Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tritty Trot Tuddle Dunking in Maricopa

Tuesday January 26 2016

Maricopa county (encompassing the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in Arizona) made it a priority to preserve a portion of its natural desert as open space. 

With this in mind, planning began in 2000 on an ambitious project of connecting the 10 regional parks with a non-motorized trail system.

Once completed (in cooperation with Federal, State and local agencies), this Maricopa Regional Trail System will be one big loop around the County, encompassing approximately 250 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. 

On a northwest corner of these trails, for 7 miles we went Tritty Trot Tuddle Dunking (Clydea's term for a trotting training ride!) through the Sonoran Desert amongst the saguaro and cholla, rabbits and Phainopeplas and a coyote, sharing the trail with hikers and a biker on this cool winter day.

If we wanted to, we could have ridden all the way to McDowell Mountain Park, where one of the Lead Follow Or Get Out Of My Way endurance rides is held. Maybe one day, some adventurous ride manager will put together a 100-mile point-to-point endurance ride on this trail system, which should, of course, be called the Maricopa Tritty Trot Tuttle Dunk.

Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 Death Valley Encounter: Isolation and Desolation

You're flirting with disaster when, if you're a #WinterWimp, you migrate south with two horses and me, the Ice Princess, hoping for a warm winter in Arizona and California.

And so it was somewhat disastrous when #WinterWimp Steph pulled into Ridecamp at the Trona Country Club with 2 horses for the Death Valley Encounter endurance ride, and the sunrise temperatures hovered between 21* and 31* the next 5 mornings, temperatures that nobody ever recalls being so low during the ride. I was of course given credit for bringing the cold with me. :)

"Trona is known for its isolation and desolation," says Wikipedia, and that about sums it up. Either blinding white (even in winter!) from the borax crystals mined in the dry alkaline Searles Lake bed, or Desolation Gray (a crayon color yet to be invented) from the severe and sparse mountains and desert, and freaking hot in the summer (think 105* average for July), regular godawful wind, and chronic stink from the "hellish stench of sulfur" (said the L.A Times in this dismal 2006 article), Trona appears to leave much to be desired.

It's slightly famous for the nearby Trona Pinnacles, where, among others, Planet of the Apes, and Star Trek V movies were filmed.

And on a less grand scale, but nonetheless famous among endurance riders, it's now basecamp for the Death Valley Encounter endurance ride. Basecamp has moved around over the 30 years of this 4-day ride between Christmas and New Year's, including moving basecamps during the ride itself; this year's Ridecamp at the Trona Country Club (it's not what you're all thinking)

for all 4 days gave us a grand view and sniff to the east of the Searles Valley, Trona, and the borax plants.

While in previous years the DVE would traverse some trails of the actual Death Valley National park, now because of logistics, permits, and a morphing endurance riding population that isn't as gung ho as they were in the old days and which prefers not having to pack up and move camp every night after each day of riding 50 miles a day, the DVE ride is still pretty darn close enough to Death Valley, and still has some of the most scenic trails I've ever ridden on an endurance ride.

To the West lies the Slate Range, Panamint Valley, Panamint Mountains, and Death Valley, in that rugged order. The area is rife with history: of the Timbisha Shoshone, Western Shoshone, and Paiute Native Americans around before the gold and silver miners who attracted the pioneers (memorably the Lost Fortyniners) who came to look for more gold. Old mines and equipment still litter the landscape over the trails we trod during the endurance ride.

And they are rugged trails, isolated and desolate, and just exponentially multiply those thoughts if you dare visit in the summer. Desperately lacking in water and shade, diabolically hard on animal life, and oh those pioneers who had to traverse the valleys and mountains with oxen and wagons or, worse, on foot because they ate their oxen and burned their wagons for fuel. Every time your horse climbs over the Slate Range, every trail over which he has to carefully pick his way through the rocks, you are reminded of how difficult it was for the miners and pioneers, and how tough they were to choose that life. I was particularly grateful to be riding in a cold winter, and not in a hot summer! (Well, you won't get me into Death Valley in the summer, nowhere nohow noway anyway.)

Steph and I rode Smokey and Jose on the 50-mile rides on Days 1 and 3. We had inch-thick ice on the water buckets in the mornings; we wore layers of clothing (Steph 6 layers, me, The Ice Princess, 3 layers, and the horses their thick Idaho winter coats) to start out. Not much got peeled off during the days!

Day 1 followed two-track desert roads, washes, burro trails (we didn't see any burros, but they were around, but what the heck they ate to survive I couldn't imagine), climbing up and over the Slate Range and down into the Panamint Valley, before following miles of the dry Lake Panamint bed, then climbing back up and over the Slate Range again to basecamp.

Most of the trails were rocky. But we expected that, having padded our horses' feet. Climbing up and over the Slate Range got our winter-hairy ponies quite sweaty despite the awesome temperature (says the Ice Princess) of high 30's in the morning sun. The view of the Panamint Range across the Panamint Valley far below is staggering. In the winter sun, the rippled washes grooving the mountains in tans and grays and purples are magnetic and mysterious to the eye and soul.

Lunch was a pleasant stop in the middle of the Panamint Valley. I had the best cup of soup I've ever had in my life which I slurped and crunched down even before the noodles softened.

In this country, you trot when you can when the footing's good, and you walk when you have to when it's rocky. We had good footing along the dry Panamint Lake bed heading back after the lunch stop, and we trotted, non-stop for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The playa is a dry mud flat covered with water in the wet season - if there is a wet season. We had a slight head breeze and the horses cruised along this soft, rock-less footing.

Once we turned back toward the Slate Range, the horses got back to picking their footing through rock, rock, and more rock. The trails we climbed back up were built by a dirt bike group - 4 miles of it, at least. Tremendous effort they put in, and they must have been some C-R-A-Z-Y riders. Yeah, I'd ride a sure-footed horse over these trails, but a dirt bike!? Those people are nuts. But we appreciated the trails, with yet another spectacular view of the Panamint Valley and Range behind us that widened into a spectacular panorama far below us.

The trails and two-track roads down the east side weren't as steep nor as rocky. I got off to walk/run some downhill, guaranteeing I'd be wiped out by the end of the day. While still up high, (un-forecast) clouds began moving in and the temperature dropped to the low 30's, and danged if we didn't get a few itty bitty snowflakes on us as we were riding into the finish. The Ice Princess' power extends even to the southern reaches of Death Valley!

We'd planned on riding our horses only 2 days, so we decided to ride Day 3 (up the Slate Range again), and sleep in on Day 2!

Day 3's loop 1 took us back up into the Slate Range on a different trail - and up and up, climbing to radio towers on one of the peaks. We had yet another view of the Panamint Range and Valley as we headed up.

Descent back to the Searles Valley was a long, steep, gnarly, very cool old trail that must have first been created by burros. Everybody was off leading on foot on that one. That is a trail you would not want to ride up!

After an hour lunch break back in camp, the going got tough - but in a different way. We looped around the Searles Valley, up against the Slate foothills through some old mines,

then across the highway to the Argus Range foothills - but no matter which way we rode, we always had a clear view of Ridecamp far away. The horses sure kept their eyes on it the whole afternoon! Every time we seemed to be getting closer to it, we'd keep traveling in the same direction way past it. We rode up to a water-less waterfall in the Argus foothills and made some more wide detours in numerous directions before finally finishing, just as the sun sank behind the Argus range and the temperature began dropping again.

Several milestones were reached at this year's Death Valley Encounter. Among others:

Cindy Bradley and her Morgan, Bogar Tucker, (aka "Bo", with over 5000 miles) accomplished Decade Team status after Day 1's 50 mile ride.

Becky Lange's Kentucky Mountain horse, Mocha Jack, (aka "M"), reached his 5000 miles plateau.

Attendance was again lower than the year before… we sure hope The Duck keeps this ride (and the rest of his XP rides) going.

We made some new friends, reconnected with old friends, played some old tyme Bluegrass music at the New Year's Eve party with Gretchen (and on an earlier day, Simon), and loaded up and said, (as did one of the Lost Fortyniners, as the story goes), "Goodbye, Death Valley."

Till we meet again. (In winter!)

See more photos from the ride here:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2015 Owyhee Hallowed Weenies

November 3 2015

A Hallowed number of Weenies showed up to ride in the last Idaho endurance event of the season.

Or, possibly it was the enticement of getting to listen to the Pickett Crick Ramblers (or, is it the Pickett Cricksters, or the Pickin' Pickett Crickers - even as a member, I can't remember our name) cranking out the Bluegrass tunes while pickin' on the porch (or in the house) Friday and Saturday evenings.

If you were an innocent bystander, or by-driver motoring down Owyhee County's Highway 45 on Saturday, you might have wondered why 4 WANTED OutLaws in orange jumpsuits from the Department of Corrections were out riding horses 50 miles across the desert; but you would probably have been comforted knowing that the THE LAW, (Sheriff Dudley)

was hot on their tails. In fact, two of the WANTED OutLaws were arrested at the halfway vet check and deposed. (That's their story too, and they're stickin' to it.)

You might have seen an Indian chief on her wild Indian pony;

you might have seen Pocahontas; you might have encountered Minnie Mouse,

or you might have sent a salute to Uncle Aunt Sam as she escorted a string of Junior riders on the LD.

There was a lady in a 70's costume (no - wait - that was her everyday outfit), and two riders sported bright orange reins that could likely be seen from the orbiting Soyuz spacecraft. Some Ay-rab named Sheikh Hopkins rode a mustang like he stole 'im. He gave THE LAW the slip, though he might have been on the up and up.

In a rare, and perhaps unprecedented feat of excellence, husband-wife team of Susan and Dennis Summers both won Best Condition on the 50 mile ride with the same high score. (Has this happened before? Somebody look it up!) They stopped in Owyhee to ride on their annual winter Snowbird pilgrimage to Arizona.

Hayley White, riding with her father Richard, won the 25 mile ride, with Richard getting Best Condition.

22 of 30 riders completed the 50, and 17 of 18 riders completed the 25.

The fall weather was a perfect bookend to the 2015 endurance ride season, a crisp and clear day with the gold sun highlighting the purple Owyhee mountains to the west.

See you on the Owyhee trails next year!

See more photos at:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2015 Owyhee Canyonlands

October 11 2015

In a couple of weeks, you'll probably look back at the Owyhee Canyonlands and remember it as the last stopover on the way to endurance fame.

After finishing all 3 days of this year's Canyonlands, Ann Kratochvil and GF Brazil's Envy are one ride away from reaching the elite status of the Perfect Ten Equine. Only 7 other horses have received this award where the horse must have completed 10 years, 10,000 miles, 10 first place finishes and 10 best conditions in their careers.

Ann hadn't planned on riding all 3 days - she usually takes a day off in between on multi-day rides, because "Envy doesn't know slow." Ann was hurting on day 3, but Envy was raring to go. Finishing Top Ten all 3 days (which is normal for Ann and Envy), the pair were 1 of 6 riders who finished all 3 days; and the 155 miles left Envy with one more ride to go to cross the 10,000 mile mark into the AERC history books.

(Stay tuned for the Bill Thornburgh Friends & Family on October 24!)

Wasch and Gabriela Blakeley were first and second in all-3-day standings, with a combined time of 15:15 for the 155 miles. Miki Dekel and the appaloosa Kool Hand Luke also completed all three days, in a combined time of 29:24. That's perseverance!

Four riders completed all 3 days of LDs, with Terry Doyle and Shamrock DE having the fastest combined time of 13:00, and local Pickett Crick rider Linda Kluge and Ted second in 13:02.

A pair that certainly would have completed all 3 days of the LD were Janet Tipton and the rather famous mustang Lady Jasmine. Already the all-time highest-mileage LD horse with well over 5000 LD miles, Janet elected to ride a 50 on one of the days (and LDs on the other two), to chip away at that Decade Team award, for equine and rider teams who complete at least one endurance ride (50 miles or more) each year for 10 years.

It was rather warm on Days 1 and 2, since many of the competing horses already had a good start on winter coats. A cool front blew in the night before Day 3, dropping temperatures twenty degrees into the 60'. Some of us still thought it was a bit hot, but riders managed their horses well, and nobody was treated.

In what is hopefully a regular occurrence at the Owyhee Canyonlands, and what should be required at most endurance rides, the Teeterville Bluegrass Jammers picked on the porch in the evenings for entertainment. The first nite we got two whoops; the second night we got two neighs; the third night we got some horses kicking their pens. I'm not exactly sure how to interpret that. The fourth night, one rider ventured to join us to sing a couple of songs. Bring your instruments next time and play with us at your own risk.

31 of 36 riders finished the Day 1 50, with Junior Barrak Blakeley getting 1st on Ela Khomanche, and 6th place Elroy Karius and Jolly Holliday getting BC. 20 of 22 riders finished the Day 2 55, with Sanoma Blakeley winning on OMR Dream Chaser, and Wasch Blakeley and PR Moon Danzor getting BC. 25 of 26 riders completed day 3's 50, with Tani Bates and CR Marjan Roars winning, and second place Max Merlich and TCF Miles High getting BC.

Pat Gisvold and Raffons Noble Dancer won the Day 1 and Day 3 LDs. Bill Miller and Tezeros Hot Shot got BC both days. All 18 starters finished Day 1, and 16 of 18 finished Day 3. Winner of the Day 2 LD was Jeff Stuart and JV Remington, with BC going to second place Maria Kilo and Belesemo Geronimo. 18 of 19 starters finished.

For photos, see

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 Lost 'N Lava

September 26 2015

All kinds of adventures and excitement (the good and the bad kind) took place at the first Lost 'N Lava endurance ride near Shoshone, Idaho.

Upon arrival, if you took the correct turn off the highway into Ridecamp, you'd drive past a truly spectacular modern throwback homestead, with acres full of collections of every possible piece of everything you could ever need, want, or imagine. Big steel A-frames anyone? How about wooden ones? House frame? Or any of a dozen old tractors, lined up in a parade row. (One old tractor got a flat tire while plowing up one of the fields, and why fix that tire when you can just hitch up another tractor? Although there were surely spare tractor tires somewhere on the place.) Some old chevy car. Lots of other old cars. And pieces of cars. And former pieces of former cars. Generators. Machines. Cabins. Pieces of cabins. Old bridge. Old wagons. Older wagons. Lots of huge hunky draft horses running free. Lots of baling twine. Baling twine holding up 'fences' made of steel girders. Sometimes it was a tight fit, squeezing a big horse trailer on the two-track dirt road through the collections. You would not want to meet a horse trailer coming out at you, because neither of you would have room to make a mistake backing up!

This was the Barney's property, a laid-back, friendly, calm father and son, jack-of-all trade throwbacks to the 1880's it looked like, who happily let Lynn White put on a ride out of their place.

Upon arrival, if you took a wrong turn off the highway on what looked to be the right road, but turned out to be the wrong one, you might have ended up on a narrowing-to-scary dirt road along a canal, with not much choice in turning a rig around. That happened to Drin, who came all the way from Montana for the ride. (And after all that driving from Montana, Drin was so sick with the flu on Saturday, she didn't even get to ride.)

But it was a good thing Drin came, however, because a sick, scrawny one-eyed cat sidled up to Drin the evening that she arrived, begging for a rescue. Somebody must have dumped the cat, who was once obviously human-owned, and it had survived for who knows how long, along a creek among owls and coyotes, on wits and cat prayers, until heaven arrived in the form of a camp full of animal-loving endurance riders. At Friday's ride meeting, money was quickly raised so the cat could be treated by a vet. It was obvious that New Cat/Lava/Barney would be adopted by the end of the ride by some softie, you could just tell.

If you were in camp a night early, you and your horses got to mingle, whether or not you wanted to, with first cows, then the resident draft horses, who were all happy to find yummy hay, and sometimes grain sitting outside horse trailers. The draft horses were locked up the next evening!

You could also catch sight of a hulking pair of draft horses, pulling the water wagon, which filled up the water tubs in camp. Hopefully your horse would not see this spectacle as he was vetting in on Friday, or during a vet check in camp on Saturday!

The 55 mile ride had over 20 riders in it. There were 3 loops, 16, 20, and 18ish miles out into the sagebrush desert and back to Ridecamp for the vet checks and finish. There might have been a dozen LD riders, and nobody rode the 75.

At the very start, riders crossed the Big Wood River. Which was bone dry at this time of year.
Footing was pretty easy going on the first two loops, mostly flat, with a couple of minor hills. Plenty of cows, if you wanted to break your endurance horse to cows, or if you wanted to chase them away from water troughs, which Dudley was happy to do. Some lava rocks in the trails slowed you down at times, but your horse enjoyed a break now and then anyway. The area is a site of a lava flow from the 10,000-year-old Shoshone volcano. We rode right by the Black Butte crater, part of this lava flow field.

The third loop had a good bit of rock in the trail which slowed riders down, but was doable, and not too hot, with a good enough breeze to kick a dust trail up from horses' hooves. The temperatures were supposed to reach around 90 degrees, but a lovely cloud cover kept the first half of the day cooler, and the breeze helped with the second half of the day.

As we were finishing up the second loop, a helicopter flew right over us. When we got back to camp, we found out Julia Corbin had an accident, and was Life Flighted out. (Reminder to everyone: Renew your Life Flight membership!! It's only $60 a year!) Scary! Turns out she broke her pelvis when her horse went over on her. She'll be fine, but feel free to send her your good thoughts and vibes for fast healing.

When you're out on the trail, you're often oblivious to what's going on with the rest of the ride. At the finish, we heard a couple of riders missed a turn early in the day, and went some miles out of their way following the wrong color ribbons. 3 horses had been treated - a bad day for them, though they ended up being fine.

Winner of the 55 miler was Jolly Holiday and Elroy Karius, who drove 2 days from Canada to get there. Best Condition went to Lee Pearce and Fire Mt Malabar - the gelding back in usual fine form after an illness this summer.

It was a real good day for New Cat/Lava/Barney. Helen and Archie from DWA Arabians up the road took him home. You knew Archie was the total softie that would end up with him. Archie spent the day driving the 'horse ambulance' - the truck pulling the horse trailer along some of those tricky lava-rock roads, while Helen and Ann rode their DWA horses.

Lots of volunteers showed up before and during the ride to help. If you were standing around, you were volunteered to help. The catered dinner was terrific after a long day of riding, particularly the pink cake for desert. Lynn ran a good ride despite all the chaos. Hopefully that took care of all the gremlins for years to come!

More stories and photos (and a future video to come) at:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teeter Ranch Hosts "Foundations and Beyond Horsemanship" Clinic

September 23 2015
by Merri

The Teeter Ranch in Oreana, Idaho, was the site last weekend of a third "Foundations and Beyond Horsemanship" Clinic taught by natural horsemanship trainer, Ted Nicholes of Parma, Idaho. Seven pupils (a mix of endurance, pleasure, and trail riders), seeking a better working relationship with their horses, participated in the 3-day clinic.

A former cowboy, and former teacher, Nicholes had an "epiphany moment" a few years ago when he
discovered the difference between a tool (horse) to get the job done, and a mutually respectful, willing, and appreciative partnership with a horse, after he learned the Downunder Clinton Anderson horse training method and began applying it.

"I'd seen that partnership between human and horse, but I'd never really recognized it for what it was, I guess," Nicholes says. "I never knew it existed. I knew in my heart that most people never knew that existed. The epiphany moment I had, I just wanted to share it. So I coupled that with my desire to teach, and it became a passion; it became an emotional passion."

"I can help you and your horse!" is Nicholes' mantra. Over his 3-day clinics, Nicholes uses Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship method* to teach his pupils. And Nicholes is a good teacher. He's encouraging to those who have trouble with something, and commends those who finally get a correct response from their horse on something they'd been having trouble with. Nicholes is also known for his honesty in evaluating you and your horse. It's a rare occurrence, but he will tell you if he doesn't think your horse will be safe enough for you to handle, and he will give you the tools and knowledge you need to be able to see that for yourself. No question is a stupid question, and he likes to say, "If you have a question I can't answer, I can find somebody who can!"

On the first day, time is first spent indoors discussing reasons behind Nicholes' philosophy, and the method behind 'The Method.' Students then begin with groundwork in the arena as a foundation for the weekend; by the afternoon of the third day, most students are confidently cantering on loose reins on relaxed horses in the arena, and effectively using light one-rein stops.

Nicholes limits clinics to seven participants, so he can spend time with each person individually, if necessary. Also present at the clinics are a number of Nicholes' children, who are as competent as their father in teaching horses and helping riders. If pupils are uncomfortable at any stage, or need extra help in communicating with a horse or using the tools, Ted or his helpers will step in to lend a hand, or ride the horse.

Endurance rider Ann Kuck came to the clinic for the first time with a newer horse she'd been having issues with. "Marty was just being a recalcitrant 6-year-old," Kuck says. She left the clinic with more tools and knowledge to help her continue her horsemanship journey with Marty.

"The clinic greatly helped me," she says. "And I do have to take charge. I have to be the one who says (to Marty), 'No, we're doing it this way, and we're doing it now.' I have to become Arnold Schwarzenegger," she laughs. "That's helped me a lot. Ted's very good at teaching!

"We've come a long way, but I want to get Marty back into endurance riding, and I don't feel like we're ready to do that, unless we have more of the fundamentals. I'm excited."

Endurance rider Steph Teeter participated in the clinic for the third time, this time with a new horse. "With horses, it always takes a third time to get it," Teeter says. "I think it's the same with people. The first time I did the clinic, I was totally clueless - the tools were crazy and I felt I was all over the place. The second time it was making sense. And the third time I felt like 'I can do this!' And you refine your skills, get a little better at it each time. It's amazing! Ted's a magician."

Riders come away from Nicholes' clinics with the fundamental knowledge they need to work on having a safer horse to enjoy and bond with, and a good start on their horsemanship journey with a happy, respectful, willing partner. It's fulfilling, for both riders and for Nicholes.

"The emotions that I have for horses, and the love I have for them, just comes out in that desire to help horses and people," Nicholes says. "When I see those horse owners realize what they can do, it's fulfilling."

For more information on Ted Nicholes and his program, see

*Ted Nicholes and Foundations and Beyond Horsemanship are not representing, sanctioned by or in any way officially affiliated with DUH or Clinton Anderson.