Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 NAETC

Monday September 26 2011


Jeremy Reynolds might not remember this, but there was a time when he wasn't so enamored by the sport of endurance riding.

It was around 10 years ago when he started riding endurance horses for Jackie Bumgardner in Ridgecrest, California. Jackie didn't train her horses fast; just put a lot of long slow distance base miles on them. A group of us were in the middle of a 20 mile training ride out in the Mojave desert, steadily trotting along, when Jeremy asked, "Don't you ever get bored?"

Then one day in June of 2001, he followed a pretty girl on a 50-mile ride and the rest is history. Heather Bergantz and Jeremy got married, and he and Heather are now one of the top endurance stables/trainers/riders in the country (not to mention their international riding adventures).

Heather started endurance in 1988 and has over 16,000 AERC miles; Jeremy now has over 7800 miles - that's not counting the slew of international rides they've both done. (Heather most recently won the July 120-km** Euston park ride on one of Shaikh Mohammed's horses over next year's World Endurance Championship course.)

After the finish of the 100-mile North American Team Endurance Challenge Saturday - an all-out sprint for the finish line with Meg Sleeper and a narrow win - Jeremy probably doesn't find the sport of endurance boring anymore.

Coming into the ride, his horse, A Kutt Above, had 8 completions in 11 starts and 3 BCs. The pair was coming off a close second place finish (by a minute) to Lindsay Graham and Monk on July 30 over a flatter course very near here where both Kutt and Monk finished the 100 miles in under 7 hours. Before that, Kutt was pulled for metabolics in June at the Ft Howes 100, and he finished first in the 20 Mule Team 100 in February.

Monk was 21 for 21 in AERC competitions over his 4-year career with 5 BCs. His only pull is last year's World Endurance Championship in Kentucky. Before his sub-7 hour win in July, he'd finished 1st (and got BC) in the 75-mile NASTR in June, finished 2nd in the 50-mile Cache Creek Ridge Ride in May, and finished 21st in the 50-mile Nevada Derby in April.

Another experienced international competitor from the northeast, Meg Sleeper, brought Syrocco Reveille. The 11-year-old mare has nothing but Top Ten finishes in every ride over the last 3 years, with her last race being a 3rd place finish in the 100-mile Fort Howes ride in June. (Meg and Syrocco Reveille were riding with Jan Worthington and Golden Lightning in the 2008 World Endurance Championship in Malaysia when the lightning bolt knocked all 4 of them to the ground.)

As this was a Team Challenge, riders were divvied up into teams of three. Some regions had so many riders that they were subdivided: the Northeast contingent was divided into the Northeast East, and the Northeast North team; the Mountain region was divided into Mountain A and Mountain B; Pacific North was divided into Pac North Blue and Pac North Green. The Southeast for the first time had their own division and was riding as a team of 3. The Northeast horses all shipped together in a huge rolling palace on wheels (while the riders flew out).

A few riders rode as individuals, including former multiple champion Becky Hart on No Repeat. Becky served as the US Chef d'Equipe the last couple of years and is now back to riding. Seriously. Her little gelding No Repeat (who can't be an inch over 14.2 hands), a son of Wiking, is 17 for 19 over the last 3 years with 2 Best Condition awards. His last race this year was a 7:20-hour 100, where they finished 3rd to Monk and A Kutt Above in July. The duo won their race before that, the 75-mile Buck Meadows Boogie in April - in 7:30. (Note they went 25 miles further in the hundred, and took 10 less minutes to do that!)

43 horses crossed the starting line for the NAETC at 6:30 AM. The first loop, 13 miles to an out vet check was a long hard climb to an out vet check, but the pace was cracking fast. First in were Jeremy and Heather Reynolds and, somewhat surprisingly, Lisa Green from the Northeast. A Kutt Above pulsed down a minute before Heather's mount Destiny Gold (owned by Valerie Kanavy). Closely behind were Doug Swingley on Pal of Mine, Meg Sleeper, Christoph Schork on Stars Aflame, Becky Hart, and Cheryl Dell on TR Reason to Believe. Reason and Cheryl took a tumble on the trail; Reason got  bloody knee, but it didn't bother him throughout the day.

Lindsay Graham and Monk would go out of this vet check 9 minutes after the leader. Owner Chris Martin had BIG butterflies in his stomach. Lindsay's dad Steve knew all about butterflies... but he said after the first vet check they would all feel better. "Monk always gets stronger after the first 50 miles, and it was early in the day," Chris said.

Two horse were pulled here for lameness: Lynn Lee's RS Silverado, and Carol Giles' SAR Tiki Galaxy. The mother-daughter duo of Karen and Jessica DiCamillo were the final two out of the vet check.

The next loop was 24 miles back to camp. Doug Swingley on Pal of Mine and Christoph Schork on Stars Aflame came in together. Stars Aflame and Christoph last won and got Best Condition on the 100-mile AERC National Championship in New Mexico a month ago. She'd also finished first in her other three 50-mile rides (plus another BC) this year. The mare stumbled and fell to the ground coming down a hill; fortunately Christoph was off her and running on foot at the time.

Doug is a relative newcomer to endurance riding after leaving the sport of dog sledding.  Since 2006, he's already racked up 4100 miles. Pal of Mine has completed 12 of 14 rides over 4 seasons with 2 Best Conditions. He's completed 2 50's this year, the last being a win and BC in August.

Stars Aflame's pulse was down when she entered the vet ring, but it spiked back up during her vetting. She had to go out of the ring and represent, and lost 11 minutes in the process, dropping her down to 4th.

'The Cluster' was close behind Doug and Christoph - a tight group of Jeremy, Heather, Becky, and Meg. Lindsay and Christoph would be also be in this top group much of the rest of the day, in various order.

Heather's Destiny Gold was pulled for lameness at this vet check, and she jumped right into crewing for Jeremy and the Pac South team. Ceci Butler-Stasiuk and KJB Cytron Kon JMS were also pulled at this Vet Check.

Loop 3 was a 13 mile loop back into camp. Doug remained a minute  in the lead with a variation of The Cluster close behind him. Lindsay and Monk left on Loop 4 only 9 minutes behind the leader. With 50 miles down and 50 to go, Team Monk was happy with his positioning and condition.

Mary Kathryn Clark - 1 of 4 Young Riders in the ride - and CRR FC Lantana were pulled. She was one of three riding for the Southeast team; it knocked them out of the team medals. "That mountain killed her," Mary Katherine said of her mare. "She had an issue yesterday, but we thought we fixed it." Christoph and Stars Aflame were a pull. Great Britain rider Dominique Freeman started onto loop 4, but she turned around and pulled her horse Rising Heat as a rider option. She and Romanian Radu Ciubuc had been riding together; he went on his own with his horse HC Ashtar.

Loop 4 was 15 miles to an out vet check. Doug Swingley smoked this section, increasing his lead to 7 minutes over The Cluster of Meg, Jeremy, Becky, Lindsay and Cheryl. Crewing was madness. A few tempers flared. A few buckets flew. A few people got wet. All while trying to get the horses' pulses down.

Doug left on the 22-mile loop 5 with a 6 minute lead. Meg and Reveille, and Jeremy and Kutt were out next, a minute before Becky and No Repeat, who left a minute before Lindsay and Monk, who left a minute before Cheryl and Reason. It was shaping up to be a horse race... though it was good to remember that they all had 35 miles to go yet.

Christoph and Stars Aflame were pulled, as were Northeast's Melody Blittersdorf and Lun-nor Sovereign.

Swedish rider Caroline Franzen was having a good ride, while finding her mount National Security, owned by Doug Swingley, "interesting to ride." He'd smacked her in the forehead at one of the basecamp vet checks and bloodied her lip. It gave her a mini-concussion and she threw up a couple of times. 'Nash' also kicked Suzy Hayes during the ride. Caroline agreed that Nash is a 'bit of a character.'

Golden Lightning was still looking good at this point, but Jan Worthington wasn't feeling great about the course. "I'm pounding him! The ground is so hard!" She was considering pulling 'Leon' as a Rider Option. Much of the course was over hard dirt roads, and there were a lot of rocks in places. She and Grace Worthington prefer the heat and humidity of home in Illinois. "It's not so dry there; the ground isn't as hard. We have Dirt!"

The timing for the ride - all done by hand on paper - started to get interesting for the volunteers, as the leaders were already out on Loop 5 before some of the back-of-pack riders had come into Vet Check 4.

Coming off of loop 5, the picture changed a bit. It wasn't Doug and Pal who arrived first, but a threesome of Meg and Reveille, Jeremy and Kutt, and Lindsay and Monk who charged into the vet check together. Becky and No Repeat were 2 minutes behind them. Doug had slowed down, arriving 15 minutes after the first ones. The Clusters' crews efficiently stripped the gear and doused their horses with water and slowly walked the horses toward the vet in gate.

Meg and Jeremy were the first in the vet gate. Monk presented 3 minutes later. That was the order they'd be going out on the last 13 mile loop home, with Becky and No Repeat out at the same time as Lindsay.

But Lindsay was backing off. "We did that last loop too fast, they were all very competitive together. We're not going to try to catch them."

Indeed, Jeremy and Meg set out together, with Becky 3 minutes behind, while Monk went off to a spot of grass and grazed a while.

There was a lot of speculation waiting at the finish line as to who would be together at the finish... would Jeremy and Meg still be together, and would Becky Hart catch up with them?

By the time someone said "Here they come," both Jeremy and Meg were sprinting full out for the wire. The ground was a bit rough coming to the line... a bit downhill, a bit rocky, and a dip, and A Kutt Above blasted over it all, leaving a trail of dust from his flying hooves, and with a grin on Jeremy's face, they bested Meg and Reveille by a couple of lengths. Both of them bested the course record, 8:17.33 (and 8:17.34 for Reveille). Becky Hart and No Repeat finished third, 21 minutes behind. Doug Swingley and Pal of Mine held onto fourth, 38 minutes behind the winner. Lindsay and Monk finished fifth... but were sadly pulled lame at the finish.

Cheryl Dell and Reason got fifth, 53 minutes behind Doug; Suzy Hayes and Greenbriar Al Jabal finished with Sweden's Caroline Franzen and National Security 3 minutes later.

Another 21 minutes later a slew of 9 riders came in almost together, including McCamey Kimbler on PL Nino in 10th - the youngest rider at the ride, and Jan Worthington and Golden Lightning in 11th - the oldest rider at the ride. There was a 3 hour 1 minute spread between the Top Ten. Two more were pulled at the finish: Kathy Brunjes and Frontier Random, and Nicole Smith on Ravenwood Shahbar. Tough luck after going all the way.

"They should all be lame after that course!" one rider said the next morning. It was hard - and lots of rocks!" But despite the tough mountain course, 31 of 43 riders completed the course, a 72% finish percentage - rather astounding for a fast FEI ride that set a course record. The team medal competition was a big factor in that. It kept everybody guessing all night.

Last to finish was Young Rider Jessica DiCamillo on RGS Crestwind Premiere. Mom Karen was pulled at the last vet check, so Jessica made her way in on her own. But a hundred mile finish is a hundred mile finish - that made a third 100-mile completion for 'Woody' and a sixth 100-mile finish for Jessica to add to their resume as they shoot for a spot in the Young Rider World Championship in Dubai in December.

It wasn't until next morning that Vonita Bowers figured out the final placement of the teams: Mountain A was the gold medal winner, comprised of Doug Swingley, Suzy Hayes, Sue Hedgecock, and Christoph Schork. Silver went to Northeast North: Gene Limlaw, Steve Rojek, Kyle Gibbon and Kathy Brunjes. Bronze went to Northeast East: Melody Blittersdorf, Holly Corcoran, Lisa Green and Meg Sleeper.

Six horses showed next morning for Best Condition. Four looked very good, and it was Becky Hart's No Repeat that won. Becky was pretty thrilled. Looks like the former World Champion has a nice little horse on her hands.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just Me And...

Friday September 16 2011

Nothing. For miles around.

No cows, no cats.

No humans, no horses.

No deer, no donkey.

No noise, no life - nothing for miles around.


But look again: the Owyhee skies and clouds - a presence sculpting a shifting personality onto the mountains.

... a watching vulture, part of a rock until I get too close; then a brief silhouette.

... a wild mustang stallion pile, marking his territory.

...obsidian flakes, an old rock corral - traces of the past.

Listen harder:

...quail, canyon wren, the sigh of the breeze, wafting down over the Owyhees, whooshing down the Owyhee front, passing over me on its way to the Snake River.

For miles around - just me and Owyhee.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And then i had to go SHOPPING

Tuesday September 13 2011

When I was around 10 years old, every two weeks I had to drive with my mom on the long-a** drive into the big city and get allergy shots. If that wasn't bad enough, then I had to go shopping. It took all day.

I didn't want to go shopping. I was never in the mood for shopping. I slumped around with a sour face. I tried a sad face. I complained. I dragged behind my mother, irritating her to no end. ("Would you come on!"). I shuffled my feet in protest. At every shop she stopped at and went into, when we came out I immediately turned around to head back to the car. She pulled me around the other way and we kept shopping. She always tried to make it sound better than it was: "It's such a nice day!" "Oh, isn't this pretty!" The day always dragged out forever.

When we were finally finished shopping, and turned around to go home, the day wasn't so bad after all. My pace picked up beside my mom on the way to the car, and the drive home seemed shorter and much more fun.


And then I had to go FLAG THE TRAIL (by Finneas)

I'm 13, too old and pretty for this stuff, but every couple of months, I have to carry M on the long-a** ride across the big Owyhee desert. If that weren't bad enough, then I have to flag the trail for the upcoming Owyhee Canyonlands endurance ride. It takes all day.

Today I didn't want to go flag trail. I was not in the mood for flagging trail. I slumped around with a sour face. I tried a sad face. I planted my feet in the dirt and complained. I dragged behind M, irritating her to no end. ("Would you come on!"). I shuffled my feet and tripped over rocks in protest as she rode. At every sagebrush she stopped at to hang a ribbon on, when she climbed back in the saddle, I immediately turned around to head back home. She pulled me around the other way and we kept flagging. She always tried to make it sound better than it was: "It's such a nice day!" "Oh, isn't this pretty!" The day dragged out forever.

When we were finally finished flagging trail and turned around to go home, the day wasn't so bad after all. My pace picked up for M on the way home, and the trail home seemed shorter and much more fun.

(P.S. by Merri)
It always comes back to bite you in the butt, one way or another!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Our Newest Owyhee Celebrity

Thursday September 8 2011

Following in Stormy's footsteps, when he made the cover of the Washington Thoroughbred magazine, Rhett is our latest Equine Celebrity on the crick!

He and Steph made the cover of the Endurance News magazine. Rhett was pretty amazed.

Stormy was impressed. He added his snort of approval.

We have had a few dealings with the paparazzi out here, but hopefully these two Cover Boys live far enough out in the boonies so they don't start a stampede of them out to Owyhee. The two 20-year-old grand old boys prefer to live out their celebrity in quiet Owyhee anonymity.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Old Selam: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Wednesday September 7 2011

One is laid back. A ponderer. A stop-and-studier. A Deep Thinker.

The other is an endurance fiend.

None of these attributes are a bad thing when you're Jose Viola.

At home or camping and on training rides, he's casual, nonchalant. Lags in back, stops to look around him at the scenery. Studies it. Absorbs it. Appreciates it. Remembers it next time. He's got Elf eyes and can see tiny distant things I don't pick up on till he sees them.

In an endurance ride, Jose is a completely different horse. He's all business. Bombs down the trail. Throws himself wholeheartedly into it. Doesn't notice the scenery. Doesn't care. All that matters is working hard, roaring down the trails, eating up the miles.

When he's on a endurance ride like Old Selam, trotting beside his best buddy 20-year-old Rhett (who, incidentally, acted like a 2-year-old and thought about bucking Steph off at the start), nothing is going to keep them far apart, and nothing is going to slow them down until they reach the finish line 50 miles down the trail.

That's what the pals did on Day 2 of Old Selam in the southwest Idaho forests. Neither Jose nor Rhett had done an endurance ride since June, and with the cold, crisp morning (I had ice on my sleeping bag when I woke up), Steph and I both had our hands full of fresh horses. We zipped the first 18-mile loop in under 2 hours and our horses never broke a sweat.

The 23-mile loop 2 was hotter... but no slower. Nance Worman on Quinn (my Tevis partner!), and Chris Yost on Jack rode with us for most of the ride. Maybe that added to Jose's awareness of the competition. He had a job to do, he wanted Rhett beside him and the other horses behind him on the trail.

Those trails were amazing, gentle climbs from 4200' basecamp, and descents along soft logging roads and some single track trails that allowed the horses to charge along at a strong pace. We came to some high clearings that overlooked the Grimes Creek drainage where gold was discovered in 1862 and the gold rush to the Boise Basin started. The ghost of Old Selam gallops out there also, a horse who helped an inmate escape in 1901 from the Idaho State Penitentiary.

Perhaps Jose sensed his presence and wanted to catch up with him. Jose isn't normally a puller, but I worked hard on him, trying to get him to take it easier without pulling on the reins. The horses were still fresh as we pulled into camp for our second vet check. It was hot now, in the upper 80's - nearly a 60 degree temperature difference.

Not a problem for our efficient, intent equines. Jose must have heard me say the last loop was only 8 miles, because he flew. Little snorts escaped his nostrils with every left front hoof-fall. I stroked my fire-breathing dragon and told him to take it easy. He often broke into a canter and threatened to lengthen to a gallop, and I had to haul back on him so he wouldn't cause Rhett to pull Steph's arms out of her sockets.

In less than an hour we cruised into camp with still-fresh horses. Steph and I were worn out. Jose thrust his nose in front of Rhett (well... most of that last loop) at the finish. That put him in tenth place.

I figured there was no point in showing for Best Conditon, because I weigh as much as a butterfly in riding tights... but when I led Jose to Dr Ruble for his completion trot out, Keith said "If you want to do a CRI, trot all the way to the cone." The CRI is part of the Best Condition scoring. The cone was a long way. It was hot. I was whooped. I trotted Jose all the way there and back anyway. What the heck. After Jose finished the vet check, Keith said, "Come back in an hour for your BC exam." I looked at my vet card. Jose's CRI was 48-48. : )

No point in showing for Best Condition (which went to Lee Pearce, which makes something like 10 or 12 BCs this season : ), but Jose tied for High Vet Score.

: )))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

The SWIT&DR club - Southwest Idaho Trail and Distance Riders - puts the 2-day Old Selam ride on every year, here around Centerville, Idaho, on private, state, and federal forests; Neil and Liz Smallwood spend two weeks here running themselves ragged getting things ready and running the ride. Beth Bivens helps manage it, and so many people chip in to make this 2-day ride happen. Steve Bradley came early and helped find and mark trail and he stayed after to help unmark it (besides taking great photos during the ride!). It shows. It was a great ride - fun, challenging enough, great footing, abundant water at all the right places, wonderful weather (if a bit HOT for me during the day)(and if a bit COLD for other people in the morning), excellent organization. It's one of the best.

Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde, Jose Viola, and The Raven, are in full agreement.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Castle Rocks State Park: Spectacular

Wednesday August 31 2011

We found it: Day 1 of next year's 4-day City of Rocks Pioneer Trails Endurance Ride.

Conveniently, Castle Rocks State Park is only 5 miles down an accessible, unpaved, not too hard or rocky, horse-friendly road from City of Rocks National Reserve. And if it's possible Castle Rocks State Park is even more spectacular than City of Rocks.

The 5-mile trail we rode around the perimeter of the park wound through sagebrush flats, and through pinyon-juniper, and mountain mahogany forests. The footing is, like City of Rocks, unbelievably soft and mostly rock free. Most of the rock around here is vertical - granite monoliths and pinnacles reach 350 feet or more.

Pictographs and other archaeological evidence indicate people have been in the area almost 2500 years ago. There are foundation remains of an old homestead site from 1888 that Jose and I rode into. Over 130 bird species are in the park - lots of vultures were keeping an eye on us. Maybe they knew something we didn't!

Vet check for the LD's and 50's will probably be at the entrance to Castle Rocks, either in the parking lot, or, preferably, on this huge grassy lawn off of which we had trouble coaxing Jose, Batman and Musafa. I'm sure the park would like their lawn mowed, and what better way than to have 30-50 hungry horses do it for free? (And provide free fertilizer!)

Jose and I find it a breathtaking place to ride.

But I'll let you decide.

[slide show here]

And many more photos of the site of next year's City of Rocks Pioneers Trails Endurance Ride here: