Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You Can Rest When You Die! (Not When You Break Your Toe)








Monday June 29 2009

So said the back of Janis' shirt (all except the Toe stuff) when we rode off on a 25 mile loop today.

I just couldn't stand it, after missing two 50-mile rides in our back yard (the Almosta Bennett Hills ride), and Janis saying she was going out on a long ride today, so
I just had to go riding with her. This morning I got a bigger sized Croc shoe from Steph and stuffed my right foot in. Yowza. That's when I got the notion that maybe I didn't just rip the toenail off my foot when I got stepped on, but maybe I broke the dang toe too.

Whoooeeeee it hurt and I didn't think there was any way I'd be able to put my foot in the stirrup (hitting the side of the stirrup, putting weight in the stirrup, etc). But it was SUCH a nice day, and Janis was already on her horse Cole heading my way at a canter, the Owyhee mountains in the background framing them, Cole's mane flying in the breeze and Janis grinning, and that clinched it. I was riding.

I hobbled out to catch Jose, limped about getting him ready, and whimpered as I stood on my bad foot to mount. I awkwardly hauled myself up into the saddle (sorry, Jose!), placed my poor toe in the big shoe into the stirrup... and off we went!

It hurt, sometimes a lot, but, who cared! A cooling breeze refreshed us as we trotted north on Steph's ridge; and the view into Hart Creek along the Rim Trail as we headed south on the next ridge made up for the rising temperature. We turned back north and descended the sharp ridge down into Hart Creek, where the horses gulped cool water, and then I almost guided Jose over a rattlesnake at the old Homestead! He saw it before I did and jumped out of the way.

Normally when I ride this loop I'm going the other direction, so this was almost like a new trail today. And I don't know if Jose has ever been this direction - things looked different and interesting to him too, and he had one big spook when we came around a corner and saw a dead log on his left. Sure, we've seen that dozens of times from the right side, but not the left!

I found a long snake skin on the ground (going into a little burrow - did the snake just slide out of his skin when he slithered inside?), and, a GPS! Actually Jose must have spotted it because he stopped right there to get some grass, so I could hop off him and pick it up. So now Jose has his own GPS.

We followed Hart Creek (soon it became dry - the water was diverted) to the Potato Field (full of flowering potato plants this year), and when we turned for home we had another nice breeze at our back.

By now the drinking water in our saddle bags was hot, the day was starting to cook, so it was good to be getting back home when we did. The boys stood in Pickett Creek - which was 10* cooler than anywhere else - for a while and took a deep drink right at the barn.

When I dismounted, I had to lower myself gently to the ground - not land on my right foot - but in general, my toe wasn't too much different after riding. It still hurt. And what a great ride! Heck, I even think I might have been able to do a 50 on Sunday.

Huh - that's the last time I'm letting a little smashed toe stop me from riding in an endurance ride. I can rest my toes when I die!

Monday, June 29, 2009

OUTRAGE



Monday June 29 2009

Take note of this upcoming 'Mongol Derby' in August - billed as 'The Longest Horse Race in the World'.

Racing 1000 km across 'wild Mongolian terrain' - 25 international 'riders' on hundreds of native horses (i.e. the little Mongolian ponies), will change mounts every 40 km "so the horses will be fresh" (read: not injured or dead), over no marked course, with no confirmed water stops - "They're going to give us GPS locations to the wells, where we'll be able to get water, and they don't guarantee that the wells will have water," says one of the participants.

And, there's the big question about veterinary control. "Hopefully we won't get any horse injuries because the nature of the Mongol Derby means it is the rider under stress not the horse," says the website. (Horses, with presumably no conditioning programs, carrying heavy riders with various or no degrees of endurance or racing experience, racing 40 km, not stressed?)


"12-14 hand" ponies (weight limit for riders is 187 pounds - !) will be "semi-wild" and unshod. "if your horse sustains even a minor injury you will need to get off and walk it to the next Urtuu. (No word on how, if the horse breaks a leg, or crashes metabolically, one would be able to do this.) You will receive training on how to spot injuries and assess their severity before the race in Mongolia."

The website says there will be 'veterinary backup to come to its rescue', but the overall welfare of the horses has yet to adequately documented. No veterinarians have been named to oversee the horse’s medical needs. And how would one do this for 1000 km, when the participants may take up to 3 weeks to finish, where there is no marked course? "They're providing us with these yellow brick trackers, so we can activate the emergency beacon if our horse is injured and we can't walk it in," a rider said.

When asked if V.E.T. Net, a Mercy Corps program which trains Mongolians, would address this critical issue, the charity spokes people did not respond.

And speaking of charities, to further twist things the wrong way, the world-wide charity Mercy Corps has accepted 25,000 British pounds in exchange for helping the English travel company to organize this event.

“Mercy Corps are delighted to be a part of the first ever Mongol Derby,” said Jennifer Adams, Mercy Corps Event Development Coordinator in Scotland. No word from Jennifer on how, or if, any of that 25,000 British pound 'donation' will be spread to the Mongolian nomads who sell or lend (or, perhaps, are told to do so? Makes you wonder) their horses to this 'race', or how, or if they will be reimbursed if their horses are injured or die.

"Bleeding kidneys, broken limbs, open sores, moon stroke and a list of dangers longer than your arm stand between you and victory,” warns the official race website, to entice adventurers and adrenaline junkies.

Hey, I'm all for fun and adventure, and adrenaline junkets; and personally I don't care if people want to put their lives in danger, that's their business. But if it's all about the pain and danger to, and stress on, the humans, why not have them walk, or run, or drive? Why endanger hundreds of horses that nomadic Mongolians depend upon for their way of life? Why should even one horse be made to risk its life for this bit of 'fun' by foreigners?

If you want to ride endurance, come ride in the Tevis Cup or some of our 5-day rides, or the Tom Quilty or the 5-day Shahzada in Australia. If you want to horse tour around Mongolia, take an organized tour with someone who has been there before (The Adventurists, putting in this 'race', have not. Ever.) You can even go with endurance riders, Christoph Shork and Dian Woodward of Global Endurance Training, who lead organized tours over there in conjunction with Boojum Expeditions, a REAL expedition and adventure travel company. You can ride 8 hours a day and learn something about the Mongolian people and culture, not exploit them.

This Mongol Derby is not a sporting event. This is not endurance riding. This travesty of a 'race' is a disgrace to the horse world and an insult to responsible riders and competitors and horse organizations around the world. If you are participating in it, I would really like to know your reasons. Please feel free to comment or email me if you are one.

There will be more to come in my blogs as things develop with this. For now, you can read an Article by the Long Rider's Guild, "Racing into Trouble". You can also read much more on the Mongolia page on The Long Rider's Guild.

And if you care, you can sign a petition to stop this HERE on the Voices for Horses page.

If you'd like more on this "Official Charity" Mercy Corp who is accepting money for helping with this, click here and form your own opinions.

More to come.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mangled


Thursday June 25 2009

"Your horse is LAME LAME LAME, 3-LEGGED LAME, DEAD LAME!" in the right hind, for 3 days, on bute, Steph told me right after I got back from the Strawberry Fields ride. She couldn't find any heat or swelling, and didn't know if it might be an abscess... or a break somewhere up high. Kind of puts your heart in your throat when you hear your horse can't put his leg down and is literally hopping on 3 legs - for 3 days.

When I got home, Stormy was finally able to put some slight weight on the foot, and I found a very tiny warm and sensitive spot, top of his hoof on the coronet band - maybe he was going to pop a gravel out of there. It does make them dead lame for a couple of days. I couldn't find anything else poking and prodding up his leg and stifle to indicate anything broken.

I then walked over to the neighbor's to throw their horses some hay. I wasn't planning on interacting with any horses, but a couple of mares came up behind me. One had some terrible ear itches and came up to have them scratched - and barrelled right into me. And stood on my foot. Which was in a sandal.

I shrieked and flailed at her but she wouldn't get off, and when she finally moved away, she pivoted first, grinding my foot into the ground.

I live in sandals, but I never wear them when I work around horses. I always make sure to take the time to put shoes on. Except today.

Now I am LAME LAME LAME, 3-LEGGED LAME, DEAD LAME in the right hind. Mashed the top of my foot, turned it blue; nothing broken I think, but I ripped a toenail off. It's a bloody mangled mess. Looks like I put it in a blender.

That is true empathy with my horse, don't you think?

And Stormy did blow a gravel out his coronet band.


A New Zealand friend was at the Tom Quilty endurance ride last year, with his old mentor. They were walking around their horses barefoot (!). "That way I know where my feet are."

I know where my feet are - one is soaking in an antiseptic bath and getting wrapped in a bandage from being stepped on, and I won't be able to ride in the 2-day ride we are having here this weekend, dang it!

Two days later, it feels better and I'm not limping so badly (though it doesn't look much better)... maybe I can ride a horse...

Steve B suggested I get an old pair of shoes and cut a hole out where my toe goes, so that it doesn't rub. That's a possibility. What's a little pain? It's not like I broke my leg. It's not like I even broke a toe. It is very tempting.


But then, the thought of just bumping my toe makes me a bit nauseous, and what's the probability of NOT bumping my toe once in 50 or 100 miles of riding?

Well, perhaps there will be some other great opportunities that arise as I hobble around and watch the other riders having fun. At the least, my lame horse and I can hang around and hobble and heal together.

2009 Strawberry Fields Forever - Day 3

Monday June 22 2009



Well, I can't say I was TOO disappointed about not riding 50 miles today, as Sue and I hunkered down in her trailer early in the morning, watching the rain stream down the windows, and watching the horses stick their heads down and their butts to the gusting rain. Nor was I complaining as I poured myself a third cup of Starbucks coffee, perked in Sue's Moka Expresso Maker on her stove in her horse trailer, as she put on layers of clothes underneath her raincoat, preparing to go out.

I did have a little twinge of jealousy, however, as the 16 die-hard 50-milers and the 4 25-milers headed out on the trail, shafts of sun very briefly poking through the clouds and mist as riders whooped and yee-hawed their way northward up the canyon, back into the mist. I went back to the trailer and had another cup of coffee.

The lunch vet check was out of camp, at the Corrals way up Bjorkman road. I went there with Linda Howard, who had ridden the first two days (on her horse that almost drowned in a bog here a couple of years ago), and who was crewing today for her nephew. She had me drive so she could finish her breakfast, and it was all fine until we got to the corrals - where the road turned to a sea of mud in a meadow. Oh dear! I gunned it and whipped the steering wheel wildly back and forth (a learned desperate habit from the sands of Dubai!) so we wouldn't get stuck, and made it to some dry ground and parked. "YOU get to drive back!" I said to Linda.


Although she didn't ride today, you could also call Linda a hard core endurance rider. Last year she was in a cast from her neck to her waist, after breaking her neck - on Mother's Day. Of course she's back riding now. Linda has over 8600 miles, and over 21 seasons of riding, she has only 4 pulls! And one of those was a Rider Option - the Almost-Bog-Drowning!

Linda loves multi-day rides, her ultimate goal being to finish with a healthy horse that's ready to go again the next day; and with her record, you could say she excels at them. Her main horse, AM Gypsy Realm, has over 3300 miles in 7 seasons, and 67 starts, with only 2 pulls (one of them the Rider Option for the Almost-Bog-Drowning!) That's my kind of endurance riding too: multi-days, horses that go many seasons, many thousands of miles.

I expected to see Sue arrive first at the vet check on Al, but several others arrived before she did. Marty said he'd seen a horse's tracks that missed the turn down off the snowfield. He'd followed them a ways, but then lost them. When more than half a dozen people had arrived at the vet check, I figured the lost rider must have been Sue! Sure enough, when she finally arrived, she said yes, those were Al's tracks - Sue hadn't seen the turn down the mountain, and she got onto another trail where she did see some ribbons, and ended up following that all the way down before realizing she was on the wrong trail. Then she and Al had to climb back up onto the ridge to look for the right trail down! So Al had some hard extra mileage today that he'd be able to tell Khan all about this evening.


While the sun was just beginning to come out in the meadow, Marty said that up on the ridge, it had been a cold hurricane a'blowin', sleet pounding sideways, the wind trying to rip off the visor from his helmet.

It was a tricky trail today: a hard climb, sketchy footing and wicked weather - and everybody was smiling when they came down, having a good time. Tom Noll said it was great - the clouds would briefly part and give him a glimpse down one of the canyons - before pounding sleet and snow on them again. Tom's horse Frank - his 3rd day on the trail - didn't care about any ol' good scenery, he just wanted to go fast, as usual. Tom and Frank have been having this speed argument for 9 years and 4000 miles now. They still haven't worked it out. Frank was loving the personalized Feed Service at the vet check by Linda Howard, who fetched him his favorite food of the afternoon and held it in a feed bucket right up to his nose, so he wouldn't have to walk anywhere or bend his head down.

After Linda's nephew headed back out on the trail, Linda turned her jeep around without getting stuck, and we drove back to camp, where Khan was sweating under two blankets in the sunshine. I spent the rest of the afternoon, while waiting for Sue and Al to come in, between rain storms that swept through camp, taking off and putting back on Khan's blanket(s), and hanging out our blankets and Frank's blankets to dry, then running and grabbing them and putting them back inside from the rain.


A couple of thunderstorms skirted camp to the west - where the riders were coming in - and I watched (cowered) from the safety of the trailer. Drinking more Starbucks.

Sue finished somewhere around fourth, and after she vetted in, then showed for Best Condition, we packed up, loaded up the horses, and headed to her house outside of Park City. A number of today's riders lingered and camped overnight at Strawberry Fields, enjoying a potluck dinner and the cool clear starry evening in the mountains.

In Park City, Sue and I turned Al and Khan out with their 5 buddies. They all sniffed noses, ran around their paddock in circles, then Al and Khan went to the bestest softest dirt, and rolled and rolled, till they came up as black horses.


And so it turned out that neither Sue nor I had to worry at all about the new horse I was getting on for the first time at Strawberry Fields Forever - I now have a new pink-nosed equine pal. It was a great weekend, for humans and horses.

www.endurance.net/international/USA/Strawberry

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever - Day 2

Sunday June 21 2009



If you want to know what the weather is going to do for the day, don't listen to the forecast (yesterday was supposed to be rainy, today was supposed to be the best day). Just look south out the door of your horse trailer when you get up to see what's headed your way.

Headed our way this morning was rain. Gray everywhere, dark clouds, and rain. It was already wet from rain during some of the night.

If you want to know what to wear, check out what Dave Rabe is wearing. Tank top with his shorts, and raincoat? If so, I only needed 2 layers. That's what I put on under the raincoat Sue loaned me. She offered me a bright yellow, stiff, body length raincoat, which would have kept me dry, too warm, and unable to bend my arms. So I opted for a 99 cent plastic job stored in her tack room door for emergencies. I left my camera behind though... didn't want to take a chance on getting it wet.

I don't think any of us 50-some riders in the 50 and 25 milers were bothered by the rain, especially since we'd gotten such a wonderful freebie good day yesterday. Khan was more relaxed starting out - no shaking while we saddled up, and only a mimimal of jigging. He felt very strong underneath me, and was very willing to move on down the trail. That's what you love to feel on a multi-day ride - your horse feeling stronger the next day.



The trails were more slippery this morning due to the overnight rain, but Khan was being very careful as we trotted along, watching where he was putting his feet, and never placing them wrong. Until, that is, we got passed. Three riders caught up with us and cantered by us on the camping road. Khan would have handled that, but then 5 riders ripped past us at a gallop, and that was it. The racehorse brain switched on, and the careful foot placement, and the collected trot and bowed neck went out the endurance window.

Then I had my hands full the next 7 or 8 miles, trying to keep my horse under control and not lose his marbles, and trip over a log in the trail, or slip on a muddy turn. He wasn't too bad, but I had to really pay attention. When we emerged from the tricky trail through forest into the Strawberry valley again, Khan was so worried about the line of horses he could see ahead of us, he didn't pay attention to the churned up footing coming to the Crick. Both his front feet got stuck in deep mud, and we almost went down. (Wouldn't you know one of the video guys was there filming - they were there to film for a hopeful reality show pilot on endurance.)

Vicki Gaebe of Park City Photography was also in the meadow, and, what exquisite timing she had - the sun came out just then ever so briefly, and I had Khan moving ever so nicely for this fleeting moment in the meadow. (That's Vicki's picture of me up top.)

Not only was it a bit nerve wracking with an inattentive horse going over technical ground, but after a while you start to worry about the horse, who's using up way too much energy, getting worked up for nothing. Khan was SO focused on going forward and going fast, that he wouldn't slow down to take a drink or a bite of grass. It wasn't bad at this point in the ride, but you don't want the horse spending his whole ride(s) doing that, or he'll do himself harm metabolically down the road.

Sue and I stopped at the edge of the meadow, and while her horse Al calmly ate, ripping up grass left and right, I hopped off Khan and kept him from walking in circles and tried to get him to concentrate on grass. He'd eat it if I plucked it for him, but he really wasn't interested in taking the time to do it himself - too many horses to catch! Sue and I hung out there a good five or ten minutes, waiting till all horses were out of sight, and Khan finally calmed down a little.

Then with only one horse in sight ahead of us, we started back down the trail, tucking in behind Sue and Al. Now I was back on a smooth calm, collected, attentive white horse, sailing the few miles to the vet check. It really helped Khan to bury his head in the food at the vet check during our 15-minute hold.


From there we trotted up the Beaver Staircase by Co-op Creek again, to Beaver Junction where we had hung up the Day 2 pie plate yesterday. This time we turned down a side drainage, along another Beaver Staircase - levels of beaver ponds and dams all the way down the creek. You really understand the term 'busy as a beaver' when you see all the work they do, chewing down aspens, gnawing them into dam-building-sized logs if they don't fall in the correct place, dragging them down to the creek, shaping sticks, and building some pretty spectacular dams and domes. One dam we passed on one of the creeks was 50 yards long.

I got off to walk down this creek because as usual my knee was killing me, and since it was muddy and rocky. Once I walk on foot for 5 minutes, my knee works itself out. At the bottom we turned onto another logging road, and began a steady climb again for a few miles, past the Corrals that would be used for tomorrow's vet check, and into the fabled Norwegian Woods.

I couldn't wait to see this, as Sue had been talking about the Norwegian Woods for weeks. How can one aspen forest be so different from any other aspen forest? Well, this one was, somehow, charming and alluring. A perfect aspen forest with a carpet of thick green, knee-high plants just on the verge of busting out in purple flowers. In one place the aspens stood perfectly placed and manicured guarding a big meadow; in another spot our trail dodged close to and around single aspens, like the old Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi where they flew through the Moon Forest.

Normally, aspens and wild rose (with thorns) hang out together and make for an annoying, not-so-friendly forest (see Golden Aspens), but these Norwegian Woods were free of roses and thorns and thickets and just made you want to get off your horse and stay a while. Even with the gray day and the rain it was enchanting, and it was the one time I really wished I'd risked bringing my camera today!


After the Norwegian Woods came the other feature of the ride I'd been hearing a lot about: Slick Snot Slope. A fitting name for a Man From Snowy River stomach-dropping hill if you went straight over it ... only this hill was coated with mud. We took the side slope ... also coated with mud and very slick. Fortunately our horses were quite coordinated, and I just didn't think about what it might be like if Khan slipped and went down. If I'd really thought about what I was doing, I might have gotten a little nervous. I sure didn't feel like any fearless Snowy River rider. My eyes were quite wide for the slide down Slick Snot Slope and I think I held my breath.

Our horses slid down on their haunches, big giant sliding steps that eventually got us to the bottom in one piece. Some riders got off at the top to lead their horses down - that would have been REALLY scary! Some of the riders slipped and fell, hoping their horse wouldn't fall slip and fall on them!

We had just a few more miles of trail into camp - a VERY slick muddy trail. Khan was very carefully placing his feet and adjusting for the surface with every step. What a good horse! It took a lot of concentration from both of us.

As if mud wasn't enough to worry about, I got WHACKED by a tree branch that almost tore me off my horse. Branches had been smacking me all day - Khan was a tall horse, but this was the first time i got it in the eye. Fortunately, I have not gotten around yet to that laser eye surgery, so I still have to wear glasses, which saved me here from putting my eye out. A good reason to keep putting off that surgery (or never getting it) and keep wearing my eye protection.


By the time we got to camp for our hour lunch hold, we were pretty wet, our raincoats - Sue's long oiled 'duster' and my 99 center - having let some of the rain through. Of course, for me that might have been because one whole sleeve had ripped apart. We fixed that right up with duct tape.

Heading out on Loop 2, I forgot that my fleece-padded saddle had briefly been out in the rain, so when I mounted, it was like sitting on a wet sponge. Oh, yuck!

Loop 2 was about 20 miles. We went back out the same way through the forest, cutting across the meadow sooner. Here we came upon a group of 6 riders, and before Khan started getting too wound up again, we decided to move on ahead of them.

After crossing the meadow, and debating several minutes about which way our trail went - yesterday's turn-off to the vet check was still marked, and no pie plate indicating we shouldn't take that one, and no ribbons indicating we should go straight - we decided the Willow Creek trail again was the correct way. Howard had said, "Bring your map!" We did, but we still weren't quite sure for a mile or two.

We trotted steadily along the creek, slowing for bogs, letting the horses stop for a drink when they wanted it, and stopping occasionally to let the horses eat grass. So much grass out there - and the cows were moving in on Tuesday to start mowing it all down. We passed over one very big bog that we'd done earlier in the day, and I'd had plenty of time to get quite nervous about it. Khan had been very good about picking the best way through them, so here I just threw him the reins and held my breath and hoped for the best. He got us through again, just fine, and we stopped for a while to graze on the other side.

We were now following the same trail as loop 1, which meant another jaunt through the Norwegian woods! Here we caught up with Melissa Margetts and her Paso Fino gelding Cabo from Colorado. You don't see too many Paso Finos in endurance, and in fact, Cabo is the first one to complete Tevis. Melissa and Cabo started their endurance careers together in 2006. Many people said they'd never make it through the tough 100 miles of Tevis, but they've also completed 2 other hundreds, including the Big Horn in Wyoming.

Melissa had taken a wrong turn - the one Sue and I had debated over - and though her horse argued and argued with her, telling her she was going the wrong way, she didn't listen, and consequently had added about 10 miles to their day. Cabo was quite cranky with her the rest of the day. Those two are entered in the Tevis again this year.


Then it was back to Slick Snot Slope... even more muddier and slippery after the passage of roughly 300 horse feet throughout the day. I just didn't think about it again, and held my breath again, and left the passage all up to Khan. He skidded for yards at some places, sat on his haunches at others, and we slid safely to the bottom of the hill. Then we followed the now REALLY slick trail the few miles back to camp (me successfully ducking at the Eye-Poker branch this time), and soon we were back in camp again for the finish. Perfect timing, because the other sleeve of my raincoat had now ripped out. (Get out the duct tape again!)

Our horses looked great at the finish, and trotted out sound. We unsaddled them, and fixed them up with dry blankets and lots of food.

The Bradleys cooked another human meal of marinated turkey and 'funeral potatoes' (pardon the pun, but they are to die for), which was served during a downpour. Some people crowded under awnings or tents to eat, but I was wearing the Big Banana Raincoat, which kept me dry, though it was still hard to bend my arms to put food in my mouth.

Howard had a brief meeting for tomorrow's ride; he decided to stick with his original plan of taking riders up to 10,000', through some snow, for a scenic ride. It was going to be "very technical," and more rain was predicted. "And guys, BE CAREFUL," said vet Kathy Bacchus. "We can NOT get to you up there if anything happens. Go slow, and take care of each other out there." This is real endurance, for the hard core riders.

That clinched the decision for me not to ride Khan tomorrow. He'd done enough these two days - being only his second and third endurance rides - and, while Khan was generally very careful, I just didn't want to take any chances on hurting Sue's horse. I'd help Sue and Al get ready in the morning and send them on their way.

And then sit and drink Starbucks all morning. : )

Merri

www.endurance.net/international/USA/2009Strawberry

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever - Day 1

Saturday June 20 2009



You never quite know, when you climb on a horse for the first time 5 minutes before the start of a 50-mile endurance ride, what you will be in for. Is he going to run off with me or dump me? I REALLY don't want to get hurt. Will we get along, or will we be fighting all day - is it going to be fun or miserable? And what about the horse? I REALLY don't want to tie up or colic or hurt someone else's horse.

By the same token, someone who loans you one of their horses to ride that you get on 5 minutes before you leave the starting line, never knows how you and their horse are going to get along, or what they are going to have left at the finish.

And so it was, that just before the start of Day 1's 55-mile ride I climbed on Sue's horse Amazing Khan for the first time, to take him through only his second endurance ride. "He gets a bit excited," Sue said, "but nothing bad." We were letting most everybody go ahead of us because we were going to hang out a pie plate showing the way on Day 2, after all the riders had passed today's turn off. That was probably good for me, so my horse wouldn't have a pile of horses and riders to deal with around the start and down the trail.


Khan, a kind white gelding with pink-rimmed eyes and mouth, (Sue said, "I hate pink horses!" They sunburn so easily, especially at these high altitudes) was quite calm as we saddled up, though he was shaking a bit. When I hit the saddle, he started jigging as we made our way to the start, behind Sue and her horse Al. It was a nervous jig... but, hallelujah, that's all he did. He never pulled hard or threw his head up or down or bucked. Only a few times on the first loop did he pull and hang on the bit, but I got him off of it with little effort.

Not a half mile out of camp, I yelled out loud as we trotted over a great horned owl feather. "Wait!" I'd just heard that a GHO feather is as good as a St Christopher medal. Of course, the person who told me that might have been making that up, but it sounded good to me. "You better get off and get it!" Sue said. Khan was in a good forward mode, but, yes, I better stop him, turn him around and get off to get the feather. (Good practice anyway for the horse, stopping, getting off and on.) Khan and I had 155 miles of travel together ahead of us, and you never know when you'll need the patronage of the Patron Saint of Travelers. (Later I found out that St Christopher also protects travelers against lightning!!!!!)

It was quite the technical trail we traveled on through the fir and aspen forest on the west side above the Strawberry valley. Twisting, turning, up and down, over tree trunks and branches, around rocks, by boggy beaver ponds that are ever-oozing outward, sometimes muddy, sometimes rocky. You needed an athlete for this ride, not a torpid stumblebum. Fortunately Khan was very balanced, and not intimidated by anything - nothing better than a competent, confident, forward moving horse! What a treat - we were a perfect match!


A few miles out, we met a rider coming back. Linda Fisher said she'd broken a rib or two: "I can't ride 50 miles like this!" Riding must have felt better than walking, though, because she was still on her horse as she headed back to camp.

We crossed the little Strawberry River (more like a 'crick') and crossed to the other side of the valley. The trail we followed led through a hillside covered with sagebrush, mules ears, and strawberry plants which, in the fall, must be an oral paradise for humans and animals alike!

We caught up with Mark Wood and Dave Rabe as we entered an aspen forest. Here were a couple of Real Endurance Riders. Mark has 15,000 AERC miles, and Dave has 45,000 miles - ! Dave is always pleasant and always has a good time - rain, snow, sleet, hail, hurricane or sunshine - and he's always wearing shorts. Never wears tights. Wouldn't be caught dead in them. Only once or twice has he been spotted wearing jeans on horseback, and that was for an Easy Boot ad.

I've known Dave a long time and have never seen him in anything but shorts and tank top (maybe a long-sleeved shirt under the tank top, if it's really cold, or a raincoat if it's snowing or raining), so it's normal to me, but several people here who didn't know Dave were awed by it. (It IS awesome, when you're wearing 4 layers and Dave's in shorts and a tank top and he's not frozen.) All I know is that if I DID see him in anything other than shorts, I'd be suspicious or worried.


Many parts of the Strawberry Fields trails we went through were muddy, soft and squishy. Here I followed Sue across a squishy field, and just behind us, crossing in the same spot, Dave and his horse went down in a bog. And here is where I remembered that I have TWO fears in endurance riding: LIGHTNING, and BOGS.

Ever since a couple of years ago, when Gretchen and I almost lost one of her horses in a bog, soft muddy ground has made me nervous. Not a pleasant experience, watching a horse almost drown in mud. (And on Day 3, Linda Howard told me about the time her horse almost drowned in a bog a few years ago - IN THIS RIDE! I'm glad I heard about it afterwards : )

Dave immediately leaped off and was able to quickly get his horse out (he didn't go down far), but I had the Willies for the rest of the ride any time we went over squishy places... which was too often for my comfort level.

We got to the pulse down and trot-by stop in the next valley (which would be the lunch vet check after a big loop), and we waited there till all the riders on the 50 had come through. Khan kept his head buried in food the whole time.


Loop 2 took us up Co-op Creek, climbing and climbing in the forest, along a staircase of beaver ponds and dams, to the aptly named Beaver Junction (where we hung the pie plate and changed ribbons for tomorrow), up onto logging roads, still slowly climbing, up to 10,000'. The aspen forest was spectacular - gold, yellow, lime green leaves against the clear blue sky. Bright sunshine, cool breeze - it was perfect!

Our horses were trotting along easily, Khan enjoying being in front, me enjoying being in front on a strong forward horse that didn't spook at anything. Sue was fascinated with all the carvings on the aspens. Aspen trees in the Hoover Wilderness of the high Sierras in California have carvings from the late 1800s from Basque sheepherders; these carvings were mostly from the 1970's to now, though there were a couple from the 1950's. Mostly it was just names, but there were some pretty outrageous carvings, some artistic, some a bit naughty! There was one Russell Whitehorse who left his carved name everywhere, one of them with a carved horse head. I got off and put my white horse by the carved white horse on the white aspen tree, left by Russell Whitehorse, and took a picture.

We caught up with Dave and Mark again, and with Carla Richardson from Colorado. We all leapfrogged for several miles through the forest. Rounding a corner high on a logging road, I was unprepared for the stunning sight of Strawberry Reservoir about 2500' below us. We had a great view of mountain ranges in the distance, the closest being the Wasatch range, and we heard a fox call from underneath cliffs by a dried up pond.


Our logging road then turned down, gradually downward for miles, out onto a winding trail through the sagebrush in the valley that led us to the vet check.

We were there for an hour, and Khan did not lift his head ONCE from all the horse food: grass (which we'd been snatching from all along the trail), hay, alfalfa, grain, carrots, apples. That's what you like to see in an endurance horse - a good eater! I had to peel him away from the grain buckets as we headed out on our final loop back to camp and the finish.

We crossed over the boggy area again without mishap - Sue flagging a different way around it for tomorrow's trail - following Bjorkman road up and up again along a creek. Parts of the trail were quite muddy from yesterday's rain, but Khan and Al had no trouble with it.


Then suddenly - we were descending the last half mile into camp. It was 5:00, but the day had flown swiftly by, under my horse's fleet and sure feet. A great day for just about everybody. 56 of 58 finished the 55 miler, and 28 of 29 finished the 25 miler. The endurance riding Bradley family cooked dinner for everybody - salad and lasagna, just the thing to hit the spot after a day of frolicking on horseback with my new pal Khan in the Utah mountains.

Just an excellent day all around.

Strawberry Fields Endurance ride on endurance.net

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Ride in Utah!

Friday June 19 2009


It started with an email from Sue Hedgecock to Steph: "Would any of you like to whip down here, relax and ride at Strawberry?? What would it take??"

A 3-day ride in Utah?? All it took for me was an offer of a horse to ride.

"Do you like a tall horse or a short horse; can you tolerate a sensitive horse, or do you want to be more laid back? What do you want to ride? 25's? 50's? All the days?"

My requirements were 1) a horse that preferably does not buck, because I only stay on them about half the time, 2) a horse that is not crazy, because I prefer to have fun (my motto is, "Lazy is better than Crazy!"), and 3) ride 50's every day!


Sue's only requirement was, "Bring your Starbucks!"

With enough gear to make it look like I was moving to Utah, I caught a ride from Idaho with the rather famous northwest endurance horse Frank, and his driver Tom Noll, to the ridecamp at 8200' up the Strawberry River valley in the Uintah mountains - the highest mountain range in Utah.

Put on by Howard Kent for the 7th year, the Strawberry Fields Forever Endurance Ride webpage says "The terrain is challenging,
but not difficult, with trails winding through aspens and meadows
filled with wildflowers and spectacular mountain scenery. The area is
blessed with some of the most pristine, gorgeous riding terrain
imaginable."
(I also noticed the "You can expect the occasional thunder shower so come prepared" - yikes!). On the trails, if I could peel my eyes away from the scenery, I'd be on the lookout for deer, elk, moose, beaver, and bears that lived in the Uintah range. Doesn't it all make your endurance muscles quiver with anticipation!

By the time we pulled into ridecamp Friday afternoon, the sun was out - first time in days, as the area had been hammered by rain/hail/thunderstorms.

We were set up for a gorgeous weekend of mountain endurance riding in Utah.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Farewell, Dear Friends



Wednesday June 17 2009

Farewell, Dear Friends

There comes a time when it's time to let go.

They've been a long time on this earth, they are well past their prime, and they've long served a great purpose. But their performance is no longer what it used to be and they no longer fulfill their purpose up to their potential.

These great Kerrits tights were hand-me-downs from another endurance rider who probably recognized the GOODWILL stamped all over me, and she passed on her already worn Kerrits to me. I gave them a good home, wore the BeJeezUs out of them for many more years, until the fabric got thinner and thinner, and then so thin there's no patches that would stay on them.

I have a few newer pairs of tights, but they just aren't the same as the faithful old good pairs of Kerrits, who've been with me through thick and thin, rides and falls, good weather and lightning, travels near and distant.

It's the same thing with old shoes - you know how it is. I had a pair of Vasque Sundowner hiking boots that I finally retired and replaced after 10 hard-working years. I threw the old pair in the garbage. And pulled them out before the trash got picked up.

After wearing the new ones for a couple of years, I finally admitted I could throw the old ones out. So I did... and once more pulled them out of the garbage, and have kept them since. They are now at least 16 years old, and have a place in my closet (or on my feet) for life. (They are actually hardier, and made better, than my new pair.) They still go out on hikes in the summers and in the snows.

However, it's time to move on to my newer tights. (Maybe like this pair. Although I always make sure I'm riding a horse that won't put me in the hospital, because if you wear a wild pair like this, you should at least look like you know what you're doing.)

It's time time to let my old friends go. Farewell, Dear Friends.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brothers



Sunday June 14 2009

Here they are, Jose and Kazam, reunited. I had kept Kazam locked up apart from Jose for 6 long dreary months over the winter (see I Want My Brother), because he was slightly off in a front leg. We figured he might have gotten it from playing around so hard with his brother (see WWJD). They were sad about the separation, and I had a hard time keeping them apart, as Jose got bored and had nobody to play with, and Kazam got so bored with nobody to play with and nothing to do, he'd eat his fences, and he'd come up to me and try to put a halter on his head. It would have been SO easy just to open that gate separating them...

After six months, the slight limp was still there. Enough already! We turned him back out. Either it's going to get worse or it's going to get better with him free to move around everywhere. (So far, it hasn't gotten any worse.)

But it's so great to see the brothers together again. They really get into their play.

What a treat for them, and for me getting to watch them.



















A whole series of Jose and Kazam playing here on endurance.net.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wyoming









Monday June 8 2009

I've seen a lot of beautiful places, but that drive from the Big Horn Mountains in northeast Wyoming, going west, down into the Big Horn Canyon/valley, to Cody, along the North Fork of the Shoshone River which borders the Absaroka and Bearthtooth Wildernesses to the north, and on into the southeast entrance of Yellowstone, is fantastic. Keep on going down through Grand Teton National Park, and you'll see some of the most amazing and most varied terrain and landscape and geologic features, some of the most gorgeous places anywhere on the planet. I'll put that area up against anything I've seen.

The Grand Tetons emerging from snow and storm clouds just before the sun sinks behind them, with Colter Bay spread out in front of them is nothing short of stunning, no matter how many times you see it. The view punches you in the gut, sucks your breath away.

The sharp smell of the fir and pine forest after a wet snowfall, the pungent odor of the sulphur hot springs in Yellowstone, the iciness of a frozen lake, a crashing river in a deep canyon, the lovely spiraling call of the Swainson's thrush in the twilight, a howling pack of coyotes at nightfall - treasures and mysteries begging to be noticed and explored.

The Raven enjoyed the excursion too, though he was somewhat offended by the "Don't feed the wildlife signs" with his picture on it. Ravens have to eat too!

I saw one tourist in Grand Teton walking around with a mask over his mouth and nose. I wanted to run up and rip it off him and yell, "Breathe this in! The purest cleanest healthiest air you'll ever get a chance to breathe! The crisp cold mountain and forest air will cure your ailment!" But I didn't.

After camping in the rain in Grand Teton, I got up early, made a cup of Starbucks over my camp stove, then took a 2-mile hiking trail along the lake. Two miles of solitary bliss: hugging trees, touching the frigid lake, inhaling the intoxicating smell of the wet forest, wincing at the beauty. Sometimes you couldn't tell where the peaks ended and the storm clouds began.

Nothing but me (and the Raven) and a bald eagle in a tree on the lakeshore looking down at me (don't forget to look up, to see what's looking down at you). He was probably drying off, probably thinking about going fishing, but surely he had to be enjoying the scenery too. I'm pretty sure this encounter was also arranged just for me, since I was the only one around to see him.

Then it was time to rush off again - places to go, appointments to keep - but I got a brief glimpse of paradise again.

More of Wyoming gallery

Friday, June 12, 2009

2009 Fort Howes Endurance Ride - Day 2

Sunday June 7 2009





















IT'S ALL MENTAL

Endurance riding comes in all shapes and sizes: challenging terrain, challenging horses, fun rides, hard rides, long rides, all too-short rides. Day 2 of Fort Howes could have fit the Extreme Endurance category because of the weather and the footing.

"This was a mental ride," said Jan Worthington, who rode the hundred. (After winning the 75-miler yesterday).

Tom Gower, also on the hundred, echoed that: "It was mental from the minute I got up at 4 AM."

Extremely mental for the riders, very physical for the horses, for 8 to 20 hours: wet, cold, and muddy.

There were a dozen forms of precipitation that started at midnight and didn't stop till 4 PM, all of them involving some form of ice. By 8:30 it was sleeting; 9 AM it was sleet/snow; 10 AM it was snowing. One local said that for this time of year in Montana, this was "fluffy hail." An official, bundled up in many layers, said, "Excuse me, I'm from Florida, and this is SNOW!" Temperatures stayed in the low to mid-30's all day.

48 intrepid riders started in the murky weather (which was actually reasonable compared to what was to come), 22 on the 100 miler at 5:30 AM, and 26 on the 55 miler at 6:30 AM. Many were FEI riders, hoping to qualify their horses or get their COC's (Certificate of Completion), or gain ranking points, for the Kentucky World Endurance Championship in 2010 and the pre-ride in Kentucky this October. Only a few people 'wimped out' although I'd call it 'decided not to ride on a dismal day that would be a great challenge for both horses and riders, and besides, I'm here to have fun, so forget it!'

In short, it was muddy and slick everywhere, and it got worse as the day wore on. Car wheels spun on the 'roads' through basecamp, people slipped in the mud around the crewing areas and vet ring, horses slipped on the trails. Most riders stayed on their horses going down steep hills, because they were afraid to try to walk and lead their horses. Some horses slid on their hocks going down steep hills. Jan Worthington's comments, at various vet gates, were, "Oh boy." "It's treacherous out there!" "It's hard to smile for that camera!" Just to illustrate exactly how slick it was, another rider commented, "It's slicker'n whale's turds out there!"

Every step for the horse was a risk. "Mud is the hardest thing for horses," Jan said. It was either slippery, or it was heavy going. One rider observed, "All it takes is one slip, and you're done." She retired her horse after 60 miles.

And it was uncompromisingly cold all day. It was uncomfortable much of the time for the riders - those who had dry clothes changed clothes at every vet check, but eventually they ran out of dry clothes.

While the cold probably was better in general for the horses, it made for difficult crewing. The horses were laboring extra hard out there in the mud, and their pulses were higher than they would have been on a dry surface, coming in to the vet checks. They needed cooling down, but how do you cool down a hot horse on a frigid, wet day? You didn't want to pour water all over them because there was a fine line between cooling down and getting too wet - soon they'd be shivering, and they'd never dry off. And it just never stopped raining. There was no shelter from it - blankets got wet and stayed wet - unless you put up a crewing tent, which a half a dozen crews did.

However, despite all the challenges, the discomfort, the looooooong bleak day stretching out ahead of riders and crews, there were quite a few smiles (or maybe they were just gritting their teeth through the cold) - exhibiting that wry sense of humor that endurance riders and crews possess. It has been proven, after all, that endurance riders are a bit crazy.

One rider, Pamela Hendricksen from South Dakota, was doing her first-ever 50. Going out on her last loop, she said, "I'm a wimp and I'm surprised I'm still going!" She was tickled with how much mud was all over her stirrups and legs. She finished the ride. Think of how enjoyable and easy all the rest of her endurance rides will be when she has good weather and terrain!

Junior Coletan MacLeod was back on his same unruffled horse Zorro's SeaBiscuit for the 55-miler, wearing his same pleasant smile. "How's it going out there?" I asked. "Oh, fine. I just wish it wasn't so cold." (Not, "I'M FREEZING MY A** OFF!" like I might have said.) Zorro's SeaBiscuit and Coletan were the only pair to attempt both 50-mile days of Fort Howes.

Things were looking good for Coletan and his sponsor, Paschal Karl, until Paschal's horse was pulled at the 2nd vet check. Fortunately, Paschal's wife Debra was scheduled to go out on the last loop 45 minutes later, and she agreed to pick up Coletan. The two just waited patiently under blankets until it was time to go out again with their new sponsor.

One horse dumped his rider somewhere out on the trail and came running and sliding back into camp. Jan Stevens and I cornered and caught him, while Jan tried to figure out who was riding #149. It was Lynne Hartman, who eventually made it back to camp, and Rider Option pulled.

It was hard to distinguish between some riders, as they just had their eyes and noses and mouths sticking out of their tight rain hoods. You couldn't go by clothes because they changed them so often, and the horses were disguised in mud. When the rain or snow was beating down into their faces, the horses bowed their necks to avoid it.

Eryn Rapp was always near the front of the 55-mile ride, on Grannys Scarlet, along with the Stevens Young Riders, Heather and Jennifer. Julie Jackson-Biegert of Illinois and Nitro led the 100 all day.

Ed Kidd, riding his 14-year-old black horse Merlin, was next in the hundred, followed closely by Suzy Hayes on her beautiful golden gelding, Tezero's Gold, and Tom Gower on JG Saqr.

Loops 3 and 4 for the 100 (10 miles out, a trot-by the vets, and 15 miles back) led up out of the forest onto the flats, where vets Melissa Ribley and Jim Bryant watched the horses trot out. Ed Kidd was the first to arrive... and the first to get pulled out there. Merlin was off in front; Ed said he'd been going along great until just a mile from this check, Merlin had slid in the mud and hit a rock with his left front, knocking himself good. Ed maintained his sense of humor: "Somedays you're the windshield, some days you're the bug. Today? I was the bug!" He and Merlin waited out there for a trailer to slip n' slide its way up the red mud forest service road, and he said it was quite the slalom ride down back to camp.

That left Julie and Nitro in the lead, with Tom Gower and JG Saqr, Suzy Hayes and Tezero's Gold, and Sue Hedgecock and Steadys Temmpo not far behind. Suzy's horse was giving her grief - "He was a raving maniac on this loop - I had my hands double wrapped around his reins!" Nearing 2700 AERC miles, Tezero's Gold has completed 41 of 43 starts, and is a 4-time top 10 finisher in the Fort Howes 100. He was a beautiful golden sight flying through the green grass on a trail below the forest.

There was no hold at the trot-by, but the first few horses I saw stopped to have a drink and some brief snacks that crews had brought out. The rain had temporarily abated, but there was a swift chilly breeze that discouraged anybody from hanging out too long.

Next time I saw Sue Hedgecock, coming in off of Loop 5 into basecamp, at the end of 85 miles, her horse Temmpo was looking traumatized. "We were going along fine after the trot-by, when both of his front feet hit a bog. He launched me in the air and flipped over, and stayed down." (Jan Worthington said later, "Oh, yea, I know that bog. I knew it was there so I avoided it!") Temmpo was stunned; he wouldn't move. Sue was by herself - nobody else around - so she unsaddled him, gave him a boot in the butt, which sort of snapped him to, and he got up. He seemed to be fine, nothing broken, so she saddled him up again, walked him a while then got on him. He still seemed okay, so she continued on back to camp. He ended up getting pulled for metabolics. Too bad, after all that exertion, and with only 15 miles to go; but with 15 difficult miles anyway, you never really know what kind of internal damage a horse might have sustained from a fall... or when it might show up out on trail. (Back home in Utah a few days later, Temmpo was fine - it was the rider that was "sore, sore," from bruising her ribs from the fall.)

The rain continued in basecamp as the leaders of the 55 approached the finish line. Eryn Rapp and Rita Swift made a race of it the last 50 yards; Rita's helmet flew off in the heated sprint, and Eryn's Grannys Scarlet outlasted Rita's WP Front and Sinter, in just over 5 hours and 40 minutes. The Stevens girls trotted in together, less than 7 minutes behind them. Jennifer's horse Phil ended up getting Best Condition. Phil and Jennifer, and Heather and RSA Count LaQuen finished 3rd and 4th in last year's North American Young Riders FEI 75-miler.

The officials and volunteers in camp were huddled whenever possible in a 3-walled canvas tent by the vet ring, while the vets braved the sogginess to examine the horses. Halfway through the day, veterinarian Ray Randall finally put on a rain hat over his baseball cap. Natually, he is from Montana, so he tended not to notice the 'fluffy hail.' Ann Pfeiffer kept the hot coffee and cocoa coming for everybody, as well as other hot treats of spaghetti and soup.

The rain finally eased late in the afternoon, though the clouds still hung heavy above, and the cold wind kept up. Someone lit a nice bonfire in a barrel by the vet tent that warmed you up if you stood close enough to singe the fine fibers of your fleece.

First out at a canter on the last loop of the hundred was Julie Jackson-Biegert, Nitro looking amazingly fresh for his final 15 miles; and under two hours later, it was Julie and Nitro cantering across the finish line 18 minutes in the lead, with Nitro looking great at his final trot-out. Their finish time was 11:40. Julie got 14-year-old Nitro 8 years ago in Indiana when he was headed to the killers. He was unbroke at the time, and, she said, "He almost killed me." She didn't elaborate other than, "It took me 4 months before I could get on him. He's come a long way." With nearly 3400 miles, Nitro has completed 11 of 11 hundred milers, and he and Julie just finished 15th in the Biltmore 100 in May.

The next 3 finishers of the 100 arrived together at the finish line: Tom Gower and JG Saqr, Jan Worthington and Serloki, and Suzy Hayes and Tezero's Gold. They were going to finish in time to get their COC, so there was no need to come in fast, and there was no need to risk any injuries by racing each other in. They decided to draw straws for the finish, and that's the order they drew... but it all changed when Tom's horse vetted out lame at the finish.

"I HATE pulling a horse at the finish," Ray Randall said. "And what a bitter pill after all that effort, especially today." Tom took it graciously, but what a blow. Tezero's Gold ended up getting Best Condition - "Not bad for a Quarter Horse Palomino!" Suzy said.

Finishing an hour and a half later in 6th place was Canadian Tara MacLeod. It was her mare Cairos Summer Romance's first 100. "I almost cried when I saddled her up in the morning, because I knew how hard this would be for her. Many times I questioned myself: 'Why am I doing this?' I got so cold out there. Several times I almost....." but she didn't say "quit"... because she didn't. "I'm so proud of her!"

Bill Stevens and others went out on ATVs to put out glowsticks on the final 15 mile loop for the final 2 riders still going in the dark: Carol Wadey and her daughter Robyn. They drove 1000 miles, from Alberta, Canada, to get here. Around 2:30 AM they were the final finishers of the 11 that completed the hundred.

"A bit of a low percentage," said Jan Stevens at the awards the next morning, "but most 100's don't occur during snowstorms. In June." The Stevens were still smiling in the morning. Maybe because they'd gotten through the ride, or because it was, ironically, now that all the riding was over, a brilliant sunny day.

The 2009 edition of Fort Howes Endurance was one of those rides that everybody would definitely remember. But despite the weather, I didn't hear one person say they didn't like this ride. One rider thanked the Stevens: "Thanks for your hospitality, it's just like being with family" - and it is. Many people said that the trails were excellently marked, and it was beautiful here, and they would come back.

And they do keep coming back to Fort Howes. It's one of those rides that really gets under your skin (or, maybe the weather gets on your skin...). Suzy Hayes, when Jan Stevens announced Tezero's Gold as Best Condition winner in the 100, said, "I hope the award isn't another free entry to Fort Howes!" But she was kiddding. She keeps coming back.

And those who do keep coming back know that you just come prepared for anything, so there's nothing to be had but a great experience and a great time.

Merri

www.endurance.net/international/USA/2009FortHowes/

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