wait for our out time.

During the hold, while my pony ate, I filled his saddle packs with fresh carrots, and started packing up my stuff to leave that night. The sky had continued to look more dismal and more threatening by the moment. I didn’t linger in camp, but was at the Out Timer within 30 seconds of my time. I wasn’t about to waste precious moments in camp and run the risk of getting caught in bad weather out on the trail.

The final loop was on the valley floor incorporating several lollipop loops that chriss-crossed one another several times. Bless the three volunteers – Bonnie, Roy, and John -- who manned the trail junctions to make sure everyone did the loops in order. Roy warned me his trail was “difficult”, which I found to be somewhat of an understatement. A portion took a side excursion into untracked rocky areas that were downright sadistic, and made me wonder if the person that had laid them out had a grudge again horses and riders in general…or endurance riders in particular. Even my pony showed his displeasure by stopping in a snit at one point and moodily asking me to get off and lead him through the minefield of rocks in front of us.

But all was forgiven as we exited the final lollipop and the trail eased gently onto lovely private lanes with lots of yummy side grass to snack upon, and threaded through open fields complete with a clear deep stream to wade into for my pony to drink deep and long. I laughed at the funny signs management had posted on one point of the trail warning of “spook ahead” for farm equipment hidden around a bend of the trail, and despite the lowering sky and ugly clouds we cruised with a big smile across the finish line as the 14th rider to finish, ending up in 13th place overall.

I made a quick check of the internet weather, which confirmed Saturday’s 50 would be under an all day downpour with high winds – not my favorite type of weather due to my ownership of a 2 wheel drive truck that will go out of its way to get stuck anywhere, anytime I any place even slightly damp. I could get out of the ridecamp under my own power now, but tomorrow would be a different story, and I hate getting towed. A few minutes later Saturday’s lineup had one less rider, and I returned to finish my final packing in order to leave right after the dinner.

The Awards Dinner and presentation that night were a hoot. Great food, lots of people laughing and having a grand time. Everyone was elated to find that 100% of the LD riders had finished! Woohoo!! And 25 out of the 29 50 milers had finished. A great completion rate!

By the end of the awards there was a fine drizzle coming down. Those leaving were relieved, those staying were resigned at what was to come. I said goodbye to all my friends, wished those riding the next day “good luck” and tucked my truck’s nose right behind another rig that was part of the exodus to “get out of Dodge” before the weather got bad. In less than 2 hours I was home, my pony in a warm, dry stall with tons of food to scarf down, and me happily recounting to my hubby what a great ride this day had held.

Special kudos to Claire Godwin and her cast and crews of wonderful volunteers for putting on such an outstanding ride, from start to finish! Fort Valley is always challenging and fun, and should be a must for anyone who wants to experience the beauty, serenity, and sheer adventure of endurance riding in the Massanuttens.

Flora Hillman

Fort Valley Ride - Kim Patton

October 25, 2008

I didnt want to crawl out of my nice warm sleeping bag. I didn't even want to ride. I was having pre-ride jitters.
This would be my second LD ride if I managed to get on my horse.

My friend Karen had fed the horses at 6 a.m. and so I all had to do was decide what to wear and to saddle my horse.
The fine misting rain made everything all drippy, including the horses and I told Karen that 'we don't HAVE to do this' and she retorted 'we didnt do all of that conditioning for nothing, we are going to do this ride!'

I took in a long slow deep breath and turned my focus on getting Falcon ready. The darkness quickly turned into daylight with omnious clouds hovering overhead. By 7:30 we were mounted and warming the horses up. Falcon, a 5 y/o arab/paint cross was fairly relaxed/if not sleepy.

At 7:55 we checked in and waited for the start. A "controlled" start?!!!! NOT what I considered controlled. We started out in the middle of the pack. Horses were prancing and cantering and trotting along behind the lead vehicle and I had a major panic attack as I saw some horses slipping on the sleek wet pavement. We crossed a cement bridge and thankfully Falcon was more focused on the other horses.

Falcon, by this time was almost out of control, prancing and dancing sideways like a dressage horse as we all swept up the pavement...then aaah, a right turn onto a gravel road, much safer footing...and we cantered and trotted and moved our way towards the front of the pack.

Soon Karen and Red caught up to us and we went single file up a rocky trail over Milford Gap. The trail down the other side was rocky, wet and narrow. A rock ledge bordered the right with a sharp incline. Falcon maneuvered the trail well, head down, looking for rocks. Several times he stumbled and I flew up out of the saddle, losing my right stirrup and noted to myself that I needed to shorten that stirrup at the next water stop.

The rain began to deluge us now and water squished out of my moisture wicking tights everytime I hit the saddle. Yeeee Hah!
We came apon a wonderful grassy road and Falcon took off at a canter, on and on we went taking the lead for a while. He wanted to gallop, but we had miles to go and so I tugged on him to slow down (with little success) When we reached the gravel road along the Shenandoah river he set in to a more steady pace.

Soon we reached the ascent back up the mountain on another narrow and rocky trail. We climbed slowly and were soon overtaken by 5 other riders who we let pass. The warmth and steam rising from the passing horses made a great cloud to settle in over us. I thought we would never reach the top.

It was on this trail that we saw the BEAUTIFUL FALL FOLIAGE that ride management had spoken of. It was absolutely breathtaking. Then as we crested the top, the view of the Shenandoah valley once again took my breath away.

Once again a downpour enveloped us then lightened as we crossed back in to Fort Valley. We sped back down the trail and ended up at the first Vet Check in 7th place and all A's.

Karens daughter brought us hot Chicken Noodle Soup while friends took care of the horses for us. Karen's time out was about 4 min. later than mine, but since she was riding my horse and she is my friend, I waited for her. Karen needed some motivation to get going again, but soon we were back out on the trail at 1201.

Up the road we went, trot, trot, trot, squish, squish, squish. And DARN we missed the first turn and had to backtrack what seemed to be a mile. After that we stayed on trail. But I hated that loop for the most part. All winding through the woods and taking so many turns that my mind was in a whirl and I couldnt place what direction we were going in my head.

Up steep hills, down hills, more rain, trotting, galloping, squish, squish, squish. At a creek, Falcon stopped to drink and drink, then led 3 other horses up the rock creekbed, surefooted as ever. Man, I am glad he takes care of himself.

Finally Red took the lead with some urging from Karen. When we reached the hayfields Falcon decided it was time for a good buck or two, but I quickly caught on and yanked his head up. From there we had a belly deep water crossing. We LOVED that. Falcon didnt want to get out of the creek...as if we werent wet enough already.

One more short steep climb, then good trails to home. YEAHHH!. We had done the 12 miles in less than 2 hours. I walked Falcon in to the Vet, but he was too excited to be back 'home' and whinnied at anyone who would talk to him...not getting his heart rate down to 60.

Judy Ricci, his trainer was close by and came over to help...stuffing some electrolytes in his begrudging mouth and sponging him down for me. Then time for the vet. I was so excited, since we had come in next to last in the Virginia Highlands ride. We finished in the middle of the pack this time and could have placed a little higher had we not left 6 min. late and then gotten lost. And to think that I wanted to quit just because of a little rain!

It was an AWESOME ride.

And the sun came out just as the Vet called out 'overall A'! What an AWESOME AWSOME DAY!

Kim Patton, Luray Virginia

Missing Skjoldur

John Park

We returned home two weeks ago after our trip to Colorado for the funeral of my wife Marilyn’s young nephew. I went out at night to feed the horses and noticed that Skjoldur had a heavy discharge pouring out of his eyes. When I saw him the next morning, he was a little wobbly and his eyes were so opaque that he was effectively blind. I took him into the nearby Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Clinic where he was immediately put onto intravenous fluids. He was diagnosed with an internal infection of possibly his heart and of his liver. He slowly improved for a week until he worsened again. After test after test, his veterinarian informed us that it was clear that his liver was no longer functioning and that there was no hope of recovery. When she told me how he would suffer as his brain deteriorated, we made the decision to put him down last Friday. He was only eighteen years old.

I’ve been in trial but was able to get out early that afternoon and reach Alamo Pintado while the sun was still up. It was a beautiful day. I brought Remington over and met Marilyn at the clinic. I found Skjoldur in his stall at the intensive care barn wobbling on his feet with his head hanging down to the floor. After an intern disconnected his tubing, I haltered him and led him out into the sunlight. When he saw Remington, Skjoldur rushed over and laid his head against Remington’s neck. We put them into the large grassy “playpen” behind the hospital and turned them loose. They both had a good roll in the sand. They then grazed on the fresh grass together under the warm sun while we took turns petting them and taking pictures for half an hour or so. When one would move off a ways, the other would race over to be with him. They were obviously joyous to be in each other’s company again. As the sun started to dip below the horizon, the veterinarian and an intern came over. I fed Skjoldur a final cookie while they administered him an overdose of anesthetic. We left him lying peacefully in the grass under a sycamore tree. I pray his last thoughts were happy ones.

Although we didn’t think we had any tears left after Colorado, Marilyn and I cried our eyes out this weekend sharing memories of our lost pony. Skjoldur was a paradox. He was a stunningly beautiful little horse at just under 13.3 hands high. His summertime palomino pinto coat would turn snow white in the winter. His wavy full, flaxen colored mane was unusual even for an Icelandic. He looked like a toy horse come to life. He was gentle and affectionate. We sometimes used to call him little happiness. My friend Lynne Glazer told me once that Skjoldur was the pony every woman wanted when she was an eight year old girl.

But Skjoldur also proved himself to be one of the toughest horses in the sport of endurance riding. He had tremendous metabolic recoveries and was essentially tireless. During the XP 2001 ride from Missouri to California on the Pony Express trail, he completed 32 fifty mile rides, 1,600 miles, in a 52 day period. He was the first horse in the AERC to complete 1,000 miles of sanctioned endurance rides in a thirty day calendar period. He completed 40 rides that year for 2,010 miles with no pulls. He won first middleweight and first overall in our region, the regional mileage championship, the middleweight Pioneer Award for most points nationally in multi-day rides, and came in 2nd for the national mileage championship even though all of his rides but one were in the last half of the ride season. Almost all of his career miles came from multi-day rides. He was never entered in a ride less than fifty miles long.

Five gaited, he was just as smooth at the trot as he was at the tolt. He liked to poke along at a steady pace, preferably two or three feet behind Remington’s tail. But he was a demon going downhill. He would trot and canter at full speed down the tightest trails, flinging his body around the turns. He had a way of paddling out his front feet so that he didn’t have to slow down as the slope got steeper. My most thrilling ride ever was his 2,000 foot wild descent from the mountain ridge down to the valley floor at 2 am near the end of the Californios 100 mile ride three years ago. I can still feel the exhilaration of not being able to see whether we would fly right or left or dip up or down as he rocketed down the single track trail in the pitch dark. It pains me to think I will never feel what it is like to ride him again except in my memory.

But it comforts me to know that so many people will remember Skjoldur. Although he was Remington’s back up for me, calling him a back up would be like calling Ginger Rogers Fred Astaire’s assistant. Skjoldur was the Icelandic my family and everybody else got to ride in endurance. Probably my most memorable endurance rides were with Marilyn in Utah, my son Andrew in Nevada and my son Willie in Wyoming. Nine different people completed fifty mile endurance rides on him. My friends Laura Hayes and Kat Swigart each completed several rides on him. Jane Blair rode a fifty miler on him wearing a cast at Bryce Canyon three days after breaking her arm falling off her own horse. Everyone who rode him thought he was the smoothest horse they had ever ridden. Lori Cox wrote after riding him in a seventy five miler in Nevada that it was like riding a horse on wheels.

Skjoldur was also the horse my non horsey friends felt safe on in weekend trail rides at the beach or in the mountains. The many children and other beginners who were introduced to horse back riding on his back were proud to know they were on a horse who could take them as far as they could imagine. Remington and I tend to be loners on the trail. By allowing people to ride with us, Sjoldur served as our bond with family and friends. My life is richer for the deep friendships we made throughout the endurance community in the years we shared with him. He was so much a part of our lives.

We never had the sense that Skjoldur relished going down the trail mile after mile for its own sake the way Remington does. Instead, it seemed that Skjoldur did the amazing things he did simply because we asked him to. When he was young, he would get nervous and sometimes spook and throw me when I would ride him alone on conditioning rides. The more angry I would get, the more nervous he would get. So I composed a dumb little song about how I loved him from the minute I picked him out of the herd and how lucky I was to have him. I would sing this out loud to him while we trotted along. It forced me to calm down which, of course, allowed him to relax. This dumb little song has been going through my head all day even while I’ve been in court. I hope it never stops.

The Fort Valley Rain Dance - by Jen

The Fort Valley Rain Dance (Part I)

While I have not viewed the original text, it must include something about; marking 50 or so miles of trail with brightly colored ribbons, inviting all whom are crazy enough to attempt to traverse said trail on horseback, and parking those loonies in a lovely grassy meadow, (like we'd be happy in a gravel parking lot, aye?), then suckering 30 or so chipper volunteers to spend a perfectly good day off work standing in the middle of the woods with only a slight clue what their exact purpose is. Yepper, it happened again! This time I was lucky enough to depart camp without the aid of farm equipment though! Not so sure on those who left Sunday.

Due to the fortunate fact I am employed, I had to ride on Saturday. Just daring the weather gods to fulfill what the weatherman had promised. Two inches of bone soaking, mud creating, Tide commercial inspiring, down pour. Let it be known, Fort Valley was in a mild drought when we arrived, dust poofing up at every foot fall. Touche' ! First omen, arriving Friday afternoon at 3pm, and asking "Who won the 50?" Reply from Mary Coleman, "I don't think they've finished yet". Oh great gobbly gook! It can't be true!!!

Friday dinner, awards, and meeting; was wonderful, informative, humorous, and light hearted. Seems we're all at peace with the weather, and we're dog-gone-it gonna have fun anyway! Wild story told about saddle and rider going over the rump of a horse climbing up Indian Grave, and reports the photographer caught it all! (oh bageez, its not bad enough to fall off in public, but someone had to take pictures of it?!?!) Learned Friday's 30 had a 100% completion rate! Way to go guys! And Tom and Tektonic won the 50! Woohoo! We got to meet the lovely raffle horse, Symetrie. (I'm so jealous Kathy!) OK, so down to business, Sat's 50. 1st loop 18 miles, a few moderate climbs, and quite a bit of gravel roadway by the river. 2nd loop 20 miles, including new *dirt* trail, and the dreaded Indian Grave climb. 3rd loop 12 miles, Martha Ann's loop, all on private property, zig-zagging looping, looks like loads of fun! Two 45 mins holds, parameters of 64. Spirits lifted!

Sprinkling at bedtime. Leaped out of bed a 2am, when *something* shook the trailer. Turned out to be the heavy wind lifting my awning, fixed, gave pony more food, then back to bed. (That 2am gust was topic of several "startling" stories on Sat!) Tacked up in sprinkles, and really warm, not bad, I can do this. Off we go, controlled start, following Henry up the paved road. I'm really impressed how slow, quiet, and well behaved, all these wild arabs are this windy morning! Footing is actually great, just enough rain to knock the dust down and soften the hard packed ground. We stayed in a group up and over Milford. Then down to a nice grassy rolling road that got everyone stretched out. I found a great riding companion going my speed, we chatted it up while watching for the ribbons.

Returned to camp and VC1, and found it to be pretty wet, but everyone still laughing and having fun. I fretted over soundness, my poor pony was slip sliding over those wet rocks, he seemed fine, eager to go, but there wasn't an inch of flat ground to check soundness. No worries, Dr. Nick says he's fine. Removed all soaked clothes, new dry ones on, stuff pony full of food, and back out we go.

Loop 2 was to die for!!!! The trail was so much fun, nice dirt trails, twisting, turning, DIFFERENT, loads of great views. But it was getting noticably muddier. Towards the end of the "new" part we were fetlock deep in mud. Sigh, I never thought I'd be hoping to see those familiar rock trails.

(Part 2)
Then the turn for Indian Grave, oh boy. First trip up this monster for the young pony, I'm not sure he's mature enough to handle the task, checked all emergency exits! >wink< Well guys, no sugar coating, it was bad. The rain had begun to flat out pour on us. The lower steeper climb that is mostly dirt, was so slick the horses would slide each step forward they gained. I used the emergency exit and tailed up to the rock. Back on ponyboy, he's still motivated (read Napoleon complex still functioning as usual). I'm the middle horse, following buddy from the first loop, and a new friend caught up with us during this loop. The horse up front is a trooper, leaping two or three times up, then stopping for a breath. This was a huge help to motivate my pony who was really waivering. There was literally a 2" deep waterfall running down "the stairs", the noise was slightly scary, but the water flowing around his hooves and splashing up in his face really freaked him out. He stopped and pondered a time or two, but just with verbal encouragement I was able to convince him not to back up, phew! Just when I thought, I was in trouble, the horse behind me turned around and went to other way! HOW did she do that? There is NO room on this trail to turn around! Off the rock and took the last upward turn back on dirt/rock mix, still a flowing waterfall. All horses started taking turns trying to quit, who could blame them? I start whooping to motivate little man (hey, it works), soon all three of us were whooping up the hill. It worked! Phew!

VC2 revealed battered, muddy, volunteers. Ugh! It seems several had taken turns inadvertatly sliding into the vet check.. no not the horses.. the volunteers! Oops! Still most are giggling, but noticably more wet and less animated. Again, fret over soundness, pony fine, remove all soaked clothes, news dry ones on, pony stuffed full of food, and we drag back out, chanting only 12 miles to go!

Loop 3 was even better. One small climb (I swear I heard the horses threaten to get even), lots of fun wooded zippy trails. All the mud you could ask for! >g< Hey, if that's all we can find to complain about, it was a fabulous! There were 3 spotters left in the woods to point us in the right direction. Those poor soaked souls, how ever did someone talk them into that job!?! His evilness is still trying to rip my arms from the sockets, so I figure fair is fair, he carried my butt up the mountain, he may as well enjoy cantering. A few nice canters thru hay fields, one especially deep river crossing! (This is were riding the pony does not pay off, sure its easy to get on/off, and everyone else gets the spider webs, but I was wet halfway up to my knees!) Some not so appropriate canters we won't discuss in other places, but I'm happy he's pulling and seemingly getting stonger. I couldn't wait for the ride to be over, but Henry's truck could be seen on the horizon, and the finish line seemed to come too soon.

Final vet check, went just as well as the previous. I need to recheck my card, but I think we had all A's for the day!

My crew was kind enough to have everything packed when we got in. His evilness got in a good roll, then into his nice dry trailer, stuffed full of goodies. (We are only a three hour drive, he ate EVERYTHING by the time we got home!) I changed again, officially filling an entire trash bag full of wet clothes! And off while the getting is still good! (aka before the mud gets any deeper!)

Huge thanks to all the wet muddy volunteers, management, and land owners! The weather can never be controlled, but every other detail was carefully planned and carried out to keep us all safe, happy, and on trail! :-)

Congrats to everyone that finished on Saturday, that really was an ENDURANCE ride!

Finally warm and dry,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

National Championships 2008 Ride Recap - by April


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I saddled up Thursday morning in the rain. Daniel was very helpful from the very beginning, helping to get the saddle straight and the girth tight enough (but not too tight). I mounted up and Tanna was a good boy. No hunching or threatening to buck. A very good start to the day.

We walked to the front of the property where other riders were starting to gather. I gave my number (101) to Nancy Gooch, the legendary Southeast timer. I picked Joe and Kit out of the horses pretty quickly as Joe was on the ground walking and had his headlamp set to red. I followed suit and turned my headlamp on red as well. I kept Tanna walking to keep his mind engaged and his muscles warming up. His rump rug was securely over his hindquarters, keeping them warm and dry.

After Joe mounted, the two of us walked around together and Joe found Laura and her mare, Mo. Our little group was complete. Now to wait for the controlled start.

When Nancy called out the trail was open, the 44 horses slowly began making their way to the end of Bill Wilson's property and down the short stretch of pavement to the trails. Joe, Laura and I tucked in near the back and followed.

Once the horses were safely on trail and off pavement, the speed increased as the horses began to trot. I kept Tanna down to a dull roar. The darkness certainly helped his brain as he couldn't see all the other horses, just the ones right in front of him. I still had a good fight on my hands to keep him off those horses. I settled into the front position of our little group.

My little 14 year old grade Arab had no idea what I would ask of him in the next 24 hours. Not only would I ask him to go 100 miles, almost twice as far as we'd ever been before, but I would ask him to carry me up and down all the hills. Normally, I dismount and give him breaks on the steeper hills, but with my ankle only 3.5 months from being broken and the pins and plates still in place, that would not be happening on this ride.


A change in perspective - Ashley Wingert


My journey to Tevis on Mimi has ended.

Three weeks ago was the Man Against Horse Endurance Race, a ride that ended up being a serious wakeup call for me. We were pulled by management 40 miles into the ride for being far overtime, and the last 10 miles included a very steep, hazardous decent down off the mountain. So for our own safety (and the convenience of everyone else), a trailer was sent to retrieve us.

It was a ride that solidified one thing in my mind: I will not ask Mimi to compete in Tevis. That pony is 110% heart and go, and I cannot bring myself to push her as hard as it would take to finish Tevis, because I know she would try it, to her own detriment.

The 50 miler at MAH is known for one thing - the 1800', 3 mile climb up Mingus Mountain. What I didn't realize is that this climb also entailed a very technical trail involving lots of tight switchbacks, rock climbing, and supreme efforts on the part of the horse to make the climb.

The ride started out well...at the starting line, at least...


High Desert Endurance Ride - Story & Photos by Karen Chaton


Ride Report

Related Post

Did any of you guys track Monk this weekend with Spot? I did till I left Saturday for the ride - it looks like it works really well. What a great gadget!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

High Desert Classic Endurance Ride - by Susan

Desertduty.blogspot.com - Full Story

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whisper and I went to the High Desert Classic Endurance Ride with the intention of doing Saturday's 30 mile Limited Distance Ride. Ride Camp was located at the Boy Scout Camp at Fort Churchill on the Carson River. We have been to this camp many times for trail trials, trail rides, and this was Whisper's first camping trip over 2 years ago. Whisper and I got to camp by 1pm on Friday afternoon, and we got a nice choice spot that would provide Whisper shade no matter the time of day. I don't go out in the camper much by myself, so was quite proud for getting set up, the propane turned on, and the hot water heater turned on by myself. Here is Whisper settled in quite nicely in camp...

She even looks ready for a nap here! Luckily, Whisper is a very good camper and is content to be tied to the trailer. She has plenty of room to move around, and would be able to lay down if she desired. Of course, having a full hay bag in front of her at all times helps! Under her number on her hip, I placed a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon. This is October which is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, after all!

My friend, Jaimie, was due to arrive before dinner. She was going to help me and be my crew. She also used to do a lot of endurance rides, and was going to help me find someone safe and sane to ride with the next day.
5:00 AM Saturday morning, I got up, got Whisper a new bag of hay, started up the generator and put on a pot of coffee. The 50 miler's started at 7:00 AM, and we 30 miler's were to start at 8:00 AM...


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Grand Canyon XP Ride - Karen Chaton

Enduranceridestuff.com - Full Story, pictures, and results

While the first day went fairly well, I think that it was the second day that I rode (which was day 4 of the ride) things really came together for me and Chief. The night before the wind blew hard - so hard that the porta-potties in camp both blew over, and everybody reported not being able to sleep due to the wind. I slept so well and hard, that I didn’t even know that it was windy!

The morning started at 6 a.m. when Laney came over to make sure I was awake. The day before I had intended to ride but overslept (I really needed to, so it turned out okay). We both looked up at the sky and the black, dark clouds looming above us, and felt the cold, crisp breeze and wondered what the day was going to do. It would have been so easy to crawl back into the warm bed. I was determined though, as I really wanted to try to ride again. This is where I really used my mental toughness, or shear determination - to get myself moving. Because I didn’t do it based on my physical strength, I can tell you that!

The start went well, I headed out on Chief and he was quite excited for just the first 1/2 mile or so. After that I got him on his own, and fortunately we headed up a hill and had some steep climbing to do. That really helped, so did getting out into our own ’space’ between other horses. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack of horses...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rainbow Rim Trail, Grand Canyon XP First Day - Karen Chaton

Karen Chaton's Story

October 9 2008

I got to ride 50 miles yesterday. It was mine and Chief’s first endurance ride in five months. Boy am I sore today, but since I knew I was taking the day off I slept in and am now slowly moving about. Some of the first riders are in - Stephanie was first with Sharon and Crockett second and third.

Grand Canyon Rim Scenery
My ride yesterday went really well overall and I had a great time. Chief was his usual enthusiastic self and we really enjoyed getting to see all of the colors and gorgeous scenery of the Grand Canyon. It’s really neat to be able to ride through thick tall forests and then peek out over the North Rim of the GC! There is quite a bit of variety of scenery on this ride. What I really enjoy the most is that there is so much singletrack forest trail. We saw several deer, but I was never quick enough to get photos of any of them.

I took a lot of photos and will get them put into an album and posted to the XP website as soon as I can. Be sure to click on these photos to enlarge them. Tomorrow the ride goes on the Eastern Rim, which is also just gorgeous.

I think the main reason I’m sore is from getting dumped early in the ride...


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Grand Canyon Starts Tomorrow!

Karen Chaton's Blog

Tuesday October 7 2008

Tonight at the ride meeting, Annie gave me a welcome back XP Teddy-Bear. She is the cutest thing, and she came with a nice card that the riders here all signed. Thanks everyone! I am so happy to be back at an XP ride, it’s been great getting to see everybody again and the best part that I am looking forward to tomorrow is riding Chief and spending more time with him and all of my friends. All of you guys are like family to me, so it’s been hard missing you for the last several months.

We are going to be riding on the Rainbow Rim trail, which is very scenic. I’ll try to keep Chief as laid back as possible and enjoy the day as much as I can. He will not doubt have plenty of enthusiasm. I can hardly wait!


Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Ride - by Endurance Granny


If you have never seen this, it says it all....

A Simple Statement.

I ride. That seems like such a simple statement. However, as many women who ride know, it is really a complicated matter. It has to do with power and empowerment. Being able to do things you might have once considered out of reach or ability.
I have considered this as I shovel manure, fill water barrels in the cold rain, wait for the vet/farrier/ electrician/ hay delivery, change a tire on a horse trailer by the side of the freeway, or cool a gelding out before getting down to the business of drinking a cold beer after a long ride.

The time, the money, the effort it takes to ride calls for dedication. At least I call it dedication. Both my ex-husbands call it 'the sickness'. It's a sickness I've had since I was a small girl bouncing my model horses and dreaming of the day I would ride a real horse. Most of the women I ride with understand the meaning of 'the sickness'. It's not a sport. It's not a hobby. It's what we do and, in some ways, who we are as women and human beings.

I ride. I hook up my trailer and load my gelding. I haul to some trailhead somewhere, unload, saddle, whistle up my dog, and I ride. I breathe in the air, watch the sunlight filter through the trees and savor the movement of my horse. My shoulders relax. A smile rides my sunscreen smeared face. I pull my ball cap down and let the real world fade into the tracks my horse leaves in the dust.

Time slows. Flying insects buzz loudly, looking like fairies. My gelding flicks his ears and moves down the trail. I can smell his sweat and it is perfume to my senses. Time slows. The rhythm of the walk and the movement of the leaves become my focus. My saddle creaks and the leather rein in my hand softens with the warmth.

I consider the simple statement; I ride.