Monday, October 25, 2021
Sometimes things work out different than we had planned. After cancelling Danny's entry to the South Mountains Ride because he is having a hoof issue I thought my ride plans for the weekend were a bust. When the weatherman predicted a perfect fall weekend I decided at the last minute to change my tact and headed up to the Fort Valley Endurance Ride in Virginia with my little home bred girl, Summer (Nancy's Summer Dance). Her dam is my NATRC National Championship mare Shady Rock Rose and her sire is Don and Nicki Meuten's Stetson CD. She has only ever done 25s and CTRs but I decided to take a chance that she could finish the 50. I bred and raised her in hopes that she would be my next endurance star but bad luck along the way sidelined us several times over the years preventing us from reaching our goals. Now at age 14 she is mature and strong and hasn't had a mishap in several years so the odds seemed to be in our favor.
Fort Valley is a tough mountain ride, made even tougher by the reintroduction of the Indian Graves Trail (second loop of the 50) that had been taken out of the ride for the past 6 years after becoming impassible due to severe storm damage. Indian Graves was infamous for it's long, steep climb that ended with a series of rock steps that horses had to leap up to navigate. Exciting but somewhat dangerous. A while back a crew of hardy souls camped out for several days, packing in equipment like sledge hammers and hammer drills and such and busted up the rocks, opening up and fixing the trail so we can once again enjoy it's exciting beauty and making it much safer. I am in awe at the superhuman feats it must have taken to make that happen!!! Thanks Pete Godwin, Mike Cleveland, Janice Heltibridle and others!!!!
Summer started the ride feeling good and strong and I was glad for the mountain we had to climb right away to give her mind and body something to think about instead of trying to race the horse in front of her and wasting too much energy. She got right into the groove and right down to work, marching up the mountain and when we took the right hand turn onto the Milford Gap Trail the sun was just coming over the mountain creating a golden light that we rode towards. We hooked up with a couple of other riders, Tom Hagis and Terri Carroll and we completed the first 19 loop in a conservative timeframe. Summer vetted through with all As and set about eating all she could find at our vet area.
The second loop sent us up the same mountain which the horses were a little less enthusiastic about than at the start. After crossing the mountain and riding along the Shenandoah River for a bit the trail branched off towards Indian Graves. By this time Summer had told me that she wanted to slow down a bit so we separated from our little group so that I could read her properly without the influence of the other horses around. I started to realize that she was getting pissy because we were repeating trail we had done in the previous loop because as soon as we took the turn onto the new trail she picked right up. Since I have had her since birth we have a very close relationship and our minds were melding by this point. Up and up we climbed and she was strong and forward just eating up the trail as she adventured forward. As the trail became steep and very rocky we came across 2 riders that were off walking their horses up the mountain on foot. Summer became impatient at their slow pace so when we reached a wide part of trail I asked to pass. She marched on, perfectly comfortable with the terrain since it was similar to what she is used to training on at home. When we reached the summit I was amazed at the difference the trail work had made. Still challenging but not dangerous as it once was. Once we reached the top I had forgotten how slow the mile of ridge trail was before reaching Milford Gap and the trail back to camp. It follows the spine of the narrow ridge and consists of a skinny, almost nonexistent trail picking it's way through the rocks and boulders offering gorgeous views of the valley below and the brightest leaf color of the day. Finally we got to the turn for camp and Summer was glad to be able to trot. She passed her second vet check in fine form and we were good to go for our last loop.
Once again she ate everything in sight and delighted in all the special treats like apples, carrots and grain she was allowed to eat. When I saddled up again she gave me a WTF look because she thought she was done. This is the first time she was ever asked to do 3 loops and she was certain that I couldn't count!
We headed off in the opposite direction as the other 2 loops. Instead of going back up the mountain this loop winds in and out of local horse farms and the surrounding countryside. This loop is much more tame until you hit a long, steep climb in a cut over area that seems to go up and up only to go back down once you get up there! By this time I could tell that Summer's climbing muscles were getting a little tired, understandably , so I got off and walked the steep downhill to give her a break. We came to a field where I let her graze for a few minutes and when I got back on I could feel her energy return. The sun was starting to get low and the angle of the light enhanced the scenery, giving a magical cast to the autumn colors. The last part of the trail winds back and forth around and through a series of fields and hedges and just when you think you are almost there it takes a turn away. Eventually we came to a turn I recognized as the last turn before the finish line. We had been riding the whole loop by ourselves but when we saw the finish line tent I put my leg on Summer and she surged forward at an energetic trot as if she was racing a competitor to the finish. I had a lot of horse left and it was a good feeling to know. Once again she vetted through with As from the vet and we had our first 50 mile completion!! A very proud moment for this horse mom!!!
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
by Jay Mero
Virginia City 100 lived up to it’s reputation. Rocks, rocks and more rocks but also lots and lots of climbing and ups and downs.
We had a rough couple weeks leading up to the ride. Our 3rd mare Stella our friend Chelsea was going to ride decided to skid down some pavement two weeks before and redecorate a front knee. Then Lena struggled with her feet and shoeing, and was lame off and and on, better and then worse, ten days before the ride. ￼￼ I wasn’t sure we’d be able to fix it in time. Lots of hand wringing. Turns out after much anxiety and diagnosing and shoes taken on and off - fixing one problem, then creating another problem - the last lameness was just a couple close nails on her LF. The problem was there were no other holes to use, so a late Tuesday 4:20 pm call and plea to Riding Warehouse (they were amazing and got the boots to me next day)and I had a new set of big enough Easy Boot gloves to go on over the front shoes to hold everything on since the LF only had 3 nails holding the whole thing on.
After all that drama things seemed to smooth out. The trip to camp and the pre ride was all easy. It was wild to literally ride through the middle of Virginia City and warm up in a parking lot on Main Street to await ride start at 5 am.
The trail lived up to its reputation for sure. Rugged. Beautiful views. And all up or down on some pretty gnarly stuff. Reyna and I wanted to be competitive but still finish. We spend most of the day riding with or just behind the leaders - generally in 4th to 6 th place. We were not able to bring any of our own crew, but our friend Justin Loewen who’s horse my friend Chelsea did ride, was amazing and crewed for us. Reyna’s mare started to look a bit shaky with some front end lameness around half way and then by the 76 mile hold she was consistently off. Reyna graciously took her pull in stride and changed gears to help Lena and I the rest of the night. So Lena and I had to go off in the dark on hour own for the last loop. Lena has always been independent and strong willed enough to just keep on going, no company needed. Most horses and riders need some support and help on long 100s especially in those last hours in the dark, and try to pair up or ride in groups. Not Lena, she’s the same strong, willing horse all on her own. We were sitting comfortably in 4th by then, with over 3 hours on the next place and I just wanted to cruise it back in without tearing up any more body parts on the mare or myself. We spent over a third of our ride time - 5 and a half hours, of a total ride time of 14 hours and 14 mint - in the dark, again no head lamps.
Lena brought us in safe and sound for a 3rd place finish, about an hour off the two leaders, friends of ours, who decided to have a race off to the finish from the last 94 mile check in. At that time they had only been a half hour ahead of us. That’s how fast they were going the last 6 miles of the ride. The other lead horse of the day was pulled at the finish for lameness (gee we know how that feels ￼). Lena’s finish pulse was 48 and she snorkeled her way through buckets of mash during and after the ride. The next morning Lena did not look as good as she did for the Tevis BC showing. I think the extra weight of the easy boots over the shoes and just the trail took its toll. We finished up with a bit faster ride time than even Tevis. We presented for BC, but she just wasn’t quite sound on her LF or quite as perky. My friend Kassandra’s horse, who was second and was involved in the race in, looked amazing and was awarded a well deserved BC.
All in all a super fun weekend. We are grateful for the time with friends and for their help, the challenging but beautiful trail, the exceptional ride management and for yet another opportunity for Reyna and I to ride together. At least we have one buckle to show for the effort and Reyna’s mare looked much better the next day. It’s also a hoof/shoeing thing, they are half sisters and share the same cursed feet issues. So a long, long well deserved rest for these girls - I don’t think we’d ever ask horses to do Tevis and VC 100 again in the same year, unless it’s a 3 month gap between the rides again. And even then we’d consider it carefully, as they arguably are the two toughest 100s out there, certainly the two toughest in the West.
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
A pack trip cut short
July 19, 2021
Outside an emergency room entrance, a strange town stretching ahead. Wobbling: unsteady on new crutches, a hospital issue suit of sweatpants and t-shirt was completed with a single anti-slip sock. A flimsy plastic bag held all my belongings; a vial of narcotics and $150 in cash. No wallet, no ID, and no phone. It was not a good way to end a day.
The Continental Divide Trail ranged ahead towards its terminus in Canada. Closer was the famed Chinese Wall in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Closer yet was our lunch destination in the aptly named Pretty Prairie. In one of the nation’s most scenic areas, I was annoyed. This was supposed to be day 2 of a 10-day pack trip through the Bob and we hadn’t yet decamped from the trailhead. I had been planning this trip for months and wanted to get going, instead we were going on a day ride to a location I’d visited dozens of times before.
The South Fork of the Sun River sparkled in front of us as it raced to the Gulf of Mexico over 1,000 miles away via the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. We would cross the Sun twice before we made it to our luncheon spot near the Pretty Prairie patrol cabin overlooking a glade in the forest...
by Tamara Baysinger
Friday, September 3, 2021. In the forest near Centerville, Idaho. Early.
Breakfast goes down on a queasy stomach. I slept some, between long bouts of tossing and turning. I'm not super nervous ~ Ledger has good training, I know these trails, and we're only going 25 miles ~ but first rides are first rides, and anything can happen. So I'm a little nervous.
Ledger has cleaned up his hay overnight. He stands quietly for tacking up, with the help of Mr. Sweaty and a bowl of Outlast. The temperature isn't too far above freezing. Ledger shivers despite the blanket draped over his rump. I do, too.
The clock ticks toward starting time. Riders are milling up and down the road through camp. Some quietly, some prancing, a few spinning in anxious circles. Heads are high, eyes wide, heels down. Ledger and I do groundwork, getting his mind right, not straying too far from the trailer. No need to get him and Starfish, who will be staying behind, agitated over the pending separation.
My plan is to trot straight out of camp after most of the field is gone. Ledger will protest about leaving Starfish, but a little smack on the butt should be all it takes to keep him moving. Once we're out of earshot, we'll be golden.
Reality isn't quite like that.
It starts out well. A little reluctance, a little weaving, a little piaffe that's better saved for the dressage ring...but we're out of camp without much trouble. Hooray!
And then, the ribbons lead us sharply to the right. So sharply that Ledger reckons we're headed back to his buddy. That's when he loses every marble he has.
I feel him gather as if to run. One-rein stop! That shuts down the speed, but not the tension. He spins around. Stops. Gets light in front. Uh-oh! Disengage hindquarters NOW! We spin and spin until I find a split second in which to dismount.
On the bright side, I'm not cold anymore...