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: