Book Review: GALLANT: The Call Of the Trail

The usual review disclaimers: I review stuff I like. Not paid, not sponsored, not saying nice things just because someone is a friend. If I don’t like something, I don’t do negative reviews…I just don’t talk about it. So if I’m talking about it, that means I liked it and want to pass that along. Bonus points if whatever I’m reviewing is connected to a friend, and I can help send some interested parties their way.

I am a voracious reader. Always have been. When I got in trouble at school, it wasn’t because I was talking, or causing classroom shenanigans…it was because I had my nose in a book and wasn’t paying attention. I grew up in the era of when bookstores were still a thing. Larger bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were just coming onto the scene, and being surrounded by that much reading material was a little slice of heaven for me. I read a variety of books, but my favorites were always the young adult horse series. Thoroughbred and The Saddle Club were always my go-to favorites, and of course anything penned by Marguerite Henry was an automatic favorite (still the case today) but I’m pretty sure I worked my way through just about anything out there that had a horse on its cover. Some were better than others.

Faster forward 25+ years, and I’m still that same voracious reader. My bookshelves are still constantly overflowing beyond capacity, with a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction offerings. And apparently I still have a soft spot for young adult horse fiction, because when my friend Claire Eckard told me about the book series she was planning to write, centering around the story of a young girl and the horse she shares a special bond with, pursuing the sport of endurance riding, I couldn’t wait to read it.

While the print version of the book isn’t out until later in September, the e-book version of the first book was just released today. I pre-ordered my print copy a while ago, but I was too impatient to wait for it…so I downloaded the e-book this morning.

The print version (signed copy!) can be purchased directly from Claire’s website and a portions of the proceeds will be donated to the Western States Trail Museum.

If you’re like me and impatient, the Kindle version is available now, and a portion of the proceeds from the Kindle version will also be donated to the WST Museum.

From the website:

The gripping journey of a young girl and a foal who are raised together in The Valley of Hearts Delight. 

Gallant and Gracie have a special bond, rarely seen between a human and a horse. 

Separated by a bad accident when Gallant is five, each gets a second chance of happiness pursuing the long-distance sport of endurance riding, neither knowing they are leading parallel lives. 

Will Fate bring them together again? 

Gallant’s arch nemesis, The Almighty Flash, threatens to destroy all that Gallant has worked for. His misguided ambition and greed, developed at the hands of an abusive owner, has created a darkness in his soul that turns to blind fury when his endurance career is threatened. 

I was glued to my computer screen from page one, and didn’t get up from my desk until I had closed the figurative cover. Any horse-crazy girl, young or old, who has ever felt like they’ve had a particular bond with a special horse will appreciate this story. It tugged my heartstrings in all the best of ways. I don’t want to give away too much, but I really enjoyed how the horses themselves are their own characters, and some of the story is told from their perspective.

From an endurance rider perspective, I love how the spirit of endurance is captured. There’s a disclaimer in the beginning that some “artistic liberty” has been taken with some of the technicalities/specific rules of endurance…but this isn’t a “how to ride endurance” book. This is a book about the possibilities of endurance riding, how it makes one feel, the joy of sharing the trail with an equine partner, and the many life lessons that can be learned along the way.

I love how many cameos, tributes, and hat tips are included. The character of Gracie is inspired by Julie Suhr, and anyone who has read her autobiography (Ten Feet Tall Still) will recognize some familiar names along the way, and the character of Gallant is based on Julie’s beloved HCC Gazal, who still to this day holds the record for most number of Haggin Cup wins (three).

Additionally, and this one personally grabs all my heartstrings and yanks them along for the ride, the “bad guy” of the book is The Almighty Flash, based on none other than….yep…that Flash.

My favorite badass. The fact that the real life version is the most cuddly, goofy, snuggly, big-hearted caretaker under the mohawk’d war horse exterior makes reading about his evil alter ego rather entertaining.

The illustrations in the book, by Phylicia Mann, also remind me very much of the Wesley Dennis style of art that featured in so many of Marguerite Henry’s books, so anyone who grew up on the ‘Misty’ books will feel an immediate sense of familiarity and homecoming.

The intended audience might be of the young adult age bracket, but I truly think anyone who is horse crazy, and has experienced a bond or certain connection with a special horse, will find something to relate to in this book, and I would highly encourage folks to pick up a copy. This is the first in what will be a trilogy, and I cannot wait for the next two books to come out. Because apparently, it doesn’t matter how old I am, there’s a part of me that’s still that same girl who used to sit on the floor in the bookstore and dive right into the next book in my favorite horse series.

Goals

At the last Arizona Endurance Riders Club learning event, the topic of discussion was on goal-setting within endurance. One of the beautiful things about this sport is how varied and encompassing those goals can be. Whether it’s starting out and having a goal of getting to and finishing your first ride, or setting your sights on Top Tenning at Tevis and showing for the Haggin Cup, and everything in between those two points…endurance seems to be able to accommodate a wide range.

It’s no secret that I have always dreamed big when it comes to this sport. I set my sights high, am willing to take risks and chances, and don’t always wait for the stars to be in 100% alignment before trying something…but that also means I’ve frequently fallen short of hitting those goals. And at least as of yet, it still hasn’t stopped me from dreaming and setting more goals.

If nothing else, this sport will teach resilience, and make you dig deep to hold on to your inner grit and determination. It teaches you how to re-frame disappointment and perceived failure.

“Complications arose, ensued, were overcome.”

Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Yeah, I know. Not your typical intellectual philosopher source…but highly accurate. A lot of the “adapt and roll with it, sometimes in the most ridiculous manner possible” attitude (and maybe a shot of rum) will go a long way.

And like I mentioned above, I set my sights high. I’ve got some goals that are much more immediately reachable, and others that are more of a nebulous, “work towards it in the future” type. But having some sort of goal is the first step…don’t know how to get there if you don’t know where “there” is. Once you know what you want, then you can figure out what it’s going to take to get to that point.

So, to that end…what are my goals? I figure I may as well share, as a way to hold myself accountable, and maybe to demonstrate that it’s okay to dream big, because you never know what might happen.

  • The most immediate goal right now is to make sure I’ve got Liberty’s soundness sorted out. I pulled our entry to the Flagstaff Cinders ride at the end of May at the last second when she still wasn’t looking 100% the Thursday before the ride. A lameness workup revealed a bit of arthritis in her pasterns, but second opinions have also looked at them and had the reaction of, “What am I looking at?” She is also growing out some gnarly stress rings on her hooves, concurrent to the timing of her spring vaccines, and has some fairly deep central sulcus cracks in her frogs, suggesting that she might be brewing some deep-seated thrush…both of which equal “sore feet.” After going down multiple rabbit trails, I keep circling back to that, as well as the adage of “no hoof, no horse.” Guess there really is a reason that came about. The good news is, I am well-versed in knowing how to deal with hoof stuff. To that end, I’ve been doing thrush treatments, as well as backing off on my usual slightly over-zealous trimming and giving her a little more hoof right now for support while those stress rings grow out.
  • I’ll be using this summer to really get her fitness and conditioning dialed in, and if I’m feeling like she’s “all systems go,” then our next stop will be aiming for the Grand Canyon XP ride at the end of August/beginning of September.
  • Obviously, a lot of my specific goals will hinge on having a horse that is sound and functional and able to compete. But trying to stay positive and operating on the belief that will be the case, there are certain things I would really like to achieve with Liberty in the fairly near future.
    • Let’s start with getting that actual 50-mile completion. (Third time’s a charm?)
    • Reach 1000 AERC endurance miles
    • Multi-day finish
    • A 50-mile finish/buckle at Man Against Horse
    • A 100-mile finish. Any 100 to start with. (I specifically need a 100-mile finish to qualify for one of my other goals)
      • Tevis finish
      • Virginia City 100 finish
  • Finish all of the “big buckle” 100s… Tevis, Virginia City, Big Horn, Old Dominion, AERC Natl Championships
  • Work up to riding competitively (There. I said it. I have an end goal in this sport of not just finishing rides, but to have the right horse and the endurance know-how to be able to have Top Ten finishes be a comfortably attainable thing.)
    • Which leads to being able to stand for Best Condition regularly. (One of the greatest thrills in my [limited] endurance career was showing for Best Condition at Bumble Bee with Flash. Although we missed BC by a few [weight] points, he did have High Vet Score, which just felt so good.)
  • And because my stateside goals aren’t enough…I so badly want to go back to Australia. Our family trip down there (back in 2004) netted a fabulous several days of “beach and bush” riding on seasoned endurance horses. There was initially some talking of doing an actual ride, but the way the timing happened, that didn’t end up working out, but it was still an amazing experience and one of the most fantastic adventures I’ve ever had. So I would love to do an actual Aussie endurance ride. More specifically, I really want to ride in the Tom Quilty (their Tevis equivalent). (This is the reason I need a 100-mile finish, because you have to have finished a 160k/100-miler as a qualifier before you can enter.)
    • I am also fascinated by their Shazada ride, which is a 5-day “marathon” ride of 80km (50 miles)/day — unlike our multi-days, where each day is a standalone ride, this ride is cumulative…you have to finish every day in order to complete, and if at any point along the way you get pulled, you’re done for the remainder. (I don’t know if I’m tough enough to pull this one off. To date, I’ve preferred 75s/100s to back-to-back 50s. But I’m intrigued enough to want to try, and in that regard, not afraid of a challenge.)

Honestly? I know some of this stuff is a reach right now. But as far I as know, no one has chiseled into stone, “You can’t be successful in endurance.” Some people reading this may be raising this eyebrows — myself included. I am probably my biggest doubter and limiter, because after a while, the failures start to take a toll. They breed little doubt-demons in the corners of your mind that pop up at inopportune moments, and make you question your knowledge and competence, and make you start feeling very down about the whole thing.

To counter that, thought, I’ve often joked that my spirit animal is the Whack-A-Mole. Because despite the failures and setbacks, the doubts, the school of hard knocks…I just keep coming back for more. The shelf that I put my audacious dreams on is a low one, always within easy reach and never far out of sight.

Completion Awards for last year’s Virtual Tevis

Last year’s Virtual Tevis was the first “event” Liberty and I did together as a “re-started” team. It was a good way to get those early conditioning miles on her, and motivation to get out and ride when I didn’t have any immediate ride plans on the horizon. My completion awards for it arrived last week…hot on the heels on me starting to make some whispered murmurs and contemplation about if Liberty just might be a Tevis horse.

I know. At this point…crazy. It’s been an inauspicious start this spring — this is the “on the job learning” that sometimes accompanies endurance, and sorting out the management needs of a new horse. But I also know the more I’m putting into her, the more I’m seeing a side and depth to her that I had no idea existed. She’s already shown me she had a lot of heart. But as her fitness levels are increasing, she’s also showing me she has a lot of go and enthusiasm.

As I wrote on Facebook last weekend, “she’s the kind of horse who makes the training and conditioning fun.” I know what it’s like to have the ones who don’t like conditioning rides. Or they’re a lot of fun at competitions, but in-between, conditioning rides can be anything but. That’s not the case with her. I have the same horse at home as I do at rides. (Well, she’s quite a bit more on the muscle for the first 5-10 miles at rides, but aside from that…) She doesn’t protest when the trail turns away from the trailer, or when I suggest that we add a few more miles and take a more circuitous route back. She tackles the trail with cheer and enthusiasm whether we are headed out or headed back to the trailer. She’s at the point now where I can tell she genuinely seems to enjoy being out there and really likes her job.

Additionally, she is taking the summer heat totally in stride. She adores single-track trail — there’s nothing like it to get her focused, and she is so athletic and agile, she goes zipping right through twists and turns and switchbacks. Mentally, nothing seems to faze her. Bikes, other trail traffic…she seems to love it. She busier the trail, the happier she is. She loves an audience, but she also doesn’t seem to mind being the only horse out in the desert all by ourselves. She’s got the EDPP part of endurance down to a science and has right from the get-go (this is the horse who started drinking 3 miles into the first ride I did with her). She is safe, has great trail sense (slows down and thinks versus barging through technical stuff), and doesn’t do anything stupid. I feel so safe and comfortable and confident on her.

In short, all those boxes they say a good Tevis horse should check? She checks. We just have to make sure we’ve got the physical end of things sorted out, and provided we do…I’ve got Tevis 2022 in my sights. Maybe it’s a bit audacious at this point, but I’ve got to have goals that keep me moving forward, and crawling out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to beat the worst of the heat in the summer. And mentally, I feel like I’m making this goal from a good place in the sense that it’s not an end-all, be-all, only-thing-that-matters sort of goal. It’s a really fun, ambitious goal to aim for…but I’m really excited about the journey along the way, the challenge to see if we can get to that point or not, and to enjoy the process. It’s not like she’s a green 5 year old who is not “life-hardened” at all…she’ll be 15 this upcoming weekend, and I recognize I have a more limited time frame in which to work with her than I would a youngster. Physically, she has maturity on her side, and has done some sort of work (albeit low-level) for most of her life.

So, we’ll see. It’s ambitious and audacious and eyebrow-raise worthy at this point, but if nothing else, putting these thoughts out there at least makes me hold myself accountable along the way.

Updated Tevis Links for 2021

The last time I complied a bunch of Tevis links and information, it was well-received, so here it is again, with some new/updated additions.

My Personal Tevis Write-ups (Riding and Crewing):

Main Tevis Website (for ride information, entry forms, rider list, and more)

Tevis webcast (will be updated/live on ride day)

Facebook Page

Endurance.net coverage on the Events section

A collection of ride stories

Videos:

YouTube playlist of misc Tevis-related media

The Tevis Cup YouTube channel and secondary channel, which also has some good playlists

HRTV’s “Inside Information” feature on Tevis

A Japanese documentary filmed in 2019 (Much of the narration is in Japanese, but the interviews are in English, and the cinematography is stunning and it’s very professionally done. It is about an hour and half long, so allow time for that but it’s well worth it.)

Tevis Fever

It never goes away. It might ebb and wane for a time, but it’s always there, waiting.

51 days and counting until this year’s Tevis. This week, I’ve been working on finalizing details and travel arrangements for heading out there to crew again. Within a couple of months following the 2019 ride, Cathy put crew dibs on me for the following year…which, of course, got cancelled. So those crew dibs rolled forward into this year.

Earlier in the year, I was “meh” about it. Not sure I wanted to travel, unsure of how many restrictions would still be in place and have to be dealt with, how many hoops jumped through…just not sure it was worth it. But as plans have started to come together, and as life starts to once again slowly start resembling something a little closer to “normal”, without “new” attached to the front of it…I can feel myself getting excited again.

I can’t think of any other ride with which I am so emotionally involved. Interestingly enough, I think there are some rides I actually like better because they’re not quite as stressful, or require the kind of coordination levels that could put a wedding planner to shame. But Tevis has an undeniable magic about it. I’ve loved this ride for forever…reading about it was what even made me aware of a sport called “endurance” in the first place. Never mind that at the time, I was scared to venture outside the safety of the enclosed arena, and my trainer literally had to snap a leadrope on Mimi and pony us down the street to get me to leave the property. (Yes, true story. If riding students had an equivalent of the high school class “Least/Most Likely To…”, I definitely would have been voted “Least Likely Candidate in the History of Ever to Become an Endurance Rider.” I still live just a short distance away from my old trainer and we still stay in touch, and I’m pretty sure she probably just shakes her head when she follows my current shenanigans and antics.)

So the fact that the idea of a ride like the Tevis could subconsciously get its tentacles in me at a time like that…that’s Tevis magic. Ever since I started distance riding, that’s been my main goal. “Get to Tevis.” I was thrilled when I hit my 300 miles in endurance because that meant I was Tevis qualified. I crewed Tevis before I ever did an endurance ride — in fact, it was the first endurance ride I ever attended. (50th Anniversary, no less. Talk about a high bar.) I’ve had numerous opportunities to see and ride sections of the trail during times I’ve been out to crew. I was able to do the Tevis Educational Ride in 2017, and then in 2018, I actually won the Tevis entry at the AERC Convention raffle.

Of course, that bid for the buckle in 2018 was a long shot right from the get-go. Lucy generously offered me her Roo, after earlier searches for “a spare Tevis horse on a budget” (because I did not have the $ to lease one) didn’t really pan out anything. It was full disclosure right from the start — that Roo, although he knew the trails really well and had been over them countless times in training rides over the years and had even started Tevis twice, was not a 100-miler. He’s the best 50-miler worker bee around (I’d even taken him to the Tahoe Rim Ride in 2016), but with a record of 1/4 finishes in 100’s and 0/2 at Tevis, realistically, the chances of finishing were astronomically slim. But as Lucy said, “He would at least get me to Robinson Flat” and I would at least get to start the ride, and see the pretty high country.

And I got some “shot of a lifetime” Cougar Rock photos. (Ride pretty horses. Even if you don’t get a buckle, you still get gorgeous pics.)

Well, she was right about that — we did get to Robinson Flat. And then the day went pear-shaped for both me and the pony at that point and we both “rider option — metabolic”‘d our way out. Him, some preventative IV fluids at Robinson Flat and again back at Foresthill put him back to rights…and me? Pretty sure my crew-member-nurse-and-bestie was probably ready to hook me up to an IV bag as well, but settled for stuffing me under the air conditioning in a friend’s LQ with some crackers and ginger ale.

To this day, I still don’t know what went so wrong with both of us. Roo was “punky” — not full colicky, but uncomfortable, and kept stretching out like he wanted to pee, but wouldn’t. The only thing I can think is that there was a bear in camp the previous night that got a lot of the horses really stirred up, and it didn’t look like he ended up drinking much overnight, so may have started the ride already behind on hydration and never drank enough along the way to catch up.

As for me…let’s just say hanging over one of the large logs in the pristine meadow of Robinson Flat heroically puking my guts out and making the meadow slightly less pristine was never part of my mental image of how Tevis would go for me. I normally have a cast-iron stomach, and don’t even remember the last time I threw up prior to then. I don’t think it was the heat…although it got stupid-hot that year, this was still early enough in the day and at high enough elevation that I don’t remember ever feeling particularly warm. I had been doing a good job of hydrating, although probably could have eaten a little better. Just existing on a daily basis in Arizona in the summer is really good heat training, and Tevis usually feels pleasant in comparison when I’m out there.

So either I ate something that didn’t agree with me, or a couple of other outside factors combined…one, the air quality. Air currents had pushed the smoke from some CA wildfires into the Sierras, and we ended up riding through some major smoke layers. And two, I had really, really bad cramps. (Sorry, TMI, but file that away under “the realities of endurance riding.”) Combined with the design of the waistband of my tights created a lot of concentrated pressure, which definitely wasn’t helping.

Needless to say, that was about the most inglorious way I could have imagined my first attempt at Tevis going down, and after the fact, it sort of took some of the shine off. What was good about it was it took the ride off the pedestal I had placed it on. It really did take it down to the level of being able to look at it as “it’s another ride,” and took away a lot of the pressure and stress and laser-focus tunnel-vision I had in regards to it. Even though I knew realistically we weren’t in an ideal “set yourself up for success” scenario to start with, I hadn’t expected to fall quite that flat.

I did have some amazing parts of the day, though. Roo gave me everything and never faltered. He navigated through the technical Granite Chief wilderness, forged through dust clouds that were higher than my head, was an angel at the start, let us ride our own ride the whole way through, and was a stellar, brave boy the entire time.

I returned in 2019, once again donning my crewing hat, and successfully crewed my friend Cathy through. I enjoyed myself, but kept it to a short, Friday morning-Sunday afternoon whirlwind trip, not partaking in what had become almost my ritual tradition of “week-long Tevis vacation.”

And then in 2020, Tevis got cancelled. And I was relieved. Maybe I was ready for the break. After all, I had been steadily attending the ride from 2012-2019, and several other intermittent years prior to that. This way, I wouldn’t have to come up with an excuse for why I didn’t want to be there…but also wouldn’t have to contend with my inner FOMO.

Now, with less than two months to go until this year’s Tevis, I’m starting to feel that level of excitement towards this ride again. I feel like I can enthusiastically and whole-heartedly participate in Tevis-centric conversations with friends. Maybe that break was good. Maybe it’s the thought, in the back of my mind, the one that never goes away entirely, that I might be able to put myself on that Tevis path again, that I just might have a Tevis-capable horse. At this point…who knows.

Tevis 2022 is 408 days away. Just saying.