Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

2017 Revival of the Moab Canyons Endurance Ride

October 31 2017

"We are the lucky ones!" - ride manager Sheri Griffith

I got two words for the Moab Canyons Endurance ride: Spec. Tacular.

Even if you aren't infatuated with Utah's red canyon country, you just aren't quite human if you aren't overawed as you ride beneath and around imposing, towering red sandstone buttes and monoliths and spires, in the bottom of twisting hidden golden-cottonwood-lined canyons, and over white navajo sandstone slickrock overlooking the entire geological picture. It's simply a magical experience on horseback.

Back by popular bucket-list demand, October 27-29 saw the revival of the Moab Canyons 3-day ride outside of Moab, Utah, after a 4-year absence. It's a massive undertaking for someone with a high threshold for stress (that is, ride manager Sheri Griffith): marking 150 miles of big loop trails in Big Canyon country, recruiting volunteers, dealing with the gargantuan task of providing water in the desert (2 two-tank trucks hauled water constantly from Moab - a 40-mile round trip - into the desert, to ridecamp and water troughs out on trail) and expense, and a whopping number of riders, much more than expected… and not to mention two loose horses one night and a harrowing rescue of one, one lost rider that wasn't found and fetched till well after dark. Around 118 riders (both distances) started Day 1, around 112 started Day 2, and 96 started Day 3 (plus 14 Intro riders). Wow!

Ridecamp was in its same spot, at an old cow camp on the flats, with a fine sandstone hill standing guard. Over the days, ridecamp grew into a small city. It got so big that I never even saw some friends who were there riding!

The Moab area has become (over) popular with bikers and off-roaders, and the BLM was very happy to have horses on the trails, and particularly this 3-day endurance ride. Campers were entertained, waking to horses riding by their motorhomes and campsites, and motorcycles and ATVers and bikers we met on trail were always polite and pulled over for us. One group of motorcyclers helped rescue the lost rider, driving all the way out to our ridecamp to let ride management know.

We three Idaho Crick ladies were thrilled to be here with gallant steeds: Steph/Smokey, Carol/August, me/Steph's Standardbred Hillbillie Willie. Willie, former racehorse, was agog at this remarkable country. He has taken to the trails so well, I'm sure that in a former life he was a cow horse in the West. Maybe even an outlaw's getaway horse. Possibly both. And this country is where some of the famous outlaws roamed - Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.

The trails for Day 1 (55 miles) and Day 2 (50 miles) were the same as the 2013 event, but just as awe-inspiringly Spec. Tacular. (We didn't ride Day 3.)

Day 1 took off into the sunrise above the La Sal mountains, to and all the way around the base of the boringly-named but massively impressive 900-foot high "Big Mesa", through the bottom of the hidden and twisting slickrock of Surprise Canyon, alongside another long impressive mesa, to a refreshing lunch for beasts and humans (catered lunches for us!).

Loop 2 headed west and dropped down into white slickrock country around Spring Canyon where outlaws most surely hid out, just around the next draw.

Day 2 travelled along the western face of Big Mesa, down the golden cottonwood-laced Bartlett Wash, then climbed up onto the upper layer of the white Navajo sandstone slickrock, where we had the most spectacular view of how this country formed: the softer upper Navajo sandstone eroding and dissolving into the twisty little canyons, and detaching little muffin tops that eventually separate, then fall apart and disintegrate and mix with the rest of the desert sand.

Just before lunch we rode along the rim of a red mesa and looked down upon the scene below that we'd be riding after lunch, another massive mesa, Lost World Butte.

Dropping off the mesa (on the gently sloping side) to lunch beneath The Needles, where a too-cute dog worked his food hustle, we then headed for that lost world we'd seen, riding along a shelf layer beneath the cliff we'd gazed from before lunch, then dropping onto the desert floor to circumnavigate the lone Lost World Butte.

Moab is always a good challenging ride, 155 miles over soft jeep roads, single track trails, sand, deep sand, sandstone, and crammed with eye-aching splendiferous colors of red, pink, salmon, maroon, cinnamon, vermillion, crimson, white; and always the jaw-dropping cliffs and canyons to leave you gawking in reverential awe. We were indeed the lucky ones.

It was a terrific birthday week, no better place to be! - great ride, awesome scenery, fine companions, phenomenal horses.

Photos and more on the ride at:

*fabulous top photo of Day 2 by Steve Bradley!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 Old Selam: A HOT Time in the Old Town

September 6 2017

Centerville was a hot town in the old 1860's mining days: a population of around 3000 people, with a hotel, stables, stores, and saloons. And presumably other kinds of hot parlors, to keep those miners entertained after they were tired of digging out the $250,000,000 in gold in the area over the next decade.

It was hot in Centerville over the 2017 Labor Day weekend, but that's just because of the contrary weather compounded by plenty of smoke in the air. A good group of endurance riders gathered for the SWITnDR fundraiser ride, Old Selam, back in its proper place after two years' absence. Ridecamp was on Cini Baumhoff's family property, and lined with signs that said Private Property, No Camping and No Mining, because there still might be some gold diggins' under our horse trailers.

I spent Saturday shooting the ride (photos coming on SmugMug soon) and guarding a gate to keep out those wood-lusting woodcutters.

24 started the 50-miler, with 22 finishing. Layne Lewis won aboard Royal Immage (ride time 6:29) by a second over Debbie Grose and Jack, who took Best Condition. Layne didn't show for BC, because she went back out on an extra loop, as good heat training for next month's AHA 100 in Oreana. Tough rider and tough horse! The rest of us were melting in camp as the temperature hit around 100 degrees.

20 started the 30-miler, with only one near heat-stroked rider option. Kathleen Hite won aboard American Ally EF in 4:10, and also got Best Condition. Jill and Chris Haunold finished second and third on the 'Curly Brigade' (their Curly horses), Penny's Isabele and CC Handsome Dark Knight, in 4:24 and 4:25.

Kaili Worth, who finished 12th on Red, was the hero of the day, as she went out on trail to help rescue Barb, the too-hot rider, and rode her horse Blue back to camp, pretty much bareback, since she couldn't reach Barb's long stirrups.

I psyched myself up to ride in the heat on Sunday. Steph/Smokey and Carol/August hauled Steph's standardbred Hillbillie Willie from up the Pickett Crick to the ride for me. It was only Willie's third attempt at a 50, after finishing his first one at City of Rocks in June, and getting pulled very anti-climactically at Top O' the World in July on the first loop of the first day with sore feet. He'd be wearing easyboot gloves over his shoes at Old Selam, which had worked for conditioning at home, but the biggest trick is keeping those boots on over shoes once they get wet. And we'd have quite a few creek crossings to deal with.

I hadn't ridden Old Selam since 2011, and I was thrilled to be back in the forest, despite all the smoke and pretty much no views from the ridges because of the smoke, and despite the heat.

Sunday the 50's had two 25-mile loops, and we made it comfortably through the first loop before the heat started settling in. Willie loved leading on the overgrown two-track forest roads, ducking under the branches (while I got whapped in the face, because he's so tall it's difficult to throw myself all the way down on his neck, and just easier to take the hits) and zooming around blind corners. I was hoping to Moses we would not run into a big moose in our path around one of those corners, and thankfully we didn't!

It did get hot at places on the second loop. If you kept trotting, you had a bit of a breeze. If we did walk, we didn't do it in the sun, only in the shade. The water sources were a bit spread out for such a hot day, and several times, Willie was looking out for water and wanted to take a detour off trail anywhere that it looked like there might be a creek, because he's a canny outdoorsman horse now.

But just about the time we, horses and humans, were about to die for lack of water to drink and dunk our clothes in, there appeared water troughs or a real creek to bury our heads in. The biggest treat ever were the coolers full of iced water and otter pops, dropped off by ride management at two different places on the loop - delightful treat!

One of the creeks and crossings was obviously part of the beaver dam Liz had been talking about when she marked the trail. By Sunday the water had risen to over the horses' knees, which was fine with the horses. They all did some splashing and thinking about dropping down in the creek (and Willie dropped to his knees wanting to roll in the sand after we got out!)

I rode Willie out of the creek, so I could stand on the edge of the water and dunk my vest and helmet. I ended up getting a helmet full of beaver water in my eyes… we all know that drinking beaver water can give you giardia (it is known as "beaver fever"); I will let all of you know later if you can soak in giardia through your eyeballs.

Our Pickett Crick team of 3 finished in a ride time of 7:35 and Hillbillie Wonder Willie ended with a pulse of 48. 48 in that heat! Mine was way over 48. Willie's best most favorite reward before, during, and after the ride was the water/wheat bran/oats/carrots slop that he would bury his face in.

15 started the 50, with 14 finishing (one Rider Option) with Oregon riders taking the top 3 spots. Kristen Maholland and HCC Elassar won in a ride time of 6:34, with Darlene Anderson and TER Ramone the mule she stole from Max for the weekend a second later. Third place Elayne Barclay and Merlot's Kwest got Best Condition. Elayne has had a terrible time lately, with her other horse Fletch missing in an Oregon forest for 30 days. Elayne almost didn't come to Old Selam because of that, but this was a nice break and a welcome treat for her.

16 started the 25 miler with 15 finishing. Karen Steenhof and Riley won first in a ride time of 2:58, out-finishing Connie Holloway and DWA Saruq, and Junior Sarah Holloway and Noble Desperado by a minute. Riley got Best Condition.

It was a great testament to all the riders taking such good care of their steeds on such a hot weekend.

A couple of milestones were celebrated: two mares made their first endurance starts as The Cutest Mare(s) Ever. Tamara Baysinger finally returned to endurance riding Saturday aboard The Cutest Mare Ever, Minji. They finished 11th in a ride time of 7:45 for the 50. Trish Frahm rode Saturday's 25 on The Cutest Mare Ever, BPA Jasmine Blu, a flashy Appaloosa.

Andi Paulo reached 5000 miles; Karen Bumgarner's Z Summer Thunder hit 6000 miles; and Nance Worman's little energizer bunny Big Sky Quinn, ridden by many other riders including me (Tevis, 2009!), hit 5000 miles. Debbie Grose made him a carrot cake. :)

And it was an enormous SWIT group effort to put the ride on. As Beth said, I won't name any names either, for fear of leaving somebody out. But you know who you are." Great job. The trails were fabulously marked, the footing was pretty awesome the entire ride, the forest was a delight, and it was just all around a good, hot September ride. If you have to be out in the heat, you might as well be endurance riding!

More photos and such at:

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

2017 Top O' the World - A New Mountain Ride

August 1 2017

With a new endurance horse, you don't yet know what you don't know until you find out. We didn't know how tough Willie's feet were until we found out that they really aren't.

After a fabulous first 50-mile ride at City of Rocks, I worked hard on getting Hillbillie Willie, Steph's new Standardbred, ready for his next 50-mile (or 2) mountain ride at the brand new 3-day Top O' the World Pioneer ride in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest above Spencer, Idaho. It would be Willie's second ride, and first camping out experience (City of Rocks doesn't count, since he had a huge pen with his whole herd).

New Ride Manager Jessica Cobbley named it Top O' the World, because you are more or less on top of the USA: riding near and on the Continental Divide between (on the large scale) eastern and western United States, and (smaller scale) between Idaho and Montana. Ridecamp was at 6500 feet, and some of the trails/climbs took you to over 8000 feet.

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest is over 3 million acres and stretches across southeastern Idaho, from the Montana, Utah, and Wyoming borders. To the east the forest borders Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest.  Most of the forest is a part of the 20 million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. So… think moose (I found moose poop), think grizzly bears (thankfully no sightings or smellings), think wolves (didn't hear any).

Caribou and Targhee National Forests were combined from original forest lands created in 1891.  While western sections of the forest have a mixture of sagebrush and grasses, the higher elevations in the east support lodgepole pine, and numerous species of spruce and fir.

Ridecamp was in a lovely grassy meadow with a superb view of the forest and hills - possibly the prettiest ridecamp I've camped in. Cows lolled in the far meadows, with the bulls bellerin' and hollerin' every night and early morning. Every afternoon (entertainment for us in ridecamp), a cowboy would ride out and drive the cows up and over the hills… and by late evening, some more would trickle in. We figured he got paid by the hour, not the job. And every evening and morning, you could hear sandhill cranes honking around the meadow.

The set-up in Ridecamp was perfect, with plenty of room for rigs, plenty of water troughs set out, and off a main dirt road so we never had other traffic coming through. There was plenty of ATV/motorcycle traffic on the roads on the weekend, but all were polite and careful whenever any of them encountered any horses.

The Pickett Crick team travelled in force to the ride. August and Carol were willing to babysit Willie and me, since I wanted company, and Carol and August are pretty unflappable, and August had a few calm cool and collected endurance tips he could convey to Willie. Willie's pretty independent-minded, and I probably could have gotten him through a ride solo, but I'm all for making less stress for the young newbie endurance horse you're bringing along (and for me riding!).

Willie's last ride - his first one - was pretty picture perfect, with the perfect calm start. On Day 1 of the Top O' the World ride, Willie's Inner Racehorse came out. There was a long line of horses starting out across a field, that you could see for a good half mile, and Willie was pretty sure they were all headed to the starting gate on the racetrack. He wasn't *too* hard to handle, but he wanted to move out, and I discovered there's a lot of racehorse still inside him. August was his well-behaved self, and I told Willie to take notes.

When we got up on the road, and started trotting out, Willie was much better, and even when we came upon Mike Cobbley riding a bucking Talledega, I told Willie to take notes and don't ever do this. Willie said OK and kept trotting onward. It was still several miles, however, before Willie's excitement came down a notch.

There was one barbed wire gate Carol got off to wrestle with, and we let everybody behind us go on through before Carol tried once again valiantly to close it. It was hard on Willie, waiting, not moving on, trying to be patient, but it's all part of a ride - horses gotta learn all these things! And that gate was hard on Carol, and actually impossible… and it wasn't until Lee and Naomi came up behind us, that Lee was able to get off and wrestle the thing shut. Definitely need a cheater on that gate, and a couple of others in the ride. We told Ride Manager Jessica, "think old wimpy women, not Regina Rose" (who is not wimpy and can close any gate this side of the Mississippi).

Those pointy mountains sticking up in the morning sun haze out of the valley we were riding up were the Grand Tetons. The Tetons! How cools was that. We started climbing up out of the valley - up and up and up. It was a mountain ride, after all, and Willie's butt muscles that he has been working so diligently on developing, were getting a good workout. There were some lovely views down into the valley we climbed out of, and off to the valleys and mountains in the West.

This one was a climbing, rocky trail… and on this loop is where we discovered that this new Standardbred ex-racehorse Willie does not have the toughest feet yet. Up near the high points, around 8200 feet, I started feeling an occasional ouchy step in the left front, so I jumped off to check for a rock in his shoe. Alas, there was no rock, so I had a lame horse. Thank the endurance Gods that Carol had an extra Easyboot that fit over his shoe, so that helped make him near-sound. Good thing, because I had a long way to walk home, we figured 10 miles or so. Carol graciously agreed to stay with me and my green horse (possibly forfeiting her ride, if we spent too much time on the first loop), which I really appreciated, because while Willie might have been just fine being left behind by himself in the wilderness with no other 4-legged companions around, he might not have been fine!

Fortunately after several miles of leading Willie, I was able to get back on and ride him when the trail flattened and smoothed out. In fact we caught up at one point with our crick-mates, who'd walked those same downhill stretches. Happily we got back to Ridecamp in time for Carol and August to be able to go out on the second loop and complete their ride.

And while Willie was out for lameness, at least I know I did a great job getting him in top shape and butt-muscled up for his second 50, a tough mountainous ride with lots of climbing and downhill, enough so he would have finished the 50 if he hadn't bruised his feet.

So instead of more endurance riding experience, Willie got 3 days of the rest of the endurance experience and education. He learned to live in a portable pen, he learned to stay on a high tie, he was completely deserted by his friends on Day 3 and handled it pretty well (booooy did I work to keep up the distractions!), he learned to eat eat eat (sampling every different grass and slop bucket and water tub), and he learned to hang out with and visit people (I now believe he was a human in a former life). Indeed I was running out of things to distract him with when he started to stress about his departed buddies, but the one thing we kept going back to was the slop buckets full of water and wheat bran and oats, carrots and apples. Eventually I had to stop using that distraction because he was eating too much of it! By the end of Day 3 I felt like Great Aunt Mer trying to distract/entertain my 2-year-old Great Nephew Luca for more than 5 minutes at a time. (And by morning of the day after, Willie was so bored before sunrise, that he'd rearranged his pen, and had his foot stuck in a panel and was looking at and snorting at his foot, waiting for me to wake up and crawl out of my tent in my socks and come disentangle it. But at least he didn't escape over the weekend!)

Anyway, I heard from everybody it was a beautiful ride, and from the loop I saw, it was indeed. Tetons on the horizon (if you had the right angle down the valley, which you did at the start of Day 1), and layers of mountains (possibly the Sawtooths?) to the west. Day 2's trail went up to the Continental Divide and was by consensus the best scenic day. Harmless thunderstorms or rain showers moved through every afternoon. High temps were in the 80's, and down to a wonderful good-sleepin' 40's at night. The food dude from Spencer's Grill catered delicious meals every night: beef brisket, chicken quarters, and The Best Pulled Pork I have ever had, and I'm not much of a meat eater. It was extraordinary.

Connie/DWA Saruq and Sarah/Dezzie and Steph/Smokey were 3 of the 6 horses who finished all 3 pioneer days. Steph's Smokey got the overall Best Condition "Getaway Horse" (the horse that vet Robert Washington would choose to get away on, if he were being chased by Indians). That makes Smokey the 4th one of Steph's horses to get that honor over the years (Jose got it on a 5-day, Batman got it on a 3-day, and Mac (RIP) got it on a 3-day)!

So why did Jessica decide, as a relative newcomer to endurance, to put on a ride in a new area, 2 hours from home, and a 3-day ride at that? "Because it's a beautiful area that someone needed to put a ride on, and the only way to get a lot of people out was to make it a multi-day, and I did a 3-day to drive myself crazy." When she told Mike she was going to put on a ride, he said "No, no, no." And when she said it would be a 3-day ride, he said "Absolutely not." About a week before the ride, Mike posted, "The days are flying by and the ride is screaming towards us like a freight train. I keep asking myself who tied me to the tracks? Jessica was this your bright idea? Hope this works out."

It worked out just fine, as he got to ride and complete all 3 days on his tough Talledega gelding, a back-up 4H horse that Jessica found and got for him on Dreamhorse a few years ago. "Best wedding present ever," she said.

Like a true somewhat obsessive Ride Manager, Jessica is already making plans to make next year's ride better. She has in mind some more newer and better trails for next year, particularly to replace that rocky loop 1 on day 1, and particularly over toward the most prettiest side.

It is a beautiful, challenging ride where your horse is going to take you to places you wouldn't otherwise get to experience on Top O' the World.

More stories and photos from the ride at:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What's In A (Trail) Name?

Wednesday July 19 2017

Mankind has named roads and trails since the beginning of time, to indicate where you're coming from and where you're going to, and to give you a kind of invested ownership in a place. Same thing here in Owyhee with the trails we ride. For example:

Tevis Trail
You've all heard of the 100-mile Tevis trail in California, and you've no doubt heard about the steep cliffs and canyons you ride above, and places such as the self-explanatory "Pucker Point" where you don't want your horse to make a mistake and step off the trail. Our Tevis Trail is about 15 yards long, and it's not near as steep or deep as anything on the real Tevis trail, (it's more like a 50 foot slide than a 500 foot drop), but you'd just as soon not slip off there. It's so short, that by the time you start to pucker, you've already traversed it. It's the tame Owyhee version of the Tevis trail. That this very short trail even got a name is because it's one of our main access trails out southeast toward the BLM hinterlands.

Toilet Paper Hill
Obviously, this hill is so-named because someone had to get off to wee, and they dropped their toilet paper. (Yes, they picked it up the next time they rode it.)

Tamara's Hill
"Wow, what did I do to get a hill named after me?" Tamara asked. Well, it's because that hill needed a name, and it was the first trail that Tamara rode when she came out to visit Connie.

If you've ever been to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, you've got an idea of what our Owyhee Badlands trail looks like - only on a much tinier and more modest scale. Lots of water-eroded rivulets coming off these mud-clay hills and tiny hoodoo sculptures. Squint, and use your imagination to make it as big and bad as Badlands National Park.

Blonde Cow Wash
This is a great training sand wash, about 1 1/2 miles long on the upper end. It's so named because we saw - what else - a blonde cow in it once.

Bilbo Baggins Trail/Frodo Baggins Wash
Great names, yes? Bilbo came about, because back then around the time of the Lord of the Rings movies, I was riding a short, compact little horse named Billy, who just reminded me of a little hobbit. That's the thought that popped into my head, as I was riding Billy along this trail. Naturally, this trail with Billy became the Bilbo Baggins Trail. 

There's another nice training wash that branches off Bilbo, which makes a nice loop - so naturally, this became the Frodo Baggins wash.

Antelope Loop
Connie came upon, you guessed it, a little herd of antelope in this nice short little wash/trail.

Lost Juniper Wash
Not only is Lost Juniper Ranch next door, but there's a secret juniper tree in one of the side folds of this wash that only those privy to the information know where to look for it. There's even a Raven nest in this secret juniper tree!

Three Cheese Casserole
Up the Training Wash, down Spring Ranch Road wash, up Blonde Cow wash. If you do all Three Cheeses, it's a strenuous workout. You can also do Two Cheeses, or Two And A Half Cheeses, to make the workout a little easier.

Merri's Trail
I found this short-cut trail to our regular Hart Creek loop, after a new fence cut off our regular access. I actually have cows to thank for making the trail; I just followed the right one that connected. Of course there's also a Steph's Trail, a nice 1 1/2-mile flat trail up on a ridge that is her regular favorite; and a John's Trail, where he discovered a nice back detour around a homestead that keeps us off private property.

Krusty's Trail
Steph's wonderful old Orlov Trotter, in cahoots with my horse Stormy, found, marked, and stomped down this trail down our canyon as an alternate to the regular road.

Bones Trail
This nice shortcut from the BeeHives to the Highway crossing is marked by cow carcass bones.

Around the Block
If you wanted to close your eyes and imagine you were in a big city (although pray tell, why would you do that!), you could walk a big city block around skyscrapers. This 16-mile loop goes up Spring Ranch road to the Owyhee mountains, along the base of them, and back down Bates Creek Road - like going around a biiiiiiig city block.

Hallelujah Trail
Regina discovered this awesome trail for one of her spring rides in the general area of the Snake River. It's a 2-track jeep road along a Badlands rim. That first time we rode it, the skies were blue, flowers were popping out of the desert, and the view to the Owyhee mountains 15 miles away was just awesome. Hallelujah!

AK-47 Trail
Carol and I were sent out to ride and mark this cut-off trail out of Lost Juniper Wash to the BeeHives. As we set off on this trail, some hoodlums were off in the not-too-distance firing off AK-47's, kalashnikovs, M16's, cannons, whateverthehell was in their arsenal. Neither August nor Dudley wanted any part of that! We turned around and rode home, just in case they had high powered scopes and too much beer and thought we looked like moose in the desert.

Dead Cow Baby Loop
This is an 18-mile loop: Bilbo/Antelope Loop/Lost Juniper/AK-47/Beehives/Spring Ranch Road/Blonde Cow/Pickett Creek Canyon. Along Spring Ranch road this spring, as we were doing this hodgepodge loop of trail sections, in a span of riding it 2 days in a row, we came across 3 dead baby cows. Well - what else are you going to call this epic trail? We really did try calling it other names, but Dead Cow Baby Loop defined it best and stuck.

*originally posted on The Equestrian Vagabond blog, but applicable here!*

Friday, June 23, 2017

City of Rocks Day 3: Sarah's In Charge

June 23 2017

Connie gave me her mount DWA Saruq to ride on Day 3 at City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride, to sponsor and ride with her 14-year-old niece Sarah on Noble Desperado.

The two desperados Saruq and Dezzie had already done days 1 and 2, so I was looking forward to a relaxing ride. Flash back, if you will, to my first endurance ride on DWA Saruq in April of 2014.

"The start was rather, um, exciting, with 2 hot horses wanting to be in front. We found a little pocket at the start, a little space behind horses in front of us, but that didn't matter at the start of this HORSE RACE!!! (so thought Finneas and Saruq). A whole lotta shenanigans were going on beneath us, and I discovered the gloves I was wearing were not particularly good for gripping reins, something which was very important at that stage in the ride. I thought at one time I might lose Saruq there when he threw his head straight up in air and tried to leap to a gallop… but I managed to keep a hold of him.

The rest of the ride, 49.8 miles of it, took a lot of riding. A Lot Of Riding. Saruq knows how to pull. The harder you pull on him, the harder he'll pull and the faster he likes to go. He can bend his neck like a pretzel and still pull a freight train at 35 mph. When you're on a horse that pulls, you want to do the opposite: don't pull - because he'll just pull harder and go faster. That means really using your legs and weight, a lot, and trying to keep your hands light on the reins. Less pulling but more communicating with the reins, but still taking a good grip on them. Not pulling them, but working them a lot. I couldn't use my grip-less gloves, so the reins did a number on my fingers throughout the day..."

me, after the finish of that exhausting ride!

Bred by Robert Bouttier of DWA Arabians in Bellevue, Idaho, to be a racehorse, DWA Saruq (DWA Ziffalat x DWA Ebony Starr, by *Sabson) is related to a number of successful high mileage endurance horses, including DWA Sabku +// (4,370 endurance miles, 5th place in 2004 Tevis Cup, tied for 1st place in the 2008 Big Horn 100), DWA Powerball (3,720 endurance miles, 35 wins, 60 top five, 64 top ten, out of 75 rides), DWA Millennium (2,210 endurance miles), and DWA Express (tied for 1st place in the 2008 Big Horn 100), all campaigned by Christoph Schork, and all sired by *Sabson.

The name "Saruq" is a town in Iran where beautiful Persian carpets, also called Saruq, are made by hand.

Saruq raced briefly on the track, but he didn't like it. When you ride him now, you can feel the power he still knows he has, and I am pretty sure he enjoyed running away from his exercise riders on the track now and then, just to put the fear of God into them. Saruq almost got away from me once on a training ride, but I got a hold of him just before he did it. He certainly got my heart pounding! Connie has worked hard over the years on his best gait: the WHOA. He goes in a strong 3-ring combination Mylar bit, which you mostly don't have to test the mechanics and effectiveness of, but you have it if you need it.

Mostly you don't need it - *particularly* after Connie has ridden him 100 miles before you climb on him. In the future, I might have her do that for all my endurance horse rides. Saruq can be very light and relaxed, which I was expecting him to be on his third day in a row. And he's much easier to ride now, with Connie's training and since he's garnered some 1600 endurance miles.

This ride, I decided, was going to be *so* relaxing after getting a workout on Willie on Day 1, that I told 14-year-old Sarah she would be making all the decisions today. "You are in charge all day," I told her before the start, "as long as you make all the right decisions. You're going to lead, you're going to make sure we follow the correct ribbons, you're going to set the pace, you're going to stop for water and grass when we need to. Saruq and I are just going to follow all day!"

And that's just what we did. It was a novelty for both Dezzie and Saruq, because when Connie rides she likes to be in front, so Sarah usually follows on Dezzie. Sarah had to pay attention and ride Dezzie, because he was a little cautious and on alert in a few place (because Saruq told him there were horse-eating monsters in the woods be afraid of); she set a good pace from the start, trotted when we could, walked when we needed to; and they led the entire 50 miles. Aunt Connie has taught her protege well, and Sarah has excellently learned how to pace a horse in an endurance ride. She just needs to learn to clean her room a little better. (Just kidding, Sarah!)

We were joined for the day by Nance and Quinn; the pace and company suited them just fine, too.

The only thing that did not suit Saruq was when Quinn had the audacity to take the lead on the dirt road leading to the Twin Sisters spires in the park. His ears were pinned so flat against his neck, I couldn't find them!

Saruq is pissed that Quinn is in front of him!

25-mile loop 1 took us up to 7500 feet at Indian Grove in City of Rocks National Reserve, with a vet check back in camp, and loop 2 took us out on the flats toward Utah, up the old Emigrant Trail past an old stage stop, into the backside of the park along the old California Trail.

I switched to a plain snaffle on Saruq for the last loop, because after 125 miles, he for sure should be easy to ride, right?

If you've ridden a fit endurance horse on a multi-day ride, day after day after day, you've experienced how they just get stronger every day. Saruq and Dezzie both moved free and easy all day long, did not feel like they'd gone almost 150 miles.

They all felt at their most very freshest on that last final 2.5 miles or so, coming down the hill from Circle Creek Overlook, back down the Equestrian Trail toward home and the finish (the same training ride they did several times before the ride started). They were hot. Saruq was breathing brimstone and fire. Coming home, downhill, feeling about like a runaway train, and Saruq with just a plain snaffle in his mouth, yeehaw! I didn't even have to tell Sarah to slow down, because she could probably feel Saruq dragon-fire-breathing down her backside and hear his teeth grinding his bit to pieces.

I gave up on proper riding with seat and legs and just anchored my hands against his neck and let him pull.

We made it back to camp with fresh horses, with Saruq and Dezzie being among 9 horses that completed all 3 days of 50's.

And Junior Sarah finished her first ride being Captain of the endurance ship!

More stories and photos from the 3-day ride at:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hillbille Willie: Standardbred Conquers Endurance!

June 21 2017

A few things come to mind, when you first see Willie the Standardbred. You will likely think, "Oh, my." A giraffe might come to mind, when you note that he's toweringly tall, with long legs, flat back, and down-sloping butt. How is a saddle going to stay on him, you might wonder.

The name Hillbillie Willie just came about because, well, he just looks like a Hillbilly. Curious, kinda dorky (he likes to climb in water troughs, and Jose gets him to test electric fences), upper lip poking out in a goofy way, curly hair on his fetlocks. He even has his own cartoon underway, The Grand Adventures of Hillbillie Willie.

After wondering about it for a while, since she'd had several successful Orlov Trotters, two winters ago Steph decided yes, she wanted a Standardbred, and within a month, she had one. Her friend Heidi Siegel, from Nevada, chose one from a track stable in California. Heidi picked him up and hauled him to her ranch in Nevada, and we first saw the bay horse in one of her dark stalls late at night when we arrived at her place on the way home to Idaho from Arizona. We saw more of the 4-year-old gelding in the morning light when we loaded him up with Steph's two endurance horses to drive home. "Hmm," we all said, not sure, besides the height (he's 16.3, maybe 17 hands) and long legs and plain bay, what we were seeing.

Willie was the luck of the draw, a former pacer with an unknown race record and a well-healed hind suspensory. He had been due to go back into race training after a year off to heal, we heard, though apparently he hadn't been all that terribly interested in racing. He seemed kind and quite sensible, which always puts you a step ahead of the endurance game.

Willie went to trainer Ted's the next spring to be broke to saddle; we trail rode him in the summer and fed his skinny-frame with lots of calories, and then turned him out for the fall/winter. He was sent back to the trainer for a tune-up this spring, and Steph proposed him as my summer project. I've been riding him consistently since April, aiming to get him fit for a 50-mile endurance ride.

The April 1st April Fools/Tough Sucker ride was too soon, and the April Eagle Canyon ride was too hard - too many hills for a flat-lander ex-racehorse. Sure, Willie has speed to burn on the flats, but I think most Standardbreds probably don't come with hill muscles built into their engines, certainly not one with a giraffe butt.

I rode him 3 to 4 days a week on training rides, on average from 4 to 10 miles, over the months, on sand and hills and on the flat, with a goal of a 50-mile ride at City of Rocks the first week in June. Longest ride we did was 17ish miles. I sometimes rode with a heart monitor, because I didn't have a feel for him like I did with Arabians; and the first time I used one, it showed that hills really shot his heart rate up into the stratosphere. With a racehorse who actually raced, though, you're starting out with a solid foundation of fitness and bone and muscle and ligament and tendon-building. If that foundation got him through racing, it should serve well for endurance riding.

"I know you can go FAST, Willie, but I want you to learn to go SLOW," I told him. I worked (still work) diligently on trying to slow him down to a reasonable endurance horse pace. Sure, if you let him go as fast as he wants he'll hold a nice steady pace, but his natural 'slow' pace is probably around 15-20 mph. He could win a 50-mile ride in 2 1/2 hours at that pace… but of course he'd crash way before he got through the first loop. One day, I want to ride him as fast as he wants to go at the trot or the pace, but not yet!

Slow and steady is the key, with emphasis on the steady, if you’re looking for longevity in an endurance horse - like many of us do. If you start them off early teaching a slow steady pace, it can become the one all-day trot they default to. It can take months, or years to ingrain this, maybe longer with a standardbred racehorse, whose pacing workouts would have been at a much faster pace, even at a 'morning jog,' than what an endurance horse does going down the trail all day.

I fed (still feed) him up after rides, some grain, lots of beet pulp, and lots of fat. Over the months, he'd put on fitness and some muscle and weight, looking almost like a racing-fit horse, instead of a giraffe crossed with a milk cow.

And this horse really enjoys being out on the trail. If you think about it, what horse wouldn't like going down a trail in the great outdoors as opposed to going around and around in a circle on a track? (Just ask Stormy, my former Thoroughbred racehorse.)

And Hillbillie Willie the Standardbred was born to be in the West, in cowboy country. He's sensible, not scared of cows or antelope or bunnies. So far he's only been scared of things that don't belong in the sagebrush desert, like big blue cow water tanks that weren't there before, or No Trespassing signs that weren't there before but which I assured him say "No Trespassing Except For Willie And Friends."

Hillbillie Willie made his endurance debut as planned, on the 50-miler on Day 1 at City of Rocks Pioneer Endurance ride in southern Idaho on June 8. Willie would have some long flat roads to coast along, but with basecamp at 5500 feet, and a climb twice to 7000 feet, and a possibly warm day, he'd have his work cut out for him. Could he do a 50? No pressure on Willie. I’d ride him on the first 25-mile loop, and if he was okay and was enjoying himself, I’d ride him on the second 25-mile loop.

The start was nice laid back, with companions Carol and August and Steph and Smokey. The Equestrian Trail started out in the juniper forest, winding among the trees, with my helmet whacking some of the branches that probably every other rider missed, since on Willie, my head reaches up into the clouds.

Willie loved leading on the winding trails, and he was at his best gliding downhill on the log-step Box Top trail with his long legs. On the road to Castle Rocks State Park, some local kids sold Lemonaide at a roadside stand. We stopped for lemonade, which I tried sharing with Willie, but he was not impressed.

The first loop up and around Castle Rocks brought us to a long open beautiful rocky and boggy downhill meadow, and the very first step into the meadow, he took a bad step and boom - dead lame! Dang! I hopped right off, and I don't know if he clipped his heel, whacked his ankle or what, but he was holding his left foot up. Instant disappointment, because he'd done so well so far!

I picked up his foot, saw nothing in the hoof, saw no blood anywhere, so I rubbed and rubbed the leg. He put it back down, and, since we'd have to walk out of there one way or another, and I'd be off walking down the meadow anyway, I led him on, and boom - dead sound! He never took another bad step all day.

Arriving in the vet check miles later, I got off to lead him in, and after taking a drink, and standing around a few minutes, Dr Jim took his pulse - 46. 46! I was riding a pretty fit horse. Who was having a bit of fun in his first endurance ride in the Wild West.

The best part was next: lunch (I am sure Dudley schooled him on this part). He ate, relaxed, drank at the water troughs, and then we moved on to loop 2 - a repeat of loop 1 in reverse.

Loop 2 was just as good, with Willie even opening some of the gates, since he has been studying up on how cowgirls and cow horses open gates from horseback. Except there was that one gate where Willie positioned himself just right… and he was so tall I couldn't reach the latch!

His pulse went above 160 just twice, and only once I felt him get tired, with the long uphill trot on the park road. For about 30 yards, he switched from a trot to a pace, giving his muscles a break, before switching back to a trot. Fortunately we had a cloud cover for that stretch, so his pulse didn't climb too high. We had one more long climb, into City of Rocks National Reserve and back up the long Box Top trail, and then it was all downhill from there, back to camp.

Willie was already pulsed down by the time we walked in to the finish, in a very respectable 7:48 and I had a sound and fit-to-continue horse at the end of his first 50-mile ride. Hillbillie Willie is now an endurance horse! (More cartoons to come.) I was more worn out than he was, working hard all day on slowing him down with legs and seat instead of reins.

I daresay Willie was a happy horse at the finish (particularly eating his bucket o’ mash with The Raven). I'm sure Jose taught Willie to appreciate the scenery, and as I said before, what ex-racehorse wouldn't like being a real wild west horse on a scenic and historic endurance ride!

More stories and photos from the ride at: