I was incredibly fortunate to end my 2016 calendar year, and start my 2017 AERC season, adventuring through Death Valley with good friends and borrowed horses. I rode all 4 days of the event, something I’ve never done before, and rode a different horse each day. It was an incredible adventure that I hope to do some justice to with a bit of summation, as there’s many things to say and pictures to share.
Travel and a Day in Camp, 12/26& 27
We left early the morning after Christmas–we being myself and my gear, hopping aboard childhood schoolmate Elicia’s rig, along with new buddy Jo. Elicia brought her Arabian Kenlyn Amir, one of Mark Montgomery’s Mustangs, her mini horse companion Jellybean, and Jo’s amazing Morgan mare Beetle.
It was a happily uneventful drive and we pulled into a relatively empty ride camp just after dark. Mark and the rest of his Mustangs rolled in later that evening but as we hadn’t entirely sorted out my sleeping quarters to that point I spent the first night on my cot in the cozy christmas light-decked tent of a kind new acquaintance, Lora, and her cutest-ever dog. The tight community feel at these XP rides truly cannot be overstated!
the Tuesday sun rises over Mark’s herd of picketed Mustangs, in front of the Trona stacks
As usual, having “a whole extra day!” in camp quickly seemed like not enough time, as everyone settled in, Mustangs were clipped, and we got through our two sets of pre rides getting all the necessary steeds legs stretched. It’s a singularly interesting experience to be at a ride you’ve never been to, sleeping you’re not sure where, riding a number of new horses, in saddles you have not yet decided on. I’m fairly certain a number of Endurance Tenets were broken (don’t try something new at a ride? Pshhhh!!) throughout this saga but hey, that’s adventuring!
I’m an epic overheater, so settled on the back of E’s horse trailer as my bunk spot–and was never cold! Not recommended for people with normal internal thermostats 😉
Silver Bullet enjoys the morning rays
Day 1 50 miler, 12/28
- Horse: MM Whiskey, Mustang Gelding, 2nd Endurance ride
- Saddle: Free n Easy
- Hoof Protection: Easycare Performance N/G Shoes (nailed)
I spent all of 6 miles a few weeks previously on Whiskey prior to mounting up for the 7 a.m. start of the Day 1 50 miler. My impression was that he was a good natured,lanky fellow who hasn’t entirely grown into himself, not hugely forward, concerned about his own bodily needs, and game to follow the herd. That proved to be pretty accurate throughout the day, as just like my Morgan pony Kenny, it took Whiskey about 5 miles to commit to the notion that we really doing this thing. He whinnied his way through the first few miles, but wasn’t *that* perturbed as he stopped of his own accord to pee, while whinnying, as E and Jo trotted away! Once committed, Whiskey made his way along at his own pace, not walking or trotting as fast as the other steeds but not falling too far behind nor worrying about the gaps that sometimes opened between us. All of Mark’s Mustangs go in mechanical hackamores, so I had brought a halter, headstall, and reins of my own and it worked well on all my Mustang mounts of the week (though Whiskey was notedly the most polite in it 😉 ). I was riding in Elicia’s Free n Easy panel saddle with knee rolls Days 1,2, and 3 that put me in a very nice English position, and happily that stayed comfortable each day that I used it. Whiskey in particular isn’t the cleanest with his feet but did well through the rocky and increasingly mountainous footing, though I did have to stop 5 times that day to pick large rocks out that had plugged the holes in his Easycare Shoes, causing him discomfort. All the Mustangs wore NGs and they seem like a good (if a bit clunky) hoof care option, though I would be tempted to pour/plug the holes if I were to ever use them.
Having a blast on Whiskey, photo by Elicia
In what would become a pattern for us throughout the next 4 days, we were all a bit convinced that we were stranded out here to die of starvation and surely that glint over there is the big red trailer?! by the time the 25 mile lunch vet check rolled around. The horses actually didn’t flag at all, but the riders may have done a bit of whinging 😉
We left lunch must refreshed and with the bug in our ear that we had some good footing ahead, and a mountain range to climb back over after that. Forth steeds!!
we found the rocks!
sunset on day 1
Whiskey got stronger throughout the day and he and the other horses flew through the good footing and then soldiered back over the mountain at a walk with no issue, while the riders rediscovered some grins near sunset with the assistance of a wee flask of Rumchata. Once back in the ride camp side of the valley we missed a left turn in the dark having a leg stretching trot down a wide road but thanks to the XP GPS tracks system, E navigated us back on track in no time and we finished the day with happy healthy horses at 5.45 pm.
MM Whiskey, Day 1 50 miler, photo by Steve Bradley
Day 2 50 Miler, 12/29
- Horse: MM Hershey, Mustang gelding, 1st Endurance ride
- Saddle: Free N Easy
- Hoof Protection: Easycare Performance N/G Shoe (nailed)
I had the same short pre ride on Hershey that I had had on Whiskey, and he was already my favorite of the group. Short, square, sensible, smooth, forward, huge walk, takes great care of himself, goes anywhere in the pack. My early impression held as this boy took to the front of our little group of 3 at the start, ready to GO but never out of line. I forgot my camera for the first half of the ride which was unfortunate, as it was a really beautiful scenic climb and descent (we did the same trail but in reverse the next day when I had my camera though!). I didn’t have any of the rock in the shoe issues I’d had the day before and had a lot of fun on Hershey!
pics by Elicia
We whined before lunch, perked up after, and finished at 5:45 with happy healthy horses again–consistency folks!
Day 3 LD, 12/30
- Horse: Kenlyn Amir, 10 yr old Arabian gelding with 1,000+ miles, owned by Elicia
- Saddle: Free N Easy
- Hoof Protection: Steel Shoes with Easyboot Gloves over the front shoes (Day 1 had revealed Amir a bit sensitive soled to the rocks in steel alone, so Gloves were procured and worked over the steel fabulously for rest of the ride)
Friday found Elicia on a very green Mustang, with myself on her trusty Arabian “Sir Bouncy McTripFace,” Kenlyn Amir, and an Alaskan guest on faithful Whiskey. The weather had started to change a bit with a mild threat of rain, which made for gorgeous skies and bit more of a nip to the air where previous days saw us comfortably in the 50s. As the LD and first loop of the 50 were the same, we rode with or ahead of Dave Rabe the whole time which made for a fun morning!
Kenlyn Amir, Day 3 LD, photo by Steve Bradley
Day 3 LD, photo by Steve Bradley
I found Amir to be much bouncier and harder on my now-100 mile deep body than the Mustangs had been and the green Mustang saw fit to suddenly and randomly launch E into a fortunately soft spot in the desert near the end, so we weren’t exactly sad to Complete the LD and therefore the riding day at just after noon on day 3. We stuffed our faces, tucked the numerous ponies in, and E took a well earned nap while I made some rounds socializing and helping folks with Renegades (oh the ribbings I got for wearing my Renegade vest all week on non-Renegade clad horses!).
Day 4 50, 12/31
- Horse: MM Cody, Mustang gelding, 1000+ Miles
- Saddle: Pandora
- Hoof Protection: Easycare Performance N/G (nailed)
Day 4 was loops around the Valley with no mountain climb, and found superwoman Elicia on yet another green mustang, this time a not long tamed fellow who’d only been handled or ridden by Mark himself. He was the Mustang we’d hauled and Elicia had ridden him a few times but still, and considering the day before–much much respect, woman! Jo was back with us rocking her 4th 50 in a row on her tireless Morgan mare Beetle, and I was on Day 1 and 2 tied-for-winner MM Cody, a big mostly well mannered fellow who did test my arm strength at speed once or twice 😉 We all pretty well felt like shit for the first 25 miles, featuring Jo retching in the bushes, me queasily eating a carrot I’d packed for Cody and contemplating cutting off my underwear, and Elicia using *choice* words of love any time the green Mustang had a naughty thought.
Lunch improved things immensely again, as did actually cutting off my underwear, and with the addition of Pandora tunes to go with the rock hard Pandora saddle I was riding, we had a pretty good, if occasionally whiny and often giddy finish to our fourth day in a row of riding.
Day 4, photo by Steve Bradley
With the lack of serious climbs we made it to the Finish in daylight this time! Cody had a small inconsistent something in his gait at the end of Day 4 but Completed and was totally right by morning, and all told E and I went 175 miles and Jo went 200. What a ride!
That night there was a final delicious meal, fabulous live music, pool, and general good times til midnight for New Years Eve–and not a one of us 3 in the rig made it past 10 pm. Jobs well done, rest earned, and Happy New Year!!!
Final morning in ride camp, farewell Trona stacks!
NEXT TIME: Things I did Right To Stay Healthy and Alive..