The first ride of the Valley of the Sun rides was held on Nov. 29. This is the first ride of the series and the first ride for me, Irene Murphy, as ride manager to host. Thirty seven riders and numerous volunteers on horseback, hikers and vehicles came out to participate. The ride site was the 30 acre lot or the newly christened Four Peaks Campsite in the McDowell Mtn. Park in Fountain Hills, AZ. The campsite has water, hitching rails and porta-johns available and the park continues to upgrade the facilities. The trails used were primarily within the park boundaries and were a combination of sandy wash, rock and hard packed dirt. The weather was rainy in the week leading up to the ride which reduced the dust in the park and made the ride very pleasant.
On Friday before the ride a large group of volunteers (Stephanie Duross, A D Williams, Cindy, Dave, Corrin and Mark and Darrin Harper, Kayleen Helms, Mary Murphy) arrived at the campsite to begin marking trail. Sections were identified for each group and everyone took off with ribbons flapping. Meanwhile back at the basecamp we set up vetting and check in areas, filled water troughs and prepared for people to arrive. The riders began to arrive around noon, setting up camp, checking in and vetting in. Many local riders trailered over to check and vet in then returned home for the night. A pizza dinner was held in conjunction with the ride meeting on Friday night. Because of the close proximity to Fountain Hills we were able to use the local restaurants to have hot food available. After the ride meeting many locals returned home for the evening after enjoying the dark starry night.
The morning of the ride came early with some last minute preparations required to finish the trail marking. It was discovered that a portion of the morning loop was not completely marked so a volunteer (Donna and horse Harley) offered to leave at first light and try and complete the trail. If it was not possible it was communicated to the riders that they were to go to the water and back only. We traveled to the water stop to make sure that everyone received the message. The ride began at 8am and the riders were off. A photographer (Joe Fanthorp) was present throughout the ride and took pictures of the start and several points on the trail throughout the day. The goal for this ride was to have prints available as part of the completion awards as well as digital downloads after the ride on the website.
The ride progressed until we received word that a rider (Lucian Spataro) had been thrown and the horse (Masquerade) had run off. Quickly we reorganized the volunteers so that people could go and assist the rider in locating his horse. We split up the trucks, tanks and checklists to make sure all the key points were covered and that no one would go too long without water. Additionally, the Spataro’s contacted the sheriff’s department so helicopter searches of the park added to the ride.
The first set of riders arrived at the vet check between 10:45 and 1:00pm for a 1 hour hold at basecamp. We had a few rider option pulls and one metabolic incident where the horse recovered quickly after receiving fluids. Because of the loss of key volunteers lunch was not available for the riders as it was at a remote check location. The vets however, quickly told us of this issue and we managed for someone to go and retrieve our food so that we could at least feed the vets. (we did however, still have soda available.) The weather was beautiful and sunny all day which made the site very pleasant especially when the vets were no longer hungry.
The first riders arrived at the finish in the 2 o’clock hour and we completed CRIs and best condition judging. First place and best condition were awarded to Dayna Weary. The primary sponsor for the ride was Renegade Hoof boots who had rewards for the top ten placings and best condition. The Western Ranchman Feed Store provide completion awards for the remaining finishes. Pictures were also provided for all riders.
The riders continued to complete throughout the afternoon and after dark with the last rider arriving around at 7:30 pm.
Meanwhile, the search for Masquerade continued. The volunteers continued to scour the desert for some sign of the missing horse. While they were hiking, though, they noticed that the rider was not as well off as previously thought. Calls were placed to 911 and paramedics sent to ba secamp to meet up with the volunteers vehicles. Lucian was taken to the hospital and emergency surgery performed for severe internal injuries that he received during the fall.
The search was called off at night unsuccessfully due to the darkness.
Sunday morning the volunteers returned to basecamp with fresh horses and 4-wheelers to both continue the search and clean up the basecamp and trails. It was disappointing to see the condition of basecamp after the riders had left. Clean up took many people all day to haul manure, hay and in some cases shavings to the dumpster to avoid the fines imposed by the park. Helicopters arrived and the search began again. Riders went out in multiple directions and again searched the park. Reporters arrived at the basecamp and began to put together a news report for the evening news. The search continued unsuccessfully for the second day and was again called when darkness fell.
Monday morning came after the reward announcement played on the Channel 5 news Sunday evening and additional people showed up, many of which were attracted by the reward offer. We focused on those on horseback and I received calls constantly while we again rode out into the park. We located several of the wild horses in the park as well as a chestnut foal that had been separated from its mother but reunited. I was fortunate to be able to borrow a horse (Kahn) from Lancette Koerner to ride on Monday after my own mare (Passion) was injured on Sunday and unable to ride a second day.
The search continued through the day and we were joined by the MCSO search and rescue squad which added numerous pairs of eyes continuing to search the park.
Just as we were heading back to the trail head we began to hear reports that they had found Masquerade. A riders stallion began calling and Masquerade came out of hiding and approached their group. He was led out of the park and trailered to be reunit ed with his owner.