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.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kelsey Russell: The "Gonna Go Someplace Kid"

July 17 2014
by Merri Melde

Kelsey Russell, a Young Rider, is one of the USA Endurance Team riders for the 2014 World Equestrian Games Endurance Race in France

"She's as cool and calculating as any of the senior riders," says USA Chef d'Equipe Emmett Ross of Kelsey Russell, the first Young Rider to ever make the senior World Championship USA Endurance Team. "And of course she's a chip off the old block, because she rides for Valerie Kanavy, and Valerie has been coaching her ever since she's been a kid."

Kanavy hardly needs any introduction in endurance circles, being a 2-time former World Endurance Champion in 1994 in The Netherlands, and 1998 in the United Arab Emirates. Being only 18, Russell isn't as well known yet, but that's not because she's been hiding in the stables.

"I've been on horses pretty much my whole life," Russell says. "With my aunt I do barrel racing and western riding." It wasn't till about 5 years ago that Russell boarded her horses in Kanavy's stable across the street and discovered endurance. "I started riding endurance with her the following winter, and I have been ever since."

It was obvious to Kanavy that Russell was a horsewoman from the beginning. "She was like a little monkey that hung on, no matter what. Sometimes the horses would do things, and we'd be going, 'Oh no!', but she didn't come off," Kanavy laughs.

Russell, from Williston, Florida, did her first endurance ride in January of 2010 on one of Kanavy's horses, Layla Z Gold. Since then, Russell has racked up over 1800 AERC miles, a first place finish in the 2011 North American Young Riders FEI Championships aboard Kanavy's My Wild Irish Gold, a 6th place finish aboard Kanavy's Gold Raven in the 2011 FEI Young Rider Junior World Endurance Championship in Abu Dhabi, and a 5th place finish with My Wild Irish Gold in the 2013 Young Rider Junior World Endurance Championship in Tarbes, France.

Russell will be riding My Wild Irish Gold on the USA Team in the 2014 World Equestrian Games Endurance Race in Normandy, France on August 28, 2014. "Irish" is a 10 coming 11-year-old bay Anglo-Arabian mare, owned and bred by Kanavy's Gold Medal Farms. She is Russell's favorite horse in the stable to ride. "She's comfortable; she likes to go, but she has a brain. She doesn't get stupid, and she doesn't waste her energy," Russell says.

Russell's first endurance ride on Irish was a 2nd place finish in the Goethe Challenge 75-miler in December of 2010. Since then, they've completed 10 endurance races in the USA together (including 4 wins and a Best Condition), and the 2 overseas races. Their best ride, Russell says, was the Young Rider Junior Championship in France last year where the mare covered the 120-km course in 6 1/2 hours.

Russell is not daunted at all by riding alongside experienced senior riders in such a prestigious Championship race in France. "I ride with quite a few of them and I hang out with them at the rides so I know them pretty well. It'll be different than the Young Riders, but I think it'll be fun and it'll be a really good experience," she says matter-of-factly.

Kanavy knows Russell can handle the pressure, and is delighted with her accomplishments. "I'm pretty proud of her all the way around. I'm proud of her for what she does in school and all her other activities too; it's not just about riding. She's an all-around 'Gonna Go Someplace Kid.' She has great family support, and I think where she is, and what she's accomplished, is because she's determined, and she is a dynamite worker. I'm more proud of the way she's conducted her whole life; and her good will and determination to go somewhere and be somebody, and be the best you can be - she takes that to another level."

Russell will be riding at the top level in France next month, aboard a top level mare, with a top level team, coach, family, and mentor rooting her on, and it's likely she will take it all in stride.

Kelsey Russell is the second junior to ride as a senior team member.
Joe Mattingly rode as a 16-year-old as a US Team Member at the 1988 World Championship in Front Royal, Virginia and placed 7th overall. In 1990, at the age of 18, he was a US Team Member at the 1990 World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden at the first ever World Equestrian Games (his horse retired at 75 miles).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fourteen-Year-Old on $550 Horse Wins 2014 Old Dominion

Paul Stevenson photo

June 20 2014

Leave it to a 14-year-old junior rider to set some new endurance riding standards in one of the country's oldest and most prestigious 100-mile rides. Not only was the 40th anniversary of the Old Dominion 100 Bryna Stevenson's first endurance ride by herself, but she also set the record aboard Whisperstreams Atropine (Maddy) as the youngest winner; she and Maddy won the Best Condition award; and she and Maddy won the Old Dominion trophy (day-after Best Condition)* the next morning.

While the trail through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge mountains is known as "The Beast of the East," for its "rocks, heat, rocks, humidity, and rocks," according to 4-time finisher Dawn Hilliard, and is "wicked tough," according to Daryl Downs, previous youngest winner of the 100-mile ride in 2005 at age 18, it was Bryna's and Maddy's kind of trail. "Maddy really likes hilly trails and she does really well with them," Bryna said. Owned by Jen Stevenson, Bryna's mom, it was only the second time Bryna and Maddy had partnered up in an endurance ride. Their first and only ride together was in November of 2010 in the 30-mile Mustang Memorial, Maddy's first endurance ride. Since then, Bryna has accumulated over 2500 endurance miles throughout her junior career.

The now-10-year-old mare had been languishing in a Western Pleasure barn before the Stevensons got her. "That was not working out for her; she would take off with the owner, and bolt," said Jen. "We observed her out in this field for about 6 months, and I thought, 'Wow, she's really nice.' The barn closed in the summer and they were dispersing all their horses, and a friend of mine said they had this Arab that they couldn't get rid of that I should go take a look at." It turned out to be that same mare, and they wanted $550 for her. "Bryn tried her first and said to get her, and I went the next day and tried her myself, and she was a lunatic, but… we bought her." Dubbed "Whisperstreams Atropine," or Maddy for short, (Whisperstream is the Stevenson barn name), Maddy didn't come with papers, but is rumored to be 3/4 Arabian and 1/4 American Saddlebred.

Jen took up with Maddy in endurance after Bryna started her, riding her to 33 of 35 completions and 1690 miles over the next 4 seasons. One can easily deduce the mare much preferred the endurance trails to a life of Western Pleasure.

Maddy already had 2 100-mile completions to her name, and Bryna had 3, and both had ridden over the 50-mile Old Dominion course, though neither had ever tried the Old Dominion 100. After Jen and Maddy finished the 50 at Old Dominion last year, Jen and friend Lisa Delp got to talking about how Bryn could probably do a nice job with Maddy at this year's OD 100. "From that point on, we really wanted to have Maddy prepared aptly for this hard ride."

Bryna hadn't started out the ride thinking she'd win, however; she had just wanted a completion. "I started my ride and I got probably 2 miles down the trail, and Maddy kept going. She kept catching up with the leaders, and I just rode her on a loose rein all day, and that's just where she stayed, up front. She felt really good."

Bryna rode the first 3 loops with Virginia riders Tom and Gina Hagis, experienced OD riders. Gina complimented Bryna afterwards, "She is a excellent rider, nice and soft. She is easy to ride with, quiet, and can put her horse in the back or pick a good pace in front."

The fourth vet check was where the ride turned solo for Bryna and Maddy. "We came into 'Big 92' [at 57 miles]," Bryna recalled, "and Maddy vetted in all A's. There was a hill leaving Big 92, and Maddy stopped while going up the hill, turned around and saw them coming up the hill behind us, and she just took off, as fast as she could. I didn't ask her to do anything the entire loop. The rest of the ride I was all alone."

Bryna had ridden Maddy on training rides before, and she'd ridden in the dark before, but she had never ridden Maddy in the dark before, so she after the sun went down, she took it easy. "I asked her to walk a lot because I wasn't sure what she would do." Maddy can be a spooky horse, but "the last loop went really well."

That's an understatement, as the pair finished 1 hour and 8 minutes ahead of the next finishers who tied for second, Nicky Meuten and Cashin In, and Heather Hoyns and Zainal, with a winning time of 13:43.18. Several observers at the finish line commented that Maddy looked fabulous, like she'd hardly done anything. That judgment was confirmed as Maddy won both Best Condition, and next day's Old Dominion trophy.*

Jen Stevenson had started in the day's OD Limited Distance ride, but pulled Rider Option when her horse threw a couple of shoes. She spent the rest of the day waiting for news on her daughter, since all vet checks are out of camp. She was waiting at the finish line, overwhelmed as the glowsticks from Maddy's breastcollar showed up on the road nearing the finish line. "I was trying to fight back the tears of happiness," Jen said. "I was just so proud of my daughter and my little horse."

Bryna was very tired, but elated. "I was a little out of it. I'd just had a cup of coffee at the last hold but it hadn't totally kicked in yet. I remember when I was coming across the finish line everyone was patting me on the back, it felt really amazing."

Bryna is quick to credit the Hagises for their help during the ride, and both Bryna and Jen praise fellow Northeast endurance mother-daughter duo Lisa and Meghan Delp with the help they've given the Stevensons over the years. "They've been our mentors over the past 2 years and they've really contributed to our being able to finish rides. We had some trouble in the beginning, and they really selflessly offered us so much guidance. They sponsored Bryna on so many rides when I got pulled, and they really taught us how to complete a ride with the horse looking good," Jen said.

"And my husband Paul is a huge part of this," she added. "He was Bryn's crew and also drives us to every single endurance ride we go to, and every horse event - when we're not endurance riding, we're usually going to an event or a show or a pony race."

Bryna first climbed on a horse when she was 4 years old, riding English and doing some lead line showing. By the time she was 4 1/2, she was walk/trot/cantering and jumping cross rails on a really placid registered Quarter horse. She has done barrel racing, gymkhana, hunters and jumpers, and CTRs. Last year she started eventing. "I just want to be clear: Bryn usually chaperones ME at rides," Jen laughed, "because she's a much better rider than I'll ever be. "

With her experienced and varied riding background, Bryna is striving to share this wonderful sport of endurance riding with other potential junior riders. Regina Welsh is a friend who got Bryn into steeplechasing, and she's also the founder of US Pony Racing, developed for "for the purpose of developing and promoting racing opportunities for young riders." Bryn thought that endurance rides would be good conditioning for the steeplechase horses who are expected to go long distances, and for the young riders. She created a video to help get more eventers and steeplechasers interested and involved in endurance.

Jen added, "It would be a great opportunity to get kids out of the riding ring. A lot of kids in New Jersey just ride in arenas, and they really don't have the opportunity to go out on the trails because they've never been exposed to it."

Despite this huge accomplishment of winning one of the toughest endurance rides in the country as a Junior rider, Bryna took the whole adventure in stride throughout the ride weekend.

Veteran endurance rider Angie McGhee, who finished the OD 100 for the first time in the middle of the pack, said, "I'll admit, I have been leery of some of the teens with minimal endurance background that have been jumping in with both feet, full speed in our international scene. [Bryna] was NOTHING like that. Very sweet, unassuming, grateful, and knew her own horse very well and gave it a super ride. One of those people you could feel happy for and good about the sport." Daryl Downs added, "If my record of youngest winner of the OD was taken by anyone - I would want it to be Bryna. She is very talented and we share a lot of good times!"

Fortunately for endurance riding, Bryna Stevenson has many miles of trail ahead of her as junior and senior rider, many more goals to accomplish and share, and many more records to set.

Bryna's video "A Year's Progress"

(or link:

*The Old Dominion Trophy is the premier 100 mile division award presenting the to the horse/rider team which has demonstrated optimum performance based on its post-ride recovery and condition at the Old Dominion 25/50/100 mile ride. The formula for determining a winner is based on a veterinary score, total elapsed time and weight carried. Equine leg protective devices are prohibited during the ride. Horses are judged the morning following the close of the 100 mile ride.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

100 Miles Is 100 Miles Is 100 Miles

Wednesday June 11 2014

What is a 100-mile endurance ride? It's one long day (and often night) in the saddle: a challenge of partnership, endurance, perseverance, and focus. It's overcoming fatigue, keeping your horse's enthusiasm up when his energy flags, and perking up your own attitude when you'd rather be dozing off as your awesome horse pulls you along. It's paying close attention to your horse all day (and often night), listening to his body and feeling his motion and attitude.

It's managing his water and food intake all day (and often night), and monitoring his recoveries. It's judging pace and strength all day (and often night), judging the climate and terrain and fitting that to your partner's needs, rationing out the gas to last all day (and night). It's finishing a ride with a sound horse after 12, 18, or up to 24 hours in the saddle, with only the vet checks for rest. It's the ultimate distance challenge in endurance riding.

Just as a 50 mile ride is different from a limited distance ride and requires more awareness, concentration, and management of your equine partner than a limited distance ride, so too is a 100 mile ride different from a 50 mile ride, and requires more awareness, concentration and management of your equine partner than a 50.

I recently started noticing the "2-day 100" mile rides.They've been around a while; I only just started noticing and thinking about them. If I'm correct in this, a horse and rider who completes a 2-day 100 gets credit for a 100-mile ride on their record, i.e. if you finish the two 50-mile rides both days, you have completed a 100-mile ride. (If you pull on the second day, you don't get any mileage completion).

Say I have an endurance horse that only does 50's - I am thinking of one particular horse I have ridden. He could do a couple of 50-mile rides in a row at a multi-day, but I knew he was not the 100-mile type. He wasn't built or bred for it; 'things' started to add up after a couple days in a row (leg fillings, longer time to recover at vet checks, fatigue) and it wasn't in his best interest to ride any more or any further. I've ridden enough different horses to know he was just not a 100-mile horse. He was not made for it; and why would I try to force one out of him to prove a point?

So, say I took this horse to several 2-day 100-mile rides, and we completed them. I would then have a 50-mile-only horse who showed 3 100-mile completions on his record. Deceiving, isn't it? I know it wouldn't be technically correct, because I knew I wouldn't compete on this horse in a 1-day 100 mile ride. If I did complete a 1-day 100-mile ride on this horse, I would sure want that accomplishment acknowledged on his record among the 2-day 100s.

I don't think that showing a 2-day 100 as a "100-mile completion" on the mileage records is fair to horses and riders who do complete a 'real' 100. Two 50's in a row do not equal a 100-mile ride. The riding and pace is different. The skills of managing the horse is different. The rest and recovery time between miles 50 and 51 are completely different. The two events are not comparable.

You don't get credit for 50 miles in a 1-day 100 if you only make it that far, and you don't get credit for 75 miles if you elevate to a 100 but don't complete the 100. In a 2-day 100, if you don't complete day 2's 50 miles, you don't get credit for day 1's 50. That's fair, but it still doesn't mean you rode a '100-mile ride'.  If completing a 2-day 100 is equal to completing a 1-day 100, then every multi-day ride could be offered as a 100 mile ride (or two, in the case of 4 days!)

I'm curious: what is the rationale behind a 2-day 100 equalling a 1-day 100 on mileage records? Perhaps its purpose is to encourage riders to start thinking with the mindset of trying a 1-day 100. Or perhaps it's a benefit for ride managers to offer this option. Maybe it's a different kind of challenge, along the lines of the 5-day Shahzada in Australia where you must finish all 5 days to get a completion. Maybe it has something to do with points. Maybe it's not important anyway in which column the miles show up.

But is a 2-day 100 equal to a 1-day 100?

In My Opinion, it isn't. Not at all.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tough Sucker II: Mules Rule!

Saturday April 26 2014

"It was a bit windy…", photographer Steve Bradley commented. "OK, a lot of wind," he appended his statement - probably as he was chasing down his "Photo Ahead" sign as it tumbled across the sagebrush flats between endurance riders.

"The wind was horrendous, felt like it was going to blow me right off my horse a couple times!" Karen Bumgarner posted in her blog about her ride on Thunder in the 50.

The good part about the chilly windy day was that it wasn't blowing hard before the start. It's much easier to saddle up when it's calm, then get blasted with wind when you're already out on the trail and going, than it is to try to get motivated to saddle up in a gale.

It was so windy out on the trail, even when we were trotting and cantering in the same direction as the wind, the dust kicked up from the following horse's hooves blew past the lead horse.

The hurricane didn't slow down the Mules! Six mules started the Limited Distance ride and they finished first through sixth, the winner Jill Hedt riding John Henry in a smoking time of 2:52. John Henry also won Best Condition. Three of the mule riders were Juniors. A total of 21 riders started the LD with 20 finishing, and the only pull being a Rider Option.

Twenty riders started the 50-mile ride with 19 finishing, with that only pull also being a Rider Option. Dean Hoalst riding Pay Attention, and Layne Simmons riding Beauty's Harley smoked through the 50, with Dean just edging Layne at the finish in a time of 4:41. Pay Attention won Best Condition. Third was another Mule - Calvin Gordon riding Restless Hanna, who won the Tough Sucker I 50 mile ride on April 5. Finishing 15th was Nance Worman on Big Sky Quinn, who reached his 4000 mile plateau.

The Owyhee Desert was particularly green(ish) this spring, with abundant(ish) desert grass for snacking on throughout the two loops. A good rain on Friday left the scenic trails - particularly the Hallulujah Rim Trail and the Snake River Trail around Wild Horse Butte - dust-free. When the hurricane did kick up dust, it blew away so fast you hardly noticed it. We were slammed by one gusting whirlwind (distinguishable from the other 25 mph wind by the wall of brown flying at us at 35 mph) that passed through us before we could react.

The Tough Sucker I and II rides, both managed by Regina Rose, were a good (brisk!) start to the 2014 Northwest endurance ride season in Idaho.

"Trail's Open!"

Ride photos and results and stories are at:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Destination Virginia City 100: Gina Hall and Fire Mt. Destiny

Wednesday April 9 2014

He still unloads her once or twice a year. He'll bolt. He can "spook like no other." He can trip and fall when he doesn't pay attention, because "it's not real important for him to stay up on all four feet." You could say Fire Mt. Destiny has "a few quirks," admits owner and rider Gina Hall, of Carson City, Nevada. Even now at 17 years old, Gina always respects Destiny, because she doesn't put anything past him. But the 15.3-hand chestnut gelding has more than made up for his quirks with his extraordinary accomplishments on the endurance trails.

Gina's friend Wanda Myers told her about Fire Mt. Destiny when he was for sale as a two-year-old. Bred by Jackie Bumgardner of Ridgecrest, California, Destiny is by Sierra Fadwah +/ (1992 AERC Hall of Fame horse, 7280 AERC miles, 87 for 87 record) out of a L.a.s. Talasman+/ mare.

Wanda had owned L.a.s.Talasman+/, an extraordinary endurance horse with a 4850-mile, 86 for 86 record, who traces back to the Bezaleel line (sire of Bezatal, 1987 AERC Hall of Fame horse).

"I had been riding a Talasman daughter," Gina related, "and Talasman and Sierra Fadwah were half brothers (both out of Judhi by Bezaleel), so I went and looked at him with Wanda."

He was a rather unlikely looking super horse then. "When I saw him, I thought - really? He was so gangly, at that awkward two-year-old stage - big pot belly, ewe neck. Wanda kept saying, 'Yep! Yep! You're buying him for his bone and his bloodlines' - so that's why I got him!"

Destiny had been introduced to saddle and rider just a few times; but Gina took him home and turned him out and left him alone until he was 5, other than just trimming his feet and hand-walking him on hikes in the hills.

He was good-tempered and charmingly mischievous those years. "He started this thing that he still does to this day," Gina recalls. "When I'm leading him down the trail, he fiddles with my coat, or my hair. He used to grab at the hood on my coat. He kind of nuzzles me as we go down the trail."

When Destiny turned 5 and it was time to start the breaking and riding in earnest, Gina started him. "Well, I tried riding him. The first time, I took him over to Connie Creech's place. We worked him in the round pen a little bit, and I got on him. She was leading him around, and for whatever reason, he freaked out." Gina had to bail off. "I tried riding him a couple of other times in a friend's round pen, and he dumped me, HARD. I said - 'Oh, you are going to the trainer!'"

Destiny still kind of had Gina's number when he got back from the trainer, so her daughter Carolyn Meier rode him for a while. "What helped the most with him was putting a running martingale on him, because his trick was getting his nose up in the air, and he'd bolt with me and buck. And as soon as he couldn't do that (get his head up) - and the trainer put a pretty good mouth on him - I didn't have that problem anymore." Gina still doesn't let her guard down on him though, because he can still randomly test her with his shenanigans.

Destiny's first endurance ride was a Limited Distance ride at age 5 in June of 2002 in Nevada. Gina recollects the conditions were less than ideal. "The wind was blowing a thousand miles an hour, and I had a scoop on my saddle, and I had a crupper on. He tried to buck me off. I took the crupper off, and gave Connie my scoop; and after that, he was fine for the rest of the day, although we had a bunch of motorcycles to deal with too that day."

His first 50 miler was a month later at Red Rocks, also in Nevada. "It was a tough, long ride - we took a long time to do it. And it was super hot that year, 105 degrees - they ended up starting the ride an hour earlier because it was just too hot. But he did good."

The duo only did 3 50-mile rides that year, and Destiny only got better and better. "And I'd gotten more and more comfortable on him. My friends were all very helpful and supportive, helping take care of me while I got brave on him."

After starting and completing 8 50-mile rides the next season at age 6, Gina felt ready to try a 100-mile ride on him at age 7. It wasn't an easy 100 she picked, either. It was the the Virginia City 100 in and around historic Virginia City, Nevada.

The Virginia City 100 is known for its rocky, challenging terrain, heat, historic wagon trails, its 5 AM start in front of the Delta Saloon and the Bucket of Blood Saloon in downtown Virginia City, its unrelenting elevations between 5000 and 7800 feet, its SOB's (Sons of B*tches hills you hit during the heat of the day), and for some rather legendary horses and riders who have graced its trails over the (now) 47 years of its running.

Destiny handled the trails with ease the first time. "We did it in a little over 19 hours. He was just solid. He was a trooper." And he's only gotten better and better over the years on 100-mile rides. He's gone on to start and complete a total of 19 100-mile rides, including the Virginia City a total of 9 times.

In 2012, Gina and Destiny completed 3 100-milers: the Twenty Mule Team in February; the Tevis Cup in August; and Virginia City in September. That year, their eighth VC completion was one of Gina's best rides ever on Destiny. "I rode with Ann Hall on HCC Zara RR (no relation) the last 50 miles, and I never thought I would have that kind of horse on a 100-mile ride. I don't know if it was Ann or Zara or what, but our horses did unbelievably well on that last loop. I think we rode it faster than the winning rider did. And it was just awesome to finish (in 9th place, in 16:06) with a horse that felt so strong and good," Gina recalls.

Gina does have to carefully manage her horse. He has tied up with her before (muscle cramps), so she has to carefully monitor his feeding and training between endurance rides. "I really work on keeping him hydrated during rides, and between rides, I have to be super careful with his diet and exercise. He doesn't get to sit around very often; he has to get regular exercise. My daughter says I micromanage him, and that's okay! It works, and I've been real conservative with him."

Gina has carefully planned Destiny's 2014 ride season, with the Virginia City 100 in September as the centerpiece. Destiny is poised to become only the fifth horse to earn a 1000-mile VC Buckle (the last one was Beansprout in 1987). That puts Destiny up there on the same page with Donna Fitzgerald's legendary Witezarif, 1000-mile Buckle winner in 1978.

"It's going to be exciting!" Gina said. "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that we finish. Destiny knows VC 100 - he just knows it. He knows where I want him to go, or where he knows it's okay to go - and he's just awesome. When he's 'On' for that ride, he's a ball.

"He's so awesome; I'm so blessed! I'll probably never have another horse like him. It's been a journey for sure, getting him to where he is, but he just seems to get better and better and better. I'm sad that he's going to be 17, but I think he's still got quite a bit of miles left in him, and time. And he loves it. He really likes the work."

You just might want to mark September 20th on your calendar, the day of the 47th annual Virginia City 100 ride, where a 17-year-old endurance horse with a record of almost 6500 miles, and a 108 for 109 start/finish record, an AERC Decade Team Award, and 19 100-mile completions, stands to make a little endurance history.

Merri Melde photos


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