Ride Story: Tevis Educational Ride 2017

One step closer to my Tevis buckle dreams.

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The Tevis Educational Ride has been on my radar for a number of years, for obvious reasons. 1) It’s Tevis-related. 2) Chance to see the trail ahead of time. 3) Chance to be mentored by experienced Tevis finishers and learn appropriate pacing and other ride strategies.

The Ed Ride is held every other year (alternating with the “Fun Ride” which doesn’t cover as much of the trail, and isn’t quite as involved with mentoring/education), and includes two days of riding over basically 2/3 of the trail in a small group (2-3 people/mentor), as well as extra clinics and seminars that are particularly relevant to Tevis. To give an idea of the experience and educational value earned, despite the fact you cover 64 miles over the two days, completing the Ed Ride counts as 150 qualifying miles, for those trying to make their 300 qualifying miles to ride Tevis.

However, it’s a big time and $ commitment, especially if you don’t live in the area, so for those reasons (as well as timing, horse suitability, etc.), I’d never managed to make it to the Ed Ride. Fortunately, over the last few years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to do various and sundry pre-rides on the Tevis trail, usually coinciding with my mostly-annual crewing trips to Tevis.

This year, I was offered a chance to do the Ed Ride. A friend was going up to be an Ed Ride mentor, and had an extra horse she wanted to also have see the trail. I didn’t even have to think about that one at all — count me in for sure!

Fast forward to the Wednesday before the Ed Ride. I flew up to Las Vegas, NV early in the morning, Cathy picked me up from the airport, and we headed back to her place to finish packing and prep work. I met my ride for the weekend, an 8-year-old Al-Marah-bred gelding named Dean. This is his first season of endurance (after flunking out of both reining and dressage training) and he’s done 7 50’s to date, so went into the weekend with a good fitness base and some good seasoning and exposure to the sport (he’s done several XP rides, so technical trail was nothing new to him).

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AM Magestic Dean (AlMarah Mr Dream x Al-Marah HRH Domaine)

We got tack sorted and cleaned, stirrup lengths adjusted, and then glued hind boots on, a process that actually happened with minimal swearing or teeth gnashing.

While both horses have good hooves and tend to wear boots well, both of us opted for the extra insurance of using Renegade Pro-Comp Glue-Ons for the hind boots for the weekend. The canyons on the Tevis trail are a notoriously difficult place to keep boots on, thanks to a combination of climbing, some technical spots, some water crossings, and the amount of sweat that ends up coming off the horses.

Between Cathy, Cathy’s husband, and myself, we got both horses glued in less than an hour, taking into account boot sizing, gathering of materials, and then the actual gluing itself. Not too bad. The process for gluing Renegades isn’t necessarily difficult, per se…it’s just precise, and if the proper steps aren’t followed or followed sufficiently, then the glue job won’t be successful. And spoiler alert: they all stayed on through the whole weekend.

Thursday morning the horses got a quick bath, then we loaded up and were down the road. Because it’s a good 10+ hours between Vegas and Foresthill with a trailer, we had opted to split the drive into two days and overnight in Fallon, NV on the way up.

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driving by Walker Lake

It was a 6-1/2-hour drive on the way up, including one gas stop. Around Hawthorne and up past Walker Lake, we ran into some unexpected clouds/rain, which was a welcome relief and dropped the temperatures down into the 80s.

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settled in at the Churchill County Regional Park/Fallon fairgrounds

They got a chance to do a quick leg stretch in the arena (although were more interested in rolling in the dirt) before we settled them in a pen for the night. For us humans, luxury came in the form of power hookups and water at the campsites…hello, air conditioning and shower! I could very easily get used to this.

Friday morning, we loaded up and were back on the road bright and early after one last leg-stretching session in the arena. While they hadn’t done much the previous evening, they put on quite show in the morning — running, leaping, twirling, the full Arabian routine.

It was about a 4-hour haul through Reno, over Donner Pass, into Auburn, and onto Foresthill (including a fuel stop and stop at the CA/NV border ag station).

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stopped at the ag station. still snow on the mountains!

We pulled into camp at the Foresthill Mill Site (same location as the Foresthill vet check at Tevis) shortly before noon, and there were already at least a dozen rigs there.

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settled in at camp

Once they were settled on their respective Hi-Ties, we went over to check in for the weekend (Cathy as a mentor and myself as a rider), and go lighten our wallets at the Tevis Store. (My most-abused phrase of the weekend any time I would spend $ was “But it’s for a good cause!” as it all benefits the WSTF and the Tevis trail.)

I impulse-bought a couple of Kerrits IceFil items, as I was rapidly cooking in the hot sun and decided that the long-sleeve IceFil shirts were probably my best bet for weekend attire…and since I only had one long-sleeve shirt to bring with me, well, impulse shopping took care of that little problem.

Vetting in started at 3, and I believe we were over there shortly after it started. Fortunately there were patches of shade we were able to stand in while we waited in line.

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We’ll take it. Given he had eaten all night previously, and in the trailer, and all afternoon at camp, I wasn’t too concerned about the couple of B’s on gut sounds.

He even trotted out nicely for me…which he does when he feel like it. However, once the ride starts, his general attitude towards trot-outs is “Can’t Be Bothered.” Can’t complain about his other ground manners, though — stands politely, doesn’t fuss or trod on people, and an angel for vet handling.

Late afternoon the riders all gathered for a meet-n-greet with their chosen mentors. For the first day “long ride” option, there is a entry cap of 20 mentors and 60 riders, keeping the groups a nice, manageable size of 3 riders per mentor. It’s a pretty casual, relaxed affair — the mentors list their names, and the speed they intend to pace at (“fast”, “medium”, or “slow”), and riders can then sign up with their preferred mentor. Obviously since I was traveling with Cathy and riding one of her horses, I was signed up with her. :)

In-between the meet-n-greet and one of the educational seminars, I was called upon for some emergency boot-gluing services for one of the ladies who would be riding with our group. The gaiters of the boots she had been using the previous day had rubbed on her horse, making him sore enough to be off, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to ride the next day or not. Cathy had extra Renegade glue-ons packed with her, so we offered to glue them on and see if it made a difference.

20 minutes later, front boots were glued, the horse was standing happily, and after a couple hours of letting the glue fully set up, he trotted sound. I made no promises as to how it would hold up, given the fact that, despite helping with doing glue-ons for a number of years now, I had yet to actually tackle an entire glue job on my own.

I guess that’s on-the-job training?

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Spoiler Alert 2: They also stayed on ;)

The evening lecture was from Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, and she gave a really good lecture on feeding and electrolyting, specifically with 100-milers in mind, and some Tevis-specific relevant tips. She is always so generous with her knowledge on some of the Facebook groups, and really knows her stuff in regards to nutrition and performance. She’s also a highly entertaining speaker (bonus points for working in the phrase “take it worth a grain of salt” when discussing electrolytes), and knows how to distill down information into easily-digestible tidbits for us laypeople.

A local taco truck came in and set up shop on-site for Friday meals, and three tacos later, I was quite satisfied during the ride meeting. The ride meeting was pretty straight-forward, covering logistics: we would meet down at the Mill Site entrance at our designated times, load up into shuttle trailers, and be taken up to the start at Mumford Bar trailhead, where we would be dropped off and then ride the 25 miles back to Foresthill along the trail.

A note regarding the Ed Ride trail this year: Due to the absurdly high snowpack levels in the Sierras, the Ed Ride followed a slightly different route. The first canyon (with the “Swinging Bridge” at the bottom) had suffered some trail damage from a mud/rock slide, and while it had been open for the Western States Run last month, it wasn’t safe for horses, and while repairs will be complete by the time Tevis rolls around, an alternate start was designed for the Ed Ride.

Instead of going up to Robinson Flat, we were dropped off at Mumford Bar trailhead, about half an hour drive from Robinson Flat, and rode down Deadwood Road to the Deadwood vet check, bypassing the first canyon entirely. (At this point, I am convinced that I will not actually see the first canyon until I actually ride Tevis.) 

From Deadwood, we picked up the actual trail and took it the rest of the way in to Foresthill. Obviously, this shortened the mileage from the standard 32-mile day to about 25 miles, so for the small handful of people who needed the full mileage of the Ed Ride for their Tevis qualifying miles, they also had an out-and-back segment added on to their route to make up the miles and the descent/climb.

Day Two also experienced some trail alternations. The American River is flowing at a rate that is almost 5x what is ideal/safe for horses to cross — the winter rain/snow and subsequent snowmelt has the river flowing uncontrolled over the Oxbow Reservoir spillway. Because the river is normally dam-controlled and under regulated release, the high point of the water releases normally don’t hit that far downstream at the river crossing point until late afternoon, making it safe to cross in the earlier parts of the day. The dam-controlled aspect is also what allows the river to be held back for the duration of the Tevis ride day, making is safe to cross even in the late night/wee hours of the morning.

Normally the Ed Ride would get to the river and cross it early enough in the day to then continue on in to Auburn. This year, however, we were re-routed after Francisco’s to continue up Driver’s Flat Road (the road that is used to access the Francisco’s vet check) and finish at the Lower Driver’s Flat parking area for an approximately 20-mile day, and then be shuttled back to Foresthill from there.

Friday night was a bit restless, as it usually is for me, interrupted by Dean busting loose from his Hi-Tie at one point. Fortunately he didn’t go anywhere, but that involved having to r-attach his rope to the Hi-Tie.

So when my alarm went off, I was happy to get up and get on with things. Because saddles had already been packed the previous evening, all I had to do was pull on riding clothes, drink my coffee and eat some breakfast, then go tack up.

Cathy’s horses are used to being trailered with their tack on, so that was one less thing to mess with — just walked them down to the meeting area and they hopped right into the trailer, and we were on our way.

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our group: Gayle/Bo, me/Dean, Cathy/Tempest, Liz/Boon

From our drop-off point at Mumford Bar, we mounted up and headed down Foresthill Rd for a little less than a mile to the turnoff on Deadwood Rd. Fortunately it was early enough on a Saturday morning that traffic wasn’t an issue.

In my typical catch-rider fashion, I climbed on Dean for the first time there at the trailhead. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him…he had done a number of rides already this year, and only a tiny handful of minor indiscretions since Cathy had him…but old habits die hard (for me) and I still have a hard time relaxing and just jumping on board without wondering if the explosion will follow shortly thereafter.

He was just fine, and handled all of the commotion at the trailhead and heading out onto the street without fuss. He did start trying to jig and get really bunched up about 1/4-mile in when Tempest started outwalking him, so rather than get into an argument or have to get too in his mouth, I just jumped off and started hand-walking him down the road until we reached the Deadwood Rd turnoff. Once I climbed back on, we started trotting, and we found a better rhythm from there.

It was about 7 miles down Deadwood Rd to water, and we alternated walking and trotting, switching off and rotating through who was leading. We got passed by several groups — riding a faster pace than we were, but got a later start for shuttling or getting on the trail. No biggie — it was a great place to pass, since it was a dirt road. However, once we had been passed, Dean suggested to me a couple of times that “Wouldn’t you like to catch those horses ahead?” Nope, dude, we’re hanging back and taking it easy today.

We connected up with the actual Tevis trail about 7 miles in, at what would normally be the top of the climb out of the first canyon — the Devil’s Thumb water stop. They had troughs out, so the horses were able to tank up really well, and then we moseyed in the mile +/- into the Deadwood vet check.

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Devil’s Thumb area. The break in the fence on Cathy’s left is where the normal trail comes in.

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single-track trail into Deadwood (sorry, horrible mixed light meant most of my photos aren’t the greatest)

There was quite a back-up for the vet line at Deadwood, so we had some time to let them drink and eat. There was a volunteer there doing courtesy pulses — since I had no idea what to expect, I had her check Dean and she said he was at 68 just coming in.

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waiting in line at Deadwood

Once he got a drink, we did the actual P&R…unfortunately, the pulse taker was just putting ’60’ on the cards if they were at or below criteria, so I don’t know what Dean actually came in at since all pulse taker said was “he’s way down, so as long as they’re down, I’m just putting 60 on the card.” :/ Would have liked the accuracy for information’s sake, but what can you do? <shrug>

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when you’re waiting, you take pictures. this guy just makes me grin.

I took advantage of the downtime to fill my bottles and water pack, and grab some snacks and stuff my face. Practicing efficiency was one of my goals for the weekend, so I felt good about using my time in line well.

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clean-up crew at Deadwood

Dean vetted well, and after everyone in our group was ready to go, we scuttled off down the trail towards El Dorado Canyon.

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in line at Deadwood

There are a couple of exposed areas going down the canyon that make me squeak a bit. Funny enough, I’m actually better about those spots when I can trot through them, but on this day, we ended up walking some of those areas, so I jumped off and lead for a little bit. Dean and I were at the back of our group, so it was more efficient for me to power hike or do some jogging than to be doing the speed up/slow down thing in the saddle.

This trail can really mess with your head in parts. At one point, I swore I was seeing what looked like a little trickle of water/mud across the trail — which there was — that then opened up into a puddle of water that was reflecting the trees and greenery. Ummm, not so much on the puddle part. It was actually open air and really tall trees. That was kind of an “eep” moment for me, and I doubled down on keeping a really strong leg on Dean, reminding him that there was a drop-off there.

It was hot, hot, hot down at the bottom of the canyon, so we only lingered for a brief moment before continuing onward, bemoaning the fact that El Dorado Creek was so difficult to access. However, they had the route detoured to the little creek that is just off the trail a little ways, and we were able to let the horses drink and give them a good sponging.

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climbing up the Michigan Bluff side of El Dorado Canyon

The climb up to Michigan Bluff is long, and hot, and the horses all start thinking you’re a little bit crazy. Fortunately there’s actually a good amount of shade along the way, but being in a canyon, there’s not much air movement, so it gets pretty warm when you’re walking up the climb.

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manzanita tunnel at the top of the canyon

Once you hit the manzanita tunnel, that’s a sign that you’re near the top of the canyon and almost to Michigan Bluff.

On ride day, Michigan Bluff is a water stop only, but for the Ed Ride, they did have a vet check there. All of the horses drank well as we sponged them down, and Dean was at pulse criteria within a couple minutes of coming in and drinking.

There was a line for the vet here as well, so we found some shade and hay and again let them eat.

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Yeah, happy with that.

Rather than get bogged down in another line at the Pieper Junction/Chicken Hawk check, we elected to hang out a few extra minutes and let them eat at MB before moseying out and making our way the couple miles to the next check.

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“Frat Boy” at MB — eating, drinking, chillin’ in the shade

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riding out of Michigan Bluff. An iconic Tevis moment when doing the ride…being there at the Ed Ride was enough to give me chills

The road between MB and PJ/CH is pretty trottable, although I had forgotten that there’s a little climb slipped in there (~400′ in less than a mile, but it’s right before the check, and all the little climbs add up).

Our strategy initially paid off when we reached the check, as there were way fewer people in line ahead of us…unfortunately, while we were pulsed down and standing in line at one of the troughs, a group behind us slipped in to an open trough ahead of us…and then decided that was “their” place in the vet line. Lesson learned: if you’re in the back of the line and people come in behind you, make sure they know you’re the back of the line. Or don’t leave a gap in-between troughs that people can slip into.

If it had been an actual ride, chasing the clock, I would have been more upset, but we weren’t being timed, and we were already out there…what difference was an extra ten minutes going to make, under the circumstances?

Dean was a little lackadaisical in his trot-out, earning him B’s on gait/impulsion/attitude, and for me to quip, “B for ‘Can’t Be Bothered.'”

One out of the check, we collectively as a group decided that we’d like to try a slightly faster pace whenever appropriate for this last canyon, as it was getting pretty warm and we were all about ready to be done for the day.

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down into Volcano Canyon

Volcano Canyon is the “baby” of the three canyons, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in being much rougher and rumblier footing. I last rode this canyon in 2014, and was able to jog-trot a good part of it…this year, we were reduced to a slithering walk on a lot of it.

The Volcano Creek crossing itself was a bit exciting. It’s always pretty rocky and slippery, and this year, Volcano Creek was a lot higher and faster-flowing than normal. Dean and I were in the lead at this point, and when he got to the edge, he decided, “Nope, not happening.” I jumped off as he contemplating back up the uphill single-track with a few drop-off areas, knowing I was probably going to have to get wet in order to get him across. I glanced at a couple of rocks, briefly contemplated rock hopping, concluded my odds of slipping on the rocks and ending up all the way in the creek were probably greater than not, and resigned myself to trudging across.

Yes, ultrarunner is a wimp who doesn’t like getting her feet wet.

Sure enough, the rocks were slippery, and Dean had a few slip-n-slide moments down in the creek, with a quick scramble at the end to get the heck outta there.

The water was cold, but felt really good, and I ended up about mid-calf deep after we cleared the main part of the stream and moved off to the other side to allow more of our group to fit in. This was another great chance to sponge the horses down, and since I was already partially wet, I squeezed several spongefuls of water over my own head/neck.

The last bit of climb out of Volcano Canyon goes by a lot quicker, and then we were at Bath Road. Now that is the part that takes way longer than expected. It’s the road that just keeps going.

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heading up Bath Rd, almost back to Foresthill

Dean was still perfectly happy to keep offering to trot, especially when some of the larger horses would out-walk him, and a few times, I obliged…a few other times, I insisted he needed to work on his “walk out” skills.

And then we were back at Foresthill and the familiar entrance to the Mill Site…a path I’ve traveled a number of times now with crewing. We got the horses pulsed down and while Dean initially was presenting to the pulse person at 64, as soon as dummy here realized I forgot to loosen his girth, his pulse immediately dropped to 56. (How long have I been doing my vet check routine of dismount and immediately loosen girth?)

We dumped off their tack at the trailer, then immediately went over to vet. Dean gave me the most unimpressive trot-out ever (seriously, can’t be bothered), although I guess he still looked perky enough for A’s on his movement scores, and the vet had some useful tips for teaching smart trot-outs.

We discovered he did have a slightly sore girth rub (coincided with the nylon edge of the billet keeper strap), as well as some scrapes and dings on a hind leg from slipping in Volcano Creek, although those were all surface.

Once we were vetted out for the day, it was back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat, and our riding group hung out in the shade and re-hydrated ourselves until it was time for the BBQ dinner.

They served some delicious grilled chicken and tri-tip, plus salad, watermelon, and garlic sourdough bread. I know I’m pretty easy to feed, especially after a day of riding, but this really hit the spot, and we wrapped up the evening with a Q&A panel of half a dozen experienced Tevis riders answering open forum questions posed to them.

Some interesting tidbits were picked up, but my biggest takeaway from the panel is “you need to figure out what works best for you and your individual horse.” If you get the same/similar enough answer on a subject from half a dozen very experienced people, then it’s likely that is a reliable tidbit to file away as “critical information” for later.

But things like shoes/splint boots/electrolytes are all such personal topics that depend very much on the individual horse and rider, and you can try to emulate a person and everything they do as much as you want, but that isn’t going to guarantee you the same level of success if that particular protocol isn’t appropriate for your horse or you as a rider.

Anyway…after the panel wrapped up, Cathy and I made a quick decision after looking at saddles, Dean’s girth rub, and girth options…since we had each saddle set up for ourselves with our individual packs, etc., and since the saddle Cathy was riding was rigged just slightly different than the one I was riding, rather than switch everything between the saddles, we would keep our saddles and just switch horses. Unconventional, I guess, but it worked.

So Sunday morning saw me crawling out of bed and repeating the same morning routine of riding clothes/coffee/breakfast. I had already filled my water pack and set saddle snacks out, so I just had to stuff bottles and snacks into the pommel pack, put front boots on, tack up, and we were ready to go.

Sunday’s route was a point-to-point of California Loop up Driver’s Flat Rd, at which point we would be shuttled back to Foresthill. I did this exact same route last summer with Lucy and Kaity, and while I had a few “squeaky” moments, overall I was surprised by how “not scary” I found Cal Loop to be. (I’m sure it’ll feel different in the dark, but with my overactive imagination, it’s far better for me to go into a scenario knowing “yep, have already done this trail, we can handle it” than to be wondering just what the heck we’re traversing over.)

I also had the advantage today of being on the experienced horse — Tempest finished Tevis last year, so she knew where we were at as well. From the get-go she felt good, snorting softly as we trotted by the cemetery (another “I see dead people” horse), and striding out through town. Even if she did have to stare suspiciously at the liens in the road and any stop sign/crossing writing on the road.

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“Slow? I don’t wanna go slow.” Theme of the day.

Dean and Cathy initially lead out once we passed through town and hit the trail, but Tempest was in fire-breathing dragon mode (which I’m familiar with thanks to Mimi) and was having way too much fun breathing down the more slow-moving Dean’s back, so I shuffled her to the front at the first appropriate moment and we led the way down Cal Loop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect the second time through — now that I had seen and knew what parts I considered kind of “scary,” would I be looking for them? Would it seem worse? There’s one exposed section with very little “catch vegetation” before Cal 1 that I hadn’t cared for, but for whatever reason, it didn’t even register in my brain this time. We reached Cal 1, and I had a moment of going “wait, we’re at Cal 1 already?”

Now, we did have a “moment” at one of the Dardanelles Creek crossings on the way to Cal 1. There was a very large step-down into a very rocky crossing — hard to find good footing, and the water depth was hard to see. I once again hopped off, this time making it across without getting soaked, but when Tempest went to cross, she slipped and did a very impressive flail/scramble to get through. If it gives you an idea of the degree of scramble, one of her fetlock interference boots ended up inside out and up near her hock.

Lesson learned: try to stay on the horse if at all possible on water crossings. I just wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get her to cross it without a major fight or a ridiculous cross-country leap over it. Hindsight, even the leap probably would have been better.

So much of Cal Loop is so trottable. The footing is good, for the most part, and the grades are gentle enough to allow for some good stretches of continuous trotting. Which Tempest was more than happy to oblige.

Just after Cal 1, we switched it up and put Dean in the front again. Fire-breathing dragon mode activated on Tempest again, and I got some good practice in riding off my core, and using seat and legs to keep her an appropriate distance back versus hanging in her mouth the whole time. We reached a fair-to-middling compromise on the issue.

The section between Cal 1 and Cal 2 was a little longer than I remembered, although fortunately there were some natural springs/creeks flowing for the horses to drink. But we did reach Cal 2, and set off down those switchbacks. I swear, this whole trail flows like a time warp, because the Cal 2 switchbacks were a lot shorter than I remembered.

The Ford’s Bar section — where you climb up, and then climb right back down — was just as nonsensical as I remembered. This area was a part of last year’s Trailhead Fire that burned just a few weeks before Tevis, but some of the greenery is already starting to come back.

The next section, between Ford’s Bar and Sandy Bottom, also had some “exposure” sections I hadn’t been real fond of previously, but I actually felt comfortable enough to trot through a good part of it this time. Tempest is really sure-footed and smooth, so it’s easy to feel really comfortable on her. She tended to “look” at things, especially rocks/logs, but all she would do was tip her head and start a little bit, and I never felt worried about her slipping or stepping off the trail.

Down at Sandy Bottom, we were fortunate enough to find an access point down to the river, so we took several minutes to go down and let the horses drink, and stand in the  water and cool off. After the previous day’s water-crossing episode, I was pretty immune to the whole “I don’t wanna get wet” thing, so tromped right into the river myself, getting knee deep, and using the horse sponge to thoroughly drench my head/neck.

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Cathy with Dean in the foreground; me and my obnoxiously fluorescent sponge (and a sulking Tempest) in the back

Tempest didn’t find the river nearly as amusing as the rest of us. She drank well, but had to be begrudgingly dragged fetlock-deep into the water so I could more easily sponge her. (Also not an amusing trick, per her.)

That was the most refreshing 5-minute break ever, and totally worth the time spent.

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down at Sandy Bottom

From there, it was a couple more miles along the river road to Francisco’s. Normally a check on the ride (an initially supposed to be a check for the Ed Ride), this time the road down to the check was too rutted out to be able to safely get vehicles/volunteers down to that point. They were able to get several troughs, hay, and some people snacks and waters, down to a spot just before Francisco’s, so we had a chance to get more water and let the horses eat for a few minutes before heading up to and through the Francisco’s meadow and up Driver’s Flat Rd.

We passed by the turnoff the trail takes to Poverty Bar — Tempest glanced that way, and then kept peering off to the side as we climbed the road, as if to say “Umm, don’t we go that way?” Nope, not this time. Climb, climb, climb we go, up ~1800′ in ~2 miles. Tempest was a climbing machine — any time I’d offer to let her stop in the shade, she’d brush off the offer and just keep marching.

The Lower Driver’s Flat parking lot was a welcome sight — hay and water for horses, food and cold water for people, and lots of shade to hang out and take a breather for a bit. They made this our finishing point, so when we vetted out, we were done for the day.

I forgot to get a pic of the vet card, but I do remember Tempest vetted out very well (she does a gorgeous in-hand trot-out), and had pulsed down to 52 by the time she was finished drinking.

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hanging out at Driver’s Flat

We hung out around the troughs and in the shade for probably about 10 minutes after we were done, letting the horses eat and drink. At one point, I was sitting on the edge of the trough, and Tempest decided she was so thirsty, she was getting to that trough no matter what…pretty sure she was intent on pushing me in if I hadn’t slid out of the way fast enough. (That would be the side of her that qualifies for “mare ‘tude.”)

Then we moseyed up to the Upper Driver’s Flat parking lot where we were able to shuttle back to Foresthill with a couple of other riders. Got the ponies untacked and cleaned up, and while Cathy worked on packing up the trailer, I worked on removing hind boots.

There are a couple of ways you can go about removing glue-on boots. You can use a flat-head screwdriver and chisel between the hoof wall and boot wall and break the glue bond. You can chop the boot wall off in pieces with hoof nippers. Or you can cut the sole of the boot away and then peel the boot wall off the hoof wall. I opted for the third option.

You do want a horse that stands quietly, as you’re going to be working with a knife. If they don’t stand well, or have a tendency to fidget, maybe use one of the other options. Even with a quiet horse, be careful. It’s still an exposed knife blade. I use a straight edge box cutter, something I can adjust so that only a small amount of the blade is sticking out, just enough to penetrate the thickness of the boot wall. Cut around the outside of the boot, at the point where the boot wall joins the boot sole. Since there’s no glue on the sole of the hoof, once the cut is complete, you can pop the sole of the boot off the hoof. Then grab a corner of the boot wall and start peeling it off the hoof wall.

I had both horses hind boots off in about 15 minutes.

Very pleased with my experience in using glue-ons for the weekend. I love the ease and convenience of using a strap boot for training and the vast majority of rides I do. But for certain scenarios, it is really nice to have the glue-ons as an option.

The afternoon wrapped up with an awards presentation for our completion certificates (pictured at the top), and a giveaway prize raffle. (I actually won an ice pack shoulder wrap thing.) The ultimate prize, of course, was a Tevis entry. Nope, didn’t win the Tevis entry. ;)

Cathy headed out after awards — Tempest is slated to go to Tevis is year, so rather than haul all the way back to Vegas, and then back up to Tevis less than a month later, she found a place outside of Reno to keep the horses and will fly back in ahead of Tevis.

And I headed for Tevis Low Camp (aka Lucy’s, aka my Sierra Foothills home away from home), where I got a shower, pizza, beer, and lots of laughs and great conversation. Monday morning, Lucy deposited me off at the Sacramento airport (seriously, I know this place as well as Phoenix at this point), and I came home to two very happy pups.

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It was an absolutely amazing weekend…ride management and all of the volunteers put on a fantastic ride, I learned a ton, and had a blast. I can’t thank Cathy enough for providing me the opportunity to participate in the Ed Ride weekend, and for sharing her ponies with me.

Next up: Food/Drink/Clothing/Tack/Afterthoughts

Whirlwinds of March

I know the whole “In like a lion, out like a lamb” saying that applies to the month of March, but there has been nothing meek and mild about my schedule this March. Actually, 2017 has started off strong and just keeps gaining in momentum.

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view from 7100′ at the top of Mt Ord on a training run

After logging some great training runs in January and February, March handed me back-to-back travel weekends for work. One planned way out, one very last minute.

The last-minute trip was the first weekend of March, when I was offered the chance to go be the Renegade rep at the FITS (Fun in the Sun) endurance ride in Florida, hosted by Valerie Kanavy at her Florida farm.

That was an absolutely amazing weekend. I learned a ton, provided some good exposure for Renegade, was on-hand for customer service needs, and picked up a number of valuable tips and tricks for riding, training, and crewing. Valerie was a wonderful host and I very much enjoyed getting the chance to talk with her and spend the time at her farm.

Once I got back from Florida, I had just a couple of days to unpack and repack before turning around and heading back to the airport, this time to Dallas, TX, for the annual AERC Convention. This was my fifth time attending convention, and I had an absolute blast. Running the Renegade booth went really smoothly, the venue was really nice, and I got in some really good socializing and networking.

This was my first time spending any significant amount of time in TX (overnighting at a horse motel in Amarillo on a road trip 19 years ago hardly counts) and I was really surprised by the amount of water and vegetation in the Dallas area. Would have loved to spend more time there and explore the areas some more, but I was able to get out Friday evening for some excellent BBQ!

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March isn’t done with me yet…while I’m at home this weekend, I’m still working, this time doing the in-home catering for one of Mom’s memory art workshops. (A bit of a scheduling bummer, as I had several catch ride offers for Old Pueblo…but there’s something to be said about jumping on the opportunity to make $$$…see RP saddle caption above about the Money Tree.)

I want to slot at least one more good, double-digit training run in this weekend (Sunday), and then it’ll be the downward “just maintain and don’t do anything crazy” taper leading up to Crown King 50k on April 1.

Getting Started in Distance: It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

One of the big obstacles I see/hear about when it comes to people getting into distance riding is that it’s overwhelming, they don’t know where to start, and don’t want to “mess it up.” (Hey, I’m still there on that last one.)

I’m going to make it simple: Start with what you have.

Seriously.

The basics you need are (and this is just my opinion, FWIW, based on my own personal experience): A fit, sane, sound horse; a saddle that fits your horse and yourself; a tack set-up that fits and offers control; a way to carry water/snacks for yourself; a way to get to/from the ride.

  • The Horse: Yes, Arabians are the most popular breed in endurance. They excel at long distance in that they have been bred, physically and metabolically, for this sport. That doesn’t mean other breeds can’t do distance. The record for highest number of Tevis completions is held by a Quarter Horse. Start with what you have, as long as they are fit, sound, and sane. Some breeds may need more, or different, conditioning than an Arabian.

    I would not recommend starting out with a horse with known physical or metabolic issues; distance riding is a challenge and managing a horse with known issues puts you behind the curve and makes it that much harder.

    But you also don’t know what your horse can and can’t do until you ask. I never imagined my show pony would could ever be a safe trail horse, let alone compete in distance riding.

    She proved me wrong. Ultimately, age and prior use caught up to her and ended her distance career far earlier than either of us were ready for; but she did me proud and I have no complaints.

    So before you rush out and buy a brand-new horse for a sport you haven’t done, evaluate your current herd first and see what a good base of conditioning produces. (And then go horse shopping after you’re hooked on endurance…many of us operate with more than one horse. ;))

“Non-Arabians can’t do distance.”
Really???
Mimi may
look like a little grey Arabian mare, but she’s a POA:
POA on her sire’s side, and full QH on her dam’s side.
  • The Saddle: If what you’re riding in works, start with that. There’s no reason to rush out and spend money on a new saddle — again, for a sport you may or may not like — if what you are currently using fits you and the horse and is comfortable. There’s a good chance your horse’s body shape may change as he gets fitted up, and you may need to saddle shop at that point, but there’s no point in spending the money before you have to. Or you may discover that your saddle that is great for a couple of hours isn’t so great after 25 miles, but don’t assume the worst right away.

    I started distance riding in my gymkhana saddle: a cordura-and-leather Big Horn. It fit Mimi, it was comfortable enough for me, it was secure, and I could attach gear to it. After I stopped showing, I sawed the horn off the saddle so I would quit poking my ribs into it on uphills, but I ultimately used that saddle off-and-on all through my distance career with Mimi, and I still have it as a young horse/back-up saddle. It’s not the most comfortable for me — very wide twist — but it works in a pinch.

    I will confess that I have been through a number of saddles: Mimi kept outgrowing them, as the fitter she got, the more her back shape changed. (In between saddles, I kept going back to that Big Horn.)

    If you do end up saddle shopping, network around — if someone near you has a style you’re curious about, ask to sit in it or try it out. (I’ve been able to try more saddles that way and figure out if I like them or not.) There is also an extensive used tack network that exists in the endurance world, since we’ve all been or are in the process of being in the saddle shopping boat.

    But if you’ve been logging saddle time and conditioning miles in your current set-up and it’s working, stick with that, at least through your first couple of rides.

  • Other Tack: See above — start with what’s been working. The bright colors and matching tack is so tempting…and also not cheap. We all want to look good, especially when showing up to something new…but my advice would be to give it a few rides before splurging at the distance supply stores. All you really need is a halter/lead to tie with, a bridle that offers solid communication and control, and if you’re going to be doing hills and have a saddle that potentially slips back, a breastcollar (of a crupper if it slips forward).

    I came out of the show ring, so most of my tack was leather, and some of it even silver-encrusted. Leather, although it smells wonderful and feels even better, generally doesn’t do well in the salt-and-water-heavy endurance environment. In other words, you’re going to spend as much time cleaning your tack as riding, if you don’t want it to wear prematurely and weaken. I did have my day-to-day nylon training gear, and that’s what I started with for conditioning gear.

    I will say that if you’re coming out of a very different background (show ring, just for example), you may not have some of the necessary gear: like I didn’t have a breastcollar, and Mimi’s size difference meant the spare one my dad had for his horse really didn’t fit…so I did have to buy that.

    But if you’re going to have to buy something, search that used tack network. It helps if you’re flexible on color, or start with a basic black. I know how much fun it is to try to decide what color is going to look the best on your horse — believe me, I still like doing that — but I would recommend holding off on spending money until you decide this really is the sport for yourself and your horse.

    (Some experienced people I know have their new horses “earn” their new tack/own color after a certain number of miles, once they know the horse will like and succeed at the sport.

My first NATRC ride ever: borrowed an experienced trail horse
that came with his own gear; I just added newbie distance rider,
overkill saddle bags, and my own reins. The breeches, helmet, and
paddock boots were what I used  for schooling.

By the time Mimi and i did our first ride, we were fairly well
put-together, but mostly through necessity of figuring out during
training rides that “What I Had Didn’t Work.”
I still have those basic black pieces of tack for future new horses
who have to “earn” their colors.
  • Water/Snack/Gear Carrier: For anything over 20 miles, you’ll probably want some way to carry water and snacks for yourself, as well as a small on-trail kit (small first aid kit, bandanna, vet wrap, cactus comb if you’re in the desert, carrots). This could be in the form of carrying it on your person, such as a Camelbak, or some kind of saddle packs. Endurance-specific saddle packs are designed to be bounce-free and low-profile, but some snaps and baling twine can secure standard saddle bags down in a pinch (I didn’t know any better, so that’s what I used on my first distance ride).
  • Transportation: Most rides tend to be a distance from where people live, so driving there is a necessity. If you have your own vehicle/trailer, you’re all set. Work with your horse so that they tie comfortably to the side of the trailer, have a bucket for water and some sort of hay delivery/containment method, and you’ll be set. Once you decide this is the sport for you and your horse, you can explore other equine-containment systems such as high ties or portable corrals. (I hard-tied Mimi off to the side of the trailer for a number of years with no problems, and some experienced endurance people still prefer this method as one of the safest and most secure methods; since they have less space to move, you just may need to hand-walk them a bit more often.

    If you are truck-or-trailer-less, there is still a way. Back to that good old networking thing: see if someone around you may be willing to trailer-pool to the ride. If you find someone willing to share their ride with you, it’s nice to: offer to split travel expenses, have a horse who is a well-mannered traveler (why I actually don’t like trailer-pooling in other people’s rigs: Mimi kicks, and has scuffed or torn up a number of rubber wall mats), be ready in a timely fashion, and be organized and have all of your stuff condensed together as much as possible.

    Because my dad and I did all of our rides together, we were our own “trailer-pooling” entity, but I’ve also done some rig-sharing when riding other people’s horses, and it can be a lot of fun. Good company makes a (sometimes long, boring) drive go by a lot faster (and it’s nice to have a free set of hands to raid the cooler, and open bags and water bottles), and two sets of hands make camp set-up go smoother and faster as well.

    You also don’t need a fancy living quarters trailer to do this sport: for years, we successfully used a 2-horse slant-load trailer, and a combination of the dressing room, back of the trailer, or back of the SUV for sleeping arrangements. Yes, living quarters are a nice luxury — but there are a lot of people who still pitch a tent. You will see all sort of set-ups at a ridecamp; everyone figures out what works for them, their budget, and their camp needs.

Before I eventually got a Hi-Tie, Mimi successfully hard-tied to
the trailer for years; and that was all Dad’s two horses ever did.

“Roughing it”, endurance-style: I slept in the front dressing room
of the trailer; Dad set up a cot in the back. Coolers/food table
was also set up in the back, and tack was spread between the rear
tack compartment and the front dressing room.

The biggest “takeaway” advice I have to give is that really, there is very little out there that is a “right” way or “wrong” way if the end result is a fit, sane, sound, comfortable endurance horse, and a comfortable rider. It’s the ultimate in “just because everybody else (or what seems to be like everybody else) does it, doesn’t mean you have to.” Sometimes there is a reason for the popularity of something (like the sturdiness and ease of cleanup of biothane tack), but it never hurts to ask why and the reasoning behind a particular action.

certainly don’t have all the answers, of even half of them…just my own personal experience to draw on and relate to others. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve done things right…pretty much like the most of us who dip our toes into the distance riding pool and decide to swim. :)
(PS: If anyone has an endurance questions they want to ask me, I am always open to email inquiries — see the ‘Contact’ sidebar towards the top of the page.)

AERC educational videos

This is a great new resource for those who are new to endurance riding, interested in starting endurance, or maybe who have been at it for a while and could stand a refresher…

AERC’s YouTube Channel with different educational and promotional videos.

Currently, there are educational, how-to videos covering the topics of the vet check, what to pack in your crew bag, and the basics of horse camping.

There are also some great videos that show coverage of this year’s AERC Convention…including interviews with some of the vendors who were set up there.

Yes, that’s the Renegade booth…and yes, that’s yours truly. With absolutely no advanced notice or head’s up…not too bad for completely on-the-spot interviewing.

Anyway…check out the rest of the videos, and remember, as always…if you have questions about endurance riding, email me or leave a comment! I still feel like I’m muddling my way through this sport most of the time, but if my experiences can help in any way, I’m always happy to share.

Top Ten List: Equine Books

Inspired by the idea of the ‘Top Ten’ in endurance, I’m presenting my Top Ten list of favorite equine-related, non-fiction books.

I’m a crazy bookworm who is an absolute research geek when it comes to topics I like.  (Pretty much anything relating to four hooves, a tail, and a whinnied greeting.  But my research shelves also contain tons of writing stuff, and a ton of cookbooks.  To further the eclecticism: An assortment containing everything from theatre to home decor books.  The only unifying theme among all of these is that they’re topics that are interesting to me.  Show me a math/chemistry/physics book and my eyes glaze over.)
My Top Ten Favorites
The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition, by Donna Synder-Smith
Though it was written quite a few years ago, much of the information is still relevant today and it’s my favorite go-to endurance guide.  I’ve been skimming through it as a refresher course with the thought in mind that one day, I am going to have to bring a new horse along in endurance.  I have several endurance-related books in my library, and I end up going through all of them, but this one ends up being the one most frequently grabbed.
Centered Riding, by Sally Swift
A timeless classic that should be on every bookshelf.  Even if you’re not interested in any kind of arena-based competition, this is a valuable resource as a book because it gets down to the functional basics of riding that are important no matter what your discipline.  I am constantly learning from it, even with close to 20 years spent in the saddle.
Conformation & Performance, by Nancy S. Loving, DVM, photos by Bob Langrish
This was actually one of my textbook (!) for an Equine Science class I took in college.  Best class ever…well, toss-up between that and a Theatre Movement class that involved stage combat…but the equine one turned out to be a little more relevant.  Warning: Once you read this book, you will never be able to look at a horse without finding fault in their conformation, and you start wondering if you’ll ever find a perfectly-conformed horse.  Hint: You won’t…it’s a matter of learning what conformation flaws you can live with and which are unacceptable.  The photography is a major part of the book, and makes it really easy to identify each conformation aspect that is being discussed.
Getting in TTouch, by Linda Tellington-Jones
This book fascinates me.  I absolutely love analyzing a horse based on their physical characteristics.  I’ve applied the principles in the book to enough horses that I’ve know to find it’s eerily accurate.  I love horse “psychology” for lack of a better word, knowing ‘how’ and ‘why’ a horse is going to react to something the way they do, and these kinds of books have gone a long way towards altering my perception of working with the horse and turning them into your partner, versus an automatronic sheep.
Arabian Legends, by Marian K. Carpenter
I am a lightweight, a complete novice, when it comes to bloodline research.  I know just enough to know what I like and what to avoid.  But bloodline history is fascinating to me.  Especially with Arabians.  They’re such an old breed, with so much history tied in to them, that just going through this book is an interesting read.

How Good Riders Get Good, Denny Emerson
A new addition to my bookshelf.  I started following Denny’s blog a few weeks ago, and very quickly ended up purchasing the book.  I’m only a little ways into it at this point, but already loving what I’m reading.  Not so much a technical manual as it is a mental strategy guide and examination of you as a person and how that translate into you as a rider.  He doesn’t pull punches, but lays out the facts, sometimes in ways that’ll make you cringe to yourself when you realize you’re guilty of doing exactly that thing.  But he also manages to do it in such a way that it never feels like a personal insult or attack, but rather a bald statement of fact and motivation to look for how to fix/change it.  Looking forward to finishing this book…and then re-reading it.
Ten Feet Tall, Still, by Julie Suhr
I must get Julie’s new book.  But until then…I love this book.  I love her writing style…she’s a fantastic storyteller and I love that she lets so much of who she is come through in this book.  It’s a memoir, not a technical manual…and yet, there is so much to learn from it.  It’s entertaining, and her description of riding Tevis has brought tears to my eyes on a number of occasions.
The Level Best for Your Horse, by Dale, Ron & Bob Myler
I am a certified bit geek.  I love collecting them…love figuring out whether they work or not…and this book really opened my eyes.  I learned things about bits that I either didn’t know, or had a pretty drastic misconception of.  I will never stop learning or trying to further my education, and this book is one of those really good examples of why.  I also just love reading about all of the different options for bits and how they all work.  I could go broke just buying bits.
Correct Movement in Horses, by Gabrieke Rachen-Schoneich and Klaus Schoneich
I was introduced to this book at the Dr. Kerry Ridgway seminar I attended a couple of months ago.  Many of Dr. Ridgway’s principles of training and balancing of horses comes from this book.  This is a really good, even further in-depth explanation of the problem of “the crooked horse” and training solutions for how to go about solving it.  I’ve not had a chance to put the theories into practice yet, but I’m enjoying adding this knowledge to my repertoire.
Horse Owner’s Guide to Natural Hoof Care, by Jaime Jackson
My go-to resource when my original trimming mentor Kirt Lander is unavailable.  I like his approach to trimming and it’s written in such a way that I don’t feel too overwhelmed.  Most of my trimming is done by instinct or feel…which is why I can’t teach other people how to trim…but of late, I’ve been wanting to expand my technical knowledge of barefoot a lot more.  (I think I want to get my hands on the Pete Ramey DVDs at some point.)
It was actually kind of hard to narrow it down to even ten…I’ve got another half dozen or so that I really like.  Decisions, decisions.  And I think I might continue this Top Ten list trend, just moving around to various topics.