Thursday, April 19, 2018

2018 Antelope Island

April 19 2018

There aren’t too many endurance rides that rival the combination of challenging trails and a spectacular scenic setting for Ridecamp and the ride trails than the Antelope Island 2-day endurance ride on Antelope Island State Park in the middle of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. With lake views from almost every trail, and Frary Peak lording over the island at 6596 feet, any direction you look can take your breath away. “Antelope Island is a little like Mongolia and a lot like the foothills of Mordor,” competitor Maddie Smith wrote.

Many slices of the endurance pie showed up for the 38th annual Antelope ride: first-time riders, AERC’s winningest rider; a Tevis Cup winner; cowboys on their annual single LD ride; a skilled dressage rider doing her first endurance ride; an enthusiastic Junior doing his second endurance ride with his dad; veterans with tens of thousands of miles, 2 former Mongol Derby riders, 2 future Gobi Desert Cup riders. The horses were just as varied: Arabians to Paso Finos to Mustangs to Appys to Quarter horses to Paints to Curlys to Anglos to Shagyas, to a Kentucky Mountain horse.

You had a variety of rides to choose from: Introductory rides on both days, an LD on both days, a 50 on both days, or a 2-day 100.

This year’s ride weather was pretty spectacular compared to last year’s test of stamina and endurance: no rain, hail, thunderstorms or gusting winds. This year's cool weather and a slight breeze kept the gnats away most of the weekend… although if you rode out on the Split Rock Loop trail curling around White Rock Bay on Sunday afternoon, you had to ride with your mouth shut unless you wanted bugs on your windshield (teeth).

The island is well known for its buffalo herd, but the buffalo at this time of year were few and far between (or, rather, on the southwest part of the island where we weren’t allowed to ride because it’s calving season); but the antelope, the occasional lone buffalo bull, and the scenery did their best to make up for it.

55 riders started on Day 1: 5 in the 2-day 100, 18 in the 50, and 32 in the LD. There were also more than a dozen riders in the Intro Ride.

Winner of the 30 was Brad Hanson on Chief, with Ronda Davis and Buster pulsing down a second later. 10th place Katalyn Senn and Echo got the Best Condition award.

Miriam Rezine from Bluffdale, Utah, won the 50 aboard her little ‘pony,’ MG Crown Jewel in 5:27. Suzy Hayes and Sanstormm, and Bill Hobbs and LS Sir Gibbs tied for second place in 5:31. Sanstormm got the Best Condition award. Suzy and her friend and crew extraordinaire Lynn Lee fled the bad weather of Montana for Antelope Island. They bypassed a closer Wyoming ride because it wasn’t far enough away from rain and mud. There were no pulls in the 30 or 50.

Five riders started the 2-day 100, with 1 pull at the end of Day 1.

13 riders started Day 2’s 25-mile ride, with 12 finishing. After finishing 8th and 9th on Day 1, Blackfoot, Idaho's Mike and Jessica Cobbley moved up to first and second aboard Talladega and The Big Brass, in 4:34 and 4:38. Dega won the Best Condition award, capping a great comeback on the endurance trail for a horse that colicked terribly last fall and almost died. But the tough little monster horse is back, and thought they were covering the miles entirely too slowly all weekend.

7 of 8 riders finished the Day 2 50, with Suzy Hayes easily winning the ride on her stunning Greenbriar Al Jabal. Suzy had planned to ride Sanstormm again, but didn’t like how he was moving in the morning, so she pulled ‘Atlas’ out of his hay and saddled him up. “He gave me the Stink-Eye,” Suzy said, “because he thought he was on an eating vacation.” Atlas smoked the 50, finishing in 4:31, an hour ahead of second place finisher Chetta Crowley - one of those Mongol Derby veterans, aboard Christoph Schork’s Pinky. Chetta had started the 2-day 100, and when her horse was pulled after Day 1, that left her free to ride the 50 on Pinky, riding with Christoph’s group on their second-day 50.

Christoph, aboard his War Mare and 100-mile National Champion GE Pistol Annie, and Stephanie Chase, aboard DA Serabarrs Secret, tied for the 2-day 100 miler win, in 10:52. Maddie Smith - the other Mongol Derby veteran - finished with that pair in third aboard GE Medinah MHF, and Tennessee Lane rode Gambler to fourth place in 11:46. Pistol Annie won the Best Condition award.

Ride management does everything they can to keep riders happy and coming back, and chalk this year up as another success. Jeff Stuart has been ride manager for the Antelope Island ride since 2014 (and been helping long before then), and he likes to show off “our island. I just want everybody to have a good time,” Jeff said. The Indispensables, Shirley and Dennis and Terri, kept things running smoothly behind the scenes, and Regina Rose brought her calculator mind and computer program for the paperwork.

If you haven’t done this ride before, put it on your calendar. It’s a beauty.

For more photos and tidbits on the ride, see

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Incredible Lightness of Being Standardbred

April 10 2018

Clop Clop Clop Clop

Flying into the fog, nothing but a strong breeze and Willie’s hoofbeats (and an occasional Willie whinny) blowing into my ears.

It’s Willie’s first ride of his second endurance season, the 25 miler at the Owyhee Tough Sucker, his home court. And though I ride him by himself on the trails all the time, it’s only his second time doing an endurance ride by himself. Willie, an off-the-track Standardbred has two modes: endurance horse and racehorse. He’s in his racehorse mode right now, though he’s well out in front by himself (hence the whinnies). He still thinks he’s got to catch somebody, because he knows there are other horses out on the trail, somewhere, and this is a race, even though I’m trying to convince him otherwise.

Clop Clop Clop Clop. He’s going fast, but we’ve reached a compromise: I won’t pull, and you won’t pull, and you can go fast, but not too fast. The second loop we’ll take it easier (I hope). He’s not pulling or leaning on the bit; he’s not too heavy on his forehand, but he’s pounding the ground, and I know he can be lighter. And I know if he’s lighter, he will stay sounder longer.

Even though I dislike it, I’m going to start working on him in the arena on collecting, rounding up, getting off his forehand, lightening up, balancing better. Mostly because Connie and Sarah will be here for coaching and helping! Connie’s an expert in the arena, and though Sarah’s only 15, Connie says she’s better than both of us in the arena.

When Connie starts teaching a horse to round up in the arena, there eventually comes that one certain moment where it just clicks and the horse first drops his head. That’s the start of the inkling of the idea in his head. Eventually (could be 10 minutes, could be 10 days, with the thicker headed horses or the ones who haven't discovered those different muscles yet), he gets it, he knows what he’s supposed to do. And depending on the horse, it can take a lot of riding the horse (as in, not being passive), a lot, and a lot of leg, a lot, (which I don't always have) to teach a horse to be able to default to this way of moving. It’s a workout for horse and rider. Once he starts getting it with Connie, that’s about when I can get on and start asking for it.

This and top pic, at the beginning of the lesson with Connie

So we started today, in the arena. Connie got on Willie for the first time (“Wow!”), and after about 10 minutes, she had Willie starting to figure it out. Leg leg leg means go forward, but back off the bit and drop your head for release of pressure.

Another 10 minutes and he was already starting to carry his head lower more of the time, working up a mighty sweat.

If a horse hasn’t learned to round up, they use different muscles when they do. It will take some time to build those muscles up where it will be easy for him to carry himself that way. It will build up some of my arena muscles too, which aren’t very good (and with progress, maybe I won’t dislike it so much. Or not…).

He’s starting to get it!

After Connie worked with Willie a while, (“This is totally do-able with him, you'll be able to do it.”) I rode him and got some occasional good balanced movement, then Sarah rode him too (for the first time, she loved him - he’s unlike any other horse she’s been on - “he’s funny!”). Already, Willie sounded a bit lighter on his feet than the clop clop clop clop.

Yeah Willie!

Willie was a flatlander horse with a flatlander butt when Steph got him in February of 2016 as a 4-year-old. After he was broke to ride and had a year of trail riding, I started conditioning him for endurance: sand and hills, hills, and hills, to build up those butt muscles so he could motor up the hills. He grew those butt muscles, and completed 5 50-mile rides last year; and now he’s going to work on the balancing/rounding muscles.

It’s a start!

I’m getting it, I’m starting to get Willie to get it with me

Willie’s cracking Sarah up with his camel-like pace-a-lope here, which sometimes emerges from within

Monday, April 9, 2018

2018 Owyhee Tough Sucker - And The Band Played On

by Merri Melde
April 9 2018

Seriously - does nobody read the weather reports? Who would even want to come for an endurance ride with a deluge and a hurricane in the forecast? The weathermasters have been pretty inaccurate with the precipitation this winter, but they've been spot on with the wind, and we were in for a big blow on Saturday, if not at least some of the 100% chance of rain they predicted Friday night and Saturday morning.

But 42 riders still showed up for the first Owyhee ride of the season. Some were here because they haven't been able to ride much elsewhere (I've been riding most of the winter, but not everybody else has), or they have just been itching to get going, and weather simply didn't factor into it. But mostly we're all here to ride because we're all, in some form or another, Tough Suckers.

The live band booked for entertainment arrived with instruments in one hand and horses in the other. Endurance rides are really the excuse that gets the bluegrass Pickett Crick Ramblers together. Friday night audience included 2 members who stayed till the very last song, and even clapped after a couple numbers!

It wasn't till morning that I finally decided on a plan for myself: get Hillbillie Willie a good training ride in the 25, and finish before the hurricane hit. (And we timed it just about right; when we rode down that last draw for home we were in strong a wind tunnel, and when I was bandaging Willie's legs up in camp afterwards, the gale force gusts hit.)

You know how it goes with the rain: if you're already out riding when it starts raining, it's not so bad, but it's a shade short of miserable if you have to saddle a wet horse up in the rain. But the overnight and morning rain never materialized, so that was an added bonus to the day. Dark skies glowered over the 14 riders who started the 50. The forecasts were right about the wind though; it started picking up around 10 AM (and there were even some spots of thick fog that we rode through), and the wind was strong and hurling some mean gusts by the time the 50's started arriving at the finish in the early afternoon.

The race for first place in the 50 was a tight one, but Dean Hoalst and Pay Attention were familiar faces who got the win in 5:20, and Best Condition. The actual first place finisher was eliminated when the horse didn't pulse down. Kristen Maholland and Two Carat Diamond ended up with second place in 5:44.

Connie Holloway on DWA Saruq and (first Junior) Sarah Holloway aboard Noble Desperado finished 3rd and 4th in 6:35. 11 completed the 50 mile ride, with the turtles, Roz Cusack on DA Nejwah and Heidi Skerratt on Gold N Beaudayshus squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of the hurricane ride, finishing in 10:05 while the Pickett Crick Ramblers were in the middle of their Saturday evening concert.

28 riders started the 25 mile ride with 27 finishing. Long-legged Hillbillie Willie won the 25 in 2:59, with Karen Steenhof and WMA Proclaim finishing 2nd in 3:05 and getting Best Condition. Linda Kluge and Ted, and Abrie Church (one of our fiddle players) on Ultra Sonnic finished right with Karen in 3rd and 4th. There was only 1 pull in the 25.

The riders out on trail survived the winds and hurtling tumbleweeds just fine (really, the wind was worse on Sunday), and the band played on in the evenings, and we've decided that in 3 years of jamming together, we've gotten good enough that we sometimes sound pretty darn good! Anybody need to book a bluegrass band? Our next gig is City of Rocks on June 7-8-9.

See photos and more of the ride at: