Friday, March 30, 2012

USA Team Endurance Trial: The Drama Begins

Friday March 30 2012

Just the gathering is a spectacle in itself: "It's the best collection of 100-mile horses the US has ever produced at one ride," said USA Chef d'Equipe Emmett Ross, at last night's party at base camp on the Preifert Ranch in Mt Pleasant, Texas. This extraordinary assembly of top endurance horses and riders is the CEI3* 160-km USA Trials, from which the 6-member team for the 2012 World Endurance Championships in Great Britain in August will ultimately be chosen. "The goal of all this," said Emmett, "is to have a place on the podium." 1998 in Dubai is the last time the US won a medal in the World Endurance Championships.

Final placing in tomorrow's race will be crucial: the top twenty finishers will be on the 'Long List' of riders from which the six team members will be picked. In addition, three 'Wild Cards' may or may not be chosen. One of those Wild Cards might be a good horse that has a bad day, or an up-and-coming horse or rider. Strategy will play a big part in the ride: How hard will you have to ride? Do you race as fast as you can, to assure a spot in the top twenty? Do you ride a more conservative ride and hope that the probable usual attrition rate of around 50% will push you up into the top twenty? "Ride to the best of yours and your horse's ability," said Emmett. "I want to see speed, but not speed at any cost. Think and ride professionally, manage your day well, don't succumb to race brain."

Riders will be evaluated by Emmett Ross, 3 selectors, and the veterinary committee, on their finish in the top twenty, on how they manage their horse, on crewing management, sportsmanship, and post-ride evaluations.

The weather will play a big part. "This humidity is going to be tough," said head veterinarian Dwight Hooten. It will especially effect those horses who have come from the colder or drier parts of the country. Those riders and horses coming from thickly-humid Florida and the midwest think this Texas humidity feels great. Tomorrow's forecast calls for 84°, 70% humidity, with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms.

Forty-nine hopefuls lined up for the vet in today, and 4 unlucky ones were eliminated for lameness. It's a blow when you drove across the country to get here, with high hopes for a good performance.

Forty-five horses and riders will be on the starting line at 7 AM tomorrow.

More photos and stories, and follow the race live on

Mandolynn Hill Arabians

Thursday March 29 2012

On our way to the 100-mile Texas Team Trial qualification for the 2012 World Endurance Championship in Great Britain, we stopped at Dr Mickey and Michelle Morgan's Mandolynn Hill Farm Arabians in Aubrey, Texas.

Aubrey happens to be the birthplace of my endurance obsession - I started riding endurance trails just down the road in 1998. In fact, as we wandered around Michelle's farm, it seemed a bit familiar, and when I saw the training track in a big field at the back of the property, I realized I had actually ridden on this track. Talk about Déjà vu!

Michelle raises her Arabians mainly for the racetrack; some have gone on to perform well in endurance and other sports. She has some extraordinary-looking individuals - good bone, powerful, athletic, well-built and well-bred - and personable. I'll have more on Mandolynn Hill later, but below is a slide show sample, or you can see more now at

[slide show here]

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stoner is My CoPilot

Sunday March 25 2012

Last time I hooked up with Stoner was in January in Arizona. We went on a fantasy flight through the desert.

We got back together again for some Colorado Rocky Mountain highs with some dear friends:

Kevin and Far

Rusty and Quake

Garrett and The mighty Fury

The foothills of the Rocky Mountains are not for pansies. They are for the fleet of foot, and the humongous of hearts.

We trotted, cantered, galloped up mountains as if they were molehills, 15 miles of bliss. We flew together again, Stoner and I, through the Rockies, on the wings of a lithe, lovely endurance horse.

Thanks once again my friend!


Saturday March 24 2012

Road trip! Steph and I headed southeast to Durango, Colorado, for our friend Rusty's surprise birthday party. Total success, he had no idea all of us would show up!

We stayed with Garrett and Lisa Ford, and Garrett took us on a little ride in the mountains around his place. Garrett is riding his Haggin Cup (Best Condition at Tevis in 2010) winner The Fury.

Just gorgeous. People have been known to come to Durango for a visit, then never leaving.


[slide show here]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Twenty Miles

Thursday March 22 2012

We are working toward our first 50 mile endurance ride of the season, the Owyhee Tough Sucker I, on April 7. Normally we'd have plenty of time to get the horses in tip top shape, but what with the bizarre weather - snow, rain, mud, hurricanes, repeat - and the trip to the AERC Convention in Reno, and an upcoming road trip where we won't be back home till 5 days before the Tough Sucker, we felt we had to get a 20 mile ride in on the horses.

We made a long loop toward the Snake River, trotting much of the way, on soft ground, mostly flat and with only gentle climbs. Even though the horses are starting to shed madly, they still have enough of a coat where they worked up a thorough sweat (yes, even Jose's eyebrows sweated again).

We were grateful for the most excellent strong cool breeze that caught up with us right near the end of the ride, most especially because the DANG GNATS are suddenly out!

By my GPS, we covered 15.7 miles (and if you add the 10%, that's 17 miles), close enough to the 20 we aimed for, in just over 2 1/2 hours.

I think *I* ended up much more tired than Jose - I was the one who needed the 20 mile ride!

[slide show here]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Terror in Owyhee

Monday March 19 2012

Dark beasts in the night. Lumbering monsters in the day. Eerie bawling and squalling. Crashing. Moaning. Sinister smells.

Terrifying Creatures wander Owyhee at will, taking what they wish. No laws can control them, no fence can contain them.

And so it was that our horse herd was terrified by dangerous cows today. (Not that our horses don't see cows nearly every day of every winter, on one side of the canyon or the other.)

I'd driven the ATV up the canyon to fetch the herd. As often happens, the horses had drifted far up the canyon overnight. They usually come back in the morning on their own - but I discovered an invisible line drawn in the sand that they were afraid to cross: the Terrifying Cow barrier. Two cows and a calf (just a baby!) were in our canyon on our side of fence, between the horse herd and home, and no way were the horses crossing that line. They were trapped.

Where the sight of me on an ATV holding a bucket of grain and calling for them usually entices them to come, this time they had eyes only for the Terrifying Cows, who had started moving away from me and further up-canyon - toward the horse herd.

Tizzies ensued.

Like flocking birds (check out these spectacular links here and here!), the herd flitted this way and fluttered that way, one horse Perry (the mare who is oddly attracted to other animals) moving toward the Creatures out of curiosity, pulling the herd along, then Smokey dashing away in fright, pulling the herd that way, Perry circling and approaching the cows again, pulling the herd with her, Rhett spinning around and bolting in terror, swaying the herd his way - a ballet dance, back and forth, swirl, up and back, whirl, forward and back, twirl.

(Rhett's dislike of cows has been clearly documented.)

The three cows' (two cows and one calf!) inevitable path along the fence, to join up with mooing cows on the other side of the fence, drove the mighty, 11-strong horse herd to the far corner of the canyon, into a tight whirring ball of nerves. Should they bolt and run from the treacherous cows? Should they dare slip past them, towards freedom and home? Should they totally run away from the vicious cows, toward me across the river and toward safety? (Of course they didn't choose this option.)

The cows continued their march along the fence on past the tightly woven horse herd that they completely ignored, past a wired-shut gate where they can normally squeeze through. Former Rushcreek Ranch Cowhorse Mac split off from the herd (he's also sometimes afraid of cows - see Rhett's story link above) and bravely chased the baby cow, showing him who was really the boss, before dashing back to join the safety of the rolling Horse Ball. The horses swirled tightly around to face the danger of the retreating cow butts. The cows came to a wash, where they turned and went straight through the fence to join the other cows on the hill. (Imagined )Peril to the horses was over, but the fact that the cows had just apparated (check your Harry Potter dictionary) through a fence unharmed really agitated the horse herd. They whirled and ran, spun and froze, twirled and dashed back, froze, bolted again, danced like a flock of starlings in the sky.

I could not get their attention; I could not get them to come home. They remained glued to that spot close together for hours.

I never did get to ride today.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nobody Here But Us (Wet) Chickens

Saturday March 17 2012

With odd weather all over the country, Owyhee is getting its share of wetness. It's so slick, there's no thundering down the canyon - the horses walk around carefully in the mud.

Everybody looks like a wet chicken, including the cats who run through the rain then stop to lick their paws - as if that will help anything.

Jose, up top, strikes a handsome wet chicken pose.

I think that of all the herd Mac most enjoys being dirty as he can get. It's probably like a dark-haired human going platinum blond for a while, only vice versa.

The salt block is a quite popular social gathering place in the winter. The mud probably gives it a special spicy flavor.

Stormy isn't irritated by being photographed as a wet chicken; he doesn't like being bothered when he's eating.

More of the wet stuff and white stuff to come! Winter is not ready to leave yet, and I'm not ready to let it go!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Eyebrows Are Sweating

Thursday March 15 2012

So said Jose, after the ride we squeeeeeezed in today, between days of gale force winds, rainstorms, slick ground, hurricanes, and more rain and snow (yay!!!) and slick ground to come.

Our first local endurance ride, the Owyhee Tough Sucker, is coming up April 7 - and our training has been sporadic the last two weeks and will be over the next couple of weeks, due to weather and traveling.

We took the horses on the Three Cheese Casserole ride - three layers of washes - 2 miles up a wash, 3 miles down another wash, and 1 1/2 miles up another wash and up onto a ridge. The sand is somewhat deep now, and with the horses still wearing partial winter coats (they have started to shed), it was a strenuous workout.

I don't ride with a heart monitor, so I go on knowledge - what I know the horse has been doing, and what he can take - and by how much he sweats. I've always heard that when the top of a horse's butt gets sweaty, he's either out of shape, or working very hard. I've never seen a scientific study on this, but I have found it to be accurate. And when their eyebrows are sweating, they're producing a lot of heat.

Unless the wind is just right, I can't hear my horse breathing when I'm trotting or cantering, but today I could hear Rhett huffing behind me on the third Cheese layer, and I used that to help gauge the effort the horses were putting out.

Today the horses worked up a good sweat under their saddle pads, on the neck and chest

and shoulders,

and between and down the back legs (you know, the 'shaving cream').

And the reward was a taste of the hint of green grass starting to color the desert.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 AERC Convention

Wednesday March 14 2012

It's hard to say what the very best part of the AERC Convention was.

It could have been the trade show, where you could find everything you needed, and everything you didn't need, from saddles to feed supplements and everything in between. The number of booths was down this year, but the shopping looked pretty brisk. Maybe you didn't really need, say, a new pair of tights, but Evelyn was there with her practical, colorful, and wild and fun tights, and who can pass up a pair of tights like this? (Don't blame me, red is Jose's color!)

Funder got her own great pair of tights,

as did Steph:

Authors Julie Suhr ("…but it wasn't the horses's fault!")

and Sharma Gaponoff ("Tevis, From the Back of My Horse") were both there selling and autographing their books.

Jose won a new saddle pad from Specialized Saddles! (It's been too hurricane-windy or too Seattle-rainy since we've been home from the Convention for Jose to try it out, and anyway, he might share it with his pal Mac.)

The Hot Topics sessions are always hopping. Anybody can sit in and put their two cents in on everything from trail closures to membership drives. It's a good forum for good ideas to be discussed. Former World Champion endurance rider Valerie Kanavy had the most common sensical thing to say that I have heard in a long time: Where are all our endurance riders? Where are our kids and juniors? Go to an endurance ride just about anywhere in the world, and you see double and triple the number of riders there, including families (and the entry fee is about double the price as here in the US).

We all need to stop belittling people who 'only' ride 25 miles because 'that's not endurance' because, as Valerie said, they contribute just as much to participation in the rides (sometimes more) and entry fees, which allows her to continue doing the 100-mile rides she loves to do. We need to make our sport more accessible to younger riders and families - put on the 12-mile introduction ride, or, have AERC consider even requiring the completion of a 12-mile ride before throwing the first-timer and her 12-year-old straight into a 25-mile endurance ride. "We need to think outside our box," Valerie said, and she's right.

We need to welcome people, instead of excluding them and hoarding ourselves into little cliques just because 'they' don't do the distance we personally like to do, or the distance that we think defines endurance riding. That person who likes to 'only' ride 25 mile rides this season may become next season's National 100 Mile Award winner. That first-time Junior that rides 12 or 25 miles might be the next National Mileage Champion and new ride manager who puts on new endurance rides for people who like to ride. What we're doing to recruit new riders is not particularly a raging success, especially if we don't fit fit them into our self-made categories - maybe it's time to try something else.

There were some excellent lectures over the weekend. Steph will report on Friday's lectures. On Saturday, Jeanette Mero talked about metabolics, and Susan Garlinghouse spoke about dehydration in endurance horses. I learned a few things - one being that I never want to override my horse so that he has a metabolic problem, but that despite your best precautions, it can happen to anybody. I did once have to deal with a badly colicking horse, far out on trail, and it was a dreadful experience. He hadn't been overridden and he was on his home trails - for the first time in his long career, it just happened. (He lived.)

When you ask your horse to do 50 miles and up, you are pushing that envelope, and the harder you push him, the more you are asking, but you just don't know exactly where that precipice is on that given day until you've irreversibly crossed it.

Fluids, fluids, fluids, Jeanette emphasized, if your horse gets into trouble. Using a lot of fluids immediately at the first sign of trouble has been proven to reverse a majority of metabolic issues. The longer you wait, the more risk to your horse, and, often, the (much) more expense involved because it usually ends up in a trip to the horse hospital and a possibly long recovery. And we need to all get over the stigma we've created about a horse that needs fluids. It can happen to anybody, and it's the welfare of the horse that is paramount. Many horses participating in international 160-km competitions around the world routinely receive fluids before and after their rides as a precaution to rehydrate them.

Fluid treatment itself is not cheap at a ride - $400 to $800 - but Jeanette felt you owe it to your horse to commit to that level of treatment, if your horse gets into a bad situation, especially when this has a good chance of solving the problem.

I agree. We ask a lot of our endurance horses, and when you spend all the months or years training and conditioning your horse, feeding him, thinking of him as part of your family (or as the working part of the equation who supports your hobby), paying for the vet care, shoeing, owning the truck and trailer, traveling to the rides, paying the entry fees, the least you can do for that horse in trouble is commit to that first immediate level of care, if he needs it. It's only right.

Long-time high-mileage endurance riders Robert and Melissa Ribley gave an excellent presentation of AERC - the way we were and the way we are, looking back at some of the pioneering people and rides in the AERC organization.

Some of our top-level Junior and Young Riders gave a talk about their participation in December's Young Riders & Juniors World Endurance Championship held in Abu Dhabi, where 3 of the 3 US riders finished, and the USA team came in 4th. This was an outstanding finish, as the 'team' had been thrown together with not much preparation, unlike the Uruguayan team (1st place) and French team (2nd place) that had been working toward this goal all year.

New USA chef d'equipe Emmett Ross gave a talk on the future of the USA team and this year's World Endurance Championship coming up in Great Britain in August.

Friday night the Western States Trail Foundation had drinks and hors d'oeuvres accompanied by videos from the Tevis trail, and Barbara White announced an exciting new development for this year's Tevis: the Legacy Buckle program. First-time Tevis riders can opt to receive a historic buckle from someone who completed decades ago.  The buckle will be engraved with the rider’s name, horse’s name, and year of finish and will be awarded to you at no charge. Just think - you could be the recipient of a belt buckle previously won by the likes of Julie Suhr, or Barbara White, or Donna Fitzgerald!

The Saturday night awards dinner (you can see some of the awards here) was a just good time, with worthy people and horses receiving very worthy awards, particularly the Pardner's Award (Karen Fredrickson and MRR Pyro (Murphy)), the Perfect Ten Award (Karen Fredrickson and MRR Pyro (Murphy)!), and the National Mileage Championship. This is what American endurance riding is all about - longevity, and riders who know how to take care of their horses over thousands of miles and many, many years.

The best part of the convention possibly could have been seeing so many friends with a common passion and hobby, gathered in one place, putting names to faces, meeting waaaaay too early for breakfast in the morning without a prior shot of caffeine, trying to make your way somewhere but never making it there because you run into too many people to talk with, having dinner with friends - and through it all, everybody talking horses. Just getting to see and hug some of your favorite horse people on the planet might just be enough reason to spend a weekend at the AERC Convention in Reno. Thanks to the AERC staff for the hard work in putting on such a good event.

As a suggestion, the only thing that might improve the Convention would be if we could bring all our horses along for their own convention. But then - we'd all have to saddle up and go for an endurance ride, wouldn't we?

[slide show here]

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Good Lord Willing and the Crick Don't Rise

Tuesday March 13 2012

The Owyhee Fandango 25/30/50/60/80/100 is (sort of) around the corner: May 25-27.

We went out on foot and scouted the Whiskey Traverse, a spectacular stretch of trail alongside the Snake river for a mile below the cliffs, among boulders. It was a pretty technical trail which was used during the 2010 Fandango 80 and 100 miler.

We checked to make sure there are clear paths around the boulders, and we found clear detours around any sketchy spots.

The only thing that would prevent us using it this year, besides a sudden 10,000-year flood which would deposit new boulders along the river, would be if the Snake River rises over the one spot of the trail that drops right down beside the river for about 20 feet. In this case, Steph would cut out this part of the trail and just include the Petroglyphs loop (which is not too shabby itself), and add the mileage on somewhere else.

So, the Good Lord willing and the Crick Don't Rise, the Whiskey Traverse will be part of the Owyhee Fandango 80 and 100 mile rides.

[slide show here]

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rollkur in Endurance

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series.

Part 1 is here.

Since many equine disciplines have adopted this cockamamie type of domination training, endurance wackos officials decided to jump on the bandwagon and give it the old college try too. What better place to test this ridiculous method than the 100 Miles in One Day Tevis Cup.

It is unknown as to when this event was held, and it is a mystery how many horses finished. The riders all have concussions and don't remember anything, the horses still can't see anything but their feet, and officials are in clandestine bars unlocatable.

This concludes the test of endurance and Rollkur. It was deemed a failure.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Tuesday March 6 2012

A biting Arctic storm roars through Owyhee under the cloak of night, rattling houses and barns and shaking beasts who have already started shedding their winter coats.

Capricious gales scour the earth bare and pile the snow deep. They drive ice crystals with the force of stinging needles. The ice clings like white blankets, to the topside and backside of horses, and vertically to the windward side of tree trunks.

By noon the storm has fled, chased by sharp blue skies, leaving a desert world in black and white, buried and bare.

The Owyhee mountains are polished to a shiny icy silver sheen. The world awaits Mother Nature's next whim.