Sunday, March 17, 2024

2024 Twenty Mule Team 100 - Lucy Trumbull

March 14 2024
Lucy Trumbull

Sometimes it seems like the more I do something the less it feels like I know how to do it. Riding Squee has brought new and different challenges to long-distance riding, and 20 Mule Team - whilst familiar - was no different. This was my 8th time riding the 100 miler (with Squee and I doing the 60 and the 65 milers here the last couple of years).

It didn't start off well when Squee managed to slice open his head in the trailer in the first 30 minutes while we were on our way over to fetch Ranger and Annette. After a quick inspection of the bleeding flap, we glopped on some desitin and shut him in the middle stall of the trailer where he wouldn't be able to do any more damage. We made it to Ridgecrest with no flat tires or the trailer lights failing - and dodged the worst of the weather on the way down. Carefully parked the trailer to maximize its wind-breaking capacity, and installed both horses on the lee side (thankful that I've got spring ties on both sides). We were even close enough to the faucet and had a hose so that we were able to fill water buckets without much heavy lifting - a bonus, given that Squee pooped in his water bucket, twice, (presumably due to turning his butt to the wind), before I gave up and put a water container on the ground, slightly to one side.

Friday was spent gluing on his shoes, gluing his forehead back together (who knew how useful superglue could be), pre-riding an amped up horse (aka Kite Onna String), packing crew bags, and wrestling with things in the wind.

Because of the wind, it got to the stage where you couldn't do most basic tasks alone. My tack room door stopper suffered a failure from being nearly blown off its hinges, meaning that you needed two people to get the saddle out - one to hold the door, the other to wrestle the saddle. Similarly, to tack up, you needed one person to wrangle the blanket and saddle pad, while the other put the saddle on. Everything that normally lives outside the trailer was smooshed into the back of it, so it was tight quarters back there, with us clambering over piles of equipment, hay bags, feed containers, tack, chairs, etc.

All night it blew hard and in the morning despite trying to shelter them out of the wind, it didn't look like either horse had drunk very well, nor could we tell how much hay they'd eaten versus how much had just blown away. I gave Squee a mash which he devoured with such relish that I immediately gave him a second one - which sort of clued me in that he hadn't eaten much overnight. I was super-glad I got those two mashes in him as the morning developed. I also managed to give him a dose of electrolytes before the start.

The ride started at 6 a.m. and we were only 5 minutes late - pretty good going. We sailed along, making good time, passing horses as is Squee's habit, and enjoying the gorgeous sunrise. So far so good.

At 6 miles in, we hit our first issue of the day. Annette's stirrup decided to part company with the saddle, so we stopped at the first water trough for her to fix it (necessitating a complete saddle removal). Thankfully, although Squee ignored the water trough, he and Ranger amused themselves eating desert greenery while this repair was going on (possibly what contributed to him not crashing later, so definitely not a wasted stop). He was also not happy about all the horses that passed us here, but he managed to keep it together.

On we went, sailing along the ridge, admiring the rocks and at times clinging to the saddle to stop being blown off, leaning into the wind. It was crazy windy out there - but hilariously so. What the heck??

At 14 miles (at the "hot chocolate stop" - on the traditional night loop), another trough, another opportunity to drink ignored, but not totally out of the ordinary given the cool weather. I dosed Squee again, hoping to encourage him to drink at the trestle 6 miles further along.

He was bopping along quite happily - wanting to go-go-go, but I was able to keep him to a dull roar - better than past rides here. As we hit the shoulder of Laurel Mountain, it rained on us and although I was bundled up, I was reminded that I hadn't brought along my rain jacket. Thankfully it stopped pretty quickly, but it was a little nervous-making. I had to unzip three of my six layers to find a suitable safe inner pocket to put my rain-spotted glasses into.

At the trestle, he munched on alfalfa but ignored the water trough , so we took some time to let them refuel. I dosed him a third time in the hope that when we hit the vet check in another few miles, he'd start to drink.

Nope. At the vet check (~25 miles) he still had no interest in drinking. He pulsed down nicely, vetted through well, except for unsurprising low hydration scores - but worst of all, his gums were *bright* red, causing great concern. I flashed on the three doses of elytes I'd given him and vet Susan McCartney wondered if that was what had caused the irritation. Ugh. So much for diligent elyting. I flushed his mouth with plain water for a while using my elyte syringe and by the time our hold was over, his gums were back to normal. No more elytes for him for the rest of the ride...

Ranger had taken a little longer to pulse in, so we waited for them - I figure any rest time refueling is good time. Of course, Squee didn't eat his soggy mash, or drink anything (even as we left the check), he just munched on alfalfa.

The next section isn't the most scintillating - riding alongside hw-395, in a straight line for miles. This was similar to last year's route and I was mindful of the fact that in theory a person could trot-trot-trot non-stop for miles and miles. Since we don't train on that type of terrain, that clearly wasn't going to happen, so we put in a few walking breaks.

Squee felt good and the wind was at our back for the first few miles. Ultimately, of course, we had to turn and head straight into it. For some reason I thought there was a water trough at this point, so started doing some mental calculations as to where the next one was. Although Squee felt fine, I decided that if he didn't drink at one of the next two troughs (~32 miles and ~34 miles), I was going to have to pull him from the ride. Because we were looping around, from that point it was just a few miles back to the vet check. But after that, we'd be heading up into the hills and I didn't want to take a compromised horse up there.

And - big sigh of relief - he *finally* took a great big drink at the next trough. Imminent pull averted, although I still felt like I was going to have to baby him along due to the fact he was dehydrated.

So we climbed up into the hills - taking it really easy and not pushing at all. I'd worried that the weather would blow in when we were up there (and we'd had a short taste of it at that 34 mile-trough when we were pelted full in the face with small hail for a couple of minutes) and watched the lowering clouds to the south nervously. But instead we were down in a little canyon, out of the worst of the wind, and what wind there was was at our backs again.

Slow, careful climbing up to the top, but the reward of an amazing view as we crested the saddle at 4,200 ft / 1,280 m. And best of all, the weather never caught us.

Down the other side and headed back to the same vet check as in the morning. Half way down and Annette's stirrup parted ways again (she'd called a friend back in camp and asked them to bring her second saddle to the vet check for this eventuality). This time she trotted on one stirrup for 2-3 miles until the trestle #2 before stopping to fix it - something I couldn't have done, at least not without a lot of whining. Squee and Ranger munched on alfalfa while she made cunning use of her breast collar strap to McGyver a repair job.

Back around to vet check #2 at 50 miles. Squee again got relatively good scores, except for hydration, and at least his gums were the correct color. Ranger, OTOH, wasn't having a good day and it was here we parted company with him getting a ride back to camp in a trailer.

(At 50 miles, the one thing you do *not* do is think "gah, I'm tired, and we're only half-way through"). Thankfully, Squee gives no sh*ts, and cheerfully left the vet check without a care - eager to get down the trail and catch other victims. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time - amazing to see his energy, but exhausting because you have to constantly rate him to stop him blowing himself up.

Headed back to camp, we alternated cantering and gaiting, me trying to get a steady pace, him wanting to run. We hunted down some other riders who I assumed were on the 60 or 75 miler (there were more of them than 100 mile riders - and they did the same route as us), but it turned out to be Tami and Monica on the 100. I asked Squee to stay with them for a while in an effort to steady the pace, but he ultimately outwalked them once we got down onto the flats in town and he dragged me into camp (see video clip) at 60 miles with the wind blowing in our face.

This was our hour-hold, so we had plenty of time to regroup, refuel (many thanks to Annette for supplying me with ramen noodles), re-dress (thanks to Annette for the snow pants - although it meant I had nowhere to put my phone), and get Squee's saddle back on (stink-eye from him, since he thought we were done, as we had been the previous two years). We taped some glowsticks onto his breast collar and I booted up the "Rides with GPS" app that supplies audio-cues in the dark as to when and where to turn.

Of again on the first night loop - 15 miles - which would bring us to 75 miles back at camp. Squee was happy as a clam, leading out his posse of Tami, Monica, and new member Megan who was doing the 75. The wind had dropped and it was blissful to ride without having your sinuses whisked or your ears buffeted.

Within a few miles, Megan needed to jog on ahead - her horse has a useful can-go-for-100-miles slow trot that she wanted to make use of. She passed... and of course, Squee wanted to go with her. Since he was now drinking like an adult, had passed the previous vet check well, felt good, and Megan was going a nice easy pace, I didn't see any harm in letting him join her.

This was my mistake and one I made in the past when I rode Charlie at VC100 a few years ago. "Slow easy trot" - whilst it looks slow and easy for an arabian, is not the same as "picking your own gait and staying within reason" for a gaited thing. Squee kept up fine and had a jolly time - to the point that, when the wind came up again, he just went faster and faster until I realised we'd left Megan behind. I slowed him down again and we bopped on back to camp together. Along one stretch I was a little nervous about what seemed to be deep sand, but Squee seemed to gobble it all up.

Back in camp at 75 miles for the 4th vet check with a rabid beast who just wanted to eat and eat and eat... but unfortunately showed no sign of pulsing down. Unwilling to slosh him with water, all we could do was strip his tack, put on a fleece cooler and try and maintain the delicate balance between letting him eat rabidly, and taking him away from the food source to try and get his pulse down - causing it to spike up again because we'd taken the food away. Ugh.

At the last minute, the PnR person was able to get him at criteria - at which point he promptly peed... which would have helped if he'd done it earlier.

So he got through the vet, but not great. I worried that the lack of hydration was catching up with him, making his blood move along like sludge and that he'd go downhill from here. .

This hold was only supposed to be 45 minutes and we'd already spent a bunch of time persuading him to pulse down, so we went back to the trailer for more refueling, a soggy mash for him, more ramen for me, and ended up spending a whole hour - putting me back out on the trail for the final 25 miles at 11 p.m.

I'd never seen Tami or Monica come in to VC4 behind us, so decided that they'd slowed way down and must still be behind me, so it was a bit of a shock to arrive at the out-timer - albeit 20 minutes late - and be told that Tami had left 30 minutes earlier.

Oh. So I'm now turtle. Hey ho.

Off we went, Squee now a lot more subdued (but also heading away from the wind) for a long, dark windy loop. I'd hoped that we'd catch Tami, but Squee wasn't motivated enough. I tried to stay awake, but dozed off a couple of times within the first 10 miles - not good. But catnaps do you the world of good, so I was pretty perky by the time we hit the pointy end of the giant triangle that was the turning around point for this loop - 12.5 miles to go. The end of the loop had a short section of about a quarter mile where they routed us across-country to jog over to the return trail - and this quarter mile was lit up like a UFO landing strip with a glow-stick bouncing on a bush in the wind every 10 ft. Squee took a few minutes to munch on some greenery while I admired the glowsticks. Most amusing...

... until we headed back into the wind...

And windy it was. Ack. It was full, in-your-face wind. Along this stretch, there were three detours off the "headed-straight-back-to-camp" trail, each headed away from the wind. Looking at the map beforehand, I'd originally thought these would cause problems for any self-respecting horse with a sense of direction. Head *away* from camp? Nuh-uh. But instead, when we got to these detours, Squee took off with enthusiasm, doing his rolling downhill eye-popping speed gait away from the wind... and then we'd turn back into the wind and slow down again.

Astonishingly, I actually fell asleep again during one of these back-into-the-wind sections - possibly because I had my eyes squinted shut against being sand-blasted. I woke up with Squee walking straight through a large bush and bumbling around in the undergrowth (I think he was trying to head away from the wind). Consulted the Rides with GPS track and found that we'd veered off course. Apparently Rides with GPS was also asleep, as it never warned me like it's supposed to.

Back on course again and fighting to stay awake, keep Squee on trail, and go as fast as was sensible on a horse that has no desire to go into the wind, but goes like stink every time we head away from it.

The final detour seemed interminable - why weren't we there yet?? It seemed to go on and on, into the wind. And then we were on the final track leading back to camp. At which point Squee stumbled and went down on his knees, with me nearly going over his head. He clambered back up again, took a couple more steps and tripped again. I was on the verge of getting off to lead him in the final half mile but the wind was horrendous and he was fighting me to go - apparently this had woken him up and his mission was now to get us back to camp as fast as he possibly could. There would be no getting off.

The wind was howling at this point - the large trees planted along the front of the couple of residences near camp were whipping around in an alarming way, looking like they were going to be wrenched out by the roots; the horse was fighting to go; there was a metal shipping container banging away; and it all felt like a bit too much and I was suddenly near tears - probably mostly due to fatigue and worry about Squee - but I was overwhelmed by the whole thing.

In the last block, I did manage to get off him and try to lead him "quietly" into the finish line so he would "pulse down all nicely", but all that actually happened was he dragged me forcibly along, despite the death grip on the lead rope. The wind was whipping around, he was rabidly hungry again, and just wanted TO EAT DAMMIT. We did a final vet check with the wind crashing around us and - 100 miles done and dusted. My 7th 100 mile completion at this ride, and Squee's second 100 mile ride. It wasn't pretty, mistakes were made, but we got 'er done.

* * *

Huge thanks to Annette for crewing for me after she and Ranger were done for the day - and for staying up in the wee hours to help me with him.

* * *

The next day I missed most of the awards (I thought they started at 10, an hour later), but it turns out Squee and I won the turtle award (I wasn't sure, since we actually caught Tami and Robert Ribley at the finish line - turns out by the end they were just minutes ahead of us and if we'd made a tiny bit more effort, we would have caught them and could have ridden together) and got some swag (which isn't common when you aren't a top ten rider, so much appreciated for the donation - a rope halter, bucket, and some Doterra essential oil products from from Untamed Tack ( and Darlene LeVan... including their excellent Deep Blue Soothing Blend for poor tired muscles)

We had planned to stay over until Monday (I've come home on the Sunday after the 100 in years past, and it is seldom pretty). The pones were bundled up with plenty of food and we had no desire to sit in the windy camp listening to the buffeting wind, so instead we spent the day helping Brian go out and fetch the water troughs on trail.

It was so interesting to see the trail a) from a different view (i.e. to drive to the locations) and b) in daylight in some cases. In the dark, I'd gotten turned around and didn't realise where we'd repeated trail in reverse in a few places, where we'd ridden the trail in years past - and most of all, to have Brian explain why he routed the trail how he did.

Great care was taken to make sure we used the best possible options - particularly in the dark sections where some of the tracks we'd used in the past had suffered erosion. He'd even angled those detours deliberately so we'd be headed away from the wind along those oh-so-welcome stretches. Nice!

Big thanks to Brian Reeves and his volunteer crew for another excellent 20 Mule Team ride. I love this ride, have ridden it ten times, and come down to crew for friends a bunch of other years. Long may it continue!

* * *

We came home on Monday, again without any flat tires (this had become a thing on past trips to Ridgecrest, always necessitating a trip to the tire shop) - but I did lose the running lights on the trailer as we were coming through Auburn in the dark to drop Annette and Ranger off.

As of the following weekend, I think I've found the short, so right now the lights are working. Fingers crossed they stay that way.

Squee's glue on shoes have been removed while he takes a few weeks off, and I'm mulling over my mistakes with a resolve to "try to do better". Uh huh.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

2024 Twenty Mule Team - Vera V-Abdallah

By Vera V-Abdallah
March 5 2024

Last weekend, we participated in the 20-Mule-Team Ride, which was only held for one day of riding. Thus, we had to do some juggling with getting the adoptable rescue horses out there riding the 35-mile limited distance (LD) ride, while Erna on Love Story competed in the 60-mile ride. I rode the LD ride with one of my newer mentor horses, Sir Trot a Lot, who I thought would do great to accompany the two adoptable horses, Alada Baske Aire and Two Step Betty. I was nervous about Erna riding the 60 miles without me, but my friend Cynthia Buendia rode my horse Sharif to be there as Erna’s support. Erna is now a "young rider" at 17 years of age and she is eligible to ride alone, but as a mom, I was so happy for Cynthia to ride with Erna.

I figured that Sir Trot a Lot could take over Sharif's guardian role on the 35-mile LD ride, since Sir Trot a Lot is a very calm and mostly confident horse. Erna and the 60 mile riders all started out at 6 a.m. whereas I started out at 7 a.m. This was great because I was able to see Erna and Cynthia off to the start of the ride and still had enough time to get myself ready to start our LD ride.

As most of you probably know, the weather conditions were less than desirable with a horrible windstorm that lasted all weekend, with sustained 30 to 40 mile winds and gusts that were up to 100 miles per hour! In addition, rain, possible snow or sleet was forecast. We dressed appropriately and set out to ride.

Alada Baske Air was ridden by Leah Palestrant who is an experienced endurance rider who flew in, all the way from Ohio, to ride with us! I was very happy about this because it was Alada Baske Air's first endurance ride. Two Step Betty was ridden by Katja Pizka who is also a board member of our rescue. It was Katja's first endurance ride, though she is an experienced rider and is very physically fit.

It seems like at every ride there is something new or crazy that happens! This time, it was crazy weather with the wind storm, as we had to ride alongside some residential properties with stuff flying and flapping all over the place. At the start of a ride, horses are usually anxious and to add to it the flapping and flying debris, it was nerve wracking for me. We made it passed the properties and the horses did very well. As I was breathing a sigh of relief, we saw a truck with a photographer ahead, but the horses were hesitant to approach since they could not quite make out that it was a human ahead and not a horse eating monster. We kept calling out to the photographer to call out back to us, so the horses could hear a human voice, but the blasting wind was so loud that he could not hear us. We finally got to where he was crouching down in the dirt road, taking photos of us. As the photographer disappeared into his truck and we went to ride on, we saw a riderless saddled-up mule galloping toward us.

That was my "oh shit" moment because not only was I concerned that my horse would take off running with the mule, but I was also worried for Leah and Katja. How would Alada Baske Aire or Two Step Betty react? I was able to stop my horse from running, though he did bolt a few steps and was able to grab the runaway mules reins, all the while yelling for the photographer to get out of his truck and to hold onto the mule, which eventually he did. Fortunately, neither one of the other two horses ran off, they listened to their riders and stood still. That was a huge relief because in my mind's eye, I had imagined all of our horses galloping alongside the runaway mule back to camp.

We all took a deep breath and continued on. In my mind, I kept questioning my sanity for continuing onward with the ride with the gale force winds howling around us and having survived the runaway mule situation. But onward and forward we forged our way through the microderm abrasion sand storm. At least, I was getting a free facial treatment! Once we got to the turn off, where we were heading north on an incline sandy road, we let the horses trot forward. We had to make up time because we had only ridden at a walk to this point and the mule episode had cost us time for sure. Also, this would run off some energy of our horses because they were on edge with all this wind. We trotted for several miles and things settled down, but the wind didn't follow that lead. It kept howling alongside us and the strong wind gusts almost blew us off our horses!

I kept trying to have Sirt Trot a Lot lead our group, but he absolutely refused to lead. The only time he was willing to ride up front was when another rider would pass us and he would follow the horse for a mile or two, but then Sir Trot a Lot would come to a complete stop and would not even take one more step until Alada Baske Aire would take over the lead.

I asked Sir Trot a Lot if he was not embarrassed to have a "new horse" be the leader, but he did not seem to care about being a follower. Katja and Two Step Betty rode behind us and there were a few times when they would lead, but Betty also seemed to prefer staying behind the two geldings for this ride.

We arrived at a water stop about seven miles into the ride and as the horses were drinking, their heads suddenly shot upwards. We could not see much because we had to squint our eyes to protect them from the flying sand. The horses had noticed a column of about 15 cross country motorcycles blasting by us, way before we had become aware of the bikes. That was a lot of motorcycles all at once! Fortunately, yet again, the horses stayed calm. But it is in moments like these that your heart stands still momentarily especially with new horses.

We continued riding at a good pace until about mile 14 into the ride. It started to rain and hail. The hail was not fun at all because it was thumping pretty hard on us and the horses. At that point, the horses really did not want to continue, they wanted a break! But we were able to motivate them again once the hailstorm had stopped. Alada Baske Aire continued leading the group.

We had to cross Highway 395, just as it was starting to hail again. Sir Trot a Lot does not like big semi-trucks, they intimidate him and just as we were standing by the side of the highway, waiting to cross, several semi-trucks were starting to pass by. He really looked for guidance from me, as his rider, but he also looked at the other two horses' demeanor. They stayed calm, so he stayed calm.

We finally were able to cross the highway and rode on. But, at around mile 16 into the ride, the horses really needed a break. Normally, when riding an LD ride that is 25 to 35 miles long, there is a vet check around 15 miles into the ride, where horses are given a 30-minute break. Our horses started walking as slow as molasses and there was no way to motivate them to trot. I tried to get Sir Trot a Lot to lead, and he absolutely refused. Alada Baske Aire would not trot ahead and Two Step Betty did not want to lead in a trot either.

We were really concerned about making time. You need to average a minimum of 4.5 miles per hour in order to finish a ride within the allotted time. According to the GPS app on my phone, we were ok on time, but if we could not motivate the horses, we’d be in trouble. I called my friend Susannah Jones who was waiting at the vet check at ride mile 24 and told her of our trouble and my concern that were going to go over time. I told her that we were about seven miles from the vet check and at this rate, we’d arrive at the vet check tomorrow. She laughed and the horses must have heard the laughing because they decided it was ok to trot again.

Alada Baske Aire got a second wind and he happily trotted in the lead again. This motivated Sir Trot a Lot to trot along, just as I had contemplated changing his name to Sir Stop a Lot. Two Step Betty was good to go again too. We continued a pattern of trotting alternating with walking until we arrived at a water stop at ride mile 20. This stop not only had water, but it also had some alfalfa hay for the horses. This was great because all three of the horses drank and ate. This stop was manned by Paula Herr and her husband who adopted a horse from our rescue and it was really refreshing for me to chat with them.

We had four more miles to go to get to the vet check. The horses were refreshed and more eager to move forward, but poor Katja started experiencing back spasms and pain. I know that those four miles were really hard on her, but she sucked it up and trotted along.

About ¼ mile from the vet check, we got off our horses and walked them in so that they would pulse down faster to the required pulse of 60 or below. Two Step Betty pulsed in at 44 beats per minute and Alada Baske Aire’s pulse was at 56 as we walked into the vet check. Sir Trot a Lot’s pulse was at 64 and we had to wait a few minutes for it to reach 60. We had a 30-minute break until we could ride out again at 12:26 p.m. According to my GPS, we had ridden 24.5 miles, had been in the saddle for a little under five hours and had averaged 4.9 miles per hour. The horses passed the trot out and the vet check in flying colors. I was so proud of them!

In addition to Susannah, Giovanni and his wife, whom I have known for many years were volunteers at the vet check. All three helped us with our horses, so they would drink and eat. In addition to covering our horses with wool blankets, they held onto them so we could run to the porta-potty and we could grab some snacks and some Advil for Katja. We gave each other a pep talk in regard to the remaining 10.5 miles.

Off we went to ride the remaining miles and again, we not only had to cross Highway 395 again, but we also had to ride alongside the highway for about one mile with traffic blasting by us. We had to pass a large property with lots of junk trailers and things that were fluttering around, as the wind was still going strong. But the horses did well and acted like old professionals.

When we had seven miles left to ride, I gave the pep talk that during our conditioning rides, we have ridden seven miles in less than one hour. We psyched ourselves up that we were almost at the finish line. The last few miles were not that tough. Maybe it was because we had gotten used to the crazy strong wind and stuff flapping and flying around. The last four miles, we had to ride through a neighborhood and there were properties with construction and things flapping around. We chose to walk through the neighborhood instead of trotting because by our calculation, even if we walked the rest of the way, we would be ok on time. We had to ride alongside of a street that wasn’t too busy and we trotted where we could and walked where we felt it was safer to walk.

We made it into ride camp, which was our finish line after 35.4 miles at 3 p.m. which was 30 minutes before the cut off time. Two Step Betty immediately pulsed in at 52 beats per minute, Alada Baske Aire pulsed in at 56 beats per minute and both horses finished with a good vet report card.

But Sir Trot a Lot stayed at 64 beats per minute. He would not drop down to the required 60 beats per minute. He had been drinking well during the entire ride, he had even stopped to pee three times during the ride. He had been eating every chance he had. We noticed that his back was sore. I felt so terrible for him. We waited at the vet check for 30 minutes, but when he did not pulse down to 60 beats per minute. Even though he and I had finished the 35-mile ride, we did not get a completion.

The veterinarian checked him over and told me to come back within the hour to give Sir Trot a Lot another check up. Of course, as soon as he got to the trailer and his friends, his heart rate dropped to 54 beats per minute. But at this point it was too late to get the completion. I told myself, “it is what it is”, I was just happy that Sir Trot a Lot was gulping down his beat pulp mush, happily chewing on his alfalfa hay and drinking a lot of water. When we took him back to the veterinarian, Sir Trot a Lot checked out fine.

I was extremely proud of Alada Baske Aire and Two Step Betty. I was grateful to Leah for leading the way for most of the ride with Alada Baske Aire who is a better leader than the more experienced Sir Trot a Lot. Leah is an absolutely amazing, experienced endurance rider and it shined through during the entire ride. Also, I was very grateful to Katja for completing the last 10 miles of the ride even though she was experiencing a lot of back pain.

Endurance riding is definitely not for the faint of heart, you really do have to put your “big girl panties” on and you have to “suck it up buttercup” for sure!

Thursday, March 07, 2024

2024 Twenty Mule Team - Chelsea Arnold

March 5 2024
By Chelsea Arnold

I almost gave up and moved down to the 75 mile ride…At 11:30pm the night before the 20 Mule Team 100 mile ride, the winds were 50 mph and howling, rocking the Lq trailer back and forth and I thought about the ride ahead in the blowing wind. What am I thinking, went through my head.. what do we need to prove? I talked to Shayna and she said, “it just depends on how much not fun you want to have?” LOL!! I knew we were tough enough to get it done and I was saddling up the best and toughest horse I know. But did I need to? I convinced myself that night that 100 miles in this weather was stupid and I could just level down and not be out all night.

But then I woke up at 4am and like the 100 mile rider I am… I was like… oh what the hell. I had made myself a promise never to pass up a chance to ride a 100 miles on a good horse, so weather be damned…you only live once so we are putting on our wind and rain gear and heading out into the storm. I was riding the one and only Gus, so we saddled up and warmed up in the blowing wind to ride out with Sabine and her boy Ammour. The horses were game and ready. The trail opened and off we went.

Laughter and smiles all around as we tackled the wind and crazy conditions. The first loop went pretty quick and the desert was green and lush and beautiful. It’s so raw out in the desert, and the wind made you feel just how wild and harsh it truly is.

The vet check was 30 minutes and then we were out on loop 2. This loop was nuts, lol… It was long at 26 miles and the rain came, soaking us, then sideways hail and crazy winds gusts that made you grab your saddle. All we could do was laugh and hang on. You couldn’t talk over the roar of the wind. The horses dug deep and put their heads into the wind. At one point, Gus was trying to trot at an angle to the wind to protect his face. But at that point you realize that you can do anything on a good horse and with good company.

We made it to the next vet check with another 30 min hold. We had no crew, so some lovely ladies held our horses so we could make mash, shovel down some food and refill our packs. 50 miles to go…

Only too soon, we headed the 10 miles back to ride camp for a lovely 1 hour hold. The horses were strong and knew they were headed home, so they made short work of the loop and before we knew it we were back in camp. They vetted through and Shayna and Elsie (who had ridden the 35 earlier), helped me get Gus situated. I changed clothes, ate some soup and was ready to go the next 15 miles. Let’s do this…

Sabine and I met up again and headed out in some lighter winds. Actually, this was the best loop of the day as the winds had slowed down briefly and made for a glorious 15 miles. I was naively thinking that if the rest of the ride was like this, it will be a piece of cake.

At the 75 mile vet check, Sabine and Ammour finished their ride in 3rd place just as it was getting dark. Woohoo! So proud of them! Gus and I vetted through for our next loop and headed to the trailer to rest and eat. I managed to eat some turkey sandwich and get myself mentally prepared for a long 25 mile loop into the dark. I was wondering how Gus would be heading out by himself without a buddy, but as soon as we put his glow sticks on his breastcollar, he knew… He is an old pro at 100 milers. It’s been over a year since his last one, but he didn’t forget…

Too soon and I jumped back on to head into the abyss alone with just the Gus man for company. 25 miles… we can do this. Of course the winds came back with a vengeance. They were now ramping up to 50 mph in the gusts and a good 30-40 mph steady wind. Good lord. What was I thinking…

Gus, bless his big ole heart, walked out of camp in his power walk and as soon as we hit the trail started trotting. He wanted this done as much as I did. But the winds didn’t make it easy, as hard as we were pushing, the winds kept pushing back. Much of the trail was spent with a full sideways wind or a horrific headwind that practically pushed us back.

We fought on.. As we were almost at the 10 mile mark, still headed away from camp, Gus hit a lull… as he walked along I tried to encourage him but he knew we were still not headed home and this just sucked. So we trotted glow stick to glow stick and I let him walk when he reached the glow stick. Pretty soon we got into a rhythm. He ate the lovely green filaree that was growing in the desert and that perked him up. As soon as we made the turn for home, Gus put on the gas…. Right into the big headwind. Unreal. I was trying to encourage him, but he couldn’t hear me over the wind but I yelled anyway. “Good boy, you got this, come on tough guy, fight it!”

We fought on and with each loop we had to take off the main road, I could feel Gus’s resolve slip but then he would come roaring back every turn for home. Come on boy…. Hang in there. Giving electrolytes was ridiculous or trying to eat was impossible as everything was just flying out of your hands. Finally, we were making the last climb to the water tank and I knew we were just miles from home. I reached down and gave that big old horse a hug. We’ve got this big guy… and thank you from the bottom of my heart for loving this crazy endurance life as much as I do.

We crossed the finish line and Gus wanted to head to camp so he was circling around me and the finish line crew was laughing that he wasn’t even tired at all, lol. Crazy horse…

We vetted through with mostly A’s and got our completion. 5th place! What?!?!? So stinking proud of us and what we just overcame. And so full of love for this big ole cow horse from Colorado. 6/6 100 mile completions and almost to his 2000 mile mark with 0 pulls.

Buz wasn’t able to come to the ride, but he kept texting me asking how his horse was doing… lol… yeah honey… I’m fine too, hahaha…

When we got home on Sunday, Gus’s nighttime stall was bedded up with bags of shavings and when I checked on him later that night, he was sound asleep in his fluffy bed his dad made him… I know its killing Buz not to ride the Gus man but hopefully by summer, they will be back killing it on the trail. (But after I steal Gus for Tevis, lol....)