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!