Several friends are in Ridgecrest right now riding 35, 65, or 100 miles at the 20 Mule Team Endurance Ride. Brrrr!
Good luck to them!
I first did this ride in 1997. I rode, what was back then, the 60 miler on a mare I had named Sassy. I later did the 100 miler on Montoya DSA in 2000, 2001, and 2002. I did the 65 miler on her in 2003, and then went back in 2004 and did the 65 miler again, this time on Mickey Dee. I didn't go back to that ride until last year when I rode the 35 miler on Speedy G.
Here are some photos of my ride at 20 Mule Team last year. If you're really interested in reading about last year's ride, scroll down below the slide show and click the read more link.
20 Mule Team 35/65/100 Miler
In late February, with a confidence that turned out to be short-lived, I loaded up a new passenger, McGwire, and my Arabian gelding, Speedy G. We were heading to Ridgecrest for the 20 Mule Team 35 mile limited distance endurance ride. McGwire, our black Labrador, was certainly puzzled by the trip as he never goes with me, but he faithfully kept me company as we wound our way through the Tehachapi mountains. Once we crossed through the pass and began the descent to the desert floor, I understood why I had brought him. And I think he did, too.
The tears came and went as the desert scenery passed outside my window. It was just one month ago that I had made this same trip with Montoya for the Fire Mountain 50 miler. Memories of countless adventures with her flooded over me: our first hundred mile ride in Ridgecrest, the 200 miles at the Death Valley Encounter, the Eastern High Sierra Classic 50 miler in Bridgeport, and so many others. McGwire quietly tucked his nose under my elbow and let me know that all was well. The headache that had plagued me all week slowly dissipated as the tears finally dried up. I silently wondered how many more times I might need to say goodbye to Montoya.
By the time we arrived at 20 Mule Team’s basecamp, my smile was back and the anticipation of completing yet another endurance ride was buzzing all around us. We quickly located my riding buddy, parked the truck and trailer, and unloaded dog and horse. McGwire was tethered to the truck, much to his embarrassment, and Speedy G was put on the HiTie.
After completing two, thirty mile limited distance rides in early 2009, this was Speedy G’s first endurance ride in a year. Montoya’s death was so unexpected and came at the start of a well-planned ride season in which Speedy G wasn’t going to be competing. And so while he was relatively fit, there were many things that still needed to be practiced. While he had been on the HiTie before, it had never been for more than an hour. This would be his first over-night experience on it.
Speedy G has also been very reluctant to have anything put in his mouth, and even though we’ve been working on it, giving him electrolytes was going to be a challenge. Knowing that he’ll eat gravel if it’s in his feed pan, I mixed the electrolytes with his beet pulp and was delighted to see him lick the pan clean! (This might explain why he drained his water bucket twice during the night.) We continued with all the pre-ride activities that happen the day before a ride, and then we went to bed.
All was well until 3:00 a.m. when the rain began. And continued. For the next fifteen hours! Saddling an inexperienced horse at an endurance ride is challenging even in the best of weather. In the rain, it requires a tremendous amount of patience and a dose of humor. The task was eventually accomplished and the saddle’s seat remained relatively dry thanks to a towel, a rump rug, and a rotation of horse blankets.
Even though it was a sloppy, muddy mess with areas of water coursing over, the trail was well marked and easy to follow. We were frequently blasted by rain, hail, and the ever-present desert wind. Even so, we laughed and enjoyed the day. Speedy G, while in no hurry to finish, always trot out when asked, pulsed down immediately, ate whatever he could find, and drank greedily. The rules for limited distance require a horse to pulse down at the finish line in order to complete the ride. Even with a horse galloping to the line behind us, whinnying shrilly, Speedy handled it just fine. Back at the trailer he ate everything he could find, including another electrolyte-flavored mash. Late that night he even laid down while on the HiTie!
Losing my reliable endurance partner forced me to face some challenges sooner than I expected. Solving the mystery of how to successfully complete endurance rides can be stressful for both the owner and the horse. And yet, another ride was successfully completed and another horse began his career. I can only hope that Speedy G enjoys as many accomplishments and adventures in his life as Montoya did in hers.