Monday, August 5, 2019
Monday August 5 2019
’Twas a weekend of adventure in the Targhee National Forest near Spencer, Idaho, site of the Top O’ the World Pioneer endurance ride. Jessica and Mike Cobbley and friends and family jumped in headfirst 3 years ago to start this ride, and it’s improved every year.
It’s a challenging ride. A fabulous mountain meadow base camp is at 6500’, and days 1 and 2 climb up to over 9500 feet onto the Continental Divide Trail. Top O’ the World is also the second leg of the Idaho Ironhorse Challenge: one horse & rider, 9 days, 465 miles (and also various 9-day combinations) of City of Rocks, Top O’ the World, and Autumn Sun. Four horses were in contention for the ultimate Idaho Ironhorse coming into the ride; three showed up to take on the ride on top of the world in eastern Idaho.
Excitement started a couple days before the ride when Suzy Hayes' and Lynn Lee’s 3 horses escaped and ran off into the night. A crowd of people stayed up late into the wee hours of the morning trying to find them - we got glimpses of their glowing eyeballs a couple of times, and Jessica H even got close enough to touch one horse… but they disappeared again.
Suzy and Lynn were out on an ATV with a bucket of grain looking for them next morning when the three of them strolled back into camp - because they were thirsty! I think they looked a bit chastened too, particularly the young bay who had an owie on his foot. We crowded around and pampered them while Tammy Gagnon doctored the injured foot.
And Susie rode her big bay Sanstormm next morning on the 50 because she was pretty sure he was the instigator! (He sure didn’t come when she called him that night.)
The nights were chilly (great for sleeping) and the days tolerable. If you carried a raincoat with you on Day 2’s loop 2, you were probably comfortable when that big and fast-moving thunderstorm hit, dumping rain and plenty of hail in the area. In ridecamp we saw it coming, and 3 of us literally had 15 minutes to run to our trailer, blanket 4 horses, throw 3 dogs in a truck, and grab important outside things (including a tent that almost blew into a big pen full of mules!) and throw them inside anything we could find before the rain hit.
On Day 1, 26 started the 25 miler, with 21 finishing. Carrie Johnson and Payback Daysea Duke pulled off the win in 3:51, the first of a triple win on all three days! Sixth place David Brown’s Tezeros Hot Shot won Best Condition.
37 started Friday’s 50, with 33 finishing. Susie Hayes and her escape artist Sanstormm tied with Christoph Schork and GE Pistol Annie for the win in 6:11, with Sanstormm getting Best Condition. The 3 Ironhorses finished: Debbie Grose and Jackpot Jackson, Lee Pearce and JAC Winterhawk, and Nance Worman and Last Chance Fance. But there’s a little more to the Ironhorse story on day 1… near the finish of loop 1, Debbie had closed a gate and was about to remount Jack from a rock, when the “said rock removed itself from below my feet”, Debbie said. And catching her fall, she broke her wrist. (The *other* arm from last year!) Of course she didn’t pull. Someone vetted Jack and took care of him, others took care of Debbie and bandaged her up and of course she went back out and completed the ride before Layne took her to the hospital (and she came back with a cast). "I had to finish," Debbie said, "because it was Jack’s 1000-mile mark!"
Day 2’s 25-miler had 27 starters and 26 finishers. Carrie Johnson and Payback Daysea Duke won both first place and Best Condition, in 3:22.
Day 2’s 55 had 18 starters and 13 finishers. Christoph Schork and GE Haat Rod Express tied with Dick Root and OFW Alivia in 7:41, with Ali getting Best Condition. Lee Pearce and Winterhawk sat out the day, as did Debbie Grose and Jack (Debbie would have ridden, but it’s like really bad news if you break a casted arm), so that left only Nance and Fance in the Ironhorse. They were caught out on trail in that big thunder/rain/hailstorm in the evening… but of course they were saddled up and ready to go again the next morning!
25 started Day 3’s 30-miler with 23 finishing. Carrie and Daysea won again, in 3:38, with second place David Brown and Tezeros Hot Shot getting Best Condition.
16 started the 50 with 14 finishing. Christoph Schork and GE Pistol Annie won in 6:20 and got Best Condition, with Lee Pearce and JAC Winterhawk finishing second. That leaves only Nance Worman and Second Chance Fance (a rescue, hence her name) carrying the torch in the Idaho Ironhorse for 50 milers. Fancy also won the Getaway Horse award here for the second year in a row. “Fance is such a blessing!” Nance says.
8 horse and rider teams are still in contention in the 25-miler division of the Idaho Ironhorse, having finished all 6 days so far. Shyla Williams and Bes Soumra Bint Karah are the only pair to do all 6 days at mixed distances. Dave Rabe is the only Iron Butt rider to have completed 6 days of 50’s on (3) different horses.
Autumn Sun Pioneer, the last leg of the Ironhorse is October 11-13.
More photos on the ride at:
Thursday, June 13, 2019
June 13 2019
"EPIC" is how ride manager Steph Teeter described the 9th annual City of Rocks Pioneer endurance ride in Almo, Idaho. "We had heat, Thunderstorms (hail/rain/50mph gusts), cold, snow, more wind, the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Still cheerful riders and all of the horses looked great all weekend." (One wind gust blew a porta-potty over. Nobody was inside at the time.) :)
Katrin Levermann, who journeyed 2 full days from British Columbia to get there, also called it epic. "Put it on your bucket list! This ride is epic!"
"Disneyland for horseback riders," said Bobbie Walker, who rode all 3 days aboard Dreamer. "I can’t say enough about that ride. Not only is it a beautiful ride, but there is so much to see in addition to the rocks!"
"A feast for all the senses," commented Naomi Preston, riding "Uncle Mal," Fire Mt Malabar, to a second place finish on Day 1's 50 miler.
The horses thrived on the cooler weather. "I've been vetting rides for 40 years," said veterinarian David Hayes, "and I've never seen a better group of horses. They got stronger every day." Head veterinarian Jessica Heinrick agreed, saying endurance is the only horse sport where people really take excellent care of their horses - they have to, to be able to ride long distances.
Indeed, any kind of weather can occur at any time of year in south-central Idaho; and after last year's rather warm and dry and windy event, this year felt more like July with its storms and September with the rather cold weather over the weekend. Not that I, the Ice Princess, was complaining! You just have to get lucky with the thunderstorms (we did this year! They passed around riders and Ridecamp), and if you wear or carry the proper clothing - because conditions can change drastically in 15 minutes - weather won't even be a factor.
This year's City of Rocks Pioneer was the first leg of the inaugural Idaho Ironhorse Challenge: 3 days of City of Rocks, 3 days of Top O' the World (July 26-28), 3 days at Autumn Sun (October 10-13).
Ridecamp sprawled with a boatload of horses and riders in a grassy meadow just outside City of Rocks National Reserve, at 5500 feet, with a view of Utah to the south and Castle Rocks State Park to the north.
Day 1's trails took riders to and through Castle Rocks State Park. 40 riders started the 30 miler, with 36 finishing. Two of the muleteers from Heart 2 Heart Ranch stole the show, with Junior rider Annie Edmonds finishing first on Rusty, and Trinity Jackson finishing second on Ebony. Fifth place Cat Cook took Best Condition aboard her mare Diamonds.
20 riders started the 50, with 17 finishing. David Laws and Che Ole took first place by seven minutes over Naomi Preston on Fire Mt Malabar and Lee Pearce and JAC Winterhawk. Winterhawk took Best Condition.
The memorable weather took center stage on Day 2, with trails heading out across the desert and around one Big Bad Bull by a water trough (he was flirting with lady friends so he didn't bother anybody) and over the Boise/Kelton stage route, and by an old stage stop, before heading down the California Trail into City of Rocks National Reserve park.
Most of the 25-milers finished their ride before the weather excitement and its aftermath occurred. 37 started, with 36 finishing. Simone Mauhl and Boogey finished first, just a second ahead of her husband Wade aboard Sundance. Behind Anna McNamer and Dash in third were those mules, Sophie Martin aboard Irish, Trinity Jackson aboard Hope, and Leila Fry aboard Gracie. Boogey got the Best Condition award.
All 13 started and finished the 55 miler, with David Laws winning aboard Fancy Grace, with Sara Ewing and Cal's Carisma finishing second. Third place DWA Malik, ridden by Jeff Stuart, took Best Condition.
Most of the 55 milers had the (take your pick) anguish/excitement/delight of watching a fierce cold front blow in. (I put my third coat layer on, so it was a delight for me!) We were above the clouds for a time, watching the cold layer of rain/fog shoot over a pass and into the park valley below. The winds had to be ripping along at 50 mph. But our horses just kept trotting onward. During the last miles of the ride we were pelted with hail and snow (yay!), even while the sun shined down upon us lucky endurance riders. Steph Teeter and Connie Holloway drove up into the park with extra jackets for anybody still on the trail who was frozen. We stayed warm riding, but it was the vets and volunteers and ride management in camp who froze, waiting for riders to come in!
Day 3 repeated the trails from the day before, the only difference being the Big Bad Bull was laying down right beside our trail (his lady friends were gone and he looked tired), and there was 0% chance of precipitation, though it did spit a bit of snow on us in the afternoon!
45 riders started the 25 miler, with 44 finishing. The mules took the first 5 out of 6 placings, with Parker Wynn and Irish pulsing down first. 7th place Carrie Johnson and Payback Daysea Duke got Best Condition.
18 started the 50 miler, with 16 finishing. Lee Pearce and JAC Winterhawk tied with David Laws and Che Ole for first place, with Winterhawk getting Best Condition.
The Idaho IronHorse Challenge got off to a great start, with 18 horse/rider teams in contention, having completed all 3 days on the same horse - 4 of them on the 50-mile rides, and 14 on the LD rides.
The Idaho IronButt Challenge (one rider, multiple horses, any distances) has 6 riders in contention, and the Idaho IronTeam Challenge (horse & rider team, mixed distances) has 3. More on this in the next post.
City of Rocks is truly one of the most beautiful rides in the country. Next year's 10th anniversary is sure to be memorable. Put this Bucket List ride on your calendar.
More photos and stories at:
***Fact check: the storms did not miss Ridecamp. Hellacious hail thunderstorms Thursday afternoon... not long after we were congratulating ourselves on such a smooth day. Saturday got pretty interesting in camp too....
That's right! I'd been referring to that wicked lightning storm (because we all know how scared of lightning I am) I think it was Friday evening that passed just NW of us in the park, and that looked so scary that Connie and I both got scared out of our tents and took refuge in the back of horse trailers!
Thursday, May 16, 2019
You might want to read this article on the Kentucky Derby, by the Kentucky Derby horses, here first.
May 16 2019
Phinneas: I won, I won, I won the Owyhee River Challenge 50 to add to the rest of my impressive life resumé. I always win. I even won a cattle drive once. I always win because I am badass and handsome and THE GRANDSON OF THE BLACK STALLION.
DWA Saruq: He didn't win. He actually finished 8th. I finished 7th. And he thinks he won a cattle drive??!! He did not seriously just say that?!
Phinneas: I came to the Owyhee River Challenge with my neighbors August and Saruq. August is OK. Saruq always thinks he's hot stuff because he used to be a racehorse. However, *I* am THE GRANDSON OF THE BLACK STALLION. For real. That trumps everything and everybody.
DWA Saruq: Actually, Phinneas is a *great* grandson of The Black Stallion. But who really cares.
August: I did the 25 with Carol, so I didn't have to deal with the GOTBS drama at all. I'm all about no drama, as long as my boots are on right and my hair is combed and I am presentable.
Phinneas: I am so badass, even though Merri was going to ride me on the 50, Connie got on before the start and bucked me out so that I wouldn't buck Merri off like I almost did 2 years ago at the start (I tried so hard!). I'm 21 and I can buck harder than a rodeo bronc if I want to. And sometimes, I just want to. Because I'm a badass. And, Grandson of The Black Stallion.
DWA Saruq: I just grazed while Connie and Phinneas warmed up out of his shenanigans.
Fire Mt Malabar: I am 20 and I'm the real star here, 7200 miles and 47 Best Conditions, but I like to keep a low profile.
WMA Proclaim: I'm a former racehorse too. I didn't really like to run much. Endurance is so much better. And call me Riley.
Jackpot Jackson: I'm the real story here. I'm a rescue and I haven't told anybody about my past. I like keeping it a mystery. But endurance riding is the best. And you can call me Jack.
Second Chance Fance: I'm a rescue too. And I'm so cute. And my owner Nance just retired, notice how our names rhyme, and we are going to be doing a lot more riding together!
Phinneas: We didn't get out on the trail first, because of the buck-out thing, but I took off at a roar because I was for sure going to catch those 7 or 8 horses that charged out in front of me! Merri was trying to tell me to slow down. I always know what I'm doing, and I am always right. So don't tell me what to do.
DWA Saruq: Whatever. We've got 50 miles to go, dude. Chill.
Phinneas: Here I am, roaring down the trail, pulling mightily on Merri and looking so terrifically splendid and impressively masculine with my head bowed to my chest and my mane magnificently flowing in the breeze, leading Saruq of course, and what do you know, within 3 miles we'd caught up with the front runners. They seemed to be coming back in our direction, but anyway, by golly I caught them and ended up right behind them! We passed the photographer and my trot was bigger than a World Equestrian Games dressage horse. I can't wait to see the pictures. I can't wait to see Merri's face and see if she was grinning or grimacing. She wouldn't let me canter because she was afraid I might dump her for the picture.
DWA Saruq: I cantered by the photographer on a loose rein.
Phinneas: Those front runners got out of sight again, but I knew I was going to win anyway, and I kept charging hard. We went up and down and around, and then up this long hill, through a gate, and back down the hill, then through another gate, then down and down this long 2-track dirt road that was great for trotting. I was in front of Saruq of course and having a ball, when Merri pointed out to me that there were no other horse hoof prints on our trail - I WAS WINNING!!! I told you I was going to win.
DWA Saruq: I ate a lot of good grass along the way there. Phinneas missed out.
Phinneas: The only thing that slowed me down near the bottom of this two-track was this big bad bull sauntering down the road right in front of us. I am badass, but I know better than to mess with a bull. So we walked the rest of the way down to the canal then went waaaaaaay around him and his girlfriends.
DWA Saruq: That's where some horses who'd gone off trail caught up and passed us, but I don't think Phinneas noticed, because I stuck my tongue out at him and pretended I was going to get in front of him. He didn't like that. This next stretch of uphill sandy trail was loaded with arrowleaf balsamroot. I LOVE the taste of those yellow flowers. While our riders babbled about the beauty, I just ate them as we walked along. I was thinking, Yea, they are beautiful, in my gut!
Phinneas: Since I was winning, I ate some of the yellow flowers and grass while I walked. It just added rocket fuel to my Go-Go-Go, and then I went some more!
Buddy: This was my first 50. I did my first 25 at Eagle Canyon 2 weeks ago. I was going great guns this morning with the front runners till we all missed a turn somewhere and ended up behind a bunch of horses. Then we started catching up again, and I was about to pass this big black horse and WHOA, he like had a total conniption fit, like it was such a HYUGE DEAL I was catching up to him and wanting to pass, and his rider took him off the trail for me to get by. I got out of there fast because I've never seen such a hissy fit. It might be because I am palomino and gorgeous and maybe he was jealous of me.
Phinneas: Some horse had the nerve to come up behind me and try to pass me! I almost let him have it but then I found myself off the trail and I couldn't get at him. No worries. I'd get in front of him again later.
OMR Pristine: I passed this handsome bay dude and this handsome black dude with a long flowy showy mane. I saw the black one give that golden boy a fit when he passed, but I think he was mesmerized by my seductive trot, because he just bowed his head and pulled on his rider hard, and then he tripped and almost fell down. And then he was all embarrassed because he scrambled back up and just bowed his neck and pulled harder on the reins. I pretended I did not see him trip to save his face.
DWA Saruq: And then we rode down into this red canyon to a creek, and we drank and got splashed with cool water while that photographer guy took our picture again. We ate grass but then Phinneas had a burr up his butt, something about winning, even though we hadn't even finished half the ride, so we moved on to camp for the vet check and lunch.
Phinneas: That first loop was such a piece of cake for me because I am so fit and fabulous. And Saruq was behind me the whole way!
DWA Saruq: Only because I let him. Who cares. I ate a lot of yummy food on the trail.
Fire Mt Malabar: Blusterball Phinneas did not see Naomi and I, and JAC WInterhawk and Lee, heading out on loop 2 ahead of him. Neener neener.
Phinneas: After lunch in camp, loop two turned out to be exactly the same trail as loop one. These humans must not have noticed that they had already ridden this trail. I ate more flowers though. And because it was hotter in the afternoon, this loop I stopped at all the water troughs and the canal to drink and get sponged off.
Cows: What are these same horses all doing back in our canal again?
Phinneas: Connie and Merri had the big idea to stop and take my picture in a particularly lush field of yellow flowers. It was annoying, because I needed to keep bombing down the trail in front so I could win, but, I will admit that I looked pretty magnificently stunning, so it was worth the Kodak Moment.
DWA Saruq: He did look pretty fetching, almost like a great grandson of the Black Stallion.
Phinneas: Here we were again, heading for that red canyon. We passed that golden horse that passed me earlier. Neener neener, told you I'd pass him. His rider was sick. We sent the photographer, who was again in that canyon, out to rescue her, so I was like a total hero on top of being the winner and the grandson of the Black Stallion. Then on the way out of the canyon, we passed that pretty mare, who thinks I am hot stuff. She winked at me.
DWA Saruq: It was me she winked at.
Phinneas: And before I knew it, here we were coming up the hill into camp, and everybody, horse and human, had their eyes on *This Guy* as I came across the finish line. I WON!!!!!
DWA Saruq: I finished 7th and Phinneas finished 8th. Really. But don't tell him that. He still thinks he won and it's best to keep it that way. Just get my saddle off and let me roll in the dirt. Like, now, before I roll with my saddle on.
August: I finished my 25 much earlier in the day, and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging and eating!
Fire Mt Malabar: What did I tell you? Second place, and Best Condition #48. But I didn't point that out to Phinneas.
More on the ride at:
Friday, May 3, 2019
Friday May 2 2019
Any one of these perks would be a good excuse to ride the Endurance News-cover-worthy Eagle Canyon endurance ride near Eagle, Idaho: great trails, perfect spring weather, no mosquitoes or gnats, entertaining potguts (gophers) in camp, catered teriyaki chicken and pork fried rice, and custom roasted hot coffee and cold nitro brew all day Saturday courtesy of Café Mulé (and his human Matt) (and Guru Donuts!). At this year's renewal on April 27, you got all of that and more!
An added bonus was helping ride manager Layne Bownds to contribute over $1500 to the Women and Children's Alliance in honor of SueB. You can see the cross dedicated to SueB above the canyon riders pass; it's always good to give a thought to her and others who are victims of domestic violence. The hope of the WCA is to help other successful, smart, beautiful women like SueB leave these relationships before it’s too late.
All 17 riders finished the 25 miler, with Wade Mauhl and his golden Sundance finishing first in a ride time of 3:22. Second place Joan Zachary and her Paso Fino, Chico, got Best Condition. A couple of first time riders, Cory and M'Lisa, who both finished in the top 10, became instantly addicted to endurance riding and we expect to see them again!
14 started the 50 miler, with 12 finishing. The Cobbleys came from behind to win, Jessica on The Big Brass, and Mike on Taladega in 7:27 and 7:28. 6th place Trish Frahm and her cutest-ever appaloosa BPR Jasmine Blu got Best Condition.
For more information on Richard and his human Matt and their awesome craft coffees:
For more information on the Women & Children's Alliance:
More from the ride at:
Official ride photos are here:
Posted by The Equestrian Vagabond at 7:08 AM
Saturday, April 20, 2019
by Merri Melde
April 19 2019
You get a little bit of everything at the Antelope Island Endurance ride (it was around the 35th year of the event) on Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake in Utah: sun, clouds, rain, hail, wind, thunderstorms, absolutely perfect weather; trails both easy and challenging; and wildlife - birds and antelope and buffalo (and if you're very lucky, a bobcat or big horn sheep).
And you get a lot of scenery. No matter which direction or what part of the 14-by-5 mile island you're riding, the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, with the Great Salt Lake on all sides, and different snow-covered mountain ranges in all directions. The island has its own peak, 6596-foot Mt Frary, which often wakes up with a dusting of snow on its peak and ridges. I have not been to all the beautiful endurance rides I want to ride or shoot, but Antelope Island ranks in my top five of most scenic rides in the country.
Every endurance ride has some unexpected events that riders and management have to deal with on the fly, and this year's Antelope Island ride was no exception. For example, ride manager Jeff was suddenly grounded from all ATV use (he may or may not tell you all this story one day :), and young volunteer Colby saved the day by biking some 10 miles early Saturday morning in a hailstorm to mark the last bit of trail. Then there was the loose horse late Saturday morning that ride manager Jeff got to climb aboard and ride down from the top of the island back to Ridecamp (the dis-mounted Junior doing her first ride was unhurt, but disappointed). And there was the loose cantering 2-day 100-mile horse that the ride photographer (me!) caught near the end of day 2, where the rider was unhurt, and was able to re-unite with the horse and finish the 100.
Head veterinarian Mel got biffed in the nose during vetting in on Friday (and veterinarian Jessica slipped right in there to fill in), and sported a broken nose and black eye(s) the rest of the weekend, but that didn't seem to faze her a bit since she already was sporting a concussion from a previous event. Another rider got biffed in the nose by her mount, and probably broke it, but completed her Saturday ride.
You could watch a great variety of horse breeds at the ride: Arabians of course, mules, Missouri Fox Trotters, mustangs, palominos, appaloosas, paints, pony mixes, gypsy vanners, Standardbred, Thoroughbred.
Dr Kathleen Crandall, ph.D. from Kentucky Equine Research, came to give a horse nutrition talk, and she got to slip out on a 25-mile AERC ride for the first time since 2003, and to volunteer the rest of the weekend.
For the Day 1 photos, Jeff had in mind a little out-and-back climb to the spine of the island at Beacon Hill Knob Spur, for a historical photo at the site of an old line cabin that ranchers used back in the mid-1800's to mid-1900's for shelter when working cattle on the island. (Of course, the island has erected a state-of-the-art communications tower and building not 6 feet from the shack, I guess so that the shack does not get lonely!) And lucky me, it is now occupied by a pair of nesting Ravens, who spooked off the nest, and entertained me throughout the morning with their aerobatics between riders.
On top there by the shack, in the perfect weather window there's a view across the lake to the snow-covered mountains in the east…. which we mostly didn't see because of the hailstorm and thick clouds. Every 10 minutes the weather changed - often different for each rider that came by - and clouds and mountains played hide-and-seek around the island. One set of dark gray clouds boiled like water in a tea kettle, above a low strip of sunshine. Mt Frary ducked above and in and under clouds and fog.
You have the option of several different rides over the 2-day weekend: an Intro trail ride on Saturday, and 25-milers, 50 milers, or a 2-day 100.
39 started the 25-miler on day 1 with 32 finishing. Amy Goodwin and Bubba Gump won in 3:05. 6th place Marc Lindsay and Bazooka Blue got Best Condition. 20 started the 50 miler with 19 finishing. Suzy Hayes aboard Sanstormm, and Jennifer Kaplan aboard Rushcreek Fiscus tied for first in 6:37, with Sanstormm getting Best Condition.
On Day 2, 18 started the 30-miler with 14 finishing. Dana Cervak and Bubba Gump won in 5:14, with 3rd place Amy Goodwin getting Best Condition aboard Bazooka Blue. 7 started the 50 with 6 finishing. Jacob Cukjati won aboard Melika Kamaal in 5:34, with second place Suzy Hayes and Atlas getting Best Condition. Take note: 23,700+ mile Suzy Hayes has some 80 Best Conditions under her endurance girths, with 15 of them earned by Atlas and 4 by Sanstormm.
4 started the 2-day 100, with 3 finishing. Christoph Schork and GE Danex won in 12:57.16 and got Best Condition. Chetty Crowley finished her first 100, finishing second aboard GE RR Jazz Dancer (the riderless horse I caught as he cantered by me!) in 13:36.17. Third was Tennessee Lane and her golden Thor in 14:33.
Antelope Island is in a sweet spot on the ride calendar with excellent trails. If your horse isn't quite conditioned from the winter, the trails are challenging enough to put some conditioning on him. If he is fit, there are plenty of trails you can move out on. And there's the scenery - it's worth the trip just to camp out or crew if you don't want to ride (but who wouldn't want to ride!).
Put it on your calendar for next year!
More info from the ride is here:
Official ride photos are here:
Monday, April 8, 2019
April 8 2019
I'll admit to a little case of the nerves before the start of some endurance rides on Hillbillie Willie, the off-the-track Standardbred racehorse-turned-endurance horse. On some of his last few rides, I haven't had a riding partner, so I haven't had a plan. He's not an easy horse to partner with; while he's not going to buck or rear, he can be hot and too fast (and, depending on how excited he is, rough to ride, and tough), and so big-strided that not just anybody can comfortably keep up with him. And on Willie, I can't worry about making the other rider comfortable - i.e. riding their ride.
I've got to start near the front with him, otherwise Willie will be in perpetual hot pursuit and I'll get a rough ride till he settles down and smooths out, which kicks in at about, oh, about 30 miles or so. (Loop 3 is usually fabulous!) He doesn't yet have the sense or experience to settle down and take it easy on himself, and not go out and kill himself by going too fast on a loose rein.
Last ride of last season - the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies in our back yard - we started with the front group and luckily sorted ourselves out with the perfect partners: Naomi Preston and Fire Mt Malabar (7200+ miles, 47 Best Conditions). Forever after known as "Uncle Mal," young Willie and 19-year-old Malabar matched strides and speeds just about perfectly and got on well together. Willie learned some tricks of the endurance trade (namely - calm your a$$ down, it's OK to stop and grab grass along the trail, it's perfectly fine to let other horses pass us on the trail, chill out and drink up at the water tanks, bub, etc), that hopefully absorbed into some memory cells to be called upon down the years.
In our Owyhee Tough Sucker ride here this weekend, the first ride of the season, I had no plan and I had a touch of the nerves the night before. Willie was fit, but I didn't want him racing with the front runners, who I expected would be smokin' fast. At the start, I let the group of 5 or so charge out first and fast, and we found ourselves setting out on the trail with - guess who - Uncle Mal and Naomi, and Cousin Hawk (GAC Winterhawk) and Lee.
The start was perfect - relaxed and easy - and the middle was perfect - relaxed and easy - and the rest of the ride was pretty much perfect. Willie's in-laws/out-laws didn't mind the company, so we stayed with them the entire 50-mile ride, and I'd say that was one of Willie's best rides ever. He's always a work in progress, but I could see and feel so much improvement in him - the calm start, very few moments of over-excitement, going along pretty much the whole ride with a lowered, relaxed head carriage (we have been working on this hard for over a year), no tailgating, not minding when horses passed him on the trail, eating lots of spring grass along the trails (he got an A on gut sounds at the finish!). He learned so much from his mentors on this ride.
Willie looks like a million bucks the day after his first ride of his third endurance season, and while I feel like I've been run over by a wild range cow ( ), it was all worth it!
You can see more photos and get a ride recap here: