All posts by Rose Sandler

vote4rose, voteforrose, vote for rose, fjallraven polar, fjallraven, dogsledding, adventure, bloger

Be Prepared for Natural Disaster: Equine Evacuation

Many of you know Southern California is on fire. I am near San Diego and last Thursday Dec 7, a fire broke out in North County, about an hour north of San Diego. That afternoon I was on my way to the Fox News studio around 2 pm for an interview about my attempt to get a spot for the dogsledding thing when I heard about the fires on the radio. After the interview I saw on facebook there was an urgent need for equine evacuations.

I got home and pulled the furniture (just moved) out of the trailer, left it under a tree, hooked up the truck…and waited. I wanted to jump in and go help evacuate horses…but information was scattered, cell signal was spotty, and it was starting to get dark. It seemed like a bad idea to go out with a rig, alone, in the dark, with a fire moving fast, roadblocks changing, and information coming from a few different sources. A few times, I got in the truck and almost just went as I listened to Zello, the walkie talkie app and heard one facility was unreachable and setting horses loose.

By 10 pm, I secured a co-pilot and headed out. The major equine evacuation effort at that point was focused on a horse rescue with a few hundred horses. They were not in the current path of the fire, but the Santa Anna winds were blowing and shifting. If the wind changed, they would be overtaken quickly with no hope of evacuating from their remote, hill top, single lane road access location.

There were trailers lined up at the bottom of the hill by the road to the farm, staged to load up and take horses to Del Mar Racetrack. It took hours to reach the front of the line where volunteers loaded 2 horses into my trailer.

It was the wee hours of the morning when we arrived at the emergency stabling to leave off the horses.

With no news of urgent need for more trailers to evacuate anywhere, I headed home at 4 am. Around 7 am, I was about to pull out of the driveway to head to the office when I heard on the walkie talkie app that a few trailers were being let past the roadblocks. I put out a call for a co-pilot and let my boss know I wouldn’t be in. My copilot was a vet-tech. As we approached the roadblocks, she was in communication about a horse that was apparently injured too badly to be moved. A vet was on the way. We were possibly closer. We were cleared through the roadblocks and entered the evacuation area.

We got a phone call (off the zello radio channel) that the horse was ‘burned from nose to tail.’ I parked the truck and trailer on the side of the road.
The vet arrived just after we did.  I put a buff over my nose and mouth and we followed a crying young woman through ashes, burned brush, fences, and trees to where a bay mare stood by a large live oak tree. The owner explained that the mare wouldn’t load and they had to set her loose and leave. The mare was shaking and in shock. The hair on her whole body was singed and curled.

Her muzzle was covered in oozing blisters. Her coronet bands had cracked open and her hooves were smoking.Burned

My co-pilot and I provided shoulders to cry on and hugs as the vet quickly explained that the kindest thing was to euthanize. Quickly. The young woman begged her mare’s forgiveness, thanked her, and said goodbye.
As the vet turned away,  I saw tears on his cheek below his sunglasses.

We walked back toward the driveway. The young woman’s parents were by the ashes of a house that was burned to the ground. I heard the mother saying something about, ‘I didn’t think it would come HERE.’
Natural disaster is a new experience for me. Seeing this was life changing. I might have been one of the, ‘wait and see’ people in the past. Thinking the wind wasn’t blowing my way and about how much of a pain in the butt it would be to evacuate if I didn’t have to. But fire is fast and wind changes.

My plea to all horse and animal owners.
Have a disaster plan that includes your animals.

Specifically for fire, evacuate early especially if you need to coordinate a lift for your horses with emergency personnel or if your horses don’t load well. Your plan should include where and how you will set your animals loose if necessary. In the tragic scenario I witnessed, while the horse was ‘set loose’ it was still on a fenced in property and clearly didn’t find it’s way down the driveway. If you are in the path of the fire and either don’t have a trailer or the horse won’t load, roll down the car or truck window and lead the horse at least far enough to escape if you must set them loose. If there are multiple horses, tie them together and lead one. Even if they ‘don’t lead like that’ just do it. Some equine bickering or a kick is manageable. Burns and smoke inhalation may not be. Also make sure your emergency information is posted in the barn or near the animals. If you aren’t home or can’t get home, rescue animal personal may need to reach you to get permission to evacuate your animals.

Here is another really great resource:

What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake


This booklet evolved from the original information contained in “What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake?” initiated by Rod Bergen and compiled by Stephanie Abronson and the members of the Monte Nido Mountain Ridge Riders, and originally published by the Monte Nido Paddock of Equestrian Trails, Inc., Corral 63, since 1992. The previous printed version of this booklet in a revised edition was by the City of Los Angeles and Stephanie Abronson, March 1997.

*I am not yet part of any official disaster response, but I am working on it. I just got my amateur radio operator (HAM radio) license and plan to get involved with Amateur Radio Emergency Communications. I also hope to get training this coming year and become part of an official emergency animal rescue network.


Dogsledding? Sure!

There’s a certain letdown after a huge accomplishment.  It’s been almost a year since I decided I wanted to tackle Tevis.  Over Christmas last year I was driving cross country from Michigan to Southern California with two horses, one of which would hopefully make it to Tevis.  In August, we did it!

But then what?  Post adventure letdown.  But TODAY voting opens for hopefully the next big adventure!  It’s not horses…but it still involves animals with 4 legs…


Fjallraven Polar!  Each year 20 people from around the world have the opportunity to compete in an Iditarod style dogsled race in the Norwegian arctic.  For each of 10 regions of the world, two people get a spot.  One is selected by Fjallraven jury, the other by popular vote (this is going to be me!!)

Fjallraven is an outdoor clothing company based in Sweeden and they provide gear, training and dog teams to the expedition which culminates in a 3 day race.  No prior experience dogsledding is necessary.

I need your help to win this thing!  And please please share!

(Aren’t you glad I’m not fundraising?  This is an easy one!!)

Before I started writing for ESRR, I had (and still have) an adventure blog,  You will be able to follow the non-horse (but still endurance) related adventure there.  And of course since I’m in Southern California, it’s a bit challenging to dogsled, so I’ll be riding to stay fit and ready.  And I’m on the lookout for my next project horse with an eye towards next season.

Dear AERC – Part 2. The Ideas

The following article is a collaboration from all of us at ESRR.

We at ESRR share our successes and failures.  We love this sport and we want it to grow and improve.  We have been addressing some very controversial topics recently.  There has been good conversation.  The Green Bean Movement is alive and well.  There are a lot of great mentors.   And tons of other goodness.

This post is about ideas.  Here are some of ours.  And we want to hear yours!

  1. Equal enforcement (or non-enforcement) of rules – This one is very polar- some say “yes, I have been there before” and others say “what are you talking about, this never happens.”  This shows that there is no standardization.  If there is no standard enforcement of rules, it looks bad on the organization as a whole.  Example, not every rider in the Group 7 middle east is going to ride til their horse drops dead, but the few bad apples taint how we see their entire region.  The terrain will be different, and the climate, and many other things (we love the variety).  People love and embrace the flexibility that you can do things in a ton of different ways and ride your own ride.  How do we do we keep the variety and still have a sanction mean the same thing across the board? – R & S
  2. Ride Rating System (difficulty)  & feedback form – the beauty of endurance is its done through many different terrains and climates. ESRR tries its best to review rides we attend and share information we think might be relevant for someone considering that ride, but we only get so far. Those who are going to a ride for the first time (no matter how many times they have ridden elsewhere) could benefit from more knowledge.  Better preparation will lead to better completions.  While we don’t have a set formula for this, we want to open up discussion on what you would like to see rated – things like trail surfaces, average temperatures, quantity and type of trail markers, shade in ride camp… hey even the ride meal if you want to go that far.  What do you want to know before deciding to go to a certain ride?  Get creative and tell us in the comments!  Our vision would be that for new rides, this is completed by the ride manager and/or trail master, and as the ride continues, riders can rate the various factors.  How do we do this? Perhaps a sliding scale? Maybe checking all boxes that apply?  Surveys are great, but something that can be public and found in one place (rather than googling the $4!+ out of something).  -S
  3. Ride Review System – The USEA does a great job on this.  Of course the AERC suggests you talk to the ride management.  And says there is already a process in  place (to pay them) to consider your grievances.  Or that you can ‘vote’ by attending or not attending.  But new riders are not likely to speak up.  And few are willing to pay to have their concern heard.  The AERC at the organization level would benefit from event feedback to understand what members like/don’t like and perhaps when there are consistent issues that merit review of event sanctions. -R
  4. Terminology –
    1. Are you an endurance rider even if it’s <50 miles?  While the intent of comments like, ‘it’s ONLY an LD’ may be benign and traditionally ‘endurance distance’ starts at 50 and involves physiological changes to the horse, what’s the real harm in letting everyone in under 50 mile rides be endurance riders too? – R
    2. Race vs ride… why is “race” a dirty word? (PS my boss is more likely to give me the day off if I say I am going to a race).  Do marathoners say they are entering in a run?  Maybe… i have never run one. Anyone want to weigh in on this? – S
  5. Veterinary grading standardization – A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of scribing for and training under some particularly wonderful vets (story to follow).  One thing that I found remarkable was we had a sit down at the start and discussed what would constitute a mark outside of perfect – what EXACTLY is a B skin tent (assign it a value in seconds), how long should we wait for gut sounds before we give them a – or a 0 (and what exactly is the difference between a + and – and 0, or do we even bother with using the 0?), what is going to constitute a re-check?  This was great, it meant that we were judging a little harder on the riders, but it meant that everyone was treated fairly.  This would be great to see across the board – not just setting a standard for a ride, but for every ride.  Continuing education plays a huge role here.  And riders, take judging courses and study under the vets as their scribes so you can learn exactly what they are looking for and know when you are getting a fair shake (also helps to understand that vets DO want to see you complete!) – S
  6. Rider skills development program – having done a lot of publicity for our local club, I first came up with this idea when doing Ride N Tie demos at the Royal Winter Fair – I want to learn to ride, I think I might like RNT/END, where can I learn?  Ugh… huge barrier here.  There is no such thing in our neck of the woods where you can start as an up-down rider with the goal of riding endurance. Whenever this comes up I have to refer them to a hunter or dressage or western barn… and do they ever end up in our sport?  I haven’t heard of one yet… no they get sucked into something else.  So what I would like to develop is a system of levels that can take someone from never touched a horse to first ride (and eventually beyond).  Like what the pony club does.  A list of skills, broken down in a logical path, that we can give to trainers in other disciplines to help them bring along new riders and have them be competent alone on trail and managing their horse.  Eventually, I would like to extend this to the higher levels – work in things like better equitation, presentation, advanced crewing skills.  Things that will take you from competent to great.  So again, please comment away with what you think the skills required to be competent and great are – because I need the collective experience of all AERC to build this.  -S
  7. Trail delegate – someone unbiased to check the trail conditions and marking prior to the ride start.  Basically we would like to see someone representative of AERC on site to ensure that the  it meets the standards/guidelines that AERC sets out, that the marking and/or GPS are correct, and that there are no safety concerns with the course (FEI does this).  We never expect it to be perfect, and no doubt we love a challenge, but some hazards are unnecessary.  Notice a trend here?  You should!  Standards and enforcement, enforcement and standards.  -S
  8. Safety – Two sides to this one –
    • First is that helmets should be mandatory.  No excuses.  We don’t care if the ride is older than AERC and is too old to change.  Its a hot region?  Great, lots of helmets have amazing ventilation these days (and can be used as a bucket to dump water on your head at the troughs and holds!).  No more black velvet hunt caps.  Too itchy or uncomfortable?  Its endurance… endure it.  It’s my decision and only affects me –   Nope, it affects everyone who rides with you and has to clean your carcass off the trail, it affects your family who has to feed you through a tube and change your diapers for the rest of your life, and it affects your horse who may get caught in limbo when you can’t take care of it.  Grow up and buckle up.  – S
    • The other side, paramedics or dedicated first aider on site (not riding or tasked with other jobs).  I recently talked to someone who surveyed riders to see if they would pay an extra $5 to have a paramedic on site for their ride.  The response was overwhelmingly no.  Seriously? Do you know what difference it could make (especially in remote locations) to have a paramedic onsite vs having to wait for them to arrive on scene?  In some cases it could literally be life or death.  We spend a lot of money to be able to compete in this sport, what is an extra $5 really?   I would like to see a rule put in across the board mandating this.  It shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be the new standard. – S
  9. Mandatory Volunteering – in my area many of the small, local saddle clubs and associations are becoming defunct and no longer putting on events because there isn’t enough manpower to go around.  To tackle this, some are requiring that riders volunteer at at least one event in order to be eligible for year end awards, whether it is the rider themselves or someone the rider designates, such as a friend or family member. Not only does this help address the lack of volunteers that many events seem to encounter, it also gives the participant a better idea of how much work goes into making an event happen. – A
  10. Cavalry – Like Old Dominion offers.  “The concept of the cavalry is to mimic the rigors and primitive conditions a lone calvary rider would have faced in crossing the wilds of uninhabited territory far from human intervention. The modern test of a solitary horse and rider is to compete on their own, without help, across 100 miles of natural countryside.”  Perhaps in some areas where there is no grass hay would be part of what is provided.  New riders don’t always have crew.  Maybe it would be good to recognize the extra effort needed.   – R
  11. Outreach – What do we need (besides ponies) to have our events?  Land!  And access to land!  I see cyclists and hikers with more sway to influence policies.  And make trails.  Granted there are WAY more of them…so until there are more of us, can we coordinate with any other horse groups with a common interest?  Foxhunting and Eventing comes to mind.  Maybe we all benefit if we pull together!  This ties into #6.  In the off season, both eventers and foxhunters would benefit from endurance riding!  Let’s invite them! – R

What are your ideas?  What does your favourite ride do?

Even little things like putting your ribbons in bottles to keep the cows from eating them is an idea worth sharing!

Why Did She Poke the Bear?

I poked the bear because I wanted to share my experience.  I did it publicly because I believed and still believe the proper channels are broken.  While others rightfully fear retaliation and want to ride sanctioned events enough to tolerate the issues, I don’t.

I’ve been struggling all week to write this blog.  I’ve been so disillusioned.  The ‘ideas’ article isn’t quite done.  So what to post?  I wrote this as an email to some close friends and have decided to share it.  I hope you can at least get a chuckle out of it.  I did when I went back and read it today.   I really never was any good at ‘shut up and color.’

The disagreeing with me I welcome.  The agreeing, more-so.  And certainly the good conversations from both sides.  The opinions are fine.  Even the personal attacks are mostly fine.  But to call me ‘just a jockey’.  That was the last straw.  Even if I didn’t have a lifetime of horse experience and hadn’t spent 8 months researching everything endurance and training a horse for it’s first 100 mile ride and making every decision from nutrition, to shoes, to exercise schedules, to the long slow rides; to imply getting a horse through their first 100 is ‘just’ a jockey?  There’s no just about it, even IF that were the case.   The overwhelming attitude is not one that tells me this sport wants to grow or be helped.  It tells me the thin veneer of welcome to newcomers only extends to those who submit to the unwritten rules.

  1. Thou shalt not be in the top 10, or god forbid, win, your first 2-3 years.
    • If you do, you are riding too fast.
    • Or worse, racing.
  2. Thou shalt not ask that trail be marked better.  By the time you earn the right to be in the front, you’ll know the trail.
  3. Thou shalt complete a season volunteering and perhaps riding a couple LDs before you are ready to ride a 50.  Then see Rule 1.
  4. Thou shalt smilingly listen to the pontification of those with more miles than you on all thing as they are helping you. Miles = knowledge.  You know nothing.
  5. Thou shalt not speak up about any issues you see until you reach some magical number of miles, have been a ride manager, and can prove your own actions are beyond reproach.
    • Should you express an opinion prior to that, you are a whiner, you are weak, and you don’t belong in this sport.
    • Groveling and extensive listening per Rule 4, can mitigate some transgressions of Rule 5.
  6. Should you somehow tolerate paying these ‘dues’ for long enough to gain the prerequisite miles, have proof you have hand raised your horse and done all long slow miles yourself, and if you have somehow managed to keep your eyes open and not just say, ‘well, that’s the way things are’, perhaps you’ll be in a position to administer CPR and fluids to a dying sport.  Or perhaps you’ll enjoy your, ‘the rules don’t apply to me anymore’ status and your power to give your friends a free pass too much to want to change.

At the end of the day, it’s the attitude that got me.  I invited it in.  I poked the bear.  And the bear ate me.  I most likely would have quit anyway, in silence, like many I have heard from.  This way, I just got to see the true colors more quickly and clearly and saved myself time and money investing in a sport that doesn’t want to change.

The reality is it’s just a few who are rotten, but a few bad apples are enough to make the entire basket look unappetizing, especially when the rotten ones are on the top,

I didn’t follow the unwritten rules.  You told me to ‘shut up and color’ and I didn’t.  I thought I could speak out and drive positive change at the expense of some ruffled feathers.  I thought I could weather the expected abuse and personal attacks.  But I couldn’t.

Some warped, optimistic, misguided part of me thought I could make a difference.  But a bigger part recently learned a lesson.  The part of me that cried last night.  The part of me that doesn’t care anymore.  That part is now in charge.

I’m sorry.

I thought the bear had eaten me for a short time, but it turns out I was only maimed.  My next ride is hopefully going to be the Red Rock Rumble in Nevada….on a RACING MULE!!!






by Ashley Tomaszewski

It seems endurance is not the only discipline that is participating in a dialogue around changing and improving the sport.  If you don’t follow the hunter/jumper scene, popular equestrian news source The Chronicle of Horse published an interview with legendary rider Katie Prudent , in which she rips American show jumping a new one.  While her main point does have to do with riders “buying” their way to the top, she also touches on the “dumbing down” of the sport.  “When I was a kid, you did junior hunters, and that was 3’6″, which is a little more than a meter. And if you wanted to do jumpers, you did the junior jumpers. But there was not low children’s jumper, children’s jumper, modified children’s jumper, low junior jumper. The way it’s been dummied down in today’s world, it’s amazing that anyone can ride at all. The sport has become for the fearful, talentless amateur. That’s what the sport has been dummied down to.”

The interwebs exploded with discussion both for and against Katie’s comments, with one letter from one of those “amateurs” really sticking out for me . Jennifer Baas put herself and her opinion out there, going up against the opinion of one of the sport’s great riders. While Jennifer said in her open letter, “I’m just Jennifer Baas. You’re Katie Monahan Prudent. You’re a legend, a leader—you can impact change.”, little did she know that her voice was the voice of many and that change is starting to take place.    In her follow up letter, she mentions that Murray Kessler (USEF President, successful businessman, father to US Olympic rider Reed Kessler), reached out to her to listen to her feedback, and give her a forum to help move her ideas along.

This is not unlike the explosion of the endurance community after Dear AERC.  Just a low mileage new rider speaking out against the legends.

I’m just Ashley Tomaszewski.

  1. just because it’s the way you used to do it, doesn’t make it right or the only way to do something. We need change and evolution; that is how things grow and become better.  Why did the dodo bird become extinct? Because it didn’t adapt to its environment.  Horse events and even disciplines could disappear if they don’t adapt to the environment around them. To quote McLain Ward, “The sport has had to change internally and because of external pressures, and the greats of any generation will adjust to what the sport is.”
  2. If someone wants to stick to the lower levels with no intention of moving up, who cares? They just want to enjoy their horse. If that’s not at least part of why you ride, you may want to reconsider your hobby choice.  Be happy they even chose the same discipline as you..  These lower level riders are the bread and butter of the industry. They are what help to fund the upper levels.
  3. If people don’t have the resources, they could have all the talent and work ethic in the world and still never make it to the big leagues.  To those that complain that LD stands for “luxury distance” or that you’re not a real distance rider unless you’re doing 50-100 milers, are you going to give me the money to buy an endurance –bred horse so I don’t have to ride my chunky cow pony?
    ApilfestSun2017 - 180
    Photo credit: Wendy Webb

    or are you going to add more hours to my day so that I can condition for longer rides? I didn’t think so.  You are very fortunate to be in the position you are in and some people may only ever dream of being in your shoes, so please do not look down on the riders who only do the shorter distances. They have their reasons for doing so.

The point I’m trying to get at is, put your opinion out there!  There are most likely others that are thinking the same thing you are but don’t know how to say it. Provide feedback, give suggestions for how things can be improved.  Getting the conversation started is the first step to evoking change.


Usually I just write a blog and post it.  This one…I don’t think I’ve been through so many drafts of anything since my thesis.

At the recommendation of one of my editors, I’m going to start with this bit which I originally had at the end.  Since I’m a new writer for it’s a good chance to introduce myself so you know where to throw your stones.

Who Is This Girl?

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Well, my first endurance ride was the Mongol Derby in 2014 where I finished in the top 10 with no vet penalties.  Followed by the inaugural running of Race the Wild Coast in 2016 (3 horses over 250 miles of South Africa) where I also finished in the top ten (ok there were only 13 of us) with no vet penalties.

I have since done a number of 50+ rides in the southwest, a 50 in Florida, a 25 in Ontario put on by OCTRA, and just completed Tevis (first 100 for both me and the horse).  Aside from Tevis, they were exceptionally well run.  OCTRA in particular is growing and with good reason.

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Prior to endurance, I evented successfully at the Preliminary Level, I foxhunt and have whipped in, and have exercised horses for the track.

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I have a lot of fun.

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Original Article on My First AERC Ride (Not Published When Written)

I chose not to post the following article on my blog.  I decided I didn’t want to be crucified.  Little did I know until I had been to a few rides run by groups other than the one who ran my first ride and talked to some people just HOW crucified I would have been.  If I had posted the following article, I would have been banned from an entire series of rides and expect to be now. 

If you have done any distance riding, you have been lost or taken a wrong turn.

I rode my first sanctioned ride in early 2017 in the Pacific Southwest.   I met up with 2 experienced riders who I planned to (and did) ride with. I was so excited I woke up every hour from 2 am on thinking, ‘Is it time to get up?!’

The start was very relaxed.  In fact, as we were trotting down the road we had driven down coming into camp, I asked my friend where the start was thinking, ‘maybe we hack to the start as a warm up.’  Nope, we started back at camp.  But what about vetting in? Oh, that car sitting there had a vet in it who watched us trot as we left camp?  Hm. Ok.  There were a couple pods of riders in front of us and behind us.  Everyone in sight turned right.

A few miles later, we saw the vet car on a parallel road and heard honking.  We all wondered what they heck they could possibly be honking about.   The car cut across and came toward us on the trail.  You guessed it, we missed a turn.  Keep in mind it’s the dessert, there are no hidden side trails.  We were assured that there were at least 3 pink ribbons and it was well marked and we had just missed it.

As we backtracked we discussed.  Had we been talking?  Were we paying attention?  Where was the actual trail?  The actual trail, it turned out, was running parallel and about ¼ mile away from the trail we were on.  I was informed by my experienced friends that I would be disqualified if I cut across.  I was annoyed.  And frustrated.  And angry because it was clearly NOT clearly marked.   And I hadn’t brought my GPS.  I felt my mare start to get skittish and realized my tension was impacting her.  I took a few (ok a lot) of deep breaths and decided I would have a good time.  It was the beginning of the day.  Shit happens.  Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention.  Maybe I had relied on the lead of others and needed to take more responsibility for myself.

We managed to get through the rest of the ride without to many extra miles and I completed my first AERC 50 mile ride!!

After getting the ponies all wrapped, fed, blanketed and generally pampered, we went to the ride meeting for the 25 on Sunday.  Being all positive, I thought to myself, ‘Ok, I’m going to pay super close attention and be sure to watch the trail markers tomorrow.’

We set off the next day and went about 18 miles…then the discussion went something like this. Hm, there’s camp.  We’ve looped back around to where we came out of camp at the beginning.  There’s the paper plate that tells the 50 to go one way and the 25 to go the way we went.  And an arrow on the ground for outbound riders.  There are hoof prints everywhere!  What do the instructions say?  They say turn at unmarked road.  Does that mean no ribbons?  What’s our mileage?  18?  No way is this our turn, the mileage doesn’t make sense.  Are there any ribbons?  One little one.  Is that from the outbound trail?  I don’t know.  Does anyone have a GPS?  Yes, but the batteries are dead.  Well, if we go around that hill, the mileage will be about right.  It must be that way.

Guys?  I don’t think this is the right way.  But we haven’t seen any other turn offs.  And the instructions say, ‘unmarked.’  Ah shit, we’re wrong.

Everyone I’ve talked to has gotten lost or gone the wrong way for various reasons.  It happens, right?  It’s just part of the deal, right?  I need to pay better attention, right? (That is certainly true…see Bonus Miles)

Now we come to the ticklish bits which will have long time AERC riders bristling and new riders maybe nodding.

I replied to a post on FB that began with this,

“While the carnage in endurance racing in the ME (Middle East) sickens me, and we need to stay vigilant and persistent in our disdain for it, I also believe there is much we can do here within our own AERC ranks…regarding horse welfare. As an AERC Mentor, my main objective is to not only see that new riders have a safe and fun introduction to our sport, but more importantly, that their horse does, too.”

It then goes on to imply that new endurance riders are going too fast and don’t understand horses.  But it did mention wanting to help new riders have a safe and fun introduction.

I thought, hm, it would certainly be safer and more fun if the stress of a badly marked trail and being miles off course were removed.  The anxiety of retracing your steps, the extra distance for the horse…it would be great if trails were marked well. I couldn’t resist posting (knowing I’d be crucified) .

“as new rider, aerc could mark trails better. a lot better. and “like last year” is not helpful.  there are innumerable excuses. aerc sanctions rides. if the quality is such that new riders are traumatized and have a miserable time, that is the problem of the organization if it hopes to have healthy growth”

Yup, crucified.  Here is a sampling.

“Aerc doesn’t mark them, that’s up to ride management. Getting lost happens to the best of us. I find it’s best to ride alone or not talk too much when attending a new ride lol… And then there are those who sabotage trails :(“

Most of us just roll with the punches. Sometimes you have good luck; sometimes bad. Our ride managers do their best to provide an interesting trail and fair play for all, but they cannot control everything. Most of them welcome help before a ride and appreciate input afterwards. I don’t know if you have had one bad experience or many, but if you are truly traumatized and miserable, maybe this isn’t the sport for you. Most of us love it even though we get lost, fall off, get injured, lose shoes, pay vet bills, etc., occasionally. It’s a risky sport, but there is great joy and satisfaction when it does work out, which is most of the time.”

Wow, maybe she’s right.  Maybe this isn’t the sport for me.

Or maybe this is the kind of Pink Elephant personal attack Sarah talked about.

Everyone I talk to has at least one story like mine.  The people already committed to the sport just brush it off often saying something to the effect of, ‘it happens to all of us.’  All I hear is, ‘I went through it, now you will too.’  That sounds a lot like hazing to me.  The senior members of a group wanting to see the new members suffer like they had to suffer?  Yup, definitely a form of hazing.  I have listened to and been told of ride briefing with no better instructions than, ‘just go the same way as last year.’  One lady told me that when she asked for more detail, she was told to just follow the footprints and that if she was in front, well, she probably shouldn’t be, after all, a new rider couldn’t possibly be leading.  I have heard myself and from others the derogatory remarks about LD being ‘luxury distance’ and ‘not real endurance’.

So instead of quitting, I’m going to poke the bear.


I support my horse habit as an aerospace engineer and my job involves process improvement.  Root cause analysis.  Corrective action.  My evaluations are often not appreciated…initially.   I will be doing a follow on article with ideas for improvement and hope to redirect the energy from this post into a constructive conversation. (I’m an eternal optimist)

This is a risky sport with many factors outside our control.  Horses lose shoes and get injured.  They come in from the field the night before a ride with a puffy leg.  We fall off.

But there are things we can control.  The concept of reducing risk is to address the things you can control.  Trail marking falls into the category of, “You can control.”  At the end of the day, I’m willing to ‘roll with the punches.’  I’m going to vote by not attending any rides put on by this group.    I hope that the AERC as a whole is not so defensive and stagnant as to be closed to improvement.

To the FB ‘Mentor’?  What can you do to help new riders and their horses have a safe and fun experience?  One thing you could do is stop hazing and be open to improvement.

To the AERC.  I hope I have succeeded in communicating my desire to be constructive.  I worry as a new member, I may be banned from rides if organizers don’t like criticism or feel that I’m somehow attacking them.  I hope this is not the case.

To my fellow ‘Green Beans’ and all the ‘Luxury Distance’ Riders.  I encourage you to speak up.  You pay your AERC dues like everyone else.  You may be new to endurance riding and you might be new to riding in general, but you aren’t stupid, just new.  Don’t get discouraged and be selective about who you go to for advice.

Revisiting the Issue After Completing Tevis

My experience with the Pacific Southwest series as my first ride was apparently not unusual, and actually went quite well considering that I’m an ‘outsider.’  I have since listened to stories of others’ experiences.  One friend from the east coast with a few thousand miles including FEI international called and was told, ‘this probably wasn’t the ride for her.’  Another crossed the finish line and there was no one there.  She rode back to camp and finally found someone.  At awards, she was placed incorrectly.  She asked that the mistake be fixed and was told, ‘no one saw you cross the finish line’ and threatened with a non-completion.  Others have been banned for criticizing.  Formal protests with AERC have been rejected.

The rules don’t apply to these rides.  They are ‘grandfathered in’ and one of ‘the originals’ and ‘can just tell if a horse has a problem (from inside the car as 12 horses trot down the road together).

Maybe the AERC doesn’t know these rides they sanction don’t follow the rules, I thought.  The reality is ½ the board members are part of what is really looking like a cult.  And a few of the ones not drinking the Kook-Aid know about it and essentially said to just sit tight, it’ll change slowly and eventually.  Maybe this article will help it along.

To the Pacific Southwest Series:  You are doing your sport a disservice.  The horse welfare may be fine.  The inner circle may know the trails.  And people can learn to use a GPS.  But there are rules of the AERC and you choose to publicly not follow them and still expect to be sanctioned.  At the risk of spreading rumors, I have heard from enough people to report that this ride series has threatened to leave the AERC and start its own club if it isn’t allowed to do things their way; ie: not by the rules of the governing body that sanctions the rides.  And you ban riders who don’t agree with your deviation to the rules.  You are a bully.

AERC, by giving that sanction knowing the rules are not being followed is disgraceful and a stain on American Endurance Riding.  It appears the AERC is being held hostage on the threat of a bully.  Someone who will take his marbles and go home if he can’t play by his own rules.  If you agree with the modified rules, change your own rules.

From a new rider.  I have since attended some exceptionally well run rides.  Thankfully, the 12 or so rides put on by this group are not representative of the AERC.  I love this sport.  I feel this story must be told so it can grow and improve.

I might not have crew, or a fancy RV, or my own horse, or 8 million AERC miles, but I have seen enough to know WE CAN DO BETTER!


In Response

To the Newbies and Potential Newbies!  Please don’t be deterred!  Come out and ride!  If you followed the discussion on North America Endurance Green Beans, the conversation took a constructive vein for the most part (yay!)  And if you followed the one on AERC…well…that’s life.  Change is hard and scary.  Don’t let the few keep you from this amazing sport.

Not every ride will suit every rider.  The terrain and the associated challenges are totally different.  A 50 mile ride in sand on flat ground in Florida is always going to different than mountains and desert. The diversity of this sport is part of what makes it so unique and amazing.

On the Duck Rides

  • I have no horse welfare concerns. These rides are in beautiful places.  There is a lot of work that goes into them and it is a foundation stone of American Endurance Riding. And there is a lot right.    I love that GPS tracks are available (now that’s a lot of work!).   Heck, if I’m not banned, I’d still attend these rides.  If I need my hand held, at least now I know who NOT to ask.
  • I don’t think any of that makes them exempt from the rules if a sanction is to be granted.

2.1.4 Each equine will receive a substantive physical examination of metabolic and mechanical parameters before the ride,at control points within the ride and after the ride. All AERC sanctioned rides must use an AERC approved rider card for the control judge(s) to record the results of their examinations

Why didn’t I (or don’t I) file a formal complaint?  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the rides.  I am totally on board with, as one person put it, ‘ navigation/survival’.  I think the problem lies with the AERC and the attitude.  I also didn’t have any confidence a closed door conversation would be effective based on

  • Did I vet in?  No.  Did I get mentors?  Yes.  Did we all go attempt to vet it on Friday?  Yes.  Was anyone around?  No.  Is this typical.  No.  And I’m not saying there wasn’t a check, just that no one was around when we went to try (a few times).  Was I concerned for my horses welfare because of this?  No.  These rides clearly state you need to be self sufficient and responsible for your own horses welfare.  I had no doubts my horse was fine.  And no doubt the 12 checkpoints on the official (but required) vet card don’t take the place of experience and a good vet can certainly tell at a glance if there’s something truly wrong.  The experienced people I was with didn’t seem concerned about starting anyway so I went with it.

On Hazing and Being New

I’m thick skinned.  I’m not offended if high milers want to say LD riders aren’t doing real endurance.  In fact, I’m not offended by much of anything.

But I see and hear things.  And some of those things make me sad.  Some of the stories I received yesterday of people who are ‘taking a break’ or who have left the sport soon after joining make me sad. 

The conversation on the AERC group on facebook actually makes my point better than I did.

“Before you go pointing fingers at an organization and others within the sport, in a public forum; please make sure your own actions and behaviors at rides are above reproach. Or at the very least at a socially acceptable level….you shouldn’t violate rules and then call others out publicly for it. You won’t find me casting that first stone, but I’ll definitely catch it and toss it back!”

“She has not gone to many rides check her ride record and by her own account her experience is limited”

“I would encourage newbies to check ride records on the individuals making comments before drawing conclusions!”

“I think your in the wrong sport…. Like I said maybe those rides aren’t for you. Those rides are an adventure”

“..get over it. 25 miles is a training ride, not endurance.   I am perfectly aware of what LD vs endurance is. I have done both. Although I have have done LD, I still do not consider it true endurance. It is perplexing that a new person would be so critical of a sport that she is not acquainted with…”

There was some mention and many insinuations that I’ve somehow not paid my dues.  What are these dues I apparently didn’t pay?  I paid my AERC membership and ride entries.  If it’s sweat and time shoveling, I spent my childhood riding my bike to the farm and doing any and all work for the chance to ride.  More recently, I wake up before work, go to the barn, work, go to the barn….so basically Eat Sleep Ride Repeat but with the addition of Work Full Time & Do All That Other Adulting Stuff.  Am I implying you don’t do those things?  Or that huge amounts of volunteered time from very busy people goes into rides?  Nope.  Just wondering which dues it is I’ve missed.

Am I going to quit and go home to cry?  Not likely (unless I’m banned from the AERC entirely for choosing to publicly share my experience and opinion without the magical prerequisite number of AERC miles that would bestow upon me the right to an opinion).

Am I going to get more involved and do I want to see (and contribute to) positive change and growth in the sport?  Definitely.

Stay tuned for the next article on some of the ideas ESRR has for improvement as well as some of the great ideas already in place around the country.

Tevis – Against the Odds

After completing Race the Wild Coast in Oct 2016, it was time to consider the next adventure.  Sam Jones (Aus – Winner of Mongol Derby 2014 & 2nd Race the Wild Coast 2016) had ridden and completed the Tevis Cup in 2016.  Hey!  That’s in my own country!  Maybe it’s time for a domestic adventure.  I’ll ride Tevis!  Tevis is 100 miles in one day with a total ascent of ~15,460 feet and total descent of ~21,400 feet.

But I needed a horse.  December 4, 2016, I saw that a Derby friend of mine, Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Murray, was going to South Africa for a year and needed to find a situation for her promising young endurance mare.


And the Road to Tevis 2017 began.

Horse Acquisition & The Training

I flew to Pennsylvania to pick up the truck and visit my parents; drove to Virginia to visit my horse family, Foxhunt for Christmas, and pick up the trailer; drove to Michigan to pick up Stevie, Sparta, Gilbert, and all the tack and gear to go with both horses; and we drove across the country.

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I had zero AERC miles.  I had never trained an endurance horse.  Sparta wasn’t backed until she was 8 years old and had done 3 rides in 2015 (25,25,50) and 2 in 2016 (30,50).

I reached out to my endurance Gurus as I would need their guidance.  The main ones being  Stevie, the mare’s owner of course as well as Amy Wallace-Whalen who had started the mare and Connie Burns-Caudill, a distance rider and vet.

I joined the AERC.

Bought a cot.


And racked up my first 50 on Jan 28th.


I started learning about training schedules, nutrition, metabolic functions, shoeing, and mares.  Smart 1/2 Arab 1/2 saddle-bred mares.  Our second ride was 65 miles at 20 Mule Team.  The morning after a 5th place finish, we prepared to present for BC and Sparta wasn’t 100% sound.  She was slightly stiff in her right hind.

I dropped her off at her ‘vacation home’ at Kingsway Farm in Temecula where I take her after a ride to go out in the big field with the mares and just be a horse for a few weeks.  By the time we got to the farm, she was sound (of course).   After Sparta’s break, I stepped up our flatwork to continue building the muscles for evenness and self-carriage.  I also contacted a friend and horse chiropractor/masseuse who is based at Kingsway, Debra, to arrange a session and also for her to teach me.  I wanted to know what I could do during a ride at holds to stretch, massage, check, and otherwise help Sparta.

One of the things Debra showed me was poll massage.  I decided I could use this in my routine as a tool to help the mare relax in stressful situations.  It became the first thing I did when I got to the barn and every time I entered her stall, the last thing I did when I left, and everywhere in between.  Sparta soon began to anticipate and enjoy it.  Now, as soon as I touch her poll, it’s her signal everything is ok, to relax, and she drops her head.  It is useful for faster heart rate recovery walking into vet checks too!

My next ride (not Sparta’s) was in Florida!  Amy, one of my Gurus, was there with her daughter Annie (who by the way has earned a place on the Young Riders team going to Italy this year!!)  Amy arranged a ride for me and as it was also an FEI event weekend, I would have the chance to watch some of the best.  The Olsen’s were kind enough to provide me with a great mare as well as a crew!!  They had a lot of horses going, and I was just added to the mix!  It was so amazing/weird to do be descended upon by a horsey pit crew at camp after each loop.  My vast experience so far had been all ‘away’ vet checks where we weren’t even back at camp until the end; not to mention the different muscles I used cantering on flat sandy terrain for 50 miles vs. mountains.  As a bonus, I got to meet Connie who had agreed to be a resource having never met me, and got to see Lynne (who I knew was there), and Kathy Broaddus (who I didn’t know was there).

In the week leading up to the next ride I’d planned to do at home, I bailed.  I was really undecided because I logically couldn’t define something wrong.  It was a long drive, I was feeling draggy, and Sparta seemed to feel the same way.  I went out for a training ride that weekend and when we got back, she was sneezing.  By the next morning she had a runny nose.  Over the next 2 weeks, she never ran a temperature and kept eating.  We spent a lot of time hand grazing (the farm close to my home doesn’t have turnout).  The runny nose cleared up and for another week we just walked the trails as she was still sneezing a bit.

At the end of May, we completed another 50.  And again, there was a slight stiffness in the right hind after the finish that again disappeared almost immediately..  Knowing Tevis was coming fast and twice the distance, I had a full lameness workup done by Mark Silverman, a former farrier and lameness vet.  We decided to tweak some shoeing issues and also start a preventative maintenance regime of a daily supplement, Platinum, and monthly Adequan injections.

At the invitation of another Mongol Derby friend you all know, Sarah, I flew up to Ontario and Ashley was kind enough to let me ride Splash.  It was my first incomplete ride due to excessive Bonus Miles.  I apparently have a problem following a marked trail and this was a reminder that I’d want my GPS for Tevis.


Final Preparations

The last pre-Tevis event was the Educational Weekend (The Horse is Fine, The Rider Is Crazy) where I would have the opportunity to ride sections of the Tevis (Western States) Trail with a mentor.  It was well worth it for the people I met as well as a better understanding of the logistics involved in this 100 mile ride.  I talked with a lot of people and the typical responses I got along with skeptical looks were, ‘You chose Tevis as your first 100?’, ‘You know only ~50% of riders complete this every year?’,  ‘It’s your horse’s first 100?  And your first 100?’, ‘You know many horses don’t complete their first time, especially Tevis’, and lastly, ‘You don’t have any crew!?!  You need crew!’  My response was that we’d give it a try and see, but I also knew I had good advisers and was putting everything in place, for the things I could control, to be successful.  None of this prevented me from contacting my gurus with a variety of last minute worries that got progressively stranger as the ride got closer…

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I put out a call for crew.  And Rosie Campbell, owner of Freedom Fields Farm in Virginia, MFH of Bull Run Hunt, card carrying badass, and my horse mom, answered the call.  Her husband Chris (horse dad), took Friday and Monday off work to watch the farm and Rosie booked a flight across the country to Reno and would meet up with me at start camp Friday, the day before the Ride!


Two weeks out I had arranged to have the farrier out.  He came…but didn’t put on the Impak pads in the front that I needed, nor did he do the hind shoes.  I begged him to come back and he came and put the pads on the front, but still didn’t do the hinds.  Her toe was long and catching the fronts a bit. I called but the farrier didn’t come.  The interference was intermittent, the front shoes were tight, and I decided to leave it.

Monday evening I was all packed, loaded the mare, and pulled out of the farm at 7 pm for the 11 hour haul to Auburn, CA (speed limit with a trailer in California is 55 mph).  At 5:30 AM Sparta and I arrived at Eve’s Tux Hill.


Sparta immediately fell in love with Tux (as usual, hoebag).  And I could barely believe my luck that my mentor Eve, who had only met me on one weekend, during which I had a screaming meltdown, had invited me to stay with her.  In the short 3 days before heading up to start camp in Soda Springs, I got to learn more from Eve about nutrition, the trail, my ride plan, the logistics, and a million other details including what was going into her kit (as she was also riding Tevis on her friend’s horse).

Friday I loaded up and we caravaned up to start camp.  Space was non-existent, we were on gravel, and got parked in.  I checked in.  Rosie arrived, looked at the mare, and asked if I knew she was missing a shoe.  WHAT?!??!  She was in fact, missing a HIND shoe.  A HIND SHOE.  Her foot wasn’t torn up, it was just gone.  She had it that morning.  It wasn’t in the trailer.  But a HIND shoe?  Seriously?

There were 4 farriers across the street and even after some very kind people brought their horses over to where Sparta could see them, it took all four of them to get back shoes on her.  She wasn’t really handled until she was 8 and had come a long way with the farrier…at home.  As I watched horrified, I saw my ride ending before it even started.

The farriers were so kind and did an amazing job so if you know who they are, thank them.  I was a little to frazzled at the time to get names.  Miraculously, we left the farrier station with only a few cuts and scrapes to go with the new hind shoes (and the shorter toe I’d wanted).  I checked the schedule and it said I had until 6 pm to vet in but it was a 2.5 mile walk.  We squeezed between a giant RV, a pen, and some horses butts to get over to the trail to the vet area.  At 5:15 when we got there, they were packing up to leave having been told they were finished.  Interesting.  I tried not to look annoyed in the mug shot they took.


I was filthy, had a bath, and settled in to attempt to get some rest before The Big Day.


The Big Day

At 3:30 AM I gave Sparta breakfast & got dressed.  At 4 AM I tacked up.  There was barely any space to get out, so Rosie and I walked Sparta around toward the wood-lined strip of dirt road that was the start ‘pens’ for the 170 horses entered.  To say the mare was wound up, with 170 horses converging in the dark on a small area, is an understatement.  With a reluctant bystander sort of holding Sparta, Rosie managed to give me a leg up as the mare was leaping about.  We walked into the woods on the dirt road in the dark through a mass of milling, fit, wound up horses to check in.  Our placings in the rides we had completed already bought us a ticket into Pen 1.  It was slightly less chaotic with most of the 60 or so horses in pen one making a long skinny loop walking up and down the stretch of road.

After what seemed like forever (45 minutes or so), Pen 1 was finally released for the ‘controlled’ start; where all 170 horses would walk, staying on the road, for about 3 miles where we would cross a wooden bridge single file before being released.  Immediately, a horse near the front reared and the rider came off.  The horse flew backwards and we scattered.  She remounted and barged through to get back near the front (obviously crucial placing for a 100 mile race that would take us most of 24 hours).  I noticed the horse in front of me dancing around swinging it’s butt, and noticed that it wasn’t getting bumped and crowded…so I gathered the reins, put my leg on, and proceeded to put our flatwork to good use appearing to have sketchy control and buying us some breathing room.

With the bridge in sight, I noticed a woman working hard to keep her horse from charging ahead.  I said something like, ‘You can run into our butt if you need to!’  We were instantly friends.  She was glad to have someone to tuck behind and I was glad to have a friend for Sparta.  We crossed the bridge and were set loose!  It didn’t take long for me and my new best friend Melissa to realize we had a similar riding style and sense of humor.  It was beneficial and a good fit for both horses too.


We ate dust on the first leg and riders were still bunched up.  We’d spread out enough by the time we came to Cougar Rock that there were only two people ahead of me and I decided to go over to get the iconic photo.  I was told to wait until the horse ahead went over the top.  Instead, Sparta reared, I yelled some profanity, and up we went!  No problem. Then on to the first vet check, Red Star, at Mile 20.  Both horses came into the check pulsed down, drank, and passed the vet check.  We let them eat hay for a few minutes, then picked up handfuls of hay for the horses to nibble as we walked out of the check.  We had to keep moving.

Sparta doesn’t stand well for me to get on.  It’s a work in progress.  There was some regression and rearing before I was mounted up to move out again.  This next piece would take us down through Duncan Canyon to Mile 36 at Robinson Flat, the first (of two) 1 hour holds.  It also included, in the last 6 miles coming into Robinson, an elevation gain of ~1300 feet.


As we approached Robinson, I told Melissa I didn’t know if I’d have a person, but that my stuff (courtesy of Eve’s coordination) would be there (grain and electrolytes for Sparta, Anti-Monkey Butt Powder for both of us).  She had lots of crew and offered their help.  I was SO grateful to have a hand to help pull my tack off, hold it while I vetted, and then help me find my stuff amid the chaos of crews for 169 riders (not including me here).  It was drizzling and a bit chilly so while Sparta ate, I put her saddle pad over her back and butt to keep her muscles warm as best I could.  A typical Tevis year, it’s really hot and dry.  It was 112 deg F the weekend of the Ed Ride.  I didn’t have a cooler or sheet.  I guess I looked pretty pathetic crouched by Sparta nibbling my granola bar because Melissa came and asked if I had anything to eat (apparently the bar didn’t count) then had one of her crew hold Sparta and sent me over to her area with a shout to her crew of, “Feed this rider!”

With 20 minutes until I could head out, I tacked up and started walking around making frequent passes at the water tanks.  At 10 minutes I got on with little fuss.  At 5 minutes, I still didn’t see Melissa even though our out times were only 1 minute apart.  The timers released me and I set off alone hoping Melissa and her horse were ok.  We got water at Dusty Corners and cruised through the vet check and halfway point (50 miles!) at Last Chance before dropping into the next canyon, then climbing out gaining ~1400 feet in about 1.5 miles.


I jogged down leading Sparta, took a quick dip in a fork of the American river, crossed the Swinging Bridge, and tailed (held her tail to pull me up as I walked behind) up as it gives the horse a break and is much easier for them to pull a bit than carry a rider up a mountain.  We passed Devil’s Thumb and vetted through at Deadwood.  The volunteers at all these places with limited access and no crews were amazing offering food and water to both horses and riders.  Michigan Bluff is a little tiny town and we ride through on the main street.  There were people out to watch, crews, and I dismounted to let Sparta drink and have a bite to eat…but she wanted no part of any of it and dragged me through town.  A mile or so out of town, I had just finished having a little chat with Sparta about standing next to stuff so I could get on (I was running out of holes to tighten her girth) when along came Melissa!!  Boy was I glad to see her.  It turned out her horse had a scary but short choking incident delaying her departure from Robinson Flat.  He was recovered and quite perky as we joined up again.

At mile 68, Foresthill, we had our second 1 hour hold.  I was excited coming up the road to see all the crews and spectators as I looked for, and found, Rosie! My Crew!!  A face I knew! After passing the vet check, she led me to where she had set up my things along with Eve and her camp.  The ice boots went on and both Sparta and I dug into the food!  All too soon, it was again time to tack up and ride out into the quickly fading light of the evening.  Again, Melissa and I had come into together, but she wasn’t to be found as I left.  The trail was marked by glowsticks and I also had the GPS track.

I puttered along in the dark, sometimes in the company of another rider, but mostly alone, trusting Sparta to see and pick her way and pace.  It was an almost full moon, but still very dark in the canyons.  I sang, and talked to Sparta, and may have howled at the moon.  At Francisco’s the 85 mile vet check, Sparta was ravenous and devouring the mash a volunteer brought to us.  I was so excited she was eating, I forgot to go directly to the vet to trot out in case she stiffened up at all.  Someone I’d met before came over and reminded me.  Sparta was less than enthusiastic to leave the food.  Our trot out was lacking impulsion and we trotted a second time.  The vet saw a little something intermittent, possibly her right front?  I suspected it was her right hind and massaged and stretched her before heading out.  I slowed her down, put my leg on, and did trail dressage to keep her supple and to work different parts.  I stopped posting when we trotted and stood in the stirrups to be as even as possible.  I got off to jog down the small canyons.  And I worried.  But she felt good.  At the river crossing we got a lead at the steep entry.  Normally it would have been no issue, but Sparta was clearly questioning my sanity departing yet another place with lights and people to go into a river.

I could see the lights of the Lower Quarry vet check at mile 94 for what seemed like forever as we wound our way toward it.  She trotted out totally sound (whew!) and we were in and out quickly and on to the last 6 miles!

The trail wiggled all OVER those last little canyons and those 6 miles felt like another 100.  When we came to a good area to trot, Sparta still volunteered most of the time and I may have groaned as I stood up.  When she didn’t volunteer, I clucked and then she’d groan and trot.  At one point she stopped and spun, but she was right, I’d missed a water tank that didn’t have any glow stick on it.  We passed some kids at the end of a dirt road making out in a car.  Then FINALLY came to the timed finish!!  It was totally anticlimactic.  I dismounted, loosened the girth, dropped the bit and collected a small scrap of paper with my number and time.  3:54 AM

The ‘photo’ finish line was in the stadium and I could see the lights…but there was no indication which way to go to get down to it.  Seriously?  I picked a way and walked down the hill to the stadium looking for Rosie.  Someone told me I had to get back on to do a victory lap and go under the stadium finish.  I may have been less than totally polite inquiring if I’d still have my completion if I walked as there was no way in hell I was going to tighten the girth, get back on, and ask that amazing mare to carry me one step further (she could have, but seriously.)  So I stalked around the area vaguely hearing the announcer announce something about me to the 3 or 4 people in the stands.   My finish photos are pretty lame, but we did it!!  Almost.  We vetted out and then were officially complete!

Against all odds, we tackled The Tevis Cup, and with a combination of hard work, good advice, and some luck, completed in 22 hours and 39 minutes!







The Horse is Fine, The Rider is Crazy

Riding is easy.  People and logistics are hard.  I’d love to be able to say I’m calm, cool, and collected and much of the time I am.  Except when I’m not.  

*Apologies in advance for the lack of photos, most did not survive the death of my phone in the American River.

The weekend of July 7-8 I attended the bi-annual Tevis Education weekend.   And I got educated.  For a short summary list of the changes I’ve made based on what I learned skip to the end.  For the full story of the weekend complete with my personal challenges, read on.

My awesome dad flew out from Pennsylvania to help me.  He’s not a ‘horse person’ but is great company, can drive anything, and is willing to help.  I packed up everything for me, my dad, and Sparta and we departed Southern California for Northern California at 1 am Friday morning.  After managing to scoot past LA before major traffic, we climbed to the high desert and drove.  And drove.  And my dad noticed the semi trucks were religiously going 55-60 mph.  I’d seen the signs saying ‘Speed Limit when towing 55 mph’ but in my travels so far, it had been a non-issue and traffic moved along at 70.  Until now.  I looked online and it turns out there is some historical pseudo science that was proved to be wrong shortly after causing this stupid law in California and now the entire trucking (and horse trailing) industry in California is stuck crawling along at 55 mph.

As the sun rose, temperatures climbed into the 90’s and then the 100’s.  Over a 600 mile trip, going 55 mph makes a 9 hour drive into an 11 hour drive.  I took the chance and was passing the big rigs one at a time….until I saw, too late, the cop car behind me, swerving as he checked his computer to run my plate. The lights went on and I pulled over.  I was polite and somehow got off with a warning which totally shocked me as I never seem to get away with anything.  Good thing I resisted the desire to inform him of the science and actual research proving the law is stupid and doesn’t do what it’s intended to do anyway.  Rose’s Brain – 1, Rose’s Mouth – 0.

With temperatures around 107 deg F, we arrived at camp around noon, sweated, set up camp, and sweated some more.


I caught up with two ladies I knew who had coordinated trailer shuttle rides and had a spot for me.  Our shuttle driver was also the water guy so we arranged for my dad to go along with him the next day so he’d have something to do.  We attended the vet talk, then the ride briefing.  After the ride briefing we realized that mentors weren’t assigned, it was an unannounced insider trading type free for all that we’d totally missed.  Deep breaths.  Ok.  One of my friends took the lead to get it sorted out and I stood by and tried to chill.  The organizer grabbed some random kid in shorts who hadn’t intended to mentor and voluntold him he would be the mentor for the 3 of us.  He didn’t seem thrilled and was interested in how fast we could go (his horse needed to go fast) and going line dancing that night.  Ok.  No problem.  The real benefit of the Ed Ride weekend was seeing the terrain and layout firsthand and networking.

When I returned to the trailer after the ride briefing Sparta had taken down the non-electrified, wrapped around trees, electric fencing and was standing with the paint gelding, Tonka, next door.  Happily.  His owner got back and we decided they’d be happier together and moved him into my ‘back yard.’  


The First Day of Riding

In the morning, I couldn’t find the coffee. I tacked up, shipped to the start and off we went.  The mentor’s horse was a head flipper. It started out badly and got worse.  He dropped back behind us and we all agreed and thought that’s what he’d told us to do, assuming he wanted to have a private work with his horse.  We’d slow up and check that he was back there every so often.  At some point he caught us and seemed all annoyed and said he’d been yelling and trying to get us to wait up.  Coming into the first vet check the mentor dismounted and asked us if his horse looked lame (maybe?  Not noticeable) and jogged on foot into the check.  We were assigned to a different mentor group and within 20 minutes of coming into the vet check his horse was dead lame.  We later found out it possibly had a history of abscess issues (among other things).  Our new group was actually two mentors and a Swiss girl.  We had a lovely ride and the new mentors suited me very well.   

The Second Day of Riding

In the morning I managed to find the coffee.  Of course I’d then lost the drip thingy to support the filter.  The upside down top of a gatorade bottle was sufficient.

But then as my mentor and I were ready to leave, we were missing the Swiss girl. It turned out she had the times wrong and thus we left late and behind a lot of groups.  Not that it was a race, but we’d been warned it would be a miserable day if the faster groups were behind the slower groups on essentially 20 miles of single track cliff trail.  And it was.  We asked to be allowed to pass when it was possible only to be ignored.  There were pile ups 40 horses back on single track cliffs while people fussed to give their horses a drink or tried to get them to cross tiny bits of running water.  At one point, Sparta’s entire hind end fell off the cliff and she cut her hind leg scrambling back up while we were dancing around on a cliff, while inconsiderate people who wouldn’t let us pass before, now held us up while their horses refused to cross a creek. (Yes, I realize it’s my problem for having a horse that won’t stand still, and yes, I did come home and reschool WOAH and STAND.)

I was not happy.  And being at the back, Sparta wouldn’t drink because the groups in front of course didn’t care to wait long enough for the last horse to have a drink.  I asked them to wait.  And they didn’t.  And I less than politely asked again to no avail and completely lost my marbles.

The Part Where I Lose My Marbles

I yelled that I hated this sport (as it exists in the United States) and was only doing this because I had committed to doing it for the horse which belonged to a friend.  I took to hanging about 1/2 mile back so I could maintain some sort of forward motion instead of the horrible caterpillar start and stop.   Down in a canyon near the American River, I caught up to the caterpillar, turned around, and went back to a place where I could wade in the river.  It cooled and rinsed the cut on my mare’s leg and was time well spent.

Luckily, it was a short ride that day.  I got my lift back to camp, packed up, and got on the road.  There was nothing more to be gained here and I wanted to be on the road while it was cool and not in the 100+ degree heat the next day.  After about 11 hours on the road, I dropped my dad off at the hotel, dropped the mare off at the barn, and went to sleep.  

You might be thinking the drama is over.  But it’s not.  My phone died while I was cooling off in the river.  My dad tried to reach me on my work phone the next morning but I was dead to the world until about 9:30 am and at this point he was worried.  I dragged my exhausted carcass up, went by the barn to check the mare and make her a mash, and went to pick up my dad.  At this point, if I’d had any sense, I’d have come right back home and gone back to sleep.  But I didn’t.  I tried to function.  I tried to get my phone fixed since going to the cell phone store is always a relaxing experience….and ended up screaming at my dad and essentially having a complete meltdown.  I sulked in the yard for about an hour, we made up, and went to get noodle soup at the Chinese grocery store.  

I dropped Dad off at the airport the next morning and went home to change for work….and instead slept for 14 hours.

Stuff I Learned

  • Gate & Go.  Come in pulsed down, get in and out in 3-5 minutes.  Walk out carrying hay so your horse can eat while you keep making forward progress.
  • Woah is crucial.  And standing. Standing still.  On command.  The mildly annoying refusal to stand still becomes potentially life threatening on a narrow trail that drops away down a mountain.  A reminder day followed by two ‘remember what we did yesterday?’ days have been very effective.
  • The hindgut must be fully loaded and that takes 2-3 days.  I decided to drive up earlier than originally planned since 11 hours not eating well in the trailer just won’t cut it.  Besides, research was presented showing 1% dehydration per hour shipping (under ideal conditions, not 112 deg F).  We want to start fully hydrated.  
  • Pads for impact protection.  There will be more road than usual this year in addition to it being 100 miles.  With the many options, I’ve chosen to go with an Impak pad (under the shoe only)  in the front under the steel rim shoes we’ve been wearing.  
  • And ice boots.  I tried out some versions made for horses last night and talked to people.  The cold blanket ones I put on with polos were heavy, sagged, and didn’t stay super cold.  But the freezy pops I brought were just the right length, stayed cold, had good contact, are cheap (I’ll need enough for two holds and 4 legs per hold), and I can eat them.  
  • Accept help.  I was deadset, “I don’t need crew, I’ll be fine.”  Reality is I did desperately need at least someone to drive my truck & trailer from the start to the finish.  

I have the ability.  I have the knowledge.  Now if I can just keep from coming totally unhinged and get all the bits to the right places at the right time….

Bring it on Tevis Cup. #89

Bonus Miles

Top ten was less than a mile away when I made a wrong turn.

I saw the 5 mile marker.  And the 4 mile marker.  And the 2 mile marker.  I got off to jog so Splash could hopefully catch her breath a little more easily in the humidity.  Each ride revealed another long stretch of lovely path in the green tunnel.  I remounted and kept watching the kilometers ridden on my borrowed watch creeping up.  Thinking I must just be a little further.

There were still blue ribbons on the right.  Things started to look a bit familiar….but this was my first time here.  Maybe I was confused.  Yup, blue ribbons still on the right.  Hm, I think I ducked under that branch before.  Maybe it was on the red loop I did first?  Yup, blue ribbons still on the right.  Wait, this is the water trough field….really?  At this point I realized I’d gone wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Near the end of the blue trail, it crosses itself.  I had somehow gone out on the loop again instead of going home.

As I was sponging Splash at the water and berating myself I had some useful thoughts. I have never really considered a time limit for a 25 mile ride.  I knew you got 12 hours for a 50…was it then 6 hours for a 25?  Probably.  And even if that wasn’t the case; it was hot, humid, and buggy.  My horse was tired and not catching her breath as well as I’d like.  A pair of set speed ladies gave me electrolytes for Splash and offered to ride the rest of their loop with me. I got on and we set off.  Within minutes I realized Splash’s breathing was too heavy for hot, humid, ‘you’re already dead last’ conditions.

The only thing left to do was get Splash home in good condition.  So we set off walking. Everyone who passed us made sure we were ok and I sent along the message that we’d be back eventually.  At the walk, Splash was still breathing hard so I figured I’d walk until she was breathing more easily.  We stopped for grass here and there to make sure she still had an appetite and digestion was still happening.  We jogged down hills together. Swatted bugs.  And talked of many thing: Of shoes—and ships – and sealing wax –of cabbages—and kings.

Let the self doubt and self berating begin.  Many of you have been there and during the walk in and back at camp there were many understanding condolences.  But that didn’t stop the record playing on my long long long walk in.  How did I not realize?  How did I not realize for SO LONG?  The blue ribbons were always on the right…right?  Should I just get back on and make Splash trot?  What’s the point of taking that risk when it’s humid like this and we’re well out of it already?  Does UBER pick up horses?  Can I send Splash back and just sit down and die right here?  Why do I even DO this?  It was dumb to leave my camel pack behind.  I should have paid more attention to the map and compass.  Well, I did want to slow down and enjoy the scenery.  Maybe not this slow.  Oh, someone dropped a sponge.  Oooo, it has a huge slug in it.  I’ll take it anyway.  I wonder if I’ll just keep going around and around forever….

This is part of what makes endurance hard.  Whether it’s that last push up, or the last 5 seconds holding that yoga pose, or that last 10 km you’re walking because you made a wrong turn.

I was certainly happy to see Lily walking towards me about a mile from camp (the second time) with a bottle of water.  And laughed to see what Sarah and Ashley had left for me at that last turn where I’d gone wrong before.


I’d like to blame something.  Bentley, my original ride tweaked something so it’s his fault.  The trail crossed itself and wasn’t clearly marked.  I had rider brain (tired brain).  I’ve never been here before.   Splash knows these trails, why didn’t SHE tell me…wait, really?  I’m trying to blame the horse?  There’s always something to blame or some excuse.

At the end of the day, I made a mistake.  And I was lucky the only thing harmed was my pride.   I really would have liked to finish top 10 and knowing we ‘could have’ isn’t quite the same.  I choose to learn from my mistake.  I choose to go on and keep putting one foot in front of the other.   I will always carry hydration.  I need to pay more attention to the maps, particularly where a trail crosses itself.  And I would do well to carry my GPS so I can see my track and look at it when that nagging voice says, ‘Um, Hey…Rose….we’ve definitely seen this tree before.’

The support and camaraderie of OCTRA members helped me keep my chin up when I really wanted to curl up in the corner of the trailer and cry.  In a social media world where every invisible person feels justified in dissecting and criticizing your every choice, in person, the endurance community showed me the best of itself;  smiles, words of encouragement, understanding, sympathy and empathy.  Despite my error, I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend.

Thank you Sarah, for inviting me, arranging a horse, crewing, feeding me, and being an amazing hostess.  Thank you Ashley for letting me go for an unexpectedly long ride on your mare Splash. And thank you OCTRA for being helpful, welcoming, and running a wonderful event in beautiful country.



Side note from Sarah:  I hope you all enjoyed Rose’s story!  While this is a bit of a crossover episode (she runs a blog too!) we have had long, deep conversations at the pub and have decided to merge the blogs!  Rose is training with the hopes of competing at Tevis this year and will be sharing her adventures in SoCal with our followers… so grab a popsicle… you are in for a heat wave!