First let me set the stage: the date is June 3, 2011, the place is Dayton Rodeo Grounds in Dayton, Nevada and the weather is cool and breezy. There are approximately 50 horse trailers with at least that many horses in various types of containment arrangements from portable corrals to hities. Horses are being vetted to begin the Nevada All State Trail Riders (aka NASTR) Endurance Ride in the morning. There are three different rides being run simultaneously, a 30 miler (the limited distance or LD), a 50 miler and a 75 miler that horses must complete in order to qualify for the Triple Crown. Before horses can start the ride tomorrow, a veterinarian examines the horse for soundness, hydration, pulse and respiration as well as gut sounds to ensure that only healthy horses are competing. Due to the recent EHV1 outbreak, the horses’ temperatures were also checked to make sure they weren’t running a fever, one of the early signs of the virus.
I decided to enter Info in the 50 miler after having completed two LD’s in May as a preliminary trial run. He had finished those rides with no problem, but I didn’t want him to get the idea that 25 miles was his maximum distance. Anything under 50 miles does not count for endurance miles on a horse’s record.
As most of you already know, the majority of horses who compete in endurance events are Arabians. There are representatives from other breeds, and some Arabian crosses, but by and large the horses who are naturally gifted in long distance riding are Arabians. My horse, Information (aka “Info”) is a seven year old Mustang. He no more resembles an Arabian than a Husky resembles a Whippet. He has a thick, arched neck, broad back and chest, low set tail, legs like treetrunks and feet like rocks. One more important item to note is that this particular part of the world is his former home turf. He was born in 2004 on this very range in the Pine Nut Mountains, was captured by the BLM in 2008 and taken to the Nevada State Prison horse gentling program. I adopted him in August 2008 with no specific plans other than to give a wild horse a home. His name is Information because his prison number was 411.
We tried riding in the arena; he hated it. We poked around some local trails at a walk; he was bored stiff. I taught him some Parelli games such as jumping the barrels at liberty, and he liked that but I realized he needed more of a challenge so I started hauling him out to various places for aerobic conditioning. He seemed to enjoy traveling down the trail to see new sights and he was comfortable for me to ride, so I decided that endurance riding just might be his job. Plus I needed a way to help him burn some calories. One of the distinguishing characteristics of most Mustangs is that they are easy keepers. I swear he could gain weight by looking at his hay, but of course he never spent much time looking at it. He doesn’t lift up his head until his hay is GONE.
So we vetted in, put light blankets on the horses to guard against the late spring chill and went to bed early since the 50 miler started at 6am We were up by 4:30 a.m. and the 75 milers were already warming up for their 5am start. After giving the horses some wet beet pulp, filling their water buckets and hay bags, we ate some instant oatmeal and washed it down with a cup of instant coffee. I had checked our saddle packs for energy bars and filled our water bottles the night before. My husband John was riding his eight year old Arabian gelding, Thunder, who already has completed four 50 milers. I was determined to take this ride as slowly as possible and use all of the allotted 12 hours if necessary because I do not want Info to think he has to compete with every horse he meets. John agreed to take Thunder out at a walk, so we started a few minutes after the “hot shoes” had left and walked the horses for about half a mile before we picked up a slow trot.
The 50 mile ride consists of three loops, #1 is 26 miles, #2 is 10 miles and #3 is 14 miles. The horses stuck to the game plan fairly well, walked through the rocky stream beds and trotted when the trail smoothed out. We worked our way through Illinois Canyon with its spectacular rock formations, aspen groves and water crossings. Funny thing is, Info has no problem with water crossings, but Thunder says, “It’s dry in Arabia. You expect me to put my feet in that?!” We got caught up in a fast moving crowd at El Dorado Canyon, so it was almost a blessing when one of Thunder’s Easy Boots came off and we had to pull off the trail to replace it. We arrived at the 26 mile vet check in Brunswick Canyon about 11am After the vets checked the horses we settled down for our one hour lunch break. Thunder and Info dove into the mash mixed with carrots and electrolytes that I prepared for them, while John and I had hamburgers, lemonade and watermelon. Hay for the horses and lunch for the riders was provided by the ride management. Truly, I don’t see how Info and Thunder were able to hold anymore food, because the plentiful grass on the trail made for a 26 mile buffet that was too good to pass up. Thunder developed the skill of grazing on the fly.
The next loop was flat with easy footing so we picked up the pace quite a bit and completed the 10 miles in an hour and a half. I discovered, however, that Info needs to keep a more conservative pace and when we got in for our next vet check, it took him a while to recover to a 60 BPM heart rate. His heart rate finally dropped after five minutes, but if he had not recovered within the required 30 minutes, we would have been pulled from the ride.
After our 20 minute hold and the horses had more to eat and drink, we left for the final loop back to the Rodeo Grounds. We slowed down considerably at this point because we knew we would make the cutoff time and we just wanted to come in with sound horses. A number of horses had already been pulled from the ride for being footsore and other problems, so we were grateful that our Easy Boot Gloves were protecting Info and Thunder’s hooves from the rocks. The weather was perfect in the 60’s, the horses were easy to rate by this time, and we finally reached the finish line at 4:47 p.m.
They sailed through their final vet check and John and I could not have been happier to have met our goals. There were many other stories being played out that day; some of victory and some of tears and defeat. The motto of endurance is “To Finish Is To Win,” so Info and Thunder were winners that day without a doubt.
Now for true confession: my greatest concern on doing this ride was that Info would discover his roots, drop me on the trail, and run off to rejoin his original herd. It’s been said that there are still wild horses in those canyons but we didn’t see any. To be more accurate, John and I didn’t see any. A couple of times Info stopped to sniff an old stud pile and stare off into the distance, looking like he was at least a hundred miles away, his eyes glued on some point in the canyon. As we approached camp at the end of the ride, he veered off and it took a lot of strength and convincing to get him back on course. In my mind he was saying,“Wait, there’s more I want to show you.” And he will show me more. He already does, every single day.