Saturday, April 20, 2019

2019 Antelope Island: One of the Country's Most Scenic Rides

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

Hillbillie Willie: Running with his Tough Sucker Outlaws

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:

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

2018 Owyhee Hallowed Weenies: Wrappin' It Up

October 31 2018

The Crown Prince with Blood On His Hands. A couple of Butterflies. Alec Ramsay on The Black Stallion. Wonder Woman. A Ballerina. A Jockey on a Giraffe. A Unicorn. A Steampunker.

It was just another typical fine autumn day in the Owyhee high desert with an eclectic group of endurance riders, gathering for the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies, the last ride of the season. The weather was perfect, the golden cottonwoods at their most flamboyant. And photographer Steve Bradley survived to shoot the ride after Cindy's naughty crabby horse Bo, who's 20 but was acting like a 2-year-old, kicked him in the arm while vetting in on Friday.

We were pleased to have Oregon vet Jessica back (and hope and plan to have her back more and more, since Robert abandoned us for deep Southern digs), and new vet Jake from Gooding. We hope we didn't scare Jake off from endurance, though he said that we are the least crazy horse people he's been around.

20 riders started the 50, with 13 finishing. The Cobbleys finished first, with Mike and Taladega getting the win, and Jessica and The Big Brass in second. Mike made an appearance as Lady Godiva on Taladega last Halloween, but either Mike had some boob malfunctions, or the long flowing locks made riding difficult, or Taladega objected, because he dressed as himself this year. Connie Holloway, dressed as Alec Ramsay on The Black Stallion (since Finneas *is* a grandson of the Black Stallion), finished third. 

And tied for fourth was the other Jockey (me) on the Giraffe (Hillbillie Willie), and Naomi Preston and the amazing Fire Mt Malabar. 19-year-old 'Uncle Mal' (over 7000 AERC miles, and now 3rd on the all-time Best Condition list) taught 6-year-old Hillbillie Willie Whippersnapper (355 miles - only his 9th ever endurance ride) a few things on their desert odyssey together. Malabar even graciously ignored young Willie whenever the dorky Standardbred tried out his best Stink Eye on Malabar several times during the day.

6th place Karen Steenhof and Riley got the Best Condition award, his first BC on a 50, and his 50th completion in 50 starts (LDs and 50s). 

14 started and finished the 25 miler, with Joan Zachary and Chico winning and getting Best Condition. TJ Sabala was first Junior aboard Fletch.

As the sun set over the Owyhee mountains, the flame of the autumn cottonwoods faded, the giraffe and butterflies and unicorn disappeared, and the endurance horses curled up under the stars, drifting to sleep to wait for another season of Owyhee endurance rides.

See you next year!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

2018 Inaugural Autumn Sun Pioneer

October 3 2018

There was a hole in the southwest Idaho ride calendar with the long-established Owyhee Canyonlands no longer leaving tracks across the Owyhee Desert. Lynn White and Jessica Huber as co-ride managers stepped up to fill that gap over the weekend of September 28-30 with the Autumn Sun Pioneer, near Gooding, Idaho.

Lynn White took it on because she likes and knows the trails in that area. (She had put on a nearby 2-day ride a couple of years ago.) First-time ride manager Jessica Huber took it on because, as she said, "I'm twisted! I love it!"

A big blow came when private land owners, who'd agreed to provide a nice, convenient base camp, suddenly announced a tripling in their camping prices, just 2 months before the ride. New private land owners Pat and Colleen Lockwood stepped in and saved the day (and the ride) by offering their space (bringing tears of gratitude), and Ridecampers had a great little field on an old homestead, tucked at the base of the Bennett Hills.

A good turnout contributed to the success of this inaugural 3-day ride, with riders from near, and from as far away as Alberta, Canada (the Wadeys!). Trails wound through the sagebrush desert and up an into the nearby Bennett Hills, highlighted by a special hoodoo-filled canyon - the wind-carved monoliths made of tuff created by volcanic ash fall (and hereafter named Mad Cow Canyon, at the top of which is hereafter named Mad Cow Junction).

So called because the morning of Day 1 I was up there waiting to photograph the 23 riders on the 50 miler and the 16 riders on the 25. Which I started to do. Now bear in mind this was the weekend cowboys were starting to round up their cows for the winter and push them out of the hills. I didn't see any cowboys, but I did see a few calves heading up the canyon between riders, and taking a right turn down the road towards civilization. And then there was this cow: a she-devil psycho bovine. She appeared heading up the road towards me… and when she saw me from 30 feet away, she just sprouted devil horns and CHARGED me.

I turned to run, and tripped and fell and that's what saved me. Instead of crashing into me, she ran right over the top of me… as I was buried into the ground all I could think of was, "$h*t! My cameras! I have to shoot this ride!" I tried to hold them up while crouching into a tight ball and covering my head and neck. I felt her on top of me for a second, then laid motionless a few more seconds, until a rider said she was gone - halfway up the draw headed for Montana. "It was deliberate!" said Carlene Benson, who saw it happen.

I was skinned up and still stunned, but had riders coming up the road to shoot! Sadly I found that my best long lens (that I shoot 80% of my pictures with) was broke and had sagebrush stems sticking out of its innards. After shooting the rest of the riders with my second camera and smaller lens (which was dusted up but hopefully fine)… I found that Mad Cow had knocked the settings on that camera, so all those photos were overexposed and useless!

So I did what any stunned, bleeding, endurance photographer would do… I sat there a couple more hours waiting for both distances to come back by me so I could get pictures of them all. I didn't want to wash off the wounds anyway, that would just hurt.

By the time everybody rode back by me, they all knew the Mad Cow story, and several people had helpfully taken pictures of cows they'd encountered on the trails, searching for the errant beast. Sure I was still aching, but the most important thing was that everybody got their picture taken!

13 finished the LD, with Montanans Bill Miller aboard Raffons Noble Dancer (Sadie) and David Brown on Tezeros Hot Shot taking the two top spots, in 3:54 and 3:58. Sadie got Best Condition. Junior rider Jacelyn Butler finished her first LD ever in 5th place aboard Fletch, and she is addicted to endurance!

19 finished the 50. In a major endurance rally, Jessica and The Big Brass won the ride by a length over Mike Cobbley and Taladega (who last year had his own comeback with a bad brush with colic). After an uncooperative gall bladder that knocked Jessica out part of the year, and two pulls for Brass, they deserved that win, in a ride time of 6:36.

3 intrepid riders completed the 50 Cavalry style. That's where you get no assistance from anybody else - nobody can hold or feed your horse, and you have to carry everything you need with you, including horse feed. Hay and water are provided at vet checks. But if you need to stop to attend to nature's calling, you have to tie your horse to a sagebrush or hold onto him. Cavalry style can be a hard way to ride, if you're addicted to Gummi Bears and always need to have a big bag available, one that wouldn't fit in saddle bags.

Day 2 ran smoothly with no Mad Cow events to report. Trinity Jackson's racing mules and kids showed up for the weekend, always a popular sight to see. 10 started the 30 miler, with just 5 finishing, because the 5 mule riders accidentally missed a turn on the trail and ended up back in camp, instead of the out vet check. They all stopped with Rider Option pulls, but a good time was had by all, because it's great fun riding those (most always) well-trained mules, and watching those kids ride the mules. Beth Skaggs and Flashbykish (Sparrow) won the ride in 6:02, by just a couple of minutes over Terry Doyle and Benny. Sparrow won Best Condition.

9 started the 55-mile ride with 7 finishing. It was a 4-way tie for first, with Nance Worman and Second Chance Fance, Chris Samson and Belesema Anna, Sally Tarbet and Orlabiban, and Anna McNamer and Badacz SM finishing in 10:08. Finishing next to tail end in 12:10 was another comeback of sorts, Debbie Grose and Jack. They hadn't done a ride since June, after Debbie broke her arm back in July. She was here riding with an arm cast. I wonder if her doctor knew about this? We always talk our doctors into letting us "ride horses" too soon after an injury. We get away with that by never explaining what kind of riding we do.

18 started Day 3's 25-mile ride with all but one finishing. The Junior mule riders (and sponsor Trinity) all took the top spots, with Baylee Morgan and Rusty pulsing down first in 3:33. 7th place Bill Miller and Raffons Noble Dancer took Best Condition. Beth Skaggs finished next to last on her 21-year-old Sparrow… the only LD rider to finish all 3 days.

12 started the 50-miler with 11 finishing, and a 3-way tie for first with Jessica Cobbley and The Big Brass, Lauren Coziah and Taladega, and Simone Mauhl and Boogie in 6:17. Boogie took the Best Condition award. That was his fifth BC of the year.

Nance Worman and Fancy, and Canadian Robyn Wadey and DSF Saskatchewan (Chewie) were the 2 horse/rider combinations to finish all 3 days.

Stay tuned for next year, because Jessica has even more ambitious plans, including better trails (BLM required her to use and flag only 2-track roads this year; she's certain she can work on amending that), and an Idaho challenge along the lines of Nevada's NASTR's Triple Crown… but I'll let her tell about that.

Just watch out for a Crazy She Devil Cow, whose legend will live on though she's probably in the Canada by now because she was was on a beeline north.

Reporting from the endurance front lines,

More photos and such at:

My SmugMug photos are at:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What's In A (Trail) Name? Part II

August 8 2018

Numerous trails were covered in Part I.

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

Dudley Point
This has become a favorite pausing point on the way home for Dudley when we've ridden out to the NW. It overlooks a branch of one of the cricks we live on. From this point, I can see the Cougar Tree, where, in December of 2017, I came upon a cougar (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I have told Dudley that story, and he ponders it while enjoying the scenery.
that's the top photo

Dudley Hill
This is also a stopping point with Dudley, on the way home, overlooking the ranch. Dudley always stops to look at the lay of things and pose, and I get off and look at Dudley because #hessostinkinhandsome , before I lead him down the hill and home.

Candelabra Trail/Gate
This is our main trail up onto the flats to the northwest. Someone long ago wired an old candelabra onto the gate. And you know what? Some b**tards stole it a couple months ago (and there were motorcycle tracks left behind). I mean - why would someone do this????? It's incomprehensible to me. This candelabra was a landmark, which stood the test of Owyhee time and weather. I made a sign I'm gong to laminate and hang on the gate.

Double Whammy
The Double Whammy is so named, because if you do a loop like, say, the Lost Juniper-Dead Cow loop of 7.5 miles, if you slap on the Bilbo Baggins trail ahead of time (an extra 2 miles or so), then double slap the Frodo Baggins wash (up the wash, about another 1.5 miles), that's a Double Whammy of a training loop. You won't need to ride them for a week after that.

Hillbillie Willie Hill
I was riding Hillbillie Willie on the start of the Antelope/Frodo loop, but instead of riding up the entire Frodo wash, we shortcut out and up the hillside along an old cow trail. It's a good uphill workout, and seeing as I'm always working on developing Willie's Uphill and his butt muscles, he got the hill trail named after him.

Baby Jesus Calf Corner
This corner is so-named because a dead half-calf on the right suddenly became a live whole calf on the left, and since it happened around Easter time, the christening of this spot was totally apropos, not to mention politically correct and religiously accurate. You can read the whole recap here:

Bucking Cow Hill
Yes. This one was rather exciting. Dudley and I were approaching Baby Jesus Calf Corner, when all of a sudden, a cow came barreling up and over this hill trail a couple hundred yards away. Dudley froze, because while he is not afraid of cows, this cow was obviously running from something, or for some special reason… and when the cow started bucking and running, it was too much for Dudley. His heart started pounding like a jackhammer and he blew up like a puffer fish about to explode, I jumped off before I got exploded off, and held onto Dudley. The cow saw us and startled, pulled up short - then went back to bucking and running. If I'm not mistaken, she was running for the fun of it, or possibly - as we could see later as we topped that hill - that she had snuck off and escaped, joyfully abandoning the 3 calves she was possibly calf-sitting. Ever since, Dudley eyes this hill suspiciously as we near the top, in case some mad-happy cow is barreling over it into his path.

Lost Juniper Dead Cow Loop
This is the Lost Juniper wash with the secret hidden juniper tree; if you bushwhack west near the end of the wash, you come up and over a set of hills into the next wash, which contains the remains of a dead cow (bones only, the innards and skin finally having dissolved into predator stomachs and the desert), which makes a sweet uphill wash trot back up onto the flats and back home on a two-track, for a nice 7.5 mile loop. Unless you add a Whammy at the end.

And there's more to come…

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tackling the Big Horn 100

July 18 2018

The 6 Idahoans - me (on Dezzie), Connie (on cover boy DWA Saruq), Layne (on Harley), Shyla (on Doc), and Anne (on DWA Nadra) - with Commander Rose (Regina Rose, 12-time finisher of the Big Horn 100) headed to Wyoming for the Big Horn 100 with hopes for a clean-sweep finish. Only Layne had ridden and finished this ride before, a few years ago when she was caught up on the mountain in the dark in a storm where she almost froze to death before finding her way off the mountain to the finish line.

We'd all heard the stories of how tough the ride was (Regina provided us with plenty of tall tales from the good ol' days), so we were prepared for a doozer of a trail, with some fit and ready horses.

But before we settled into the hot ridecamp in Shell, Wyoming, at the foot of the Big Horn mountains, we got to spend a couple of days in the lap of luxury with Regina's friends, Tom and Fawn, in their AIR CONDITIONED HOUSE, with SHOWERS and MORNING COFFEE WITH THE PRESS OF A BUTTON, where we heard even more entertaining tall ride tales.

Regina was our Wonder Crew and Commander in Chief, and we did whatever she said. On Thursday she hauled us out to ride the first 8 miles of trail that we'd be zipping over in the dark, and she drove her trailer far up a sketchy road to pick us up. Since Regina remembers every single turn and bush and tree and fence line on that Big Horn trail, she told us what to watch out for over every few miles (as if we'd remember): "When you get up there past that hill (WHAT hill???), you'll see a clump of trees (there's trees everywhere!!!), you skirt the edge of those trees, then turn right and go down that hill (WHAT hill???) and angle to your left (HOW FAR angle!?!?). There's this big rock (WHICH rock????) there that you can't miss, and…." etc.

She drilled us to walk where we had to and haul buns when we didn't have to walk. We packed extra clothes and snacks and drugs (ibuprofen, dramamine, tums) in our saddle bags. And we all said Yes Ma'am, and did what she said. (She also took us Idaho tourists to see the bird dinosaur footprints, and to Tom and Fawn's A&W where I had my first-ever root beer float.)

And - seriously - the way that woman can pack a sh*tload of crew gear for 4 people!!!!!!!!! (Shyla's husband and daughter came to crew for her, so they packed her stuff). And then unpack it and re-pack it at every vet check!!!! I still have not learned how to use those ratchet trucker straps, can't put them on nor get them off.

Starting time came way too early Saturday morning - 4 AM - especially when my alarm didn't go off at the intended 3:00 AM and I woke at 3:08. Connie and I popped right out of our sleeping bags and staggered up and into ride clothes and tried to fumble in the right directions of coffee and food and horse tack.

The start was smooth and efficient, and Dezzie found himself in the lead of our group, happily winging along at a smart clip like he'd been born for the Big Horn trail his whole life. We found ourselves right with the other Idahoan, Tom Noll (back for his 10th Big Horn ride), and that's how it stayed pretty much the entire ride.

Dezzie led most of the way to the trot-by at 14 miles, where we all took a short break because, of course, Regina met us with water and horse food. Then we started heading up the Dugway into the mountains.

Hitting this area at 6 AM - instead of 9 AM in the heat like the 50's did on Friday - was just perfect - good light for the spectacular scenery and cool air for the hard-working horses. It would be another 20 miles or so to the top of the mountain (after going way up and way down and way up and way down and…. you get it) for the first vet check at around 34 miles. Since we had all been sufficiently frightened about doing the Shag Nasty in the dark some 16 or so hours from now, we had plenty of Shag Nasty jokes to keep us entertained.

It was at about mile 17ish when Dezzie did his own Shag Nasty. Power walking up the Dugway, one hind foot then the other stepped on a granite slickrock, and not one but both hind legs just slipped out from under him so that he ended up in a Shag Nasty Pistol Squat (said Layne), with both his hind legs splayed back. Dezzie had pulled off the perfect Devon Loch move (the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch was about to win the 1956 Grand National Steeplechase, when he inexplicably leapt an imaginary fence 40 yards from the finish line and went down in a Shag Nasty squat on his belly, legs splayed - and lost the race before he could get up).

I froze… should I leap off? Should I sit still???? Dezzie wasn't flailing, so I did not breathe nor move a muscle, and from behind, Connie watched as it took a tremendous effort for him to lift up and get his hind legs back up underneath him. He walked out of it fine, continued up and up and up the hill, and at the next trotting spot he felt just fine…. and we continued on. It did make me think of how far back in there on the trails that one could get, and then have a looooooong way to go and a possibly looooooooong wait if anybody got hurt. But then, we could all just sit on our couches where we are safe from crashes, and all have heart attacks instead, or a meteor fall out of the sky on our heads. So we might as well be out riding in the Big Horns!

Once we got to the top of the Dugway…. it was back down and down, and back up and down and up and down. One of the canyons was one steep rocky climb down and one long hard steep rocky climb up, where all the horses had to take several breathers just walking up. We crossed fabulous meadows with showy wildflowers. The horses had plenty of grass to grab while walking, even wild alfalfa.

The trail was excellently marked for this first loop… Cindy Collins gets the honor of riding and marking this one. We never had a question where to go, although we did have tour guide Tom Noll with us, and he knows the trail.

When we 'topped out' on the mountain for the 3rd or 4th time, we actually recognized "that fence line" (and even recognized it from the opposite direction!) from the driving tour Regina had given us on Friday, and we knew we were really just a couple of miles from the first vet check. We flew along the two-track road up there and arrived a bit after 10 AM, right about the time Regina expected us (the cooler weather from starting earlier in the morning had helped us cruise right along). We made good time, as we were only an hour behind the leaders, Suzie Hayes (on Sandstormm) and Hannah Johnson (riding Stuart).

The Idaho horses all looked great for their vet check. Dezzie's pulse was 52 (criteria 64) and he got all A's, and he ate the entire hour hold. Riders all felt pretty good too. Regina and Dennis and Jade had of course set the horse and human smorgasbord out for us, ready to walk up to and serve ourselves whatever we wanted.

Next was down, down, down for miles, gentle downhill miles on the 2-track road to the highway crossing and ski area. Now, Dezzie is a powerful, effortless mover (and pretty - we call him a Breyer model), but one thing he is NOT, is smooth. Particularly downhill. Uphill - fine; flat - can be a bit rough; downhill - lordamercy. And it was miles and miles of LORDAMERCY, and we were all cruising, making up time for those walking miles ahead.

My stirrups were half a hole too long, but that was better than half a hole too short, and I didn't want to drill another hole in Connie's saddle stirrup leathers. I'd had many training rides on Dezzie, and a 55-mile ride at City of Rocks last month, so I knew this position was the best choice.

However, it took a lot of my energy to stay centered and balanced on this Big Mover, my feet were aching and going to sleep, and my left foot banging into the outside of the stirrup, none of which I could relieve no matter what I tried while flying along; and I was starting to think, hmm, we are at about 40 miles, and with 60 more miles to go on this horse I think I'm going to die before the finish line… and right about then, I thought I started feeling a little 'extra roughness' - that's how I can look back and describe it. At times I thought I felt Dezzie slightly off behind, then he definitely wasn't; the road was uneven, and he still felt powerful, and maybe he was a bit off in the left front, but then he definitely wasn't.

Regina and Lynn Rigney and Dennis and Jade met us at a few places on the road to offer us water, and Dezzie felt fine each time we started off again trotting. But I kept thinking he was taking some slightly off steps. It was after we had a short steep rocky trail short-cut off and back to the road, where we walked, I told Connie I thought I felt something might be off, and when we got back onto the road, she followed and watched, and at the trot that time I immediately felt him off in the right hind.

Regina met us once more before we climbed a big hill then dropped down another steep long one to the highway, and I told her my horse was off and I was pulling. Too bad, but I wouldn't consider trying to go another 60 miles on a horse that was not 100%, not even on an 'easy' 100 mile ride, and certainly not a hard mountain ride. If I had 5 miles to go, and had no choice but to handwork into the finish anyway, maybe he could have been finessed in, but that wasn't the case. Besides, I was close to a good stopping point where I could get a quicker trailer ride back to base camp.

Connie and I cruised on the mile or so to the ski area (I didn't want her to get left behind from our group, I didn't want to try to handwalk an abandoned Dezzie to the ski area), and other than feeling just a bit rougher, Dezzie no longer felt off, but no way was I going to attempt the next 25 mile loop to the next vet check and hope everything would turn out all rosy.

The trailer did indeed come just as the Idahoans headed off into the trees. Dezzie only had time to whinny a couple of times and not-quite-freak-out before I loaded him in the trailer and we pulled out. Regina had, of course, thought to hand off to me from her crew truck my backpack, some food and iced coffee :) :) :), since I'd be in basecamp till our riders hopefully got back from the finish line (from where they had to be hauled in to camp) in another 14 hours or so!

Yes, sad I didn't finish the Big Horn 100, but not devastatingly sad, because I caught Dezzie's lameness very early and he will be fine, we got a quick and easy trailer ride back to camp, and I was not going to be physically beat up for another 60 miles and 14 or so hours and therefore be crawling in pain for the next several days. Plus, I was blessed with cloud cover and a strong breeze in base camp, so it was not excruciatingly hot like it had been the previous day.

I also felt rather privileged to be in fairly elite company… AERC 1997 Pard'ners Award Winner (with Kootenai Zizzero, also 2011 AERC Hall of Fame horse) Suzie Hayes, who'd been in the lead leaving vet check 1, had decided her horse just did not feel quite right, and she turned around and came back to the vet check and pulled her horse. Suzie is one of my heroes, and if she can make a decision like that, for the good of her horse, and I can do the same thing, I must be on the right path to endurance enlightenment.

And so my ride ended, quite literally, because we had no news of anything, other than my Idaho peeps were still out on trail, till around 2 AM when I heard Layne arrive back at her trailer next door. She and Shyla had finished and had just been hauled back to base camp from the finish line, both wiped out after being barfing sick coming down the mountain, but they'd finished with Tom Noll. Yay! Shortly behind them Connie and Anne had finished, Yay!, and they arrived on the next trailer ride back in camp.

Everybody fell into bed for a few hours until the sun was up and blazing at 7 AMish, at which time a very simple awards meeting was held, with not all the finishers not quite making it out of bed to attend.

And so Idaho came and mostly conquered the Big Horn 100, with the inevitable after-effects. Coming down the mountain in the dark at 2 AM, Connie was thinking, "I'm never doing this ride again. I don't even know if I want to do endurance anymore."

But, kinda like birthing a baby, after several cups of morning coffee (made by me, the Coffee Director), after the awards, and after more AIR CONDITIONING, a shower, and a fabulous Tom-cooked-with-endurance-love breakfast at Tom and Fawn's, Connie thought she just might come back and ride the Big Horn 100 next year.

Hannah Johnson and her amazing one-eyed Kourageus Hope, aka Stuart, won the 100 - for the third time - and got Best Condition - for the second time. (Hannah also tied for first on the 50 on Friday!) Hannah posted, "This horse gave me his heart and his complete trust this bighorn 100, the mountain humbled us and the loss of his eye proved to be a thing coming down the slick rock in the dark… We finished to a cheering crew and a crying rider…" 14 of the 18 starters finished.

The Big Horn is in my top 3 of most beautiful rides (with Moab and Eastern High Sierra Classic), and in my top 3 of hardest rides (with Tevis and Virginia City), and - like any mountain ride - you come prepared with the right horse. Don't come if you are not fit - you won't be doing your horse any favors. Don't even bring a horse that's not fit. And there's no dinking around on this trail - prepare to ride. Bring the right gear, and be prepared to take care of yourself and your horse if anything happens, and you'll be ahead of the game, even if you don't finish the ride.

More stories and photos at: