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:

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

2017 City of Rocks - It Ain't Over Till the Fat Man Rides

Wednesday June 14 2017

We do things 'a bit differently' out here in the Western endurance riding half of the US, according to a couple of visiting from the Southeast region. Mike and Ruth Anne Everett journeyed out from North Carolina to the Northwest to partake of the City of Rocks multi-day experience. Mike crewed for Ruth Anne, who rode Katya Levermann's gelding Kharmichel LK (whom mom Katrin hauled from British Columbia for the weekend) all 3 days.

At the City of Rocks Pioneer 3-day ride in Almo, Idaho, no, we're really not set on racing here. It's really more about enjoying your horse and ogling the scenery and admiring the fauna - of which there was a plentitude after this long wet winter - on the trails in City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park. Most horses stroll out onto trails at the start, and stop to dine on the good grass along the way. Many riders are more interested in finishing all 3 days on the same horse (this year there were nine 3-day horses on the LDs; nine 3-day horses on the 50s) than winning. Ruth Anne caught the relaxed City of Rocks multi-day fever, gawking at the views on trail, soaking up the rock formations and flowers, taking plenty of pictures, and, with Suzanne Solis from Georgia, learning how to cheat a barbed wire fence gate shut when all else failed. :)

For a little entertainment and excitement, there were those mules that always put on a show - the Heart 2 Heart ranch brought a slew of mules for a pack of junior riders in neon orange shirts on Saturday, and then dad Warren (the "fat man" - his words, not mine!) and 2 daughters Trinity and Jill raced their best mules on the LD on Sunday!

The 6th annual City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride may have been the best. (And the last? It's to be determined…) A better than expected turnout made for a several days-long endurance party. Weather is always a surprise and always different each year at City of Rocks... and our conclusive mantra this year was, "and there were no thunderstorms!"

After the perfect riding weather all 3 days (cooler, often cloudy, and no thunderstorms!), who cared if it rained on some riders on their last loop Day 2. Who barely even remembers those terrific wind storms that on one night ripped up the gazebo tent, and left grit in the eyes and dust in the lungs for a week afterward. Skies were spectacular for every hour, from every angle, and the full moon lit up the parkscapes. One evening several brilliant rainbows popped out in succession, some lasting no more than 45 seconds.

From basecamp at a local rancher's RV park near the entrance to City of Rocks, Day 1's trails looped to and through Castle Rocks State Park. One loop through the park took riders down a spectacular green and flowery meadow overlooking the valley.

Along the way to Castle Rocks, and on the way back home, riders came upon a refreshing Lemonaid stand where a couple of local little kids sold $1 cups of lemonade, and wrote up a tab for you if you weren't carrying money. (They came by camp in the evening to settle up!)

25 started on the 50-miler with 24 finishing. Christoph Schork won the ride aboard his AERC War Mare and AERC National 100-mile Champion, GE Stars Aflame, with his German intern Carla Lakenbrink finishing second on GE TC Mounshine, in a ride time of 5:08. Third place Stephanie Chase, who finished right with them aboard DA Serabaars Secret, won Best Condition.

All 27 starters finished the 25-miler, with Joan Zachary and Chico finishing first in a ride time of 3:01. Fifth place Debbie Gross and Jack won Best Condition.

Day 2's trail was supposed to loop south through the ranching community of Yost, but because of high water (or, rather, deep gooey, sticky river banks) in the Raft River, for safety's sake the trails were changed to repeat Day 3's loops through Emigrant Canyon and Indian Grove in City of Rocks National Reserve.

23 of 26 riders finished the Day 2 55-miler, with Christoph winning aboard his other AERC War Mare and AERC National 100-mile Champion, GE Pistol Annie in 6:03, with Carla finishing second aboard Moon again. Annie got the Best Condition award.

All 28 starters finished the 25-miler, with Bill Miller and Raffons Noble Dancer winning first place in 2:54. Third place Debbie Gross and Jack got Best Condition again.

Day 3's 50-miler had 17 finishers in 18 starters, with, again, Christoph winning on GE Pistol Annie, and Carla finishing second on GE Stars Aflame (and Best Condition) in 5:31. Ride manager Steph Teeter escaped onto the trail and smoked after them on Owyhee Smoke Signal, finishing third in 6:10.

And the race was on with the father-2-daughter mule team in the 25-miler. And race they did, smoking the course, coming in together at the finish, with daughter Trinity's mule pulsing down first on Gracie in 2:33, with daughter Jill second on Out of Idaho a second later, and dad's mule Bear pulsing down in 2:34. It's reported dad got on a first-time endurance mule who took 3 people to hold him still and 2 more people to get the bit between his teeth. Dad didn't do too bad at all, because Bear got the Best Condition award. "It's not over till the fat man rides," he quipped, as he got up to get his award.

Head veterinarian Robert Washington chose, as his 'Getaway horse' (best overall 3-day horse he'd choose to get away on if he was being chased by Indians back in the day), David Brown's Chipikiri in the Limited Distance, and the Levermann's Kharmichel LK in the 50s, ridden by Ruth Anne Everett.

Several notable milestones were reached at this year's ride.

Yes, Christoph Schork added another 3 wins to his already-over-300-AERC-most-wins record.

On Day 1, Cindy Bradley's Morgan, Bogar Tucker, reached 6000 miles, the second-highest mileage Morgan horse in AERC. On Day 3, Cindy herself reached 7500 miles.

Naomi Preston (11,000+ miles, with Mustang Lady in the Hall of Fame), rode her first ever bay horse in endurance (!), finishing all 3 days on Fire Mt Malabar, riding with Lee Pearce on JAC Winterhawk.

Mike Cobbley reached 1000 miles, riding his phenomenal 3-day horse Taladega that once was a castoff 4H horse.

Connie Holloway and her Grandson of the Black Stallion (and don't you forget it!), Phinneas achieved Decade team status - an awesome AERC award that epitomizes the longevity of our horses in our endurance sport.

Also of note were the 18 horses that completed all 3 days of the ride, and all the Juniors who rode: (by my calculations) 5 on Day 1, 12 on Day 2, and 8 on Day 3. How can we continue to support these Juniors, who are the future of our endurance sport, after all us Old Fogeys can't clamber aboard our old steeds anymore?

And the Limited Distance riders outnumbered the 'endurance riders' all three days. It's a division of our sport that's sometimes denigrated by some Old Fogeys who may soon not be able to clamber aboard our steeds anymore, but the division that is becoming the butter on the bread that keeps endurance rides going. Maybe it's time to change a blinkered, parochial way of thinking.

It takes a huge effort, and more than an enormous village to put this ride on 4 hours from home. The entire Nicholes family vacationed here for the week, though all were persuaded into helping with the rides at some point, with Terrence and Matt being indispensable. The Durfee Hot Springs and the Garbage Pizza at Rock City are amenities to soothe weary souls and riders.

City of Rocks and Castle Rocks is a nice system of current trails over historic emigrant trails, and is pretty extraordinarily well-managed by the State Park system. Both parks welcome horse events along with hiking, climbing, biking (all bikers I've ever met on the trail there have been polite and safe toward horses), ranching, hunting.

And will the 'fat man' ride again at City of Rocks? This year's near-perfect weather and scenery might, or might not, have been the book-end to this multi-day ride.

Photos and more of the ride at:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

You Might Get Eaten Around Here

Thursday June 1 2017

Connie and I were taking Da Boyz Saruq and Dezzie out for a training ride. Horses were huffing and puffing up a hill, and we passed over something that looked… funny.

"Hold on a second," I said, "was that a feather?" I stopped Dezzie, hopped off, turned around and walked back… to see this little gopher snake trying to swallow a H-Y-UGE lizard. 

Luckily Connie had her phone along to take pictures. The little snake wasn't a foot long. The lizard was longer than the snake. And way wider. You can see the lizard is partway down the very widened first part of the snake. We didn't see how that little lizard could get this entire lizard down.

We marked the spot in the trail, went and did our training ride, then came back. The snake had spit the lizard out. Just too big to get down. 

He wasn't giving up though; he was curled around and under that lizard, just resting and pondering things in his little snake heart, no doubt.

It was a case of snake eyes bigger than his snake stomach!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

If We Like You

Saturday May 27 2017

If we really like you, we'll put you on the best endurance horse ever, and we'll take you on one of our favorite trail rides.

We'll escort you when the spring wildflowers are on their best and brightest behavior, dancing in the breeze above Hart Creek Canyon: brilliant scarlet or salmon or orange Indian paintbrush, purple and white phlox bouquets, pink and white buckwheat buttons, deep purple larkspur, yellow and purple asters, orange globemallow.

We like Marley, Carol's visiting niece, so we put her on Jose, the best endurance horse ever, and took her on our favorite picturesque trail amongst the spring wildflowers of the Owyhee desert country.

It's great to have good endurance horses who can easily cover the miles, who like moving out in the high desert country, and who seem to appreciate the outing as much as humans. Jose likes to stop on hills and admire the scenery; Willie particularly noticed and checked out the purple larkspur (he stopped to sniff them); and August and Jose posed nice for their photos in the wildflowers with the Owyhee mountain backdrop.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

2017 Owyhee River Challenge: Buckerufagus

May 16 2017

I should have known my endurance ride weekend would be a bit off kilter, when I got to Ridecamp and I realized I forgot The Raven!!!!!!! Only the second time in over 7000 miles.

Connie's horse Finneas, Grandson of the Black Stallion, and don't you forget it, was my mount for the 55-miler in this desert canyon country. Only in this ride, Finneas forgot about the "Grandson" part, instead thinking he was the O Great One in the flesh himself.

Everything worked out well at the last ride, Eagle Canyon, when Finneas and I arrived in the morning an hour before the start. While he was still Blusterufagus at that ride, he never saw his pasture mates in Ridecamp, so he didn't know he had to defeat and lord it over them all (being Grandson of the Black Stallion and all.)

The original plan at this Owyhee River Challenge *was* for me to arrive in the morning again with Regina, but plans got scrambled and changed (hence I forgot The Raven in the chaos), and we trailered with neighbor Carol and August, arriving in Ridecamp Friday afternoon. Which meant Finneas cast his Grandson-of-the-Black-Stallion Stink-eye over his herd mates tied to the trailers all Friday afternoon and night, planning his winning strategy.

Therefore when I saddled and bridled Finneas for the start of the ride, and then led him away from everybody, to let them go start and get ahead of us, and to wait for a quiet bubble to go out, Finneas realized what was going down, and it hit him right when I climbed aboard. He was absolutely furious, and he went to hogging it.

Yes, bucking. Seriously, royally pissed-off-bucking. I think he was roaring and screaming too, but not sure. He was madder'n'a hornet in a swarm of bees in a bucket. Did I mention this horse is 18 years old now?

I stayed aboard, and I sent him charging down the 2-track road toward the river canyon (the opposite way from the start, but he didn't know that) getting his mad energy into motion. Finneas was raging, "I AM THE BLACK STALLION! (forgetting the "Grandson" part) I AM FAMOUS!" spewing smoke and fire and sparks and outrageous indignation, and, by God, he was winning this race, winning it by far since everybody else was way behind him.

After a good mighty powerful quarter mile I slowed him down then turned him around…. at which point he was totally confused. Yeah, he won this race, but where was everybody else to witness His Magnificence? Where were all the lowly slowpokes dragging in his majestic wake? When I pointed him back uphill toward camp, the explosion that had been such an utterly breathtaking performance fizzled, and we slowly trotted back up the hill, to and through an empty ridecamp and out onto the trail.

I thought I'd cleverly obtained a beautiful Bubble for ourselves; the only 2 we could see ahead of us in the distance were Karen B and Linda B. We did catch up to them after a mile or 2, and I steered Finneas in a very wide path around them, because he is so terribly obnoxious when he passes horses, climbing upward and galloping sideways and trying to get in firing range of his punk-ass rivals. Finneas haughtily passed them and trotted onward, steam-engine snorting and bulling along, when suddenly a horse-eating rock leaped out from behind a sagebrush to attack Finneas.

Zip, he leaped 10 feet to the left, zip, my saddle flipped 90* to the right, and zip, so did I. I couldn't stay on, so I fell off, looking up at His Mighteousness, Grandson of the Black Stallion, who stood there looking, I might say, somewhat embarrassed at his behavior, because really, the rock had not attacked him after all nor even moved nor even looked remotely scary. I got up, shoved the saddle back up where it belonged, snugged down the cinch (which was quite loose now, though it had been tight when I left the trailer), climbed aboard, gave Karen and Linda the thumbs up, and on we went, with Finneas a bit chagrined and better behaved.

All would have been well… except here came Errol and OMR Pristine. Normally they arrive early and ride fast up front, but that didn't happen today. They arrived this morning, started late, and caught up with me and Finneas. And because of that, and because Errol and I could not find a turn in the trail, and then Karen and Linda catching up to point us in the right direction, my nice Bubble busted, and the first loop kind of went back to hell for many more miles. Finneas isn't as awful when a horse passes him, but when he passes a horse, he is just naughty, and he can stay mad for miles. After a couple more miles of riding a snarly-gnarly blustery ball of fire, leap-frogging horses, and having to go through a gate or 2, I finally just got off Finneas and led him on foot for 10 minutes, to let everybody get way the heck in front of us. Then the final miles of the 20-mile first loop were much better now that we had our bubble back (Finneas thought he was back in front and winning again).

Back at Ridecamp for our first vet check, I remembered to both pulse down and vet in (there was no hurricane blowing to distract me, you see, like there was at Eagle), and I watched some suspicious clouds starting to build on the southern horizon. As I rode out of camp onto Loop 2 (a repeat of Loop 1), they were definitely heading my way.

"Eh, they're moving south," Robert the vet assured me, when in fact it was obviously the opposite, with Ridecamp being directly north in the path. Clearly, Robert was throwing out a bit of #fakenews, but I guess it's okay if it's done to make people feel better. I hear that's what politicians do, so the same must apply to thunderstorms, right?

The repeat 20 miles of Loop 2 was just plain pleasant, since the trail was quite easy to follow now, Finneas was winning (with 3 riders behind him and the rest out of sight and well in front of him) and easy and pleasant to ride. I got off and walked or ran down hills, and Finneas cruised along on the flats and uphills. I was Stink-Eyeing the thunderstorms out of my path, and the wildflowers were putting on their brightest colors for the event.

And then there was Loop 3.

14-mile loop 3 started out the same direction (which Finneas was not impressed with), before turning off on a shorter version of the first loops. All went fine until about mile 8ish. We'd gone through a gate, he'd had a nice pee, he'd been grabbing grass most of the loop, and I got off to lead him over an uneven trail over grass, since we'd be walking it anyway. I stopped at his favorite grass to let him get a bite… and he pawed twice.


I pulled him along and walked to the next good grass spot… and he pawed again, 3 times.

Oh, crap. My God, he can't be colicking.

I pulled him along again, trying to pretend nothing was happening, when he then pulled me over to a nice grass spot. I let him go there, presumably to eat… and he went straight down on his front knees, wanting to roll.

Oh @$*($X.

My horse is colicking, and I'm 6 miles from home. I yelled at Finneas and yanked him to his feet and marched him onward down the trail, trying not to panic. I did not have a map, so did not know where I was exactly… only a long way from camp with a horse who is possibly in trouble. Karen and Shyla and Andi were behind me and I kept hoping they'd hurry up already and catch me, to go for help.

I marched Finneas along, not giving him any slack in the lead rope, not letting him hesitate at all, and hoping to God I wasn't dealing with a Zayante crisis (this terrifying story is in my book), for about 2 miles before the girls finally caught up with me. When I told them my horse was colicking, and I stepped off the trail to let them by, praise be, Finneas reached down and took a bite of grass. Best thing that could have ever happened. If he wanted to eat, the crisis may have passed. The girls went on, Karen saying she'd have Robert the vet meet me at the pond, about another 3 miles down the trail.

I led Finneas onward… and he took bites of grass the entire way. What a huge relief. It must have been a gas colic episode, which can come on very quickly and be very painful, and which can go away just as quickly. I'd had some horrible visions about what I might have to deal with, as I dragged him down the trail alone. Even when a rainstorm came over us and soaked us, it was wonderful because there was no lightning, and Finneas continued to eat his way through it.

By the time we got to the pond, we'd dried off, Robert was there looking for us, and Finneas was indeed fine. Pulse was 56, excellent gut sounds in all quadrants, looking bright-eyed (his eye had never looked glassy with pain), and still eating grass. I led him on to the pond, where he had a good drink, and I just stayed off leading him the final mile back to camp, with him eating all the way. It was a good hike.

So in the end, it turned out to be a fine day over pretty trails, nobody hurt, nobody colicking, Finneas still winning (he got some applause when we arrived in camp, and greeting-ful whinnies from his herd mates) as the glorious Grandson of the Black Stallion. Quite the adventure, all without The Raven. Although I could have done without some of those adventurous episodes.

17 started the 55 with 14 finishing. Layne Simmons and Royal Immage finished first in 6:14, with second place Mike Cobbley and Talledega winning Best Condition.

23 started and finished the 25, with Jordan Lanning and the mule Out of Idaho finishing first in 3:10, and Simone Mauhl and Dudley's friend Boogey winning Best Condition.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Eagle and a Hurricane

April 22 2017
by Merri

Sunshine and a "breeze" was sweet redemption for Layne Simmons' Eagle Canyon ride this year, after last year's dismal weather scuttled attendance in her first time as ride manager. We're lucky to be able to ride in this area, which is on private land and which has been closed off to most activity, due to people (mostly not horse people) trashing the area.

Where the rain/sleet/wind/mud/muck caused about half of those signed up last year to opt not to ride, this year, all the Ridecampers who showed up climbed aboard their steeds for Saturday's 25 and 50.

The Pickett Crick Invasion stormed the Eagle trails. Steph/Smokey, Carol/August, Connie/DWA Saruq, Sarah/Dezzie hauled up Friday afternoon. Regina kindly hauled Linda/Ted and me/Phinneas (Connie's horse) up eeeeearly Saturday morning. Which meant my alarm going off at 4 AM, saddling up Phinneas in the dark, loading him up, picking up Linda and Ted down the road, and Regina driving us to Ridecamp, arriving at 7 AM. Perfect getting-an-early-start training for a 100-mile ride! Which, no thanks, I have no aspirations to do.

Double last year's attendance hit the trails Saturday: 26 in the 50 miler at 8 AM and 18 in the 25 miler at 9 AM. Forecast was for plenty of sunshine and "wind," increasing throughout the day. They could have just gone ahead and called it a "hurricane" and said that it would start early. For the first loop of 25 miles there was a hurricane a'blowin' on top of those Eagle foothills. Nobody in Ridecamp noticed, at first, since last year's weather was on everybody's mind. It was sunny after all!

Phinneas, Grandson of the Black Stallion (as Connie will remind you) is 18 this year, and just tough as snot. He's a Blusterufagus, always full of himself, much more so if he's ridden in company. So I rode him solo, trying to stay far enough back of his crick herd mates that he wouldn't have anything to prove. So Phinneas and I battled Mother Nature's elements together.

The Eagle foothills were rife with spring grass, layers upon layers of green, with plenty of snow on the Bogus Basin ski hills to the west (the resort was actually open for skiing this weekend, due to another dumping of recent snow). Trails were fabulously marked, and ride manager Layne rode the 50 in front of the pack on the first loop, checking trail and adding ribbons or flagging where necessary. She even rode with a terrical painful bruise and stitches in her leg, a present from a rambunctious good-spring-feeling horse a week ago.

Eagle is not an easy ride. There are a *lot* of hills in this ride (though less than there used to be!), and *lots* of badger holes to dodge. A fit horse helps, and also one that pays attention to where he puts his feet (or listens well to you telling him where to put his feet).

And really, the wind was terrific on the hilltop trails. Almost flabbergasting at times. According to my calculations, and how I felt at the end of the ride, each mile ridden in the hurricane winds was equivalent to double miles. So my 50 on Phinneas felt like approximately 75 miles! On the first loop, which started out south of camp, and made its way east, then west, then south before returning northward to camp, had me buffeted from any and all sides by the gales. Since in one direction I was literally leaning at an angle into the wind so I could stay on my horse, I was worried I'd make Phinneas sore on that side of his back. But no worries, going the opposite direction, I was leaning the opposite way, so that evened out. I tried leaning down over his neck at times, and then I found the gusts were knocking him around too.

The wind started to drive me a little insane at times. And thank goodness this horse is TOUGH and doesn't get scared at big wind. Wind was roaring so hard and loud I couldn't hear myself talking to Phinneas. Wind was blowing so hard it blew snot out of my nose. And after it did that, the wind blew down my nose and throat and out my mouth. It's rumored two juniors blew off their horses, which is easy to believe! Anyway, it was just windy.

And I'm sure I had WIMR because of the wind (Wind Induced Mental Retardation). When Phinneas and I got into camp for our first vet check, we stopped at the wonderful tub o' slop (water and oats, apples and carrots, and maybe wheat bran), right by the vet line, and waited 5 minutes for Robert to vet us through. Then I realized I had not even checked in or gotten a pulse. I'd stood there so long that Finneas' pulse was 48. So I checked in before going back to vet.

After the second 14-mile loop, with the WIMR still rattling about in my head, I timed in and got Phinneas' pulse checked… then went to my trailer for the half hour hold. When 30 minutes was up, I mounted up, checked with the timers and headed out. Robert hollered at me before I rode out of camp; I turned around and rode up to him, and he asked, "Did I vet you through yet?" Oops! Totally forgot to vet my horse! It was the wind, I swear! That and getting up at 4 AM, which is not my best time of day.

Phinneas and I finished our last 11-mile loop, completing the ride next-to-last place in 9 hrs 11 minutes. We had a fun ride despite the wind, and big treat was the badger we saw on the last loop. Normally nocturnal creatures, we startled one outside of its den. It froze and hissed at us from 50 feet away… Phinneas had never seen one before and he was impressed with its ferocity.

Dean Hoalst and Pay Attention won the 50 in 6 hrs 9 minutes, and they got Best Condition. All but 1 rider finished the 50.

Joan Zachary and Chico finished the 25-miler in 3:40. Third place Siri Olson and EZ to B Perfect got Best Condition. 14 finished out of the 18 starters.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Antelope Island: Weather Wonderificous

April 11 2017
By Merri

Well, yes, there was a little of the Worst of Times too, though looking back, it's with a sense of humor and a laugh and rather a bit of giddiness at knowing you really were a Real endurance rider the weekend of the 34th Antelope Island endurance ride.

In keeping with Mother Nature's curveball of a very unusual, extreme winter for most of us (at least in most of the Western half of the country), she wasn't done yet the weekend of the Antelope ride. It had everything, in the extreme: sun, wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow (not quite in ridecamp, but just above), thunder, lightning.

But: NO BUGS! The endurance riders and horses handled the weather, but the No-see-um bugs were too wimpy. Ride management had bug hats ready to hand out to riders, but they were not needed. (The day the No-see-ums adapt to radical weather, the globe is in trouble.)

Regina (doing stats for the ride) and I (photographer) arrived after 10 PM Friday night. We congratulated ourselves having driven through some rainstorms north of the ride, and arriving in ridecamp with no rain. Surely the forecasters were wrong and it would be a fabulously dry and sunny weekend! And then sometime in the night, the rain started. Rain, hard rain, sleety-rain, wind, more rain, more sleet, more wind.

You start to think… boy, I'm glad I'm not riding. I'm glad I don't have to saddle up in the wind and rain. (Getting up and saddling up in crappy weather is the worst… if the bad weather starts when you're already riding, that's much easier.) 33 riders DID, however, buck up, get up, saddle up, mount up, and head out under dreary skies and a cold, wet, blustery wind on Day 1 (11 on the 50-miler, 22 on the 25-miler). The sun played hide and seek with storm clouds as the morning passed, and the Great Salt Lake was churned up all muddy brown and alarming gray and slime green and stormy blue, making for dramatic scenery on this mountain island State Park.

Keely Kuhl aboard EA Victory Ddannce was first and got Best Condition on the 25. The 2 engineer-cowboys (they are engineers, who dress up as cowboys, and come enjoy this one ride every year) Scott and Todd Austin finished second and third.

Bill Hobbs aboard LS Sir Gibbs finished first with Leah Cain and OT Dyamonte Santo (you'll remember this pair as winning the 100-mile AERC Championship last September, and Bill as one of their crew members), conveniently and considerately right as the Big Storm was rolling in across the lake. I'd been carefully watching and tracking the 2 thunderstorms that just skirted us, but I knew this next one was going to hit, and it was going to be a doozy.

It started raining as those two did their final vet check, then all hail broke loose. As I hunkered down in a truck, the hail started falling, then pelting, then hurling while the wind got its hurricane on. Bonnie Swiatek, who'd finished turtle on the 25, was hanging onto a blanket strap of her blanket that had blown over her panicked horse Baracha's head, effectively blinding him while he was being buckshot by wicked hail. Tonya Stroud, who was in the office trailer, bounded out to help her, slipped on the hail and landed on her butt. Several other people jumped in to help Bonnie catch and calm Baracha, and that and another horse, with a group of people huddled heads down tightly together in the lee of the office trailer during the fury of the storm.

Others caught out on trail simply had to stop as their horses did the same - turned butts to wind and hail, and head down, waiting it out. Kathy Backus was aboard Raji near a bathroom when it hit; she jumped off and ducked inside and held the reins of her horse out the door… while her horse probably wondered why she she couldn't squeeze inside also.

But the storm passed, the sun came out (with more cold wind), and everybody finished the ride in both distances, showing just how tough and durable (and, perhaps, crazy), US endurance horses and riders are.

Mara Schima, one of Christoph Schork's interns from Germany, won Best Condition aboard GE RW Carl on the 50.

The wind was such a howling annoyance that awards/ride meeting/dinner were brief, since the wind tended to blow the melted cheese out of the spoon, or the baked potato off your plate. Not much visiting went on with the weather, and the whole of ridecamp curled up and went to bed before dark.

Ride manager Jeff Stuart had a slight panic attack when, after he'd gotten undressed and crawled in his trailer bed, he saw a weather forecast that was even more horrid than what we'd already had. He got up, got dressed, and sought out his assistant Shirley, then Regina, saying "What am I going to do? Do I go to plan B? Plan C? It's supposed to be four degrees in the morning! Should we cancel the ride??" Consensus was, wait and see in the morning. He got back to his trailer, undressed, crawled in bed, still stunned that the temperature could possibly drop so low and bitter. Winter should be over, for heaven's sake!

Then he started playing around with his phone, and realized it had switched itself to centigrade from Fahrenheit. It was going to be 4 degrees F, not C, in the morning. So he got back up, got dressed, went back out, informed Shirley and Regina of the phone's mischief (they had a good giggle).

Meanwhile during the night, another drizzly/sleety howling windy rain fell, and again I started to think, oh, poor horses, standing out in that cold wet mess. But… if you think about it, what else is your horse going to do in a storm? If he's like our horses at home (we don't have stalls or barn), he's going to stand with his butt to the wind/rain/sleet/assault, head down, and wait it out (or eat while he's waiting it out). We so often project our feelings onto our horses (they look so cold! they look miserable!) that we think they must be miserable too. But they're just horses. Horses just wait out weather and go about being horses. The horses in Ridecamp were simply waiting out the next storm, butts to wind/rain, heads down, most of them eating.

Just the same…. I was glad I wasn't riding in the morning that dawned quite cold and windy… and sunny… and wintery. Snow had fallen everywhere but ridecamp. Every mountain range in view was whited out. All the local ski areas must have been thrilled. Frary Peak on the island was whited out. Made for stunning scenery. Riders would be riding up into the snow today.

And 20 hardy riders headed out onto the trails (8 on the 50-miler, 12 on the 25-miler) - and it turned out to be a great riding day: sunny, cold wind, and, again, NO BUGS! That was the most popular comment of all the riders all weekend. Not that the weather was insane, but that We Had No Bugs! All but one rider finished - Kathy Backus turned around and took a rider option when her mare was a bit off during the first loop.

Jeff Stuart and JV Remington won first place and Best Condition on the 25. Christoph Schork and Starlit Way won first and Best Condition on the 50. Several newcomers rode their first ride, and forever after, they will probably never experience such extreme weather.

The Antelope Island endurance ride is known for its beautiful scenery, varied trails, and its buffalo herd. Most of the buffalo seemed to be hiding out elsewhere on the island (the "reds" are being born, so maybe the mama buffs are separated and secluded), though a couple dozen bulls were on display around ridecamp and along a few of the trails.

What the Antelope Island endurance ride is not known for is the extreme weather we experienced, but the hardy endurance riders and horses who attended this year made it a great success.