Friday, June 12, 2015

2015 City of Rocks

June 10 2015

It takes a monster effort putting on a multi-day ride 4 hours away from home. ("Darn. Did you bring a power strip?") After 5 years, we've almost got it down to a science (emphasis on "almost").

City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park is a multi-use park/s for climbers, hikers, bikers, horseback riders… and of course endurance riders. In the park/s you can ride over pieces of the California Trail and the Emigrant Trail, while watching humans dangling from granite cliffs and climbing routes like Beef Jello/Banana.

Ridecamp this year turned into a mini-city, with a bigger crowd than usual. Maybe it's the early June dates (cooler, better timing, cooler, fewer thunderstorms, did I say cooler?) that fit right into schedules. So many volunteers came to help too.

The first to arrive a few days early was endurance royalty, though she'd probably giggle at that label. Last year's AERC Hall of Fame person, Pat Oliva, drove all the way from Maryland to ride at City of Rocks. The next day another AERC Hall of Famer, Dave Rabe, drove in with 3 horses on his way to the XP. Two Hall of Fame riders at City of Rocks - how cool is that?
(Notice Pat has 3 layers including a down jacket on; Dave is in his usual shorts and tank top).

Christoph Shork pulled off 3 wins in the 50 milers, adding to his by-far AERC leading wins total, on Day 1 and 3 riding GE Pistol Annie, and Day 2 riding Medinah MHF. His intern Meryl Dalla-Via, from France, rode her first endurance ride in the US, finishing second on CMS Oso Elegant on Day 1, and on Day 3, riding Elegant again, tying for first with Christoph, and brothers Errol and Kent Fife.

Another AERC Champion pair, Lee Pearce and Fire Mt Malabar, the 2011 National Best Condition Champions, finished Day 1 and 3 in the top five, and nabbing 2 more Best Condition awards, bringing their total BC awards for the year to 6 already. Lee was delayed on trail near the end of the first loop when he helped rescue Canadian rider Shari Macfarlane, whose horse tripped and fell on her. She ended up with a broken leg and spectacular bruises all over her body that we all wanted to see afterwards. She was able to hobble around camp in a walking cast (or be chauffeured by ATV) until after the ride, when several people chipped in to help get her and her rig and horse on their way back to Canada.

Gretchen Montgomery came from California to ride all 3 days on two horses; Definetly Spice reached the 5000 mile benchmark on Day 2. Gretchen rode all 3 days with Dave Rabe. Dave finished 1 day on Rushcreek Okay, and 2 days on that crazy horse White Cloud, who has over 8000 miles, and still a bucking bolting streak in his soul, and whom I must write a story about one day.

Look up and down the trails any day, and sooner or later you'd see some Belesemo Arabians trotting by. Seven of them accounted for 13 finishes over the 3 days, including Belesemo Dude, aka Dudley. It was The Dude's (almost back-to-back!) two days of 50's ever. He rode with his crick herd neighbors Jose and August. There was plenty of grass and horse-edible flowers along the trails in the parks to keep an insatiably hungry horse like Dudley happy.

You might have seen a moose and baby on the trail at Castle Rocks State Park one day, if you'd taken seriously the hiker's exact words after you passed him, "There's a moose and baby over here." (Uh huh, sure there is!). Turns out he wasn't kidding, but I didn't turn around to go check because I didn't believe him. And anyway, if you were Dudley, you might not have wanted to see a moose and baby on trail.

A bunch of brand new riders to endurance showed up at this multi-day ride, and the racing mules showed up for the LD on the last day.

Two Trees catered the meals (Wynn made the world's best homemade fried ice cream!), and riders inundated Rock City for their pizzas and Durfee Hot Springs for a good soak in the evenings.

Lots of photos, results, previous years' adventures and videos can be seen here:

Monday, April 27, 2015

2015 Owyhee Tough Sucker II

Saturday April 25 2015

You never know what you might see or hear or experience at an Owyhee Tough Sucker ride, particularly the 10th anniversary renewal.

You might ride through an Owyhee desert that's never been so green or had so much grass or so many wildflowers, while an unseasonably cool breezy day keeps your horses cool on trail and threatens to blow their blankets into the next county at the out vet check.

You might have interacted with the slew of SWITnDR volunteers who showed up just to help at the ride, even though it was a very cool blustery day on the flat, wind-whipped desert.

While trotting down the trail, you might have found yourself racing alongside antelope (!!), then watched them sprint across the trail close in front of you, circle around you and run back down the trail you came from (!!!!!).

On the trail you might have encountered a herd of kids and mules that Trinity Jackson and her dad Warren Matthews brought to do the LD. You might have even seen the riderless mule, who decided to depart from his (adult) rider when he got off to fix something, and who took off across the desert to be caught later elsewhere.

You might have met 2 first-time trail riders who just might have been bitten by the endurance bug.

If you rode the LD, you might have ridden alongside Naomi, a first-time LD rider, riding her horse Sage's first LD. Don't let it intimidate you when you find out that it was Naomi Preston, who has over 10,500 AERC endurance miles, and who has a horse in the AERC Hall of Fame, Mustang Lady.

And if you were riding with Naomi, you might have heard that fast horse that came motoring down the trail behind her and which got right on her horse's butt, which, as a proper endurance rider, you would know is a bad and unsafe breach of etiquette (it's a good way to clip heels, get your horse tripped into a fall, or get knocked off your horse and, say, break your ribs). You might have heard Naomi holler over her shoulder, "Would you get off my *ss?!" and see her turn to see… the riderless mule. You would have seen that the mule did indeed get off her *ss, and ran on toward home!

You might have seen junior Sarah riding her aunt Connie's hot and bothered Finneas on the 50. You would have figured he was hot and bothered because he's been told way too many times he's the Grandson of the Black Stallion, and he thought he should be out front, as usual, and you might have seen a tired but happy Sarah afterwards.

You might have seen ride manager Steph Teeter, riding on Smokey, (also referred to as Her Smokeyness by her trainer Ted Nicholes), and finishing their first 50 together.

You might have ridden with Carol Brand, a Pickett Cricker, on the 50, when she got her 7000th AERC mile on her pal August!

You might have heard, near the end of your 50-mile ride, a great cacophony in the sky: a lost herd of very noisy seagulls flying around in confusion.

And if you stayed long enough after the dinner and awards, you might have been entertained by the first ever Teeterville Tough Sucker Jam with the Mostly Old-Time Pickett Creek Ramblers!

And the best sighting was The Raven, if you were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this busy, hard-working bird!

For results and photos from this year's Tough Sucker I and II, see:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Confessions of a First Time Ride Manager

Friday January 23 2015
by Merri Melde

Not too many ‘Green Bean’ Ride Managers have jumped head-first into managing an established 2-day endurance ride, where everybody already has a certain level of expectations. But then, most people aren’t Gretchen Montgomery. A long-time endurance rider based in the Pacific South region with over 8400 miles, and newly-minted Decade Team with her horse Definetly Spice (formerly known somewhat affectionately as “Bitchy Spice”), the effervescent, personable high achiever is not one to turn away from a challenge.

Gretchen's many years of volunteering at the Eastern High Sierra Classic, Fire Mountain, Washoe, and Virginia City 100 rides, alternately as trail marker, vet secretary, finish line timer, and pulse-taker, built the foundation and confidence for stepping up into her new role as Ride Manager. "I’ve really wanted to take over the Eastern High Sierra Classic (in Bridgeport, California, in late summer) because that’s my home territory, and Jackie (Bumgardner) is ready to pass it on after 29 years, and I wanted that ride to continue," Gretchen explains. "And in the meantime, the Fire Mountain Ride Manager (Valerie Rogers) wanted to give the Fire Mountain ride up, but that’s been a long-standing ride too. So since they needed a Ride Manager this year, I volunteered.” The Fire Mountain ride takes place outside of Ridgecrest, California, in the Mojave Desert, where Gretchen spends her winters.

Recently retired from 25 years with the state of California, Gretchen’s previous job of Office Services Supervisor for the California Highway Patrol in Bridgeport brought her organizational skills into play as she was kept uber-busy with last minute on-line entries to avoid late fees, last minute entries at the ride venue (where no internet was available), checking AERC registrations, keeping track of 114 riders over 2 distances and 2 days, making changes for riders wanting to switch horses, or switch distances, or switch horses and distances, running back and forth to fill in as a vet secretary, checking on the in- and out-timers, helping with P & R’s, doing general maintenance, helping the ham radio volunteers to find an injured horse on trail, and playing the banjo. Playing the banjo? … “I was a little crazy!” Gretchen laughs.

Managing the ride was made easier by excellent and numerous volunteers, particularly the Valley Riders club, a group of varied horse people from the area established in the 1960's. "This particular ride has soooo many volunteers, and I didn’t have to worry about the trail being marked, because there was already somebody in charge of that. I didn’t have to worry about setting out water, because somebody was already in charge of that. I didn’t even have to worry about the food, because one of the members of Valley Riders was all about cooking, and our facility has an actual kitchen right here at basecamp. So this was really good for my first time managing a ride - since this was the 36th year, people know what they're doing."

Such a busy event progresses smoothly by not only having great volunteers, but by surrounding yourself with good staff. Head veterinarian Melissa Ribley helped keep both days of the ride running efficiently. Melissa knows her way around endurance trails, with over 20,000 AERC miles, 11 Tevis Cup finishes, and a Haggin Cup win. She complimented Gretchen’s efforts: “I have worked for many different ride managers as head vet, and Gretchen has been one of the best ride managers to work with.  She was very enthusiastic and quite organized. 

"She took time each afternoon to treat us to some fun music by playing her banjo. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm during the day, so she would sit outside in her lawn chair each afternoon of the ride for a bit and strum away on her banjo - quite nice for the rest of us."

The author on Spice, and Gretchen on Kav, in the High Desert Classic

The only thing Gretchen didn't have control of is the weather, and the Fire Mountain ride is often known for the "W" word - the Wind which often particularly picks ride weekend to present itself with rather great force. "The weather was perfect, the trails were great," Gretchen says. "We had gotten a lot of rain on the Sunday before, so the trails were in really good shape. Mornings were beautiful, the sunrise… Ah! it was nice!"

Veteran endurance rider Nick Warhol (11,000 miles, 5-time Tevis finisher), who finished the 50-miler on Saturday, where he reached Decade Team status with his beloved Forever Dawn, said, "Gretchen did a great job. She worked very hard, and the ride went off perfectly as far as I can tell. The trail was excellent, marked better than it needed to be, plenty of water, great vets, great camp with everything you need, good food, it went very well. The best thing about her is she is always smiling and happy, no matter what."

Seasoned endurance rider Lisa Schneider (10,000 miles, 5-time Tevis finisher), who rode a 50 on the first day, also chimed in, "Congratulations to Ride Manager Gretchen Montgomery and her management team from Valley Riders at the Fire Mountain ride last weekend! The trail markings were perfect, the weather couldn't have been better with temps in the 60s and the vets and volunteers were the best! At one water stop, the volunteer greeted us with a cheery 'Welcome to Mike's oasis' and had hay and carrots for our horses."

Gretchen and Kav in the High Desert Classic

When the endurance ride is over, the work doesn't stop, however. Tuesday found Gretchen wrestling with calculating BLM fees and drug fees, and consolidating and sorting out the 2-day results for AERC. "I know it’s probably easy once I get it figured out, but…" - but she decided to take a break, and instead go clean up at the ride venue and ride her horse.

"The overall thing I can say as a Ride Manager is that you walk a lot of mileage. You’re constantly walking.
Walk to do this, walk to do that. Or maybe it’s just my nature. I've got to make sure everybody is running smoothly, if they've got any questions; or if something’s not going smoothly, let me know so I can fix it.

"The other thing I can say, is that your head hurts, and your feet hurt. It was definitely crazy. My brain is still a little bit fried!"

It's all worth it in the end, and with the experience gained at Fire Mountain, endurance riders can look forward to being greeted again by Ride Manager Gretchen's smiling and happy face in August's Eastern High Sierra Classic.

Gretchen and Spice heading home after Fire Mt
Top photo: Gretchen and Spice in Ridgecrest

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Riding in Canyon De Chelly

November 9 2014

There’s only one thing endurance riders want to do in the brief off-season - they want to RIDE!

Without a specific ride date on the ride calendar, and with the necessity of organizing guides to escort us, it was a little harder to orchestrate for a group; but in the end, there were six of us endurance riders who ventured down to Chinle, Arizona, to ride for a weekend in Canyon De Chelly National Monument, the heart of the Navajo Nation.

Christoph and Dian, Howard and Kathy, and Sue and I hauled down from Utah for this unique adventure some of us had been talking about for a long time. Sue graciously loaned me her 2012 Haggin Cup winner, LZP Julioslastchance, to ride on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Canyon De Chelly, on the Colorado plateau in eastern Arizona, has been occupied on and off for 5000 years. Archaic peoples from 2500 BC were followed by Ancestral Puebloans (the Anasazi), then the Navajo. The Navajo were driven out in the mid-1800’s during the nation-wide Indian purge, but four years later, they were allowed to return home.

Canyon De Chelly became a National Monument within the Navajo Nation lands in 1931, to protect the ancient history of the canyons. The Navajo still live and farm in Canyon De Chelly. The Park Service manages the archaeological ruins (the Navajo don’t want anything to do with the Anasazi ruins and spirits); the Navajo manage the natural resources.

We’d arranged to park our rigs at Justin’s Horse Rental. Our guides Justin Tso, and his granddaughter Kristy, escorted us on our 2 days in the canyon. The first day we rode up the northeast branch of Canyon Del Muerto in two different groups; on the second day we ventured far up the southeast branch of Canyon De Chelly, 18 miles to Spider Rock and back. Spider Woman, who taught the Navajo people how to weave, is said to live on top of Spider Rock, and watch over and protect her people.

The 800 foot spire of Spider Rock stands at another canyon junction of Canyon De Chelly and Monument Canyon, where thousand-foot sandstone walls line the way to more Navajo farms, then merge into the Defiance Plateau at 8000 feet, and eventually meet the Chuska Mountains.

After a lunch beneath the mythic spire, we turned around and rode back out Canyon De Chelly. It was just like an endurance ride - miles and miles through spectacular scenic country, fast and fun, with old friends and new, on the backs of our willing steeds.

slide show:

or link:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014 Owyhee Hallowed Weenies - No Weenies Here!

Saturday November 1 2014

You'd be forgiven if, because of the weather, you mistook it for a spring Owyhee Tough Sucker ride. With some Saturday weather forecasts more dire than others (like, 90% chance of rain all day and 45*, or, just 40% chance of rain starting in the evening), co-ride manager Steph Teeter challenged, "The Owyhee Hallowed Weenies is on, we're going with the Channel 5 weather forecast (forget the others…) - high of 53 (that's not too bad) and 40% chance of showers - that means 60% chance of no rain! So if you're still debating, don't be a Weenie...just get Tough and come on out."

People came from as far away as Washington state, and Ely, Nevada, either undaunted by the weather forecast, or, already on their way so that it was too late to turn back. A small but decent number of Owyhee Tough Hallowed Weenies Suckers (25 of them) did turn out (plus a number of volunteers who showed up just to help) and saddled up in the chilly morning under heavy darkening skies, and set out on 25 miles and 50 miles, Halloween costumes covered up under raincoats. (The Raven dressed up too, but he was stuffed way down in his Raven bag on Dudley's saddle!)

The Raven had one of the best costumes. Can you tell he's a cardinal?

The rain started around 10 AM, and continued steadily until the last rider came in near what would have been sunset, if said sunset could be seen through the still-heavy and dark rainclouds. The temperature dropped to the mid-40's and the wind picked up during the day, but, once you were out there on a horse, it really wasn't unpleasant, particularly if you had enough layers on, and, if you were a horse, you had a heavy winter coat already, which many horses did!

It really wasn't so daunting, once you were already out riding!

Winner of the 50 was 8-year-old mare OFW Alivia (aka "Ali, as in Ali McGraw") ridden by veterinarian and endurance rider and ride n' tier Dick Root. Dick and Ali came thundering in one second ahead of Errol Fife and OMR Pristine. Ali also got Best Condition and a perfect vet score! "I think she's going to be a good one," Dick said. This was only Dick's second ride this year (the first was an LD on Ali in June), since he's been vetting rides instead of riding in them.

Errol's brother Kent rode 20-year-old Charlie to 3rd place on their first endurance ride ever, finishing 41 minutes behind the first two. If he hadn't taken a wrong turn on the last loop and ridden an extra 5 miles, he'd have been even closer!

If you timed your ride right, you saw only your riding partners Carol and August on the entire 50-mile trail!

Ten of twelve completed the 50 miler, including 10th place Carla Richardson and SS Kharady Khid. The ride put Carla at 11,000 AERC miles (Khid has 150 more miles to go for the same plateau).

All thirteen riders completed the 25-mile ride, including Steph Teeter, who slipped out on her 24-year-old former international FEI half Orlov-trotter gelding Nature's Khruschev (aka Krusty), coming in 7th in 3:21, and stealing Best Condition. "40-40 CRI!" she said of the big, old, black, heavy-winter-coated gentle giant. Carrie Johnson and Montana's Echo won the ride in 2:59.

If you timed your ride right, this is what the vet checks at base camp looked like!

Ride manager Regina Rose's famous potato-cheese soup warmed up riders for the awards dinner, where finishers and non-finishers alike took home little Halloween spider plants overgrown by Steph's green thumb. Veterinarian Matt Dredge and his daughter/assistant Ashley drove 4 1/2 hours to vet the ride, intrepidly taking on the weather with the rest of the Owyhee Halloween tough suckers. It was, all in all, a good end to the ride season!

The Raven got a spider plant in a Raven planter for his finish on Dudley!

More photos, and results, at:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Summer: Enough Already Part II

Thursday September 4 2014

You saw Summer: Enough Already Part I, where the flies are bad and torturing the horses.

In this episode, you'll relate to how hot the horses get in the sweltering Owyhee summer.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer: Enough Already Part I

Friday August 22 2014

There are so many reasons why winter is better than summer. It's not just me (and you know how much I love winter!), but the entire Owyhee herd who is ready for summer to run along already, get out of the way for the coming of winter.

Part I:
In winter, there are no biting, itchy-scratchy bugs to torment the horses.


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