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:
https://picasaweb.google.com/102194576498719760691/CanyonDeChellyAZNov2014

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:
http://www.endurance.net/international/USA/2014OwyheeHallowedWeenies/

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.

Correction:
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDSKnIFVvos)

*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.



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