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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 Owyhee April Fools Tough Sucker

April 1 2017

It was the first endurance ride of the season for most of the riders, and many came with horses who were not dead fit and were still winter-hairy. 20 started the 50-miler, 19 started the 25-miler, and they all finished! No lamenesses, no metabolic issues - good, smart endurance riding out here in the Owyhee desert.

Several first timers and it's-been-a-whilers to the sport showed up to ride. A newbie (and new endurance addict) came from as far away as Seattle; and veteran Tennessee Lane, who's putting on the AERC National Championships this August in Colorado, popped in during the middle of a horse-delivering walkabout and galloped off with the 50-mile win and Best Condition on Bluff in 4:34.

The April Fools ride also saw the return of the Church kids after a several-year hiatus from riding. Former Junior Abrie was now the sponsor for 3 of her Junior siblings, and the youngest one on the smallest pony won the 25-mile ride, pulsing down first in 3:10. Best Condition went to Simone Mauhl and Dudley's friend Boogey.

The weather was PERFECT, which we all deserved, since we all suffered through a terrible hurricane/typhoon/rain/sleet/snow/windstorm on Thursday and Friday (and Sunday was not particularly lovely with the rejuvenated cold wind). Saturday was 60* and sunny, with only the slightest breeze. Trails were in perfect condition, with lots of grass on trail and flowers just beginning to emerge.

a long inviting trail

Since Junior Sarah couldn't ride, her aunt Connie sponsored me on Sarah's horse Dezzie.

Connie showing off

Connie falling off

I found my sheriff's deputy badge out on trail!!!! Dudley and I lost it in the November Halloweenies ride, when he and I were the sheriff's deputies. I stopped and picked it up out of the sand, put it on, and Dezzie and I were sheriff's deputies for the ride! For about 30 seconds… at which time I noticed it had fallen off my vest again. I guess Dudley and I will have to pick it up again in our November ride…

There's a newly named trail somewhere out here. Not saying exactly where, or who of the three of us it's named after, but this new spot is called Pee-In-Your-Pants-Point-Because-Your-Horse-Got-Its-Foot-Hung-Up-In-The-Reins-While-You-Were-Squatting-In-Mid-Stream

The Church kids are back to riding after a couple of years respite! Abrie is old enough now that she's sponsoring her own siblings!

Lots of grass on the desert to provide snacks for our hard working hungry steeds

Lots of human snacks when you ride with Connie… she's handing me Gummi Bears here!

The Raven had a great time on Dezzie!

The Pickett Crick Ramblers played some fine music afterwards, both Friday and Saturday nights. Abrie Church, who masterly plays both the piano and fiddle, and who had never touched a mandolin in her life, borrowed a mandolin and jumped right in and started playing with us. Sure, mandolin and fiddle are tuned to the same strings, but - still! We were all astonished and delighted she made us sound so good! A younger brother banged on the drums, then dad stepped in and really meshed us all together. We were rather impressed with ourselves… we sound a lot better than we did 2 years ago!